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Streets and Justice Advocate Maryann Aguirre Featured in Video for International Women’s Day

Thumbs up. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/justanotherrandomhero/14694260087/in/set-72157645931837518##Erick Huerta/Flickr##

Thumbs up. Photo: Erick Huerta/Flickr

A few months ago, we featured the story of the extraordinary Maryann Aguirre as part of our #streetsR4families series. The series looks at the experiences of parents trying to move their families safely through the streets of Los Angeles via transit, bicycle, or on foot. Speaking as a single mother from the working-class Latino community of Boyle Heights, Aguirre made it clear that she believed that streets around her would only truly be safe when her community, as a whole, was healthy and thriving.

Motivated by the obstacles she had to overcome in her own life, the injustices and inequities that plague her community, and the desire to create safe spaces for her young daughter, she became deeply engaged in making her community a better place at a young age. While she is perhaps best known around Los Angeles as an outspoken member of the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles bicycle brigade, she is also very active in raising awareness around the concerns of the underprivileged, protesting gentrification, promoting justice for people (particularly women and women-identified folks) of color, and working to bring cycling and pedestrian infrastructure that fits the needs of existing residents to Boyle Heights as a promotora with Multicultural Communities for Mobility.

It’s a lot of activism and engagement to house in one person’s body, but she somehow manages to make it look pretty effortless.

“This is just something that I do because of the conditions I/we/she live(s) in, because of my existence,” she had shrugged during our interview. “To me, there is no other choice.”

Now you can take a peek at how she juggles all of her advocacy work and responsibilities, set to music. “Mujer Soy,” shot by Elefante Collective against the backdrop of music by the socially-conscious East L.A.-based (and fantastically fun live) Las Cafeteras and featuring a dance remix collaboration with Yukicito, tracks Maryann for a day. She wakes up with her daughter, gets her to school, heads for work at Inner City Struggle, leads a women-centric bike ride, collaborates with other advocates for the rights of women and female-identified people, and finishes the day snuggling with her little girl.

It’s a beautiful piece and a lovely way to (belatedly) celebrate International Women’s Day.

To read our story and learn more about Maryann, click here.

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#StreetsR4Families: Maryann Aguirre on Creating Safer Spaces for her Daughter

Thumbs up. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/justanotherrandomhero/14694260087/in/set-72157645931837518##Erick Huerta/Flickr##

Thumbs up at the Pacoima Mural Ride. Photo: Erick Huerta/Flickr

“The first [bike] ride I took Leah on was the Black-Brown Unity ride two years ago,” says Maryann Aguirre, member of the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles Bicycle Brigade, a cycling group comprised of women of color based in Boyle Heights, “and I was f*cking dying!”

Pedaling the 12 miles the route wound between Boyle Heights and Watts with a heavy trailer and her then-5-year-old daughter in tow had proven tougher than she had anticipated.

While she laughs at the memory of how hard it was, I have to smile at the fact that the first ride she chose to take her daughter on was one aimed at building better relations between African-Americans and Latinos by raising awareness about their shared experiences with police brutality.

It makes perfect sense, really.

Although only 24, Aguirre has long been deeply engaged in making her community a better place. She is well-grounded in the concerns of the underprivileged, active in protesting gentrification, passionate about justice for people (particularly women) of color and willing to show up to fight for it, and, more recently, working to bring cycling and pedestrian infrastructure that fits the needs of existing residents to the working-class Latino community of Boyle Heights.

When I ask how she wants me to describe her, however, she balks at the confinement she feels sometimes comes with labels like “organizer” and “activist.”

“This is just something that I do because of the conditions I/we/she live(s) in, because of my existence,” she says. “To me, there is no other choice.”

“You are a conscientious community member with a passion for justice…” I try.

“…in my ‘hood,” she finishes, laughing.

Most of Aguirre’s actively practiced conscientiousness – even that around livable streets — is oriented toward making the world a more welcoming space for her daughter, Leah Flores. Aguirre sees access to jobs and educational opportunities, affordable housing, a public space free of harassment from law enforcement or those carrying racial, gender, or other biases, and safe spaces for the expression of cultural and other identities as being integral to making a community and its streets healthier and, by extension, safer, more just, and more accessible for when Leah is ready to move through them on her own.

Which is probably the reason that, despite the fact that I am there to talk to Aguirre about the challenges of raising a child in a single-parent, car-lite household for Streetsblog’s #StreetsR4Families series, we spend the vast majority of our two-hour conversation on everything but her transit habits. Read more…

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Ticketing of Ovarian Psyco Sparks Questions About How Group Rides Should Manage Safety

A ride marshal from Clitoral Mass is ticketed for running a red light. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A ride marshal from Clitoral Mass is ticketed for running a red light. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

On Saturday’s Clitoral Mass ride with the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles, one of the ride marshals had a run-in with the police.

I did not witness the event, but was told by multiple sources (including one of the officers) that the Ovas had blocked traffic so that riders could continue through a red light on 7th St. in the Skid Row section of downtown. When the officers moved into the intersection to stem the flow of riders, one of the marshals went around the car. She was subsequently pulled over and cited.

Witnesses felt the officers had been a little overzealous, with the female officer nearly knocking the rider over with her door, and both preferring to hand the rider a full-fledged ticket rather than the warning she asked for.

By the time I arrived a few minutes later, the female officer was already writing the ticket out.

The exchanges between the officers and the riders were calm and courteous, with the male officer freely offering his name and badge number to those who requested it and neither officer seeming to be perturbed by the fact that they were being recorded by several people with cellphones.

That doesn’t mean the organizers and supporters of the ride weren’t frustrated, of course.

While the officers had likely felt obligated to do something about the blocking of traffic because it happened right in front of them, they could have just given the ride marshal a warning. But they made it explicit that they were choosing not to do so in this case.

I finally approached one of the officers and asked what the solution to this kind of situation was. Read more…

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Reclaiming Public Space for Marginalized Communities: Bikes Don’t Fix Everything, But They Can Help

The next generation of riders takes to the streets of South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The next generation of riders takes to the streets of South L.A. as part of a Unity ride on Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The recent tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and here at home in South L.A. have served to underscore just how hostile the public space can be to people of color, particularly those of lesser means.

For those that live that reality day in and day out in Los Angeles, that is not news.

I’ve documented their frustration with law enforcement officers that would rather harass and arrest than protect and serve in a number of dedicated stories (here, here, here, here). More often, however, concerns about officer misbehavior are interwoven in stories on a wide range of topics simply because they are that much of a constant in the lives of the communities I cover (see here, here, or here).

And while some advocates might question the relevance of such concerns to the Livable Streets movement, I would argue that equal access to streets is a cornerstone of livability. There is no earthly reason that men of color should feel that the act of walking or riding a bicycle down the street is akin to extending an embossed invitation to police to stop, question, and frisk them, hand them bogus tickets (for not having bike lights in the day time, for example), or worse.

A young man is separated from his friends and questioned by Public Safety for skateboarding near USC. (photo courtesy of the young man in question)

A young man is separated from his friends, told to put his hands behind his back and face the fence, and questioned by Public Safety for skateboarding near USC. (Photo courtesy of the young man in question. His face was blurred because he feared retaliation for speaking up.)

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to the problem.

Among many other things, the abuses of power by the police are facilitated by the de facto segregation of communities by race and/or class, narratives that criminalize members of marginalized communities, the effective disenfranchisement of those communities, and the years of neglect of the health and well-being of those populations.

The entrenched nature of these problems have forced activists to take matters into their own hands in order to chip away at the structures and narratives that have long been used against them.

In South L.A., for example, social justice non-profit Community Coalition worked to put an end to willful defiance suspensions in schools, just finished its third Freedom School summer program, and will host the third annual South L.A. Powerfest this Sept. 6th. In Boyle Heights, the non-profit visual arts center Self-Help Graphics has cultivated Latino and Chicano consciousness and creativity through its programming for 40 years, and just completed a summer session aimed at empowering youth to express their visions for their communities through art.

Other activists have taken to the streets.

Read more…

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Fun and Food in Boyle Heights and South L.A. this Weekend

Riders at the first Clitoral Mass event in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Riders at the first Clitoral Mass event in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

If you like to get out and about on the weekends, there are some really great events you might want to plug into.

SATURDAY afternoon, women and those who identify as women are invited to join the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles on their third annual Clitoral Mass ride.

The first ride, held in 2012, generated some controversy for excluding men. But, the organizers held fast to their stance, arguing that group rides did not always feel like safe spaces for women and, in particular, women of color or those whose who identified as women.

The women seemed to agree, as they came out in droves — more than two hundred showed up for the first ride.

The Ovas are at it again, with a day ride this year. Meeting up at Grand Park (200 N. Grand Ave.) at 1 p.m. and rolling out at 1:30 p.m., they will take those identifying as women on a 30-35 mile tour of the city, and have a number of pit stops planned to invigorate and educate riders. People’s Yoga will prepare riders for the tour with a stretch session, Buyepongo will lead a drum circle, Comida no Bombas will provide dinner in Echo Park, activists will discuss gentrification at a stop at Mariachi Plaza, and a support car (with mechanics) will follow the riders. There will also be a condom mobile and lots of free snacks and water.

The tour will end where it began, in Grand Park. For more information about the ride, see a previous article about the ride planning here, or visit their event page, here.

If you are not woman-identified or just feel like stuffing your face instead, head over to the L.A. Taco Festival in Mariachi Plaza from 2 – 8 p.m. on Saturday. Read more…

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Planning for Third Clitoral Mass in Full Swing

The Ovarian Psyco-Cycles have spent the last few months planning this year’s annual Clitoral Mass ride with one thing on their mind: creating a safe space for “solidarity between womyn, queer, femme, trans, gender non-conforming, and two-spirited individuals from different walks of life to promote solidarity in bicycling, encourage safety, health in our communities, and taking back the night.”

The Clitoral Mass Route Committee has been meeting every week with a dedicated core of members that have taken the lead on coordinating logistics, volunteers, scouting the route, and making sure that everything is on point for the upcoming August 16th event.

The lessons learned from the two previous rides and feedback from participants have been instrumental in the planning of this year’s ride. I sat down with Joan Zamora, Alejandra Ocasio, and Amoxeh Tóchtlí, three of the leaders on the planning committee, to talk about the planning process and some of the changes being made.

One of the biggest adjustments this year is that of the start and end points of the ride. The planning committee has always looked for sites that were accessible by public transportation and bicycle. While everyone that participates is encouraged to take those modes of transportation, some still can’t avoid having to drive to the starting location. In the past, that presented a problem of individuals needing to get back to their cars safely from other parts of town at the end of the night.

So, this year’s ride will begin and end at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. It is also going to to be a daytime ride, with a meet-up time of 1 p.m. and a roll out of 1:30 p.m. Ocasio said that this should help attract a bigger turnout and make it easier for participants to plan and coordinate for the ride. The Metro Civic Center Station located at the west end of the park and numerous bus lines adjacent to it make it an ideal location to start and end. Read more…

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South L.A. to Pasadena: The 2nd Clitoral Mass Takes Over Streets of L.A.

Images by Melody Brocious

“How many of you have ever been here to the Watts Towers before?” asked one of the young women inside the growing circle of women cyclists who gathered to participate in the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles’ Second Annual Clitoral Mass.

By the time we arrived, about 60+ women of varying ages and backgrounds had already gathered in the plaza next to the towers. I spotted familiar faces as I joined the circle. A few curious neighbors peered from their windows while others stood outside watching from their yards. Soon a group of local young men on bikes began to circle around us, eyes scanning each of us as if marking their territory.

The air was thick with an uneasiness that dissipated into calm once the blessing ceremony began in earnest. The small group of young women wearing long flowing skirts that had gathered at the center of the circle began to fill the plaza with the smell of burning sage as they “smudged” riders and their bikes with sage smoke. One of the women then began to lead the circle in a ceremony that connected riders and spectators as we gave thanks and gathered strength from the four cardinal directions as well as the sun. Moon. The earth. And sky.

“We look to the east first. The place of the Sun and our brothers. We ask for our brothers behind bars, incarcerated by this system, separated from us…” As the young woman spoke the young men that had been circling us stopped, listened, and turned their bodies east in unison with the circle of women, setting the tone for the 30+ mile journey.

I did not participate in the Ovas’ (as the Ovarian Psycho-Cycles are known) First Clitoral Mass. And although I have followed their work, I had not participated in any of their Luna rides. In fact as I talked to participants at rest stops, there were many newbies in the crowd that evening. For many of us this was not only our first “BIG” ride but our first experience in an all women (“womyn, womyn-identified, two-spirited, trans & gender-variant folx”) event. Read more…

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It’s Coming: the Organizing Committee Meets to Finalize Plans for August Clitoral Mass

Dalia, Karen, Alejandra, and Paulette from the organizing committee talk about the logistics of the upcoming Clitoral Mass ride spearheaded by the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Several months ago, I sat down with Sean Deyoe, one of the masterminds behind the Passage Ride. He had asked about setting up a bike ride through South L.A. and if I would think about an interesting and informative route through the area.

Sure, I said. I could try

HELL, NO, I thought to myself. Is he INSANE?

I ride almost every day, and I ride a lot — anywhere from 20 – 60 miles a day, depending on where I have to be — and have for almost 20 years.

So, it’s not like I don’t get around.

But I’m almost always riding alone.

The idea of organizing a ride so other people could see what I see, and be entertained, informed, and invigorated all at once strikes me as terrifying.

I don’t know why, really. Maybe it is the idea of imposing the way I ride and the odd things I like on other people? I’m not sure. Whatever it is, I never came up with that South L.A. route. (Sorry, Sean. I suck, I know.)

So, when I saw the organizing committee put out a call for volunteers to attend their sixth (6th!) planning meeting for the 2nd Annual Clitoral Mass ride spearheaded by the Ovarian Psycos, I wanted to sit in and hear how they were tackling the problem.

As you may have guessed, they’re struggling with it, too. Although for very different and far more awesome reasons.

For one, their first CM ride last year was incredibly successful.

More than 200 women showed up from around Southern California and beyond to ride nearly 30 miles in the first such event of its kind in L.A.

From the ceremony before the ride, to the welcome with drumming and wisdom from elders and other powerful women in Leimert Park, to the after-party east of downtown (see photos here), they have a lot to live up to this year. And they’re confident they can do it better. Read more…

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The Ovarian-Psycos Documentary Kicks Off its Kickstarter

The Ovarian-Psycos bicycle brigade knows how to start off their year right. After skyrocketing last year into the minds of cyclists and women as one of the premiere female-only bicycle groups in Los Angeles, and even now in the nation, The Ovarian Psycos – A Documentary Film has launched its Kickstarter campaign yesterday.

Welcome to our newest sponsors, Fisher and Talwar Professional Law Corporation

Filmmakers Kate Trumbull, Joanna Sokolowski and Michael Raines have been working with the Ovas since the middle of the year, capturing them at rides like Clitoral Mass (see our Clitoral Mass video here) and around Eastside landmarks (did you spot the Boyle Hotel on 00:13?).

The film’s campaign barely started yesterday, but has already got the attention of Kickstarter staffers and raised more than $2,500. The film is looking to raise $10,000 by February 23. Here’s what the money will be used for according to their Kickstarter:

Your contribution will directly support our launch into full production for the feature and broadcast version of the film, supplementing the cost of travel from San Francisco to L.A., the hiring of additional crew and equipment, archival research, food, gas, parking, hard drives, archival research, transcription, media logging, and a full time editor

In addition to Clitoral Mass the Ovas plan a monthly Luna Ride, worked with the Eastside Riders and other groups for the Black and Brown Unity Ride, have participated in CicLAvia, organized “mobile bike repair” clinics, and have generally been an active bicycling present for the past couple of years.

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Block Party in South Boyle Heights Closes Street For Rare Outdoor Fun

The street closure opened up room for a game of catch. Rafael Cardenas/lastreetsblog

Just off the beaten path enough to not disrupt local traffic, the Boyle Heights Block Party was held Sunday, October 21, 2012 on 7th Street and Euclid. While Euclid remained open to traffic between Whittier and 8th, a portion of 7th was closed for passersby, information tables, recreation, and booths providing educational material. In addition, Sunrise Elementary opened their parking lot to the event and hosted the food and live music.

The half-day event–Youth Empowerment Committee from the Building Healthy Communities, Boyle Heights–catered to local youth, which included a photobooth, music and other activities. With a $4000 budget funded by a grant from the California Endowment, students from Roosevelt High School took a portion of the money to do an event for their fellow comrades–and all in an area not normally visited, said 17-year-old Kelly Figueroa, a senior at the Academy of Medicine and Health Science at Roosevelt. Read more…