Politics and the Citizen: One Student's Story

What can I do to affect change? How can I get involved? People ask these questions to find out how they can improve their neighborhoods. In the case of one Los Angeles Harbor College student, she has found the answer. An English major set to graduate this fall term, Lea Kharshemme-King has recently become involved in politics.

A full time student and single mother of 6, Kharshemme-King rarely has time to get involved. However, her desire to join the LA County Sheriff's Department has led her to become an active participant of the Harbor City/Harbor Gateway Neighborhood Council. "Instead of coming in as a law enforcer, I wanted to come in as a partner," Kharshemme-King stated. "Being a cop means that you would have to be involved. I want to understand and get to know my neighborhood."

Kharshemme-King has attended various neighborhood council meetings. One such related meeting she attended involved 15th District LA City Councilwoman Janice Hahn. At the LAHC campus, Councilwoman Hahn spoke with local stakeholders- those that do business, residents, and LAHC students in the city- encouraging the formation of neighborhood councils. She pointed out that these neighborhood councils would not only foster unity among residents, but it would also allow the stakeholders to be better informed when they vote. "The people were impatient," Kharshemme-King noted, "Residents voiced their concerns and their disappointments with the current administration." The people's impatience reflects the lack of information many deal with when they cast their votes. As councilwoman Hahn suggested that neighborhood councils are a good solution to this problem. Hahn is aware of the importance of her constituents votes, and thus, as Kharshemme-King noted, "It is likely that the neighborhood councils will become the newest group of lobbyists." One encouraging point Kharshemme-King remembered most about the meeting was that while the wealthy have influence over politicians, their money is used to influence the vote of the poor.

Kharshemme-King also had the opportunity to attend a Harbor City/Harbor Gateway Neighborhood Council meeting at Narbonne High School on November 28, 2001. This council meeting revolved around various public works issues ranging from street and sidewalk reconstruction to public safety. Officials made the point that the lack of funding was a major obstacle in getting things done. "As a result of the limited funding," Kharshemme-King stated, "they have to prioritize." Public safety is top priority primarily because of the potential for lawsuits. "The people were very vocal, but the officials are only doing their best," Kharshemme-King concluded.

So how can other residents like Kharshemme-King get involved? "Well, first, if you notice things that are wrong in your neighborhood, it's better to write to your representative instead of calling and complaining. Another good way to get involved is to find community projects to personally contribute. Attending any local neighborhood council meeting is another option. "Speak to officials at the council meetings. Many have business cards and would be happy to talk to neighborhood residents." The next Harbor City/Harbor Gateway Neighborhood Council Meeting is scheduled for January 16, 2002 at Narbonne High School. Neighborhood council meetings provide the unique opportunity for neighborhood stakeholders to voice their concerns in a town meeting-like atmosphere. After all, what better way to get involved in politics than getting involved in those issues most important to your own neighborhood?