By Art Rodriguez
It was April 4 of this year when a group of us, 10 young adults, attended the Tulare City Council meeting in support of Council Member Jose Sigala’s motion for a resolution in support of SB 54, the State Sanctuary Bill. It is wrong to assume that having three Democrats on the City Council would guarantee a yes vote. The resolution to support the bill failed due to a lack of a second to the motion.
The City of Tulare sits 30 minutes south of Fresno and is known as the Dairy Capital of the World. Tulare is also the hometown of our infamous House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R).
A common phrase used in politics is “All politics are local,” and our group of activists couldn’t agree more. Respect falls short here when anyone stands up to the status quo. For instance, Tulare City Mayor Carlton Jones, who was recently captured on video intimidating the son of newly elected Tulare Regional Medical Center Board Director Senovia Gutierrez during a City Council session, is in cahoots with the status quo. Unfortunately, the County of Tulare is simply unable or unwilling to fix this situation.
One activist, Ted (who asked to be kept anonymous), stated, “Yes, we win some and lose some, but there is no excuse for Mayor Jones not to have informed us that the city had been receiving several calls that the Alt-Right made threats of a violent ‘Trump style protest’ if the city passed Sigala’s motion. We were all concerned for our safety, especially when we saw about 20 police officers, all in full riot gear, running out of a back room into a large police van waiting out front. That was on top of the citywide heightened police presence.”
He also recounted how a Tulare County sheriff’s deputy had to escort a fellow activist from one of the poorest communities in Tulare County that night 25 miles to his home. With much concern, Ted said, “They tried to run him off the road a few blocks away after the City Council meeting.”
This is a clear example of how California’s Central Valley has become the front line in the struggle between the wealthy, powerful, elite establishment and the working class. This narrative has the makings of a classic biblical David and Goliath storyline, but one that has changed recently.
The appearance is that a $36 billion a year dairy industry owned by Republican local political players has dangerous influence. Tactics like those Ted described are commonplace in states such as Mississippi but in the blue state of California? Both Nunes and Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) run profitable dairy businesses but represent the poorest communities in the nation along with the House Majority Leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R–Bakersfield). Locals have come to call Nunes and Valadao the Portugués Mafia for their blatant use of intimidation tactics.
Who could imagine that the local Republican establishment would stand in the way of democracy by disallowing a Mexican-born Latina American citizen, Senovia Gutierrez, from taking her democratically elected seat after an overwhelming victory? This incident among others has brought about significant activism after decades of restraint. The restrained have been transformed into an invigorated group of people who seek fairness, justice and equal representation.
In response to the increased activism in a region where the majority of its residents are Latino, Fresno County’s Republican Party announced that its annual Second Amendment fund-raiser’s main attraction would be the recently pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona.
Let’s be clear: The local GOP establishment is not in need of money but feels the need to continue to control and oppress a proud people. This is the same ground that gave way to the farmworkers movement in 1965. This is the same ground Cesar E. Chavez, Dolores Huerta and so many more marched on to Sacramento.
The scene is peppered and marinated in gasoline, for it is the spark that will be heard around the world. As for the Sanctuary State Bill authored by Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, it was recently passed by our legislature. We are moving forward.
Art Rodriguez is a father, the son of farmworkers and a former farmworker himself. He is now a full-time activist, environmentalist and aspiring writer. He is also the first Latino elected to the Poplar Community Service District.