Five People Making L.A. a Better Place
3. Pablo Alvarado
Pablo Alvarado is director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a coalition of nearly 50 day-laborer organizations nationwide that fight to protect the civil, labor and human rights of workers. Among numerous successes, it has created 70 centers where workers can safely solicit jobs, and has advocates for their right to do so in any public space. It has recovered "millions" in unpaid wages, Alvarado says, and represents day laborers' interests in the immigration-reform debate.
Although some day laborers are American-born, most are undocumented and mainly from Mexico and Central America. They endure discrimination, dangerous working conditions and often low wages — or none at all. Many live in fear of deportation.
Alvarado believes that the arts, especially music, can be an important force to inspire worker empowerment and dignity. In 1996 he helped found the band Los Jornaleros del Norte (The Day Laborers of the North), which has produced three albums of salsas, cumbias and ballads that express the day laborer's trials and triumphs.
As for the future? One of Alvarado's next challenges is to create a network of allies — clergy, immigrant-rights activists, labor unions, neighborhood organizations and others — to further his organization's mission.
4. Margot Ocañas
Kevin Scanlon Margot Ocañas
Margot Ocañas is the city's first "pedestrian coordinator," riding a national wave of pedestrian awareness, orchestrating nothing less than a culture change for a city where 80 percent of all trips are made by automobile.
Ocañas persuaded city managers that 53 intersections with high rates of vehicle-versus-pedestrian accidents needed to be upgraded to high-visibility crossings. Now, all 53 are complete, and she's proposing more. She's angling for safer routes to schools and transit stops because that's where people walk the most. She's also trying to carve out pedestrian spaces, such as four "parklets" that sprang up this past winter.
For the first time, Ocañas is bringing together engineers at city agencies, including the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Bureau of Street Services and the broader regional authority, Metro, producing results that provoke discussion and grab attention.
For more, see Alissa Walker's profile of Margot Ocañas