From beginning with only three staff members, LAANE now has 45, most of them researchers, analysts, publicists and fundraisers. The organization also has an annual budget of 4.6 million dollars. It has come a long way from helping only a few to becoming one of the most successful grass-roots organizations in the United States.
Madeline Janis’s exposure to poverty in Mexico enabled her to see how minorities in the United States are abused by employers with unbelievably-low wages and little to no health benefits. When she became a lawyer, Madeline felt she could do so much for the people whose voices are either too soft to hear or deliberately ignored by those in power.
After working with a private law firm for two years, Madeline had enough exposure to, and gained enough knowledge about, how the government can profoundly change the lives of powerless people. She was invited to join the organization that would soon become “LAANE” and has since built it from the ground-up, to the delight of truck drivers, nannies, hotel staff and all other employees who receive inadequate salaries for doing all the dirty work.
Madeline’s courage has earned her some enemies along the way, but she isn’t giving up her crusade or ideology to please those who do not believe in her organization’s work. She is a visionary in that, unlike most activists, she doesn’t think of the government as the “enemy of the people.” Madeline fervently believes that people can leverage their government’s authority for their own advantage, which is how democracy is supposed to work.
Born in 1960 to upper middle-class parents, Madeline enjoyed a comfortable life. Raised in San Fernando Valley, Madeline didn’t know of poverty as a child. She is the daughter of a psychiatrist father and a mother who was both an artist and teacher. Her father was an avid supporter of Rush Limbaugh, who she eventually grew to dislike.
Madeline’s parents divorced when she was ten years old, and she and her mother migrated to Mexico in 1973. There, she experienced life that was starkly different from what she had known; people had blue-collar jobs and worked like horses, but there was never enough money to feed their families. This leads many Mexicans to consider moving to the United States, where something better may await them.
During Madeline’s formative years, she was exposed to life’s sad realities, including the ways people become victims of unjust governance. This prompted her to consider a degree which would better equip her to help victims of both political injustice and giant corporations.
She was a student at Amherst, and finished her junior studies in Spain. At that time, the country had just been freed from the shackles of dictatorship, and their fight for democracy inspired her. Being the daughter of a politically-attuned father, Madeline considered herself political, but had never dabbled in activism. Her stint in Spain encouraged her to become more passionate about helping political causes to take off, hence her decision to begin participating in movements.
After graduating, she was one of the courageous Amherst students who protested against the apartheid movement by wearing “Free Nelson Mandela” armbands. She would go on to finish her law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
History of “LAANE”
After law school, Madeline briefly represented beneficiaries of slum housing. Knowing she still needed further insight into the land development industry, she joined the law firm “Latham & Watkins,” where she worked for two years. She then joined the “Central American Refugee Center” (CARECEN) in 1990, although some sources say it was 1989. She was director of CARACEN until 1993, when she decided to return to Latham & Watkins.
George Mihlsten became her mentor, and his strong lobbying tendencies inspired her to become more involved in social crusades. Upon working in a private law firm once more, she realized how people could use the power of their interests to move the government. Noted in an article published on The American Prospect:
“What I saw was that developers owned city hall. They’d meet council members, money would change hands in legal ways, and the stuff they wanted to happen would happen. That led to an epiphany: We needed to bring normal people to city hall. We needed to act like city hall is the hall of democracy, where every person is welcome. We have to back that up with research, organizing, communications, but that should be our attitude.”
Word got out about Madeline’s passion for immigrant workers. Husband-and-wife Miguel Contreras and Maria Elena Durazo were interested in starting an organization that would mobilize the population – in a grassroots way – to make change happen in Los Angeles. They were scouting for someone who would take care of organizing the unions and strategize the ways of upholding minorities’ rights. Madeline Janis seemed passionate enough, but they challenged her to step out of her comfort zone and explore further ways to help, other than immigrant causes.
Initially, the organization was known as the “Tourism Industry Development Council” (TIDC). She served as Executive Director and, as the only staffer, did nearly everything around the office. In 1995, TIDC went against the Los Angeles airport’s plan to replace workers with employees who would be paid much lower. This was approved by then-mayor Richard Riordan.
She knew that the best way to protest was to go through the municipal council. She asked for an audience, along with the 200 fired employees, and they successfully convinced the council to pass a bill to prohibit the firing of LAX’s existing employees. The Mayor’s veto was not enough to prevent the bill’s passing. Before the bill was enacted, however, Madeline had begun to see the bigger picture. The workers’ problem was not only that their jobs were being taken; it was also an unjust working environment in the sense that they were paid lower than union wage with little to no benefits.
To address the problem, Madeline drafted their own version of an L.A. ordinance, as inspired by the Baltimore ordinance which paved the way for blue-collar employees to receive living wages. TIDC soon became known as the “Living Wage Coalition.” They also did something unprecedented by involving faith leaders in their call for better employment offers.
By then, Madeline had certainly exceeded the expectations of LAANE’s co-founders; but it was only the beginning. Before the mobilization of L.A.’s workers, power was concentrated among capitalists and the municipal council. In order to change that, Madeline had to use the power of the minority to impact those who are going to end up in governments seats.
To mobilize the work force, Madeline wanted to educate the voters of their right to choose who to elect to government seats. One of the most important parts of ending the injustice was exercising the right to vote. In each election, the turnout of Latino voters continued to increase until they were certainly noticed by those running for office.
As the organization grew, they began receiving bigger grants, soon enabling them to fund their own initiatives. They changed their name to the “Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE),” as they no longer planned to focus solely on living wages, and began espousing the community benefits agreement.
Madeline was appointed by Mayor James Hahn as a board member of the “Community Redevelopment Agency.” It ushered the partnership of CRA and LAANE, as Madeline fought for companies with grants exceeding one million dollars to comply with the community benefit agreement. LAANE’s next big fight was against Wal-Mart, the wholesale giant, in 2004. They succeeded in keeping Inglewood (a Latino city) without a Wal-Mart because the company wouldn’t pay what the workers deserved to receive.
After serving LAANE for nearly a decade, Madeline relinquished her post to Roxana Tynan following yet another successful campaign, called the “Clean Trucks Program.” By reinforcing environmental ordinances and mobilizing truck drivers, LAANE – along with its partners – reduced pollution in the Los Angeles port by 70%.
Madeline, now 53 years old, is still fired up by her own ideologies. She’s married to a fellow activist, Donald Cohen, and is a mother of five. It will take years before Madeline would consider giving activism a rest; clearly, it’s a vocation for her, something that will keep her going so long as injustice is present.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- L.A. Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE)
- Community Redevelopment AgencyUCLA
- School of Public Affairs (Senior Fellow)
- Good Jobs First (Member of Board of Directors)
- Partnership for Working Families (Member of Board of Directors)
- Brave New Foundation (Member of Board of Directors)
- Phoenix Fund for Workers and People for the American Way (Member of Board of Directors)
- Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN)
- Clean Trucks Program
- Construction Careers and Green Jobs Policy
- Partnership for Working Families
- Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community
Awards and Achievements
- 1983 to 1986: Served as Juris Doctor at the UCLA School of Law
- 1989 to 1993: Served as executive director of the “Central American Refugee Center” (CARECEN)
- 1993L: Founded “LAANE”
- 1993 to 2012: Served as Executive Director of “LAANE”
- 2002 and 2006: Appointed (and re-appointed) successive mayors of Los Angeles as a volunteer commissioner to the board of the city’s “Community Redevelopment Agency”
- Received awards from the “Liberty Hill Foundation” and “Office of the Americas”
- LAANE received awards from the Mayor of Los Angeles, the “Speaker of the California Assembly,” the UCLA School of Law and the “Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese”
- Received Honorary Doctorate of Humanities at Amherst College
LAANE.org (Madeline Janis)
LAANE.org (About LAANE)
Facebook (LAANE on FB)
Reason (Redevelopment Thug Madeline Janis Has Dumbest Solyndra Gotcha Yet)
710 Study San Rafael Neighborhood Posts (Rachel LaForest and Madeline Janis on Fighting for Fairness)
The Huffington Post (Madeline Janis: An Extraordinary Activist for the "Long Haul")
The Rush Limbaugh Show (Day 2: The Art of Persuasion)
Los Angeles Times (Dad, Rush Limbaugh and me)
Frying Pan News (Our Next Mayor Must Stand Up to Corporate Lobbyists)
89.3 KPCC (Protesters call on local transit agencies to cut ties with Chinese bus manufacturer, BYD)
The American Prospect (L.A. Story, The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy: a new model for American liberalism?)