After a year of social assessment, these students took matters into their own hands – HS Insider


It started with four West Covina students feeling frustrated with the policing decisions their community leaders were making. The idea came in May 2020, and amid political polarization and a National account on police brutality, the students turned their frustration into something tangible, forming an organization that would champion the changes they hoped to see in their community.

One year later, Change West Covina has doubled in size and gained a loyal following of dozens of volunteers – the passion for community change continues to grow. All over the city, students are coming together in an effort to bring mutual aid and revolutionary ideals to the community. They left behind an organization full of young students ready to make a difference.

Since its inception in June 2020, Change West Covina has hosted self-help events, town halls and volunteer opportunities to strengthen relationships among community members. The organizers distributed basic necessities to the homeless and held town halls every two weeks for all residents. it’s pusProgressive policies are needed, including increasing aid to homeless neighbors and cutting the city’s police budget – something thousands of citizens across the country are advocating.

The organization has spent several hours educating citizens on these issues after hearing concerns from other community members about leftist politics. They have organized events ranging from panels on female identity to community vigils for Asian Pacific Islanders in response to an increase in anti-Asian hatred.

Despite the progress the group has made in promoting progressive policies, they don’t always agree with city council. This includes the decision to create an independent health service and the sale of BKK’s hazardous landfill to the hotel development company Singpoli. The CWC objected to the decisions, but city council is still moving forward with the colon.

Still, they won a few battles. When city council chose to ignore virtual public comments submitted at council meetings from last July, the group circulated an online petition to overturn the directive. The COVID-19 pandemic meant the public would put their health at risk by attending in-person meetings, the group argued, and the public had the right to voice concerns. After a day of online protests, the board changed course and started accepting comments by phone and email again.

Before the CWC came on the scene, organizers said, students often felt their opinions didn’t matter. Being part of the CWC allowed them to organize with other like-minded students.

“Overall, the main goal of Change West Covina is to raise class consciousness and political consciousness among young people,” said Emylou Vergel de Dios, co-founder of the group. “Really just to make people feel like we are working in solidarity for a revolution.”

Make the difference

Despite the backlash from some community members, the organization has made progress in helping and assisting homeless neighbors, a goal members have focused on over the past two months. Thanks to “Abolish Poverty Drives” and their new project, “Water not Wars,” they have grown closer to their community and can better understand the situation of homeless people, said CWC co-founder Peter Dien.

On Sunday afternoon, the group is hosting “Water not Wars”, an event where members distribute cold bottled water to homeless neighbors in West Covina and offer help where they can. Helping homeless people is one of the most important issues the CWC disagrees with with city council. The group has actively tried to encourage city leaders to take a more proactive role in helping the homeless by building more affordable housing, but to no avail, according to Vergel de Dios.

When the city announced its plans for an independent public health service, the group held a press conference and rally for residents to voice their opinions on the decision.

At the event, Board Member Brian Tabatabai and Eileen Miranda Jimenez, West Covina Unified School District School Board Chairperson, raised concerns about the creation of an independent health service. For now, residents alongside the CWC are currently working to secure the creation of an independent health service on the ballot so that residents can vote.

CWC has also been invited to present at West Covina School Board meetings on student grievances. Over the past year, they’ve partnered with different clubs and student groups across West Covina’s three high school campuses, discussing everything from mental health issues to menstrual poverty, dress code and ethnic studies. . All eight presenters were current WCUSD students.

“It was ultimately a team effort. You know, we were all trying to stand up for different things. But we worked together and we succeeded, ”said Brittany Gutierrez, CWC member and WCUSD student.

While the reactions of school board members to the presentation were not all positive, the group received support from current WCUSD students, alumni and teachers.

“I think that’s the attitude that a lot of our members have, like, regardless of what anyone else says, they want to do what they know to be right,” said Vergel de Dios. “They do it with so much passion and conviction, and generally with better character than some of our politicians. Working with young people has been super inspiring, they make me want to be a better leader. They make me want to be a better organizer.

Brittany Gutierrez, member of Change West Covina, prepares a bag of hygiene products and food for her monthly “Solidarity at Sunset” distribution. (Photo by Payton Zarceno)

Public perception

Over the past year, residents have shown their support for the group through social media and in person. Community members donated clothing, hygiene products and money for their mutual aid fund to help homeless neighbors.

Board member Brian Tabatabai appreciates the perspective the CWC brings to the table. The only left council member was endorsed by the group for his political positions when he ran. After winning, he continued to receive support from the group.

But while the CWC may have an ally in Tabatabai, he described the relationship between the CWC and the rest of the city council as “one-sided” as they have become a force to be reckoned with.

“The advice has gone from condescending behavior to a real understanding of the real political power of Change West Covina,” Tabatabai explained.

However, not everyone agrees with what the group is doing. Some have challenged the group’s position on police funding, accusing them of being too young to understand the role of law enforcement and of being part of the “democratic machine”.

Residents made negative comments about the group and its members at city council meetings. At one meeting, organizers listened to the wife of a city council member make comments against CWC members whom Tabatabai described as “very negative, racist and misogynistic.” Online, residents also accused the group of having a mantra of “contempt and hate for whites”.

“At the end of the day, elected leaders cannot save us. We help ourselves, and we decide to make decisions for ourselves and we transform our communities ourselves, and politics is to put pressure on elected officials and build power, ”Dien said.

Replace members of West Covina with members of Sunrise Arcadia after a series of distributions for “Water not War”. (Photo courtesy of Change West Covina)

Moving forward

Three of the four founding members of Change West Covina no longer live in West Covina, but they still give as much as they can to continue helping the community. Dien says there’s nothing special about the group – it’s the decision to organize and take action that sets them apart.

“I don’t think there is anything exceptional about starting Change West Covina. I don’t think there was anything special about me, or anything special about Erin or Emy or Yusuf that made us want to do what we did, ”Dien said. “It was just that we had information that we thought should be released. And we saw an injustice that we thought should be corrected. Like everyone across the country.

Many members hope that even when they leave for college or leave town, a new class of students will continue the group’s efforts.

“We are a group that unites across all racial, class and political lines,” Dien said. “Anyone can join the fight if they want… all you have to do is be ready to learn and be ready to organize. “

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