Empowerment Congress: helping citizens to make a difference

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

Photo by Haywood Galbreath

In the political scheme of things, 2012 is a big year.

It’s exactly the reason why the theme of the 20th annual Empowerment Congress Summit was “the Year of Empowerment.”

The summit is the vision of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who sees it as a way to empower citizens and give them a better understanding of what’s going on in their neighborhoods.

“Apathy as such is the most serious threat to democracy,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.  “So what we try to do is give people a sense of why it is important to participate in vehicles like the empowerment congress.”

Nearly 2,000 people attended workshops on how government works and developing strategies that shape policy and legislation.

“’If you don’t vote on Tuesday, you have no right to complain on Wednesday,’ is what we tell everyone,” he said.  “

“If you can get people to take the first step then the business of empowerment takes care of itself,” he continued,  noting the increased importance of voter registration and participation in an election year. 

At the event, California Forward sponsored an important panel on improving government by engaging a packed room on government reform and how to hold elected officials accountable.

Former Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court and California Forward Leadership Council Member Cruz Reynoso said he was impressed with the discussions people had on the need for government reform. 

In fact, many signed several petitions circulating at the summit.

“Right now there are many needs in California–needs for education, needs for prison reform, needs for better transportation–none of these needs are being met right now in California because the legislature seems to be incapable of making the decisions that need to be made and the people want a legislature that can make those decisions.”   

He added, “it’s manifested to me that the people are ready for that, both in the terms that things are not going well now and in the terms of their hope and expectation that things can go well in the future and it will go well only if the government can work effectively for the people of this state.”

The California Forward Action Fund supports these efforts to stabilize budgets; make government more accountable; and encourage local governments and agencies to work together through a proposed ballot measure called the GPAA.

On this topic, California Forward Executive Director James Mayer said, “one of the things that this crowd understood and talked about is that, yes, we need to change the constitution but we also need to build capacity and communities and we need to change the culture of how people interact with their government.”

Cheryl Getuiza is a Communications Specialist with California Forward


Cheryl Getuiza

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