Mike Rhodes

From the Editor – October 2013

Mike Rhodes
Mike Rhodes

I have been a part of the Community Alliance newspaper since we published our first issue in September 1996 and have been the editor since June 1998. What an interesting trip it has been! But things are forever changing, and that is what is about to take place at this newspaper. To make time for other opportunities, I will be making a transition out of this job as editor over the next couple of months. I would like to spend more time writing—perhaps a book about the homeless situation in Fresno and another about the history of this area—focusing on progressive activism.

When we started this publication, it was called the Labor/Community Alliance and emerged largely out of the union movement and the Central Labor Council. Those of us involved recognized the need to have a publication that would frame the issues facing the community from the perspective of working people. We felt strongly that the labor movement and the progressive community needed a voice that represented their interests. At the time, there was no publication in the Fresno area that had that perspective; now it would be hard to imagine life without the Community Alliance.

An interesting and little known fact about this newspaper is that it was originally established by the Frank Little chapter of the Labor Party. The Labor Party was a political party, associated with several large unions, that attempted to represent working people’s interests in the electoral arena. We had the backing of the Central Labor Council and many local unions in this effort. Little, who the chapter was named after, was an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer who was involved in the 1910–11 free speech fight in Fresno.

About the time I became editor, we disaffiliated with the Labor Party but continued to support efforts to organize the unorganized, to build a labor/community alliance and took the position that the labor movement should support and help organize immigrant workers. We also forged alliances with community groups and increasingly became the alternative/independent newspaper we are today.

The Community Alliance newspaper has strengths and advantages that we have nurtured over the years. We fulfill a need in this community that is not covered in the corporate media, like the Fresno Bee, by covering stories that often get ignored. It was this newspaper’s coverage, starting in 2004, of City of Fresno attacks on the homeless that made readers aware of the unconstitutional and illegal violations of their civil rights. This coverage resulted in a lawsuit and the city paying a $2.3 million settlement to the homeless. It also forced the city to stop taking and immediately destroying homeless people’s property. Our newspaper’s investigative journalism and advocacy for the homeless resulted in changes in public policy that forced the city to treat the homeless with a little more dignity and respect.

There are dozens of examples of how Community Alliance news coverage has forced changes in public policy. The Special Section we published in June 2013, “Freefall into Madness,” has brought about changes in how the Fresno County Jail handles the medications of inmates with mental health issues. Although it is too soon to tell if permanent long-term improvements will result, this article certainly did get the attention of the powers that be and shook things up at the jail. That is what good investigative journalism should do.

Over the past 10 years, Richard Stone has written a series of Grassroots Profiles that focused on activists in the progressive community. These articles validated the work of these individuals, giving us a better understanding of what motivates and inspires the people who organize rallies, build progressive organizations or work behind the scenes. These profiles of community activists, largely ignored by the corporate media, have just been compiled into a book that will be released later this year, Hidden in Plain Sight.

Boston Woodard, another Community Alliance writer, works under what has got to be the most difficult and challenging conditions of anyone on our staff (perhaps anyone in the country). Boston, who is in the state prison system, has had his typewriter taken away, been transferred overnight to remote locations and even been tortured (put in solitary confinement, which I consider torture) for sharing his experiences with our readers. I have had more people stop me on the street, call me on the phone or send an e-mail saying how much they appreciate Boston’s writing than any other person we have published. It is absolutely incredible that he continues to write for us, given the pain and suffering he has had to go through to tell our readers the story of what is going on inside the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. As a result of Boston’s series of articles, he too published a book, Inside the Broken California Prison System.

In addition to investigative journalism, changing public policy and validating the work of community activists, this newspaper is a monthly drumbeat, informing readers about what is happening in Fresno and the surrounding area. It gives us the opportunity to frame the many issues that affect and influence the movement for social, environmental and economic justice. We have ongoing coverage about local peace groups, police accountability issues, the LGBTQ/marriage equality movement, the effort for a living wage and so much more. We have been successful in linking the various groups in the progressive movement, building unity and increasing the voice and influence of the left in Fresno.

Lately, we have printed a series of electoral maps showing how Fresno really is a Tale of Two Cities. The more affluent part of the city (North Fresno) has high voter turnout and votes for conservative elected officials and south of Shaw Avenue voters are more progressive, but voter turnout is low. The purpose of our telling this narrative is to increase voter turnout so poor and working people elect representatives who will be responsive to their issues. If we can increase voter participation in the democratic process, progressives will win majorities on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, the Fresno City Council and other elected bodies. When that happens, progressives will no longer be fighting one defensive battle after another. Our message is that we can change Fresno from red to blue!

I’m sure I will miss being the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper and being a part of our ongoing work to change Fresno and the Central Valley into a progressive oasis. It has been an honor and a privilege to contribute what I can. It often felt to me like I was simply directing traffic as the paper gave voice to the voiceless or we encouraged a writer to start another investigative story that needed to be told.

I have enjoyed working on the Community Alliance and seeing it grow into the influential and successful newspaper that it is today. Over the next few months, as I transition out of my role as editor, I encourage you to continue your support for this paper and consider becoming more involved. Nothing would please me more than knowing that this audacious experiment in community grassroots journalism continues to expand and thrive under new leadership. With your enthusiasm and support, another world is possible.

  • Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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