Gabriel San Roman
Slingshot: An Instagram Page Wants YOU to Pay Attention to OC Politics!
Earlier this year, protests swept through Orange County streets demanding justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It didn't take long for that groundswell of activism to turn its focus towards local governments and police budgets in pushing for change.
A flurry of public comments delivered remotely demanded elected officials in Anaheim and Santa Ana take steps to "defund the police" as council members considered votes giving more and more resources to the boys in blue.
Helping sustain that energy is OC Council Watch, a new Instagram page keeping an observant eye on city halls throughout the county in a new way. At first look, it's a kaleidoscope of colors, each post highlighting important agenda items from city council meetings related to police spending and other key issues through a stylized series of graphics.
It's an approach inspired by Black Lives Matter and the organizing example set when online organizing helped hundreds turn out for a Los Angeles Police Department Commission meeting in the days following Floyd's death. Activists eventually scored important victories against an ever-bulging LAPD budget, due in part to critical information that rapidly spread through social media.
Hoping to replicate the feat, OC Council Watch is the work of a dozen activists, all of whom wish to remain anonymous but definitely want to spread the word about their work.
"Our entire effort is to make information as shareable and easy to digest as possible and we find that Instagram allows us to present information in a 'snackable' way that is easy to share." the group says. "Reviewing city agenda packets is boring and overwhelming, so we believe that the templates we create with diverse graphics and fonts help make it more approachable."
OC Council Watch also curates its content with communities of color in mind. The Instagram page has only been around for two months but in that time has amassed more than 1,700 followers. The flood of interest has surprised the group, even in this moment of unprecedented protest.
"Much of that surprise comes from the fact that the content we share doesn’t encompass the exciting, more interactive elements of the movement," the group says. "Very few people find attending city council meetings exciting, but as a collective, we find this to be an important way to keep the momentum of the movement alive." And the public service OC Council Watch provides doesn't just keep people informed. The point is to become aware of a local issue and then do something about it. At the bare minimum, anyone who has an opinion about an agenda item can express it individually during public comments. Other times, there's a more coordinated, organized effort that's part of a campaign. "We believe that the inaccessibility of local politics can be strategic and intentional, and we are determined to make it simple so that everyone can show up for their city," the group says. "We truly believe that anyone can learn and stay engaged." Take, for instance, Santa Ana's Housing Opportunity Ordinance. Trampled on by past developers, Santa Ana city council wants to further water down the law requiring the payment of an "opt-out" fee for a residential project to be able to avoid allocating a number of units for affordable housing. OC Council Watch's post became an attractive and effective organizing tool in getting the word out. A more recent post alerts people that a second reading of proposed amendments arrives Tuesday, ones that include siphoning off collected revenues for non-housing uses, like funding public safety (police). If council members side with developers, they won't enjoy the quietude of complacency from residents along the way. The Instagram page has already branched out beyond highlighting important agenda items with succinct analysis. It's being proactive in creating infographics to inform naranjeros of civic issues not directly related to a particular council agenda. A recent post asks, "How much does your city spend on police per person?" The provocative question is followed by revealing data. Sure, New York City's police department is the biggest in the nation, but Anaheim actually spends $690 on police per resident compared to the Big Apple's $668 per resident rate! The infographic triggered a heated debate in the comments section. OC Council Watch is planning on further diversifying its approach by providing critical information on local elections, city council races and candidates. But as the page becomes more multi-pronged, with hopes of covering the whole county, the mission of keeping residents informed and encouraging critical engagement at the local level remains the same. "Ultimately, we hope to impact people individually and encourage them to not be intimidated by local governance," the group says. "Whether we have 100 followers or 1,000, if we are able to get just one person to engage with their city councils, then we will have succeeded in our vision."
- Gabriel San Román
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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina
Disney's Song of the South may be the most infamously racist movie in the Mouse's storied vault, but another forgotten film is seemingly just as shocking, if by its title alone! In June 1957, Disney released The Wetback Hound, an eighteen minute live-action short-film that accompanied the theatrical release of Johnny Tremain. Larry Landsburgh, an animal lover, produced and directed The Wetback Hound. Even though the film won't be on Disney-Plus anytime soon, it's available on YouTube, where I watched it this weekend. The tail-wagging tale begins in Sonora, Mexico, where a hound named Paco just isn't all that good at running down mountain lions. As a matter of fact, he sniffs out a false lead on a deer, leading a whole pack of dogs on a futile effort. Mexican hunters bemoan Paco's folly as a mountain lion escapes. They treat Paco poorly; one serape-wearing Mexican even swats at the dog! The hound's not worth feeding on account of his blunder, either. Paco ditches the camp, but Mexicans in town barely pay any mind to him, either, save for one man. But a border officer stops the pair at an international crossing into the United States. The man is waved through, but without any records, Paco must stay behind.
The dog comes to a river when the short-film's narrator, Rex Allen, who sang in blackface in another film, casually utters his most racist line: "Paco doesn't know it, but he's about to become a wetback." Surprise, surprise! Once the hound gets to the United States, he's taken in by a white rancher and mountain lion hunter. Paco comes to life, but I won't spoil the ending. Well, actually I don't know how the film ends entirely because about three minutes are cut off from the YouTube video. What I do know is that The Wetback Hound found anticipation and acclaim before and after its release.
"The wetback situation is going to the dogs," declared a United Press preview. The film later aired on ABC and, of course, won an Academy Award. And you wonder how we got Trump?
Don't worry, raza: Disney's definitely ashamed of this film and there won't be any "101 Wetback Hounds" remake hitting movie theaters anytime soon!
By the Bylines
A reminder: this Friday, LibroMobile will publish my latest Off the Page Column about an amazing new book you'll definitely want to read. Don't miss it!