On the last Friday night of September, Mariachi Plaza was bursting with beautiful music and enticing aromas. It’s always bustling on a weekend, but this night was different.
Hundreds of cheerful street vendors, advocates, and supporters were gathered to celebrate the signing of SB 972 by Governor Gavin Newsom, which modernized the California Retail Food Code to be inclusive of street vendors.
This moment was special for street vendors in California. They made history by organizing, mobilizing, and fighting for their rights. This is a victory that will be retold alongside other stories of social justice movements, like the Justice for Janitors campaign and the United Farm Workers movement.
As I walked along all the food stands, I connected with vendors, community organizers, and other leaders who led this fight. Many of these leaders participated in the creation of the statewide coalition that won SB 972, and many were the same community members I once worked alongside.
In 2018, I had the opportunity to organize with vendors in Boyle Heights and the San Fernando Valley. For years, street vendors had been fighting criminalization and harassment. As one of two organizers on the ground, we prioritized co-organizing demonstrations with vendors when they were attacked or swept by the city. The saying I heard on the frontline was: if they mess with one of us, they mess with all of us.
Si se meten con una hormiga se meten con el hormiguero.
The fight for street vendors was a fight for dignity. The road to SB 972 was paved by vendors’ relentless organizing, participation in forums and city council meetings, and one-on-one conversations with leaders throughout the region. These vendors stirred up “good trouble” in the form of civil disobedience, flooding council members’ offices, taking-over streets, and demonstrating at police stations. These countless years of organizing are what got SB 972 across the finish line.
Before leaving Mariachi Plaza, I stopped and spoke with Caridad Vasquez, a seasoned vendor leader who has long been involved in this fight. We made plans to speak the following week to talk about the impact of SB 972 and what this bill would mean for her.
She told me, “finally, justice was done for all street vendors, we can finally make a living legally. For so long, politicians and critics said that a food permit would not be possible, but here we are!”
Caridad has been a street vendor for over 40 years and has been part of the street vendor justice movement since the early 2000’s, when the LA Street Vendor Campaign was just taking shape. She was rejoiceful and looking forward to the work her organization Vendedores en Acción (Vendors in Action) will be involved in the following months.
She says, “many of us are recovering from the pandemic, some of us are still unemployed, others are behind on rent, and people’s recovery from the pandemic means supporting sidewalk vending.”
Caridad stresses that we should support the street vendor movement and continue to ensure a just implementation takes shape.
“Messing with the local sidewalk vendors means messing with all of us – we can all play a part by stopping injustice when we see it happen, we have a duty to contact elected officials and demand they continue to support the working people of our communities.”
Caridad is correct. Many vendor leaders like her are preparing at this moment to ensure implementation of SB 972 is a just one. Across the state, from Oakland to San Bernardino vendors and community advocates are assembling. This is just the beginning of another chapter in the story of this movement.
Until then, we should stand by and be ready to join the fight because… si se meten con una hormiga se meten con el hormiguero.