Community Alliance Newspaper
IN THIS ISSUE:
Rogue Performance Festival Revitalizes Fresno Arts Community…Again
By Michael D. Evans
|Gemma Wilcox of London, England, is a first-time performer at the festival, but she is well-known on the fringe festival circuit. Wilcox portrays 20 characters in her performance piece, “The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over.” She received the prize for Best Solo Performance at Ottawa Fringe 2007, and the Ottawa Citizen called her a “shape-shifter extraordinaire.”|
The 2009 Rogue Performance Festival, a nationally renowned fringe festival that celebrates independent performers and artists, will take place from Feb. 26 to March 7 in and nearby the historic Tower District of Fresno. “Our goal is to encourage people to perform and to bring audiences and performers together in ways that might not otherwise occur,” says festival producer John Jordan.
The Rogue philosophy is “to make a direct connection between the artist and the audience,” according to Jaguar Bennett, former promotions director of the festival.
Now in its eighth year, Fresno’s Rogue festival is based on the fringe festival concept. Fringe festivals are typically non-curated and non-juried events in which the box-office proceeds go to the performers. A fringe festival circuit is well-established in Canada, and Fresno is widely acknowledged to have the largest such event in the western United States.
|Local poet Gregory Ramirez portrays Carlos in “Confessions of a Karaoke DJ,” the first in his “Things to Do in the Central Valley” trilogy. His anecdotes of “wild Friday night patrons may make you laugh, sing along and even help fill his tip jar.” He participated in the 2008 festival as the Postmodern Psalmist.|
The 2009 Rogue festival will open on Thursday, Feb. 26, with the Rogue Hop, a two-tiered kick-off party starting at Ashtree Studios and shifting to the Full Circle Brewery later in the evening. Festival performers will offer previews of their upcoming performances at both venues.
A new addition to the festival is scheduled times for visual artists to discuss their art with patrons. These “Meet the Artist” events will take place at the Ashtree Studios venue. There will be five such shows, each of which will feature three artists.
For the audience, the festival offerings are diverse and expansive. With a commitment to the artist’s “right to produce work without the judgment of a jury process and without fear of censure,” the performances tend to be cutting edge and include a wide variety of artistic disciplines.
A sampling of this year’s participants showcases the diversity of artistic endeavors:
· Acoustic Highway presents “Songs We Have Written and Other Sins,” a show that reflects an acoustic rock mix at the “crossroads of Gypsy Blues and Cowboy Jazz.”
· “Barry Smith’s Baby Book” is a multimedia comedy from award-winning humorist Smith, who New York Magazine calls an “energetic and versatile raconteur.”
· The People Next Door, a self-described “hip, new and inexperienced” local theater troupe, present the “Chronicles of Death,” a collection of stories about death.
· Pipe on the Hob, one of the most prominent Celtic music acts in the Central Valley, performs a blend of Irish and Scottish in a concert titled “Celtic Storm.”
· The San Joaquin Literary Association features poets, fiction writers and essayists offering spoken word performances of “verse, story and reality.”
· Rattananan K. Moerdyk exhibits “Spirits in the Paper” using themes and images in a new medium that consists of wet paper pulp dried and brightly colored in old painted wooden frames.
|Sandy Schulte-Day, an artist from Raymond, Calif., will be featuring all of the pieces in her “Animal Spirits Series.” Schulte-Day says that she has been doing the “pieces as animal totems combined with ancient goddess symbology in ink and colored pencil or ink and watercolor.”|
· Geoff Worstell is a storyteller who relates tales of life, love and everything else in “Charlie and the Chocolate Porn Factory.”
· Merlinda Espinosa presents “Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices),” which is a collection of inspirational songs about people’s struggles and loves from Latin America, Mexico and the United States.
· Baba Brinkman, who thrilled previous festival audiences with “The Rap Canterbury Tales,” returns with a new show called “The Rap Guide to Evolution.”
· Tanjora, a tribal belly dance troupe, merges tribal fusion belly dance, tribal group improvisation and classic belly dance while performing “The Journey.”
|Ryan Paulson returns to the festival following his hugely successful “Pentecostal from Wisconsin” last year. At the 2009 festival, Paulson will perform “I’m Uncomfortable,” which is a new comedy featuring such stories and songs as “How I Practiced Self-Love for My Convictions” and “There’s No Condom for the Heart.” TimeOut New York says Paulson’s work is “earnest without being cloying and biting without hurting.”|
Participants showcase in one of six categories: Rogue Mainstage, Rogue Café, Rogue Film, Rogue Gallery, Bring Your Own Gallery (BYOG) or Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV). The BYOG and BYOV categories are particularly democratic in that the performers and the venue organize their events independent of the formal festival infrastructure.
“We believe that a performer has the right to present his or her work and that a paying audience is fully capable of deciding for themselves if they like it or not,” says Jordan.
Participating artists are responsible for the publicity relative to their show. The organizers publicize the overall festival but not the individual events. Performers and artists get to keep 100% of the box-office proceeds and 80% of any artwork sales. “Part of our goal is to set this up so that the artists make a little money,” notes Jordan. “Not a huge amount, but they’re not going in the red.”
Closing the festival will be the Rogue Party on the final night. Although the festival is non-juried, some awards are presented at the closing party. These include the Rogue Sold Out Award, the Rogue Independent Producer Award and the Rogue Exquisite Award. Past closing parties have generated some excitement including a wedding one year.
How did such a novel concept come about and how did it end up in Fresno? The Rogue festival grew out of a couple of events that took place in the 1990s—the Weedwacker Theatre and Theatre J’Nerique. It was the latter, under the bold leadership of Marcel Nunis, that led directly to the formation of Fresno’s first Rogue Performance Festival in 2002. The organizers contended that “audiences were tired of the tried and true and were hungry for the bold and new.”
The festival was an instant success and has received numerous accolades over the years. In 2003, it was designated The Greatest Event on Earth by Festivals.com as a pick “for the world’s coolest, wackiest, strangest, most fun or colorful event!” In 2007, the Fresno Arts Council bestowed the festival with its Horizon Award for contributing to the cultural landscape. In 2008, more than 10,000 tickets were sold to the various festival events.
“There is a certain do-it-yourself quality to the Rogue,” says Jordan. “There’s a kind of magic about it. The emphasis is on providing a forum to the performers. Although our program may be pretty glossy, the event itself is a little rough around the edges.” And that’s the way audience likes it.
To learn more about the 2009 Rogue Performance Festival, or to become a sponsor or a volunteer, visit www.roguefestival.com.
Special thanks to John Jordan, producer, and Renee Newlove, performer relations and hospitality coordinator, for their assistance in compiling information for this article.
|Fresno-based Tony Blanco is performing at the festival for the first time, although he has performed his magic show nationwide for 34 years. Titled “The Magic and Comedy of Tony Blanco,” Blanco’s show is an interactive event that employs magic, storytelling and circus skills. His expansive repertoire of skills has made him one of Las Vegas’ leading casino entertainers.|
2009 Rogue Performance Festival Participants
Below is a list of the acts and performers scheduled to participate in the 2009 Rogue Performance Festival. Check the festival Web site at www.roguefestival.com for up-to-date information on performances, times and venues.
Dianna’s North (826 N. Fulton St.)
Acoustic Highway: Songs We Have Wrote and Other Sins
Ananka Belly Dance Company: Dreams of Scheherazade
BABA for Now and Blake Jones: BABA and Blake for Now
Enrique Acosta: Spider Baby the musical
The 2nd Street Dancers: The 80’s Show
Dianna’s South (726 N. Fulton St.)
Gemma Wilcox: The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over
Josh and Will Are Idiots Productions: Cupid is a B*tch…a musical about true love
Katherine Glover: No Stranger Than Home
Linda Dryden: Ropes of Sand
Tony Blanco: The Magic and Comedy of Tony Blanco
Too Much Free Time Productions: Hooray for Speech Therapy
Starline (833 E. Fern Ave.)
Barry Smith: Barry Smith’s Baby Book
Cool Reflection: Cool Reflection RESEND
Over the moon productions: Some Reckless Abandon
Ryan Paulson: I’m Uncomfortable
Ashtree Studios (1035 N. Fulton St.)
Ellouise Schlottler: Flesh on Old Bones
HeyDay Productions: Airplane Jayne is talking about it again…
Terrance V. McArthur: The Show Show Strikes Back
The People Next Door: Chronicles of Death
unsupported productions: Half Time at the Super Bowl
Spectrum Gallery (1306 N. Wishon Ave.)
Elliot Owensby and Kyle Warkentin: Music
Gregory Ramirez: Confessions of a Karaoke DJ
Lynn Ruth Miller: An Audience with Lynn Ruth Miller
Pieter Moerdyk: Pert Pooper Antichrist
Pipe on the Hob: Celtic Storm
San Joaquin Literary Association: Poetry and Prose from Fresno State
Tom Hosler: Songs of the Didjeridoo
Vini Vidi Vici (1116 N. Fulton St.)
Geoff Worstell Edible Productions: Charlie and the Chocolate Porn Factory
Karen Marguth: Saint Louise and the Brothers of Swing
Liesl Garner: Strengthen Me with Raisins
Rose & Clarise: Rose & Clarise Gardenia Falls Las Vegas Review
Songs 4 Pints: Sean Nos
Spencer/Morris Group: Music Talk
Travis Sheridan: The Bipolarity of Life—How to Enjoy Life without Medication
Ashtree Studios and Vini Vidi Vici
Ed Stewart: the shaping of things to come
Erynn Richardson: Erynn
Rattananan K. Moerdyk: Spirits in the Paper
Sandy Schulte-Day: Animal Spirits Series
Mike Briggs Properties (1212 N. Van Ness Ave.)
Dance for Camera
Fear of Ambiguity
BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue)
Full Circle Brewing (620 F St.)
Body Rock Circus
Frills & Thrills
Merlinda Espinosa: Voces Inocentes
The Oddly Shaped Comedy Show
Palamino’s (805 E. Olive Ave.)
Severance Art Studio (1401 N. Wishon Ave.)
All in the Timing
Baba Brinkman: Rap Guide to Evolution
Benjamin Boone Jazz Quartet
CAA: Rent (School Edition)
Megill & Company: Assemblings III
Tanjora: A Journey
WSF: Complete Works, Improver Behavior
|Navigating the Festival With so much to see and do at the 2009 Rogue Performance Festival, how should you manage your time so that you can maximize your experience? · Pick up a copy of the official Rogue Map program guide. This will be your key to finding the venues and keeping track of schedules. · Plan ahead. o Tickets go on sale 30 minutes before show time. There are no pre-sales of tickets. o Consider buying a Rogue Pass, which allows you to bypass the ticket sale line and go directly to the venue. If you are viewing more than a couple of shows, the Rogue Pass is highly recommended. · Know the specifics. o The Rogue Mainstage venues seat 70–80 people, and the performances are limited to 60 minutes. Tickets are $7. o The Rogue Café venues seat approximately 40 people, and the performances are limited to 45 minutes. Tickets are $4. o The Rogue Film venue can seat approximately 30 people. Tickets are $7. o The “Meet the Artist” venue seats approximately 40 people, and each show is 45 minutes. Tickets are $4. · Visit the festival’s Web site at www.roguefestival.com for up-to-date information.|
DAYS OF SUSPENDED CYNICISM
By: Catherine Campbell and Irene Zupko
|The sentiments of many.|
All photos by Irene Zupko
Irene and I knew we were on a different kind of trip when, at the airport in SF, the herd of humanity headed for Washington D.C. the day before the inauguration were moved from one plane to another four times and the trip was cancelled and rescheduled repeatedly and no one complained. By the time we finally boarded, we had met our fellow passengers and knew we were all on a shared visit to the same happy destination, the inauguration of Barack Obama. We talked as if we had known each other for years, black and white together.
All the conflicts, deaths and injuries, protests, marches, songs and stories, led to this one day, this day of celebration, and nothing would impede our journey to that inauguration high noon.
After we all went to the fourth and last gate and finally got on our plane, together Irene and I began reading the Rolling Stone Magazine collection of Obama speeches. We were quickly befriended by Ulysses, our steward, who began bringing us free glasses of wine. Just as we were getting off the plane, Ulysses handed us a wrapped bottle of expensive Chardonnay from the first class cabin. He winked as he told us not to tell anyone.
At some point on this plane ride, I realized the issue of race in America had changed forever. It was not that Barack Obama is Black, it is that he is good, decent, smart, thoughtful, eloquent. At some point, the self-protective, insulating psychology of youthful America: machismo, blunderbuss, greed, pride, and bullying, become the self-destructive neuroses of our American adulthood. We are growing up, America, and we’ve chosen a Grown-Up to lead us out of the crisis created by the excesses of youth. Black Americans have every reason to be proud that a Black man has led the way, and we who are white can be proud we shed our youthful vice of prejudice and chose wisely. Yes, we did it, and we did it together.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.1
That plane was so joyful Irene and I are surprised, looking back on it, that we didn’t all burst into spontaneous song, but that came later.
By this time, we were so late we had lost our pre-booked taxi ride with Felix, who – when we called him – promised to send a substitute. We were met at the airport by Robil, one of Felix’s Ethiopian business partners, who was 22, had been in the US since he was 11, and was studying mechanical engineering. Robil was very excited about the inauguration – his plan was to watch it on television since most of the roads into the District were closed. Robil dropped us off at our hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, where we picked up the wheelchair for Irene’s broken foot. It had occurred to us that a wheelchair, a handicapped placard, and a press pass from The Community Alliance would grease our way into the inauguration, so we were equipped with multiple means of gaining entry without tickets or passes issued by the Senate Office of Periodicals, which turned down an application from The Community Alliance. (Can you imagine?)
We planned to get up at 4:00, but it was past midnight when we fell into bed and we slept right through until 8:00, when we came to consciousness, put on the multiple layers of long johns, wool sweaters, and down jackets we knew we needed to make it through a day of freezing weather, and drank our first cups of coffee. We jumped on the Metro yellow line along with throngs of humanity, who separated and made a path for Irene’s wheelchair, and when we got to Seventh Street, that entrance to the Mall was closed because by then the Mall had been filled to capacity for more than an hour. Panicked at the thought of being barred from the inauguration, we pushed Irene to Third Street where we wended our way through the crowd yelling “handicapped person!” as the crowds, including security guards, parted like the sea and let us through. At one point, when we thought our luck might run out, a security guard told us there were no more handicapped gates, that this was a press entrance. Irene and I pulled out our laminated Community Alliance press passes, and we were allowed right in, past the crowds of ticket holders, and went directly to the next gate, where we were told to get out of the way because an ambulance was coming through, and there we just slid in behind the ambulance. We were at Third Street about 150 yards from the front of the Capitol. The sun was shining, it was almost noon, and we had just made it.
Not that we could see anything, we couldn’t, but we could hear most of what was happening and, like all the other people who were there from all over the world, we were just plain thrilled to be there.
We began hearing the names of former presidents as their arrivals were announced. First, President Jimmy Carter: strong applause. Then President Bush 41: silence. Then President Bill Clinton: huge applause. Then Bush 43: a roar of boos.
At this point, our subjective experiences diverged. Irene felt sorry for Bush, or embarrassed for him. She understood the sentiment, but the boos were so loud and unanimous, it felt pathetic to her. Bush must be completely humiliated.
Biden was sworn in, Rick Warren did his dreaded but ultimately empathetic invocation, and then Aretha sang “My Country Tis of Thee” and Irene began crying, big, fat glistening tears running down her cheeks.
The crowd was amazingly quiet, as if we were in a church of millions.
We stashed the wheelchair with some folks from New York and found a better spot, and for his 18 minutes, Obama spoke and the crowd was still. The world was silent. There was applause at the strongest lines, those that heralded a clear break from the past, followed by quiet and absolute attention. For those 18 minutes, the celebration was suspended and the serious work of governing was undertaken. When the speech was over, the crowd burst into sustained applause. And then, when the Bushes’ helicopter pulled over the capitol and into the sky, the crowd began singing, “Sha, na, na, na, na, na, na, good bye…” A sea of people rocked back and forth, singing good bye to the Bush regime. A few threw their shoes at the receding helicopter.
…a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter, expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.
|Catherine stands tall with a fellow Revolutionary.|
Over and over, Irene and I lost sight of each other, only to find each other a few minutes later. Then we were among the masses exiting the scene — at this point it was bright and sunny and we didn’t even need our coats. We found Massachusetts Avenue and there were Obama memorabilia hustlers everywhere selling t-shirts, mugs and stuffed animals. We stopped at the Sunlight Café near Georgetown law school where we shared a table with a young couple from South Carolina who were members of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA’s) who bought tickets and were unable to get in and ended up in the Dubliner’s Irish Bar where they watched it on TV. They had driven 8 hrs from North Carolina and were about to drive 8 hours back, and they cared not at all that they didn’t see it in person. They were there and they were hopeful.
By now it was late afternoon, and we entered Union Station sneaking through a back garage door. We took an elevator up only to discover that our theory about the crowds thinning out was absurd and the Metro had been closed due to the extreme overcrowding. Riding the Metro back to our hotel seemed simply impossible. Catherine suggested we stay in the City and go to the Democracy Now! Peace Ball dressed as we were, but Irene could not abide the idea of going to a black tie ball in her long johns and snow boots. We forged on, using the wheelchair to every advantage, and we were able to maneuver our way onto the closed Metro, only to end up going in the wrong direction.
For an hour, we rode the train on the scenic route toward Maryland rather than Virginia, talking the whole way with all sorts of people about what we had just witnessed, whether Bush and Cheney should be prosecuted for their crimes against humanity, and our shared joy at Obama’s victory. Everyone listened to each other. It was an incredible, jazzed, upbeat, totally friendly conversation about issues central to us all. We didn’t want this train ride to end and, at times, it didn’t seem as if it would. We were once again surrounded by happy, smiling people, as we had been since our journey began. The color lines had disappeared and the energy was thrilling.
The Peace Ball was sponsored by Busboys and Poets, Code Pink Women for Peace, The Nation and several other like minded organizations, and we had VIP Democracy Now! tickets. Back at Union Station, dressed for the occasion, we were right across the street from the Smithsonian Postal Museum, full of statues, stamps, and airplanes hanging from the ceilings, where the Peace Ball was being held. We were ushered into the lower floor for the VIP Democracy Now! donors, where we quickly spotted Harry Belafonte and Dick Gregory. We found seats right in the front row for the show, where we were directly on the path of the caterers bringing forth an array of epicurean delights, so we could just reach up for a plate of mushroom risotto, French pastries, fine cheeses, and all the wine we could guzzle down. We did not exercise caution.
|Irene shares a moment with on of her heroes, Dick Gregory.|
Joan Baez, looking beautiful as ever, wore a shiny grey sleeveless mini dress and sang four easily recognizable and contextually meaningful songs. First, “Forever Young” – dedicated to the Obama family, and a tribute to the youthfulness everyone seemed to feel on this night. She told a story about how once, years ago, she was with Martin Luther King in a house in the South and she was told to wake up Dr. King by going to his bedside and singing a song. She went into the room and began singing “Sweet Chariot”, which she then sang for us a cappella. When she finished singing to Dr. King, he rolled over and said “I thought I heard angels singing.” She closed her set with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and everyone sang along with her.
Steve and Sekou The Misfit, a couple of young, radical, bi-racial comics, came out and did an intriguing topical rap riff on the regime change and social issues. Mixing comedy and activism, they were very cool.
Holly Near and Friends sang spirituals, and everyone laid their swords down and made war no more with exquisite a cappella harmonies. She told the crowd that peace occurs when “one rises to the highest self and knows, without a doubt, I would rather sing with you than offend you.”
Dick Gregory was next up with his stunning adult daughter who introduced him after praising him by singing a song she wrote. He did a quick comedy bit filled with anger, wit, wisdom and activist history. He ended up telling us how right the southern rednecks were when they professed, “give the black man the vote and he’ll end up in the Whitehouse!” The crowd roared with delight.
Alice Walker came out and talked about peace as the certainty of joy. Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologue, came out and forcefully talked about what she demanded in the Obama era.
|Amy Goodman tell it like it is while addressing the Peace Ball crowd.|
Amy Goodman was introduced, and she spoke passionately about what a wonderful day it had been for all of us, but how difficult the preceding week had been for the people of Gaza. She told us Barack Obama used the same words as FDR did years ago: “You must make me do it.” Thus, she said, it is our job to put Obama’s feet to the fire over Israel and Palestine.
Amy – who knows her music – introduced Michael Franti, barefoot as always, and Spearhead, his band of many years, and they sang their reggae song, “Barack Obama.” Everyone jumped up to dance. (The song is free on the Michael Franti website.)
As we walked out, someone gave us two green roses. The people on the metro trains were falling asleep on each other’s shoulders. Our feet hurt but, like those who walked during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, our souls were rested.
We didn’t wake up until 11:30 the following morning. We laughed and lunged for the coffee. By now, the bridges weren’t closed, so we could take cabs. Our first destination was the Viet Nam Memorial, where we hooked up with Ed, a Navy Seabee who had been at the memorial for 15 years as a volunteer. He was helping people find their relative’s names, and then he would scurry up a ladder to pull out a slip of paper to trace the name.
Catherine called her husband, Tom, to get the names of his friends who were shot and died in Viet Nam on March 21, 1968. The names of the dead are organized on the memorial by the day they died and then in alphabetical order. With Ed’s help, we found all seven of Tom’s friends’ names and Ed spent nearly an hour carefully tracing the names onto pieces of paper in charcoal.
At the end of the Viet Nam Memorial, we ran into a Mexican Viet Nam vet who had tears streaming down his face. He said he was homeless and unable to get disability. We all hugged and kissed, and Irene gave him some money. He said Obama gave him hope.
As we walked off the Mall, we started to look for someplace to eat. We bought t-shirts, bracelets, and made our way to a restaurant, where we read to each other from the Washington Post and the New York Times and, given our intense interest in what was going on, decided to go to the American History Museum. When we got to the Lincoln Room, which was packed with Black and white families, we saw a group of busts of people with hoods over their heads called “the conspirators” – these were the men and women who conspired to assist John Wilkes Booth shoot Lincoln.
For a moment, and for the first time, we were afraid for Barack Obama.
The elevator woman told us that the day before the History Museum had been used to care for masses of people who had been toppled by hypothermia and frostbite. Children had marched in the parade in costumes without their coats and had been felled by the cold. They had filled the Museum and slept on the floor as the new president was inaugurated.
We saw a long line of young Black high school youngsters headed into the new World Trade Center and we asked them why they were there. They had submitted essays on why they wanted to go to the inauguration, and they were the contest winners. There were other lost opportunities on this trip, but the most significant was our failure to get the names and addresses of their teachers so we could read the essays of these Katrina survivors about why they wanted to see the inauguration of Barack Obama.
We had decided to head for a night spot owned by Bus Boys and Poets. This was the same group who had put on the Peace Ball the night before, so we wanted to go but we had no idea what we would find when we got there. At about 10, we arrived at a place that described itself as a coffee shop, book store, jazz lounge, restaurant, theater, poetry venue, and internet café. While we loved the venue, and wished we had something like it in Fresno, we decided to head back to Union Station for Irish music at The Dubliners. The Dubliners was standing room only, but we quickly found a table. They played traditional Irish music and closed the set with “Man of Constant Sorrow.” From what we could see, no one in Washington D.C. was feeling one iota of sorrow.
It was the happiest place on Earth.
Past midnight, we headed back to Virginia since we couldn’t stay awake long enough to hold a vertical position for dancing. In the morning, we waited for our cab in the lobby with a woman from Cape Cod. She had dinner the night before at the Medal of Honor Ball with a 90 year old WWII veteran dressed in a leopard skin tuxedo, and with Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut. She was distraught that another Medal of Honor winner who joined them was an Iraq vet who was missing an eye and an arm. “It was hard to look at,” she said. “He sacrificed too much.”
Felix took us to the airport. He had lived in the US for 12 years and has married and had two kids since he’s been here. He has a Master’s Degree in psychology, but he owns a limo service with five other Ethiopians and has thrived in the nation’s capitol. He misses Ethiopia, the colors, smells, the beautiful music, and the rest of his family who stayed behind. “But Ethiopia is a dictatorship,” he said, “and most of my Ethiopian friends would rather be in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world.” We asked Felix how he got to the U.S., whether his master’s degree was his ticket, and he said oh, no, he won the Green Card lottery; of 75,000,000 green card applicants, 5,000 were randomly picked to come to the US. Felix was one of them.
Unlike our other cabbies, Felix had not stayed home on Inauguration Day; he had been up for two days driving “rich guys” around from one party to another. As we arrived at the airport, we asked what Ethiopian music he liked, and he played a reggae song by Zedicus, “O ba ma,” – a song that asked Obama to bring democracy and freedom to Africa. We three, Irene, Felix and I, climbed out of the car, music blaring, dancing together on the sidewalk as the song “O ba ma” was sung in Ethiopian on Felix’s Alpine stereo.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.2
In no other country on this earth is Felix’s story even possible.
Catherine Campbell is an appellate and civil rights attorney. Irene Zupko is a paralegal for the Marjorie Mason Center and a private investigator who owns her own paralegal business, Paralegal Assistance Unlimited. Catherine and Irene have been good friends for 32 years and wrote this piece together on the drive home from San Francisco.
1 These quotes and those that follow are from Barack Obama’s inauguration speech.
2 Inaugural Poem, by Elizabeth Alexander.
From the Editor
Has anyone ever complained to you about how “conservative” Fresno is? I have heard the complaint many times from well meaning friends, coworkers, and those who live outside the valley who bemoan the harsh political landscape of Fresno. They point to the vice-grip right wing elected officials seem to have on all levels of local government and conclude that Fresno and the Central Valley is a part of the “Red State” phenomena. Fresno is viewed as hopelessly conservative.
But, how conservative is Fresno, really? Well, Barack Obama did win in Fresno County last November. That was cool. But, I think the really conclusive evidence that Fresno is more progressive than almost anyone thinks, is hidden in the statistical data buried at the elections department. We all know that Republican Ashley Swearengin won the race for mayor, but what is not talked about is how polarized the vote was. Predominately white, upper middle class north Fresno voted overwhelmingly for Swearengin. In the precincts near the bluffs, the turnout was typically 80% of the registered voters and they voted 4 to 1 for Ashley. In southwest and southeast Fresno, where residents are poor, working class, Latino, African-American, and Southeast Asian, the voter turnout was around 40% and they voted 4 to 1 for Henry T. Perea, the progressive Democrat.
If voters in south Fresno voted in the same numbers as north Fresno voters, Perea would have probably won the mayoral race. If the turn out of registered voters was reversed and 80% of south Fresno voters turned out, compared to 40% for those living near Woodward Park and the Bluffs, Perea would have won by a landslide. Perea actually won more precincts than Swearengin, but the turnout in those districts was not high enough to result in his election.
Fresno really is, as former mayor Alan Autry was fond of saying, a “Tale of Two Cities” where the rich and well to do live up north and the rest of us live south of Shaw. Look at the map on this page – it shows (visually) where the votes came from that allow conservatives to dominate political life in Fresno. North Fresno residents vote for their economic and political self interests, while a majority of Fresnans south of Shaw sat out another election – that is why no minority has ever been elected mayor in this city. This doesn’t mean Fresno is “conservative.” It just means that the progressive majority has not figured out how to achieve political power in this community.
Yes, there are obstacles to getting poor and working people to vote for their social and economic interests. In fact, the rules of the game are stacked against us. If you move to a new house or apartment, as many poor and working people do (more often than the rich), you have to re-register to vote. Some Republican strategists in the last election went so far as to suggest challenging voters who had lost their homes due to foreclosure, figuring they were ineligible to vote if they moved since last registering and that those voters would more likely vote for a change (in other words, against Republicans). Republicans tried to spin this nefarious strategy to disenfranchise the victims of their failed economic policies as attempts to stop “voter fraud.”
Having to work on the day of the election, childcare challenges, transportation, and other problems affect poor and working people more than the rich and famous. Ask the thousands of people that were in the Fresno County jail last November 4 – they couldn’t get out to vote. The vast majority of them live south of Shaw. Keep in mind that most people in the Fresno County Jail are eligible to vote. Simply being accused of a crime and awaiting trial does not disqualify you from voting. There should be voting booths at the jail on election day.
Voters south of Shaw face many challenges in their struggle for political equality. While the well to do in north Fresno usually believe in “the system” (after all, it is working for them), many poor and working people just don’t think voting will make a difference. They are disillusioned and disenfranchised.
There are many people in south Fresno who are not even registered to vote – perhaps because they are a felon on parole, they are an undocumented worker, or because they have been convinced that voting is hopeless and it doesn’t matter who you vote for – because you are still going to be at that same low paying job after the election.
Not having a level playing field between the rich and poor in this community should not translate into people saying that Fresno is a “conservative” city. If the system succeeded in getting everyone to participate equally in the electoral process, I’m convinced that the majority of people in this community would vote in support of progressive issues –
• We would vote to end the war and occupation of Iraq
• We would stop the US from torturing prisoners
• We would support a health care system that put peoples needs before insurance companies profits
• We would support police accountability
• We would support workers earning a living wage
• We would vote to clean our air and improve public transportation
• We would end homelessness
Our challenge is to overcome the idea that we are living in a conservative community, level the playing field so that more people register and vote, and for the progressive community to develop a strategy to win political power. Want to help? A good place to start would be to join the Democracy for America (DFA) Campaign Academy that will be in Fresno on March 28 & 29 (see the details on page 3). Want to get started right away? Then attend the next Central Valley Progressive PAC meeting on Saturday, February 14.
Unions Need Unity, but More
By David Bacon
Twelve unions met in Washington DC last week, and announced they’re considering rejoining the two labor federations, the American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and Change to Win (CTW), that split apart five years ago. And one large independent union, the National Education Association, is thinking of joining them. The initiative came from the incoming Obama administration, which told union leaders it didn’t relish the idea of dealing with competing union agendas.
Many progressive labor activists greeted the idea with a sigh of relief. “Dividing the labor movement was never a good idea to begin with,” says Bill Fletcher, former education director for the AFL-CIO, and past president of TransAfrica Forum. Fletcher and many others believe that while U.S. unions have big problems, they can’t be cured by division, competing federations, or simple changes in structure. Instead, they call for a reexamination of labor’s political direction.
Unions are at their lowest point in membership since the 1920s, representing less than 12% of the workforce. Obama’s election, which they pulled out all the stops to achieve, promises some degree of change from Federal policies that have accelerated that decline. The president-elect has appointed potentially the most pro-union labor secretary since the 1930s – Congresswoman Hilda Solis. A potential Congressional majority could pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make union organizing much easier and protect workers from retaliatory firings while they unionize. Obama has promised to sign the bill if Congress passes it.
In industry after industry, the impact of revived unions and growing membership could be enormous. For the first time in U.S. history, for example, unions have gained the strength to organize the rest of the hospital and nursing home industries. That would radically improve the jobs and raise the income of hundreds of thousands of nurses, dietary workers and bed changers, in the same way the CIO and the San Francisco General Strike turned longshoremen from day laborers on the waterfront into some of the country’s highest-paid blue-collar workers. An organized healthcare industry, in alliance with consumers, could finally convince Congress to establish a single-payer system guaranteeing healthcare to every person in this country.
|Photo by David Bacon|
Yet while the 12 leaders were sitting down in Washington to discuss unity, the healthcare division of country’s largest union, the Service Employees, may be torn apart in a fight between the union’s national leaders and its largest local, United Healthcare West. Such a fratricidal conflict could not only jeopardize hopes for organizing healthcare workers, but even labor’s larger political goals of the Employee Free Choice Act and single-payer healthcare.
Decisions made by unions often affect workers far beyond their own members. The labor upsurge of the 1930s and 40s led to national contracts in the auto, steel, longshore and electrical industries, establishing pension and medical benefits, raising wages, and forcing the creation of the unemployment insurance and Social Security systems. All workers benefited. And when many master agreements were destroyed in the early 1980s, workers’ middle-class lifestyles began to erode everywhere.
Joining the AFL-CIO and CTW back together is a sensible step in marshalling the resources needed to take advantage of the openings presented by a new Obama administration, and begin rebuilding what was lost. But that larger sense of responsibility should inspire unions to face a basic question. They cannot rebuild their own strength, much less improve life for all workers, by themselves.
A new direction in labor requires linking unions with other social and economic justice movements. Defending immigrants from raids and helping them win legal status is just as important to the growth of unions as passing the Employee Free Choice Act. U.S. workers need a new trade policy, which stops using poverty to boost corporate profits abroad, impoverishing and displacing millions of people in the process. But that policy can’t be won by unions negotiating with the administration by themselves, outside of a much broader coalition.
Health care reform requires an alliance between health care providers and working class consumers. The communities in which all workers live need real jobs programs and a full employment economy, especially Black and Latino communities. People far beyond unions will help win the Employee Free Choice Act and rebuild the labor movement if it is willing to fight for everyone.
Unions need not just more unity and better organizing techniques, but a vision that will inspire workers. They need to speak directly to their desperation over insecure jobs, home foreclosures and falling income, and then lead them into action, even (or especially) if it makes a Democratic administration and Congress uncomfortable. As much as Obama has done labor a favor by forcing it to discuss reunification, political calculations in Washington can’t be the guide to what is possible. Workers need a movement that fights for what they really need, not what beltway lobbyists say legislators will accept.
In the period of its greatest growth, labor proposed an alternative social vision that inspired people to risk their jobs and homes, and even lives – that society could be organized to ensure social and economic justice for all people. Workers were united by the idea that they could gain enough political power to end poverty, unemployment, racism, and discrimination. “Workers are looking for answers,” Fletcher says. “Without them we’ll get further despair. What we need instead is to organize for an alternative.”
David Bacon is a writer and photographer, whose most recent book is “Illegal People – How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants.” His website is http://dbacon.igc.org
DFA Campaign Training Coming to Fresno in March
By Michael D. Evans
Taking advantage of the groundswell of grassroots activism that led to Sen. Barack Obama taking Fresno County in his successful bid for the presidency, local progressive groups have banded together to bring the Democracy for America (DFA) Campaign Academy to Fresno.
The DFA was founded by Howard Dean initially to generate grassroots support for his 2004 presidential candidacy. Since then, it has morphed into one of the nation’s largest political action communities.
The DFA Campaign Academy has as its mission to focus, network and train grassroots activists in the skills and strategies to take back our country; manage successful campaigns; or run for office themselves. The DFA provides campaign training, organizing resources and media exposure to help participants support progressive issues and candidates up and down the ballot.
The next Campaign Academy on the West Coast will be in Fresno the weekend of March 28–29 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. In addition, there will be a Meet & Greet on Friday, March 27, and a social following the Saturday session. All of the events will take place at Fresno State University.
Gary Alford, newly elected chair of the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee, says that the academy “provides an excellent opportunity to build on the momentum created in last year’s election. We had record involvement last year for the national election, and now folks are looking for ways to make a difference at the local level as well. The academy will provide people with the tools to be successful on the ground in the Central Valley.”
The Campaign Academy weekend is two days of interactive workshops that bring together local activists, campaign staff and candidates for intensive training. Experienced campaign professionals lead sessions in voter contact, fundraising, communications, online organizing and much more to empower progressive activists with the skills to win. Attendees also have the opportunity to meet local progressive candidates and learn about local opportunities.
The cost for the Campaign Academy is $60 in advance ($75 at the door), with a discount to $30 in advance for low-income attendees and students ($45 at the door).
Register at www.democracyforamerica.com/fresnotraining as soon as possible to secure your spot. Attendees will be coming from throughout the western United States, and space is limited.
For more information on the DFA, visit www.democracyforamerica.com .
The co-sponsors of the DFA Campaign Academy in Fresno include the San Joaquin Valley Democratic Club, the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee, California for Democracy, DFA of Chowchilla, DFA of Stanislaus County, DFA-CFA of Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties, DFA-CFD of Fresno and Madera Counties, the Fresno Stonewall Democrats, the Madera County Democratic Central Committee, the Oakhurst Democratic Club and the Democratic Club of Coarsegold.
Hard Times at the Fresno Bee
By Brandon Hill
The global decline of newspapers may not be apparent to the average reader, but it is real. The readership and circulation of daily newspapers have been steadily declining for roughly 15 years. According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, the percentage of people getting their news from daily newspapers has fallen almost 25% since 1993. According to the same source, more people now get most of their news online rather than from newspapers with younger generations getting news from online sources in drastically larger numbers.
Even with dwindling readership, newspapers have been able to remain profitable. However, these profits have been steadily diminishing. Although newspapers already may be inching toward obsolescence, the demise of print media as we know it may be hastened by the economic downturn—forcing newspaper companies to rapidly alter their business models to remain competitive and profitable as increasing numbers seek news from other sources and advertise their businesses via alternative media. If newspapers do not respond adequately to market signals, some may fall victim to the economy as so many other companies have. In recent months, we have seen the stocks and advertising revenues of all newspaper companies fall dramatically. Tribune Co., the owner of the Los Angeles Times, has filed for bankruptcy, Detroit’s major newspapers have agreed to reduce home delivery to cut costs and rival newspapers in Dallas are cooperating in order to survive.
In the middle of this newspaper decline is The McClatchy Co., the second largest newspaper publisher in America and the owner of the Fresno Bee and several other Central Valley papers. McClatchy has seen some of the industry’s steepest declines in its stock price, which plummeted 85% in the past year, and advertising revenue, which fell by about 19% in the past year (which is higher than the national average). Furthermore, McClatchy is saddled with debt from its purchase of Knight Ridder, another media company.
Locally, McClatchy responded to the downturn by laying off 44 Fresno Bee employees in June, offering buyouts to most full-time employees in August and shutting down the Clovis Independent. According to Nene Casares, a Bee employee who accepted a buyout offer late last year, the Bee also outsourced its circulation call center and a sizable number of finance and advertising employees to the Philippines and India. In Casares’ opinion, McClatchy’s way of doing business changed for the worse in her last few years with the company. “Most of my years at the Bee were very, very good. I’m very sorry that in the last two years I experienced many changes which were not for the better. When I left the Bee, I said that I no longer worked for McClatchy…because most of the McClatchy way of doing business no longer exists.”
The buyouts and layoffs were accompanied by a nationwide wage freeze and benefit cut as part of an effort to cut 10% of the company’s workforce. This effort followed a 13% workforce reduction from 2006 to 2008. More recently, the Seattle Times, in which McClatchy holds 49.5% of the voting stock, has asked non-union employees to take unpaid furloughs in order to cut costs. McClatchy has also been attempting to sell the Miami Herald, one of its higher-quality papers.
In researching this article, numerous attempts were made to speak with individuals at the Bee regarding steps that they might take to ensure the Bee is on steady footing and if more job losses will be in the cards as McClatchy’s fortunes worsen. Interview requests were denied or ignored. In interviews with other papers following the June layoffs, McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt refused to rule out more layoffs and declined to characterize that juncture in McClatchy’s history as its low watermark. Since then, the outlook has worsened. In June, when the layoffs began, McClatchy’s stock was around $8; currently, it is around $1 per share.
In the larger picture, what does the decline of newspapers mean for the flow of information in our democracy? Many theorize that it will at least initially mean further media consolidation, a decline in journalistic quality and a greater reliance on blogs, television and radio news.
Although blogs can reach millions with little overhead and have the effect of democratizing the news, some find the prospect of their prevalence as a news source troubling. Andrew Sullivan, a popular conservative blogger for the Atlantic and a columnist for the Sunday Times, writes in a recent column, “The terrifying problem is that a one-man blog cannot begin to do the necessary labour-intensive, skilled reporting that a good newspaper sponsors and pioneers. A world in which reporting becomes even more minimal and opinion gets even more vacuous and unending is not a healthy one for a democracy.” Sullivan also envisions more reader-supported media in his column, though outlets such as the Community Alliance are probably not what he has in mind.
Carlos Fierro, editor of the Fresno Undercurrent (an alternative monthly paper) and a lecturer of journalism and mass communication at Fresno City College, presents a different perspective. Fierro believes that the decline of print presents a positive opportunity for alternative papers such as the Alliance and the Undercurrent. “It provides an opportunity, but not a windfall. I don’t think it changes the landscape. We’re largely fighting the same battle, and it’s more difficult for small papers.” Fierro notes that the advertisers in both papers are in dire straits making ad revenues harder to come by. He says that a positive outcome of the declining quality of so-called professional journalism will lead people to look to other sources of news including alternative media and that people might begin to look more favorably on such sources as the quality and credibility of mainstream sources erodes and becomes more obvious. The decline of newspapers is not a concern for Fierro, as he believes that even if major newspapers all but disappeared credible journalism would still exist at necessary levels thanks to the alternative independent press.
From what we have seen, newspapers are primarily fighting for continued profitability by cutting jobs and expenses, rather than an emphasis on improving their product or better tailoring its delivery to readers. With this strategy, the number of people in the newsroom is reduced, leading to declining product quality and quantity and a greater reliance on the dry, shallow and ultimately conservative work of large newspapers and news services for prominent stories and a staff stretched thin to cover state and local issues.
What does the future hold? The Fresno Bee will probably not close up shop anytime soon, but with further cuts probable, declining quality and quantity of coverage that many already deem inadequate is certain. Last year, McClatchy closed the doors of the Clovis Independent. Perhaps other smaller McClatchy properties such as the Sierra Star, the Los Banos Enterprise or even the Merced Sun Star and entities such as the Bee’s South Valley Bureau will be next to go.
Brandon Hill is a progressive activist and a college student. He can be reached at email@example.com.
|Scoopy has been The Fresno Bee’s logo since 1943. But, with readership and advertising in decline, their stock falling to an all time low, and the economy crashing, some observers are starting to ask if bankruptcy is in their future. What would it be like if we no longer had a daily newspaper in this community?|
Lawsuit Against The Bee
By Brandon Hill
Another of the Fresno Bee’s woes is a recent lawsuit brought by several current and former Fresno Bee newspaper carriers against McClatchy, the Bee’s parent company. In the complaint it is stated that despite long hours carriers are not given breaks or overtime pay, receive less than minimum wage, must purchase supplies, and are not reimbursed for mileage. The carriers also claim that they are misclassified as independent contractors when in fact all aspects of their work are under Bee control which typically makes them full fledged employees of a company under California law. Companies often have a financial incentive to misclassify individuals as independent contractors since workers with the designation are granted fewer protections than full fledged employees.
This lawsuit is strikingly similar to a class action suit filed against the Orange Country Register. Though the Register still denies wrongdoing, it apparently saw the writing on the wall and settled the lawsuit late last year for $22 million dollars plus $14 million in legal fees. Workers party to similar litigation and circumstances have been ruled employees consistently including an Antelope Valley Press lawsuit settled last year relating to workers compensation benefits for carriers. According to newspaper reports, McClatchy intends to contest the allegations of the carriers in court.
Death of the Delta
By Lloyd G. Carter
You can add the ecological collapse of one of the world’s great estuaries to the earthquakes, wildfires, floods, droughts, and other calamities, both natural and manmade, which routinely afflict California.
This unfolding disaster, however, is definitely manmade.
|The side of a levee in Sacramento, California|
At 738,000 acres, the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, meeting point for the southbound Sacramento River and the northbound San Joaquin River in California’s Great Central Valley, was once home to huge numbers of salmon and migratory birds and more than 640 other plant and animal species.
According to a new study by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis poisoned striped bass parent fish in the Delta are hatching offspring with underdeveloped brains, inadequate energy supplies, slower growth rates, and dysfunctional livers. These weakened offspring are smaller than hatchery fish raised in clean water.
The Delta, it seems, has become California’s sewer. Indeed, ammonia (from human urine) in partially treated municipal waste water discharges to the estuary and is the latest in a long list of causes for the Delta’s slow demise. Shockingly, the fouled Delta is also a partial drinking water source for at least 23 million Californians.
David Ostrach, lead author of the UC Davis study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, asks, “If the fish living in this water are not healthy and are passing on contaminants to their young, what is happening to the people who use the water or eat the fish and are therefore exposed to the same chemicals?”
Contaminants found in the Delta fish include PBDEs (polybrominated diphenal ethers) which are widely used as flame retardants. PCBs (chemicals used in a variety of products from paper to electric transformers) and pesticides, including DDT, banned almost 40 years ago. PBDEs have been found in the breast milk of Bay-Delta area women at levels hundreds of times higher than measured in women elsewhere in the world.
Dr. Peter Moyle, perhaps California’s premier fisheries biologist, is predicting that two-thirds of California’s native fish may go extinct this century. Moyle estimates that of California’s 32 native salmon and trout species only 10 or 11 may still exist by the year 2100.
“The fish don’t lie,” says Moyle. “The story they tell is that California’s environment is unraveling. Their demise is symptomatic of a much larger water crisis that, unless addressed, will severely impact every Californian.”
For the first time in history, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted in April of 2008 to close the 2008 West Coast Chinook salmon fishing industry, throwing 1,400 commercial anglers out of work. The California salmon population has dropped from 800,000 a few years ago to less than 50,000 last year.
Just hours after the fishing season closure decision, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency and sent a letter to President Bush asking for his help in obtaining federal disaster assistance. Environmentalists accuse Schwarzenegger of hypocrisy because he continues to push for more water exports from the Delta, which has undoubtedly contributed to the salmon’s decline. And despite a $40 billion deficit in the state budget, the governor is touting two more multi-billion dollar dams, in a state which already has 1,400 dams that have unquestionably damaged fisheries.
Environmentalists acknowledge that pollutant discharges from partially treated urban waste water, invasive non-native fish (including, ironically, the striped bass), invasive plant species, fertilizer and pesticide residues, untreated agricultural drainage, and overfishing, all contribute to the dying Delta’s problems. But, they charge, the primary problem is excessive export of Northern California water through giant pumps at the south end of the Delta, which grind up millions of young fish of all species in order to send that water to the industrialized factory farms of the western San Joaquin Valley and more water over the Tehachapi Mountains to meet the urban needs of Southern California.
Fresno federal judge Oliver Wanger agrees, and has ordered cutbacks in Delta export pumping that may cut supplies to western San Joaquin Valley agriculture by one-third to one half to try and save the Delta smelt and salmon species from extinction.
The plunder of California’s rich natural resources is hardly a new phenomenon. Shortly after the Gold Rush began nearly 160 years ago, mining companies started using giant fire hoses to wash away mountainsides in the Mother Lode Country of the Sierra, sending an estimated 1.5 billion cubic yards of sediments down the riverbeds feeding the Delta, and forcing farmers to construct levees to prevent flooding of adjacent farmland. Today, in places, the silt-filled riverbeds are 30 feet above the surrounding countryside and the century-old levees are 60 feet high, awaiting the next big earthquake or storm of the century to scatter the fragile house of cards levee system in a catastrophic flood.
Mercury used in gold mining extraction processes in the 1870s and 1880s is still in the riverbeds, poisoning fish. The U.S. Geological Survey says methylmercury, an organic form of mercury that is a potent neurotoxin, is dangerous to developing fetuses and children less than six years old. Methylmercury accumulates and biomagnifies in the food chain, reaching highest concentrations in predatory fish prized by sports fishermen. As a result, many California watersheds still have fish-consumption advisories because of mercury contamination occurring 125 years ago.
In 1884, state and federal courts essentially outlawed hydraulic mining in California, declaring it a public nuisance, despite claims from the mining industry that it provided jobs and wealth for all of California. There are signs that citizen activism in the courts could trigger another historic round of judicial rulings.
Recently, the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), a water policy group of which I am a director, and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court to: (1) halt all pumping from the Delta until the two biggest export agencies (the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR)) start obeying state law, and (2) halt the irrigation of high selenium marginal farmlands in the western San Joaquin Valley as an unreasonable use of water under state law.
The primary defendant, besides the Bureau and DWR, is the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board), the agency in California authorized to protect river water quality and water rights throughout the state. Unfortunately, the Water Board’s history of protecting the Delta, either drinking water quality or the fishery, is abysmal.
Fortunately, the courts have concurrent jurisdiction over water issues and time and again, in response to citizen lawsuits, have ordered the Water Board and its subsidiary nine local regional water boards, to obey state water laws..
According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service study, the Water Board first adopted standards for Delta water quality, export limitations and minimum flow rates in 1978, and were immediately attacked as inadequate and a capitulation to agribusiness, industry and municipal waste water plants. Environmental lawsuits soon followed. A 1986 state court ruling found the 1978 standards clearly inadequate. In 1987, the foot-dragging Reagan Administration EPA, which had taken almost a decade to review the state Delta standards, notified the Water Board that the 1978 standards were inadequate under the federal Clean Water Act. The following year the winter run Chinook salmon in California was listed as an endangered species.
In 1994, a consortium of state and federal agencies known as CALFED launched a decade long effort to reverse the Delta’s decline and sort out the state’s water problems. The Water Board deferred to the polluters to solve the Delta’s problems. This was like asking the inmates to run the asylum. After burning through $3 billion, CALFED, which was led by the water export agencies, left the Delta in even worse shape. Congressional funding of that money trap has now ended.
The lawsuit by C-WIN and CSPA may finally halt the nonsense. “The State Water Board hasn’t applied one significant measure to protect fisheries in over a decade,” complains Bill Jennings, chairman of CSPA, who has been monitoring the Delta’s deteriorating health for decades. “Enough is enough,” he added.
One person looking to also getting his day in court is Felix Smith, the 75-year-old retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who blew the whistle on the bird deformities and reproductive failures in birds at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge a quarter of a century ago. The Kesterson bird deaths were traced to selenium, a naturally occurring trace element in the soils of the western San Joaquin Valley which was dissolved by irrigation and carried in the drainage waters of the Westlands Water District to the bird refuge. The selenium entered the Kesterson food chain and poisoned it leading to a complete fish die-off and bird deaths and triggering a national outcry.
Smith filed a petition with the Water Board in 1996 to halt irrigation of high selenium soils and forbid use of the south Delta as a dumping ground for ag wastes. The board told Smith CALFED was working on the problem and put his petition on the back burner, taking no corrective action despite the massive documentation Smith had compiled showing the drainage was clearly dangerous to the Delta. Smith, a genuine hero to federal biologists, was added to the C-WIN and CSPA lawsuit as a plaintiff.
The Westlands, at 617,000 acres the largest federal irrigation district and housing the most politically powerful group of growers in the nation, has turned to Sen. Dianne Feinstein to broker a deal in Congress that could keep them irrigating those high selenium soils. Despite half a century of failed federal and state efforts to find a safe disposal site for the Westlands’ toxic drainage, Westlands now claims it can solve its own drainage problems, despite major skepticism by federal and private scientists. Westlands’ 500-700 growers, some with 25,000-acre mega-ranches and including landowners with names like Chevron and Union Pacific Railroad, claim they’ll solve the drainage problem if Congress will forgive $490 million the district owes for construction of its water delivery system. The current price tag for a drainage system for those 700 growers is $2.7 billion, making it the costliest irrigation project in American history.
Smith, C-WIN and CSPA hope for the sake of the Delta that they get their day in court before Westlands completes its end run, and garners a Congressional bailout. The fate of the Delta hangs in the balance.
Lloyd G. Carter has been writing about California water issues since 1969 for United Press International, the Fresno Bee, and as a free lance writer. His website is www.lloydgcarter.com
|SACRAMENTO NEXT NEW ORLEANS? You may be surprised to know the most flood-threatened city in America is not New Orleans but Sacramento. Domino-like collapse of levees following weeks of heavy rains could put the state capitol under 20 feet of water, causing heavy loss of life and triggering a $25 billion disaster, according to the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency. A big earthquake could do the same thing, toppling fragile levees built by farmers well over a century ago. Worst-case scenarios project 500 dead, 102 square miles flooded, 300,000 people uprooted, the Sacramento airport under water and years of cleanup efforts. Moreover, an influx of sea water would ruin the Delta’s drinking water quality. The Delta is a partial source of drinking supplies for 23 million Californians. Other Delta cities, like Stockton, would also be hard hit. Not surprisingly, given its response to Hurricane Katrina, the Bush Administration cut funding for Delta levee repair in 2006.|
Medical Marijuana’s Future in Fresno Takes a Hit (not literally)
By Daniel Ray
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which made the use of medical marijuana legal. Fast forward to January 2009 and the office space at 210 E. Olive Ave., which is completely bare besides a few chairs inside. This is the exact spot where Fresno’s first dispensary opened on Dec. 31, 2008. It lasted only a few hours.
The reasons for the sudden closure are many. Some say the owner, Rick Morse from Tulare County, did not provide a site plan. According to Diana Kirby, co-chair of the Fresno chapter of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Morse did not get the proper permits to open the shop. “He said he did everything, but he didn’t even get a use permit, which alerts the police and fire departments to see if he met all the regulations for the city.”
Not true, says Morse. “It had nothing to do with permits or a site plan. We contacted the police before we even signed a contract. Three different departments approved us: the City Clerk’s office, Planning & Zoning and the Tower District Commission.”
But even if Morse did all that he says, he would still face another huge obstacle. “Fresno, at this moment, has a ban on dispensaries. And until we fight it in court, we’re never going to have a place for medical marijuana,” says Kirby. Calls to the City Attorney’s office went unanswered. According to Dana Bobbitt, who co-chairs the Fresno chapter of the ASA with Kirby, Fresno will not allow any dispensaries in the city until they are permissible under federal law.
Although medical marijuana is legal in California, it is still illegal in the United States, and in this case, federal law supersedes state law. Even though cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco allow dispensaries to operate within their city limits, Fresno does not. Of course, those two cities have mostly liberal city councils, whereas in Fresno the council tilts to the right.
In mid-January 2009, the ASA went to the City Council to argue that Section 12-306-n of the Fresno Municipal Code, which mandates that any zone be consistent with state and federal law, is unconstitutional. They asked the Council to remove the word federal from the municipal code of Fresno, which would open the door to allow medical marijuana patients to have safe access to their medicine in Fresno.
The members of the City Council made no comment on the issue when it was brought up. So at this time, there remain no medical marijuana dispensaries in Fresno. The closest shops are in Visalia (Medical Marijuana Awareness & Defense and American Caregivers Facility).
But first things first: One has to get a prescription. Luckily, you do not need to leave the city limits to obtain one. Two local options are Dr. Terrill Brown’s office (215 E. Olive Ave.) and MediCann (2120 N. Winery Ave.). You can also get a prescription from your local Kaiser or VA clinic, but that might be harder to obtain.
With many different avenues to get a medical marijuana ID card, knowing which cards are legit can be a problem for the local police. That is why almost every medical marijuana advocate from Morse to Kirby agree that it is best to get a state ID card, even if you have a MediCann card. “I would urge people to get a state ID card, which is issued by the state and is no different than a driver’s license. And the cops can’t ignore it,” says medical marijuana defense lawyer William McPike. “They were claiming previously that they couldn’t determine if the person counterfeited it over the computer. They lose that excuse with the state ID card. If you have one (a card), you’re not supposed to get arrested.” For more information on the state ID card program, visit www.co.fresno.ca.us.
At this time, there is no shop in Fresno where one can purchase medical marijuana, but members of the ASA are in the planning stages of opening a cooperative, whereas a person close to McPike would like to open a collective modeled after AAA, where the members run the day-to-day operations. Morse says he plans to make a plea to the City Council and urges all medical marijuana patients to join him at the meeting and share their story. Until then, stay tuned…
Daniel Ray is a labor activist and a videographer.
By Richard Stone
Try as I might to get a personal angle, Maria Eraná kept the focus firmly on Radio Bilingue, where she is Director of Broadcasting. But “the eyes have it”…Maria’s lively engaging eyes gave a story all their own. Here is a woman who loves her work, cares about her community, and welcomes you into her world.
That world—of a non-profit radio network established by MacArthur-Award winner Hugo Morales—includes six stations around California, a satellite service providing programs to close to a hundred affiliates around the U.S. and Mexico, and a continuous webcast. Its mission: “Radio Bilingue serves as a voice to empower Latino and other underserved communities”—and that has meant Hmong, Filipino, and other non-Spanish speaking communities, too.
Maria is a media careerist. She studied history as a student in Mexico, and gained writing and translating skills that became the basis of her earliest jobs. But, having moved to San Diego in the late ‘80’s, she began writing her own commentaries on issues like discrimination in access to city parks, and putting faces on people who died trying to cross the border. She also began working with community activists, a habit which led her to Radio Bilingue.
In 1995 she moved to the corporate headquarters in Fresno to coordinate the station’s major news shows, Noticiero Latino and Linea Abierta (Open Line)—a call-in show that is still her sentimental favorite. Since 2004, as Director of Broadcasting, she has had responsibility for maintaining the signal on all stations, assuring compliance with FCC regulations, overseeing content of public affairs shows, and supervising all programmers. Since there is heavy turnover of staff (a majority are volunteers, and many paid personnel move to better-salaried jobs at commercial stations) training programmers is a major and recurring task.
Typically volunteers begin as d.j.’s in one of the blocs of time devoted to a specialized style of music. Many of these shows feature Mexican styles (e.g. mariachi, norteno, or conjunto) but the weekly calendar also includes shows devoted to American Oldies, Afro-influenced music, Hmong music, and world music.
Radio Bilingue also has a weekly events calendar, a Friday Arts Calendar, and public affairs slots that allow various agencies to bring information to listeners. “But,” says Maria, “our audience is not accustomed to lengthy public affairs programs. We try to catch them with the music, and then bring information on subjects that impact them directly.”
In looking toward the future, Maria is intent on developing programs that appeal to youth (and on training youth programmers); and on preparing for the Digital Age, when streams of specialized programming can be aired simultaneously.
In speaking of allies who enable the work, Maria give special credit to the volunteers (about 50 each in Fresno and Salinas alone) who keep it all happening. She also cites several agencies who lend support and on-air informants, including California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), various health clinics, the Oaxacan “Frente Binancional”, and Tulare’s Center for Race, Poeverty and the Environment.
Unsurprisingly, the big obstacle to progress at Radio Bilingue is money. “Our listeners tend to be poor—contributions average maybe $25; and we don’t get those big donations like a KFPA can get. We do accept some underwriting, but with ‘socially responsible screening’—no alcohol or tobacco, no companies on the union boycott list. So we’ve had to look to foundations for help, and hope they continue to see the value in what we do.”
For Maria, the payoff is in educating people to know their rights and work for social justice. “We have an expression which translates something like ‘Be a grain of sand used in building a better world.’ That’s what I hope I am.”
Contact info: (559) 455-5761; firstname.lastname@example.org
|IDENTITY BOX Name: Maria Eraná Birthplace: Los Angeles Ethnic identity: Latina|
Political affiliation: Independent
Most frequented part of Fresno: South of McKinley
Inspirations: Bert Corona, Dolores Huerta, Ricardo Flores- Magon, Emiliano Zapata, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Non-political involvements: walking, music and the arts, going to the beach
Unexpected pleasures: eating jelly beans
Progressive Religion … Is Not an Oxymoron
By David E. Roy
Barack Obama and Rick Warren: Who is Co-opting Whom?
Gay-rights activists were understandably upset with Barack Obama’s selection of the Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation as Obama’s inauguration.
Warren, for all the love and purpose he preaches, has clearly condemned gays and the idea of gay marriage. Though he is one of the more moderate of the visible leaders of the Christian evangelical movement, nonetheless he appears to have taken a hard line on this issue.
Pandering or Community Organizing?
So, is this “shameless pandering” on Obama’s part, an early move to position himself for the 2012 election?
Or, is this another example of Obama’s philosophy of community organizing on a grand scale? If the latter, this would mean that part of the motivation to invite Warren is to invite by proxy a large number of evangelicals to the table to rub elbows with others who feel quite differently about this and other key issues important to social and political progressives.
Is Obama Channeling Lincoln?
If Obama is taking his cues from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s account of Lincoln’s presidency (described in her book, Team of Rivals), his move to invite Warren to play a central role on the day of the inauguration would make sense in at least two ways:
First, as the title of Goodwin’s book implies, Lincoln brought into his cabinet the men who opposed him for the nomination to the then-new Republican Party in 1860. These three, as well as others in Lincoln’s official cabinet, embodied sometimes strongly divergent views about key issues, including slavery.
Yet Lincoln was able to create a team out of these rivals and this team held each other and the nation together during a horrific period. This is due in part to Lincoln’s ability to keep those with strongly different viewpoints from leaving the fold.
Second, according to Goodwin, Lincoln was extraordinarily skillful in building public opinion in support of his major decisions (the Emancipation Proclamation being a prime example). He would not move or act on an issue, regardless of the pressure he received, until he sensed that the majority of the public was either persuaded or on the cusp of being persuaded.
When it came to slavery, because of his belief in waiting until the right moment, Lincoln was intensely criticized for dragging his feet. He was harshly denounced by those whose views on the most profound issue of human rights of that era were more liberal than the population in general.
Yet, by waiting until what he judged was the pivotal moment, he was able to move the entire nation toward a goal that many originally thought was beyond reach.
Gradual Changes Among Conservative Christians
To this perspective on Obama’s possible motives for selecting Warren, I would add my own experience with clergy and churches over the past 35-40 years. Several key issues that used to dominate conservative evangelical Christians have diminished significantly with time.
The Role of Women at Home and in the Church
One has to do with the role of women at home and in the church. While you will still find fundamentalists attempting to model the sociological account of the oppression of women woven throughout the Jewish bible and the Christian New Testament, in a great many conservative circles this has become virtually a non-issue.
In practice, women are not subordinate to men either at home or at church in the vast number of those settings. Additionally, women are also serving as ordained pastors today in traditions that previously made that role off limits.
The Attitude Toward Divorce
A second key change is the attitude toward divorce. In the past, anyone getting a divorce was subject to shame and rejection from leadership positions in the church and, all too often, ejection from the church itself.
While few if any conservative churches recommend divorce, they recognize the reality of it and provide counseling and divorce recovery groups. These groups do not shame the participants.
Today, even clergy from conservative churches who divorce are not necessarily cast out of a church leadership role.
The View of Psychotherapy
A third change, while not as basic as the previous two, is the attitude of conservative evangelicals toward psychotherapy. When I was in seminary, it was not unusual to hear clergy and even some seminarians argue that any and all psychotherapy was in some fashion a rejection of God. That is, if one prayed and studied the bible, that was enough. Seeing a psychotherapist was to engage in a secular art that had no place in the life of a true Christian.
Today, by contrast, there is an exceptionally conservative Christian graduate program on the west coast (Biola) that educates clinical psychologists and marriage and family therapists. Locally, the fairly conservative Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary has a program for MFTs.
Relationships Lead to Transformation
I outline all of this to argue the point that when conservative Christians are in dialogue with those who are more liberal, but with whom there is enough overlap in values and worldview, this helps to transform those in the conservative camp in the direction of becoming at least more moderate.
So, the question I would raise, as I did in the title to this brief commentary, is who is co-opting whom? I would argue that there is an excellent chance that Warren is being co-opted by Obama and not the other way around.
Nonetheless, Persuasive Pressure Needs to Continue
Does this mean that we should sit back and just let things happen? Of course not. Persuasive pressure needs to continue to be applied, particularly if we understand that Obama may behave like a good politician (in the positive sense of this) and act when he has a sense that public opinion has shifted enough to support more liberal decisions.
However, it does mean that the pressure needs to be applied in a respectful manner. A shout from the heart can be loud and clear but it doesn’t have to be derisive and disrespectful. Our task is to build public opinion in support of this fundamental human right that stems from a core human need – to be in an enduring intimate relationship. This goal cannot be reached by demonizing the opposition, as tempting as this might be in some cases.
In the meantime, let’s hope that the relationship Obama is attempting to build with Warren and other conservative Christian evangelicals will provide the means for the transformation we are seeking.
Ordained in the United Church of Christ, David Roy is a pastoral counselor and a California licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who directs the Center for Creative Transformation. He has a Ph.D. in theology and personality from the Claremont (California) School of Theology. Send comments to him at email@example.com or 5475 N. Fresno St., Ste. 109, Fresno, CA 93711
Some Marriage Equality Talking Points
by Dan Waterhouse
As 2009 began, local LGBT organizers planned a community meeting for late January to discuss the “recent events in the marriage equality movement in Fresno and beyond, local organizing efforts for the LGBT community and future organizing efforts/needs. The major goal is to create a Fresno plan of action to help create a sustainable community that can change the social climate toward the LGBT community in the Central Valley and beyond.”
I knew something was terribly wrong in the run-up to the Prop 8 election. It was apparent that the statewide No on Prop 8 campaign had written off the Central Valley, with the exception of Sacramento, and decided that no money would be spent here. If I heard anything from them, it was a plea for more money.
Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) issued a report on the failed statewide campaign on Jan. 8. The following excerpt deals with the report’s assessment of activities in the Central Valley:
The official No on 8 campaign’s disregard for the Central Valley was “comparable to the Human Rights Campaign’s exclusion of the transgender community from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”
The Central Valley LGBTI community and allies are passionate and committed; they take personal risks and exhibit bravery to stand publicly in support of marriage equality in a relatively unsupportive region of the state. For local organizers, the No on 8 campaign was a repeat of their experiences with organizers from the No on Prop 22 and Decline to Sign campaigns. When the Prop 8 campaign began, the Central Valley organizers were told they would get the assistance they needed, but nothing materialized. One Central Valley respondent stated, “The campaign needed to be decentralized, with regional leadership making coordinated decisions and a vigorous county-based grassroots campaign. And any person who uttered the words ‘your area doesn’t matter’ to a prospective volunteer willing to take the emotional punishment of working in a hostile territory should be fired.” Unfortunately, we [MEUSA] received multiple comments from Central Valley residents saying they were told from No on 8 organizers that the Central Valley didn’t matter.
It’s unbelievable to think that in an election where every vote counted, the No on 8 campaign virtually ignored an area where marriage equality work was needed and where volunteers were available and asking for help. As one Central Valley resident described in an e-mail to the No on 8 campaign officials, “We are drowning in a sea of yellow Yes on 8 signs and ads. Everywhere we turn there are Yes ads in print media, radio, television and the only thing we hear from the No on 8 campaign is more requests for money.”
While the No on 8 campaign did send out a sizable shipment of greatly appreciated lawn signs, lapel and bumper stickers, and informational handouts to the Central Valley at the beginning of the campaign, they were gone immediately. Then when local organizers called for additional supplies, they were told none would be provided because the funds were needed to support television ads; unfortunately, those ads were not being shown in the Central Valley. One frustrated Central Valley resident said, “These ads did not run in the Kern County area. THAT is one of the reasons that 75% of the Central Valley voted Yes on 8. In case you didn’t know, LGBTQ folks live here too!” Another resident stated, “We donated all our wedding money to this campaign and got nothing out of it. I feel sold up the river by this campaign.”
It wasn’t until a few weeks before the election that the first radio ads were played and just three days before the election that the first television ad was aired. But with 42% of Californians voting absentee, it was too little, too late. While decisions have to be made about where to best place ads, the No on 8 campaign should have taken funds to place ads in more supportive regions and used them to place ads in the Central Valley, a less costly region and one where every major newspaper editorial board came out with a No on 8 endorsement.
Concerned about the lack of advertising and support in the Central Valley, MEUSA created a ballot initiative committee to allow local community members and interested donors from outside this region to donate funds to purchase No on 8 visibility and educational materials and to create local No on 8 ads…But the modest funds available could not compete with the full-page ads that the Yes on 8 campaign poured into the Central Valley.
Marriage equality public education work needs to happen in the Central Valley today. As one Stanislaus County respondent stated, “I feel like the LGBTI community suffered a large setback in the Central Valley. Because we were not visible, the ugly stereotypes rather than our personal stories live on and it makes it hard to live here.” Another Kern County resident said, “We are in the fight of our lives and we need you to help us.”
MEUSA now plans to work with the Courage Campaign to co-host a leadership summit in the Central Valley for local organizations and individuals and to continue to support leadership and visibility actions in the Central Valley.
It seemed to me that all the statewide campaign wanted from us here in the Valley was our money. Local organizers had to raise or use their own funds. The costs of the two City Hall rallies—before and after the election—were paid by individuals in the Fresno community.
The epitome of the statewide campaign’s incompetence was when it allowed the lies of Yes on 8 supporters to be aired on radio and television for a month unanswered. When I (and many others) questioned what was happening, all everyone heard from the No campaign were pleas for money: “We need money, more money.” They claimed they did not have money to buy advertising. At the same time, the No campaign was reporting millions of dollars in contributions. What happened to those dollars?
Rem Melton, in a letter to the Bay Times (published Christmas Day), expresses how I feel much better than I can: “I am at a loss of where to go from here. I don’t believe that I am the only one flummoxed at our situation. I want to support our community, but I will not give money only to have it squandered.
“I find it useful and comforting to remember that our community faced a far more dangerous fight in 1978, yet we prevailed. We can and will be victorious. To that end, I don’t think we have any option other than to forget EQCA [Equality California]” (along with the 17 other organizations involved in the statewide campaign) “and move ahead with an organization built on the principles of Harvey Milk and not the ineffective ones of Geoff Kors and his ilk.”
Word on the Street
By Francine Ramos
Proposition 8 was placed on last year’s ballot, allowing if passed marriage to be defined solely between man and woman. At this point, I am sure everyone under the sun is aware of the outcome. It did pass, narrowly, 52.3% voted yes and 47.7% voted no. Yet, the battle for equal rights for gay couples and their supporters is still ongoing.
During late 2008, television ads, rallies and speeches held by “Protect Marriage, Yes on 8” supporters voiced numerous reasons as to why the gay community should not be allowed to marry. One of the reasons supporters really banked on, was instilling a fear in Californian’s that passing this proposition would be like opening Pandora’s Box. Pandora’s Box? Really? I assume the statement was to convince voters to play it safe and vote yes on Prop 8, rather than risk the outcome of what unknown consequence same-sex marriage would have if permitted.
As for the Greek story mentioned above it goes something like this- Pandora was given a box by the gods into which each had placed something inside. She was told, do not open it. Since she had no idea of its contents, Pandora in her curiosity opened the box and with that unleashed great sorrow, innumerable plaques, and misfortune upon mankind.
Well, Prop 8 supporters seemed to have withheld a part of the legendary story, that within all that disaster unleashed by Pandora there was something else inside the box and that was hope. Hope for tomorrow and for the day that equal rights are given to all Americans regardless of sexual preference. Hope that everyone that didn’t support Proposition 8 can hold onto. So to the L.G.B.T community and its loyal supporters, there is still hope, don’t give up. Below is the question of the month and for this one, I addressed the gay community only. I went to areas in the Tower District and the Déjà Vu to get their thoughts as to what should happen in 2009, to ensure justice prevails. So a special thanks to all of you that agreed to share your words and to all those that so kindly welcomed me. On to the question…………….
“What’s the best thing the L.G.B.T community and its allies in California can do now in the wake of Prop 8?”
“The best thing would be for us to wait for another opportunity to place the right for us to marry on the ballot. I think we should be given the ability to marry. We are human beings and should have the right to marry just as the straight couples do. I don’t think we should ban a certain donor who was against Prop 8, because everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Even if I don’t agree with it, everyone has a different opinion and I respect their views.”
– Jose Arteaga
“My point of view on this is as part of the gay community we need to continue to rally and fight for our cause. Fight the good fight. We can’t just cross our arms and hope for the best. No, we’ve got to fight the good fight. People have the right to express their opinions, if they don’t agree with us. But that doesn’t mean we should support anyone that is not for us. It’s our right to marry. It’s the right of all Americans so that means it’s our right too. The best thing would be for us this year to not support those who did not support us and went against us. To do anything else that would be like slapping ourselves in the face. Any business or organization that did not support our cause and gave money to fund Prop 8, we should take our business from them. If that means depriving ourselves from one of our favorite places then we have to. It is for a good cause. Fight the good fight and stand up and fight back. We all live in the valley gay or straight we are all a part of this community. Other states believe the truth and believe that we deserve equal rights. So we need to unite, fight and then this year we will see change.”
– Daniel Quintana
|Carlos Vargas & Daniel Quintana|
“I don’t think its right for me to spend a dollar on any place or person who doesn’t support me. We need to fight for the cause. For us to be seen and treated just as everyone else. There are issues that need to be solved, for all the gay community. So for 2009 I say fight for the cause of equal rights for the gay community because we’re just like everyone else. We deserve to be treated like everyone else.”
– Carlos Vargas
“I think that we should never give up. We need to keep trying. If women would have stayed quiet, we would have never been able to vote. If African-Americans would have stayed quiet we would never have had civil rights. No matter how many times we are refused the same rights as others, we must not give up. A new generation is coming, and they will be more accepting. They will have gay friends and they will know that we are not bad people, we are just like them. Same-sex marriages will pass one day. But if we just let it go and do nothing, they will forget about us. The extreme right, they are always going to try and paint an awful picture of gays. They fear us; they don’t believe or agree with us because they don’t really know us. During the elections a few of my co-workers said they had family members that were gay and they would say how their gay family member was their favorite and how they loved them. But when it came time to vote they voted for Prop 8 that really burned me. I felt bad for a days. I mean what nerve to vote Yes on that, when you have family and loved ones that are gay. How could they continue the prejudice by voting yes and allowing people to treat their loved ones less by denying them the right to marry. I know my family voted and would vote no, because they love me and want to see me live a happy life. I just don’t understand how they could have done that? I believe the next time same-sex marriage is placed on the ballot it will pass.”
– Lidia Mendoza
Greater Fresno Area Chapter ACLU of Northern California
By Bill Simon
A day after writing the ACLU article for January’s Community Alliance, I headed up to Madera with Mike Rhodes, Phil Connelly, and Al Williams for a meeting of the Madera City Council on December 17. Baldwin Moy of the Madera office of California Rural Legal Assistance had arranged a Council Agenda item about the plight of the homeless in Madera. The Rescue Mission there can sleep about 60 of the 300 homeless in Madera. It was a cold night when we learned that Madera’s warming centers close at 8:00 pm and the anti-camping ordinance means the homeless can’t even use a piece of cardboard, much less a tent, for protection from the elements. There don’t seem to be more than a few charges of destroyed property, but the anti-camping ordinance is a problem, both legally and especially if you’re cold!
On January 4, Mike Rhodes notified me that the homeless south of Ventura were facing an eviction sweep on January 7, the day after Mayor Swearengin took office and two days after Gregory Barfield, the new Fresno “Homeless Czar”, began his new job. After an email campaign to city officials, the ‘sweep’ got changed to a ‘garbage cleanup’ because “the people had nowhere else to go.” On January 7, Mike Rhodes, Georgia Williams and I were on hand to make sure it was a garbage cleanup and not a removal of property. Gregory Barfield also showed up, I think for the same reason.
We have contacted ACLU-NC staff attorney, Michael Risher, and are following the city’s proposal to use GPS to track sex offenders even after they have served their sentence and completed parole. And we’re still waiting for the city’s film permit ordinance proposal to come back to the city council agenda.
The ACLU has been invited to participate in a M.E.Ch.A. Conference for High School Students at Fresno State on January 17, still in the future as I write this. Even farther in the future, the Fresno County Library has invited our Chapter to participate in its 2010 “Big Read” Program, featuring Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, including a panel discussion on intellectual freedom.
We are also looking forward to our committee meetings on January 27. If you would like to become more active in the ACLU, come to our next Committee Meetings on March 17, 6:30 pm, at Carrow’s Restaurant, 4280 N Blackstone, north of Ashlan. If you can’t wait that long, all are welcome at the next Board meeting on February 17, 6:30 pm, also at Carrow’s. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
What You Voted For . . . Marsy’s Law
By Sara Olson
In the 2008 election in the United States, when a vote for Barack Obama for president meant a vote for change and, for many people, a vote for hope, the voters of California delivered the victory to Obama and LWOP (life without parole) sentences to lifers in the state’s prisons. Amid all the media hoopla about electing the nation’s first African-American president and, in California, outlawing court-legalized gay marriage, few noticed the passage of Proposition 9, a.k.a. Marsy’s Law.
California has a huge prison industry. More than 170,000 prisoners (a little more than 150,000 per mainstream figures) reside in the state’s hidden-away hell holes, most built in rural areas where average citizens, meaning average voters, never go. There are two current court challenges to the incompetently managed business of locking up predominantly poor people of color. The feds must address prison crises because the state has refused to do anything about wretchedly overcrowded conditions and substandard medical care in the places where only the powerless go.
Marsy’s Law is a disaster for lifers who must face the reactionary state parole board (Board of Parole Hearings, or BPH) in order to secure a parole date. While few lifers were given parole dates before Marsy’s Law, now lifer paroles could well become a relic of the past.
A lifer must appear many times before the BPH before a date is granted. Next, a prisoner must wait for one hundred fifty days to find out whether or not whoever the current governor is will block it, an inherently politicized decision. In between parole denials inmates get rollovers. A rollover is the time between one parole hearing and the next. Before, rollovers were for one to two years. They could be given for five years if a prisoner was convicted of first or second degree murder but that was not usual. Marsy’s Law allows for rollovers of up to fifteen years.
Thus, a lifer can be sent to prison when in her early twenties. She has her first parole hearing at forty years old and she is rolled over for fifteen years. At fifty-five, she gets rolled over for fifteen years once again. True, Marsy’s law allows for rollovers from three to fifteen years, but prisoners and prison advocates know in which direction the pendulum swings.
The United States exports its mass incarceration policies and the commercial sales pitches that obscure these practices in plain sight to a world market. Isolation prisons and the policies followed within them in the U.S. have produced the gruesome operations of indiscriminate arrests of the innocent or guilty, extraordinary rendition and torture that are hallmarks of the War on Terror. California’s prison industry is the jewel of America’s prison business. While the U.S. has a thriving private industry, policies that lock up millions of its people are those of government, state and federal.
These policies encourage states to impose harsh penalties, chiefly via the War on Drugs, on greater and greater numbers of people. In California, prisons are isolated by location. Within them, prisoners are isolated by a hopelessness intrinsic in a system that is set up for a recidivism rate of 70 percent, with increasing numbers of LWOP sentences and lifer sentences that now, with Prop. 9 — Marsy’s Law, convert lifers to LWOP.
In November 2008, radio station KPFA in Berkeley (KFCF, 88.1 in Fresno) broadcast the program, “Without Walls.” Karen Shain from San Francisco’s Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and Keith Wattley from Oakland’s Uncommon Law, both attorneys, were interviewed about Marsy’s Law. They said that it’s a disaster for prisoners, especially lifers.
They pointed out that Prop. 9’s passage will affect rehabilitation programs in prisons for the worse. it eliminates hope and removes all incentive to rehabilitate. The potential for fifteen-year rollovers tells inmates’ families, “They’re never coming home.” It destroys family ties.
Shain and Wattley said that Marsy’s Law states that the Department of Corrections cannot reduce sentences or call for early release of prisoners to reduce overcrowding. Governor Schwarzenneger had floated early release as a possibility to deflect the federal court challenge to do something about unconstitutional levels of overcrowding in the state prisons. He never implemented it. He and the state legislators decided to increase bed capacity in existing prisons instead. Now, due to budget woes, no additional beds can be added. There’s no money but neither can any prisoner get an early release. The three-judge panel of the federal court is not bound by Prop. 9 restrictions. Its final decision, per Shain and Wattley, could be more far-reaching and costly to the state than if Schwarzenegger had had the courage to act preemptively.
Both Shain and Wattley noted that ordinary people need to begin to organize to act against the long-term effects of Marsy’s Law. It needs to be overturned. People will be sent to prison with no hope of release. Other countries do not do this to their citizens, particularly in such massive numbers. It is costly to taxpayers, it doesn’t make them safer and it is morally unredemptive. Prisoners’ families must do something.
In the lead-up to elections, Prop. 9 was presented as a victim’s rights law. It didn’t so much expand victim’s rights as it solidified them. It does require that a notice of parole hearings be sent to any victim of any felony for which the prisoner has been convicted, including any crime leading to the life term as well as any other felonies. It increases the number of victim’s affiliates permitted to attend parole consideration hearings, eliminating the previous requirement that representatives have a specified relationship to the victim of the crime.
Besides allowing the BPH to extend rollovers for as long as fifteen years, Prop. 9 sets strict standards in order to shorten the denial period. There must be “clear and convincing evidence” to prevent a judgment that fifteen years more of the prisoner’s life are necessary for public safety. If so decided, the Board can require a rollover of only three (highly unlikely) to five, seven, or ten years.
Prop. 9 limits parolees’ rights, too. According to a Fresno Bee (12-14-08) article, “A federal judge has blocked enforcement of portions of . . . Proposition 9 (that) amends the Penal Code to restrict or eliminate rights gained in a 14-year-old class-action lawsuit in Sacramento federal court.” Attorneys for parolees filed a motion to stop implementation of portions of Marsy’s Law, saying it “purports to eliminate nearly all due process rights of parolees and directly conflicts with the protections put in place by the injunction and established constitutional law.” Lawyers argued that California declared its intention “to immediately put into practice the parole revocation provisions of Proposition 9 despite 200 years of precedent that precludes such action.” The motion states that Prop 9 “eliminates a parolees’ guarantee of counsel except in narrow circumstances, eliminates the ability to confront certain witnesses at parole hearings, and restricts consideration of alternatives to prison.”
Marsy’s Law was bankrolled to the tune of five million dollars by high tech industry billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III. It was named for his sister Marsy, who was murdered years ago. Nicholas funded the television ads in the 2004 election that led to the defeat of Proposition 66, a three-strikes reform bill, that was winning until his admittedly deceptive ads turned the tide.
In spring 2008 Nicholas was indicted by a federal grand jury for backdating stock options. According to the Sentinel (all articles in the Sentinel are written by Keith Chandler), a newsletter published by Sanders & Associates in Sacramento, California:
This is the largest scam among more than 200 companies whose options practices have come under legal scrutiny. (He) . . . is also accused of supplying customers with prostitutes and drugs and slipping Ecstasy into the drinks of executives without their knowledge. A second indictment accuses him of maintaining properties for the “purpose of using and distributing controlled substances” which he apparently called “party favors.” The indictment details Nicholas’ use and distribution of drugs, including coke and crank. (He) . . . is alleged to have used death threats and payoffs to conceal his activities. It is alleged that in 2002 he reached a $1-million settlement agreement with an unnamed employee who knew about his drug activities.
On a flight to Las Vegas aboard a private plane, the indictment alleges Nicholas used and distributed drugs, “causing marijuana smoke to enter the cockpit and requiring the pilot flying the plane to put on an oxygen mask.”
. . . (Assemblyman Todd) Spitzer . . . took nearly ($)5 million in donations to help pass Marsy’s Law (Prop. 9) while (state Senator George) Runner . . . (took) over a million bucks to fund the signature drive that put Prop. 6 (Safe Neighborhoods Act: Protect Victims, Stop Gangs and Street Crime. It was defeated.) on the ballot. Neither of these Initiatives would have made the ballot without Nicholas’ tainted money which almost completely financed both operations.
When a friend of mine went to her first documentation hearing before the BPH, she underwent a telling incident. The documentation hearing isn’t a date-setting hearing. It’s a lifer’s first appearance before a commissioner who explains the function of the Board and tells her what will be expected of her for actual parole consideration. The commissioner looked at her Central File. In it, he found a 115 which is a disciplinary write-up. He asked her, “What’s this?” He was very concerned. So was she. She had never gotten a 115. Suddenly, she noticed that the name on the 115 wasn’t hers. She pointed this out to the commissioner. He then asked, “Wha – – ? How’d this get in your file?” Exactly.
Lifers say that attorneys’ attitudes are changing. They are giving up because of Marsy’s Law. Why try when nobody the state appoints them to represent before the Board will get a date? Prisoners with Board hearing dates come into the prison law library and ask, “How do I replace my state-appointed lawyer? He won’t help me. I can feel it.”
One lifer said that she heard an attorney say, “There’s no hope and the Board wants ‘good girl’ chronos (Chronology is like a resume, a timetable of the inmate’s activities. Prison slang) to show the prisoner joined prison organizations and participated in projects or showed up to work day after day, year after year. They want certificates of completion for vocations and educational classes, a GED, and on and on — all ‘pretend’ accomplishments, ‘pretend’ in the sense that the commissioners pretend they ever made a difference in granting a parole date. Soon there’ll be no AA or NA classes for lifers because they’re never getting out anyway but they’ll still be asked to do book reports from self-help books to prove that they’re sincere about rehabilitation.”
One lifer I know at CCWF wrote, after realizing how catastrophic Marsy’s Law will be for her chance to parole,
“The Board wants you to prove you’re rehabilitated, to prove that you’re remorseful and to make amends. They want you to change. How can you now? The victim’s family will never change. They don’t care if you do because they get to be your judge, jury and executioner thanks to Prop. 9.”
Sara Olson W94197
P.O. Box 1508
Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508
Opinion & Analysis from the Grassroots
Lost Lake Is Fine No Changes Needed
by Kay Barnes
Parks owned and operated by Fresno County are all in deep trouble. However, Lost Lake Park, located on the San Joaquin River just below Friant Dam and little south of the city of Friant, is perhaps the most endangered.
This park consists of a strip of riparian habitat along the Fresno County side of the San Joaquin River. The park boasts many native American bed-rock mortars and a mix of native trees, willows, poplars, alders and valley oaks. The non-native trees are well established plantings of common cultivated species.
Development of this park, at present, consists of scattered picnic benches and tables, a few restrooms and a small camping ground. Developers, citizen groups gathered by the county and Table Mountain Casino have suggested “remake” plans for this park. The suggestions have included a wedding chapel, restaurants, snack bars, golf courses, soccer fields, and softball diamonds. All of the above have been mentioned in articles in the Fresno Bee.
These ideas are not in themselves bad. They are however incompatible and inappropriate for Lost Lake. They would result in the loss of a park that, though it is not pristine, is the closest public natural area to the city of Fresno and is probably the most heavily used Fresno County park. Lost Lake Park allows citizens to leave the city of Fresno and reach an area where the entertainment is provided by nothing other than their own private and personal use of a lovely area. For many low income people it is their only real chance for an accessible outdoor experience. A trip to Lost Lake Park on a weekend or holiday would convince most observers that the park is important to many low income families.
The park is a great wildlife habitat and a birder’s paradise. The river hosts large numbers of wintering waterfowl, in addition to the residents such as hawks and several owl species. It is perhaps the best place in the valley to see wintering bald eagles. The local Audubon Society uses the park as the center of the local Christmas Count. The local count is a part of a nationwide count of birds with great environmental significance.
Fresno schools use the park to teach the elements of ecology and the understanding of our environment and values that are increasingly important in this time of environmental crisis. A model airplane club uses an open field at park for their events. Trout are planted in the river by the Fish and Game Department, and fishermen and women spend many happy hours enjoying their sport. Kids taught by their parents often land their first fish at the park.
The park does NOT NEED any development and, in fact, it will be a really sad day for the people of Fresno City and County if this park becomes another urban setting with all of the planned and canned entertainment to be found in the city. Nature does not need any enhancement. Lost Lake Park is a treasure just as it is.
Brandon Hill, president of Fresno Audubon Society, is developing an organization with purposes and functions to aid Lost Lake Park that have not yet been totally decided. Contact Brandon at (559) 978-2369 to learn more about Friends of Lost Lake Park.
Kay Barnes is a retired biological science teacher, teaching beginning Audubon birding at Lost Lake Park. Her phone number is (559) 787-2985.
• • • • •
Nearly Twenty Years Later
By Ruth Gadebusch
In a recent cleaning frenzy I tackled all those clippings, programs, notes to myself and other such items that I had been saving for who knows what purpose. Needless to say much of it was long out dated, but one could not be ignored.
In 1991 Frank Baldwin, the then minister at the Big Red Church (in the interest of full disclosure: my church) responded to a San Francisco reporter’s description of Fresno as “uncontrolled strip development and evident lack of pride in the community.” Frank conceded that unfortunately the description had the “ring of authenticity.” I began to wonder how much of that damning description still had some truth.
The Reverend Baldwin noted that he “had a hard time understanding why our City Council lets itself be intimidated by some noisy little band of radical anti-tax anarchists.” Two of the leading voices of that group have passed on but there is still no lack of proponents. Those of us on the North end of town continue to send an advocate of no-tax increase under any circumstances to represent us in the Assembly. Worse yet, he is the voice of his party on such matters.
“I’ve never fully comprehended the attitude of some local elected leaders from ivory-tower North End districts with their scarcely-concealed contempt for the rest of the city and their consistent bias against the poor.” If not a true picture of current attitudes, it should still give us pause that the recent mayoral vote was a clear division between the affluent and the not so. Our mayor assures us that she will serve all. Let us hope that includes the homeless who have been so abused by the city’s “cleanup” procedures to name just one failure of justice.
Mr. Baldwin continued, “I haven’t been able to figure out why the County Board of Supervisors doesn’t seem to recognize quality of life issues as important to the overall, long-term vitality of the region.” In this time of serious budget concerns let us watch closely what stays and what gets cut. We might also think about the continued sprawl of development, especially those strip malls, (with the help of the city council) devouring agricultural land.
“I haven’t been willing to buy the explanations offered for Valley Children’s Hospital moving out of the city it serves.” Yes, the name has been changed to reflect a larger service area. Nevertheless it is primarily a Fresno institution. Those with even moderate memory will recall that it required a struggle to develop fire protection, apparently never considered before construction. Equally not factored in was the need for public transportation for the many, perhaps majority, who did not have their own vehicles – to say nothing of the longer time from the population center required for emergency vehicles. Then who among us does not believe that the across the river construction requiring new urban services was not fueled by the location of that hospital so vital to our children?
“I don’t understand why we aren’t pursuing the San Joaquin Regional Parkway with the kind of enthusiasm and sense of destiny that we tap to build CSUF athletic facilities.” While CSUF athletic facilities far surpass parkway facilities there is hope in the acquisition of land and the recent completion of an office facility at the Coke Hallowell Center.
“I don’t know why we aren’t planting trees as fast as we can dig holes in the hardpan.” A bit of bright light here is Tree Fresno which advocates and acts, but there is room for more.
Then there was his statement: “I can’t believe we still aren’t metering water.” Nor can I. – nearly two decades later. Between the federal government pressure and the drought perhaps we will soon develop the will to do something about our flagrant waste of water which all studies indicate would be remedied by meters.
Today strip development still flourishes and there is reason to question our pride. Frank Baldwin’s diagnosis was that it is lack of pride in our community, as the critic had said. He wrote there is no lack of boosterism but he compared boosterism to flag-waving versus real patriotism, noting that community pride comes from a deeper place. In 1991 he challenged us to use vision, commitment, service and willingness to involve ourselves in making things better. That challenge remains valid today.
Ruth Gadebusch is a former naval officer, 13 years as a Fresno Unified School District Trustee, Vice-President of the Center for Civic Education, Community Activist.
• • • • •
From the Greenhouse
by Franz Weinschenk
“How Green Is Your City?” is a book by Warren Karlenzig that every year ranks 50 American cities as to how well they are cleaning their air and limiting their emissions of greenhouse gases. In ‘06 Fresno came in 33rd. Sorry, but in ’07, instead of improving, we went down a peg and came in 34th —last among eight California cities!
So, what with a new mayor and some new faces on the City Council, isn’t right now a good time for Fresno to try for a fresh start at “greening” things up a little? Who knows, with a little effort, we might even catch some of our neighbors like Sacramento and San Jose who were ranked 13th and 23rd respectively.
Here are some suggestions:
ENERGY EFFICIENCY: This is a biggie. If a building or home is constructed with energy efficiency in mind, the owner can save at least fifty percent of what we used to consider normal heating and cooling costs. Energy efficiency means insulating walls, ceilings, attics; repairing leaky heating and cooling ducts; inserting double-glazed windows; installing proper weather-stripping; using reflective roofing materials; landscaping for shade in summer and sunshine in winter; situating roof lines to accommodate solar panels, and using only EPA “Energy Star” appliances and lights. In order to accomplish this, Fresno needs to update its building codes making sure we adhere to the latest EPA energy efficiency standards.
THE CITY ITSELF SHOULD PLAN ON PRODUCING SOLAR POWER. Set aside a small percentage of every yearly budget and use it to purchase some solar panels to be mounted on City buildings. The goal is to make all municipal facilities electricity neutral in a decade or so. And wouldn’t it be great if we could mount a solar array up on City Hall itself, which, by the way, faces in the right direction. Hey, the building would be just as beautiful—even more so because of all the money we can save taxpayers in years to come—AND WHAT A STATEMENT!
ALL TAX SUPPORTED AGENCIES WITH BUILDINGS INSIDE THE CITY LIMITS SHOULD DO THE SAME. Try to talk to all Federal, State, County, and tax-supported schools who have facilities within the City limits to set aside some funds every year to purchase solar systems and mount them on their buildings. Future generations will love us for all the tax dollars we’ll save them!
TRANSPORTATION: The city fleet—except for police and emergency vehicles—should consist of only “plug-in” or hybrid vehicles. They are available now. These vehicles should be stored under overhead solar panels designed to produce enough electricity to charge them overnight. Furthermore, the city should use only energy-saving LED and fluorescent lights in traffic signals and in municipally owned buildings. The City should try to develop secure neighborhood car parks and encourage commuters to car-pool. Bicycle lanes are coming along nicely. The city might well encourage employers to provide secure bike racks and maybe some incentives for bike riding employees—like Salt Lake City does.
WASTE MANAGEMENT: Our recycling program seems to be going well. If the City uses landfills, under no circumstances should the methane that is recovered be burned off but rather converted into electric power. The City’s waste management program should also include extracting methane and converting it into electricity.
URBAN FORESTRY: Plan to plant more trees wherever feasible—in parks, along streets, trails, around the edges of playgrounds, ponding basins, public buildings and maybe on City property out by the San Joaquin River. Trees suck up CO 2.
WAYS TO FINANCE THESE PROJECTS: Congress recently passed “The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.” Besides entitling home owners to a 30 percent tax credit when purchasing residential solar systems, the bill provides generous financing opportunities for local governments (HEY, THAT’S US!) to pay for projects designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Why not take advantage of their offer?
JUST A REMINDER: In 2007, along with hundreds of other American cities, Fresno joined the “US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.” At the time we pledged ourselves to voluntarily reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 7% of 1990 levels by the year 2012. Is there anyone in City government that is taking this commitment seriously? Or who even knows about it?
PROMOTIONAL STUFF: The city might well organize a speakers’ bureau which sends knowledgeable staff and volunteers to clubs, schools, agencies, churches, etc. to make presentations about why and how Fresno is “greening up” and what citizens can do to help. Maybe the City might even promote a 10km type run/walk called the “Power Run” where, prior to the event, alternative energy businesses could advertise their products (similar to what the “Susan Komen” run does for cancer prevention). There might even be a raffle for a “plug-in” or hybrid car or maybe even for a solar system!
COME ON, FRESNO, can’t we do better than coming in LAST among 8 California cities?
Franz Weinschenk has been a teacher and school administrator in Fresno for over fifty years. He can be contacted by e-mail at franzie@SCCCD.org
|Want to Help the Homeless? The Community Alliance Newspaper recommends making a donation to: Saturday Food Not Bombs|
email@example.com Sunday Food Not Bombs
http://home.comcast.net/~fresnofnb/ St. Benedict Catholic Worker
http://www.sbcw.org/ The Sleeping Bag Project
www.sleepingbagproject.org They give food to the homeless without any strings attached. We would not want our readers to give contributions to groups that force the homeless to attend religious services or worse, take and destroy homeless peoples property. Larry Arce, the CEO of the Rescue Mission, has directed his staff to take and destroy homeless peoples property. In October 2006, when he was called as a witness in the federal lawsuit, he said “we clean the street in front of the Rescue Mission every day and throw everything away that is left behind.” When asked if they would throw someone’s property away if they had left it in a cart in front of the mission while they got a warm meal, he said “if someone leaves their property in front of the Fresno Rescue Mission, they have no sense.” Arce said they have thrown many shopping carts full of homeless peoples possessions away over the last several years. Attorneys for six homeless people have filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court alleging that the Rescue Mission (a homeless shelter in downtown Fresno) has taken and destroyed personal belongings that are critical to their survival, such as clothing, medication, tents and blankets, as well as irreplaceable personal possessions, such as family photographs, identification, personal records and documents.
The Cuban Revolution Has Turned 50!: Visit Cuba This Year
By Gerry Bill
|Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara|
Who would have predicted, 49 years ago, that the Cuban Revolution would survive 50 years? I can’t count the number of times I have heard politicians say that Cuba’s socialist government was on its way out, giving it two or three years at most before its ultimate demise.
Yet, here we are, 50 years later, and the revolution continues. Cuba is not a paradise. Times are hard, made worse by the ongoing U.S. blockade of the island. Despite that, the economic situation for the average Cuban has been gradually improving.
Those are my impressions, having been there in 1994, 2007 and 2008. However, I urge you to see for yourself. There is a wonderful opportunity to do just that this summer. In July, Pastors for Peace will launch its 20th caravan to Cuba. Coincidentally, this is the 40th year of the Venceremos Brigade, as well as the 50th anniversary of the revolution. They are calling it the 20/40/50 year. What a great year to make that visit to Cuba that you have been dreaming about.
This month, you can learn about the 2009 caravan directly from John Waller, national coordinator of the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba. Waller will speak at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence (1584 N. Van Ness Ave.) on Wednesday, Feb. 11. He will speak and answer questions following the showing of Bloqueo, a documentary about the blockade of Cuba being screened at the Center at noon and 7 p.m. Waller will be present for both showings of the film.
This year’s caravan will focus on bringing aid for the rebuilding of Cuba following the devastation caused by four hurricanes last fall. More than 100,000 homes were destroyed and 300,000 damaged by the hurricanes in this nation of only 11 million people. Remarkably, only five people were killed by the hurricanes. Cuba’s resources were already stretched to the limit in trying to provide housing for its people. The loss of 100,000 homes is overwhelming for the tiny country, so anything we can do to help would be greatly appreciated.
In addition to building materials and construction aid, the caravan will be bringing the usual medical aid and school supplies. Donations are welcome.
The caravan will pass through Fresno on July 13. We will have a local event that day to welcome the caravanistas and help send them on their way. If you want to join the caravan, you could do so on July 13 in Fresno. Caravanning across the country with Pastors for Peace is a great adventure, but it is not for everyone. If you do not want to participate in the U.S. leg of the caravan, you have the option of making your own way to McAllen, Texas, on July 18, and joining the caravan at that point. We will spend nine days in Cuba and return to McAllen on Aug. 3.
Last year, the cost was $1,600, which was well worth it.
For more information, contact Gerry Bill at 559-227-2133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Film: Bloqueo: Looking at the U.S. Embargo against Cuba Speaker (following film): John Waller, National Coordinator, Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba Time: Wednesday, Feb. 11, noon and 7 p.m. Place: Fresno Center for Nonviolence, 1584 N. Van Ness Ave., Fresno Tune in to KFCF-FM 88.1 at 3 p.m. on Feb. 11 to hear John Waller discuss the caravan and take phone-in questions from listeners.|
Edited by Richard Stone
I’ve received a complaint about the quality of poems we print, so I’d like to explain the basis of selection. I do not limit inclusion to what could be considered “anthology-worthy” work. Instead I look at such factors as 1) content that reflects a political point-of-view; 2) a voice from a less-familiar part of society; 3) language or imagery that at least some of the time is original and striking. In some case I work with poets to strengthen a piece before publication, but more often, if we get a new contributor, I’ll select what I think is the best of what is sent as long as it meets my criteria minimally.
I have included some poems principally because of who the writer is (e.g. teenagers living in a group home), or because the subject matter is of special interest, rather than because of the poetic quality. But there have been several poems in the Corner that were just plain good—and I’ll be pleased to get more.
Recently many of our contributors are prisoners, writing without a lot of experience or guidance. For me, their willingness to attempt using words as an outlet for extreme experiences is itself a source of interest, and gives me reason for inclusion. This months poem is one such example. The poet, Louis J. Comeduran, welcomes responses. His address is:
Louis Comeduran K32226
PO Box 5246
Corcoran, CA 93212
UNTITLED: dedicated to Peace, may we learn to embrace nonviolence
Imagine a life of joy and never experiencing pain
Picture a ray of sunshine but never tasting rain,
Now think about life since death is unknown
How about walking through Afghanistan in what is considered a War Zone.
After you come through unscathed with your mind still intact,
Embrace those less fortunate due to senseless attacks,
Then ponder why we value material things which have no reason,
Learn to cherish the here-and-now, not just because it’s a holiday season
Focus on important things like poverty and world hunger,
Give with unselfish thought to the older as well as the younger,
Take a stand for what’s right like peace and love,
Put a stop to the madness and too much shed blood
Come together as One People and change the things we can
Forgive those that trespassed against us and unite to make a stand!
By Maria Telesco
“Thank you” was definitely the theme of the day on Christmas, for the 4,000-plus women incarcerated at CCWF prison in Chowchilla. The women have expressed their gratitude in many ways for the “Goodie Bags” that were distributed on Christmas Eve. Some of the ladies congregated in the day room of their housing unit, excitedly phoned home, and all the dorm-mates shouted “Thank you, thank you, thank you” into the phone.
Others wrote to members of the Inmate Family Council (IFC) which coordinates the annual program. So far we have received nearly 300 letters, cards and notes from them, and haven’t had a chance to read them all yet. Here is a representative selection:
“Once again, it is our pleasure to have the opportunity to express our gratitude for the holiday gift bags received by the inmate population on Christmas Eve here at Central California Women’s Facility. We are aware that this project is ongoing throughout the year, and the time and effort are obvious in the wonderful results.
“We were all thrilled to receive items which are different from the things we normally receive in boxes or on Canteen. It was fun for everyone to see what was included in the other bags and to exchange or share items which were a favorite fragrance or color or brand. This helped to make the holiday a warmer time for all.
“We are deeply touched by the enormity of this project and how far you are willing to go year after year to remind us that we are not forgotten during the holidays. We could never properly express to you how important that is when a person is incarcerated, away from home and loved ones during this season.
“Along with our appreciation, we are sending wishes for a healthy, happy and peaceful 2009 to all of you.”
The above letter came from the Women’s Advisory Council (WAC, a prisoner group). individual letters, shorter but equally heartfelt, came from individuals:
“Thank you so much for thinking of us inmates at Christmas! We enjoy the gift you send and we’re pretty sure you know that it’s the only Christmas present most of us get! Thank you, thank you, thank you! We hope everyone…will have a happy and prosperous New Year! God Bless You. Julie”
“Have a happy prosperous New Year. Thank you for the gift. God bless you. Kendra” “
“We want you to know that your prayers and gifts are not taken for granted. We truly do appreciate the time and effort that you put into making all of the Christmas gift bags for the inmate population. The compassion and humanity that you share for all of us cannot be measured on the gratitude meter. You make such a big difference. It is the gesture, more than the items in the bag, that means the most. God bless each and every one of you. Enjoy a safe and Happy New Year. Teresa and Barbara”
The holiday season is over, but before long we will be collecting items for Christmas 2009. The prisoners thank those of us in organizations that put the program together, including the Inmate Family Council, the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, and several other churches. In turn, we thank the hundreds of individuals who donated items and cash, and who gave their time and energy collecting, bagging and sorting the gift items. It’s an overwhelming job, and we could not have done it without the help and cooperation of everyone who has been part of the program. THANK YOU!
Voices On Gaza, Dispatches From The Edge
By Conn Hallinan
Words have power, particularly when they confront each other. These are some words on the current crisis in Gaza:
“There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce”—Tzipi Livni, Israeli Foreign Minister and candidate for Prime Minister.
“It has never been like this before. The assault is coming from the sky, the sea and the ground. The explosion of shells, the gunfire from the tanks and the missiles from the planes and helicopters is incessant…most Gazans can only cower in terror in whatever shelter they can find”— The Guardian
|Demonstrations and candle light vigils were held every Friday at Shaw and Blackstone in Fresno to end the siege of Gaza. This photo was taken at the January 2 event.|
“Doctors are working day and night on floors soaked with blood to help the rapidly mounting numbers of wounded. In the halls and corridors, screams and uncontrolled sobbing, along with the sounds of bombs and mortars, punctuate the conversation”— Washington Post
“Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who was allowed into Gaza last week to give emergency medical aid, and who has worked in many conflict zones, said the situation was the worst he had seen. The hospital lacked everything, he said—monitors, anesthesia, surgical equipment, heaters and spare parts. Windows had been blown out by a bombing nearby and like the rest of Gaza, limited fuel supplies were running low”—Sidney Morning Herald
“The humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is significant and cannot be understated. The elements of the current humanitarian crisis include…80 percent of the population cannot support themselves and are dependent on humanitarian assistance. The figure is increasing….No wheat entered Gaza since the beginning of the hostilities, resulting in the closure of all mills…The Nahal Oz fuel pipelines remain closed…resulting in no delivery of fuel…the sewer and water systems in Beit Hanoun were hit at five locations…The situation has left up to 250,000 people in Gaza City and northern Gaza without water supply”—United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Situation Report 1/2/09
“The idea it to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger”—Dov Weisglass, advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
“Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution”—UN Relief and Works Agency Commissioner-General Karen Koning Abu Zayd
“We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants were being starved, as the UN special rapporteur on the right to food found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the Southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian familes eating only one meal a day”—Former President Jimmy Carter.
“According to Oxfam only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza in November. This means that an average of 4.6 trucks per day entered the strip compared to an average of 123 in October of this year and 564 in December 2005…On 18 December UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees] suspended all food distribution for both emergency and regular programs because of the [Israeli] blockade”—Sara Roy, London Review of Books
“We don’t have any intention whatsoever to target civilians. The targets we choose are military targets. If there were civilian casualties, it would only be under the responsibility of Hamas”—Maj. Avital Leibovich, Israeli Self-Defense Forces spokesperson.
“The Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and the combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives”—Article 48, Geneva Conventions, Part IV
“The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character”—Article 50, Geneva Conventions, Part IV
“We are targeting Hamas, we are not looking for civilians to kill more than that”—Tzipi Livni
“What did [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert mean when he stated ‘WE’ the people of Gaza weren’t the enemy, that it was Hamas and Islamic Jihad who were being targeted?…Were the scores of children on their way home from school and who are now among the dead and injured Hamas militants? A little further down my street…three schoolgirls happened to be passing by one of the locations when a missile struck the Preventative Security Headquarters building. The girls bodies were torn into pieces and covered the street from one side to the other”—Safa Joudeh, a university student in Gaza, by email.
“Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life” Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post
“In Gaza City, surrounded by tanks and troops since the start of the Israeli invasion on Saturday, 13 members of the same family were killed when an Israeli tank shell hit their house. The victims included three children and their mother, whose bodies were put on the floor of an overcrowded morgue. “Get up, boy, get up,” cried the weeping father, said a report by the Reuters news agency. “Please get up. I am your dad and I need you.”—Tobias Buck, Financial Times
“Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that”—Daniel Seaman, director of Israel’s Government Press Office
“The unprecedented denial of access to Gaza for the world’s media amounts to a severe violation of press freedom and puts the state of Israel in the company of a handful of regimes around the world which regularly keep journalists from doing their jobs”—Foreign Press Association
“I think this terrorist organization, Hamas, has got to be put away. They’ve got to come to their senses”—Harry Reid, (D-NV) Senate Majority Leader
|Calling for an end to the Israeli attack on Gaza, this woman was one of the hundreds of Fresnans who showed up for the peace rally, called for by the Islamic Cultural Center and Peace Fresno.|
Americans are closely divided over whether Israel should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza Strip—44% favor, 41% oppose— but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive by a 24-point margin, 31% to 55%. Republicans support the offensive 62% to 27%—Rasmussen Report Poll
“Israel believes its deterrence was lost in that [the 2006 Lebanon] war, and Israel’s current campaign against Hamas should be seen as an effort to regain that deterrence. Israeli military officials believe that if Hamas feared Israel they would not be firing rockets at Israeli towns. The legacy of Israel’s inconclusive 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006 hovers over Israel’s current military operations in Gaza”—David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute Project on the Middle East Peace Process
“Thus far, the operation have been very popular with the public, and most the credit has gone to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is also Labor’s [Party] chairman…Last week’s Ha’aretz poll, for instance, found that Labor had risen to 16 Knesset seats from 11 in the previous poll.
“‘There is no doubt that the [Gaza] operation has highlighted Barak’s advantages and enabled a real discourse about the truly important matters,’ one senior Labor official said this weekend. ‘That’s what we were trying to say all along: He’s not a pal, he’s not nice, but he is a leader. And now people see that’”—Roni-Singer-Heruti, Ha’aretz
“…the people of Gaza are being victimized for reasons remote from the rockets and border security concerns, but seemingly to improve the election prospects of current leaders now facing defeat, and to warn others in the region that Israel will use overwhelming force whenever its interests are at stake…the people of Gaza are victims of geopolitics at its inhumane worst”—Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories
“Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy of major powers sponsoring Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said… that new anti-smuggling measures would be needed to clinch a ceasefire.
“What is being talked about is a credible plan to stop the smuggling,” Blair, a former British prime minister, told reporters in Jerusalem”—Reuters
“Life cannot go on in Gaza if the tunnels are destroyed—they are the only opening to the outside world,” he [Abu Ali] said.
Foodstuffs, building materials, medicines and electric equipment are all brought from Egypt thought the passages—as well as weapons, notably rockets, and ammunition”—Agence France-Presse
From fiscal 2002 through 2009, Israel has received $19 billion in direct U.S. military aid. Israel has 226 U.S. F-16 fighter-bombers, over 700 U.S. M-60 tanks, and 6000 U.S. armored personnel carriers, plus attack helicopters, bombs and missiles—Frida Berrigan and William D. Hartung, New American Foundation
“The United States late Saturday blocked approval of a U.N. Security Council statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel and expressing concern at the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas”—Associated Press
“It has been proven that the United Nations doesn’t have the courage to make a decision to establish peace over there. It lacks the courage because the U.S. has the power to veto and, therefore, things don’t happen”—Brazilian President Lula da Silva
“Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Monday settling the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of a two-state solution was no longer workable and suggested giving the Palestinian territories to Egypt and Jordan…Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty,” says the former ambassador—Agence France-Presse
“Israel would prefer any end to the siege to be conducted through the Rafah crossing [into Egypt], thus fulfilling another strategic aim: that of making Gaza Egypt’s responsibility”—Ghassan Khatib, co-editor of Bitterlemons, vice-president for community outreach, Birzeit University, and former Palestinian Authority planning minister.
Israel’s attack was “perfectly proportionate”—Alan Dershowitz
According to the UN, as of Jan. 8, 758 Palestinians had died (including 257 children, 56 women), and more than 3100 wounded (including 1080 children, 465 women). Thirteen Israelis have died, ten of them soldiers, five killed by Israeli tank fire.
Conn Hallinan is an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, part of the Institute for Policy Study.
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