When Silvia Hernandez first immigrated to California over two decades ago, she worked tirelessly to support her family. After holding jobs in sweatshops, factories, and housekeeping, she pursued a cosmetology license and began doing hair professionally. She was well aware that the “place where I was coming from and my skin color” meant she “had to work harder than other people if I wanted to make money.
But when she became sick and was unable to work, the life she’d built fell apart. Following an eviction, she applied for “all the housing programs available” and sought out medical care, but “the system didn’t give me any other choices but to go to Skid Row,” the 50-square-block area of downtown Los Angeles that is home to several thousand unhoused people. There, she heard similar stories from numerous other women–mostly Black and Latina–and realized she “couldn’t stay as a witness anymore without doing something.” Today, Silvia directs her energy toward advocating on behalf of the Skid Row community “to make our struggles visible, to fight for our rights, and to win.
Last Saturday, SIlvia told her story before a crowd of around 100 at the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), an organization located on Skid Row that works in partnership with people in poverty to build political power and hold elected officials accountable. LA CAN’s model focuses on organizing Skid Row residents, undertaking “participatory action research” to identify community needs, and advocating for stronger housing and anti-poverty policies. The event was co-hosted by LA CAN and the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), the revitalized, multiracial movement to end poverty that has been hosting events and engaging in direct actions around the country since its relaunch earlier this year.
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