Green Lifestyles Network is proud to name Madeline Janis as its Mover and Shaker Personality of the Year. Ms. Janis has spent her life fighting for the rights of the powerless and needy. She has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time.
While many of us can readily point out flaws in our society, few of us can list specific ways to solve them. Ms. Janis can not only list the ways to solve them, she goes out and gets them done.
After receiving her law degree from UCLA, Madeline Janis began representing tenants and homeless people in slum housing litigation. She also advocated for disabled people who had been denied government benefits. Then, from 1989-1993, she fought for the rights of Central American refugees living in Los Angeles. In 1993, Ms. Janis co-founded the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). She defined a “new economy” as one that creates fair jobs, thriving communities and a healthy environment.
In our present economy, the ultimate goal for a business is to earn a profit, by any means necessary. Cheaper materials are used in order to cut costs. Workers are paid as little as possible. Then, if they attempt to join a union, they are often fired.
One company guilty of such actions is Wal-Mart. In 2004, Wal-Mart planned to build a superstore (the size of 17 football fields) in Inglewood, CA. In addition, they wanted to bypass government regulations which would have required them to examine how their massive building project would affect the environment. Janis knew a Wal-Mart superstore would devastate Inglewood’s economy by forcing out small businesses that would be unable to compete with Wal-Mart’s low prices. Janis and LAANE went to work and defeated Wal-Mart.
Another major project of Janis’ was aimed at Long Beach’s hotel workers. These workers earned so little, they were living below poverty level, to the point where many of them even qualified for government assistance. Janis fought to get them a wage increase and five sick days. In an interview with Bill Moyers, Janis explained her strategy. Instead of only mobilizing the hotel workers, she approached the small businesses of Long Beach and explained that if hotel workers could earn a ‘living wage’ (one that would sustain a family above poverty level), the small businesses would benefit because the hotel workers would then be able to live and shop in their city. The small business owners saw this connection and joined the fight. With their added support, the new wage of $13/hour (plus five sick days) was passed with 63% of the vote.
Another impressive aspect of Janis’ activism is her approach to economic development. When a city such as Los Angeles or Long Beach needs to build a library or civic center, it hires a private developer. These private developers usually receive perks from the city, such as tax breaks and special permits. Janis believes these developers should give something back to the city in return for these perks. Her suggestion is often that they ‘repay’ the city by providing their employees with medical benefits, affordable housing and living-wage jobs.
The brilliance of this tactic is that it appeals to a person’s common sense. Of course private developers who receive perks should give something back to the city. Isn’t that basic manners? It’s shocking that there are people who would argue against this idea. One such person, Tim Cavanaugh, went so far as to call Janis a “redevelopment thug.” Others have accused Janis of representing special interests.
Janis agrees with this last accusation. She admits she fights for “L.A. County’s 3.7 million low-income taxpayers and residents who don’t have lobbyists and who mostly can’t take time off from work to attend public meetings. That’s my special interest and I’m proud of it.”
Madeline Janis is the perfect person to be named Green Lifestyle’s Mover and Shaker of the Year. Writing this article made me wonder what life would have been like over the last twenty years if I had been hearing of Janis’ many accomplishments on the nightly news, instead of hearing about the number of children killed by stray bullets each day. I believe that instead of shaking my head and feeling powerless, I would have been inspired to join Janis’ crusade. I bet other people would have felt the same way.
I hope that in the future, movers and shakers like Madeline Janis will be celebrated more and more. If people had even a glimmer of hope that all these changes were possible, maybe they’d turn off the TV and get involved.