Activism Powered by Vision, Not Anger

January 31st, 2012

Posted on a guest Op-Ed by Torie Osborn

Torie Osborn, Sheila Kuehl, and Jackie Goldberg

Torie Osborn between her two friends and mentors, Sheila Kuehl (l) and Jackie Goldberg. Photo by Marta Evry.

I vividly remember sitting cross-legged in a small green tent at the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica with my friend Rob Roberts.

It was September 1991 and Rob was three days into a hunger strike to hold then-Governor Pete Wilson to his promise to protect our GL (later to become LGBT) community by signing AB 101, a simple jobs equality bill.
Rob was HIV + and active in ACT UP, and he had a strong intuition that Wilson would cave in to pressure from the Right.

At the time, I was the Executive Director of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, sat on the County AIDS Commission, and was sleeplessly active in helping to craft our community’s response to AIDS and the grassroots activism that fired our every move.

Rob and I became friends during the mass arrest of AIDS protesters in October, 1988. He was a ginormous lanky redheaded gay man with startlingly direct grey eyes and I loved him.
As always, we talked about the power of grassroots activism and its ability to change the political game. Despite the righteous wrath that fueled our movement, Rob always said that activism must be powered by love and vision, not negativity and rage. Rob was not afraid of anger.

In fact, he embodied our anger at the genocidal neglect of two presidents who let our brothers die – he just knew that anger was nihilistic unless channeled for the good.

Wilson vetoed the bill. We hit the streets. Rob’s lone tent soon became 50, and then the center of organizing for the largest civil unrest in LA history to date (seven months before the ‘92 civic unrest)—50,000 of us in the streets for 14 days.

Why do I talk about Rob Roberts?

Because when a heckler screams that I am, somehow, an “outsider” while backing someone moving into our district to run against me, it’s important to know the history of this city and the people deeply involved in the activism that has helped imprint its soul.

But it’s also because we’re facing a crossroads moment in time when every one of us has to step up and get re-involved in grassroots activism in order to turn around this sinking state, no matter how many electeds get angry at you.

That’s why I’m running for State Assembly from this open district where I’ve lived and worked for nearly thirty years.

There’s no amount of spin-doctoring, disinformation or just plain bullying that can change the true story of this race: After a lifetime of work on social justice – including 20 years in feminism, LGBT and HIV/AIDS and 15 years on poverty and economic justice – I’m finally doing what Ivy Bottini, Sheila Kuehl, Paul Monette and about a hundred other friends, many from WeHo, have urged me to do over the past 20 years: run for state office.

Our state is in trouble and needs leaders who know how to forge opportunity from crisis. The last thing we need is politics as usual.

This new AD 50 is officially designated a vacant seat by Citizens Redistricting Commission. This district is highly educated and civically engaged; these voters won’t be fooled.

You can’t just move to Beverly Hills from outside the district and claim incumbency when 99% of the district has never voted for you. Such a move makes it necessary to obfuscate the real issues and simply go on the attack.

But when you look at my real grassroots support, it is from all across the district, including a strong showing from residents and workers in West Hollywood, inside and outside the WeHo – Beverly Hills Democratic Club.

Young folks who attended the first Camp Courage. People living with HIV/AIDS who remember my work in the 80s/90s. Supporters with whom I have been through our many battles for justice.

I may have lived in Santa Monica but I’ve been here, on these streets and in these buildings for decades.
I would be honored to be the very first gay or lesbian person elected to represent this city in the State Assembly.

If you are as fed up as I am with how Sacramento protects its own while the California Dream careens off a cliff, please join me. I’m running because I want to address the urgent issues of this political time: too much incarceration, too little caring for people — priorities totally out of whack.

I have always put together unlikely coalitions, and worked toward solutions; you know I will prioritize reinvesting in our schools and colleges, rebuilding our senior services, and working toward universal healthcare.

Enough is enough. This state has 39 million creative and diverse people; a DNA of reinvention and innovation; more venture capital than anywhere on earth; a treasure of natural renewable resources.
It’s time to work together to invest in our people again. Join me.
I know if Rob were still with us, he would.