Venice showed up strong Tuesday night February 18th, 2020 to advocate for one of their community champions, Matt Fisher, who was facing meritless charges for removal from the VNC Board by president Ira Koslow. A press conference with about 30 people gathered in the Westminster Elementary school parking lot where the Venice Neighborhood Council meetings take place. Myself, along with my local elders Naomi Nightingale, Pamela Anderson, and Laddie Williams briefly spoke about Matt Fisher’s impact, character, and importance to the community as well as speaking on the unjust motion to remove him from the board.
When gathering out front we noticed numerous LAPD officers walking in. Talk about a guilty conscience. The fact they needed 8 cops for a neighborhood council meeting is indicative of their awareness of the injustice they were being instrument to.
At the beginning of the meeting inside my good friend Lydia Ponce requested to have the meeting open with Indigenous prayer of which our local friend Jeremy Gonzalez of the local Tongva nation would lead and partake. Our request was not granted but we proceeded to assert our right to public space anyway because their white privilege comfort zone and commands needed a quick chin check. We sang a native song over the settler-colonial “Pledge of Allegiance” and then Lydia proceeded to do a prayer. Contrary to popular idiocy it was not a “prayer for Matt Fisher” it was actually a prayer to open the hearts and minds of all these unscrupulous and dishonest VNC Board and audience members who frequently partake in advancing systemic racism towards people of color and unhoused citizens. This action by us offended some and elicited some racist commentary by Venice Update’s Reta Moser and Angela Mcgregor who referred to the prayer and action as “selfish display by self-identified indigenous persons.”
6th generation Venetian and Elder Laddie Williams led a crown chant..
“Do we oppose the agenda? — YES!” “Do we oppose the agenda? — YES!”
“Do we oppose you Ira? — YES!” “Do we oppose you Francisco? — YES!”
“Do we oppose you Murez? — YES!” “Do we oppose you Thibodeau? — YES!”
Christian Wrede of Fight Back Venice in true hyper white privilege mentality thought he could weaponize the police against the diverse crowd who was mostly made up of Save Venice supporters opposing the motion to remove Matt Fisher. In particular Wrede attempted this because an unhoused brother was being a bit boisterous and giving them all a piece of his mind. When LAPD did not respond to his commands Wrede berated the black police officer. “What are you doing!” , “You’re a disgrace!,” “You are worthless!”
The crowd was mostly boisterous for minutes after that incident until Hugh Harrison got in the “president’s seat” and displayed some leadership skills to get the meeting started and take a more registerable form. Interestingly in that some were asking me to calm the crowd but in reality it was not my orchestration. Ira introduced his arbitrary motion and presented his meritless and capricious evidence which people would clown him for the rest of the night. Matt then defended himself from the highly deficient evidence and accusations.
At least 28 people spoke in defense of Matt Fisher pointed out the lack of merit, illegal procedure illegal procedure, selective discipline, lack of evidence, and racist implications of the VNC’s actions. Maybe 4 at most spoke for the motion to remove Matt.
Yolanda Gonzalez who normally comments in favor of gentrification remarked how this unprecedented abuse of power by VNC leadership is going to be very bad for everyone. Laddie Williams commented how Ira did the same undermining to the GRVNC. Former women VNC board members highlighted how they’ve endured actual documented harassment from both men and women board members which went undisciplined. Reta Moser who spoke in favor of Matt’s removal commented that he called her racist for using the words “culture” and “ethnicity”, which was not true (it was me) and of course negated context. Reta Moser then shifted that into inferring she was a victim who’s first amendment rights were infringed upon. Ironic since she was there encouraging the dishonorable removal of a duly elected community representative. David Ewing noted how Ira had no evidence and asked where the disciple efforts were for VNC board members like architect Robert Thibodeau who threatened a female constituent the previous week and Mark Ryavec who publicly posted Ewing’s address. Ian Cognito commented on the numerous police and how they were there protecting and serving the unscrupulous institution agents— not the public majority of the common people. Throughout the comments many long time supporters of Ira Koslow expressed their extreme disappointment with his lack of integrity and leadership, for further empowering the gentrification sector, and for setting a new precedent for fascistic activity in whats supposed to a representational body to the City of Los Angeles.
Of course even with all the illegalities of the motion the board still voted on it.
Ryavec– Voted yes. Said Matts behavior that violated the code of conduct on “numerous occasions” can be regularly exhibited by his supporters who are “all cut from the same cloth.” He also remarked that Ira’s presentation was underwhelming and said he asked Ira for the “evidence” to be publicly presented earlier, spotlight another bullet point of this unhonorable process.
Jim Murez– Voted yes. Said he wouldn’t be opposed to some type of mediation if Matt “excused himself” for making inappropriate comments.
Charles Rials– Vote no. He noted the lack of evidence, the unmerited removal procedure, and pointed out that Ira, Jim Murez, and Ryavec should recuse themselves since they are a part of the complaint. He also went on to clarify that the “lack of civility” people are complaining about at the VNC is not as half as bad as what he’s witnessed from certain board members and their constituents at his homeless committee meetings.
Sima– Voted yes. She started by complimenting Matt’s work and his personal accomplishments. She then goes on to say that what she does take issue with is Matt and his supporters’ “attacks against members of the Venice community and members of the VNC body.” She goes on to whip her head around like Michael Jackson and say that that we have no right to badmouth, make feel unsafe, or intimidate and bully board members. Great. Case closed. A white woman said she was attacked (plural) by Matt’s supporters. Bring in the conceptual tiki torches. Sitting on a virtual all white gentry VNC board and voting for a dishonorable and meritless motion to remove the foremost PoC voice she then goes on to compare and decry Matt Fisher and his supporters to Donald Trump for alleged “political bullying.” She pulled all the white privilege stops out on this one, moving on to suggest that we don’t know what apartheid is, and that we were anti-semites because of an unproven and convenient allegation that we called Ira “Hitler” and ended with a personal trivial rant about how Matt didn’t email her about a Venice sign lighting issue.. insert rolling eyes emoji
Brian Averill– Voted no. One of the only people to speak and act with integrity. He noted that baseless evidence and commented how it was obvious that the Facebook screenshot Ira brought as was obviously a joke. A bad joke but a joke nonetheless. He finished by saying that the motion was ridiculous and at tops a censure was more ideal.
Alex Neiman– Voted no. The other voice of integrity, thanked everyone for their lively participation and hoped that we could come more often minus the yealling. He also commented on the lack of evidence, the mass community support for him to be and remain on the board, and the discriminatory focus on Matt when other board members regularly partake in clear and documented ethics violations and conflicts of interest.
Christian Wrede– Voted yes. Challenged Brian Averill’s comment about the screenshot being a bad joke. Went on to rant about the “fake bomb” issue at the then to be Bridge Housing location, saying that it was, and is still, a serious issue. Interesting since his name nor the name of his group were mentioned in any official report of the incident. Clearly he needed a scapegoat and target to vent his anger about taking image hits for the incident. He should reflect on his organizations actions and principles instead.
George Francisco– Venice’s systemic racism, gentrification poster boy of the decade touched on Wrede’s concern about Matt Fisher’s alleged social media comment /joke about the fake MTA “bomb” on councilman Mike Bonin’s page saying that such behavior is “beyond the pale.” He also sprinkled the magic words any white person needs to automatically criminalize a person of color, calling Matt’s comment “an aggressive, hostile act.” Highly amusing given his role in displacing people in the community and you should hear the things this soft spoken “civil” guy he says about Black History and elders at these FBCV church hearings. He went on to remark how everyone is dumping on Ira and that Ira has been “bending over backwards” to resolve this issue with Matt..of course the like most of what comes out their mouth there was no evidence of that. He then went on to shame young Charles Rials for not taking his same gentrifier stance against Matt Fisher.
Of the board members that didn’t comment, the usual displacement advocates Melissa Diner, Robert Thibodeau, Theresa White, Jamie Page, and CJ Cole voted yes for the arbitrary and unmeritorious motion to remove Matt Fisher. Interestingly even Communications Officer Theresa White who just had a baby the previous week (congratulations) under intensive circumstances thought it important enough to break from her maternity self-care time to be present enough to just register a yes-vote for the motion. Wow! Hugh Harrison’s abstained vote was super unhelpful and many remarked how it was fishy that Alix and Bruno happened not to be there to support Matt and the non-gentry citizenry of Venice. Parliamentarian Ivan Spiegel was as obstructive and annoying as ever. He’s a key background player in all these shenanigans and in maintenance of the homogenous and non-inclusive culture of our local political forums.
George Francisco’s frequent side convos with Ryavec, Wrede, Jamie Page, and LAPD made for amusing low key background activities. In the beginning I overheard Sima tell Matt “Thank you!” in an accusatory frustrated manner regarding the beginning meeting. I quipped back that it wasn’t his fault, we can blame Ira, everyone who participated in this abuse of power, and those who continuously vote to marginalize people of color and low income peoples for this. I also noted some alt-right militant types in the crowd. I kept security for Native ceremonies for many years and have done defense work against Neo-Nazis and overt White Supremacist militants so I know the flags. Let’s also not forget that our neighbors in Santa Monica had a few incursions not too long ago. We’d be naïve to think these types aren’t here scouting.
It was annoyingly amusing to hear these “nice and civil” people who constantly invest in displacing people of color and low income peoples of all backgrounds and who undermine racial and economic equity at every turn refer to others as uncivil. It begs the question, who has the final say on what “aggressive and uncivil” really is? Is it the person expressing vocal outrage over lies, abuse of power, and displacement… or is it the polite, soft talking people making policies to perpetuate and reinforce the mechanisms of displacement and racism?
Black elder Laddie Williams said,
“Ira Koslow is not leading as a true President of the VNC. Ira displayed no leadership. He just showed that he’s a tired old man who cannot cope. Ira Koslow did nothing as a president to moderate this issue and chose not to go to mediation. Ira maintains the same attitude he’s had over the past 25 years. It’s his pattern and practice to do away with people he does not agree with.”
Quite a few people expressed that we were being unnecessarily boisterous but make no mistake. No matter if we came in passive silence or came in boisterous the VNC participants of this white supremacy power grab would not have ruled any different.
Dr. Naomi Nightingale said,
“People act up and out when systemic injustices and disregard of basic human rights and political power plays leave no choice. When civil attempts are made for them to see us, to respect our culture, our history, or to acknowledge our worth, and we are viewed as inconsequential, treated as collateral damage, and are blatantly dismissed, what choice do they leave us to be heard? Civility ignored long enough erupts into civil unrest as what was evidenced on Tuesday night at the VNC meeting to remove Matt Fisher.”
Sure, it takes two to tango but the fact that other VNC board members with documented violations to the code of civility and the VNC by-laws have yet to be disciplined or even acknowledged for their transgressions tells you everything you need to know about where Ira and all the yes, absentee, and abstaining voting board members stand with integrity and respect for the rules and procedures they condemn us “uncivil” commoners for. Throughout this process the weeks prior to this board meeting I’ve heard many pleas to Ira remarking how “you guys are on the same side.” Clearly Ira is not.
With “progressive allies” like this who needs gentrification agents?
All we’ve ever had is our voice but it takes a concerted horde of privileged, money-backed gentrification agents using dishonorable methods to register a move against our representation. What a compliment.
However, despite the immediate frustration with these VNC gentrification agents’ cowardly machinations it really is a blessing in disguise. They pissed off more of us than usual which has only galvanized additional people into action.
Like Tony Stark told Loki at the end of Avengers,
“Yea. Not a great plan.”
Mike Bravo is a 5th generation Venetian, Native-Indigenous rights activist and youth educator, former Venice Neighborhood Council board member, and digital designer.
https://bravo1.la | e-mail: [email protected]