Sunset begins to tinge the sky over La Roda Avenue, light fading steadily over Eagle Rock High, the rooftops of suburban side streets, and the sprawling encampment that has sprung up in the middle of it all. Under the eaves of a short, peach-colored house, tents engulf the scraggly lawn and spread down the sidewalk in both directions. A portable bathroom trailer is parked in the driveway, and there’s a pop-up shading tables of donated food, pushed almost into the road. Reaching outwards from the encampment via the adjacent side streets, flags, posters, and signs dot telephone poles and street signs – hallmarks of the neighborhood’s occupation.
This was the scene on October 28, three-hundred feet from the (now vacant) home of Kevin de León, the Los Angeles City Council member for our District 14, and one of the elected officials heard espousing racist and bigoted opinions in a recently released recording. “We’re here [because] we want to hold our public officials accountable for things that they do,” says Michael Williams, the resident spokesperson for the protesters at the encampment, who are largely affiliated with Black Lives Matter L.A. “[They] have been caught saying racist and derogatory things about multiple groups, including the Oaxacan people, Asian people, Jewish people, people of the LGBT community, and mostly Black people,” he continues. “They were caught trying to restrict and take away power from Black politicians and Black neighborhoods, and so it’s important that we do not allow that to go unpunished.”
Another protester, BLM L.A. organizer Baba Akili, shares this sentiment, describing de León’s actions as “offensive and outrageous.” “He demeaned Black people, [...] he was meeting to create districts that would disempower Black people, and then finally, he and others were conspiring to run the city based upon their interests. [...] Kevin de León needs to be held responsible and accountable. The only way he can do that is to resign,” he explains.
Roger Walls, who was also there that day, has lived in Eagle Rock for 25 years, and says that he moved here because of the community’s diversity. Having been an Eagle Rock resident through the terms of four councilmembers, Walls says that “we’ve never had a councilperson who obviously displayed this blatant racism in that leaked recording, and who doesn’t represent me, as an African American man.” Walls states that Oaxacan immigrants (one of the groups demeaned by the councilmembers in the recording) are “[de León’s] people whether he wants to accept that or not. He’s there by benefit of people who look like me, and who look like the Oaxacans.”
Michael Williams, who is both Black and Costa Rican, feels that Latino community leaders must “represent all Latino people,” including those of Black or Indigenous heritage. “You can’t just [...] pick and choose who you want to represent,” he says. “Latino people come in all different shapes and sizes, colors, backgrounds, nationalities, languages, and you have to represent all of us, not just the ones [who] look like you.”
When asked why this method of protest will be effective, Williams responds that the encampment “shows the urgency of the matter, and how willful people are about getting him out of the seat. That’s why this kind of protest works, because [...] it’s a visual presentation for the rest of the city about how impassioned we are to see him leave.” If Kevin de León ever returns to his Eagle Rock residence, he’ll be constantly reminded of his constituents’ demands. The protesters promise to be outside his door twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. “We make him uncomfortable,” Williams says of de León. “He can’t have peace as long as we don’t have peace.”
The protesters arrive at the La Roda encampment in shifts, to ensure that there are people representing the cause at all hours of the day. Williams and Baba Akili have both slept in the encampment overnight, while Walls comes during the day, when he’s not protesting alone outside of the City Council office. “In the morning, it’s a struggle,” says Baba Akili, mentioning the cold nighttime temperatures. “But once you get up and get going, you know, it’s like any other day,” he says. Despite the discomfort of life in the encampment, Williams says that getting to know members of the community and others involved in Black Lives Matter Los Angeles has been “empowering and inspiring,” especially seeing “how people are coming together [...] to see justice be done and to see a Los Angeles that doesn’t have racist or anti-Black policies [as] a part of its future.”
Almost all of the supplies at the encampment are donated by people in the community, whether it’s water and electricity from houses in the immediate vicinity or donuts from the Crenshaw Krispy Kreme. Anything that is desperately needed is usually brought to the encampment within a couple hours. The donated provisions are so plentiful, in fact, that the protesters regularly bring excess food to the community fridge down the street on Townsend Ave.
Today, there is no indication that there was ever an encampment on La Roda Avenue; the protesters vacated the site in early November, when a moving van arrived at Kevin de León’s Eagle Rock residence to collect his remaining belongings. However, the movement for de León’s resignation continues. Cyndi Otteson, who ran against Kevin de León in the 2020 City Council election, is a community organizer and leadership coach for progressive candidates. She organized a group of Eagle Rock neighbors to welcome the protesters to the community, crowd-sourcing supplies and trash collection for the encampment. Otteson urges the employment of a “diversity of tactics” to remove de León from office, including the use of Black Lives Matter L.A.’s hotline, titled “Where in the World is Kevin de León?” – a parody of the ‘90s TV show “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego” – for tips about de León’s current whereabouts. In addition, she suggests continued protests at City Council offices, and the collection of signatures from voters to force a recall election. She also advocates for amending the Los Angeles City Charter – the set of rules that govern elected officials – to allow the rest of the City Council to expel de León. “We need to be able to hold Kevin de León accountable because he thinks that he can just do some media tours and not show up for work and still grab a paycheck,” says Otteson.
Why should Eagle Rock High Schoolers care about de León’s removal from the City Council? In the words of Michael Williams: “It’s very important, because what happens now – redistricting, these policies like 41.18, which is basically the ban on sleeping outside in certain areas – all these things are going to affect your life as you go. And so even though you can’t vote [...] youstill have power in your organizing ability. [...] Tell them ‘When we grow up, we want councilpeople that are going to be supportive and empower all people in Los Angeles, not just some people, but all people.’ It [...] gives you a stepping stone to how you’re going to create the future that you want to live in.”