Democracy is Much More than Voting. Sometimes it Involves Bikes. And Gardening.

Voting is great and all, but it is only one part of democracy.

Democracy works better when people take an active role in making their communities better year round. That theme of service was more actively promoted after the election in 2008, when Obama asked people to channel their enthusiasm and energy into community service. But, somewhere in the wake of the financial meltdown, that national spirit of commitment seemed to lose some momentum and fizzle out of the spotlight.

That’s certainly much less true among our readership, but I’m guessing you all know neighbors and friends who could use a little community engagement in their lives. If you’d like to capitalize on the excitement generated by the election and turn that into action, this is your week. Grab an apathetic friend or neighbor and teach them the wise ways of community engagement by dragging them to one or more of these South LA events:

SEED: A Weird Act of Faith (ongoing)

Experience the second play in Cornerstone Theater Company’s Hunger Cycle. The play weaves a fantastical tale that travels between an urban farm, a rural haven, and the contested space of agribusiness. SEED takes its inspiration from activists within South Los Angeles who have been fighting for sustainable and healthful food choices for their communities. SEED follows a neighborhood whose struggle for survival depends upon the success of their urban farm. Many of the shows are linked to opportunities for engagement or discussion with community members about the issues raised in the play, so please check the schedule.

If you aren’t familiar with Cornerstone Theater Company, they are a multi-ethnic, ensemble-based theater company that commissions and produces plays that are the result of intense collaborations between artists and community members. Their approach has generated unique and memorable works, such as Day Laborer Theater Without Borders, that not only educate audiences about challenges faced by those on the margins, but empowers the subjects of the work to tell and use their own stories for catharsis. The Hunger Cycle will be comprised of nine world premiere plays exploring people’s relationship to the most elemental of needs – hunger — through the lenses of food equity, urban and rural farming, food addiction, and community gardens.

The play runs through Nov. 18, 2012, with performances this Wed., Thurs., Sat., and Sunday, at Chuco’s Justice Center (1137 E. Redondo Blvd.) in Inglewood. Tickets are pay-what-you-can. For more information, check here.

###

BIKE RIDE FOR JUSTICE AND SAFETY on Saturday

Having just heard about the concussion one of my favorite Ryderz suffered in a hit-and-run in Watts (in front of an elementary school, no less!), the ride for safety this Saturday takes on even more significance. The Bike Ride for Justice and Safety will be held in memory of Benjamin Torres, killed last month in a hit-and-run. Torres had been on his way to work sometime between 4:30 and 5 a.m. when he was struck and left lying in the road.

He suffered severe head injures even though he was wearing a helmet. The severity of the incident lead police to believe that the vehicle would have incurred significant damage. According to the Daily Breeze, debris, including headlights, were found at the scene. Despite this, no witnesses have come forward and the car and driver have not been found.

According to his step-daughter, Veronica, Torres preferred riding a bike to driving, seeing no need to pay for gas just to go to work.

Angered by how callously Torres was left in the road and hoping to find the perpetrator, family members have planned a bike ride for this Saturday, November 10. They are looking to raise awareness around the need for justice for all victims of hit-and-runs and for the safety of riders still out in the streets.

The ride will begin at Rowley Park in Gardena and proceed to Wilton Place and 135th St., where the incident occurred. Riders will begin gathering at 3:30 p.m. and roll out at 4 p.m. The East Side Riders are helping organize the event. More about it is available here. Gardena police ask that anyone with information about the crash call Investigator Matthew Hassoldt at 310-217-6189.

###

ALSO ON SATURDAY, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., L.A. Green Grounds, a cool organization that helps spread the gospel of gardening in South L.A., is holding one of its monthly dig-ins.

At the dig-ins, volunteers spend several hours digging up the front yard of someone who had asked for help putting a garden in. Organizers request that the recipients of gardens be willing to have it set up in their front yard so that others in the area will see the gardens, engage their neighbors about them, and maybe even feel inspired enough to try gardening on their own.

The seedlings for the fresh vegetables and herbs are largely provided for free by the organizers, who bring them in from their own gardens.

It is quite amazing to see how quickly a yard can be transformed into a healthy food zone. Green Grounds provide the shovels and tools. All you need to do is be prepared to work. If you’d like to try your hand at it or would like to know more, RSVP to lagreengrounds@gmail.com. (Directions to the location will be given when you RSVP)

###

ON SUNDAY, the popular RideSouthLA tour of Watts is back! The first ride, held in January, drew about 60 people and resulted in the creation of a map, populated with images of the riders and the photos they took with their cellphones and sent to the website. The second ride drew well over 100 riders and, while some of the constraints of the community and the lack of access to bicycles meant we weren’t able to draw more than one new rider in, our efforts meant that residents were aware of the event and excited to see us come through. Hopefully residents will venture out and join us on this ride.

You should join us, too! The ride meets up at Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park, which features a natural wetlands that represents the area’s original habitat. From there, we will head south through several of LA’s historic communities, checking out great park spaces and hidden cultural gems along the way. The goal is to showcase some of the amazing features of the community and help both residents and visitors to see the communities in a new light. The tour ends in Watts, with a stop at the Watts Towers and the Mother of Humanity Statue at the Watts Labor Community Action Center.

Riders will gather at the park, located at 5790 Compton Ave., at 10 a.m. The ride will be slow-paced and pass largely through residential areas, so bring your family!

###

DIDN’T GET DIRTY enough digging up someone’s front yard on Saturday? How about joining in a Fruit Pick adventure on Sunday?

Community Services Unlimited‘s Tree Of Life program works in partnership with homeowners and residents to identify, harvest from, and care for fruit trees in and around South Los Angeles. The fruit – harvested from trees on residential properties in the area — is used in CSU’s various community programs and shared with the residents. Where it is appropriate, CSU staff and volunteers will also help prune and care for the trees the fruit the harvested is from.

The fruit pick will take place from 12 – 1 p.m. in the Jefferson Park area of South LA, but you must RSVP to get the exact location (as it involves private residences). Please email tol@csuinc.org or call 213 746 1216 for details of location.

Finally, warn the organizers, bring water and wear clothes appropriate for being up in trees.

See you out there!