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Pacific Sociological Association 2015 Annual Meeting Long Beach, CA, April 1-4

How Long Beach CA Exemplifies the 2015 PSA Meeting Theme:
People, Place and Power [By Gary Hytrek]

The 86th annual meeting of the Pacific Sociological Association will be held in Long Beach, California, on April 1-4, 2015. This is the first of two essays introducing (or reintroducing) PSA members and colleagues to Long Beach—a perfect location for scholars, students, and sociological practitioners to explore this year’s theme: People, Place and Power. As a resident of Long Beach, I am excited that PSA has chosen Long Beach as its Southern California site.

Long Beach exemplifies recent demographic, spatial, and power challenges confronting many U.S. cities. Once overwhelmingly white and Midwestern, Long Beach was named by USA Today as one of the country’s most ethnically diverse large cities, with sizable Latino, Cambodian, Samoan and Filipino populations. Once slated to be the “Coney Island of the West,” Long Beach has evolved from the sleepy “Little Iowa by the Sea,” to an industrial and maritime powerhouse, to a service-based linchpin of the global economy. Ranked by a Federal Government report in 1978 as among the most socially, economically and financially distressed cities in the country, city investment transformed the downtown and waterfront area into a desirable tourist and convention destination. One constant in the midst of these changes, however, has been the concentration of decision-making power in the hands of a small, wealthy, interconnected group, which repeatedly defeated attempts to create a more inclusive and equitable city.

But, here too, Long Beach is changing as residents discover the power and potential of community-labor movement building. A major force energizing the community has been the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community. Driven by a progressive vision grounded in the legacies of the City’s historic inequities and tempered by the realities of neoliberal globalization, Long Beach residents are transforming their communities by focusing on place-based industries. The Coalition’s vision of building healthy sustainable communities based on responsible development is supported by a practical policy agenda designed to address deep structural inequalities.

Since 2007, this community-labor coalition has enacted two living wage policies in Long Beach; as well as a labor peace agreement and a worker retention measure. These policies directly benefit thousands of employees at the city’s largest hotels, the Long Beach Convention Center, and the Long Beach Airport. The Coalition recently doubled the size of the unionized labor force, having successfully organized The Pike Hyatt and the Hyatt Regency Long Beach Hotel—site of the 2015 PSA meetings. The Hotel Maya and the Queen Mary are the other Long Beach union hotels, each offering unsurpassed service and dramatic views in beautiful surroundings. (Note: The Long Beach Hilton remains under a worker-called boycott.)

As residents grapple with the past to remake its future, the city’s rich and diverse history is reproduced in vibrant and eclectic neighborhoods: From the small town charm of Bixby Knolls; to the working-class community of West Long Beach; to the pet friendly quintessential Southern California beach community of Belmont Shore. In between is Fourth Street (Retro Row), a collection of vintage shops. Downtown Long Beach, the location of the 2015 PSA, is a waterfront urban space with working artist studios and museums; brew pubs, wine bars, and coffee shops; restaurants, stores, and entertainment all connected by a free bus shuttle.

The historical patterns and contemporary challenges of Long Beach provide a powerful backdrop to some of the most enduring sociological questions. As you prepare for PSA 2105, we invite you to examine how the intersection of people, place and power within the context of neoliberal globalization shapes the possibilities for a more just and humane world.