On the hottest day in June, more than 100 people attended the Stop the Hate town hall at the First Mennonite Church in Reedley. Presentations included an impassioned talk by Shirley Guevara (Dunlap Band of Mono Indians), State Center Community College District (SCCCD) Trustee Nasreen Johnson speaking about her personal connection with LGBTQ+ issues and Dolores Huerta, who gave the keynote address.
The town hall was opened by lead pastor Jon Mark who welcomed everyone to the “coolest” place in town. Sponsored by the San Joaquin Valley Media Alliance and the Community Alliance newspaper, some of the groups that helped organize the event were the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley, the Central Valley Partnership, the NAACP Fresno and Madera chapters, the Reedley Peace Center, Poder Latinx, the Black American Political Association of California (BAPAC), Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM), Residents for Renaming S Valley, the Fresno Homeless Union and Indigenous Justice. This event was made possible by a grant from the California State Library under the statewide Stop the Hate initiative.
The three Indigenous women who spoke captivated the audience with their heartfelt stories of what life is like for them. Guevara talked about the extremely high number of missing, murdered indigenous women (MMIW) and how law enforcement does not investigate these cases the same way they would if the women were white.
“We have the highest rate of missing and Indigenous women in the country” here in this area, Guevara says. “They don’t come out to the reservation and look for them.”
Victoria Garcia, another Indigenous speaker, said, “We can’t keep letting our women get lost or murdered. We need protection and we need people to understand that this issue is more than just a statistic.”
Local law enforcement listened to the testimony. In attendance were representatives from the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Reedley Police Chief Joe Garza.
Efrain Botello-Cisneros, of the California Department of Justice, spoke about the dramatic increase in hate crimes locally and the importance of reporting them to law enforcement. If you are a victim of a hate crime, you are urged to
- Contact the local law enforcement agency right away.
- Get medical attention (if you need it).
- Write down the exact words that were said.
- Make notes about any other facts.
- Save all evidence (e.g., graffiti, eggshells, writing on the victim’s vehicle). If safe, wait until law enforcement arrives and takes photos.
- Get the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails of other victims and witnesses.
- Try to get a description from any eyewitnesses of the criminal or the vehicle.
- Contact community organizations in your area that respond to hate crimes.
SCCCD Board President Johnson told her personal story about having a transgender child. She told the audience about how her daughter knew she did not want to be a girl from a young age and the support she gave as her child grew older. Johnson acknowledged how some supportive people still have issues with the transgender community.
“I understand that even in really affirming and accepting places where LGBTQ are affirmed, some people still have an issue with that T. I would like to remind everyone that the reason we celebrate June as Pride Month is because of a trans woman.”
Huerta, founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, was the featured speaker for the event. She asked the audience to be the messengers for justice and peace. “There is one basic truth in this society, that we are all human beings…and the human race began in Africa.” We are all related and should treat each other with dignity and respect.
Huerta also said that “we have more people in prison than they do in India or China…and who are the people in prison? They are Black, Brown and poor white people who don’t have the money to pay for an attorney.” To loud applause, Huerta said she would like to see a big march in the Central Valley to Stop the Hate.
The Reedley town hall was the fourth of four town halls in the San Joaquin Valley, organized by the San Joaquin Valley Media Alliance and Community Alliance newspaper. The first one was held in Huron to address the issue of institutional racism. Since that first town hall, held last year, great progress has been made toward building a high school in Huron. The state superintendent of schools, Tony Thurman, came to Huron to pledge his support.
The second town hall was in Fresno and brought together a powerful group of advocates who are committed to continuing to work together as the gathering storm of hate from right-wing groups continues to attack BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities.
Madera was the site of the next town hall where we had the support of Madera City Council Member Elsa Mejia and the Madera NAACP, and the event included a magnificent cultural presentation by Los Diablitos, a traditional Oaxacan dance group.
The San Joaquin Valley Media Alliance has received another grant from the California State Library that will be used to continue this important work.
To see a video of the entire Reedley town hall, visit youtu.be/iazeVCY95Lo.