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The Impact Of NLP And Civic Engagement On Our Community

Daniel Halden is an Angeleno dedicated to serving Los Angeles in various capacities. His career has seen him engage with the creative capital of the world in myriad ways, primarily through public service and the arts. Dan currently works for the City of Los Angeles as the Hollywood field deputy for City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District. He is a current participant in the Rautenberg New Leaders Project (NLP) at Jewish Federation Los Angeles. He recently traveled to Sacramento for JPAC Advocacy Day. Read about his experiences below.

 For the past five years, I’ve had the privilege of representing two different Los Angeles City Councilmembers as their liaison to different neighborhoods throughout the city. Each Council District in L.A. represents just shy of 300,000 residents and is typically split into about four or five “field areas.” As the deputy assigned to one of those areas, there’s never a shortage of things to do. My work affords me the opportunity to interact with and hear from folks from all walks of life, all with different perspectives and different needs. Ultimately, though, at one point or another they all seek the same thing — some kind of assistance from their local government. That’s where I come in.

What I love about my job is how vibrant and three-dimensional it is — trying to help as many people as I can, as much as I can, as often as I can, and the never-ending array of issues and stakeholders that come knocking on my door. Thanks to the NLP, in May I got to join my cohort on a trip to the “other side” —instead of being the government representative from whom one seeks help, I got to be the activist and advocate knocking on the door.

Each year, the current NLP cohort — along with program alums and other Jewish Federation representatives and leaders — takes part in a day of advocacy in Sacramento. The trip is organized by the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), which counts our Federation in Los Angeles, as well as other state federations and other Jewish organizations, as members. JPAC chooses a slate of bills for which to advocate and, in the weeks leading up to our trip, holds a series of workshops and meetings with different members throughout California, to provide a deeper understanding of what bills we’re supporting, and why. This year, JPAC advocated on behalf of the following bills:

  • Anti-Poverty Package — A series of three bills aimed at assisting working families and reducing poverty in California.
  • AB 3171 (Ting) — A bill to create the Local Homeless Solutions Program, which will provide matching funds to cities with programs to combat homelessness.
  • AB 3200 (Kalra) — Known as the “$100 for 100% bill,” this would increase State Supplementary Payment (SSP) grants by $100 a month to reach nearly 100% of the Federal Poverty Level and restore the annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in the program.
  • SB 982 (Mitchell) — This bill would require grants issued by the CalWORKS program to be, at minimum, 50 percent of the federal poverty line.
  • California Responding to Hate on Campus Grant Program — A $1.25 million appropriation that would provide colleges and universities with funding to train their stakeholders on how to respond to new challenges such as increased student polarization; attempted white supremacist recruitment on campus; and the use of the heckler’s veto, intimidation and violence to silence speakers lawfully invited to campuses.
  • Budget Proposal: California Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program — A one-time $3.6 million budget appropriation for the California Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program; of the 15,000-20,000 Holocaust survivors living in California today, many are increasingly frail, vulnerable, and have significant unmet needs.

Making my way through the Statehouse along with my cohort, and advocating on behalf of these various pieces of legislation, was an interesting and powerful experience for me, a local government employee. I left Sacramento with the following observations of our politics, process, and programs:

  • The Power of Preparation: JPAC did an excellent job of preparing all of us for what to expect and what it was we were there to do. The state budget is enormous, and the budgeting and negotiating process is complex. We happened to arrive at the height of budget season, when the “May Revise” — the Governor’s revisions to the Legislature’s suggested budget — had just come out. It was an excellent time to be advocating for things to find their way into the budget — made all the more powerful by coming to Sacramento in large numbers, with a diverse, prepared group. None of this happened by accident.There really is a benefit to JPAC — or any organization, for that matter — in taking the time to learn the system, educate team members, and plan and curate accordingly. I left with a deeper appreciation for how much homework this involves, and I got the sense that it really does pay off — everyone was prepared, and (at least for our team) our meetings went smoothly.
  • The Importance of Intersectionality:There are people all across the state, Jews included, who can benefit from the bills and initiatives we advocated for up in Sacramento. But what was most powerful to me was the breadth of our focus. We didn’t traverse the entire state of California to ask for things that would primarily benefit the Jewish community; as Jews, we went to Sacramento to ask for things that would benefit a great number of people, Jewish or not. I know this from my work in local government — the strongest communities and coalitions are the ones that are the most diverse — so it’s no surprise that this translates across larger systems as well. Our best chances at success are through our diversity. Most of the time, government offices will get calls from folks seeking assistance on an issue that affects them personally — and that’s understandable; in fact, that’s the whole point of government. We’re there to help! But it’s so powerful when elected officials or their staffs hear from folks who are advocating on behalf of others — it’s a testament to our collective potential, and it’s a great selling point for whatever issue it is you’re supporting. Build broad coalitions. We’re stronger that way.
  • The Strength of Systems: I am deeply passionate — in my personal life and in my professional life — about issues involving housing affordability and homelessness, probably the biggest challenges facing Los Angeles and cities across California right now. Our local government is constantly working on solutions to these challenges. Something I think about a lot — and that was magnified for me in Sacramento, when so much of our focus was on anti-poverty packages — is how much bigger, how much deeper, how much more systemic these challenges are. If we’re talking about housing, well, Los Angeles needs more of it, and all across the city and county, units are being built. But there’s a deeper reason for the lack of affordable housing options, and that’s poverty — an issue that far exceeds any one municipality somewhere. The State has an enormous role to play in assisting cities and counties in making sure that Californians can affordthe quality of life that local governments are seeking to build and provide.  It is vital that local systems are supplemented and supported by larger systems. A local government has the most direct effect on an individual’s immediate quality of life. But we need our state and federal government to provide the underlying and overarching resources to help get us there.

As we left the capital, I felt grateful for the opportunity to join NLP and the Federation in Sacramento and more curious and motivated than ever about how we solve the challenges that face us. I also felt inspired and proud to be part of the Jewish community, which — in the spirit of tikkun olam — continues to advocate not simply on behalf of Jews in need, but all in need. This is a spirit we need across every level of government and in every community across America. We brought this spirit with us to Sacramento. May it continue to lead the way.

For over 25 years, The Rautenberg New Leaders Project (NLP) has provided unique opportunities and training to elevate the next class of outstanding Jewish civic leaders in Los Angeles. With a commitment to the Jewish tradition of social responsibility, NLP empowers participants to hone their leadership skills and gain a deep understanding of the diverse fabric of Los Angeles while working with elected, civic, and community leaders to address some of the most critical challenges facing our city. To learn more about NLP, visit www.YAJewishLA.org/NLP or e-mail NLP@JewishLA.org.

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