Bus Riders Union gives mayor early morning wake-up call

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's neighborhood got a rude awakening at 6 a.m. today when protesters armed with drums and vuvuzelas attempted to get the mayor's attention.

The early morning quiet was shattered as members of the Bus Riders Union (BRU) and other organizations shouted in unison: "Good morning, Mayor! This is your wake-up call!" Drumming, chanting and blasts from vuvuzelas ensued.

The BRU organized the demonstration as part of their campaign to stop bus fare hikes and spending on new MTA rail lines. The group wants a $20 monthly bus pass, a 50-cent fare with free transfers, a doubling of the bus fleet to 5,000 and a $10 student bus pass.

Members of the Bus Riders Union and other organizations stand in front of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's home in the early morning, giving the mayor a "wake-up call." (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)The BRU is also demanding the full implementation of its 1996 civil rights consent decree, an agreement that was reached as part of a lawsuit the BRU filed against the MTA. The BRU says the MTA still hasn't increased the number of busses, night and weekend services or lowered the ratio of passengers to persons waiting for service.

The BRU has criticized Villaraigosa for spending his time cementing relationships with wealthy interests and not attending to the needs of the poor and working class. They argue the mayor is not a progressive politician like he claims.

"The priorities that the mayor is pushing is benefiting certain people," said BRU lead organizer Esperanza Martinez. "The only thing he has given people of color and the working class is his back."

A member of the Bus Riders Union aims his vuvuzela at the mayor's home. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)Manuel Criollo, an organizer for the BRU, expressed his disappointment of the mayor seeking federal aid to help pay for rail lines, while forsaking the existing bus services.

"The mayor needs to prioritize people over corporations and police expansion," he said. "It's been a massive disappointment to have a latino progressive come into office and be absent from the needs of working class families and communities of color."

Also in attendance at today's demonstration were LA CAN, the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a civil rights organization. They are seeking a reduction of bus fares, as well as a rent freeze, to assist the poor and working class in LA.

Retired librarian Ivan Corpeno-Chavez shouts, "Wake up, Antonio!" into a megaphone aimed at the LA mayor's home. Corpeno-Chavez wants city cutbacks for libraries to stop. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)Ivan Corpeño-Chavez, a retired librarian, attended the demonstration due to cutbacks to libraries initiated by the mayor. Corpeño-Chavez says the Los Angeles Public Library had 1,200 employees in 1980, which has since been reduced to approximately 725 despite an increase in library services. Future reductions, he says, will affect many children in Los Angeles.

"We are trying to highlight that the mayor is attacking child services," he said. "We keep the kids off the street. The library is a safe comfortable place for people to meet."

According to savethelibrary.org, a Web site sponsored the Librarian's Guild, the LA libraries are experiencing increased traffic. There were more than 17 million visits to the libraries, along with a 10 percent increase in checkouts. The mayor's 11 percent reduction of library staff was approved by the City Council.

As might be expected, some residents in Villaraigosa's neighborhood were less than enthused about the early morning cacophony of drums and horns. Police managed to get demonstrators to lower the volume after they made their point. The protest continued without incident.