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LA's first lady focuses on local change

File: First Lady of LA Amy Elaine Wakeland speaks onstage at The 44th Annual Peace Over Violence Humanitarian Awards at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on October 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
File: First Lady of LA Amy Elaine Wakeland speaks onstage at The 44th Annual Peace Over Violence Humanitarian Awards at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on October 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Peace Over Viol

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Unlike her husband, Mayor Eric Garcetti, the first lady of Los Angeles doesn’t spend a whole lot of time talking to the press.

Amy Elaine Wakeland has kept busy with a lot of other things, like organizations focused on combating sexual and domestic violence, initiating LA’s drought education campaign and helping the homeless.

But gender equity is an issue that ranks pretty high on her list.

This week she and her husband kicked off the Young Women’s Assembly, a conference promoting gender equality in Los Angeles. Seven hundred students from throughout L.A. Unified School District attended.

Wakeland spoke to KPCC’s Alex Cohen about what are the issues most dear to her and how past experiences have shaped her point of view.

Here are some highlights, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

You’ve witnessed great progress, but there are still a whole lot of challenges. How do you see overcoming those challenges?

In order to overcome challenges, you need to focus on the issue that you know you can win first. A lot of times, when people are doing activist and advocacy work, there can be a tendency to go up against the immovable. Versus going over to this area where we know we can have 10 victories.

Accomplishing things on the local level is really a great option right now. There’s opportunity that exists here for activism where you can lead a fulfilling life giving back on a public service basis in a way that you feel proud of and a way that really can make a meaningful difference for residents of this city.

There are so many models out there about what it means to be the spouse of a political leader.  You have been active long before becoming L.A.’s First Lady.  What would you like to focus on?  

It may seem silly but I have a mission statement for my life that I think about and reflect on. It relates to how we improve circumstances for women and girls. How we function in this world on an environmentally sustainable basis. I’ve added to that portfolio some additional responsibilities now that my husband is mayor. Most of the work I do is a continuation of everything I’ve ever stood for.

A passage about you in the LA Times stated: “In politics, Wakeland’s style has struck critics as brash or abrasive. Allies describe her manner as frank or direct.” As I read that I wondered if they’d be using those adjectives if she weren’t a woman.  What’s your take?

I’m comfortable with the direct piece. I’m comfortable with the frank piece. I do think that our country is not a homogenous place. I think there are attributes associated to where I grew up that are not familiar to the more collegial environments of people in Los Angeles.