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Our Top Ten Civic Engagements of 2010

sur la terrasse...

This was an admittedly difficult year to be a citizen. Our intellectually hamstrung masses seem to care about civic matters less and less, and the Tea Party indicates that many can't even master the most facile of national issues any more either. Locally, the politics of the burg became downright insipid as the Mayor checked out, the City Attorney clowned all the more, and the Council spun itself into a cocoon of ordinary civic irrelevance. Alas...&c...

But every now and then, something is written, something still resonates, something does indeed happen. A miracle, I know...

Here is a peek at some times over this past year when what was said here threatened, as was once said at Gettysburg, to be little noted nor long remembered--but which nonetheless became a wider part of life of the pueblo anyway.

When we did things here and elsewhere that began various ball-rollings, we were indeed aware. The state of cultural and political analysis has suffered inordinately over the past three years--ever since sponsors became harder to come by, and formerly sturdy organizations were obliged to go begging. Still, there survive stripes of political and cultural analyses that remain sensibly hectoring, vitally engaged, and sportingly civic, interested not in vindication, but in reconstitution.

With much appreciation of that set of citizens who value progress above pettiness, and effort above apathy, here ten are the ten most memorable ways the city was shaped when yours truly was involved in shaping it in 2010. Appearing in parenthesis after the title of the piece is the spot at which it appears.

Zac with mom, Xmas 2005

1. Kids Disclose Name of Man Deputies Shot and Killed. (street-hassle). We put a name on the victim of the awful law enforcement tragedy that took Zac Champommier's life. Local media attempted to pick up the reins, but even today remain slow on this, LA's worst officer-involved shooting tragedy in over a decade. But a start is a start, and now there is a veritable phalanx of activists pressing for Justice for Zac.

2. Hush Hush at the Los Angeles DWP. (LA Weekly). Austin Beutner's faux call for transparency was revealed to be a call to redouble opacity instead. The DWP really doesn't cooperate with any media it can't control, so most scribes simply give into it; but the news is out and Beutner appears to be headed for nothing but grief should he remain in politics.

3. Journalistic Ethics, Hah Hah Hah. (street-hassle). This post laid bare some of what's wrong in media in El Pueblo, and was well received in many quarters. Mostly, it's the story-murdering sanctimoniousness of ex-news schlubs in editorial board positions at the Times, and the sustained attention-craven desperation of the LA Weekly, that has led to this sad state. But more broadly, it points to the fact that there are no aristocrats in local media, not anywhere to be found; no princes and princesses, and that is a sad thing. Local media could use someone who can consistently get away with something, a master diarist of a city like a Vidal or a Caro, rather than relying exclusively on the petty finger-waggers from the old pedestrian and obsequious newsrooms, fighting out their old bitter battles, and connecting to nobody beyond their same-old bugabears.

Walter Moore at the Mayflower Club

4. Mayoral Aide Lashes out at Moore. (street-hassle). The Clean Sweep movement in the Valley was both headed for glory, then nearly stillborn, all in an afternoon, when Mike Trujillo launched this pre-emptive strike on it, which yours truly was first to report. Think back to what might have happened coming out of that hot box in the Valley, the Mayflower, with pilgrim Dick Riordan offering blessings and a satellite truck outside, without this well-timed narrative-buster. The movement has scarcely recovered; two months before election day, the "Clean Sweep" now merely threatens, at long odds, in two of six Council races at best.

Lela and Rodger stepping out.

5. 7/8ths living. (carnytown). When Rodger Jacobs and Lela Michael required assistance late in summer, I offered what I most have to offer--words--to keep things moving. Words alone are not enough. What did you offer?

6. LA Opera's $14 Million Imbroglio. (LA Weekly). With an ailing maestro and an astonishingly expensive and annoyingly conceptual Ring, the high-profile and chronically end-of-lifecycle institution known as LA Opera became a civic panhandler.

7. Culture Wars Hit Barnsdall, San Pedro. (LA Weekly). They are still fighting over their arts centers, even now. But things still look bad in San Pedro and here on Alice Barnsdall's hilltop too.

8. Did LAUSD's Deasy Take it Easy? (street-hassle). He did, he will, and while it may take time to educate the public regarding the purpose behind the teacher-bashing tactics of corporate America, this upcoming year urbi et orbi will discover that the Bill Gates Foundation is not necessarily a desirable resume-padder.

Paul Krekorian comes to Council.

9. The Krekorian Axes. (street-hassle). Councilman Paul Krekorian represents a special case in many ways. There are two political axes in his district and there may be an emerging third. I don't think education is as important to his district as I did when this post was written, and part of that is because Lydia Grant's efforts, as well as Parent Revolution's, have been sidetracked by the Phyrric victory in farflung Compton. But it's still worthwhile to contemplate a prospective third meaningful axis in what has become LA's most middle-class Council District.

10. Los Angeles. (le blog de David Martinon). What it is to ... Be. Here. Now. A post, admittedly, admired by a few francophone intimes. Aw shucks and thank you. Also, two people who met over their discussions of this post shared Christmas Day together. So such writings are not futile; it is important to remember this.

There were many other notable moments in which the life of the city offered me the feeling of civic involvement, including things I didn't write about. Particularly memorable was speaking to a group of high school students from all over the LAUSD at LA City College in September for the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative. I called the talk "What's Changing, Who's Complaining? How to Find Stories." Journalism is no longer a routine curriculum subject in LAUSD high shools, and most schools do not even have campus newspapers--yet the district maintains a press office that runs on all cylinders and sometimes even issues half a dozen press releases a day. You would think the administrators would consider journalism and communications to be vital vocational and academic topics--they are so reliant on communications themselves.

But this was an admittedly difficult year for anyone, anyone at all, to be a citizen. It was, however, a good year to identify character, in others, even in one's self, even if doing so is an increasingly isolated achievement.

To care about a city: read a book about the place, read a novel set there, fall in love with one of its inhabitants. It's never too late to do any of this, not even in 2010.

And when I do these things here, I sign myself as

Mulholland Terrace