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LA's year in protests: What public gatherings really accomplished in 2017




Crissel Rodriguez with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, right, protests across the street from the federal building in West Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017.
Crissel Rodriguez with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, right, protests across the street from the federal building in West Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

2017 was a big year for protests. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of L.A. to draw attention to their causes.

There was the Women’s March that kicked off the year the day after President Trump was sworn into office, then the Tax March and the March for Science in the Spring. There have been protests against the Trump administration's Travel Ban and the Dakota Access Pipeline. And protests supporting DACA protections and the #MeToo movement.

The list goes on. But what did the protests accomplish?

Take Two's A Martinez spoke to USC Sociology Professor Manuel Pastor, Sylmar resident and protester Martha Medrano and Valeria Espinoza, co-coordinator of the L.A. chapter of Af3irm, a grassroots organization that organized the International Women’s Day March.

KPCC's Take Two roundtable to discuss 2017's protests in L.A. From left: Af3irm's L.A. chapter co-coordinator Valeria Espinoza, Sylmar resident and protest participant Martha Medrano, Take Two host A Martinez and USC sociology professor Manuel Pastor
KPCC's Take Two roundtable to discuss 2017's protests in L.A. From left: Af3irm's L.A. chapter co-coordinator Valeria Espinoza, Sylmar resident and protest participant Martha Medrano, Take Two host A Martinez and USC sociology professor Manuel Pastor
Audrey Ngo / KPCC

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

What do protesters and organizers hope to get out of these gatherings?

MANUEL PASTOR: One of the things that's been interesting this year is that the protests have translated into electoral strategies. The Alabama race where Doug Jones beat Roy Moore had a lot of grassroots organizing to try to mobilize the black vote. That election went Democrat...To me, the big thing about the year are certainly the protests on the street...but also the way in which that's translated into electoral power.

What motivated you to get involved in protests?

MARTHA MEDRANO: One of the things I experienced at the [2016 Democratic National Convention] was a strong protest of the Trans Pacific Partnership deal. It was a very clear message and we saw a direct action and effect from raising that awareness. Coming into 2017, that was the energy we were looking for...Seeing that result and being able to express our outrage. And finding others who have that same feeling and organize...taking the next step which is direction--now what? And what to do with that.

How was this year different from other years of community engagement in L.A.?

VALERIA ESPINOZA: There were a lot of heightened feelings this year in light of the [Trump] Administration. There was a lot of anger and folks looking for explanations. Even though these protests don't really give an explanation, it still gives people a sense of community. To envision a collective liberation is power in itself.

Looking forward, how do you define success?

PASTOR: Often in politics, the way you win is moving to the middle. The way you win in protests and social movements is moving the middle...to a more radical position. One of the most striking things I read this year was a Mic piece by Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, about going to the Women's March in Washington D.C....She felt like a lot of the issues of women of color, trans women, etc. weren't coming up in the march. But she said, she needed to put her cynicism aside and welcome people into this movement and help move that forward. So I think that's been the blossoming of this kind of attitude this year. 

If Hillary Clinton were president, would there have been a Women's March?

MEDRANO: A lot of people are angry that we came down to these two candidates. If Clinton was president, I don't believe we would have this type of engagement....People would have gotten comfortable. We've seen that in the Obama Presidency. We pat ourselves on the back [because] we have a black president and go back to brunch.

What did the protests accomplish this year?

MEDRANO: I have to agree, there were a lot of feelings of [the Women's March] being whitewashed and taken over, and people of color not being heard. But [also] being able to see the bigger power in that and bring people into the process.

A big criticism of protests is that they're more of an emotional action, that they don't really lead to change. What's your response to that?

ESPINOZA: If you think that protests don't really work, that idea is from a privileged lens. Have you ever had a weekend off, worked an eight-hour work day or lived in housing that has not been owned by your employers? All those things were won by protests. 

*Interview has been edited for clarity