By Mike Rhodes
More than 120 people came together in the magical garden of Pat Wolk and helped us celebrate 25 years of printing the Community Alliance newspaper. Lance Canales and the Flood welcomed guests with his amazing foot-stomping music, followed by food from Tacos Marquitos (one of our advertisers) and free drinks.
I gave a brief history of the paper that started as a project of the Frank Little Chapter of the Labor Party. The founding meeting was held in the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, and we decided to print the Labor/Community Alliance (as it was called at that time) once a month. The goal was to create a stronger progressive movement by building unity between the many activist groups in the area and organized labor.
The Peace and Social Justice calendar provided a great format to share community events. The calendar and the entire publication reached readers in the peace and social justice, LGBTQ+, environmental, immigrant rights and other groups that might not know what other groups were doing. Our hope was to break people out of their silos and show solidarity with other progressive causes and efforts. The project was an enormous success.
We went from printing a few hundred copies a month to thousands. In 2004, we increased our circulation to 5,000 copies a month and became a newspaper. That allowed us to double our circulation, have more space for news articles and photos and save money. Before long, we were printing 15,000 copies and affecting public policy.
An example is the special section that Mark Arax and his students from Fresno State wrote about the Fresno County Jail. At the time, they were taking away doctor-prescribed medication from inmates with mental health issues. They replaced that with a less expensive substitute that made it impossible for inmates to maintain their sanity and resulted in unnecessary pain, suffering and deaths. When the article was printed in the Community Alliance, it forced the jail to change its policy and treat inmates in a more humane way.
Another big series of articles that changed public policy was written by me about the horrendous treatment of the homeless in this city. After relentlessly documenting the unconstitutional violation of homeless people’s rights, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the City of Fresno for taking and immediately destroying homeless people’s property. The homeless won a $2.3 million settlement that compensated them for their losses. It also changed public policy, forcing the city to store and give the homeless an opportunity to recover their property.
There have also been moments of bewilderment and wonder about how clumsy institutions can be in this city. Did you know this paper was once banned by the Fresno County Library? I was told we were too controversial. I thought the librarian stopping me from dropping off papers was just kidding. I told her that you have the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf and we are controversial? I was assured the ban was official and came from the downtown office. Of course, we fought the ban and won, but the very idea of being banned by the library.
The City of Fresno has taken our newsstands off the streets of downtown Fresno and done who knows what with them. They admitted their theft, could not find the stolen newsstand,= and ended up paying for a replacement. Thank you Bob Navarro, who was our legal representative in this case. We could not have won without competent legal counsel.
The future of the Community Alliance is bright. We recently received two grants, are financially stable and are looking forward to expanding the paper by adding a social media director. We absolutely have to figure out a better way to reach a younger audience with progressive news and information.
This is the first time I can remember holding a fundraiser when the wolf was not howling at the door. There were times when we did not have enough money to pay the printer for the next month’s paper. We did well financially at this year’s event but want you to know that this is a great time to send in a donation, subscribe or become a monthly sustainer. With the wind at our back, your support will make it possible to reach new heights and maybe even change the world.
Contribute at www.fresnoalliance.com/support/.
At the 25th anniversary celebration, Daren Miller was the emcee. Elsa Mejia, Lourdes Olivia and I were past editors attending the event, and each said a few words about the importance of this paper. Current editor Eduardo Stanley thanked the Editorial Board for its work at the newspaper, and Peter Maiden, our distribution director, gave certificates to the distribution crew that gets the paper to thousands of readers every month.
Gerry Bill received an award for the Most Read International Story, which is titled “Homelessness in Cuba? Not Likely.” This article has had tens of thousands of readers. Bob McCloskey received an award for his series on the homeless in Fresno. His ongoing theme is to follow the money. Pam Whalen received an award for her “ongoing commitment to the vision and success” of the paper.
Arax, the internationally recognized and bestselling author, gave the keynote address. Arax’s books include In My Father’s Name, a memoir of his father’s unsolved murder, and the bestselling The King of California, which was named a top book of the year by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle and won the Saroyan Writing Prize awarded by Stanford University. His newest book, The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California, is being hailed by critics as one of the most important books ever written about the West. It, too, has become a national bestseller.
He gave us his insights into the current politics in Fresno and where we can be most effective in struggling for change. Another world is possible.
A video of the 25th anniversary event was produced and can be seen here: https://youtu.be/2lY-smya7nk
We want to give a special shoutout to Brian Bobbitt, who brought out all the tables and chairs we needed and returned them to the Democratic Party HQ when we were done. He should receive the Volunteer of the Year award.
Mike Rhodes is a writer and the business manager for the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at email@example.com.
All photos by Peter Maiden