Los Angeles is Not a Democracy

It’s the reason why I learned to speak this language – Kamel Daoud

Democracy, power to the people, is a principled mode of production, distribution, and existence; a cultural and political form given to organic life. It has an obvious, recognizable, shape because it is an ethical process and has ethical aims, which it manifests in art, rights, social movements, spatial production, etc. Is Los Angeles a democracy? LA is in no way a democratic city today thanks to a massive racial equity and housing crisis. Nor is there a big chance that LA becomes a “progressive city” in the very near future but for drastic measures, and this is because of displacement. Neighborhood movements today are linked to the ability to even live in the neighborhood, and most folks are on their way out. LA is likely to elect an even more corporatist mayor than its current one in the next election for Mayoral office, thanks to displacement. Traditional capitalist models of growth are being applied everywhere, and hotels, and new boulevards have one real enemy: a recession that may becoming. Something needs to happen, and quickly. This historical event has to be giving a community the freedom to intervene directly on what causes it harm, to heal itself, and to have this freedom be at in the framework of an eventual democracy.

On a great day, mostly days of mass popular resistance like the days of the 2018 UTLA strike, for example, Los Angeles is an explosion of positive activity. Different communities express different humanities, priorities in a wide-ranging array of negotiations and interventions. On an average day, it is both a representative democracy (oligarchy) and representative economy, a massive producer of pain and anguish, homelessness, as much as it is a reputed producer of wealth.

Let’s take LA’s climate as an example of an absence of democracy. When it comes to the climate, representative government has been given the power to vote on our climate futures. In other words, when it comes to our climate future, unelected citizens are only free to vote on representation but are not free to do something about this crisis on our own terms. In other words, there is no real freedom (freedom in the left sense and not right nonsense), to quote philosopher Phillipe Van Parijs. In other words, there is negative freedom for most citizens to take governmental (hegemonic, legally brutal, definitive) action to stop the climate crisis.

Government. Los Angeles is first and foremost part of the Mediterranean biome, as a mass of land that harbors all kinds of life and its cultures. This ecological apriori escapes both the philosophy and practice of government in Los Angeles. Today, Los Angeles is an environmental catastrophe posing as a Mediterranean styled new America, replete with ideas, designs, traditions, and institutions that liberate with supposed mass culture freedom, found on a skateboard or drinking an organic smoothie. Instead, Los Angeles fails to live up to its potential. In order to do so, Los Angeles must begin with the ecological (law), and then make it its way to ethics and finally government that is grounded in law and ethics, as regeneration of this city. It must do this, or else.

Mike Davis points out that the last group “in power” to acknowledge the deep structures of Mediteranean biome ecology were the Franciscans. This was before the government of LA as we know it today. This is because the Franciscans were used to the biome in Europe. It is a biome of natural fires, earthquakes, etc. Despite this, the government of LA has allowed all sorts of enterprises to flourish that harm citizens in the biome such as dumping the oceans, building despite fault lines and fires etc. It’s no different when it comes to governing around the climate crisis and the lack of climate justice for brown and black LA, despite city council having approved the first Climate Mobilization Office in the country. For example, oil drilling, a killer, goes on in LA right next to tracts of homes.

Citizens of LA do not have the freedom, nor the democracy, to seriously intervene in this crisis, until further notice. Government by the people would found itself on given people the freedom (taking big money out of politics) to solve this crisis together. Freedom, and only real freedom to intervene can allow this to happen, democracy, while living a climate catastrophe.