With three successful Stop the Hate town halls completed, the San Joaquin Valley Media Alliance and the Community Alliance newspaper are on track to have a fourth event, probably in Reedley, in the next few months. Each town hall has focused on different ways to empower communities that are struggling with right-wing extremism.
The recent town hall in Madera was notable for the cultural/dance presentation by the youth group Los Diablitos, the broad coalition that organized it and the involvement of grassroots community members.
Madera Mayor Pro Tem Elsa Mejia was the emcee for the town hall. Pam Whalen, a founder of the Community Alliance newspaper and the primary coordinator of the Madera event, said that “the Fresno Center did a great job at the registration table and all-around logistical support. Baldwin Moy of the Madera County Coalition for Social Justice and Olga Loza with the Dolores Huerta Foundation provided strategic leadership for the event.”
Testimony from local resident Pam Grewel provided several examples of how racism and hate incidents impact the BIPOC community in everyday life. Grewel, who is Sikh, cited being denied entry to a hotel because of the color of her husband’s skin. She also referenced a gas purchase when the man behind the counter demanded to know her nationality. Grewel said, “Why, do I get a discount?” The man glared at her. She is a U.S. citizen.
Hate crimes often involve violence, like the recent incident in the Tower District when two young men were attacked, one of them being severely beaten because he is gay. See the January 2023 Community Alliance for details about that incident.
Moy led the discussion about organizing to stop the hate in Madera. Moy said that “when George Floyd was killed, the community came together and it was multicultural, multiethnic and, really, to me, in all the years I have been here, that was Madera’s finest moment.” This engagement with the audience led to multiple ideas and proposals for advancing Stop the Hate work.
Joining us at the Madera town hall were representatives from the state Attorney General’s office, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Their presentations encouraged people to report hate crimes and incidents (see sidebar).
In Huron, the first Stop the Hate town hall, the issue was the institutional racism that has forced high school students to be bused to Coalinga. This unequal treatment has resulted in a higher dropout rate and a lower college entry level because students do not get the education needed—that is, no time to meet with teachers for help before or after school, too much time spent on buses in transit and no extracurricular activities. Organizing is under way to change this situation.
The second Stop the Hate town hall, which took place in Fresno, brought together several community groups. Dr. Daren Miller was the primary organizer of this event.
Miller said that “history has shown [that] every time people come together they can collectively change things for the future. This is true for both good and bad things.
“This Stop the Hate coalition, which is still growing, is the next iteration of long-term change in the Fresno area for good things. I am encouraging everybody to be on the ‘good’ side of change and join us.”
Patience Milrod, a local attorney and a member of the Jewish community, appreciated law enforcement taking this issue seriously but added that “one of the most important ways to protect ourselves and each other is through mutual support and solidarity.”
Sukaina Hussain, deputy executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations–Sacramento Valley/Central California, responding to a question from the audience about the need for groups to break out of their silos, said that “the key to our work is organizing our communities, and so I know all of our groups are building community power through organizing, which means being in relationship with each other.”
The community groups, elected officials and law enforcement coming together to confront hate crimes and incidents was a unifying theme at the Fresno and Madera town halls.
The plan is to have a fourth Stop the Hate town hall in eastern Fresno County, probably in Reedley.
This series of Stop the Hate town halls is organized by the Community Alliance newspaper and the San Joaquin Valley Media Alliance and is made possible by a grant from the California State Library under the statewide Stop the Hate initiative.