Change West Covina Kicks Off Series of Biweekly Town Hall Meetings

The student run community advocacy group invested educating the community begins hosting a public forum for the community


(Photo courtesy of Emylou Vergel de Dios)

Yusuf Arifin, Peter Dien, Erin Lopez and Emylou Vergel de Dios of Change West Covina, a young, progressive group that looks to defund the local police department and bring other social changes to the city. Photo courtesy of Emylou Vergel de Dios.

Thursday Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. Change West Covina, a student run West Covina community advocacy group on Instagram, organized the beginning of their biweekly series of town hall meetings which was hosted through Zoom.
Although their first town hall meeting was hosted via zoom on July 2, Peter Dien, 17, a senior at West Covina High School and one of the organizers of the group involved in outreach said that the Sept. 10 meeting was more productive.
“At the first meeting, we didn’t have much structure, but now I’m definitely understanding the power of collaboration,” Dien said. “We saw a lot of people getting excited, a lot of people throwing out great ideas and wanting to get on these movements.”
Besides the organization of a biweekly schedule for the new town hall meetings, some of the ideas that participating attendees of the meeting proposed included volunteering to help food pantries such as Shepherd’s Pantry in Irwindale, advocating for the homeless by fundraising for reusable items like water bottles and hosting legislative literacy workshops in order to help get young and otherwise uninformed voters get educated on the legislation due to appear in the November elections.
At the meeting, Shivani Sharma, a Change West Covina member said, “When it comes to props, wording can get complicated and confusing.” Sharma said that in the workshops they need to explain to qualified voters the importance of the propositions and the impact they would have on the city, as well as emphasize the importance of getting voters to turn up to the polls and actually vote.
The meeting also included conversations on coming up with a reading list on what exactly the national movement Defund the Police actually means.
Some concerns addressed were that when people hear “defund the police” they become concerned. “When people hear ‘defund the police,’ they don’t really know what happens after that, which is why so many people are against it,” said Lauren Thielen, a Change West Covina member who attended the meeting. Thielen proposed organizing and sharing a reading list of documents and writings explaining what exactly the goals are, such as the reallocation of funds from police budgets to social workers, the removal of campus police officers at public schools, and investment in mental health training for otherwise untrained justice administrators.
Gabriel Padua Rodriguez, 21, Change West Covina Policy Chair and a Mt. SAC alumni now attending Cal State Long Beach as a political science major, said that he originally joined because he saw it as an opportunity to advocate for change in his own community as opposed to the advocacy and community work he had been doing in cities like Whittier and La Habra.
“When I saw that they were accepting applications to be part of their committee team, I saw that as an opportunity to make some real change in my hometown,” Rodriguez said. He added that one of the things he enjoyed about the group was that they weren’t just there to advocate for or against a certain policy or issue and disappear, but they aspired to be a fixture in the community to try and make West Covina a better place.
“We aren’t here to advocate for our own causes in droves and then just disappear like a NIMBY,” he said. Gonzalez was referring to the “Not in My Back Yard” phenomena, in which citizens without any prior participation in any civic issues often oppose certain undesirable developments in their areas.
“We’re here to establish an actual change in the community, permanently,” he said.
Dien said that education was one of the biggest goals of Change West Covinaand that they wanted to host more events in order to meet new people including professionals which they can include in some of their meetings to help educate West Covina residents on legislature, and what impact that laws and propositions would have on the city.
“I understand that the West Covina City Council has a long list of duties,” Dien said. “But they need to get their priorities straight. Their number one should be to serve the citizens, and in my opinion they aren’t doing that.”
Rodriguez said that what he likes most is, “…trying to build a community trust in West Covina and establish an open line of communication between the citizens and the city council.”
More information about Change West Covina can be found at their Instagram page.
The next town hall meeting is scheduled for Sept. 24.