Eleanor Klein Wagner.

Independent political coalitions, electoral, legislative and community : oral history transcript / and related material, 1976-1977 online

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supporters who are not too happy with Bradley. Is that true of
your organization as well? Of CLR? Or let me put it just to you.
I don't know what you could tell me about the organization , in
that respect.

Wagner: I'm not at all unhappy with Bradley. I think that any group or

individual that felt his election was a panacea for all the problems
of the city was either naive or deluded. It's just not possible.

[End of side A, tape 5]
[Begin tape 5, side B]

Wagner: You have to know the man. Tom Bradley never has been an adventurer.
He is a cautious, thinking man. He couldn't have gotten as far, I
believe, had he not been. The thought came to me, comparing him
with Richard Hatcher. Richard Hatcher is much more of an adventurer.
He is more dynamic. I think he takes more risks than Tom Bradley,
but then I'm not sure he could ever be the mayor of Los Angeles.

Chall: It's a different community, entirely.

Wagner: Exactly. That Tom Bradley was able to wield the kind of power, and
to bring together the kind of coalition that he did, he had to be
the kind of man he is, or they wouldn't have responded. One must
remember that Los Angeles is really a conglomerate of persuasion.
The problems of the cities, gosh knows we should know now, by looking
at New York, how difficult they are.

I know some personal friends of his are very disappointed that
they can't reach him, he's not as accessible. It must be very
frustrating. I know at one point, it was to me on Channel 68 [KVST] ,
but eventually, he was very receptive. Politically, he does have an
open-door policy. He certainly is most trustworthy. You know, he
doesn't do all of the things I would like him to do, or go far enough,
but I'm not disappointed in the man, Bradley. I'm sorry he's not God.'
[Laughs] Really, so much for that.

Additional Work in the Minority Communities


Wagner: One of the important things we did was to set up an independent

Conference on Community Involvement. [1970] Our minority people
on the board, and one or two of us white Anglo people, set out to
bring together poor and minority communities to talk, and to see
how they could bring all their groups and their issues together
for implementation. We brought out Jack Conway, who originally
was with the United Auto Workers; then he became the president of
.the Center for Community Change. Then he became the executive
director of Common Cause, and now he's the national something of
the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
The conference was very successful, and I was personally very proud
of our doing this, and bringing together all of these groups.

Chall: What has been the aftermath of something like this?

Wagner: We really set a minimum aftermath, and that was to publish a directory
of all of these organizations, and the issues they're concerned with,
so that people could reach each other.

Chall: That's very good, and you did it?
Wagner: Oh, yes. And it was done.

Chall: How can ideas like this become formulated for the conferencesthe
types of conferences that you organized?

Wagner: Well, this for example, this CCI [Conference on Community Involvement].
I think that came about primarily through my discussions with a few
of the minority board members who were working in poverty communities.
There was sort of an insistence that we do something, that CLR do
something, in those communities, between elections. I took this as
my prime responsibility, and I was very proud of the results.

Chall: You organized the conference, and got the speakers, and did the whole
thing? I imagine you organized almost everything, at that point.

Wagner: Well, no, not alone. We had a committee. We had a very good committee.
I won't take that credit. I will take the credit of plodding it
through, and seeing that it came to fruition. [Laughs] But we had
some excellent people on the committee, and we met with the UAW. The
UAW financed it, and put some of their field people on it. One of
their persons, a Mexican-American personlet 's see, there was Ralph
Arriola, and I think there was another UAW person. All of our planning
meetings were at their headquarters on Ninth Street. They were just
very helpful.


Chall: The UAW has been quite strong in its support of liberal issues in
the Los Angeles community.

Wagner: It used to be.
Chall: It isn't any more?

Wagner: I don't see that they're doing anything in the community, since there
was a change in the administration. Paul Schrade was the executive
director of the UAW regional office, and he's out.

Chall: Was he pushed out, or did he retire?

Wagner: No, no. He was defeated. I think after Walter Reuther died, there
was a change in their priority of working in the community. Now,
I'm not saying they're not doing it, I'm just not aware of the
leadership there. I'm not aware, because I'm not involved.

Chall: Did you help put together the directory, too, after that?

Wagner: Well, it was done in our office, and we had volunteers come in, most
of them from the groups themselves. But the groups themselves got
out the mailing, and the gentleman from the community college, Manuel
Ronquillo from the community services he was very helpful to us.
Very helpfulJ He helped us with the mailing. He was from Trade-Tech
[Los Angeles Trade and Technical College], but he's in another
department now.

Again, Malca, the main frustration was lack of money. Money to
pay people. I would have loved to have seen this continue, because
it really was a first. People are poor. They need money to work,
and to organize, and to implement programs. The least we did was to
publish the directory. That was it.

At the event where we brought Ron Dellums down here for Art
Carstens ' testimonial, it was co-sponsored by CLR and Friends of
UCLA Faculty Union. [1970] It had a tremendous response from the
labor unions, because of Art's involvement. This is the only copy
I have. [Laughs] It's a marvelous caricature.

Chall: Is that the caricature of Carstens?

Wagner: Yes. I have his picture. He enjoyed that. Tell the tape I'm opening
a drawer. [Laughter] This is a beautiful picture of Art.

Chall: Oh, yes. I see you have greetings here from Alan Sieroty.


Wagner: Alan Sieroty is a sponsor of CLR, and a very dear friend and

Here are some statements on the McGovern campaign. We did
endorse McGovern.

Chall: Let's see. You endorsed McCarthy?
Wagner: Yes.*

I had prepared annually a Report to CLR "Investors." It's
sort of a summary of the year.

Chall: Each year?

Wagner: Yes. This is one of the things you may have. That was well-received,
and always, of course, brought in some money. It was a recapitulation
of what we had done, and it was a lot. You will see that. I'll just
give you the one, because this year we were very activein 1970.**

Resignation from CLR

Chall: When did your involvement end with this organization?
Wagner: I'm glad you mentioned that.
Chall: What happened to you?

Wagner: Well, this is my letter of resignation, both as an administrative
secretary and from the board of directors.***

Chall: And what's that date?
Wagner: That's April 21, 1972.

*Roll Call of Achievements, 1968. See appendix.
**Report to CLR Investors, December, 1970.
***See appendix.


Chall: What caused that?
Wagner: It's all laid out there.

Chall: You had ten years of active work with this organization. I think
it started inwhat was it? - '62.

Wagner: '62, that's right.

Chall: They were a hard ten years.

Wagner: Yes, it was. Lots of things happened. Well, we'll talk about that
at the end. It would be interesting to reflect on which political
period, or which format of organizing, was more rewarding to me:
CLC, CDC, or CLR? We do live in an abbreviated world, don't we?

Chall: It was a difficult decade, wasn't it, in American politics?

Wagner: Very, very. But the Cold War in the '50s was a very difficult period
also - maybe more so. What I want to give you, and I thought I had
it hereoh, here it is. After I left it was in April '72 - I was
asked several months later if I would (because I was the only one
who could do it) put together something that the board could present
to potential board members, to candidates, and the general community
to inform them about what is CLR and what it had done.

Since I had prepared most of the material and "held down the
fort," so to speak, I was asked if I would do that. Screaming and
tugging and whatnot, I agreed, but I said, "I don't want this to be
another one of those things that I work hard on, give a lot of time
and effort to, and it won't see the light of day. But that's what
happened. It still hasn't.*

I guess that's one of the things that I became a little
disenchanted with.

Chall: Why didn't that and other material that you worked so hard on see the
light of day? What prevented it from being used as you wanted it to
be used?

Wagner: I think primarily there was just no one to follow through, and there
was no money. I guess primarily no one to do it.

*CLR History. See appendix.





Chall :

Wagner J

Because if somebody really wanted to do it, they probably could have
raised the funds to get it out?

I would say so. But when I left, there was a tremendous vacuum, and
I knew full well that the organization would become moribund. But
if it depends on one person, it's questionable as to its need. Jack
is trying very hard, although he works full-time at a private business.
He's international sales manager for a fabric company, and he travels
to Japan and whatnot. But he works as much as he can, and he's very
talented. He's a great organizer, and as I say, politically very
astute and very respected.

It is a full-time job, though, for somebody.

That's right, and there just isn't anybody. My secretary wasn't paid,
at the end. But he [Herman] did have a luncheon for many people in
the financial community. When I say "many," there were about twenty,
which is very good. He raised several thousands of dollars to try to -
and this is before all of the candidates for president came on clarify
for the liberal community in California just how close these candidates
would come to a yardstick that would be acceptable. To interview them,
to ask them some hard questions, to prepare something, and then maybe
on the basis of what their answers were, and their convictions and
their support, to recommend someone for the primaries.

That didn't come about.
He's ill.

I don't know what the next step is.

Did this organization gradually become an organization which required
the work of one person putting all the effort in, like you? Did this
come about gradually, because either the issues changed or the goals
that you had, initially, had been reached? Was it difficult to
determine new goals; there was no crisis? Or did people just get

I think it was a combination of many things. I had wanted for a long
time for us to take a look at our board, and to assess freshly the
involvement of the people. Were they still the same? Did they have
the same interests? Certainly to bring onto the board people of the
new community. We did want to do that. There was no question; but
here again, this meant that one person had to implement it.

Of course, when Maury went on to become deputy mayor, he couldn't
spend much time, although he did come to meetings once in awhile. We
did have a very good, cordial relationship with the mayor's office,
which was very helpful.


Wagner: I felt unrewarded. I was tired. I wanted to pay attention to
my family, after many many many many years. I just didn't see that
we were doing the kind of thing that my spending that amount of time
would warrant.

[Most of the following questions and answers were added during

Chall : Does your term unrewarded mean unappreciated? Did you feel, for

example, the same kind of resentment toward your work and how it was
viewed by others as you said you did when you left the Legislative

Wagner: Well, let me say that by unrewarded I meant that, first of all,

because we were always so busyfrom one campaign to anotherthere
was never time to discuss, to assess, to take a longer viewon where
we were in our political lives in general, and in CLR in particular.
I'd been thinking for some time that, in all the years of organizing
on legislative issues or in electoral politics, there has always been
a missing ingredient. There seems to be a dichotomy in the way we
political activists approach our goals.

Community Organization and Human Values

Chall: Could you enlarge on that thought?

Wagner: On the one hand, we work for candidates and issues in support of the
"good life," like jobs, health, equality, peace, clean environment,
and on and on. But very little attention is paid to the fact that
because of the nature of our social structures, that is, exploitative
and oppressive, most of our people in this country have developed so
much distress in our lives, we have become distrustful, "turned off,"
fearful, cynical, and so forth. I have become convinced that until
we pay attention to the human being again I don't see too much value
in continuing in the maze of year-in, year-out campaigning. Not for
any real lasting social change anyway.

I can remember the vicious in-fighting in the district councils
and committees of the Democratic party when I was active there; even
in the CDC clubs. The passions that ran so high, the name-calling,
the endless telephone calls of innuendo and unsubstantiated smears
awful.' I can recall so many decent, worthwhile peoplecandidates
for public office or for Democratic party or CDC off ice about whom
horrible things were whispered or gossiped about.







1 remember one such name right now: George Bonnie Jones, an
active union member in the IBEW [International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers] ; he ran for Congress, I believe for an open
seat. He was defeated, not because he didn't have the support
necessary but because of the smear campaign by some "friends" in
the Democratic party who couldn't control his campaign platform or
his sense of independence. [Sigh] I'm not suggesting, Malca, that
to campaign for better representatives is useless. But I am saying
that something more is needed.

What, for instance?


I've been exploring some fascinating avenues along these lines,
example, there's a new movement spearheaded by Assemblyman John
Vasconcellos of San Jose called "Self -Determination: a Personal/
Political Network" which involves humanistic politics. The goals
are the same but there seems to be an awareness that the old methods
aren't working; that another dimension needs to be added - human

I've been involved rather deeply in another movement called
Re -Evaluation Education or RE. RE has developed a system whereby
each of us learns how to use our enormous intelligence to think
more clearly and creatively - to become more human by acting rationally
and lovingly. To continue to accept oppression, wars, racism, pollution,
etcetera, is highly irrational and certainly less than human. We
learn the real meaning of power - individual powerand how to use it
constructively. Since its inception in 1950 the RE Community, as we
refer to it, is now functioning in several areas of the world. These
are the kinds of movements that seem to me are on tomorrow's agenda
for social change.

Are you saying that no important change can come about until people
act more human to each other?

Well, I'm saying that, of course we have to continue to do all the
things we've been doing for lo' these many years campaigns, lobbies,
pressure groups, elections, etcetera. But at the same time we must
find additional ways of changing ourselves and our personal attitudes
and actions toward each other.

I'll give you two examples: In all the years I've organized or
administered the myriad tasks of an organization, I've met thousands
of people. Our CLR board for example was a tightly knit group in
many ways. But we saw each other only at meetings. Parenthetically,
most of them were held at my home and usually included dinner. I



Chall :



Wagner :



guess I wanted some social contact and warmth with people I have
known and worked with for many years - some as long as twenty-five
years, some from ten to fifteen years. During a campaign we saw
a lot of each other. But after the vote or the election campaign
was over - silence and absence, until the next campaign.

And the other example?

An even greater offense, I believe, is the fact that although we
were working on issues to improve the life of minority groups,
working people, poor people generally, there was almost n social
contact with these people. How in the world can we expect trust
and confidence from a black or a Chicano - or someone who just lost
his job - if we maintain no friendship, or if we express no interest
in their day-to-day problems. Of course, the answer always is - or
wasno time. [Sigh] But my thoughts on this would take three more

And your working with Arthur Carstens?

As for my working relationship with Art Carstens - now there's a man
who is constantly thinking and planning ahead on a variety of issues.
I love one of his fantasies: he conceives of a system where each
person is entitled to a year's sabbatical to be free to pursue and
be subsidized for the arts, music, dance, or just plain "tinkering"
which he or she has dreamed about but never had the time or finances
to enjoy. "Who knows," says Art, "how many more fine artists or
musicians we have in our country, who have not had a chance to find
out where their talent lies?"

Art is both a dreamer and a pragmatic planner. Here's an example
of what I mean: His programs for overhauling our tax structure,
redistributing the wealth, national health insurance, and a host of
other economic programs he developed in the past were regarded
generally as "too far out" for practical use. Maybe. But they do
deserve serious consideration. By whom? That's the question. Arthur
Carstens and I enjoy a mutually respectful working relationship.

Maybe the so-called "new community" that you were interested in - maybe
they will have to set up their own organization when they feel they're
ready, just as you did when you were ready.

Yes, and it may take new forms,
exciting, that possibility.

It always does. I think that's


Wagner: But I did agree to do the CLR recapitulation, and 1 will give
you the covering letter to them, and the first rough draft. I
think it will tell you everything that you have to know. Hopefully,
it should see the light of day.

Chall: That will go into the appendix. [Laughs]

Wagner: It's a happy set of experiences.

Chall: Now, 1 think you've done very well with this interview. We haven't
been able to take care of your latest project, which is community
television - KVST-TV.

[End side B, tape 5]



[The following material was added during editing.]

Wagner: Well, it's more than just community TV. It seemed to me that the

concept of KVST was a perfect extension to what I had been doing for
almost thirty years, and adapted to the present era of mass
communication, through television. The idea of granting public
access - free - to disadvantaged groups; to have a potential viewing
audience of ten million, if you pleasej ; to observe local community
meetings on a variety of issues; to involve various ethnic groups,
women, and many others, in planning their own programs on health,
housing, politics, civil liberties, whatever - all of this was
tremendously exciting. In a little more than a year we were working
with over two hundred community organizations, had the enthusiastic
support of Mayor Bradley as well as our two senators, Cranston and
Tunney .

Through my many years in the political arena I was able to use
all of my organizational skills, as well as political and community
contacts, to get government grants - through the city council, county
board of supervisors, and HEW. KVST was the first experiment nationally
in establishing a true station for the people. And the experiment was
working^ With a bare-boned budget we produced more original programming
than any other public broadcasting station: 20 percent was produced
by Mexican-Americans in English and Spanish; at least 15 percent by
and for the black community; a regular weekly women's program produced
and directed by women, with mostly women in all the technical phases;
an investigative journalism program highlighting important issues of
the day, and other innovative programming.

Our latest request was approved by HEW for very sophisticated
color mobile equipment. This meant we were going to be able to be
truly mobile, to cover significant local events in the field and become
the people's eyes and ears, so to speak. One segment of our community
which concerned us was the elderly and handicappedthe shut-ins.
Programs with county agencies were in the planning stage, to bring


Wagner: up-to-the minute information to these shut-ins on their rights,

social security, and other benefits, where to get hot meals, etc.
And they could also call in to have their questions answered by

Of course the financial hardships on the staff were monumental,
but there was a dedication on their part that was truly poignant.
We all knew that if we could hang on for another year most of our
critical financial problems would be resolved. Our viewer sponsors
were growing monthly; our on-air fund appeals were successful, and
our government grants were practically assured for the future.

The Failure of a Successful Project

Wagner: There was only one problem fundamentally, and we knew that until
that was resolved our infant station was in jeopardy.

I must tell you a word or two about a magnificent woman I came
to love and respect. You may have heard of, or seen her in films
Leslie Parrish. She was also a producer and director. I met Leslie
only briefly prior to KVST. I think she was handling the speakers'
bureau for Congressman George Brown's campaign for U.S. Senate in
1972. That's when Tunney first ran and defeated George in the
primaries. She was a McGovern delegate to the Democratic national
convention in 1972. She had been deeply involved in the peace movement.
She also had worked tirelessly to raise funds for the farmworkers and
was able to get other stars to appear at fund-raising events. If
Leslie has a fault, it's that she throws herself completely into a
cause she's dedicated to and then becomes ill for a time.

At any rate, Leslie spent some six yearsvolunteering of course-
helping to make KVST a reality. She was elected president of VSTF
[Viewer Sponsored Television Foundation] in January 1975 - that's the
licensee for KVST-TV. She also joined the staff as director of
development and was responsible for coordinating all fund-raising for
the station. She virtually abandoned her acting career for the cause
of KVST, which was a great sacrifice, financially and health -wise.
Incidentally, Leslie was the first woman to become president of a
major television station nationally. We developed a mutually respectful
friendship and worked very closely on a number of projects.


Wagner: At any rate, the problem I referred to was never resolved.
That is, the necessity to neutralize - at the very least the
influence of a few disrupters on the board. Leslie was constantly
attacked as a racistwhich would be laughable if it weren't so
tragic. Many of us were also attacked, my husband included; he was
also on the board, a fund -raiser, a contributor, who donated his
professional services to hold off our many creditors. Murry has
another profession which was useful to the station: he contributed
his services as a narrator, delivering public service announcements
(psa's). (Murry was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist during the
McCarthy era - a network radio announcer and a fine actor.)

Anyway, the most vociferous board member, Raul Ruiz, maligned
our chief engineer unmercifully, to the point that he said he refused
to take these attacks any longer. He walked out and practically
the entire staff joined him on Christmas Eve, 1975. Raul and his
friends took over the board (by one vote, having intimidated a
number of other board members) , and the station never got back on the

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Online LibraryEleanor Klein WagnerIndependent political coalitions, electoral, legislative and community : oral history transcript / and related material, 1976-1977 → online text (page 10 of 16)