By TIM TOYAMA
Warren T. Furutani is an activist, community leader, politician, native son, husband, father, grandfather, and now memoirist.
In his recently written memoir, “ac-tiv-ist, noun: a person who works to bring about political or social change,” Furutanti writes about his more than 50 years of being a student, community and political activist.
The book reflects his perspective from different times in his life and his personal evolution and growth. It covers his role in helping organize the Asian and Pacific Islander American social justice movement, his career in community service, education and politics, and a perspective on current issues and lessons learned.
Furutani served in the California State Assembly from 2008 to 2012. Prior to being elected, he served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education and then the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. He was the first Asian Pacific American ever elected to the LAUSD Board in 1987 and became the board’s president in 1991. He is the only person to be elected, re-elected and serve as president of both the LAUSD and LACCD boards.
After graduating from Gardena High School in 1965, Furutani became a fledgling civil rights activist greatly influenced by the Black Power movement and Latino/a political power shift. He was also one of the leaders involved in the founding of the Asian American social justice movement.
As a student activist, Furutani helped establish admissions programs for students of color and women at colleges and universities primarily on the West Coast. He helped many campuses establish ethnic studies programs and helped start Asian American Studies at UCLA and Long Beach State University.
As a community activist, Furutani co-founded with Victor Shibata the first annual pilgrimage to Manzanar in 1969. In 1970, he co-founded the Manzanar Committee with Sue Kunitomi Embrey and got Manzanar designated as a state historical site. The first such designation of any of the ten major concentration camps that incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II.
In the late 1960s, Furutani joined the staff of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), working out of the Pacific Southwest District office in Los Angeles, and started the organization’s Community Involvement Program. He, along with other Sansei and Yonsei, worked with other Asian American activists and started community-based social service programs in their respective communities.
After his first son was born, he got elected to the LAUSD Board of Education. While on the board, he arranged for high school diplomas to be given to Nisei who were unable to graduate with their classmates due to the wartime incarceration.
As a state legislator he passed a bill (AB 37) that conferred honorary college diplomas onto Nisei who suffered the same fate and passed a bill that established the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution (AB 1775), the first such designation that commemorates the contributions of an Asian American to California history.
Furutani’s memoir reveals the struggles, pitfalls, and triumphs of public service. He writes with humor and insight about the many mentors, colleagues and friends who helped and guided his political and public service career, and who shaped him as a person.
Furutani offers advice to politicians, educators, and community leaders on how to get the job done. “ac-tiv-ist” includes Furutani’s thoughts about issues such as Asian hate, the homelessness crisis, the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and immigration. He does so with honesty and candor, Furutani tells it like it is.
For more information and to buy the book, go to the website at: www.ac-tiv-ist.com.
The following quotes from the book give you a glimpse of its overall narrative.
“My dad was a JAP! No matter what he learned in school about the Constitution; no matter that he didn’t even speak Japanese and liked a hamburger as much as an onigiri (rice ball); no matter that he knew the Boy Scouts’ three-finger salute; President Roosevelt and the American government was giving him, a native-born American, the one-finger salute. I don’t know where it came from, but through the Movement I found my voice.”
“As an activist you advocate from a position. But if in a position to govern, you have to operate with a solution. It’s not the what, why or even when, it’s the HOW!”
“Finishing the job, following through, completing the task, was the difference between a successful person and the one who may look good, sound good, even have a flair for the task at hand, but all meant nothing if the task wasn’t completed. In other words, ‘walk the talk,’ get the job done; this is the hallmark of a good public servant aka elected official aka politician.”
“The public just wants government to work: to get those things they are responsible for done on time at a reasonable cost. Government should remember who they work for and who employs them: the public — the people.”
“The definition of insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ In government, insanity means ‘doing nothing over and over again and expecting the problem or issue to just go away.’“
Tim Toyama is an award-winning playwright and author/producer of the Academy Award-winning short film “Visas and Virtue.”