Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Olympian aid rallied to boost ghetto

To Morrie Notrica, owner of a bustling supermarket in a mostly black city neighborhood, the South Central Organizing Committee (SCOC) uses bully tactics. To the SCOC, a 42,000-member neighborhood group based in church congregations , this was just a first small step in a long, ambitious undertaking.

About 300 SCOC members filed into Mr. Notrica's supermarket one Saturday morning last year wearing ''store inspector'' buttons, with news cameras in tow, interrupting business and taking notes on poor conditions at his store.

About these ads

From there, the group went to an executive of a nearby supermarket chain, and leaders gave him 10 minutes to sign a clean-store agreement. When he declined the ultimatum, he was invited onto the back of a flat-bed truck in the parking lot, where the crowd chanted ''sign it'' while he agreed to their terms.

Mr. Notrica grudgingly admits that his store and others are somewhat cleaner now, although he bitterly opposes the SCOC kind of pressure tactics.

The organization has since moved beyond grocery stores to a what it calls the ''permanent Olympics.''

The Olympic Games, which were centered within blocks of Morrie Notrica's store in south-central Los Angeles, made a vivid impression on the neighborhood.

Police saturation during the Games brought crime down 70 percent in the neighborhood, and locals saw firsthand what corporations and local politicians could do when properly enlisted.

Why not, they reasoned, enlist those forces in an effort of similar proportions - rebuilding the largest black ghetto in California?

This effort is just beginning, but the SCOC has already shown a knack for winning allies in the right places. It does not hesitate to resort to confrontation, where it wields the club of sheer numbers.

About these ads

But the SCOC approach has become noted for its discipline, clear purposes, and relentlessness in pursuit of power, rather than for parking-lot face-offs.

'We're trying to take the energy of the Olympics and make a permanent change, '' says Larry McNeil, a professional organizer who helps guide SCOC.

Even as the group works for immediate goals, such as cleaning up grocery stores, cutting crime around liquor stores, and getting more police patrols in the area, it is also setting up a strategy team of the most influential leaders - mostly businessmen - in southern California.

''Nothing significant happens in southern California without top-level business backing,'' Mr. McNeil avers.

Already the strategy team includes William Kieschnick, chief executive officer at Atlantic Richfield Corporation; Otis Chandler, chairman of Times-Mirror Company; George Moody, president of Security Pacific Corporation; Walter Gerken, chairman and chief executive officer of Pacific Mutual Life Insurance (and former Business Roundtable president); Warren Christopher, Los Angeles lawyer and former deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration; and California Attorney General John Van de Kamp.

It is in the business community, rather than among politicians, that the SCOC seeks resources and support. Business has the money, influence, and expertise for such a task, SCOC leaders say, as well as a vision that goes beyond political lines or terms.

This pragmatic view of where power lies and of how to get it is rooted in the precepts of the late Saul Alinsky, an organizer of neighborhoods and communities for mass, radical action.

SCOC is one of the newest of the neighborhood groups founded by the New York-based Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).

It flanks another IAF group, the United Neighborhoods Organization, in East Los Angeles, which is now eight years old and counts a membership of roughly 93, 000.

The most established IAF organizations are in Texas, where Communities Organized for Public Service in San Antonio, has influence now extending to state politics.

What SCOC wants in south-central Los Angeles, which includes Watts, is less crime, more jobs, and better education. While some of the corporations approached by the group are sometimes willing to write contribution checks right away, SCOC discourages that approach.

''It would be easy to get 4 or 5 million dollars in grants for a jobs program ,'' says McNeil. ''We could do that in two months of organizing.'' Rather, the group is using the strategy team to draw corporate leaders into actual planning.

''South Central has resources,'' says Father Hartshorn Murphy, rector of Saint Philips Episcopal Church, which is in the neighborhood. ''We have land. We have people willing to work who need training.''

One of SCOC's most valuable allies has been Attorney General Van de Kamp, who introduced the group to corporate officers. The group came to know Van de Kamp, in turn, through Ruth Rushen, his liaison to corrections and the minority community.

''One of the things I like about them is that they come to you with a problem and with recommended solutions, and they ask you to do something very specific, '' she says.

''I don't know many organizations that tell you they are having a rally Monday night with 5,000 people, and they actually come very close to that,'' Ms. Rushen adds. ''That impresses politicians.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.