There are days when I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe. For example, take the 2011 Martin Luther King, Jr., Day march in downtown Fresno, which I attended. The contradictions that held that march together are of epic proportions.
The City of Fresno, which has supported MLK events for years, cut funding this year. That led organizers to find new sponsors for the event. Two of the sponsors were Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Allied Waste. The irony of this is that Swearengin and Allied are working overtime to privatize commercial solid waste operations in the City of Fresno, whereas King was marching for the rights of sanitation workers in Memphis to have jobs that paid a living wage when he was assassinated.
This year’s MLK march was sponsored by the very forces that are in the process of privatizing the city’s union jobs and thus lowering wages and benefits. The names of these anti-union forces (Swearengin and Allied) appeared on the lead banner of this year’s march. No union leaders were invited to speak when the march stopped in front of Fresno City Hall.
Those who did speak at Fresno City Hall were mostly elected officials. One of the few non-elected officials invited to speak was Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. He proclaimed himself to be “God’s Minister of Justice as described in the Bible.” If this doesn’t get the attention of everyone committed to the separation of church and state, then they are not paying attention. What comes to my mind is how outraged everyone is when the Taliban or some other zealous religious group wants to impose their religious laws and values on a group of people when we have our own version of the Taliban right here in Fresno, and he wears a gun.
I have been troubled for years that organizers at the MLK events have given the microphone to right-wing politicians who proclaim themselves to be speaking on behalf of King’s legacy. These opportunistic elected officials are able to frame the event and holiday in terms that are beneficial to them, while at the same time supporting war, attacking the homeless, decimating unions and lowering wages. It is time to refocus local MLK events so that they represent the values for which King stood—peace and social and economic justice.
My sense of being in a parallel universe these days goes beyond the MLK Day march and extends to how the progressive community is besieged on so many fronts by politicians who are able to weave the illusion that they are helping to end the war, support the homeless or create police accountability and yet are doing just the opposite.
A concrete example of this “doublespeak” is on page 3, where I describe how Fresno’s homeless czar, Greg Barfield, and the Poverello House tried to evict residents of a homeless encampment in downtown Fresno. Why would they expend so much time and energy to make homeless people’s lives more difficult, when it would be easier to simply help them?
In addition, this paper has written numerous articles about police accountability and how clever it was for Mayor Swearengin to create the Office of Independent Review (OIR), which gives the illusion of improving the situation, but does nothing to hold the police accountable. The OIR has no investigative authority, the director cannot issue an uncensored report and it is restrained by the conservative politics at City Hall from ever finding fault with police actions.
The Glen Beaty case, arguably the most outrageous example on record (with a video showing the excessive force of police officers as they repeatedly hit Beaty in the face), has not been publicly addressed by the OIR director. One of the officers involved in that case was promoted, and the other was involved in another shooting of an unarmed man. Again, we have the illusion of accountability by having an OIR, but no substance.
I live in the same parallel universe you live in where the powers that be tell us not to worry and that everything is OK. They lay off union workers here, attack the homeless there and the president receives the Nobel Peace Prize (while waging an endless war). What are we to do? To start with, we have to clearly understand the situation around us and not buy into the illusion being spoon fed to us every day.
One of the goals of this newspaper is to break through the corporate monopoly that dominates the media. We publish this newspaper to provide an alternative/independent voice to workers and the poor, to help build a progressive movement and in support of progressive values—environmental justice, immigrant rights, peace, a living wage, universal healthcare and more.
Please take a minute to read Chris Hedges’ article “2011: A Brave New Dystopia,” which is essential reading to help us shatter the illusion that the corporate media has a lock on the truth and that the editor of the Community Alliance is living in a parallel universe. I believe there is a solution to this dilemma; we must educate ourselves and then start to organize like our lives depended on it (they do). As the union organizer Mother Jones famously said, “Don’t mourn, organize!”
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who contributed to our fund appeal last month. With your generous response, we are well positioned to move forward in 2011 and expand our distribution in southeast Fresno, Merced and elsewhere. With the supporters we have, another world is possible!