By Hannah Brandt
“Fresno always drags you back in.” Several people have said this to me since I moved back to town a little over a year ago. They were met with my raised eyebrow, since I did not think it common for people to move back to our beleaguered city after leaving. I had always been under the impression that most people once gone, only returned to Fresno to visit family and friends. But I have encountered more childhood and high school friends who have recently relocated back to Fresno or who are strongly considering doing so. While I have always been fiercely devoted to my hometown and its challenges, I never expected to move back when I left fifteen years ago.
The last two months have been a whirlwind for me. Like my predecessor, I had never worked for a newspaper before. In 2010, at the height of the Great Recession, I was laid off with thousands of other teachers statewide. I was devastated in part because I had tried to expose my students to the realities in history and current affairs that many teachers do not. This was my form of activism. In addition to history and economics, I taught AVID 4 College. This is a program to provide kids who will be the first in their families to go to college with the resources they need to be accepted to and graduate from university.
After searching for three years, I did not get another teaching job. I sent out hundreds of applications and did dozens of interviews. While I got to the end of multiple rounds of meetings and lesson demonstrations, I would be one of the nearly chosen in a hundred for one position. It is ironic now that school districts are claiming to have a teacher shortage. Although I substituted and tutored, I failed to get a full-time job. I was now seen as overqualified for work I had done before teaching. I began graduate school, but could not make ends meet and had to quit. As my situation got more desperate, I looked for any way to hold on to any sense of purpose or value to society.
I had always loved to write, but in middle school, I had been talked out of journalism. Now I found myself drawn to it again. Like I had done as an educator, I wanted to expose the public to realities not covered by the mainstream media. This all came about through an unlikely source: Twitter. Before linking up with Community Alliance and progressive organizations in Fresno, I discovered events and connected to people mostly through social media.
One was a lecture at Stanford by a human rights activist from Cambodia who had spent ten years in Fresno after escaping the Khmer Rouge. He became my first interview. That was followed by one with a filmmaker in the independence movement in Barcelona and another with a Palestinian medical student during the war on Gaza. All were conducted via Skype or Google Hangout.
Although I now primarily talk to local people in person, I recognize the value of digital journalism and activism. It will certainly never replace speaking face-to-face or marching in the street for justice, but in the 21st century, these actions are all interconnected. We use social media to grow justice movements and engage the public in important discussions. Before becoming editor in September, I set up Community Alliance’s Twitter, @fresnoalliance, and helped run the Facebook page. I recently created an Instagram account @fresnoalliance, as well.
I take no credit for revamping our website. That all goes to our wonderful layout designer, Joel Perez. He launched the new site, with the same url: fresnoalliance.com, at the end of October. You will notice that it has a vastly updated appearance and is more user-friendly. All our back issues will be archived there. We plan to include more content on the website than can fit into the physical paper. Please stop by and let us know what you think.
We still have a need for help with our Alianza Spanish section. While it is an important part of the paper that we hate to lose, we do not currently have the manpower to publish it. If you can donate your time and skills to keep Alianza going, please contact me at editor@ fresnoalliance.com
This past month, I was privileged to briefly meet Dolores Huerta. She began her career as a teacher before becoming an activist and community organizer. She told the crowd at the Central Valley Progressive PAC, “People say that in order to do anything that matters you must leave the Central Valley.” To that she said, “No. Some of us have to stay here and fight for social justice for the people here.” I could not agree more.