Community Alliance Newspaper
IN THIS ISSUE:
Chicago Workers to Rest of Country: “Don’t Let it Die!”
By David Bacon
Hundreds of supporters joined Republic Windows & Doors workers in Chicago as the employees occupied their factory. Bank of America, which received $25 billion in taxpayer bailout dollars it said it didn’t need, cut the company’s line of credit, throwing more than 200 workers out of work with only three days notice. The workers occupied the plant last month. Photo by Chris Geovanis/Chicago Indymedia
When the day finally comes that Raul Flores loses his job, he will face a bitter search for another one. “I’ve got a family to support, so I’ve got to do whatever it takes,” he says. “It’s going to be hard. The economic situation is not good, but I can’t just wait for something to happen to me.” That puts Flores in the same boat as millions of other U.S. workers. Last month alone 533,000 workers lost their jobs, the highest figure in 34 years. A week ago, the heads of the big three auto companies were in Washington, D.C., pleading for loans to keep their companies afloat. As a price, lawmakers and pundits told them they had to become “leaner and meaner,” and in response, General Motors announced it would close nine plants and put tens of thousands of workers out on the street. Ford and Chrysler described a similar job-elimination strategy.
What makes Flores special? He didn’t just accept the elimination of his job. Instead, he sat in for six days at the Chicago plant where he worked, together with 240 other union members at Republic Windows and Doors.
Republic workers were not demanding the reopening of their closed factory. They’ve been fighting for severance and benefits to help them survive the unemployment they know awaits them. Yet their occupation can’t help but raise deeper questions about the right of workers to their jobs. Can a return to the militant tactics of direct action, which produced the greatest gains in union membership, wages and job security in U.S. history, overturn “the inescapable logic of the marketplace”? Can employers, and the banks that hold their credit lines, be forced to keep plants open?
Unlike the auto giants, Republic was not threatening bankruptcy. It makes a “green product,” Energy-Star compliant doors and windows that should be one of the bedrock industries for a new, more environmentally sustainable economy. But Bank of America, as it was receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, pulled the company’s credit line. Perhaps that alone led President-elect Obama to support the workers. The bank-enforced closure undermines his program for using environmentally sustainable jobs to replace those eliminated in the spiraling recession. He called Republic workers “absolutely right. What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”
Federal law requires companies to give employees 60 days notice of a plant closure, or pay them 60 days severance pay, to give them breathing room to find other jobs. Republic workers got three days, and no money. “They knew they’d be out on the street penniless,” says Leah Fried, organizer for Local 1110 of the United Electrical Workers. “When the negotiating committee came back to the factory to report that the company didn’t even show up to talk with them, the workers were so enraged they voted unanimously not to leave until they got their severance and vacation pay.”
While the workers’ acted to gain their legally-mandated rights, the plant occupation resurrects a tactic with a radical history. In 1934, auto workers occupied the huge Fisher Body plants in Flint, Michigan, and when the battle was over, the United Auto Workers was born. Sit-down strikes spread across the country like wildfire. Occupying production lines in plant after plant, workers won unions, better wages, and real changes in their lives. Seventy years later, the workers who have inherited that legacy of unionization and security are on the brink of losing everything. Just since 2006 the United Auto Workers has lost 119,000 members. The threat of plant closure has been used to cut the wages of new hires in half, to $14.50, the same wage paid on the window lines at Republic, where the union is only four years old. Flores certainly hopes that those whose livelihoods are in peril will rediscover the tactic. “This is the start of something,” he urges. “Don’t let it die. Learn something from it.” And the sit-down was successful. After six days sitting-in, and a rally of 1000 people in front of the bank, JP Morgan, another beneficiary of Federal assistance that owns 40 percent of Republic, put up $400,000, and Bank of America another $1.35 million. That was enough to pay the legally-mandated severance, the workers’ accrued vacation, and two months of health care. Flores and his coworkers then voted to end the occupation.
Fran Tobin, midwest organizer for Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor and community groups with chapters around the country, shares Flores’ optimism. “I think this is not the last time we’re going to see American workers occupying American plants, as part of a move to save jobs and turn things around,” he says. Organizers for Jobs with Justice are fanning out with a program they call a “Peoples’ Bailout.” “We need to ask, ‘What kind of an economy and recovery do we want?’” Tobin emphasizes. He lists funds for a jobs program, rather than huge loans to banks, a moratorium on home foreclosures, investment in infrastructure repair, and helping local and state governments (and public workers) survive the crisis without massive budget cuts.
Flores, Tobin and Fried all agree that none of those demands can be won without unions and workers willing to fight for them. That makes the Republic plant occupation more than just a local confrontation. “This might not be the right tactic in every situation, but people know we need to be fighting back,” Fried says.
Will the unions in auto plants and other workplaces hit by layoffs take up the challenge of the Republic workers? To Flores, they have to do something more than just watch the elimination of their jobs. “We’ve got to fight for our rights,” he emphasizes. “It’s not fair that they just kick us out on the street with nothing. Somebody has to respond.”
David Bacon is a writer and photographer, whose most recent book is “Illegal People — How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants.” His website is http://dbacon.igc.org
From the Editor
The Community Alliance newspaper has been conducting some reader surveys and one of the surprising things I found out is that most of our readers like the From the Editor column. I think one of the reasons why, is that it gives some context to the articles in each issue and shows you what is going on behind the scenes at this newspaper.
The survey told us that 81% of our readers thought last months issue was good or the best ever (19% thought it was average). 95% of readers responding to the survey thought the cover story about marriage equality was good or excellent. The feedback we received, about individual articles and sections in the newspaper, will be used to help us determine what areas to focus on in future issues. It was clear that you like the Peace and Social Justice calendar (94% gave this section a good or excellent rating), the article about mayor Autry attacking the ACLU (67% of our readers thought it was excellent), and the cover story about marriage equality was well received.
Here are a few of the comments we received from the December survey:
In response to the question “Overall, how would you rate the December Community Alliance newspaper?”
“The issue is pack-full of interesting and relevant articles. I am constantly astounded at the quality of the writing and variety of progressive causes covered. You just keep getting better!”
“You guys are getting better with every issue”
“For me there was just too much of the same topic, but Prop 8 was important and it had to be featured. I needed to change to another issue before I finished reading all about the Gay issues.”
“I was on the train 12/2. I picked it up at the Amtrak station and read it cover to cover.”
“Hard to decide between “a good issue” (it certainly was) and “average” as the average C.A. is good.”
“I thought this issue was nicely balanced with a variety of topics and issues. For the first time my wife actually said. ‘Hey, this is a pretty good paper.’”
In response to the question “How did you like the cover (marriage equality)?”
“It brings attention to the danger of our constitution being hijacked to fit the political agenda of certain people in the community and government.”
“I like variety not just people. By the picture I know it is different issue. When they are similar, I forget which month it is. Of course Obama was NOVEMBER.
“I participated in the rallies and the cover did them justice”
“While persecution/lack of civil rights is always important, this issue’s coverage even in ‘mainstream’ boarders on saturation already.”
In response to the question “What is your opinion of the articles in the December newspaper?”
“I always read the article by Ruth Gadebusch first.”
“Anything by Rhodes and Bedoian are worth reading and pondering. I generally read each issue cover to cover, starting with the Editor’s comments, if there are any, and letters to the editor, then the major story on through; Opinion and Analysis is great, especially Ruth Gadebusch, a delight to read.”
“I enjoyed last month’s letters to the Editor better. More variety.”
In response to the question “Do you trust the information in the Community Alliance newspaper?”
“Winners never quit, and the CA is a winner. trust me.”
“I believe it gives me more truth that I can believe. I like the facts that can be researched
rather than someone accusing others. Sorry I cannot explain. I believe the articles are getting better. Some need to be shortened as they are repetitious.”
“. . .I trust (and value) the CA; all reports/reporters are fallible; I particularly appreciate you for filling in and balancing some of what I read/hear elsewhere.”
If you would like to participate in our survey about the January 2009 newspaper, go to:
This month we have several articles looking at the economic meltdown that we find ourselves in. The economy really is the 800 pound gorilla sitting in the corner of the room and it would be impossible for this paper to ignore the issue. But, providing a progressive analysis and solutions will take ongoing coverage. Expect to see more in upcoming issues, including a look at The Fresno Bee and their parent corporation McClatchy, whose stock has fallen from $70 to under $1 in the last couple of years. Is it possible that McClatchy could go into bankruptcy? What would Fresno look like without a daily paper? We will tell you why the newspaper industry (nationwide) is collapsing and what the implications might be for us here in Fresno.
One of the problems for the corporate media, including the Fresno Bee, is that news consumers (like you) are not getting the information you need from them. I was at a press conference in West Fresno in December, talking to Robert Mitchell, who asked me why the media did not attend their press conference. The press conference was about environmental justice (see the story on page 10) and this grassroots group who was trying to stop polluting businesses from operating in their community. Robert asked me why The Bee and most of the other media did not cover this and other events of interest in West Fresno. I told him that while a lot of the reporters would like to cover these stories, they don’t get assigned to cover them for a variety of reasons. When they do get assigned to cover a story of interest to the progressive community, spokespersons for grassroots groups are only given 10 second sound bites to explain complex situations. Corporate spokespersons are often times given ample time to explain their point of view.
Reporters for The Bee, TV, and radio stations are also under significant pressure to present the “point of view” of elected officials and the powers that be. The problem is, if a reporter tells the inconvenient truth about government officials, it is very easy to lose access to those sources. If a reporter loses access to the mayor, the police chief, or city council members they can kiss their job goodbye. No access? No job! So, reporters have to bend over backwards to give the “ruling elites” perspective in all stories if they want to keep their job, feed their families, and pay the mortgage.
Fortunately, you have access to alternative and independent news sources – like the Community Alliance, The Undercurrent, SunMt, KFCF, Democracy Now! (now also on TV ch 49 at 6 PM M-F), and numerous Internet sources. I told Robert one thing that seemed to really get him excited. I told him the Public Access TV station was about to become a reality and that this development would give him and everyone else in the Fresno/Clovis area the ability to produce their own programs. The shows you can produce will allow you to say, in your own words, what you want to communicate to the community. Nobody will filter what you say through their corporate lenses – the information will flow directly from you to the viewer. The Public Access TV station will provide you with training, modern equipment, and digital editing facilities. Look for the start up of the Public Access station, which will be on Comcast and AT&T in early 2009.
We at the Community Alliance realize that more and more readers are getting their news from the Internet. That is one of the reasons why newspapers throughout the country are in steep decline. That is why we have re-structured our website to make it more user friendly. You can now read a text version of this newspaper at www.fresnoalliance.com , as well as additional letters to the editor and expanded articles.
Senate to Middle Class: Drop Dead
By Michael Moore
They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers start building only cars and mass transit that reduce our dependency on oil.
They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers build cars that reduce global warming.
They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers withdraw their many lawsuits against state governments in their attempts to not comply with our environmental laws.
They could have given the loan on the condition that the management team which drove these once-great manufacturers into the ground resign and be replaced with a team who understands the transportation needs of the 21st century.
Yes, they could have given the loan for any of these reasons because, in the end, to lose our manufacturing infrastructure and throw three million people out of work would be a catastrophe.
But instead, the Senate said, we’ll give you the loan only if the factory workers take a $20 an hour cut in wages, pension and health care. That’s right. After giving BILLIONS to Wall Street hucksters and criminal investment bankers — billions with no strings attached and, as we have since learned, no oversight whatsoever — the Senate decided it is more important to break a union, more important to throw middle class wage earners into the ranks of the working poor than to prevent the total collapse of industrial America.
We have a little more than a month to go of this madness. As I sit here in Michigan today, tens of thousands of hard working, honest, decent Americans do not believe they can make it to January 20. The malaise here is astounding. Why must they suffer because of the mistakes of every CEO from Roger Smith to Rick Wagoner? Make management and the boards of directors and the shareholders pay for this.
Of course that is heresy to the 31 Republicans who decided to blame the poor, miserable autoworkers for this mess. And our wonderful media complied with their spin on the morning news shows: “UAW Refuses to Give Concessions Killing Auto Bailout Bill.” In fact the UAW has given concession after concession, reduced their benefits, agreed to get rid of the Jobs Bank and agreed to make it harder for their retirees to live from week to week. Yes! That’s what we need to do! It’s the Jobs Bank and the old people who have led the nation to economic ruin!
But even doing all that wasn’t enough to satisfy the bastard Republicans. These Senate vampires wanted blood. Blue collar blood. You see, they weren’t opposed to the bailout because they believed in the free market or capitalism. No, they were opposed to the bailout because they’re opposed to workers making a decent wage. In their rage, they were driven to destroy the backbone of this country, not because the UAW hadn’t given back enough, but because the UAW hadn’t given up.
It appears that the sitting President has been looking for a way to end his reign by one magnanimous act, just like a warlord on his feast day. He will put his finger in the dyke, and the fragile mess of an auto industry will eke through the next few months.
That will give the Senate enough time to demand that the bankers and investment sharks who’ve already swiped nearly half of the $700 billion gift a chance to make the offer of cutting their pay.
Michael Moore is a filmmaker. He can be contacted at MMFlint@aol.com. His website is: MichaelMoore.com
Economics for Those Who Are Not Dummies
By Richard Stone
Several years ago I faced the fact that I lack the stamina and creative evasiveness to endure “jobs” as defined by The Economy. I did last at one for several years, but the last three were reduced hours; most of my other positions during a forty year work life have been part-time and relatively brief.
To cope with feelings of inadequacy at my lack of career, I found myself re-evaluating and re-defining the meaning of work and accomplishment. (A chapter in my book BEYOND is devoted to this exploration.) The fruits of that labor of psychological necessity have been very helpful in assessing two recent experiences.
The first was a Chamber of Commerce sponsored tour of four cities in China. The logistical and scenic aspects of the trip were unimpeachable. But I found that spending eight days defined almost entirely as a Consumer of Culture and Prospective Purchaser of Beautiful (but entirely unneeded) objects was quite dispiriting. Our group’s isolation from Chinese citizens in non-commercial situations made the trip feel a bit like going to some Disney-fied China Land. The experience reminded me how easily participation in a commerce driven society can reduce someone to a one-dimensional being.
The second recent event was the reading of a new book by an old friend. Joan Heron was on the faculty of the Nursing Department at CSUF when I got to know her. Not long after, she retired and at the age of 62 became a Peace Corps Volunteer sent to oversee the creation of a national health plan for the newly independent country of Turkmenistan. The book Chai Budesh? Anyone for Tea? engagingly recounts Joan’s adventures in that country with a very foreign society and an autocratic government of a type Americans are unaccustomed to negotiate. But in the context of the China trip, I was more deeply affected by her depiction of creating a social economy rooted equally in cool needs assessment and skillful marshaling of resources on one hand; and on the other in warm human relations and the desire to bring goodness into the world. The contrast between the deeply satisfying work environment Joan was able to draw together and the impersonal commercial relations that predominated in my China venture was stark indeed.
Back home, I find myself plunked down in the midst of an economic meltdown that was known to be inevitable by every independent analyst of corporate capitalism. My long-ago-discovered need for a different kind of economic nexus has renewed relevance. Over the years I’ve been involved with several experiments in community-based economic enterprises. These included food-buying co-ops and Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) groups; and a Time/Dollar Network (an elaborated form of barter). But more fundamentally, I’ve found that creating even an informal network of relationships and good-will with people who know your skills and values can significantly help you sustain yourself…even to the extent of helping find “jobs’ in the conventional economy. But more to the point, it can provide everything from off-the-grid income, to health treatment, to transportation, to childcare. This network has genuine economic worth, though not readily measurable in dollars.
The difference between an economic system based solely on commercial exchange, and one based on human interchange and shared values, is nowhere better presented than in the video “Who’s Counting”. The film follows the economic enlightenment of Marilyn Waring, the first female Member of Parliament in New Zealand as she discovers the contrast between the accounting systems of the major global economic institutions and the meaning of economics in everyday life (the kind notably championed by Thoreau,)
For me, these questions and considerations have been crucial to how I’ve structured my life and finances. In a Valley Voices piece of several years ago, I wrote: “Most of us are taught to relate to the economy like this: there is a set of “needs” we have to fill and we must find a way to acquire these necessities…We enter the economy as big-time consumers and borrowers, then scramble to find some way to pay all the bills. I suggest we reverse that thinking. It is useful to consider ourselves first as producers, creators of goods and services that others value. Also, we should begin as early as possible to base our lives on what is affordable with the capital actually at our disposal . By basing my “needs” on choices of what is the best use of the time and resources I have, rather than what this extraordinarily rich society makes potentially available (and tells me I deserve), I can begin to be part of an economic circle of exchange. I become a player not a game piece.”
I urge others to enter into conversation about these matters, and I issue an invitation to join in one way to do so. Early next year The Center for Nonviolence will be sponsoring a multi-session workshop to view “Who’s Counting”, discuss its implications for our own lives, and look at the possibility of finding a “communal response” to our learning. Let us know if you are interested in participating: call 237-3223 and leave a message.
Richard Stone is on the Community Alliance newspaper Editorial Board.
Joan Heron’s book, Chai Budesh? Tea Anyone? is available at www.Amazon.com . “Who’s Counting” is available for rental at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence. The chapter “Work and Social Worth” from my book BEYOND (or the whole book for that matter) and the Valley Voices piece from the Fresno Bee, “Think of job creation in a whole new way” can be obtained by calling me at 266-2559.
Marriage Equality is a Civil Right
By Beverly Senkowski
As I watched the movie “Milk” I was reminded of the many struggles the LGBT+ community has faced for decades. Funny thing, I never planned on being an activist… but I became one because I refuse to settle for second class status… because I believed in these words by Thomas Jefferson:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”
Beverly Senkowski spoke at the No on 8 rally at Fresno City Hall before the election.
As the current President of Central California Alliance (CCA), I gave a speech in November and quoted Barack Obama in saying “there is no liberal or Conservative America; there is only the United States of America.” I added that in my America there is no straight or gay America; there is only the United States of America where all citizens are equal. I truly believe in that statement and I will fight to make it true. I am here today to ask you to join me in this fight.
History was made when the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. They said “our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation – like a person’s race or gender – does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights. We therefore conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same sex couples as well as to opposite couples.” In my opinion, this ruling was one of the most significant legal decisions concerning human rights in the United States.
ProtectMarriage.com and their allies challenged the court’s ruling. A national coalition of forces supported Proposition 8 which unfortunately passed by 52% to 48% making the definition of marriage to be only one man- one woman. After the election, Kate Kendall, the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, expressed how many of us were feeling and what we were experiencing when she said “our community has gone through a modified version of the five stages of grief – Shock or denial, anger, blame, action, resolve.” And we were doing it all at once. I think many of us are still working our way through those stages.
In a speech after the election, I quoted Martin Luther King who said, “I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. … When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
We face many uncertainties. I do not have all of the answers but I will try to answer some questions. I am not a lawyer so I struggle to understand the legal issues that are taking place to overturn, or repeal, or invalidate Prop 8. I will give it my best shot to explain what is going on in the courts.
Supporters of marriage equality marched from City Hall to the County Clerk’s office in downtown Fresno.
NCLR, ACLU and Lambda Legal filed a writ, now titled Strauss v. Horton, with the California Supreme court seeking to invalidate Prop 8. They said that the CA constitution does not permit the rights of a minority to be stripped away by a simple majority vote. It is important to understand that substantive law and procedural law are the two main categories within the law. Substantive law refers to the body of rules that determine the rights and obligations of individuals and collective bodies. Laws concerning marriage are substantive laws. In its ruling the Supreme Court said “we conclude that, under this state’s Constitution, the constitutionally based right to marry properly must be understood to encompass the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage… “. Procedural law, on the other hand, is the body of legal rules that govern the process for determining the rights of parties such as nullity procedures and procedures for the dissolution of marriage.
Now, understand that the state constitution can be altered in two ways, one by a “revision” for substantial changes which requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature and then approved by a constitutional convention and then a vote by the people. The other way for less substantive changes is called an “amendment” which can be enacted by a simple majority vote. So the petitioner’s hope (us) is that the court will find that Prop 8 was improperly passed because it makes a substantial change to a fundamental right, specifically marriage, which needed to go through the legislature first and follow the process of a “revision” and not be passed as an “amendment” which only requires a simple majority vote.
The Supreme Court granted a review of the writs. All parties involved must turn in written briefs to the court by January 2009. They are to address three specific questions. The court could hear oral arguments in March 2009 and will have 90 days from then to make their ruling. So let’s look at some of these questions concerning this matter. The following three questions were the ones given to the petitioners and the respondents to be answered in their briefs:
(1) Is Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution?
I believe that the Supreme Court validated the substantive nature of marriage when it stated in its May ruling that “the constitutionally based right to marry properly must be understood to encompass the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage are so integral to an individual’s liberty and personal autonomy that they may not be eliminated or abrogated by the Legislature or by the electorate through the statutory initiative process.”
(2) Does Proposition 8 violate the separation-of-powers doctrine under the California Constitution?
Yes I believe the separation of power doctrine was violated by Prop 8 because it takes away the Supreme Court’s ability to do their duty and to protect the rights of all Californians. In our democracy, we have three branches of government (legislative, judicial and executive) in which we have a division of power that is designed to help accountability between the branches and to prevent tyranny because the majority should never define the rights of the minority.
The duty of the Supreme Court is to interpret the law and to say what is right and wrong. It is not “judicial activism” when they do so even if you do not agree with their findings. As stated by the California Supreme Court… “It sits at the apex of authority in the state’s judicial system, and as such it may review decisions of the Courts of Appeal in order to settle important questions of law and ensure that the law is applied uniformly. The Supreme Court has considerable discretion in deciding which decisions to review…”
(3) If Proposition 8 is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?
I believe the 18,000 marriages will remain intact because they were legal when Prop 8 occurred and laws are not normally retroactive; and Prop 8 did not specifically state anything about nullifying the marriages already performed. Attorney General Brown has stated that the existing marriages would not be affected.
I have heard the argument that this fight is not about civil rights because we can hide our differences unlike blacks. That fact has only hurt this community. It has been our Achilles heel. We should not have to hide who we are born to be any more than a black person should wish to be a white person. Civil Rights are partly defined as a class of rights that ensure the protection of people’s physical integrity, individual freedom of belief, speech, association, and political participation, due process in judicial matters and the protection from discrimination based on gender, and sexual orientation. By this definition, I would say the fight for marriage is most certainly a civil rights issue.
Throughout our history we have seen many civil rights movements from the Suffrage Movement, the Feminist Movement, the African American Movement, also called the American Civil Rights movement, and the gay liberation movement. They all battled subjugation, religious oppression, and institutional discrimination. They all sought dignity for the individual, their cultural and ethnicity, economic and political self-sufficiency and freedom from oppression and employment discrimination. They all faced violence.
I talked with another activist, who happens to be black, and is someone who has been working on this issue since the Briggs initiative, and I asked her what advice to give today. She said “tell them to stay with the movement. This is a civil rights issue and where would the black community be if it walked away from the fight for four years? Stay with it 365 days.”
Only we have the power to change what people think of our community. Each of you can meet one person and share with them who you are and what you know about these issues. The LGTB+ people need to share how love is a part of their life. Only you can make them realize they have nothing to fear from our love. We need people to know that we are more similar than dissimilar.
Finally I would like to close with the words of Martin Luther King. “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Beverly Senkowski is a long time activist, political leader, happily married and the proud mother of Vanessa. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
State Health Care Services Ignored the Law
by Dan Waterhouse
The California Department of Health Care Service ignored a six-year-old state law by failing to start a program intended to provide medical care to impoverished Californians with HIV, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled in a decision made public in early December.
Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ordered the state agency to carry out the program, which is supposed to help people with HIV — but not AIDS — obtain treatment through the state’s Medi-Cal program for the poor. Medi-Cal does cover people once they develop AIDS, when the cost of care is usually much higher.
In 2002, then-Governor Gray Davis signed into law Assembly Bill 2197. The law was intended to expand the enrollment for Medi-Cal benefits of people who had tested positive for HIV (but who weren’t sick enough to qualify for Medi-Cal) who otherwise qualified for benefits based on low income and other criteria. The Legislature’s plan was to fund the expansion of benefits through cost savings generated by the voluntary enrollment of AIDS patients in managed care plans as opposed to Medi-Cal fee for service, with the Department of Health Care Services encouraging the voluntary enrollment.
The plan envisioned by AB 2197 included the following: that Medi-Cal managed care programs for people with AIDS provide care at a lower cost than Medi-Cal fee for service; that individuals who are HIV positive be enrolled in managed care on a first-come, first-served basis; and that, in order to meet federal requirements, the enrollment of HIV-positive patients in managed care be funded from the savings created by the voluntary shifting of AIDS patients into managed care. Until the cost savings could be assured, no HIV-positive persons could be enrolled in managed care; the Department of Health Care Services was to determine the number of HIV-positive patients that could be enrolled in managed care by establishing the cost of managed care for a HIV-positive person, which could not be more than 95 percent of the fee-for-service costs.
While the agency did limited outreach to advocates and providers, it never reached out to Medi-Cal recipients to encourage them to consider switching to managed care. The agency also did not determine the cost of managed care for an HIV-positive patient. Instead, agency staff assumed the rate would be set at 95 percent of the fee-for-service costs for treating AIDS patients. It is an open question whether the cost of managed care would be that high.
A department spokesman said officials continue to believe that the law will not work because the state’s managed care programs for AIDS patients — which now enroll about 1,800 patients — cost the state more than fee-for-service programs do. The law says the state cannot run up extra costs to extend Medi-Cal to HIV patients. However, the agency never did the analysis to accurately determine if that would be in fact the case.
Turning Anger into Action
By Community Alliance Staff
|ERASETHEH8 IS CALLING ON A BOYCOTT OF THESE YES ON 8 SUPPORTERS Individuals affiliated with the following businesses contributed money to the Yes on 8 campaign. Sierra Pacific Orthopaedic & Spine Center Medical Group, Inc.|
$7,500 Thomas Thomas, M.D. Barlocker Insurance Services $5,000 Bill Barlocker
$2,500 William Barlocker
$200 Josh Barlocker
$250 Ryan Weaver Fogg, Maxwell, Lanier & Remington Eye Care
$1,250 Rodney Remington, M.D. Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
$2,500 Scott Bowen InSight Vision Center
$2,500 Eric Poulsen, M.D. James G. Parker Insurance Associates
$2,500 Jon Parker
$1,750 Todd Parker To learn more about this activity, contact Jay Matthew at ErasetheH8@gmail.com.
One tactic being used in the marriage equality movement is the boycotting and picketing of Proposition 8’s financial supporters. In the sidebar on this page, there is a list of some Fresno donors to the Yes on 8 campaign and how much each contributed. Supporters of the boycott believe that economic pressure on these businesses will help lead to justice and equality for the LGBT community. Jay Matthew, one of the organizers of the boycott, sent the Community Alliance the following explanation for this action.
Who Will We Boycott/Picket?
We want to boycott the companies of Prop 8 supporters and draw attention to the boycott by picketing these businesses. Our plan of action involves people standing outside of the stores holding signs, handing out flyers and informing people of the businesses’ actions and the effect those actions have had on the LGBT community. The press will be contacted to cover the picketing and learn more about why the boycott is necessary. Our goal is to inform not only the people frequenting the businesses but also the people at home.
How to Start?
The good news is that we have already started. The plans are in place, and the word is spreading about what we plan to do.
What Do We Want?
We want to make a difference and show people that our concerns are not going away. Now is not the time for us to sit down and take a break. The more we do and the more we are seen by the public the better. By boycotting and picketing these businesses, we can educate people as to our concerns and send a clear message to the financial backers of Prop 8.
How Can We Afford This?
Volunteers: There are many people who are so angry about the passage of Prop 8 that they would jump at any chance to help.
Support from People Like You: If you would like to donate either your time or financially to the campaign, please contact Jay Matthew at ErasetheH8@gmail.com.
Fresno Needle Exchange Legalized
By Dallas Blanchard
In September of 1994 Jean Rodriquez and Tonee Mello started the Fresno Needle Exchange Program. The first time they exchanged new sterile syringes for used ones with an injection drug user they knew they were breaking the law. But they also knew they were helping to save a persons life.
In the Spring of 1995 I joined with Jean and Tonee in helping to save lives. Over the years we would collaborate with anyone who would work with us. We’ve worked with the Central Valley Aids team, the County Health Department, Westcare, Baart, Dr. Lasher and even Law enforcement to a limited extent . All of this collaboration led to a historic vote on December 16th 2008.
On this date the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to legalize the Fresno Needle Exchange. The vote was not an easy thing to accomplish. We’ve been going before the Board for over eight years seeking authorization. The first time we approached them we were arrested. The next time we were voted down 4-1. But the battle for legalization grew our group of supporters and tolerance by law enforcement.
The Fresno County Health Officer Dr. Moreno and his staff did a wonderful job of putting together a presentation everyone could support. They met with everyone involved including the Needle Exchange, Dr Lasher, Westcare, Law Enforcement, the Fresno City Council and the Board of Supervisors.
These meetings came to a head at the Board of Supervisors on December 16th. At this meeting Dr. Moreno gave his presentation about Needle Exchange. Then several others spoke in favor of the proposal. We had several Doctors speak to the health issues involved. How costly it is to treat people with HIV or Hepatitis C and how Needle Exchange stops the spread of these diseases. We had Alessandra Ross from the California State Health Department speak about how great Needle Exchange is and how the State could be of assistance to an authorized exchange. I spoke to the great need for the exchange and how it would help Fresno save money and lives. But to me one speaker really summed it up really well.
This one courageous person stood up and said “I’m one of the people you are talking about. I’m a Heroin addict. A few months ago I started going to the exchange. One day at the exchange Dr. Lasher was treating a nasty abscess I had. When he finished he encouraged me to get into treatment and when I said I wasn’t ready he gave me a syringe. That saved my life. The next time I came to the exchange I got into treatment. I got tested for HIV and HEP C. Both were negative. And now this Christmas my children and grand children have their mom back. They truly saved my life”
Since the vote we’ve received congratulations from nearly every Needle exchange in California. There’s over 40 statewide. I even received one email from someone attending a United Nations meeting on Drug Policy in Vienna congratulating us.
So the one thing I’d finish with is a statement I made to the Board of Supervisors. I said “THERE IS A CURE FOR HIV AND HEP C. THE CURE IS PREVENTION AND NEEDLE EXCHANGE IS PREVENTION.”
Worker-Community Coalition Demands Better Patient Care
By Mike Rhodes
Bill Bates wants to improve patient care at Community Hospital. The community needs a good hospital where the poor, homeless, and indigent can go to receive quality health care.
The County of Fresno has a legal obligation to provide health care to the poor, homeless, and indigent, who don’t have health insurance. The County gives Community Medical Center (CMC) about $19 million a year to provide indigent health services, but at a hearing before the Board of Supervisors (BOS) last month, a number of people questioned the quality of care they are receiving.
What started as a non-controversial annual report by CMC’s CEO Tim Joslin, transformed into a discussion that called into question the quality of care available to the poor in this community. Richard Yanes, the executive director of Fresno Metro Ministry said that while Joslin’s presentation gave a positive view, “very little of the report speaks to the safety net aspects Community has under its contract with you (Fresno County). It is our belief that in this area Community fails to provide an adequate level of care or service as mandated by law and required by your contract.”
Metro Ministry is a part of the Coalition for Patient Care, which also includes Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM) a church based refugee group, Service Employee International Union – United Healthcare West (SEIU-UHW), and the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB) a group of immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, the California Alliance for Retired Americans, and others. The group sent a letter to hospital CEO Tim Joslin requesting a meeting to discuss improvements in patient care at Community Hospital. Joslin refused to meet.
Rosie Madrigal said her husband went to the CMC emergency room with an amputated finger and instead of being referred to a plastic surgeon had his finger “sutured like a rag doll.” Madrigal said her husband was then told to go home. They did not have insurance at the time and ended up having to pay for the plastic surgeon on their credit card. Madrigal said “the trauma, the pain, the infection that he suffered can’t be measured in dollars. Referring to Joslin’s testimony, she added “if he needs more money he needs to ask you or the community of Fresno for more dollars, because the treatment we received was disgusting.”
Speaking through a translator, before the BOS, Catalina said she has visited CMC three times and each time had a horrible experience. She said “the first time they did not make the interpreters available to me, they put an orange bracelet on my arm, the nurse came in and said she does not speak Spanish. I was pregnant, she gave me instructions, but I did not understand them. The second time when I went in for an ultrasound the lady treated me very badly, they did not give me a picture of my baby. Then, when I had my baby, there was a nurse that treated me very awful, she was very mean verbally – she went in my room and the only thing I could understand that she said was ‘how nasty.’” Catalina said that she had surgery and the nurse did not wash her hands before touching her or her baby.
Bill Bates, a Respiratory Therapist at CMC for 19 years, spoke about patient care from the employees perspective. Bates said he was there because “my co-workers and I believe that we can and must turn things around. We want CMC to be the best possible hospital, one that we would never hesitate to enter as patients, one that I would gladly admit my mother to. However, there are real problems in the CMC system. I have seen it first hand in my department and many other departments, where we can’t seem to recruit and retain experienced employees. If you don’t have experienced employees, you don’t have the best care, and that is a huge problem.”
Continuing his testimony, Bates said “the result is that we can’t even take the time to give our patients the best of care. My co-workers in the ER, operating, housekeeping, nursing floors, labs, and so on report that we have major staff shortages and high turn over rates. This directly impacts patient care. For example, in housekeeping, if you don’t have enough housekeepers, the rooms don’t get cleaned, the process slows down, patients don’t get admitted, and the hospital is not kept as clean as we would like. On nursing floors, short staffing means that patients have to wait to be cleaned, feed, and sometimes they have to wait far too long just to go to the bathroom.”
Bates said that sometimes patients wait for days in a gurney before they are admitted to a room. He said that the employees are trying to do a good job, but “the problem, we feel, is with management. Let me give you just one example – you have heard about the ER and the wait times. A few months ago, more than 115 patient care assistants, unit clerks, nurses, and even doctors in the ER signed a letter detailing the problems there. This letter was taken to the head of the department. They waited to hear back, but nothing happened. So, then they delivered it to the CEO of Community Regional which is Mr. Jack Chubb, and again no response. Finally, in a last effort we delivered it to the CEO of the entire system, Mr. Tim Joslin. To this date we have not received any response.”
Speaking to the members of the BOS, Bates said “we need your help. They don’t seem to be listening to us. We hope you will. We would welcome the opportunity to provide you with the full story. We believe that with your direct involvement we can all work together to improve the patient care at Community Medical Centers.” The workers at CMC, in addition to writing letters to the CEO and addressing the BOS to advocate for patient care, are working with SEIU-UHW to organize a union. Workers involved in the organizing campaign want CMC to agree to hold free and fair elections. So far, the hospital has refused all attempts to establish guidelines for fair elections. Union supporters have been fired, the hospital has brought in “union busters” to threaten and intimidate the workers, and management has pleaded poverty when asked to improve wages and working conditions. Some full time workers don’t even get health coverage, and they work in a hospital. The workers are not convinced that CMC can’t pay workers a living wage when CEO Tim Joslin earns $726,000 a year.
For more information about the effort to support hospital workers and improve patient care, go to www.fresnocmcworkersunited.org .
Environmental Racism in West Fresno
By Mike Rhodes
When was the last time you visited West Fresno to see a movie, eat at a fine restaurant, or shop for clothes? Talk to Robert Mitchell, a West Fresno resident, and he will tell you why this part of town doesn’t have a Fig Garden Village, why they have no upscale business found in the rest of Fresno, and why they have become a magnet for environmentally dangerous operations that would never be allowed north of Shaw Avenue. Standing next to Cottonwood Creek LLC, a dairy processing plant on Church Avenue, Mitchell told me, “if you think the smell is bad now, you ought to come back when the plant is in full operation and it is 100 degrees outside.” Mitchell and a group of West Side residents were in front of the Cottonwood plant, holding a press conference two days before a meeting before the Planning Commission which would decide the plant’s future.
Mitchell said that a bus drops off school age children less than 100 yards down the street from Cottonwood. Right around the corner from Cottonwood is “Darling International, a rendering plant located near Fruit and Church, nearby is Hyde Park which was originally a dump that has been covered over,” Mitchell said. Nearby are other businesses and homes that are constantly affected by the odor from the meat rendering plant and Cottonwood. The children play at Hyde Park, the former dump.
Environmental Racism Lives in the All American City – Fresno. This sign was held at the Press Conference demanding that the City of Fresno not allow Cottonwood Creek LLC to re-open.
Mitchell continues, “at West and Jensen we have another dump that has been covered over. You drive another mile and a half from here and you have another rendering plant at North and Martin Luther King. There is a recycling center on Elm just south of Jensen. They are proposing to make that a household hazardous waste facility for the entire County of Fresno, bringing that (the hazardous waste) into West Fresno.” He didn’t even mention the Foster’s Farm poultry processing plant that could be seen from where we were standing.
“There are numerous locations within our community which are less than desirable. Which promote unhealthy air, brings hazards to our community, and is certainly a detriment for the entire West Fresno community,” Mitchell said. I asked him about a fire at a dump in West Fresno that spewed smoke into the air for what seemed like an eternity. “Yes that was at Belmont and Marks Avenue. I think that burned for weeks with untold hazards to families as the smoke drifted across our community like a fog. Numerous individuals ended up in the hospital and the stench from the location where we are presently standing in front of (Cottonwood) in the summer months is totally horrendous. We have a high incident rate of asthma among our children. We do not know the complete detriment to our health as a result of these facilities,” Mitchell said.
Asked why he thought the City of Fresno has allowed these types of businesses to proliferate in West Fresno, Mitchell said “for far too long it has been ‘anything goes’ for what has been allowed to operate in the West Fresno community. As you know, the West Fresno Community is identified by the Brookings Institute as one of the most impoverished places in the state of California, it is an entirely minority community, therefore the business as usual has been in operation for the City of Fresno. We have been a community that has tried to have these business relocated.”
“We have not had the assistance and the help of the City of Fresno in resolving it because it provides a lucrative tax base to the city, the operation of the whey water plant (Cottonwood) is on city property, it is being leased by the city, so again it is about money and we in the community suffer. It is about political power and we are trying to get our community to become aware, to become educated, and to begin to stand and fight for its rights, its human rights,” Mitchell said.
Not long ago, city officials were excited about an upscale development that looked like it was coming to West Fresno. Even Donald Trump visited the area as he pondered an investment in Running Horse, the golf and luxury home development. Mitchell scoffed at the suggestion that Running Horse would have benefitted West Fresno residents. He pointed out that highway 180 would allow Running Horse home owners to jump on the freeway and never see West Fresno. The development is now in disarray and unlikely to be completed.
Recently the City of Fresno tried to take over the Frank Ball community center in West Fresno and turn it into a Police Activities League facility. Fortunately, the neighbors who live near Frank Ball came together and demanded that the community center remain under their control. They also got the city to provide needed repairs, upgrades, and a computer center for an after school program.
Robert Mitchell said “No one should have to suffer and be exposed to possible health hazards so that someone else can reap a profit.”
Meanwhile, members of the West Fresno community are still struggling to re-establish the Hinton Center as a place where the community can once again feel comfortable. A new board of directors has left many in the community asking why it is closed so often, the restrooms are filthy, and services have all but disappeared. A committee of concerned citizens are working with the city to restore this beloved community center to its previous state.
On December 17 the Planning Commission listened to hours of testimony about Cottonwood Creek LLC. They agreed with the residents who wanted to keep the factory closed. Now, if they could get Darling International to move, they and their children could catch a breath of fresh air, just like everyone in North Fresno takes for granted.
Is it environmental racism, bad planning, or a crude attempt at a new form of apartheid that keeps the residents of West Fresno separate and unequal from the rest of this community? The railroad tracks, highway 99, and totally different zoning rules combine to separate West Fresno, just as surely as if there was a 20 foot concrete wall cutting them off from clean air, economic development, and jobs.
Take a walk in Robert Mitchell’s shoes, visit West Fresno, open your eyes, and demand your elected officials break down the walls of injustice. The existing environmental racism will only continue if you do nothing.
By Richard Stone
Q: If you’re in Fresno and the words “Gandhi” and “nonviolence” come up in conversation, who are you most likely speaking with?
A: Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, long-time professor of Social Work (now retired) at CSUF, and founder of its Peace & Conflict Studies program.
It was a long journey that brought Dr. Kapoor to Fresno, and to being recognized as a leading spokesman not only for the local Indian community but for the peace-and-justice and religious communities as well. He was born in the Punjab, in the less-prosperous south of India. His parents were uneducated and barely literate; but his mother and his paternal grandfather, in different ways, set powerful examples that in retrospect, Dr. Kapoor sees as the underpinning of his career.
“From my grandfather,” he says, “I learned the beauty of simplicity, order and clean living. He never smoked or drank, and lived an uncluttered life undriven by desires.
“My mother was a devout Hindu, but she taught me to appreciate and respect other religions. The founder of Sikhism came from a nearby town, and Sikhs were prominent where we lived. My mother not only spoke positively about them, she even took me to the local Sikh temple on mnay occasions…and also to Friday services at the nearby Moslem mosque.”
Young Su was exposed to Gandhism at an early age. The Indian National Congress that Gandhi headed had conventions nearby; and the Punjab was a revolutionary center. “My grandmother marched for independence and wore the native-made clothes that Ganhi proposed as a way to protest English imperialism.”
Everyone knew and spoke of Gandhi’s movement, but it was his assassination in 1948 that galvanized Su into serious study of the Mahatma’s life and principles. “Gandi was killed by a Hindu extremist. I knew at once I had to reject extremism, and learn to embrace moderation and appreciation of differences. I have come to understand that this stance is partly a matter of my inborn temperament, and not right for everyone. But it is the philosophy that has given my life its greatest force and meaning.”
Asked if that suggests a belief in Karma (one’s life guided by pre-existing elements), Dr. Kapoor replied, “Karma is a major aspect of Hindu belief, and I accept that our lives are shaped by forces outside our wills. But I insist that Karma be counterbalanced by accepting Dharma, duties required of us by an understanding of justice and right action. What we do is not predetermined, but created from competing claims and existing circumstances.”
So was it by chance that Sudarshan, now a high school student, came under the influence of Vinoba Bhave? (If Nehru was Gandhi’s successor in the political realm, Bhave was his prime spiritual disciple and addresser of social issues.) Bhave had initiated his Land Gift Mission, an effort to alleviate violence over landholding by persuading big land owners to give a percentage of their acreage to peasants. Sudarshan became a local student activist in this project, and later was employed as a regional organizer.
Sudarshan left India in 1962 to pursue educational opportunities afforded by scholarships. He worked and studied for one year at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague (Holland); then came to Florida State University where he earned postgraduate degrees in social work and education. It was in Florida that he met and married Veena, a partnership that continues to flourish through the years.
Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor
A one-year teaching appointment in Toronto proved untenable for these natives of Kipling’s “sunny climes”; so when an acquaintance offered the chance to help initiate a Masters program in Social Work at CSUF, the position was readily accepted. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dr. Kapoor’s work has been guided by principles grounded in his Hindu upbringing: moderation, simplicity, tolerance, inclusiveness, and a belief in God. “But,” he adds emphatically, ” no religion possesses truth; each one is a path to pursuing truth. Even Gandhi called his great work “experiments in truth.”
Attracted to models who shared Ghandian spirituality imbedded in social action, Sudarshan became a visible, active supporter of the movements inspired by Dr. King and Cesar Chavez. In Fresno to this day he is closely associated with the groups who carry on the work of these two inspirational leaders.
In his own right, Dr. Kapoor has been an organizing force in the creation of Fresno’s Human Relations Commission (which he served on for many years); in the formation of the Interfaith Alliance (supporting religious diversity, and the separation of church and state); in the founding of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence; in the construction of CSUF’s Peace Garden. He is looked to as a resource for reconciling opposing factions in political and cultural disputes. He continues to take visible, sometimes controversial, stands on a variety of local issues: just immigration policies, health care for all, undoing the hatred kindled by Proposition 8, helping the homeless, and always and above all countering militarism and the use of violence as an instrument of policy.
Since retirement, Sudarshan has come increasingly persuaded of the power of inner peace (“soul power”), the efficacy of prayer and the radiation of loving kindness. In these endeavors he has gladly yielded to the guidance of his wife Veena, who is a regional director in the Sisters of the Brahma Kamaris, an international movement teaching meditation and service.
It is in keeping with this emphasis that Dr.Kapoor chooses as his mottoes the well-knwon “Serenity Prayer” of the 12-Step programs, and the Prayer of St. Francis, to wit:
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord.
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
Make ma a channel of your peace.Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness—only light.
And where there’s sadness, ever joy.
O Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, in giving or ourselves that we receive, and in dying that we’re born to eternal life.
Progressive Religion…Is Not an Oxymoron
By David E. Roy
Bill Maher’s Religulous—a Review
On a Saturday last fall, Jan and I arrived to an empty theater about 15 minutes early for the 7:40 p.m. showing of Bill Maher’s film, Religulous, on the one screen in all of Fresno showing this film. Gradually, however, the seats in the small room at the end of the multiplex filled up until it was perhaps two-thirds full. Not all that bad for Fresno when the competition was a silly dog film and the regular salad bar of murder and mayhem.
A Delighted Audience
Many in the audience were delighted with the film, laughing and even applauding at some of the scenes. Much to his credit, considering the cavernous openings to ridicule that some people gave him, Maher was respectful, most often only mildly disdainful.
While wholeheartedly engaged in the exchanges, Maher usually was low key as he pointed out the absurdity of numerous religious positions. His focus was primarily on Christianity, Islam and Judaism, though he also had a great time in Hyde Park pretending to be a Scientologist.
Maher at a Truck Stop Chapel
Early in the film, Maher attended a truck stop chapel where he raised some issues about the factual accuracy of the New Testament. Although one man got angry and left, others stayed and continued to listen and talk with Maher. At the end, they joined in a circle, laid hands on him and prayed for him. Interestingly, Maher thanked them not just for their Christianity but for being, in his words, “Christ-like.”
The Theme-Park Jesus
Another of Maher’s conversations was with a handsome, manly Jesus at a Christian theme park in Orlando, Florida (The Holy Land Experience). Though Maher doesn’t take up the issue of whether Jesus was really a strapping white male hunk, New Testament scholar Marcus Borg has suggested that Jesus was Semitic and probably no more than 5 feet tall (based on the size of people at the time).
Talking with the theme-park Jesus, Maher complained that the idea of God existing as three persons was utter nonsense. Channeling George Carlin, Maher did a clever riff of God talking to himself as Father, Son and Holy Ghost (an expanded version aired on The Daily Show). Theme-park Jesus came back with the idea that God-in-three-persons is like water that can be liquid, solid (ice) or gas (steam); that God is in whatever form is necessary, depending on the circumstance. This stopped Maher for a moment. Later, he admitted he was impressed by the clever answer.
Other Stops on Maher’s Journey
Maher’s journey also included a visit to an intelligent design theme park (where dinosaurs and humans play side by side) and a gay-to-straight ministry. In these and other encounters, he is clear about his incredulity yet fairly gentle with the people he interviews.
His most intense outburst happened when he was attempting to interview a Jewish rabbi who represents an anti-Zionist movement. Maher, who grew up not knowing his mother was Jewish (but knowing his father was Christian), walked out in disgust after the rabbi would not stop lecturing long enough to have a dialogue.
Maher Understands and Appreciates the Heart of Christianity
Maher confronted a “name-it-and-claim-it” preacher with the absolute contradiction between this man’s message and the New Testament emphasis on helping the poor and shedding possessions to enter the Kingdom of God. The man pleasantly skirted the issue, assuring Maher that the Bible really does promise worldly riches for all true believers (i.e., those who believe in Jesus).
This exchange, as well as others, showed that Maher has an understanding of and appreciation for some of the most fundamental Christian tenets, especially the ones that seem to be radically obscured by the expressions of Christianity that Maher explores or, better, exposes.
Two Roman Catholic Priests: A Contrast
The two Roman Catholic priests that Maher interviewed clearly expressed a different understanding of Christianity than most of the others interviewed on camera. The first one, Father Reginald Foster, a senior Vatican scholar, was a delightful, unpretentious man that Maher seemed to bump into in front of the Vatican. The priest appeared to surprise Maher when he agreed that Jesus would not be found in this sumptuous setting but instead among the poor.
The second priest, Father George Coyne, had been the director of the Vatican’s astronomical observatory. Coyne noted that the scientific worldview had not come into existence at the time the New Testament stories were compiled. Hence, the issue of factual truth, which underlies the tension between so-called biblical literalism and scientific inquiry, was not a concern in that era.
(I say “so-called biblical literalism” because, even in fundamentalist churches, there is a great deal of selectivity as to what is supposed to be literally true and what is understood as metaphor. No one, even the most devoted literalist, would suggest that Jesus was really a lamb of God, for example.)
I would have been more satisfied with the film if Maher had at least raised the possibility that there is an enormous wealth of biblical and theological scholarship grounded in solid academic rigor that uses scientific research, among other tools, in a broad and protracted effort to illuminate the layers of meaning in the Christian bible. The two priests touched on this implicitly, but in the movie there was no explicit framing of the contrast between the unscientific literalists and the academically grounded non-literalists.
Maturing Beyond a Flat Bible
Ironically, this leaves Maher in the same position as the literalists when it comes to the Bible. Both he and they tend to see the Bible as flat, as having no depth. I am not talking about deep meaning, but about meaning that results from going below the surface and searching for an understanding of why people would tell the stories and write the accounts the way they did.
For example, what moved the early storytellers and writers to proclaim that Jesus was the Jewish messiah and then, to support their case, seek out all the metaphoric labels that, long before Jesus, had been assigned to someone who would, in the future, fulfill this role? What is the historical importance of assigning to Jesus a virgin birth, an immaculate conception, a bodily resurrection? A flat Bible cannot answer these intriguing questions.
This contributes to what I believe is Maher’s fallacy at the end of the film when he lumps all religions together as something to leave behind in growing up. The problem is not religion, per se, but how religious beliefs are used and distorted. Growing up might mean maturing to a more sophisticated religious understanding instead of giving up religion altogether.
For example, New Testament biblical scholars agree that Jesus was about peace and affirming the reality of God’s love as both a gift and the model for all human beings. These more sophisticated inspirations are intermingled with some distinctly primitive warlike prescriptions. It takes some maturity to know the difference.
The Evolution of God from a Tribal God to a Universal God
In examining the Jewish bible, a vast number of scholars, Karen Armstrong among them, help us understand that the idea of a single God evolved over millennia. Much earlier, Yahweh was understood as simply one god among many, a tribal god who demanded allegiance, who promised rewards for the faithful and vengeful punishments for those who strayed. This earlier god is the one for conquest, smiting enemies or striking down treasonous members of one’s own tribe, but not the one for loving the whole of creation and every creature, every human being, on the planet.
Misuse of the Bible to Justify Oppression
If the Bible is approached uncritically, without reason, scholarship and intellect, it can easily become a tool that is used to justify much more primitively motivated actions that are fully challenged by the core of Jesus’ actual teachings and ministry. The Bible has been misused in this way over the centuries to justify waging war, oppressing women, maintaining slavery and condemning gays and lesbians.
Any of these, when measured against the message of God’s unconditional love for each and every member of creation and the requirement to love one’s neighbor as oneself, should be seen as dead wrong—as evil.
Alternative Interpretations Not Pursued
Although Maher has fun exposing the logical nonsense of unchecked biblical literalism, he does not recognize that there are intellectually solid alternatives capable of giving voice to the ancient, ongoing and deeply rooted hunger for higher, broader and all-inclusive meaning and purpose in a way that can bring humanity together instead of continuing to foment divisiveness. The two Roman Catholic priests pointed the way toward this new understanding, but Maher did not pick up on it.
The Failure of Clergy and Denominations
Ultimately, however, this is not really Maher’s problem to solve. The real question is why there are so many Christian Americans threatened by any suggestion that the Bible is not flat, or is not fully and completely the inerrant Word of God. A significant portion of the blame falls on those clergy who know better but have avoided the difficult, painful and sometimes hazardous work of bringing this knowledge to their congregations through preaching and teaching. This blame extends to the church hierarchies that do not insist on such teaching and may not provide the support that the clergy need. It is a failure to have courage and be bold. Documenting this in a movie would be interesting and illuminating, wouldn’t it? Maybe Maher could do Religulous II: Beyond the Virgin Birth.
Ordained in the United Church of Christ, David E. Roy is a pastoral counselor and a California licensed marriage and family therapist who directs the Center for Creative Transformation. He has a Ph.D. in theology and personality from the Claremont (California) School of Theology. Send comments to him at email@example.com or 5475 N. Fresno St., Ste. 109, Fresno, CA 93711.
The KPFA That Can’t Say Yes
By Anthony Fest
This is in reply to the article by my KPFA Local Station Board colleague Conn Hallinan in last month’s issue. I’m a KPFA newscaster and one of the staff representatives on the Local Station Board (LSB). Like Hallinan, I’m not a “neutral” observer, but rather a participant in the struggles at the station. The LSB is divided (quite sharply) into two factions, with Hallinan and I on opposite sides of the aisle. I invite KPFA/KFCF listeners to consider and evaluate both our opinions.
Curiously, Hallinan expressed his views on the state of KPFA without identifying the individuals who actually wield power at the station. This would be somewhat like discussing U.S. politics over the past eight years without mentioning George Bush and Dick Cheney. The current powers that be at KPFA are General Manager Lemlem Rijio and Program Director Sasha Lilley. In my opinion, these two managers also are responsible for many of the problems that now afflict the station.
How did they come to power? Rijio was appointed interim general manager in early 2006 by Greg Guma, at that time the executive director of KPFA’s parent organization, the Pacifica Foundation. Guma says he and Rijio had agreed then that she would hold the job no longer than nine months; he recently wrote on an e-mail list, “I wish she had stuck to the arrangement we had made.” Late in 2006, Rijio, in turn, appointed Lilley as interim program director. In September 2008, Guma’s successor, Nicole Sawaya, elevated Rijio to permanent-status general manager. Sawaya acted on her last day on the job at Pacifica (for more about this, see my article, “September Surprise,” at mediajusticekpfa.blogspot.com).
As Rijio and Lilley have now been in office more than two years, it’s appropriate to look at what they have and haven’t done.
Certainly, they’ve excelled at instigating conflict and controversy. In January 2007, Rijio cancelled the program Youth Radio, after one episode of the program aired a song containing FCC-prohibited words that the program producers had neglected to edit out. The blue language certainly needed a firm response, given the possibility of the station being hit with a huge fine. But it was hardly sufficient reason to permanently eliminate a program, particularly one tailored for the next generation of listeners.
In August 2007, without any preceding negotiation or discussion, Rijio withdrew management recognition of KPFA’s long-established Unpaid Staff Organization (UPSO). Although most of the station’s paid employees belong to a union, the more numerous volunteer workers (“unpaid staff”) were thus left without officially recognized collective representation. By a surprisingly lopsided vote (13 yes, 0 no, 5 abstaining), the KPFA Local Station Board directed Rijio to rescind her action. The Pacifica National Board, which oversees the entire network, passed a similar resolution three months later. Rijio has ignored these directives.
(By the way, Hallinan’s claim that the UPSO’s “criteria for membership violate Pacifica bylaws” is false. See the Pacifica bylaws at www.pacificafoundation.org. The relevant portion is Article Three, Section 1B, which expressly recognizes that unpaid staff organizations may set their own membership qualifications.)
Last summer brought the shocking act of KPFA management summoning Berkeley police to have unpaid programmer Nadra Foster thrown out of the station. Rijio and Lilley were not the ones who called the cops, but neither has apologized to KPFA’s community of listeners, many of whom surely found it disgraceful that an organization founded by pacifists would take such action. An eyewitness account of the police action, from KPFA’s Anita Johnson, can be found at www.blockreportradio.com.
Following the uproar over the police action, management did announce a mediated “healing” meeting for staff. That meeting was set for September 30 but was cancelled one day beforehand and has never been rescheduled.
Meanwhile, about 75 KPFA staff members have signed a no-confidence statement calling for a new general manager at the station. Those signing include music hosts, news reporters and public affairs programmers. Although most of us do not receive paychecks for our work, we do want respect and fair treatment.
Another ominous management action, albeit less well-known, is the effective suspension of KPFA’s Program Council, which is historically the body that was responsible for programming decisions. With members from the paid staff, unpaid staff, the listener community and the Local Station Board, the Program Council was a working example of representative decision making.
But after becoming program director, Lilley disputed the decision-making authority of the Program Council and instead claimed that power for herself. Under her direction, the Council, which formerly met weekly, now has not met for months. Being an organization that talks about democracy, KPFA ought to be able to practice participatory decision making in its own affairs. Instead, the decisions most vital to listeners are now being made autocratically. Rather than becoming more democratic, the station has regressed in the past two years, with top-down commands replacing discussion and voting.
Is management contemplating another 1995-style purge of programmers? Or do they simply want to preempt unwelcome attempts at change, like the 2003 effort to move Democracy Now to a better time slot? Certainly, adding new local programs seems not to be on this management’s agenda. To date, all they’ve done is take a show (Youth Radio) off the air. Lilley has imported programs from KPFA’s sister stations in New York and Los Angeles, but there have been no new locally produced public affairs programs created during her tenure. Important communities such as African-Americans, Filipinos, LGBT people, seniors and veterans still do not have dedicated programs, and there’s not enough coverage of labor, the environment or the “justice” system and its prisons. Occasionally, there is a notable special program, for example, the coverage of the Winter Soldier assembly last March, which was certainly a vital broadcast. Yet one-time specials are no substitute for a long overdue reevaluation of the overall program schedule and a democratic process for updating it.
As Hallinan notes, money is tight at KPFA these days. However, that need not be an obstacle to enhancing the programming. Most of KPFA’s existing programs are already produced entirely by unpaid staff; these include some of the station’s most popular and innovative programs, such as Voices of the Middle East and Guns & Butter. With training and dedication, new volunteers can create new shows. Indeed, it is precisely by engaging with the many communities that merit more attention, and by adding fresh programs, that KPFA could help alleviate its financial crunch—by attracting more listeners and more subscribers without expanding the payroll. But adding new community-based programs and programmers is apparently not the intention of the current regime. One staffer says he’s been ordered out of meetings after suggesting that one way to attract more subscribers is to broadcast better programs.
And what has been the role of the Local Station Board in these conflicts? Hallinan’s faction on the board, the “Concerned Listeners,” has stood by the present regime almost 100%. But given the record of this management, KPFA/KFCF listeners should ask what it is that the Concerned Listeners are concerned about. Is their goal to promote the well-being of the radio station or only to defend the power of the incumbent management? It’s insincere to call for an end to infighting at KPFA while at the same time supporting those who set off the clashes in the first place.
If the present management could abide by its own words and engage in dialogue and consensus building, instead of issuing directives, KPFA might not be a house divided against itself. But because this management continues to follow an inappropriate command-and-control style of doing business, scores of staff members say the station needs new leadership. Until that happens, the station will likely remain mired in conflict.
But Hallinan and I are in agreement on one matter: It is indeed high time for a discussion about the future of KPFA and Pacifica and how to make the station and the network relevant and important to more people. That discussion should take place in multiple forums, including KPFA’s own airwaves.
Anthony Fest has been a KPFA reporter since 1994. He is also a staff representative to KPFA’s Local Station Board (LSB). He can be reached at ADF55@yahoo.com
Opinion & Analysis from the Grassroots
The Promise of 2009
By Ruth Gadebusch
Following the election, those of us who like to think of ourselves as progressive were near euphoric with hope for the future of our nation. Although we knew that Barack Obama would face one of the most difficult situations ever for an incoming administration, we were excited about the possibility of returning to our principles.
Since then, reality has intruded with the financial and employment (Aren’t they essentially the same?) developments. Still we hope. In fact, we have placed our expectations for the new political world so high that it will be almost impossible to accomplish all. And, certainly, it will not be done in the short time frame that we would like. The troubles are too great and the resources too limited, but we as a nation have risen to the challenge in the past, and we will—we must—this time, too.
It may sound trite to speak of “our diverse nation,” but that is just what we are. With the inauguration of our new president, we will have a leader who appreciates that diversity in all its richness, who understands the needs of the less fortunate, who has integrity, who recognizes that we share the planet with others and who has a vision of what and who we should, and can, be.
A previous president told us to ask not what our country could do for us but what we could do for our country. We must rise to the occasion. This is our opportunity to make a difference. There is an old saying in education that if it is to be, it is up to me. Now is the time for you and me to get behind our new leadership to fulfill our vision.
We can all agree on our highest dreams for this nation, and for this planet, as we begin a new year and, on January 20, a new presidential administration. Taken from a somewhat different context, I use the words of Dr. Norman Broadbent (my minister at the Big Red Church) to express my hopes and dreams for the new year, indeed for a new era.
Hope, not fear; Peace, not division.
Hope, not doubt; Peace, not anger.
Hope, not despair; Peace, not hostility.
Hope, not anger; Peace, not fear.
Hope, not anguish; Peace, not doubt.
Ruth Gadebusch is a former naval officer, a Fresno Unified School District Trustee for 13 years, Vice-President of the Center for Civic Education and a community activist.
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From the Greenhouse
by Franz Weinschenk
If you’ve ever considered buying a solar energy system for your home, right now may be one of the best times to do so. Why? Because you can count on TWO substantial rebates — one from the state of California, which is probably going to be 18 percent of the cost of your system. And then, by virtue of a recently passed law, the feds will give you a federal tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of your system. To repeat: you get an 18 percent cost rebate from the state and a 30 percent tax credit from the feds. Not too shabby!
Let’s do the math. The cost of a standard solar system for an average Fresno home (24 solar panels) will run you about $30,000. Between the federal tax credit and the state rebate, you will be eligible to receive as much as about $14,000 in tax credits and rebates. This means that your balance will be around $16,000 for a system that, on average, will save you 80 percent of your monthly electricity bill — forever! And let’s not forget that in all likelihood electricity rates will probably increase substantially in the not too distant future.
My wife and I had a similar system installed about five years ago. We own a pretty much average 1,400 square foot, three bedrooms, two baths, family-room house, and we’re often asked if our solar system has paid off for us. The answer is, “Absolutely!” Ever since we’ve installed the system, our average bill has been around $25 a month for both gas and electricity, although in winter we do use our pellet stove quite a bit. It’s hard to come up with a hard figure about what the average Fresno family pays for electricity per month because so much depends on how energy efficient the home is and how much the occupants run their AC in summer and their heater in winter, but in our case, we figure that without our solar system we would surely be spending between $150 and $200 a month for electricity alone. This means that we have saved at least $2,000 a year, which has allowed us to pay off our system in five years. Of course, you need to remember that at the time we bought our system it cost $20,000, and we received a $10,000 rebate from the state.
So many of our friends would probably like to get a system like ours, but they are hesitant to buy one because they believe they’ll never recoup their initial investment. The addition of this new tax credit might well change their minds; after all, they now might be able to save almost half of the purchase price of a system.
There are many ways of financing a solar system. One of the best is to get a home equity loan, inasmuch as interest charges can be written off. There are even companies that will lease you a system. This means that they will install the system, and all you have to do is pay them so much a month. But you need to be careful since many of these companies increase the monthly payments over time so that before it’s all over you’ll be paying more than if you had financed your system yourself. Don’t forget, once those panels are up there on the roof, you’ll be saving money every month — money you can apply toward paying off your loan. Most experts agree that it shouldn’t take more than eight or nine years to pay off your system. Besides, think of the fun you can have sitting in your rocking chair outside by the meter watching the darned thing go backwards!
Contrary to many other things you can add to your house, a solar system will substantially increase the value of your home and make it easier to sell. Who wouldn’t want to buy a house where their monthly PG&E bill is going to be practically nothing? Sure, a swimming pool is nice, but besides incurring a lot of expenses for buying chemicals and having the thing cleaned, it will substantially increase your monthly electric bill.
There are about 25 firms listed in our phone book that sell solar systems. But before you sign a contract with any of them, be sure that the company you engage has experienced and qualified technicians to do that kind of work. You need to insist that the folks setting up your system have a C-46 specialty license, which insures that they have the expertise and experience required to work with photovoltaic equipment and circuits. Also insist that the solar panels making up your system are insured for at least 25 years — the inverter for 10.
Of 150 American cities, Yuma, Arizona, receives the most sunshine. Fresno is number 9. So, as long as we’re blessed with so much sunshine, and as long as we can now take advantage of rebates and tax credits, why not make the most of it? Not only will you be saving yourself money, increasing the value of your property, and putting a lot of good people to work, but you’ll be saving many tons of greenhouse gases from being dumped into the atmosphere where they contribute to global warming and climate change.
Franz Weinschenk has been a teacher and school administrator in Fresno for over fifty years. He can be contacted by e-mail at franzie@SCCCD.org
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Defending Civil Liberties has its Rewards
By Bill Simon
On December 7, the ACLU of Northern California honored the Greater Fresno Area Chapter with the Dick Criley Activism Award which was presented at the annual Bill of Rights Day Celebration. Donna Hardina, Al Williams, Mike Rhodes, and I went to San Francisco to accept the award. But thanks for this award go to the members of the Fresno Community who keep bringing us more than enough agenda items to insure the Chapter’s activism.
Several parents and students at Edison High School came to the local board with concerns about Williams Act violations at Edison High School. We visited Edison on November 14. We also visited the adjoining Computech campus on December 5. Most of the problems at Edison, like maintenance issues, aren’t clearly civil liberties violations. But they do point out the need for all of us to be involved in our schools and to demand the kind of schools we want.
There are, however, concerns that there are not enough textbooks for every student to take a book home in some classes. We are trying to identify which classes are affected. If you know of any classes at Edison, or at any Fresno school, where students don’t have a textbook to take home, please let me know, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On December 12, Chuck Krugman, Keith Page, and I visited with Tal Eslick, the Clovis Field Rep for Devin Nunes. We explained the mission of the ACLU and presented him with the ACLU agenda for the 111th Congress. The agenda is to restore our civil liberties, including the end of torture and spying, restoration of the balance of power in government, insuring equal rights in employment and just about everything else you’ve complained about in recent years.
At 9:00 am on December 15, Chuck Krugman, Mike Rhodes, Al Williams, Cynthia Greene, Vinney Robinson, and I met with Baldwin Moy of the Madera office of CRLA and about 65 homeless people in Madera about police harassment and lack of shelters. We will return for a Madera City Council Meeting about the homeless.
I’m just back from our December Board Meeting. There is so much to do that we decided to meet every month with alternate months, starting in January, devoted to committee meetings. The January meeting is set for January 27, place to be determined. After that, we will meet on the third Tuesday of every month at Carrows Restaurant, 4280 N Blackstone, 6:30 pm.
We added two more committees, bringing the total to nine. Unfortunately, we only have 17 board members, all of whom were overextended before they got on the Board. So, if you want to solve the world’s problems on a local level and work with one of our committees, let me know: email@example.com. As an ACLU Chapter, we have to focus on civil liberties issues, and there are plenty. But, for other issues, we can find other resources in the community where we can steer people. So, if you are interested in prison issues, video surveillance, church-state issues, West Side problems, education (especially Williams Act violations), or just tabling for the ACLU at various community events, send me an email. With a Board of 17 and 100 volunteers, Fresno can win an award again next year.
Bill Simon is the Chairperson of the Greater Fresno Area Chapter ACLU-NC
This was the scene in Madera as these homeless residents talked about the need for more help and less harassment from Madera city officials. The homeless complained that their property was being taken by the police, they said they were being issued citations for trivial infractions of the law, they objected to the camping ban ordinance, and said they needed more beds at the local homeless shelter. Madera’s attack on the homeless, according to one of the homeless, amounts to criminalizing poverty.
Hmong Gardeners Agree to Relocate
By Bill Simon
The saga of the Hmong Community Garden and its replacement by a police substation continues. And it demonstrates that even the poor and unsophisticated can fight – or at least work with – City Hall.
An October 17 article in the Fresno Bee and statements by City of Fresno officials indicated that the gardeners had agreed to move from Belmont and DeWitt to Melody Park. Within days, that agreement fell apart when the gardeners insisted that they did not want to move. The agreement between the gardeners and the city might have been lost in translation.
In the next move, Bruce Rudd, assistant city manager, Paul Caprioglio, District 4 Councilmember, and Randall Cooper, Parks Department, brought the Gardeners to Al Radka Park on November 12 to show the Gardeners the City’s final solution. At the following nearly weekly Monday afternoon meeting at City Hall on November 17, the Gardeners reiterated their disagreement with negatively impacting a neighborhood park and refused the offer to move to Al Radka. They also insisted that their needs would not be met by the typical 10 ft x 10 ft plot generally offered on a short term basis at community gardens. The Gardeners want to garden in rows, about 150 ft long as at the present garden and to be assured that they will be able to garden for several years. Rudd offered the possibility of the city leasing a plot of land at low cost to a non-profit which could then arrange a ‘garden’ that would meet the Hmong Gardeners needs.
Hmong gardeners said they did not want to move from their Belmont and Dewitt location in SE Fresno. Community activists united with the gardeners to defend their right to have a community garden. The outcome once again shows that public participation in local politics does make a difference. The Hmong will continue to grow vegetables for their families at a new community garden located a short distance away.
Communication problems then led to City officials showing up for a Monday meeting on November 24, after City Hall told the Garden contingent that the next meeting was December 1. By the December 1 meeting, the Gardeners had chosen a spokesperson, Mai Lor, and had asked Summer Vue to be their translator. Mai Lor presented the city representatives with a verbal list of the needs the gardeners had settled on, including 2 acres, long rows, and the city supplying water. At that meeting, the city mentioned a large plot of land at Peach and Butler, a former U.S. Dept of Agriculture property, part of which could be available. Interestingly, the city said the site had been turned down months before by a ‘spokesperson’ for the Gardeners. Again, the City insisted on a December 31 eviction from the present garden.
The Gardeners and several of their supporters, led by a parks supervisor and with the City helicopter circling overhead, went to look at the Peach and Butler property on December 4. The Gardeners thought this would be exactly what they needed, except that the property has been so severely vandalized that they were uneasy about their safety at the location. While the city now owns the land, it has been badly neglected. There are several buildings and greenhouses on the property, and every window and door has been broken out. Additionally, much of the land cannot be seen from the street. Since future development at the 50 acre site includes a new or additional city corporation yard, garden supporters have expressed uneasiness at the possible incompatibility of future development with a large garden.
The next step was a meeting of the gardeners and a few supporters with Debbie Shen of the Asian Law Caucus who came from San Francisco on December 6. Debbie talked with the Gardeners about organizing as a collective for easier communication with the city and also helped them further refine their list of needs.
The city cancelled the Monday, December 8 meeting which caused great concern about the December 31 eviction date, especially because the Gardeners couldn’t get another meeting slated and the last City Council meeting of the year would be December 16.
But, on the same day as the cancelled Hmong Garden meeting, the City managed to hold an evening meeting with the residents of the Al Radka Park neighborhood about installing a community garden at that location. Very few people attended that meeting and opinion was generally opposed. A similar, poorly advertised meeting was held at Melody Park on December 10. The Parks Department wants to install both a Community Garden and a children’s garden at Melody Park. Opinion of the 16 adult neighbors attending was strongly opposed at the beginning but most gradually softened as they realized this wasn’t just a transplant of the Belmont-DeWitt garden. The 8 children present seemed enthusiastic, but they couldn’t sit still long enough to be able to say what they thought. Several of the Hmong Garden supporters attended the Melody Park meeting and talked to the city reps after the meeting. The next day we were all assured that the next Hmong Garden meeting was scheduled for December 15, and we were all back on track.
On December 15, the Gardeners accepted the Peach and Butler site and presented city officials with a written list of their needs. It was a pretty long list but included insistence that Mai Lor is the only Hmong Gardeners Collective representative and spokesperson and that Summer Vue is their translator, a relocation plan needs to be negotiated and agreed to before relocation, gardeners and City need to work together to minimize damaging crops while the city takes needed soil samples so the gardeners can continue at the present site for the time being, safety issues must be resolved, a non-profit agency will act as property manager, enough land should be appropriated so that additional people can garden at this location, the city will supply water, install an irrigation system, prepare the new site and move the topsoil from the old location.
During the negotiations the city and the Gardeners came to agreement on most issues. They agreed that the city would go ahead with taking soil samples at the present garden while minimally impacting the garden so that the Gardeners could continue gardening for the next four or five months while a new site is readied and the city prepares to construct the police station. A few issues, such as how much land is available at the Peach/Butler site, need to be researched by the city since there are also other uses designated for the 50 acre site. Other issues need to be negotiated when a lease/contract is actually arranged. The Peach/Butler site would include enough land for other members of the community to participate in a community garden there. And the Monday meetings will continue. The City seems to want to have a non-profit organization manage all the city’s Community Gardens, and there are intentions to have several Community Gardens.
It has been a fascinating education for me as I watched both Garden supporters and city officials learning not only to talk to the Gardeners, rather than to each other, but also to listen to the Gardeners. And it has been really exciting to watch the Gardeners grow in their own feeling of empowerment and their increasing ability to negotiate directly with city officials. I can’t understand a word Mai Lor says until Summer translates. But I can tell that Mai and the other Gardeners have learned to speak confidently and convincingly.
Bill Simon is one of the community activists working with the Hmong gardeners to ensure the continuation of their ability to garden in Fresno.
The Community Alliance Newspaper
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