Kenney’s Revolution: A Young Political Movement

Kenney's Revolution: A Young Political Movement

Column: Kenneth Mejia rode the wave of the new left and swamped L.A.’s political establishment in the 1970s

by Michael Kinsley

The most significant force in Los Angeles politics for the past decade has been a small group of young political activists who have become known as Kenney’s Revolution and played an outsized role in the politics of the city and state.

While the youth-led coalition’s most visible face has been the outspoken liberal congressman (and former L.A. Times journalist) Antonio Villaraigosa, the movement’s origins and activities are far more complex. Its most passionate supporters are students at University High School in Little Tokyo.

At the heart of the movement’s agenda are issues of social justice, immigration, and education. In its heyday in the early 1970s, Kenney’s Revolution attracted thousands of students to rallies, marches, and other activities that drew thousands of observers.

Its core membership was the student movement of the student federation of the International Socialist Organization, which adopted the name after the student movement it had begun in 1968, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

As Kenney’s Revolution took shape, the young people involved were mostly working class and, in the words of a local reporter, “they have no use for the rich.” They were heavily influenced by the black nationalist militancy of the Black Panthers and other student groups, and many of them had been in jail. One student says that most of them were “young and young at heart.”

Kenney’s Revolution started to make some headway as the city’s political establishment, especially the city’s Democratic Party machine, sought to suppress it. “We have grown out of the city machine, but the machine did not grow out of us,” says Kenney, who was at the height of his political power when I interviewed him in March, 1992.

The power of the movement to make the Democratic Machine, as well as other members of Los Angeles’s political establishment, retreat was due in part to Kenney himself.

In his early forties he had run for the city’s Board of Education unsuccessfully and served on the party’s national committee, then ran for mayor in 1978 on the ticket headed by former City Council President Willie Brown, an establishment figure who became Los Angeles’ mayor from 1977 to 1983. Kenney was narrowly defeated.

When he ran again in 1985 and placed third, the

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