When we started the Community Alliance in 1997, I had no way of knowing all of the twists and turns we would take that eventually brought us to where we are today. Back then we were the Labor/Community Alliance, a small newsletter published by the Labor Party, which was affiliated with the Central Labor Council.
Our focus 15 years ago was to build a labor community alliance, provide a tool to communicate with organized labor and progressive community activists, and develop a calendar of events in the Fresno area. It amazes me now that this community did not have such a publication back then, but now I can’t imagine living without it.
The Community Alliance newspaper now serves as a link, connecting the many activist groups in this area so that we have a way to communicate with each other. Peace activists can see what is going on with the environmental justice movement. Immigrant rights groups can schedule events so they don’t conflict with organized labor, and LGBTQ groups can get information out to our readers about important issues affecting their community.
The paper has also served as a way to honor and validate the work of those working for social and economic justice. Over the years, we have written many articles about people the mainstream media has ignored. The Grassroots Profile and Credo series by Richard Stone highlighted the work and philosophy of dozens of these progressive activists. That effort has led Richard to work on a new book, Hidden in Plain Sight, which will be the story of grassroots activists based on the articles in the Community Alliance. Look for that book to be published later this year.
A little more than a year ago we produced a book by Boston Woodard, who has been writing articles for us describing life within the Prison Industrial Complex. His stories have led to retaliation that resulted in his typewriter being taken away, his being placed in solitary confinement and him being repeatedly transferred from one facility to another. Today, because of an effective legal defense team, Boston is able to write for us again and has an article on page 8.
The articles by Boston are an example of this newspaper’s commitment to give a voice to those who have been marginalized or outcast in society. Where else can you read firsthand about what is going on in the state prisons? We have also run a long series about the homeless in Fresno that has brought the attention of the community to the civil rights violations and attacks against these poor and often abused individuals. Our reporting has led to policy changes, stopping the City of Fresno from taking and immediately destroying their property.
Over the years, we have included many stories about the lack of police oversight and what appears to be extrajudicial executions of suspects by the Fresno Police Department (FPD). We have reported on the pattern of how young men (mostly Latino and African American) are shot and then demonized by the police chief, who has declared himself to be God’s minister of justice. Time after time, we hear from “God’s minister of justice” about how the officer involved in the shooting was justified because he “feared for his life,” and then there is little or no follow up. The District Attorney’s office does not investigate officer-involved shootings, there is no outside investigation and nobody has any expectations that the FPD’s Internal Affairs department will do a thorough investigation.
I have followed the case of Angelo Fernandez pretty closely to see if justice would prevail in this city. You may recall that Fernandez was unarmed when he was shot in the back by police officer Carl McKnight. This was done in the middle of the day, with numerous witnesses around, as Fernandez was running toward an open field. Today, Fernandez sits in jail and is on trial for a crime he insists he did not commit, but which keeps him on the defensive while nobody investigates why he was shot. The police claim they shot him because they thought he might commit a crime in the future. Fernandez says he was running because he was afraid they were out to kill him.
Although it is interesting to publish a newspaper that regularly upsets the police, city hall and most of the rest of the ruling elite in Fresno, it is not the kind of strategy that an effective business plan is built on. One of our problems has been how to tell the story of the homeless, prisoners and other disenfranchised people and bring in enough money to survive.
Even though we have the respect of most of the homeless people in Fresno and thousands of readers in the prisons and the poor know we are on their side, that does not translate into the subscriptions and advertising contracts needed to stay solvent. Fortunately, there are some incredibly generous supporters out there who understand how difficult it is to keep a journalistic project like this alive. Many of our readers give us donations in addition to the regular subscription rate. Some give us $100 a month because they understand how important it is to have independent/alternative media. I am incredibly grateful for their support!
We also occasionally receive postage stamps from prisoners, a dollar or two from the homeless, and we have artists and musicians who are willing to perform benefit concerts for us. That, along with our subscribers (we now have about 400), our advertisers (please support them) and other notable contributors (you know who you are) are what keep us going.
The future for the Community Alliance newspaper looks bright, but we do have some challenges ahead. We need to bring in younger people who understand the importance of independent media. If you are out there and want to get involved, give me a call.
I would like to see more news writers. A lot of people want to write opinion pieces or letters to the editor, but we need more good investigative journalists who can shine a light on what is going on in this community. For example, it would be great to have a person who could attend all of the City Council meetings and inform the progressive community about the issues that are happening there and what can be done about them.
But simply writing about what is going on is not enough.
Ultimately, what the progressive movement needs to do is to take a qualitative leap forward and realize that until we take political power, we are always going to be playing defense. If the hundred or so progressive groups in this community came to realize the power they would have if they unified, they would change from being reactive and become more proactive. If progressive groups were to become proactive they would develop an electoral political strategy that built unity based on their shared core values, take advantage of the changing demographics in this community, and mobilize around selected candidates. If we did this, we could run this town and that would affect our ability to win on every issue we care about.
That is this newspaper’s modest goal—to build a progressive movement that develops an electoral and political strategy that is capable of achieving political power in this community. Supporting this newspaper by subscribing, donating or advertising brings us one step closer to that goal.
Si se puede!