Last month (May), this newspaper received the “Way of Peace” award from the Fresno Center for Nonviolence. J.D. McCubbin introduced me to the overflow crowd at Margaret Hudson’s barn, and I accepted the award on behalf of the many volunteers who work very hard to produce this paper each month. J.D. asked me what I thought the Community Alliance’s most important story has been over the last several years.
I was a little surprised by this request, so I proceeded to talk about what I had planned to say when I accepted the award. I said that I believe this award is recognition of the success of the progressive community. The increased activism and work for peace, social and economic justice over the last 10 years is the reason that the Community Alliance exists. I commented that just about everyone at the event and in Fresno’s progressive community contributes to the success of the newspaper–either as a writer, a subscriber or a reader. So, this Way of Peace award is our collective achievement for promoting and developing alternative/independent media in Fresno.
We all understand that we can’t count on the corporate media to tell our story. They give us stock reports 10 times a day but never talk about how to organize a union. They feature stories about the rich and famous but ignore the things that have real meaning in our lives. That is why we had to establish an alternative/independent newspaper that tells us about the groups and individuals who are working for progressive change in this community. We cover the reasons why immigrants are marching, we tell you about what is really going on in the homeless encampments and the current environmental justice struggles that are going on in this area. The coverage we give validates the work progressive activists are doing and empowers others to become involved.
But J.D. did get my attention when he asked what I thought was our most important story. I told the group that I think our most significant story has been that of the plight of this community’s homeless population. Through the series of articles about the City of Fresno’s treatment of the homeless, which started about eight years ago, we have put the issue on the radar of just about everyone in Fresno.
It was our documentation of the bulldozing of homeless encampments that led to a lawsuit. The settlement of that lawsuit resulted in $2.3 million going to compensate the homeless for their losses. It also changed city policy. That is no small accomplishment for a feisty little alternative/independent newspaper.
The series of articles in the Community Alliance also got the corporate media to focus on the homeless issue. Before the lawsuit, the Fresno Bee covered the story about the bulldozing of homeless encampments with the following headline: “Cleaning house, Fresno crews descend on downtown area to tidy up a haven for the homeless” (June 23, 2006). What was going on was the illegal and wanton destruction of homeless people’s property–not the tidying up a haven for the homeless. Eventually, the corporate media started to provide better coverage of the situation. It is unlikely that would have happened if it had not been for the Community Alliance’s relentless coverage of this issue.
If I had more time at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence event, I would have talked about other issues this paper has done a spectacular job covering. I don’t know of any other newspaper in California that has covered the outrageous situation of inmates in the state prison system like the Community Alliance. Boston Woodard has written a series of articles (which are about to be published as a book) from inside the prison system that has exposed its brutality, put a spotlight on their wasteful spending and illustrated their wretched medical care. The prison administration was so embarrassed by these revelations that Boston was put into solitary confinement, which I consider to be torture. He has since been taken out of “the hole” and transferred to a remote and isolated prison in the high desert. Even though they have isolated him and taken away his typewriter, we have managed to get another of his articles in this issue of the paper (see page 3).
Lloyd Carter’s series on the water issue (July and August of last year) is an example of alternative/independent media’s ability to frame an important issue that has been manipulated by the mainstream media. Carter was able to find out that the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller (B-M) had created the “fish vs. people” propaganda. Large corporate farming interests were using the campaign to get cheap, publicly subsidized water, which they hope to someday sell to southern California at a profit. B-M is the same PR firm that represented Blackwater after it killed 17 civilians in Iraq. Babcock & Wilcox, manufacturers of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, hired B-M to “manage” public perception after the 1979 meltdown. B-M also handled the Bhopal, India, disaster for Union Carbide. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has called B-M “the PR firm from hell.” We would not have known this if we did not have an alternative/independent press in town.
Last, but far from least, the Community Alliance coverage of police accountability issues is arguably our most important issue going forward. It was just announced last month that the Fresno District Attorney’s office will no longer investigate officer-involved shootings unless the police ask for an investigation. Last month’s story in this paper by Ali Winston described the pattern and practice of particular officers in the Fresno Police Department (FPD) being involved in 2-5 officer-involved shootings each. The ACLU has sent a request to the U.S. Justice Department calling for an independent investigation of the FPD. You can read more about that on page 15. The shooting of unarmed youth by the police must stop!
It was an honor to receive the Way of Peace award from the Fresno Center for Nonviolence. We will continue our hard work to bring you the information you need as we struggle for peace and social and economic justice.