By Mike Rhodes
When political commentator Jim Hightower was in Fresno in 2011, he said that “some claim that a populist movement can’t hold together, that it’s like herding cats. But those who say you can’t herd cats never tried a can opener. They will come. And our can opener is that set of progressive values: fairness, justice, opportunity for all.”
The Central Valley Progressive PAC (CVPPAC) is committed to developing an electoral strategy that succeeds in building unity and winning political power in Fresno. We’re also asking you to help us find that can opener.
If you have seen the maps we have made that illustrate voting patterns in Fresno, you understand that a majority of voters will vote for progressive candidates and causes. The problem is that voting turnout goes down from precincts in far north Fresno (who vote about 85% of the time) to as low as 20% in some southeast and southwest precincts.
While the November 2014 election had its challenges for progressives, Esmeralda Soria, supported by the CVPPAC, won the Fresno City Council District 1 race against the Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s handpicked candidate. Soria won because of her support from organized labor and because progressives donated, walked precincts and made phone calls to help get her elected. We also helped pass Proposition 47, a law that will reduce simple drug possession and some property crimes to misdemeanors.
But, more needs to be done.
The CVPPAC, and other progressive groups working on local elections, need to increase efforts to recruit and train viable candidates. This is a project that needs to be done, not just in election years, but all of the time—progressives thinking about running for office should get on boards and commissions to gain experience. Potential candidates need to understand the political landscape and what it takes to run a successful campaign.
Money is also important.
Granville Homes and its affiliated businesses contributed $520,000 in the last election cycle. Local developer Ed Kashian contributed $435,000. How, you ask, can we compete with that? Obviously, we need campaign finance reform to level the playing field, but we can’t wait for that to happen. We absolutely must have more money to support progressive candidates. That is why it is essential for everyone who considers themselves progressive to join the CVPPAC. Membership costs less than one pizza a month—certainly worth it, if you are serious about wanting a brighter future for those you love.
As we develop the CVPPAC into a financial counterbalance to affluent conservative interests, we do have a secret weapon. That special advantage is you and the thousands of volunteers who can support progressive candidates and help get out the vote. Grassroots organizing, strengthening democracy and empowering poor and working class voters is what we believe in. If we can get our people to vote, we win!
In the last two years, the CVPPAC has doubled its membership; we have won elections and we are optimistic about the future. If we continue to grow at our current rate, and continue building unity with labor and other allies, we will see a tipping point in Fresno. Progressives will win political power in this city. What would that look like?
A progressive Fresno mayor would not try to privatize essential public services. Healthcare services for poor and indigent people would be fully funded. The homeless would be treated with dignity and respect—no more chasing them from one field to another with a stick. We would have an independent police auditor with real power; there would be more parks, and developers would pay their fair share in taxes.
When progressives are in power in this community, our core values of social, economic and environmental justice will be our guide. We believe that a better world is possible—I think that is our can opener and if I’m right, you and many of others will join the CVPPAC as we take back this city.
If I’m wrong, it will be business as usual.
The next Central Valley Progressive PAC meeting will be Jan. 10 at 3:30 p.m. at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence (1584 N. Van Ness Ave.).
To join or for more information about the CVPPAC, visit www.cvppac. org.
Mike Rhodes is the founder and current treasurer of the Central Valley Progressive PAC and a frequent contributor to the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.