Politics makes strange bedfellows, as the saying goes. Sometimes, it crosses the generational divide.
By Ira West
I was a teacher for 30 years, always encouraging civic participation by my high school students. Find a cause and fight for it. Don’t feel powerless. You won’t win every fight, but if you do nothing, you guarantee the other side wins. It’s a soothing balm for the soul.
I got involved in the Pasadena rent control campaign last March after being approached while on an evening walk by a volunteer gathering signatures door-to-door. Here was a twenty-something young person doing exactly what I used to encourage my students to do. As a long-time believer in rent control, and part of the 1979 Santa Monica rent control campaign, I happily signed right up.
Fast forward a few months when I hosted a Pasadena Tenants Union meeting. Fifteen or so attendees in the same apartment building had all been served with eviction notices by a landlord who wanted to renovate the units so he could jack up the rent. We discussed legal strategies to fight what, it turned out, were not valid reasons for eviction.
After the meeting, one of the men came up to me and asked, “Are you Mr. West?” Yes I am, I replied, somewhat shocked because I didn’t recognize him. “Do you remember me? I’m Bennie from I-Poly High School?” A light went on. I’d last seen Bennie in 1999 when he graduated from International Polytechnic High School on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona, where I taught civics and history. Here he was, 23 years later, age 41, sporting a bushy beard and dreadlocks.
How did you recognize me? “Your voice is still the same and you look the same,” he said. I started to cry.
Since then, we’ve been a team, distributing literature door-to-door. We’re encouraging residents to vote yes on Measure H, and plan to continue until the election November 8. Bennie is fluent in Spanish, a huge help. His girlfriend, who grew up in Pasadena and also speaks Spanish, accompanied us last time.
Bennie is now the last one remaining in his apartment building, which is being gutted while he still lives there. Many of the other evictees chose to take relocation money from the landlord, destroying their community. As Bennie describes it, “we had a diverse group of people who enjoyed each other’s company. Neighbors who would sit on the porch sharing everyday life stories and sometimes meals together. One, after being there for almost 10 years, is now homeless.”
Bennie and his girlfriend also broke up temporarily “because the eviction notice added much pressure to our relationship.”
But Bennie won’t give up, fighting all the way. I’m so proud of him.
Ira West, 76, is a retired teacher and former journalist.
We hope you appreciated this article. Before you move on, please consider supporting the Colorado Boulevard’s journalism.
Billionaires, hedge fund owners and local imposters have a powerful hold on the information that reaches the public. Colorado Boulevard stands to serve the public interest – not profit motives.
While fairness guides everything we do, we know there is a right and a wrong position in the fight against racism and climate crisis while supporting reproductive rights and social justice. We provide a fresh perspective on local politics – one so often missing from so-called ‘local’ journalism.
You can access Colorado Boulevard’s paywall-free journalism because of our unique reader-supported model. People like you, informed readers, keep us independent, beholden to no outside influence, and accessible to everyone.
Please consider supporting Colorado Boulevard today. Thank you. (Click to Support)