Whether it’s for workers’ rights, renters, or fighting the KKK, Leanna Noble has been a veteran of all things organizing, in Long Beach and beyond.
She’s also a speaker for this year’s People’s State of the City. In the audio profile above, she tells stories from her eventful life, about her work and local history.
The People’s State of the City is a community take on major issues facing the city of Long Beach.
It takes place Wednesday, February 12th from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at First Congregational Church of Long Beach, United Church of Christ. 241 Cedar Ave, Long Beach, California 90802.
Leanna Noble: One of the things I look back on that was funny… this was happening when the city was just starting the Grand Prix.
And so for the very first Grand Prix, the housing activists got posters printed up. And there’s a way to make a really killer glue out of flour and water, and you cannot remove stuff that you put up with this magic glue.
And on the night before the Grand Prix, we went all over the route, and plastered up the posters calling for housing justice and renter’s rights. And on the poster was a picture of a retiree, an older person, who was having a hell of a time paying their rent, with the Queen Mary in the background. And you know, when everybody woke up the morning of the Grand Prix, the organizers of the event were horrified and went away with scrapers trying to get rid of the posters. And they couldn’t. Not with much success. So, the renter’s movement in Long Beach helped welcome the first Grand Prix with a very different message.
Carlos Villicana: Hi, I’m Carlos Villicana. That was Leanna Noble. And this is just some of her story, as told to me by her.
From organizing with unions, to fighting to keep the KKK out of local schools, to continuing today to fight for housing rights and more; Leanna has seen a lot, done a lot, and has a lot to say about it. And in this audio profile, you’ll be able to hear just some of that.
If you want to hear more, you’ll be able to catch her at this Wednesday’s People’s State of the City, an annual event where residents talk about local issues from their perspectives.
And if you’re listening to this a little too late to catch her at People’s State, then stay tuned to this and hear Leanna talk about her life, local history, and more.
Leanna Noble: My father was in the military, and so I was born, actually, here in California. Just random luck.
But because he was in the military, we moved constantly. So, we moved an average of every six months until I hit maybe middle school.
So, I’ve lived all over the place.
I’ve lived in almost every state in the South. Which was a hell of an experience. I’ve lived in a lot of the states in the Midwest. I’ve lived in New Mexico and Colorado. So I’ve traveled around a lot when I was a kid.
And because of that, I can’t spell worth a damn, and I’m really bad at math because I just missed whole sections of school, because we were moving around.
I graduated high school in 67 and started university in 68. Well, this was the height of a lot of the anti-war organizing, a lot was going on in the… civil rights movement.
So while I was on campus, there was a lot of student organizing. And I got involved because there was a small group of us that were in SDS, the Students for a Democratic Society. We were raising hell on campus and the university gave us a choice. We could stay on campus and shut the hell up. Or we could take our organizing off-campus and we could get a degree.
And I hauled ass.
I figured that the student movement was not necessarily where I would be making my contributions. So I left the campus.
I did end up getting, officially, a degree, and started doing community-based organizing.
What we did was build organizations where the members paid dues, monthly dues, and then the organizers lived off of those dues.
Obviously it wasn’t much, we ate a lot of noodles and peanut butter sandwiches
But that was enough to live and to get by.
But it did mean that you often, your organizing work was short term. Maybe a year, maybe two.
So I moved around as I was doing organizing work. And while a lot of it was done here in California, I did live in Arizona, where I organized chapters of the Gray Panthers.
I then worked for 20 years as an organizer with UE. The union assigned me to work on strikes, on contract negotiations, on helping to develop leadership, and I was able to work all over the United States.
So I got to help organize graduate students. I helped organize workers in the plastics industry. I organized private contract workers.
So I lived here, in Long Beach, in the late 70s early 80s. And it was a pretty outrageous time in the history of our city.
The economy was horrible. And yet, rents didn’t drop. Rents, in fact, were increasing.
Then as now, the vast majority of residents of Long Beach are renters. And there was no representation on the city council.
The city council was all-white. So it wasn’t just a question of gender, it was very clear that there was a white power structure here.
But there was lots of organizing that was going on.
Because the economy was really bad, in my analysis, low and behold who showed up again who had been here in the 1920s, but the Ku Klux Klan. These jackasses showed up and started leafleting the high schools
There was an anti-Klan coalition that got organized, and took the position that you can’t just ignore these racists — you have to confront them.
And so, this anti-Klan coalition involved African-American activists, community activists, faith leaders from some of the Black churches, and basically did public events to point the finger that this was not going to be allowed in Long Beach. Even though the city council was completely silent. And we went out and leafleted in those high schools to really combat, directly, that god awful message.
I came back to Long Beach with my partner. We’re both retired.
And while we loved living [in] all of the different places [that] we did, we remembered Long Beach as a city that has for many many years been kind of clear, at least with the people who live here, that this is a working-class beach town.
We don’t got waves, and we’re not going to, because here lives the Port.
We’re right next to huge oil refinery developments.
This is not where rich people usually tend to hang out.
And it takes workers to keep this stuff happening. And so we liked that, we’re workers.
We also remembered and really appreciate and want to be a part of an ethnically diverse community.
And although God knows because of years and years of racist redlining by the banks, and because of the way our local government has consistently made decisions, Long Beach is pretty damn segregated.
On the other hand, we have outrageous ethnic diversity. And while this is true of a lot of California, it sure as hell is true of Long Beach. And that was something that was very important to us.
That’s how we’re going to, I believe, overcome these years and years of white supremacy that are so embedded in our culture and our economy.