IN THIS ISSUE:
San Francisco Mime Troupe Comes to Fresno
The Tony Award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe celebrates its 50th Anniversary season with a song and dance satire of monumental proportions, TOO BIG TO FAIL. The cast in this odyssey travels through the twists and turns of banking bureaucracy and international finance. Written by Michael Gene Sullivan and Ellen Callas, and featuring a live band under the direction of Pat Moran (music and lyrics), TOO BIG TO FAIL will be in Fresno on July 8 (6:30 music, 7pm show) at the CSU Fresno, John Wright Theater. For advance tickets call 559.278.5109.
Told in the tradition of the West African Griots, this modern day epic follows Filije, a man in love with his family, his village, and most of all, his goat, Bamusa. What more could a man need to be happy? How about two goats? Three? A flock? Turned down for a loan by the village micro bank, Filije, now the self-proclaimed Goat Lord of Kanabeedomo, borrows from a new lender in town, a small subsidiary of a much bigger bank in a distant, mystical land called Wall Street. When the economy takes a sudden turn for the worse, the bank gets desperate and calls in Filije’s loan. Housing is down, credit is down, dividends are down, and like any Ponzi scheme, a constant flow of cash is essential, but where will it come from? Is it simply enough to let Filije pay his small debt, or have the Wall Street big-wigs stumbled upon the latest, greatest investment bubble to exploit – goats? How will Filije save himself and his collateral, the beloved Bamusa? Can America be shifted to a goat economy? How did all of the greed get started, and more importantly, how the hell can we turn it off?
Founded in 1959, the San Francisco Mime Troupe creates and produces socially relevant theater; their work is political satire and anything but silent. The group is the winner of three OBIE awards and a Tony Award for Excellence in Regional Theatre, about which The New York Times stated, “Anyone concerned about the state of global politics – and about the state of political humor – should listen to the Mime Troupe’s message,” The Troupe creates plays that make sense out of the headlines, close-up stories that make audiences feel the impact of political events on their personal lives. The New York Post called the Mime Troupe “America’s oldest and finest street theater,” with The Boston Globe concurring, “You’re never only watching a political theater piece, but rather a double barreled re-invention of politics and theater at once.”
The PR Firm from Hell (Part 1 of two parts)
By Lloyd G. Carter
“Cesar Chavez knew the power of a good march. He led by example, and he never stopped trying until he found a way. And this is exactly what we are going to do. We never will stop until we find a way, find a way together here, because this is the right thing to do, because we need water, we need water, we need water, we need water” [chanting with crowd].
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said these words on April 17 at the San Luis Reservoir, following a four-day grower-funded march in which non-union farmworkers were paid to walk 50 miles from Mendota. Chavez’s United Farm Workers (UFW) union did not participate. UFW Co-Founder Dolores Huerta called it shameless exploitation of the late labor leader’s legacy.
The masters of “astroturfing” are trying to convince you, the media, California and Washington, D.C., that San Joaquin Valley farmworkers’ new best friend is Big Agribusiness, the same industry that has exploited them for decades. Say what?
Campaigns & Elections magazine defines astroturfing as a “program that involves the manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.” In other words, rich people with a lot of money but no popular support for their cause (getting richer) create the illusion of broad public support by half-truths, manipulation, disinformation, spin doctoring, creating false impressions and cash. It also involves ghost writing op-ed columns and letters to the editor from little people to generate the perception that there is widespread public support for the client’s position. Grassroots is bottom up. Astroturf is top down.
The late Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, a vice presidential candidate and a lobbyist, is credited with coining the term astroturf lobbying to describe the synthetic grassroots movements conjured up by powerful lobbying and PR firms. Astroturfing is specifically prohibited by the code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America, the national association for members of the PR profession.
|Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson is pushing the “fish vs. people” myth promoted by the P.R. firm from hell.|
But that has not stopped the spin doctors at Burson-Marsteller (B-M), the astroturfing PR firm that has been hired by the California Latino Water Coalition (created around 2006-2007). The coalition is headed by co-chairs Paul Rodriguez (the comedian) and Victor Lopez (mayor of Orange Cove) and technical adviser Mario Santoyo. Santoyo is assistant general manager at the Friant Water Users Authority, which represents the federal irrigation districts on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley from Madera County south to Bakersfield.
B-M has been helping the Friant growers for three years, trying to derail the lawsuit settlement to restore a living San Joaquin River to 60 miles of dry riverbed on the San Joaquin Valley floor. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes has been the most outspoken of the settlement critics and has called for the governor’s resignation for failing to push new water projects hard enough. (Nunes seems blissfully unconcerned that California is facing a $24 billion budget deficit.)
MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow, in a March telecast, called B-M “the PR firm from hell” and said it had been hired to improve the “image” of AIG, the company that has received $170 billion in taxpayer bailout money. (You can see Maddow ripping B-M on YouTube. Plug in the search terms Rachel Maddow and Burson-Marsteller.)
How much B-M is being paid by the growers who fund the Latino Water Coalition-if it is being paid-is not publicly available. No one in the mainstream media has inquired about the financing, except the New York Times, which noted in a story on the mid-April four-day March for Water that farmworkers were paid to participate. Classic astroturfing tactics.
Founded in 1953, B-M is now one of the largest PR firms in the world, and in 2000 was the first PR outfit to hit $300 million in revenue. In 1999, Harold Burson was named by PR Week magazine and Web site as the PR industry’s “most influential person of the 20th Century.”
The PR Watch Web site has considerable material on B-M’s past and present outrages. Big-name employees include George W. Bush’s first press secretary, Karen Hughes, and his last press secretary, the acid-tongued, irritable Dana Perino. However, the agency is not just staffed with Republican mudslingers. Spinmeister Mark Penn, the staunchly anti-union polling consultant and former chief strategist of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, is the current CEO of B-M.
|Orange Cove mayor Victor Lopez (at the podium) is co-chair of the California Latino Water Coalition and has been showing up everywhere lately promoting the “fish vs. people” astroturfing campaign. On this day he was attacking Lloyd Carter, the author of this article.|
B-M’s client list is a who’s who of corporate scoundrels and tinhorn dictators including the following:
1. After the private security firm Blackwater USA killed 17 Iraqi civilians, it turned to B-M for “crisis management.” Former B-M executive Robert Tappan, who had been a State Department official, worked at the PR firm’s lobbying subsidiary, BKSH & Associates. Tappan helped Blackwater founder and head Erik Prince prepare for his testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (In February, Blackwater, purportedly on the advice of B-M, changed its name to the mysterious Xe, pronounced “Zee.”)
1. Babcock & Wilcox, manufacturers of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, hired B-M to “manage” public perception after the 1979 meltdown.
2. Nigeria’s brutal regime employed B-M in the late 1960s to counteract allegations that it was committing genocide in the breakaway province of Biafra. “Crisis management” was also provided the Indonesian regime accused of abuses against its citizens.
3. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, at the behest of the Argentinean military dictatorship, headed by General Jorge Videla, B-M organized a campaign against Argentinean human rights organizations that were contending a “Dirty War” against the population was taking place, including the murder and disappearance of thousands of people. In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein wrote:
“Victor Emmanuel, the Burson-Marsteller public relations executive who was in charge of selling the Argentine junta’s new business-friendly regime to the outside world, told a researcher that violence was necessary to open up Argentina’s ‘protective, statist’ economy. ‘No one, but no one, invests in a country involved in a civil war,’ he said, admitting that it wasn’t just rebels who died. ‘A lot of innocent people were probably killed,’ he told author Marguerite Feitlowitz, but ‘given the situation, immense force was required.'”
4. Saudi Arabia’s medieval royal government has employed B-M for more than 30 years to promote its interests and image. B-M prepared U.S. advertisements for Saudi Arabia following the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center due, in part, to the fact that 15 of the 19 airplane hijackers were Saudi citizens.
5. B-M handled PR for Union Carbide Corp. following the 1984 explosion and disaster at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, which killed 2,000 employees and neighbors and injured or blinded thousands more.
1. B-M set up the National Smokers Alliance on behalf of Philip Morris to fight tobacco regulation in the early 1990s.
2. The Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF) was created by Burson-Marsteller on behalf of chemical companies from the United States, Israel and Japan that wanted to avoid an EU ban on bromine flame retardants suspected to have serious environmental and health impacts. For years, the BSEF (lobbyists from the Brussels offices of B-M) lobbied against the EU ban on these substances, without clearly disclosing the nature of the group and the clients.
Major companies in the finance, pharmaceutical and energy industries currently utilize B-M’s services, according to B-M’s own Web site. In 2006, the company gave 57% of its campaign contributions to Republican candidates.
B-M, according to the May 17, 2007, issue of The Nation magazine, is owned by an even larger PR empire called the WPP Group. The decision to hire Penn as the head of B-M was heavily influenced by Howard Paster, President Bill Clinton’s chief lobbyist to Capitol Hill and an influential presence inside WPP. “Clients of stature come to Mark [Penn] constantly for counsel,” claimed Paster, who informally advised Hillary Clinton. The press release announcing Penn’s promotion noted his work “developing and implementing deregulation informational programs for the electric utilities industry and in the financial services sector” (italics added).
Both these PR and lobbying efforts-to deregulate energy and financial services-led to the California electricity crisis and the manipulation of the state’s energy supply by Enron, the 2003 blackout in the northeastern United States and the current collapse of the financial services sector.
So, what then does B-M expect to do for the California Latino Water Coalition? B-M’s Patrick George, who works out of B-M’s Sacramento office, is listed as the media contact on the coalition’s press releases. The B-M Web site boasts that it has won the last nine California statewide initiative campaigns in which it has been involved, and it was expected to be involved in a $10 billion water bond issue in 2008 before the economy collapsed. There will undoubtedly be an effort to put another water bond on the 2010 or 2012 California ballot.
Some western San Joaquin Valley growers acknowledge that they are contributing to the Latino Water Coalition. It is clear the poverty-stricken farmworkers are not paying the tab and that it is agribusiness bankrolling the operation. The coalition’s Web site (www.gotwater.org) and KMJ radio commentator Ray Appleton, a major supporter of the coalition, both solicit donations from the general public. Appleton does it on air. Santoyo said on former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry’s radio show that comedian Rodriguez is not being compensated for any of his efforts. In an interview with a Yuma, Ariz., newspaper, Rodriguez called himself the “poster boy” and claimed Cesar Chavez was “like an uncle” to him. Presumably, the Friant growers were paying B-M big bucks before the PR firm got involved in the Latino Water Coalition.
The transparent objective of B-M’s astroturfing is to put a “human face” on efforts to get more multibillion dollar water projects built with taxpayer funds to 1) meet the water needs of the industrial farming operations of the western San Joaquin Valley and 2) halt (or replace) the loss of water by southeastern San Joaquin Valley growers in Tulare and Kern counties due to the restoration of the San Joaquin River.
These are among the PR objectives:
1. Conflate the interests of growers who want water with the needs of farmworkers who need jobs, so that it appears the largely Latino farmworker population fully supports the efforts of growers to get more taxpayer-financed cheap water, even while the basic needs of the farmworkers, such as decent wages, clean drinking water, and decent housing and working conditions, continue to go unmet.
2. Make it appear as if the entire San Joaquin Valley is threatened with reversion to desert because of a “two-inch bait fish” instead of revealing that it is only the junior water rights holders who are suffering irrigation cutbacks and that thousands of growers with senior water rights are getting a full allotment this year. Emphasize a “man-made drought” as the problem, not the real drought that is occurring (according to state officials). Some growers are making fat profits selling water at extortionate prices to their fellow water-short farmers.
A May 15 letter to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein from Lester Snow, head of the California Department of Water Resources, indicated that the Westlands Water District, through delta deliveries, carryover, groundwater, transfers and exchanges, is actually getting 86% of its normal water supply this year. The groundwater, of course, is of low quality in many cases and cannot be quickly replaced.
3. Demonize environmentalists and brand them as elitists from San Francisco who care more about a “minnow” (i.e., the delta smelt) than they do about human beings, especially the tens of thousands of farmworkers who will lose their seasonal jobs that now pay an average of $8,000 a year.
4. Reduce the crisis in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to a black-and-white issue of “fish versus farmers” or “fish versus food” and avoid the complexities of delta restoration and the hierarchy of water rights. Rarely or never mention salmon (much less the commercial salmon industry), or steelhead, or killer whales or sturgeon in simplifying the issue. Make it the smelt-a bait fish-versus human beings.
5. Ignore the concerns of the UFW and the Teamsters (which represent farmworkers in the Valley) and ignore or demonize environmental justice advocates. Do not get involved in supporting bills in the state legislature to improve the lives and working conditions of farmworkers. Big Ag routinely opposes those bills and the governor vetoes them.
6. Stage marches and rallies in the tradition of Cesar Chavez, invoke Chavez’s name where politically expedient and conceal the fact that the marchers are being paid to participate. In a slickly produced YouTube video, comedian Rodriguez said that when he was a boy he had marched with Chavez to help unionize farmworkers and was now asking people to participate in the mid-April March for Water to help growers in Chavez’s memory. Dolores Huerta shakes her head at this tactic.
7. Because growers, particularly large corporate operations, billionaire farmers like Stewart Resnick and wealthy family mega-farms (like the Woolfs of the Westlands) have never been particularly sympathetic figures in the news media, the decision was made to make Latino farmworkers the “human face” of this astroturfing campaign, perhaps to sway urban Latino state legislators.
Jon Stewart’s Daily Show frequently runs a montage of video clips showing Republican (or Democrat) politicos mouthing the same sound bite of the day, which usually comes from a talking points paper prepared by a PR firm. That is what has been occurring the last two years with the “human face” buzz phrase.
|How do you create an astroturf movement? You pay people to march and you manipulate the media. Photos by Stephen Planting|
For example (italics added):
July 2, 2007-Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson, who represents the Westlands Water District area and allows his public office phone number and staff to be utilized by the Latino Water Coalition, told a House Subcommittee that cutbacks of irrigation water to protect the delta smelt were causing hardship among farmworkers, stating, “There is a very human face to the decisions that are made.”
July 24, 2008-Fresno Bee Capitol correspondent E.J. Schultz, writing about a grower-financed rally in Sacramento, in which busloads of farmworkers were at the Capitol building to show the “human face” of water politics, wrote that “Wednesday’s rally was designed to give a human face to the state’s water woes. At least 300 farmworkers, most from the Valley’s parched west side, marched and carried homemade signs declaring ‘agua es vida,’ or water is life, and ‘agua = trabajo,’ or water equals work.”
April 14, 2009-Laura King Moon, assistant general manager of the State Water Project, which represents the mega-farms of the western Tulare Basin, including the 150,000-acre J.G. Boswell cotton empire, issued this statement: “Today, the California Latino Water Coalition began the first day of a four-day march across the San Joaquin Valley to highlight the severe water shortage that grips the Valley’s farms, cities and jobs, as well as our broader state. Their goal is to raise statewide and national awareness of the water crisis that faces them and to put a human face on one of the most important issues facing California today.”
April 14, 2009-A column by Fresno Bee writer Bill McEwen carried the headline “March to Put Human Face on Water Crisis.” McEwen wrote that with a “recession and a third year of drought intensifying the state’s troubles-and putting a human face on our water problems-solutions might be coming. This human face will be shown to the nation and the world when the California March for Water begins this morning in Mendota.”
April 17, 2009-Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), appeared at the conclusion of the March for Water and stated to a crowd estimated at 3,000 people (coalition officials put the estimate at 10,000) that the water crisis highlighted “the human face of the misery evoked by water shortages.”
KMJ broadcaster Appleton has repeatedly said on his noon hour show that the purpose of the Latino Water Coalition is to put a “human face” on the campaign.
It must be admitted that B-M’s astroturfing campaign in the San Joaquin Valley has been remarkably successful. The “human face” of the new water projects campaign is now that of the downtrodden farmworker, not the rich grower.
But Huerta is not fooled and calls the Latino Water Coalition an obvious front group for the growers that is exploiting Chavez’s legacy. She said Chavez was an ardent environmentalist and would never have participated in the April March for Water or demonized the environmentalists. She also notes that the Latino Water Coalition has not lobbied for bills to make it easier for farmworkers to unionize or demanded a living wage, decent housing and clean drinking water for farmworkers before any new dams are built. The governor, she notes, has vetoed bills to help farmworkers unionize.
The Valley’s newspaper and television coverage of the Latino Water Coalition has been extensive and, at times, almost fawning. No hard questions are being asked about where the money is coming from or why the Latino Water Coalition is not lobbying in Sacramento and Washington for improved working conditions, decent housing and clean drinking water for the farmworkers that they claim are part of their coalition. However, outside the Valley, the sales job has been tougher, particularly in the nation’s capital.
Thus, more “marches” are being planned, including a protest outside the new Fresno federal building on July 1, and the air transport of an unspecified number of farmworkers to Washington, D.C., to show lawmakers the “human face” of failing to build more multibillion dollar water projects to primarily benefit agribusiness is planned. Presumably, non-union farmworkers will have to be recruited and paid to participate in this latest stunt. The astroturf needs a mowing.
Part 2 of this series will focus on the roles of comedian Paul Rodriguez, Orange Cove Mayor Victor Lopez, growers’ employee Mario Santoyo, KMJ radio commentators Ray Appleton and Inga Barks, Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson and others in the B-M astroturfing campaign.
Lloyd G. Carter has been writing about San Joaquin Valley water issues for 40 years, including 20 years as an award-winning reporter for United Press International and the Fresno Bee. He has a Web site: www.lloydgcarter.com.
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PROGRESSIVE NEWS BRIEFS
Saving a Garden in the Tower District
As many of our readers know via emergency e-mails (and even an article in the Fresno Bee), a group of community gardeners was threatened by the City of Fresno last month with eviction from their Tower District plot. The garden, immediately behind the Brass Unicorn, is being cultivated by a combination of students and street people, and was given the go-ahead by the store’s owner, Kathryn Barile. Barile, in turn, reports she has verbal authorization to oversee the property from the estate executor of the now-deceased owner.
|Why does it always seem to be that the first impulse from the City of Fresno is to squash Community Gardens?|
Problems arose, according to garden activist Joshua Trevino, because 1) the garden’s locale has been a longtime site for loitering and has often generated complaints of public nuisance (e.g., use of “controlled substances” and peeing in public), 2) there was no written authorization to use the property, 3) the new ownership is still being adjudicated and 4) (as he has learned the hard way) any property that is being “improved” needs to get permits from the City of Fresno.
One look at the garden readily reveals the amount of hard work put into beautifying a previously vacant eyesore. Still, the city’s police and the Code Enforcement Department elected to take issue with the garden’s existence and gave an ultimatum: Get permits by June 3 or be subject to eviction. Hence the calls for emergency action.
Supporters of the garden were able to arrange a meeting with Blong Xiong (City Council representative for the district where the garden is located) and representatives of the involved city departments. At the meeting, the city representatives acknowledged the garden’s benefit to both the neighborhood and those who have become involved with the endeavor. They withdrew the threats of prosecuting code violations and promised to support the garden. They did say that written authorization for use of the property by the owner was needed, permits had to be obtained (though without the time limits) and the gardeners would have to monitor for illegal activities in the garden.
Trevino, representing the gardening coalition, accepted those conditions. However, he reminded the city officials that the garden was just one component of the area and his group should not be held responsible for the behavior of unaffiliated people, such as kids just hanging out or patrons of nearby bars. The meeting ended amicably, with an offer by city participants to help the gardeners go through the permit process and for law enforcement to be handled cooperatively in an effort to create a hospitable environment in the neighborhood. Updates to follow.
City Seeks Input on Bike-Friendly Planning
The City of Fresno wants to hear from the public on needed improvements to local bike lanes, bike trails and other cycling amenities. The city is developing a Bicycle Master Plan to expand its network of bike lanes, bike routes and bike trails along with other amenities such as bike racks, lockers and signage to increase bicycle ridership throughout the region. The City’s online survey is available at www.FresnoBMP.com.
Saying No to Torture
As part of a nationwide protest against torture, an event was held in front of the Fresno County Courthouse last month. Protesters walked to Fresno City Hall and then to the 5th District Court of Appeals.
Glenn DeVoogd, in a statement sent to the Community Alliance, said that “we know torture is un-American and wrong. Obama is not prosecuting those who erased the 92 CIA tapes on torture (my Congressman tells me there have been some calls for prosecution), and the Senate and Obama will not release the photos of torture. If you thought you would have spoken out against concentration camps in WWII or if you wondered how Germans could have participated in concentration camps, express yourself now! Now is the time.”
|Would you have protested against Nazi war crimes if you were a German in the 1930’s?|
DeVoogd provided orange jumpsuits to the protestors. He said, “Another good thing about living in Fresno is that we don’t have any war criminals. All kinds of lawyers in California covered for war crimes by writing legal briefs allowing torture or allowing torture to occur. You are an active citizen. Will you allow it to occur? Jay Bybee is a judge for the 9th District Appeals Court in San Francisco. Berkeley has John Yoo, law professor. Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell are in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Alberto Gonzales is in Newport Beach. So come out, come out wherever you are, and let’s show the world we are not for torture!” Get information and stuff to put on signs at www.worldcantwait.net/.
Outstanding Advocate for the Common Good
Artist Margaret Hudson has been chosen as the next honoree for the Carl and Esther Robinson Award for the Outstanding Advocate for the Common Good. The ceremony to present the award will be held in early June of 2010. Although normally held annually, the Robinson program has chosen to focus this year on pursuing incorporation as a nonprofit program in order to provide a more independent and permanent foundation for its efforts.
Hudson was chosen, according to Dr. David Roy, the program’s founding chair, because she has devoted her long career to seeking to enrich the lives of those in the Valley and elsewhere by creating and emphasizing beauty in the natural world as well as in life itself.
For example, her many clay figures celebrate the joy of life, whether little creatures or mothers and saints. Her paintings embrace both the light and the dark sides of life in a manner that reveals the deeper beauty that emerges when these extremes are woven together. Hudson also has provided guided tours for schoolchildren of all ages on her property for many years. She estimates that she has exposed at least 100,000 children to a hands-on taste of art over the past several decades.
“Art has the capacity to highlight and stir beauty and depth in the human soul like no other medium,” says Roy. “Because of this, and in particular because of the way Margaret has chosen to do her art, her work has contributed to enriching and strengthening the Common Good in a way that is both unique and profound.”
Rainbow Flag Flies over Fresno City Hall
Thousands of marriage equality activists came to Fresno from throughout the state to protest the Supreme Court decision on Proposition 8. To start the day, about 100 marriage equality activists walked in the scorching Valley heat on a 15-mile march for civil rights from Selma to Fresno. About 3,000 people were waiting for them when they arrived at Fresno City Hall. Organizers of the Meet in the Middle rally chose Fresno because of the need to shift public opinion in the Central Valley on the marriage equality issue. Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, won by a wide margin in Fresno and other Valley towns.
|Thousands of marriage equality activists held a demonstration at Fresno City Hall last month.|
Many of the participants at the rally also helped Fresno’s homeless with a food drive. Felicia Carbajal told the Community Alliance that 1,500 pounds of food were donated to Food Not Bombs. She said, “The Yes We Can food drive was welcomed by the LGBT community. Many not only thanked us but reminded us of how important it is for both communities to work together to create change. Together, we can create the social and economic change necessary to change communities like Fresno.”
FHA Staff Destroy Community Alliance Newspapers
While delivering the Community Alliance in West Fresno, our newspaper distributors noticed that two of our bundles were “stolen” from a street corner. Bundles had been put on street corners so the distributors could keep working and not run out of papers. This particular street corner, at Mayor Avenue and Tulare Street, was next to a housing project run by the Fresno Housing Authority (FHA). The Community Alliance got a call the next day from an angry FHA employee who told us to never deliver our papers at that FHA housing development again. He said it was a “littering problem,” and he threatened to “call the authorities” if we ever delivered there again.
We contacted the director of the FHA and told him that we had a right to deliver our newspaper in West Fresno and at the FHA low-income housing development at Mayor and Tulare as well. We asked if the FHA had a “policy” that would prohibit us from delivering at that location and, if so, to send us a copy.
Leroy Harris, the manager of the supervisor of the employee who called me, gave us a call the next day. He assured us that this would never happen again. He might have been concerned because one of his employees had destroyed two bundles of our papers (a misdemeanor) and threatened to contact “the authorities.” We told Harris that we just wanted to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. He gave us his number and the number of the onsite supervisor and said if we ever had any problem to please call him immediately. We do not expect further problems.
This is another example of how we have to defend our right to a free press. If we had let ourselves be threatened and intimidated by the FHA employee’s rant on our voice mail, they would have won. Every time we have stood up for our rights to distribute the Community Alliance at places like Fresno City College, the Fresno Air Terminal and the Fresno Housing Authority, we have won.
ACLU Files Lawsuit – The Fresno Police Department Responds
By Bill Simon
On May 19, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the City of Fresno and the Fresno Police Department for illegally refusing to respond to a Public Records Act Request on February 24 seeking the names of the police officers involved in the February 9 videotaped incident with Glen Beaty, a homeless man in Fresno. A response to such a request is legally required within 10 days or, in some cases, within 24 days.
On May 27, the ACLU issued a press release announcing the lawsuit. Within hours of the press release, the Police Department released the names of the officers, Jeff Gross and Scott Payn, to the media. Michael Risher, ACLU Staff Attorney, says: “It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to get the government to follow the law.˙ It’s also unfortunate that the city is still refusing to abandon its illegal policy of refusing to obey the clear deadlines of the Public Records Act.˙ As a result, this lawsuit, which should not have been necessary in the first place, is still far from over.” The first Court Hearing for the lawsuit was scheduled for June 26.
The City has now responded to the lawsuit. The City says the names were released on May 27 because the investigation was concluded at that time. It’s mere coincidence that the investigation concluded and the press release was released on the same day. The City also denies the other issues in the lawsuit. The ACLU will ask for a delay in the hearing date to allow additional discovery related to the City’s response.˙
On May 23, the Fresno Area Chapter’s Prison Issues Committee held a workshop for those with family members in prison, to help them learn how to negotiate the prison system. It included things like: how to get invited to visit a prisoner, what color clothing to wear when you visit, what items and how much money you can take in with you, and a great deal of sharing of experiences. About forty people participated, and the workshop was a huge success.
On May 30, several Board Members participated in ‘Meet in the Middle’, and on June 6 the Chapter marched in the Gay Pride Parade and tabled at the Festival. Both the marchers and the tablers thoroughly enjoyed the day.
For more information about the Fresno Area Chapter, check out our webpage at http://www.aclunc.org. Click on ‘about us’ and then ‘organization and chapters’. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for information or to bring issues to the attention of the local chapter.
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Summer Camp on the San Joaquin River
The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust will be launching a new River Camp in addition to the River Camp at Scout Island this summer. The new River Camp at Owl Hollow offers art, conservation, canoeing and outdoor leadership for children.
For children ages 12-19, the Nature of Art Camp runs July 27-31 and August 3-7. The Canoe Recreation Leadership Camp has sessions July 6-10, July 20-24 and August 10-14. The Conservation Leadership Camp runs June 29-July 3, July 13-17 and August 17-21 all for ages 12-19 at the San Joaquin River Center. The day camp runs 8 a.m.-4 p.m. If you do not have reliable transportation, call to learn more about available travel reimbursement options for Owl Hollow.
“Well, I’m happy to say that it is happening, at the River Center, which is three miles north of Woodward Park, including air-conditioned activities at the beautiful Willow Lodge, owned by the Department of Fish and Game, and aquatic activities based at the beach at Owl Hollow and other Parkway canoe launches,” says Mary Aldern, program manager at the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust.
The River Camp at Scout Island for 1st-8th graders offers swimming, canoeing, exploring wildlife habitats and making new friends. Scout Island has available sessions June 29-July 3, July 6-10, July 13-17, July 20-24, July 27-31, August 3-7 and August 10-14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you do not have transportation, the River Camp Bus will meet at the Wal-Mart parking lot at Ingram and Herndon Aves. for River Campers at Scout Island. More information will be provided in a confirmation letter.
For children age three and a half through those who have completed kindergarten, there is the Young Explorers Camp June 30-July 2, July 7-9, July 14-16, July 21-23 and July 28-30 from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
The River Center also has a scholarship program for River Camp tuition costs, which includes a limited number of full and half scholarships for deserving participants, making this daylong camp affordable to everyone.
River Camps offer a great way to stay cool, learn and have fun this summer. For more details, scholarship information, applications and online registration, visit www.riverparkway.org/eduRecNatureArts.asp or call 559-248-8480 x153.
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Tulare Lake Restoration – Fiction or Fact?
By Steve Haze
Did you know that at one time the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi used to be right here in the San Joaquin Valley, just down Highway 41 heading from Fresno past Lemoore over to Kettleman City and Interstate 5? And, would you believe that at one time this lake covered over 500 square miles and contained almost as much fresh water as is now stored in all of the reservoirs in California today?
For many centuries Native Americans lived peacefully along its great shores and abundant waters full of fish and waterfowl using their handmade tule reed canoes to navigate its great expanse. Until the late 18th Century they continued to live rather peacefully around the lake during the Spanish Mission period of California. Then in 1848, gold was discovered and the great multitude of outsiders from throughout the world and America showed up to seek their fortunes along the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
|Google Satellite map of historic Tulare Lake Basin as situated south of Lemoore on Highway 41 and its western extent to Kettleman City/I5. The Town of Alpaugh is the southeast extent.|
Within a few decades, Americans were homesteading and began farming using the life giving and seemingly infinite waters cascading from those previously gold laden mountains. And slowly into the 20th century those waters became the new gold which made a desert bloom. But, it wasn’t long thereafter that the Tulare was drained of its precious liquid gold and the lake bottom itself was farmed. And yet, in spite of it having been drained of nearly 25 million acre feet of fresh water (1 acre foot is 326,000 gallons of water that covers the area of a football field 1 foot in depth) – with the dry lake bottom farmed primarily for cotton over these many decades – this great phantom still shows on maps in California as the Tulare Lake!
Why bring up another sad story of a great environmental calamity of such historic proportions? Doesn’t that story deserve to remain buried? In this day and age of water shortages, endangered species – such as the delta smelt; and prolonged drought – what about high farm worker unemployment, poor drinking water quality and our farming communities withering in the long hot dry days? Doesn’t it seem that there are very few options to solve these many pressing problems? Isn’t that the story that needs to be told?
There are those who continue to bang the drum of “build more dams” while using negative rhetoric such as “fish versus people” and “rural cleansing” and “destruction of our way of life”. The “Water Buffalos” such as the Kern County Water Agency (KCWA) and Westland Irrigation District (WID) demand that “their water” is given to them – regardless of the consequences to others – including the potential to create irreparable harm to farm workers, farmers and farming communities in other parts of the great Central Valley – such as the Sacramento – and within the Delta region most importantly. This does not matter even if it includes an environmental collapse – and massive costs to taxpayers of some of their major schemes to building more dams and create private water banks.
|Photo of the town of Stratford and its steady decline over many decades. Could this be because of environmental regulations – such as delta pumping restrictions due to the delta smelt? Highly unlikely!|
And, what about the question of environmental and economic justice for people in those same small rural farming communities? Amazingly, you would think that there is agreement that the best quality water in California would be made available for drinking to those underserved communities. However, the truth be known, 95% of the purest water in California that comes out of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains is laid on the land for crops – not for people first! Yet, to hear the argument from those same water buffalos – it’s always “fish versus people” as the premise. Is it possible that it is really an argument of “my crops and commodities first – versus those people”?
What is missing from the debate on water is knowing what the real numbers are – that is, how much water do we have (supply); and whether it can be used on a sustainable basis – and, how much flows into or outside the San Joaquin Valley region. Finally, is there a way to manage our needs for water (demand) in a much more effective and efficient manner. Did you know that some of the least expensive and best water is less than $50 dollars an acre foot – yet, bottled water which is unregulated can cost over $1 million dollars an acre foot, (I’ll be happy to do the math!)?
Also, another part of the debate is being aware of the fact that under the State Constitution, water belongs to all of the people of California as part of the Public Trust and for their benefit. Thus, there may be a “legal right” for those to use water for highest and best use – but, those rights are not in perpetuity and can be challenged at any time. Good examples of this include Mono Lake and Owens River on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. Each was successfully litigated and now being restored based upon the public Trust and Benefit. Another example includes the recent settlement of the San Joaquin River lawsuit that spanned 18 years – and, the agreement for restoration of the river and re-establishment of the historic salmon fisheries below Friant Dam down to the Merced River. What each of these success stories exemplifies is that there are ways to overcome technical, financial, legal and political hurdles – in order to re-establish multi-beneficial uses of the people’s California water. This illustrates the ability to comprehensively accommodate our drinking water needs for rural and urban communities; our needs to grow crops for food, fiber and timber – while simultaneously maintaining a healthy economy and environment.
|The only “blue” seen today at Tulare lake is row upon row of cotton bales.|
The restoration of Tulare Lake can continue to take us down the right path towards economic and environmental sustainability. Just like the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam, precious remnants of this phantom lake remain. And, just like those of us involved in environmental and economic justice for our underserved communities as it relates to jobs, air quality, clean drinking water – or those involved in improving the natural environment for education, recreation, plants and animals – this modest restoration proposal can contribute greatly to those same positive outcomes of creating livable and sustainable communities within the San Joaquin Valley.
However, be forewarned – there is a political train leaving the station – and another attempt to keep things “business as usual” when it comes to how our water is managed by others. This means more dams – including massive surface storage on the San Joaquin River above Millerton Lake; private water banking schemes such as the significant expansion of KCWAs – and finally, the construction of a “Peripheral Canal” around the sensitive Delta farming region within the Central Valley. And of course, all of these massive proposals will be primarily paid through mega construction bonds which the people of California cannot afford. Yet, 99% of the benefits go back to those same Water Buffalos who have been leading nearly all of our local elected officials at all levels of government blindly off a fiscal and environmental cliff.
The restoration of Tulare Lake rather than a massive dam on the San Joaquin River is a pragmatic opportunity to bring back some amount of political sanity to our water woes here in the San Joaquin Valley. For starters, you can have twice the surface storage for 1/5th the cost – or 20 cents on the dollar. Could you imagine what can be done for less than $1 billion – versus $5 billion dollars as the water buffalos propose? And, other benefits include managing the flood waters from four rivers rather than just one for beneficial use! And, how about bringing pure mountain water for drinking to our small rural farming communities in the valley? That’s what Tulare Lake restoration could do! Or, why not create connections between existing canals such as the Friant-Kern down into the Tulare Lake so water can be moved more effectively – and cost efficiently? And finally, why not restore the lake for environmental and recreational benefits? Won’t that improve the quality of life for all of our farming communities as well – and move us in the direction of environmental and economic justice for the underserved?
The following chart highlights some of the most important benefits of restoring Tulare Lake:
Unfortunately, there’s not enough space to explain all of the financial, technical and environmental details on how this would all work. However, more information is available at the following web site: www.sjvwlf.org
(Steve Haze is in his eighth year of working on water resource quality and quantity challenges in the San Joaquin River through the State of California’s CALFED Bay Delta Watershed Program. He is also the Program Director for the San Joaquin Valley Water Leadership Forum which is promoting alternative approaches to managing water resources within the region – including the restoration of Tulare Lake for surface and groundwater storage. More, details of the program and how you can help can be provided by contacting Steve at: 970-6320 – or via email at: email@example.com)
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Fresno Again Spared Atomic Menace
By David Weisman
It seems like a poster from a 1950s science fiction film, and for those who have studied and followed this issue, the promise of nuclear power remains just that-science fiction.
Nevertheless, that has not stopped local businessperson John Hutson from attempting to gain support for building a nuclear reactor in Fresno. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more apparent that Hutson does not know how to go about building a nuclear reactor. Doing so requires overturning three decades of a California moratorium, which, with the aid of Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine; also a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010), Hutson has been unable to do for three years. In addition, during Fresno’s recent mayoral election, both candidates stated that they did not favor constructing a nuclear reactor in or near Fresno.
Undeterred, Hutson sent his emissary-Fresno Nuclear Energy Group LLC’s CFO and Treasurer Richard Egan-to join a Fresno congressional representative, Devin Nunes (R-CA), for a GOP-sponsored “Renewable Energy Forum” at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, on May 28. Anyone expecting perhaps solar or wind power to be the leading topics at this “forum” would have been disappointed; the renewable energy leading the agenda was nuclear. Aside from the speciousness and technical fallacies of that argument, none of the dozens of states that have passed renewable energy portfolio standards even consider nuclear to be in the renewable category.
What should be more embarrassing to Hutson and his investors is the way in which his nuclear emperor is being revealed to be without clothes. Egan asserted that there was no problem in solving the nuclear waste issue because Fresno Nuclear would ship it to France for reprocessing. Except, of course, that the United States has a law prohibiting that; perhaps that is something Nunes can work on in his next term.
Furthermore, the Department of Energy recently published the short list of the four reactor projects mostly likely to receive the limited $18 billion in loan guarantees passed in the 2005 Energy Act, and Fresno Nuclear did not make the list. Perhaps money is more of an issue than Hutson would like us to believe.
During the Q&A, it was pointed out that the Web site for Fresno Nuclear (www.fresnonuclear.com, which was printed on the literature distributed at the event) was now posting listings of golf courses in Fresno. Egan admitted that was a problem and that the true Web site was www.fresnonuclearenergy.com. Egan was then informed that an inspection of that site revealed it had not been updated in nearly two and a half years. He seemed unaware of that and said he would look into the matter. (Weeks after the event, the site is still not updated.)
For a company planning to spend billions on a major construction project involving multiple layers of administration and oversight to be unable to maintain a Web site or renew an Internet domain name certainly discredits the enterprise. It is left to others more curious to investigate what sort of shell or sham Fresno Nuclear is operating. Egan left the event hurriedly in the company of a representative of the Nuclear Energy Institute, which is a lobbying arm of the industry.
Curiously, had Egan been truly interested in the nuclear enterprise, he could have stayed in San Luis Obispo that evening for the annual meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to discuss the performance at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon reactor. There, he would have heard the Engineering and Scientists Union of California (Local 20) raise serious concerns about management lapses and quality control at the plant. He also would have heard locals ask serious questions about security threats to the spent fuel waste storage and the newly discovered “Shoreline” fault 1,800 feet from the plant-questions the NRC was unable to answer.
For now, it seems that Fresno Nuclear’s plans are toothless. But for those who are concerned about the lack of oversight by the NRC and the increasingly trouble-prone existing reactors and who want to know what actions this state and its residents can take to ensure that they have a reliable and affordable source of electricity in the future, we invite readers to visit www.a4nr.org, the Web site of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.
David Weisman is the outreach coordinator of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility and director of the film Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Nuclear Power* but were afraid to ask, which can be viewed at www.everythingnuclear.org.
A Snow Job Is No Job!: What’s in a Report?
By Boston Woodard
Two recently completed Solano County Grand Jury Facility Inspection reports (2C06-2007/2008-2009) on California State Prison, Solano (CSP-Solano), in Vacaville were jam-packed with wonderful acknowledgments and kudos that any state prison would be proud of.But not so fast!
This grand jury must have been led around CSP-Solano with a nose ring and blinders to conclude with the compliments and great praise that it did.
According to the reports, the justification for the investigations was Penal Code 919, Subdivision (b): “The Grand Jury shall inquire into the conditions and management of the prisons within the county.” Pursuant to that statute, it was claimed that the grand jury “inspected the California State Prison-Solano” in Vacaville.
According to the grand jury’s findings, during the course of their research, they “toured the facility, reviewed newspaper articles, reviewed materials provided by CSP-Solano, interviewed CSP-Solano’s warden and staff.” The grand jury was apparently strategically manipulated through a few areas of the prison.
The areas within the prison “toured” or “inspected” by grand juries are always forewarned, receiving a huge heads-up. These locations are completely spit-shined, gleamed and glittered before a grand jury’s arrival. (This same preparation is repeated before the arrival of court monitors, politicians and other inspectors from outside the prison facility.) Phone calls and/or memorandums are forwarded to specific area supervisors who are notified and ordered to get rid of, or cover up, any and all problems or violations that might be detected by the inspectors. This isn’t bullshit, this really happens! Hence, what many grand juries see during these so-called prison facility inspections is not necessarily true and accurate. This is common practice and common knowledge in any prison in the state.
The Solano grand jury’s written “action” indicated that prisoners were not discussants or questioned during the so-called facility inspections. Reviewing newspaper articles, interviewing the warden and searching through materials that were provided by those under scrutiny is hardly a complete inspection and presents only half the story.
There are serious ongoing (non-prisoner) violations and misconduct behind these walls that are detrimental, having an adverse effect on many of the programs and lawfully sanctioned departments such as the prisoner’s appeal system. Strategically guiding a grand jury to specific areas and programs and spoon-feeding them what prison officials want them to see is neglect. Grand juries should always interview and question prisoners who have legitimate beefs, and proof, of the internal corruption systemic inside these prisons. The problems that will be revealed during prisoner interviews need to be followed up with corrective action, or they will occur over and over again.
An investigation into CSP-Solano’s appeals office would uncover many of the violations, misconduct and cover-ups that abound throughout this prison.
To uncover the abuses, specific prisoners need to be interviewed, not those prisoners handpicked or strategically organized by prison officials who they know will buttress their claims of a well-run facility.
Review the appeals and grievances that prisoners submit. A grand jury’s inspection of these records will uncover what the prison’s administration does not want them to know about. When grand juries start reviewing prisoner grievances, maybe then will they be fulfilling their duties as written in the law (Penal Code 919) they so dutifully speak of in their reports.
An honest prison appeals system would help eliminate, solve or remedy many of the existing problems inherent throughout the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. By not addressing the corrupt appeals system and many of its morally unethical and crooked “appeals coordinators,” these grand juries are flagrantly remiss by ignoring the ongoing abuses by prison officials.
One of the aforementioned grand jury reports spoke of the cellular phones that prisoners are smuggling into the prison “which causes additional security problems.” This too is misleading. Everyone knows that it is prison staff who smuggle these illegal devices into the prison. It is more politically correct to blame the convicts. Focusing on prisoners being the problem with cellular phones is a problem in and of itself. Go after the real criminals; you know who they are!
There are no doubt some (rehab) programs (and some good ones I might add) that prison administrators gloat about to the media (and grand juries) and to their overpaid superiors squatting in their opulent state prison offices in Sacramento. Exhibiting a couple of pet projects to a grand jury that cater to only a diminutive portion of the prison’s general population does not justify the findings of the Solano County grand jury.
To conclude with such a glowing report, commending the warden and the staff of CSP-Solano for their great “leadership” and “management” is totally off base and inaccurate.
For the Solano County grand jury to be manipulated and snowed by CSP-Solano prison officials is no surprise to those of us who truly know what goes on in these prisons. When these grand juries complacently commend the prison’s administration for being “well organized” and recommend that they “continue operating in the same manner,” it is outright criminal.
The Solano County grand jury needs to regroup, reinspect, get real and carry out a complete and honest investigation of Solano State Prison in Vacaville. The grand jury failed miserably and got it wrong.
Boston Woodard is a prisoner/journalist who has written for the San Quentin News and the Soledad Star and edited The Communicator. Boston writes about real issues that prison officials would rather be kept secret. Contact Boston via mail at Boston Woodard, B-88207, CSP-Solano, 23-F-8-L, P.O. Box 40000, Vacaville, CA 95696-4000.
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Punishing the Victim
By Mike Rhodes
|This homeless man, beaten by a Fresno Police Officer, remains in jail. Meanwhile, as a result of an ACLU lawsuit, the names of the officer involved has been released.|
The Fresno police department has finally identified the officers who were captured on videotape in the February beating of a homeless man. But the department has been slow in proceeding with its promised investigation of the police beating. Glen Beaty, meanwhile, remains in jail on charges of violating probation.
On February 9 Beaty, who witnesses say was sleeping under a tree, was awakened by two Fresno Police officers. A video recording of the incident shows one officer holding him on the ground while the other officer repeatedly punched him in the face. The two officers finally have been identified as Jeff Gross, a seven year veteran and Scott Payn, who has 10 years with the police department. Their names were released in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU attorney Michael Risher, said “we’re glad that the city finally, after three months of illegal delay, released the names of the officers involved in the Beaty incident. But it is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to get the government to follow the law. It’s also unfortunate that the city is still refusing to abandon its illegal policy of refusing to obey the clear deadlines of the Public Records Act. As a result, this lawsuit, which should not have been necessary in the first place, is still far from over.”
Meanwhile, Beaty was recently in Fresno Superior Court for a placement hearing to determine what happens to him next. He’s been in jail for over four months on charges of allegedly violating probation. Peter Kapetan, Beaty’s attorney, said “the jail assessment team has determined that Mr. Beaty be held in a secure facility until he is restored to competency. What the court asked is that he is voluntarily willing to take medication and Mr. Beaty will not commit to that until he knows what the medication is. So, the court has appointed a psychiatrist to advise the court as to what psychiatric medications they think Mr. Beaty should be taking.”
Beaty was found mentally incompetent to assist his attorney on charges that he violated his probation. No charges have been filed against him or the officers in connection with the February 9th police beating. Kapetan laid out what the next likely step is: “well, next the doctor is going to make a recommendation as to what type of psychiatric medication they believe Mr. Beaty should be given and then he will be sent to a secure mental facility where they can actually force the medication on him if he does not voluntarily comply.”
|Attorney Peter Kapetan (left) and Glen Beaty were in court on May 28. The court, which previously ruled that Beaty had paranoid schizophrenia, wanted Beaty to agree to voluntarily take medication for his condition. Beaty refused to agree to take the medication, unless the court would tell him what drug was being prescribed. In the meantime, Beaty has been in a cell with 10 other inmates for almost 4 months now. He is allowed 1 hour of exercise a week. That has to be great for his mental health.|
An investigation by the Fresno Police Department’s Internal Affairs investigation has now been completed but they refuse to release the results. What do they have to hide? At a press conference immediately following the release of the video, police chief Jerry Dyer promised the community that the District Attorney’s office would conduct an independent investigation and that would be reviewed by the California Attorney General. The District Attorney’s office has not released a report indicating that they have investigated this case and the California Attorney’s office knows nothing about reviewing the report. The latest smoke and mirror ploy by Dyer is to announce that he wants the FBI to investigate the incident.
While these investigations are underway, being covered up, or not being carried out at all, Glen Beaty waits in jail. The court is in the process of forcing him to take drugs (which could turn him into a zombie), his attorney expects him to be sent to a state mental institution, and we don’t know if he will ever be heard from again.
Legal observers suggest Beaty will be offered a deal – don’t file a civil lawsuit against the police or the City of Fresno and all of this will go away and you will be a free man.
Beaty’s next hearing will be Thursday, July 2 at 8:30 a.m. in Fresno Superior Court, department 30.
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By Brandon Hill[Editor’s note: Community Alliance Reporter Brandon Hill went undercover to bring you the inside story about what is going on at The Rescue Mission]
Few local organizations are held in such high regard as the Fresno Rescue Mission. Recently Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin presented the Mission with a check for over $8,000 from a community event she sponsored. Earlier this spring the Fresno Bee wrote glowingly of the Mission; praising its program and touting it as an oasis in a desolate landscape. The Bee reporter (Ron Orosco) did a good job discussing the virtues of the Mission, but he only seems to have spoken with those working inside the Mission’s walls about the nature and effectiveness of the program and not those who use the program or choose to struggle for survival without the Mission’s programs.
Recently I had the privilege of walking the streets in the area around the Fresno Rescue Mission (roughly bordered by Golden State, F Street, Tulare, and Van Ness) and spending some time in the Mission for evening chapel and dinner. In preparation for my stay I had to obtain a $10 tuberculosis test, the cost of which must be an obstacle for many. I walked down G Street towards the Mission and stopped at the first group of people that looked willing to talk. Sitting in lawn chairs in the shade of a building were Ferny, Casique, and another man whose name I did not get. After explaining why I was there, Ferny, who was a Mission “disciple” for three months spoke up quickly about his experiences at the Mission. “They didn’t like me because I’m gay…I followed the rules…Everyone knew why they kicked me out of the program.” He discussed other incidents such as questionable claims of theft by Mission staff which led to punishment and requests for money from the Disciples. According to his account, items would reappear after they were punished or money was extracted from Disciples. Casique, who sat next to him expounded on the realities of homelessness. “Everybody drives by and thinks they will never be here. Everybody that is here thought they would never be here” Casique blames homelessness on substance abuse and joblessness. He lost his job about two months ago and as work proved difficult to find and friends failed him he was forced to live on the streets. To Casique the streets are a place where honesty is rare and people take advantage of one another rather than working together.
I continued to travel down G Street which was lined with dozens of men few of which were willing to speak openly about their experiences. As dinnertime drew closer I resigned to sitting against a building to wait. The smell of urine was thick in the air as many of the men use a wall several feet away to urinate. As I attempted conversations it occurred to me that many of the homeless were not necessarily lazy or unintelligent as common stereotypes tell us, but many did appear to be dealing with mental health problems.
A line began to form for dinner and as I waited I listened to the conversations: concerts, jobs, and court cases were a few of the topics. The meal consisted of hot dogs, beans, a slice of bread, expired yogurt, and an orange. I’m told that it typically is not that busy, but had more diners because the Poverello House was closed. At the cafeteria style tables men traded food and people fell into groups of friends. The man seated across from me says that he grooms horses and will be staying in town until he can go up North, get his license, and start grooming at tracks around the state. As dinner ends I venture outside and see a few people turned away from the Mission. My first impression of the staff and volunteers from the dinner experience is that they have little respect for the homeless and they keep them at arm’s length as a result.
The line for chapel and beds is long. I get held up at the check-in table because my tuberculosis test is not from the health department. I am almost denied a bunk until I inform them that the County does not give free tests any longer. This is the kind of information one would expect them to know, but they seemed very disorganized. I don’t end up staying the night and leave before chapel is over. The religious service is very intense. There is loud religious music and as I look around the room most people are not engaged in the service. They are not singing, they are not reading Bibles, they are not paying attention, and many are having conversations amongst themselves or staring blankly. Most of the men are here for a bed and a shower and at least on the surface have little interest in being “saved.” I hit the road shortly before the service is over. A staffer assures me that there is little time left and asks if I’m sure, but I have already made up my mind.
As I walk down G Street to Tulare, Casique calls out to me and we talk, him more than I, about homelessness and the toll it takes on a person. He reflects with bitterness about false friends, priorities, and the emotional toll of being without a job or a place to live. He seems to have better perspective than many people I know. Nice clothes, cars, and other possessions mean little he and his friend agree. The things that they really miss are making their own food when and how they want, having a comfortable and safe place to sleep, and basic personal hygiene. We walk down to Tulare and as we part he issues a final warning about the uncertainty of friendships and appreciating what you have. He mentions that the knowledge that people care enough to listen gives him hope. I promise to bring him a pair of sandals like mine though as of writing this I have not been able to find him.
Several weeks later I ventured to the homeless encampment near H Street and Ventura, commonly referred to as Taco Flat or Little Tijuana. Feeling as though the encampment is almost the homeless’ private property I feel apprehensive about passing through the gate. The first people I speak to are of little help. The next dwelling I approach is occupied by two men who, even in this place are carving out their own slice of beauty with several thriving rows of small potted plants. When asked why they don’t stay at the Rescue Mission one man, Guillermo Florez, quickly replies, “He and I are a couple,” he says as he gestures towards the other man, “they laugh at us as we go by…that’s why we don’t go there. They make fun of gay people” He mentions that many gays choose to live in Taco Flat for similar reasons and also notes a difference between the Mission and the Poverello House, “At the Pov they treat you like a person. They don’t laugh at you.” Florez also makes note of strict rules which govern use of the restroom, wait times for showers and other facilities, and rules controlling when they can come and go.
|Does the Rescue Mission have the homeless people’s best interest at heart or are they “Poverty Pimps?”|
My final stop of the day is the dwelling of Lana Meranda who is joined by a man and a friend named Katrina. Meranda is to the point about the Mission, “There is no program for families without children. We are Christians, but we don’t like it slammed down our throats. And the food is horrible.” At this point Katrina, a thin African American woman being treated for ovarian cancer chimes in, “They know who they’re feeding – they throw us what they’d throw to a dog.” In response, Meranda remarks that she wouldn’t even feed her dog the Mission’s food as her dog, Queenie snoozes peacefully at her feet. While I had not taken notice of it on my trip to the Mission, Meranda and friends mention that the staff do not take food safety seriously – rarely wearing gloves, hair nets, or practicing good hygiene while serving(e.g.: wiping one’s nose and then continuing to serve food). Katrina and Meranda agree that many have become sick as a result of eating at the Mission. The strict rules are again cited as reasons why the Mission is ineffective. Complaints range from multi-hour wait times for laundry and showers to the requirement that people leave the Mission early in the morning and return early in the evening. “They don’t give people a chance for stability” Meranda says. “A shelter system should provide stability and this one isn’t working, which is one reason why you see so many people out here.” Meranda believes that people cannot get on their feet under the impractical regime of rules the Mission imposes. She also believes that the Mission simply does not have the resources to get people off the streets again citing wait times and shortages of basic services. In parting, Meranda firmly states that the Mission is not run as well as other shelters and all shelters need to be monitored to ensure that programs are operating ethically and treating clients with respect.
The trips to the Rescue Mission and Taco Flat were as beneficial for learning about the Rescue Mission as they were in transforming my perceptions of the homeless. Common stereotypes about the homeless as lazy, unintelligent, and there by choice upon first glance seem largely unfounded. Other contributors such as mental illness, joblessness, healthcare costs, and a lack of affordable housing were more common among those I spoke to. At the risk of sounding clich‚ such an experience prompts one to think twice about the basic comforts we enjoy. Simple things such as the peace of mind of a locked door and practicing basic hygiene on a regular basis are luxuries on the streets. In comparing my life to the lives of those in the encampments I realized the levity of my wants, the pettiness of my complaints, and the number of small things I have to be thankful for.
Lawsuit against the Fresno Rescue Mission
A final aspect of the Fresno Rescue Mission’s record that, as far as I can tell has received no ink in the mainstream media is a lawsuit brought by six homeless people living in the vicinity of the Mission about one year ago. The plaintiffs allege that agents of the Rescue Mission known as “Disciples” took and disposed of their personal property without their consent.
One pair of plaintiffs, Lori and William Bailey who resided on CalTrans land had belongings including medications, identification cards, blankets, and foodstuffs stolen and disposed of. When this pair of plaintiffs attempted to discuss the matter with Larry Arce, the CEO of the Rescue Mission, they were denied the ability to retrieve their belongings and were threatened with arrest. Eventually they were given a brief window of time to search for their belongings, but did not recover many of the most important items. The other plaintiffs in the suit faced similar circumstances.
As this issue of the Community Alliance is going to the printer, we have heard that there is a settlement in the lawsuit against the Rescue Mission. We will provide the details in next month’s paper.
Brandon Hill is a student at CSUF majoring in political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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By Richard Stone
|Gerry Bill – cleaning up the Pamela Kincaid|
Gerry Bill and I have been colleagues on the Board of Directors of the Center for Nonviolence for about 17 years. I have come to admire him for his calmness and clarity amid heated controversy, his fair-mindedness and, above all, his whole-heartedly principled demeanor.
Observing Gerry over time, it is obvious that he acts with a rare consistency and integrity. Whether it is using his bicycle despite nasty weather and lengthy distances, or maintaining his vegan diet, or advocating for an unpopular position in public discourse, Gerry is faithful to his ethic of “justice for all.”
Yet Gerry is also a modest and private man, so his willingness to be interviewed about the bases for his beliefs was a welcome surprise.
To begin with, out of a mixed Anglo-Irish heritage, Gerry has chosen to identify most with the Irish strain-“the underdog,” he says, “and the first British group to abolish slavery.” From a mixed bag of ancestors that includes a murderer, he honors most the grandfather who, as a coal miner, suffered periods of unemployment rather than take a non-union job.
Gerry also cites his parents as exemplary role models. When the danger of smoking began being rumored, his mother gave up her ingrained habit for the sake of her children. His father was a lay officer in a San Francisco church that received national publicity for merging with a Black church to become an integrated congregation. When his picture showed up in newspapers, the corporation he worked for as an accountant pressured him to reduce his activist profile. But as befits a Bill, he refused.
Gerry imbibed this family ethos without receiving overt preachment and grew up as a product of the post-WWII culture trusting in science and technology. “I went to college as a science and math major, heading toward a career that could well have had me a weapons researcher.”
But during his college years, he had transformative spiritual experiences. He began experimenting with meditation techniques to quiet the mind, not seeking anything transcendental. Unexpectedly, he found himself in “a spiritual place, among beings of light, connected entirely with each other through the light. I felt true peace…and these experiences have never left me. They became the basis of my understanding, the impetus of my actions.”
Gerry began the process of moving from an “unthought-through” philosophy based on the laws of atoms and material reality to a mindful belief in the connectedness of all beings, a world where injustice is a spiritual offense and the sanctity of all life is a given. In practice, this thinking led to filing (and fighting) for conscientious objector status even before the escalating Vietnam War made such a status useful for avoiding combat. And in the late 1960s, when the draft became a pressing issue for many, he used his experience in dealing with the draft board to work as a draft counselor.
As a student, he turned from the sciences to philosophy (especially ethics) and journalism, and then took a graduate degree in religion. But even as a young man, his spiritual bent had a practical side: He pursued his studies emphasizing “religion in society.” In this field, he sought to understand how religious and ethical principles might be converted into actions that benefit all, in the spirit of the utilitarian motto of “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
Thinking deeply about how actually to achieve universal welfare and justice led naturally to sociology, the field that Gerry worked in the rest of his academic life. Gerry considers himself most fortunate to have found a field of endeavor so suited to his interests and desires. He likewise was blessed to find a home at Fresno City College, where his curricular duties could be easily met while inducing students to think critically about the intersection between the institutions they live in and their beliefs.
In his extra-scholastic activities, Gerry has sought out organizations that share his focus on the practical application of ethical principles. His current involvement includes positions of responsibility with the Fresno Center for Nonviolence (FCNV), KFCF (listener-supported independent radio), Pastors for Peace (providing educational and medical supplies to Cuba and Central American countries negatively affected by U.S. policies) and, recently, the newly established Community Service Center aimed especially at assisting the homeless population.
In all these activities, Gerry’s work is as much practical as administrative. He may install plumbing at the FCNV, run the board for programs at KFCF or clear garbage at the Service Center site.
He seamlessly and gracefully joins the sometimes-contrary notions of works and faith. Among Gerry’s teachers and guides, he cites an English professor, William Baker, as his professional role model, as well as the great advocates for nonviolent activism on behalf of justice including Jesus, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi and King. He says, though, that his commitment to continued activism is inspired by newly arising social movements-people spontaneously joining to defend their rights, such as the current marriage equality movement.
His favorite books and movies focus on stories of justice won such as Gandhi and Erin Brockovich. A quotation that stays with him is Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see.”
I’d like to end with a quote from Mr. Bill himself:
“I have felt a deep connection to the spiritual dimension of our existence for over 40 years. As a young man, I had some experiences that convinced me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we are all connected to one another on a deep, spiritual level…The implications of that insight are vast. It means we are all responsible for looking out for one another, both in the present and on into future generations… [In this perspective] I find injustice as a kind of spiritual offense-meaning that it runs contrary to the very core of what we are as human beings…My belief in the sanctity of life also comes from a spiritual place…I find I must consistently oppose war in all its forms and oppose capital punishment in all cases…[Likewise] it is clearly an injustice-and therefore a spiritual offense-for one generation to gobble up all of the earth’s resources, short-changing future generations…Decisions I make about my life have to be made with these principles always in the background of my thoughts.”
Richard Stone is an itinerant writer and educator, and long-time member of the boards of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and the Community Alliance.
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Keeping Free Speech Radio on the Air
By Rick Flores
This month is the 10th anniversary of the KPFA lockout. In July of 1999, Flashpoints host and producer Dennis Bernstein was yanked from the microphone in the KPFA studio by security guards and the KPFA radio signal fell silent for approximately three weeks.
During that time, back here in Fresno, KFCF, whose broadcast had consisted of about 90 percent simulcast KPFA programming, scrambled to fill the audio void. From this turbulent period, new KFCF local programming was born, including my own show “Wasteland of the Free.”
To mark the anniversary of this defining moment of KFCF, the Fresno Free College Foundation is celebrating with a concert at the Full Circle Brewery, 612 F Street (In Fresno’s historic Chinatown) on Friday, July 31, from 8 to 11 p.m.
Performing that evening are two groups who have regularly been featured on Wasteland of the Free as well as other KFCF shows.
The Lance Canales Trio play roots Delta blues with a rock and a Native American feel to it. We caught up with Lance and asked him what he and his band have currently been up to. “Well, Rick, a lot has happened. My song “Desert Wind” went Number Nine in New Age/World for July 2008 on Our stage.com. Also, my song “San Joaquin” went 28th in folk for August 2008 on Our Stage. Last but not least, my video “Old Bear Spirit” went 16th in live performance video for March 2009. It was competing with all music genres. My music is being played on Sirius Satellite Radio (Arios) in Belgium and a few other countries. My song “Pain and Tears” was featured on the Gray Wolf Blog talk radio show out of Simi Valley, Ca. The program was about Leonard Peltier and the struggle to free him. Locally, I have been working with George Ballis of Sun Mountain. We are doing a documentary DVD that will have some live performances and visuals of our valley. This September, I’ll be releasing my third traditional flute album,” Lance responded.
Lance went on to talk about his trio. “Playing with my trio is so much fun. I feel lucky to have such great players. On drums, I have the pleasure of playing with John Martine III (Cerro Negro), and Chris Eacock (a.k.a. the Mad Conductor) on upright electric bass adds a great element to the trio. His bass adds a warm sound and is always spot on, even when I throw something at him on stage that we never rehearsed. The music we play has become in some ways something new with old roots instruments. Maybe it’s earthy blues/rock. It’s hard to say, but I have a blast and people seem to like it,” Lance said.
Lance continues by stressing the importance of performing a fundraiser for KFCF. “Doing a fundraiser for KFCF is important because we need community radio. We need a voice to speak out. We need to know what people are saying, not what politicians want us to hear, but what the people are saying. I listen to KFCF/KPFA a lot and it’s the only radio station I know of that talks about the indigenous struggle, the truth of native life, killing the stereotypes that hurt our people. So why do I help KFCF/KPFA? Because they help us. When no radio station anywhere would play my music, Rick Flores’ “Wasteland of the Free” gave me a shot. Thanks Rick!”
What does the audience in attendance on July 31 have in store for it? “I plan on bringing everything I have to this show. I’m not going to take home anything. I’m going to leave it all with you! I’ll play some flute songs from my new album, and I’ll be playing that earthy blues-rock country hybrid,” Lance adds.
In the past Lance has worked with Dalisay Richter of Baloney Creek. He goes on to describe that association. “Dalisay and I played in the band “The American Gypsy Experience.” She also played with me at the Strings, Wood and Lightning benefit last April (go to youtube.com/LanceCanales to see the video). She is one of the best fiddlers anywhere. She’s great to work with. I’m happy to play this gig with her. I know she’ll play some of my songs. She makes me sound better.”
|Baloney Creek is (left to right) Ed Bell, Dalisay Richter, Barbara LaRae and Richard Rhyne|
Catching up with Dalisay at the time of this writing was a bit difficult as she just got married to her partner of the past five years Adam Johnson. But we did learn that her band Baloney Creek has expanded its repertoire from gospel and bluegrass to a more danceable swing sound. “We’re keeping the fiddle sound more old time traditional but we are incorporating more originals with more of a country swing sound,” Dalisay said.
Baloney Creek, beside Dalisay on fiddle, consists of band manager Ed Bell on Mandolin, Barbara LaRae on bass, and Richard Rhyne on guitar. The group has shared their music at bluegrass festivals, churches, private parties and even convalescent homes. They pride themselves on laying down a danceable melody that “makes the audience dance right out of their seats.”
The benefit concert for KFCF 88.1 FM Fresno at the Full Circle Brewery on Friday, July 31 will also feature complimentary organic veggie munchies, and KFCF staff and volunteers will be on hand with T-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and other fund-raising items that evening. Donation is $8, but no one will be refused entry for lack of funds. It will be a special evening to mark the anniversary of a benchmark event in the history of community supported free speech radio for Central California.
Rick Flores lives and works on his family farm West of Easton. He is the host of Wasteland of the Free heard every Tuesdays on KFCF 88.1 FM Fresno.
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By Richard Stone
We feature another in our series of prison poets, Michael Walker aka the Ghetto Prophet. Michael writes long poems that beg for live performance, so I am sampling from one called “No Control”. If you’d like to see more of his dynamic work, you can contact him at: Michael Walker F79378, C3-01u, PVSP, P.O Box 8503, Coalinga, CA 93210
no borders control…
what heaven can’t console…
soul that’s on parole…
been granted temporal reprieve
from a world that it so wants to leave…
but it can’t
’cause the cost of separation
is way too great;
redemption is coming
but he might be late;
salvation just called
and said she’s still on the way;
but..damnation keeps texting me…
talking `bout he trying to stay.
man, I might as well just turn my damned phone off…
cause i can’t dial up a better way
to make these jagged edges meet…
…making sure my motives stay known,
yet masking the truth
of what i do…
trying to get these goals accomplished.
if the road to hell
is paved with good intentions,
then the road to heaven
just might be paved with some things i shouldn’t mention.
not to mention…
that i’m inching…
ever closer to an early retirement
without no pension;
…so you see,
it’s gonna be a long brawl…
and i’m fighting to the death to stay free.
that’s why no borders can ever control…
the soul…that was given control of me.
Is Fresno SEIU’s Vietnam?
by Randy Shaw, Jun. 22, 2009
SEIU defeated NUHW by 233 votes in their bitter election over Fresno’s 10,000 home care workers, but now faces a situation analogous to the United States in Vietnam. It took nearly one thousand staffers and an estimated $10 million for SEIU to eke out a victory in Fresno, the labor equivalent of carpet-bombing. But just as the massive bombing of North Vietnam failed to bring the United States an ultimate victory, SEIU’s Fresno campaign left its opposition unvanquished, and likely better positioned than SEIU to win future elections.
SEIU’s Fresno campaign leader Dave Regan echoed Air Force leader General Curtis LeMay’s “total war” strategy toward the Vietnamese when he promised “to drive a stake through heart of the thing that is NUHW,” and “put them in the ground and bury them.” Regan insisted, “this is not an election that we want to win 52 to 48, or by a few hundred votes. We want them to believe when we are done here that it is hopeless. We got to give them a butt whipping they will never forget … And a year from now or three years from now or five years from now we are all gonna sit back and say, ‘I was there when we kicked those SOBs in Fresno County.'” But Fresno is more likely to be recalled as the place where NUHW survived SEIU’s “total war” strategy, leaving SEIU in a Vietnam-like quagmire.
SEIU won 2938 to 2705, with 90 challenged ballots. While NUHW is challenging the outcome, it accomplished its larger goal of leaving Fresno with wind at its back. And with NUHW well positioned to win decertification elections for over 35,000 SEIU home care workers in San Francisco and Sacramento later this year, NUHW could soon have sufficient resources to challenge SEIU throughout California.
The election was closer than I (and no doubt SEIU) anticipated because turnout was less than expected. Although I had confirmed from sources connected to both unions that 6500 ballots had been submitted prior to the last weekend of balloting, the actual number did not reach 5800. Clearly, some workers were so tired of being contacted that they said they had voted when they had not.
SEIU had announced a week prior to the end of balloting that it had 5000 supporters. Either workers lied to SEIU staff, or some crew members submitted higher than real numbers to show superiors they were doing a great job.
A Blow to SEIU’s Model
NUHW and others have criticized SEIU for allegedly creating large bargaining units that do not train, educate or empower workers. Fresno appears to confirm that SEIU’s rush to get more workers under union contracts as the key strategy for gaining greater clout over national policies has come at a cost. Nearly half of SEIU’s Fresno homecare workers voted to leave their union, and just as the United States learned in Vietnam, you can have a huge edge in ground troops, money and technology and still fail to win the hearts and minds of your audience.
This is the message that NUHW is taking from Fresno. As spokesperson Paul Kumar told me, “the election demonstrates that SEIU is a hollowed shell of a union. It spent $10 million, and still could barely win a majority of worker support.” Kumar asks how SEIU will find the resources to contest with NUHW in future elections, arguing that its model in Fresno is financially “unsustainable.”
One does not have to share Kumar’s overall assessment to acknowledge that if SEIU barely prevailed among an electorate where NUHW’s base was weak, and whose physical isolation made it more susceptible to SEIU’s massive advertising and outreach campaign, than SEIU faces major challenges elsewhere. Specifically, there may be nothing SEIU can feasibly do to keep its Bay Area homecare workers, and hospital workers throughout much of the state, from leaving for NUHW.
SEIU’s California Problem
Just as Vietnam revealed the United States’ inability to impose its will on other nations, Fresno has exposed SEIU’s vulnerability in California. The fact that SEIU had to parachute in so many top staffers from outside California to run its Fresno campaign raises serious questions about the union’s hold on the state – which includes a full third of its entire membership.
Two years ago, Sal Rosselli and Tyrone Freeman were SEIU’s two most powerful California leaders; today, Rosselli heads NUHW and Freeman has departed from SEIU after resigning in disgrace. Tracy Zeloff, SEIU’s longtime State Council leader in California, announced during the Fresno campaign that she was resigning to pursue other interests.
Eliseo Medina and Dave Regan were brought in to run SEIU-UHW after Rosselli’s departure, but Medina has far too many other important responsibilities to focus exclusively on California, and Regan has little if any experience west of Ohio. And after Regan’s widely publicized and embarrassing pre-election call on SEIU organizers to “administer an old-school ass-whipping” to workers who support NUHW, one senses that he should have awaited the Fresno outcome before relocating his family to California.
SEIU is fighting NUHW on the latter’s home turf, and without strong indigenous leadership. That’s why SEIU’s massive effort to break the spirit of NUHW in Fresno made sense – SEIU clearly understood that if NUHW came out of Fresno with a win, or with only a narrow defeat, it was only a matter of time before much of SEIU’s health care and hospital workers voted to leave as well.
And like the United States in Vietnam, SEIU lacks the local leadership to forestall future defeats.
In September, SEIU bargaining units of around 35,000 home care workers in Sacramento and San Francisco will file for decertification elections. If SEIU could not win easily in Fresno, it is unlikely to prevail in NUHW’s strongest base. The next year will see decertification elections throughout the state’s major hospitals, an arena where NUHW is particularly strong.
As NUHW starts winning elections, SEIU is faced with throwing more money and staff into many unwinnable campaigns. This California fight could drain SEIU’s treasury and morale for years.
Just as the United States wasted billions of dollars and thousands of lives in Vietnam after generals knew we could not prevail, SEIU President Andy Stern is unlikely to now seek peace with Rosselli and NUHW. SEIU will instead vigorously fight the next wave of decertification elections, even if it means diverting staff from organizing the millions of non-union health care workers across the nation.
What a tragedy.
Just as Lyndon Johnson allowed Vietnam to undermine the War on Poverty, SEIU has chosen the pivotal first year of the Obama Administration – with the Employee Free Choice Act already at risk – to battle NUHW in California and UNITE HERE throughout North America. None of these fights add to the ranks of unionized workers, while breaking the spirit of many union members caught in the crossfire.
And in both cases, these battles will not end on SEIU’s chosen terms, despite the resources expended.
Applying the Lessons of Vietnam
Andy Stern and other SEIU leaders were among the 1960’s activists who protested the ongoing quagmire of Vietnam and urged President Johnson to withdraw U.S. troops. But just as Johnson feared to be seen as “leaving” a fight, SEIU will likely continue battling NUHW regardless of the financial and organizational costs.
Imagine, however, if Andy Stern decided to make peace with both NUHW and UNITE HERE. He would announce that labor movement unity must take precedence during a time of battles over EFCA, universal health care, state budget cuts, and other critical issues facing working people.
Sound crazy? Well, earlier this year SEIU reached an accord with its longtime opponent, the California Nurses Association, not long after Stern and his allies vowed to essentially drive their adversary into the sea. Stern did not build SEIU into the nation’s largest union without street smarts, and if he reached agreement with NUHW and UNITE HERE his popularity and stature would go through the roof.
SEIU was correct: Fresno was a game-changer. But the game did not change in SEIU’s favor. Now SEIU will either stay on a path leading to quagmire, or chart a new course toward a stronger, unified labor movement.
Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.
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Local Activists to Challenge U.S. Blockade of Cuba
By Gerry Bill
This is an exciting year for Cuba watchers. We have a new administration in Washington, D.C., Cuba has new leadership and many believe there is the potential for U.S.-Cuba relations to thaw a bit. It has not happened yet, though, and we are the ones who need to create the pressure to make it happen.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, so it is an excellent year to travel to Cuba. Pastors for Peace will be sending its 20th aid caravan to Cuba this summer and, as with the 19 previous caravans, this one will stop over in Fresno.
It will be an unusually big caravan this year, with lots of caravanistas and tons of aid, including aid for hurricane relief. There will be at least four, and perhaps as many as seven, people from the Fresno area joining the caravan as it passes through Fresno on July 13. Besides our local participants, there will be a busload of other caravanistas from points north who will attend the sendoff event in Fresno.
Come to the caravan event and become a part of the action. Meet all the wonderful caravanistas, including several who have been to Cuba many times. They will report on current conditions in Cuba, the state of U.S.-Cuba relations and the status of the Cuban Five (individuals convicted of being unregistered foreign agents in a suspect trial process). The event will be held on July 13 at Margaret Hudson’s barn, 4247 N. Thorne Ave., in Fresno. There will be a potluck meal at 6 p.m. followed by a program at 7 p.m.
|Sendoff Event for Local Activists Headed to Cuba When: Monday, July 13 6 p.m. potluck, 7 p.m. program Where: Margaret Hudson’s Barn 4247 N. Thorne Ave. • Fresno Contact: Gerry Bill • 559-227-2133 • email@example.com|
Pastors for Peace caravans to Cuba are carried out in defiance of the nearly 50-year-old U.S. blockade of the island. The organization does not have permission from the U.S. government to take the aid to Cuba; instead, the caravan, carrying more than 100 tons of aid and more than 100 caravanistas, will openly cross the U.S. border into Mexico en route to Cuba in full view of U.S. border agents and in clear violation of U.S. law. This is done as an act of civil disobedience as a way of calling attention to the blockade, which Pastors for Peace calls immoral and illegal under international law. One of the slogans of Pastors for Peace is: “If there is a law that makes it illegal for me to love my neighbor, I want to break that law.” The main purpose of the caravan to Cuba is indeed to challenge that law.
As always, this year’s caravan will be bringing much needed medical supplies to Cuba. However, in a new twist, the 2009 caravan is also collecting tools and building supplies to help with hurricane relief. In the fall of 2008, Cuba was devastated by three hurricanes in a row-Gustav, Ike and Paloma. Because Cuba’s evacuation procedures are so efficient, there was little loss of life. However, more than 100,000 homes were destroyed in a nation that had just barely been meeting the housing needs of its people. The rebuilding task is immense. You can help by donating tools or building supplies for the caravan to take to Cuba. Please make arrangements in advance if you have aid to donate.
For more information, contact Gerry Bill at 559-227-2133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Progressive Religion…Is Not An Oxymoron
Evolution and the Divine: A Third Way
By David E. Roy
“Natural Selection.” “For God’s sake, Intelligent Design!” “No, Natural Selection – for Darwin’s sake!!” “Intelligent design, for all that’s Holy and Biblical!!!” “NATURAL SELECTION, YOU RELIGIOUS NUT!” “INTELLIGENT DESIGN, YOU GODLESS IDIOT!”
Sometimes these debates over evolution and whether or not the Divine is a part of the process make almost as much sense as the old beer commercials where the voices shouted “Tastes great!” and “Less filling!” back and forth as though there were a serious debate about which was the more important feature of the brew.
In the case of the beer, we were supposed to realize it was not either/or, but both/and. Could something similar be the case with this far more serious and deeply polarizing debate about the role of God in evolution?
Back to Darwin
In Back to Darwin: A Richer Account of Evolution, theologian John B. Cobb Jr., who served as editor, guides a complex, detailed, multi-faceted and nuanced debate on this topic. The book is the result of a conference that featured scientists (including key figures in biology) along side philosophers, theologians and other scholars.
The title refers to the suggestion by Cobb and others that getting back to the original theory by Darwin and then moving forward could help avoid some of the conceptual dead ends that have accrued to the field over the past 150 years.
Cobb encourages those representing mainstream science to present their arguments in full. In particular, UC Irvine biology professor, Francisco J. Ayala, is given a great deal of room to set forth the contemporary arguments, data, and theories that constitute Neo-Darwinism.1
Ayala, described by the NY Times as the “Renaissance Man of Evolutionary Biology,” has published more than 900 articles in his field and authored or edited 31 books. He received the 2001 US National Medal of Science. He is a major figure in his field.
A Non-Dogmatic Critique of Science
Cobb’s approach is to dive deep into the material prepared by Ayala and others and lift out the places where the current scientific arguments breakdown. It is clear that Cobb fully comprehends the material he is critiquing. His rational, intellectual manner, with an emphasis on fairness and respect, is far from the kind of dogmatic approach that readers might be accustomed to from the religious right.
This book is full and rich. This article cannot begin to adequately account for all the material in the volume. My aim is to give an idea of some of the important lines of thinking.
Process Thought Supports Progressive Values
These lines of thinking emerge from a way of looking at our world (process thought) that embraces and affirms what many social and political progressives value, such as the belief that all human beings deserve the same rights for freedom, respect, opportunity, and physical and mental well-being; and that justice has not been served until this equality has been established. Or, that our personal well-being depends upon the well-being of the entire planet. And so on.
Underlying these values are certain core intuitions, among them being the awareness that human beings are all essentially alike, including the fact that my preciousness is no different from yours – what Jewish theologian Martin Buber referred to as the I-Thou experience.
A second is the understanding that we are profoundly and inherently interconnected, not just with other people but with the world as a whole.
A third, melding the first and second, is that there is an inherent preciousness in all elements of the world; and that this is at the center of our interconnectedness.
While these intuitions express the heart of many of the world’s great religions and have served as the motivation for many of the greatest social movements, they tend not to survive in the hot world of power and in the cold world of science. This is certainly true in the scientific study of evolution.
Additionally, science has long-sought to eliminate concepts like meaning, purpose (i.e., aiming at a goal) and subjectivity (which would include intrinsic value2 ).
The ascent of the scientific worldview has provoked intense responses from the religious domain, Creationism and Intelligent Design being the most well known. While they are not identical, they tend to be joined in the minds of a great many, both pro and con.3
There clearly is fault on both extremes with the result that any larger, more inclusive picture is seldom seen let alone understood. I am not alone in believing that when the more inclusive understanding is allowed to emerge, the world will be better served.
Fortunately, there is a viable third way that solidly affirms the well-established findings of evolution on a broad or macro basis; and provides an intellectually strong non-supernatural explanation of the role of God in this development.
Shift from a Substantialist to a Process Worldview
To more fully appreciate the lines of thought in the approach to evolution taken in Back to Darwin necessitates a shift in understanding from the dominant consensus that reality is best understood as constituted out of things (i.e., substance or matter) to the perspective that the fundamental nature of reality is as a process that, among other things, involves a degree of subjective experience for all elements. This is called panexperientialism (which is not to be equated with consciousness).
If each and every element of the universe has as a component of itself a phase of subjective experience, then there is an essential similarity in all of reality. This similarity extends to an enormous array of factors that are seldom attributed to the material world, including value and purpose.
Science Dismisses Value, Purpose, Subjectivity & Novelty
While most people live their lives as though these are essential factors, science – including Neo-Darwinism – deems them either irrelevant or imaginary. Additionally, as mentioned previously, science also rejects subjectivity (or, more fully, subjective experience) and it cannot make a place for radical novelty (something that is truly new, that has never before been actualized) without abandoning the idea that antecedent causes, when fully understood, explain all there is to explain.
The problem is that most people conduct their lives as though they have some measure of free will; and are often highly motivated to seek out or create something.
Are We All Deluded?
If we do all of this and we also feel down deep that our lives have meaning and purpose, then the world of science with its present set of metaphysical assumptions is not capable of understanding the full picture. The only other choice is to assume, as would some of these same scientists, that this is all an illusion. Sounds a bit like the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothing, perhaps in reverse.
Process Thought Affirms Science and What Science Dismisses
The process view of reality is important because it allows us to embrace what we know through science and yet also embrace what we know in other ways to be true as well.
This latter knowledge provides an affirmation of the importance of purpose and meaning as well as our mutual preciousness and interconnectedness, solid support for our trust in having free will, clarity about the reality of novelty and, for some, the realization that there is an essential role for God in the world that does not violate the so-called laws of nature nor challenge the fact of evolution.
The Process View of God: In Nature in a Natural Fashion
In Alfred North Whitehead’s major work, Process and Reality, he offers a few sketches of the role of God in creation.4 God’s chief role in the universe is to continuously initiate its creative development by seeding reality with the most relevant possibilities for the next step in the on-going progress of everything everywhere.
When these sacred seeds5 of possibility take root – are actualized – then there is progress, development, evolution. In one sense, these seeds become as much a part of the world as an apple or a sip of water becomes a part of us.
The “Habits” of Nature vs. the Laws of Nature.
Further, these seeds are lures, not demands: Whitehead said the laws of nature are better understood as the habits of nature. The fact that the habits of nature appear to be laws is because the micro events studied by most areas of science conform in a largely unchanging fashion to the limited range of possibilities offered.
It is only when much complex and extensive systems are studied that the freedom to choose novel possibilities comes into play, such as is the case with biological evolution.
God is Not Supernatural
So, how is it that God is involved in what science and the general public call evolution? Was this only at the start of the universe, is it intermittent or is it continuous? Is this involvement jarring and unpredictable or is it seamless for the most part?
The bare bones understanding from the process perspective is that God is actively involved in every element in the world all the time and without exception in a basically seamless fashion.
God is an essential ingredient in the world, everywhere and at every moment. But, God is not (!) supernatural. God does not sit outside the world and only intervene at odd, arbitrary moments and in ways that radically defy the world’s fundamental nature.
God Aims at Intensity of Experience
Among other things, God from the revised, process perspective provides the ultimate meaning and purpose of life of which we partake, adding our own richness to the mix.
One of God’s chief aims is the evocation of intensity of experience based upon the harmonization (or integration) of complexity. God’s aims are served, in other words, when what comes into being in the world becomes more and more complex. This clearly is a theme in evolution.
Some of the Data that Science Finds Challenging
1. The Development of Complexity
The development of the universe has moved from a single point to billions of galaxies and trillions of stars. Evolution on earth has moved from the inorganic to the organic, and within the organic, from protobionts to prokaryote cells, eukaryote cells . and eventually (after a few billion years), to the human being with its exceedingly complex brain that supports a psyche capable of a great deal of complexity and therefore intensity of harmonized experience.
The standard Neo-Darwinist view that this can be explained solely on the basis of natural selection coupled with random genetic mutations is problematical in many ways, according to many of Back to Darwin’s contributors.
2. Emergent Phenomena
Science has been challenged by what are termed emergent phenomena. The fields of science are organized hierarchically, with multiple stages passing through physics to chemistry and eventually to biology. Traditionally, each area seeks its full and complete explanation from its underlying area (biology from chemistry, chemistry from classical physics, classical physics from quantum mechanics).
Yet there are properties unique to each level that cannot be explained by the more fundamental level. These properties “emerge” and have their own set of rules. While scientists have long recognized and studied these emergent properties, they generally still seek to find the necessary and sufficient explanation in the properties out of which a field is constituted.
The book contains lengthy discussions on a number of other issues related to this section. This could be the subject of a future column, if readers are interested.
When it comes to evolution, the philosophers, theologians and scientists who have been steeped in Whitehead’s process philosophy and who have contributed to the extension of his metaphysics to many other disciplines, support the idea that the Divine Eros is centrally and intimately involved in the evolutionary process; and that evolution reflects a purpose to reach a goal; and that evolution is a natural phenomenon that continues to be thoughtfully guided by what Whitehead called the Poet of the World.
Ordained in the United Church of Christ, David 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 9371
1 Neo-Darwinism is used in the book to refer to the synthesis of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection with Mendelian genetics.
2 Intrinsic value means that something has value for itself, simply because it is, so to speak. This is contrasted with extrinsic value which is the value something has for something else.
3 Creationism is the idea that God created the world only a few thousand years ago, though God made it all look like it was billions of years old. Intelligent Design generally asserts that God created all the plants and animals as discrete entities without the need for evolution.
4 This is one of the reasons that many academics as well as scientists have dismissed his work. In Whitehead’s later work, he shifted from “God” to the “Divine Eros.”
5 Whitehead referred to theses seeds as eternal objects. Eternal objects have influence; they serve as “lures” for events, luring them in the direction that will be most fulfilling for all.
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Opinion & Analysis from the Grassroots
Fresno Homeless Memorial Event
By Al Williams
Yes We Can and Yes We Did. On June 6 at Roeding Park (Eucalyptus Grove), there was a Homeless Memorial Event for the hundreds of homeless men and women who have died, many needlessly, and in special honor of three homeless women-Pam Kincaid, lead plaintiff; Sandra Thomas, named plaintiff; and Sherri Lee Williams, plaintiff-who led a victorious legal battle in federal court against the City of Fresno and Caltrans for their civil rights and the civil rights of all homeless people in Fresno, resulting in a $2.3 million settlement that benefitted the homeless community.
This event was unique because it was planned and organized by homeless people, which led to possibly the largest event of its kind honoring homeless people in Fresno. Furthermore, it confirmed what I have been telling the leaders of this city (City Hall and a few CEOs of the higher paid service providers)-that a large percentage of homeless people, 40%, maybe more, can “get-er-done” if given the opportunity.
The event was spectacular in every way, with people from all over the state attending, contributing and participating to make the event a total success and was done the way a memorial should be done. Attending were people of all nationalities and races, the poor and the well-off, the homeless and professionals, doctors, attorneys, journalists and homeless advocates. Our guests can tell you better than I.
“The Memorial was so very excellent. It was great seeing everyone and meeting some new people, getting to know more about Fresno. Thank you for your gracious hospitality. The visit was very productive and at the same time a great experience.”
-Paula, Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee (SHOC), Sacramento
“Rated the event highly. I don’t know if anyone videotaped it, but it could have been on YouTube.”
-Doctor Sal, Merced
“Thank you Al Williams, Cynthia Greene, Mike Rhodes, Rev. Floyd Harris, and all the homeless of Fresno and their allies for hosting us at this celebration. And thank you for allowing us to set out posters of our departed brothers and sisters. The event was a moving spiritual experience for all of us from San Jose. It gave us the encouragement we need for continuing on our path of fighting for justice for all.
-Rev. Sandy Perry, San Jose
“Thank you so so much for making possible the perfect day, remembering those beloved friends who struggled to make others’ lives better. How incredibly moving to hear their inspiring stories and to gather to celebrate our common spirit and purpose. What could be more joyous! You and your Fresno gang organized a perfect day, so full of spirit and celebration, a perfect way for us to meet. The passionate words at the end are still ringing inside me (along with some really great music and drumming!). I feel very positive about what we’ve started and look forward to much more to gather. Thank you for this amazing gathering. 10!-no doubt about it. We need more days like that. Thanks for making that one happen.
-Sarah Menefee, San Francisco
“Yes! I’d give it a 10+. Off the scale.”
-Sheryl Varien, San Jose
“It was a wonderful day-the food, the incredible music, the pre meeting; we came home refreshed and inspired. Everything fell into place. Our task seemed clear-to keep on keeping on, to recruit leaders from our community, to fight this incredible avalanche of poverty and suffering with determination, direction and hope!”
-Cathleen Williams, attorney, Sacramento
“You’re one hell of a kick-ass organizer! Your event was incredible, and I seriously hope you and everyone who helped feels a sense of pride!”
-Paul Boden, executive director, Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), San Francisco
“You did a good job organizing the event yesterday. I know how ‘challenging’ organizing big events like that can be, so I appreciate all of the work I know you put into it.”
-Mike Rhodes, editor, Community Alliance, Fresno
Beginning next year, in June 2010, we will hold a statewide memorial event in Fresno each year honoring homeless people from all over the state. Yes We Can and Yes We Will.
Thank you Blake Jones and Band and friends, the Native American drummers, the flute player and Bobby, the one-man. You all were great.
From the Greenhouse
By Franz Weinschenk
For eight years under the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would not take a position on whether a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide (CO2), which is emitted from power plants, industries, factories, trucks and cars, is harmful to human health even though in 2007 the Supreme Court clearly ruled that it was.
In small amounts, CO2 (like the bubbles in a soft drink) if imbibed or inhaled will not hurt the average human being. This gas, however, becomes harmful to mankind when huge amounts are released into the atmosphere because it acts like an insulation blanket around the globe holding in the reflected heat from the sun that normally radiates out into space.
Remember, ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when we started burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, greenhouse gases like CO2 have increased the size of that insulation blanket thus trapping more and more heat. The result is that every decade the earth gets just a little bit warmer.
Getting back to the EPA, because of its legal stance, it would not allow California along with 14 other states to control the miles per gallon ratio in cars. Thank goodness we have had a change of administration because the EPA’s new boss, Lisa Jackson, has declared that these gases are indeed harmful to mankind and therefore will start to regulate fossil fuel emissions coming from all sources. But how does the Obama administration plan to do so?
Some background: The United States has 4.5% of the world’s population, but we emit 25% of the greenhouse gases. As of this year, 183 nations have ratified the Kyoto Treaty, which asks those nations who signed it to voluntarily reduce their 1990 levels of greenhouse gases by 7%. Under President George W. Bush, the United States never ratified Kyoto.
Without a doubt, President Barack Obama wants to turn all this around. He wants to address the problem so that the United States can go to the next UN-sponsored climate summit in Copenhagen later this year and show the world that we have changed our ways and are now ready to do something about global warming and again assume a leadership role in the world’s efforts to slow and possibly even reverse global warming.
So how do we begin to lower our greenhouse gas emissions? Chances are we will try to adopt some form of “cap-and-trade” system, which is the way they currently do it in Europe. Here is how that works:
Some authority-in this case, probably our government-will set a limit on the total amount of emissions of greenhouse gases (e.g., carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone) for the whole nation. That is called the “cap,” or the limit. Furthermore, as the years pass that cap will be reduced every few years so that, in the end, all nations jointly will meet the ultimate goal, which is to emit such small amounts of greenhouse gases as to stop the scary progress global warming is currently making.
All users of fossil fuels will be issued emission permits that in the aggregate cannot exceed the cap. In one plan, these permits are given away free; in another-the so-called cap-and-dividend system-they are sold at a set price; and in still another the permits are auctioned off. Most progressives favor the auctioning system because it is less arbitrary, more in tune with free market practices and helps the government collect revenue that it in turn can use to help low-income folks cope with the expected rise in energy costs once the system is in place.
Under the cap-and-trade system, after all the use permits are distributed, if a company wants to increase its use of fossil fuels and thus be allowed to pollute more, it can only do so by purchasing use permits from another company that, because it has found a way to pollute less, will have surplus permits to sell. Whenever such a transaction takes place, it is call a “trade.” The “cap” is the limit, and the “trade” is swapping within the limit. The idea is to make those who pollute pay more and reward those who have found ways to pollute less. The hope is that the competitiveness and ingenuity of the marketplace will reduce emissions smoothly and cost effectively so that in the end all industries will turn to renewable clean energy.
But before any kind of a system can be set up, there are many laws and by-laws that have to be thought through, debated and legislated: Who will be setting the caps and by how much and how fast will they diminish over time? Who will be monitoring, regulating and policing the system? What kind of penalties will be meted out to non-compliers? And that is only the beginning. As you can see, there is plenty to do before any system of cap and trade can become a reality.
Franz Weinschenk has been a teacher and school administrator in Fresno for more than 50 years. E-mail him at franzie@SCCCD.org.
California the Remarkable
By Ruth Gadebusch
California is a most remarkable place. Sometimes remarkably good. Sometimes remarkably bad. Seldom (never?) neutral. The state has physical beauty, natural and man-made, beyond compare, but our government is one sad story.
Before we get too quick to blame the latter on those folks in Sacramento, we had better take a long hard look at what we voters have brought on ourselves. Nor can we progressives, as we like to call ourselves, say it was the conservatives. After all, if there are more of them than of us, the majority rule; however, if it is a matter of their working harder, we bear the blame.
Putting aside the kind of people we elect to the legislature and their need to pander to us in order to keep their lofty posts, we need only go back to that notorious Proposition 13. It was, and is, a drastic measure intended to right a wrong that should have been dealt with in a much fairer, less severe manner by our elected officials. Instead, the voters tied the hands of responsible, fair government and have intimidated those who would act more responsibly ever since.
Our constitutional initiative process makes it easy for citizens to fill any void left by the legislature. The required number, which was set for a much smaller population, has never been altered, thereby making it easy for wealthy advocates to buy signatures. That same money then advertises to sway the voters. Who can blame them when it works so well?
Our two-thirds requirement for fiscal measures stymies majority rule. Our gerrymandered voting districts exasperate the problem by allowing the election of extremes of both parties. Compromise and common sense seem to be in short supply, to say the least. In their cowardice, legislators and the governor sent to the easily manipulated voters budget matters that should have been their responsibility. Not surprisingly, the voters questioned if the proposed solutions might not be worse than the consequences of doing nothing.
We now find our state in dire straits. It is the same failing legislators and governor who are charged with a solution. At this point, a shutdown seems almost inevitable. With the Republicans saying absolutely NO to any and all increased taxes and the Democrats refusing all cuts, we seem headed pell-mell off a cliff.
With the governor’s proposals (and the road we seem to be traveling down) and our legislators doing nothing, we will not be able to enjoy the state’s physical beauty with our parks closed, our roads too full of potholes to drive on, our buildings unprotected from fire or burglary, our care institutions collapsing on themselves, K-12 educational institutions brimming with huge classes, higher ed with empty buildings because the potential students could not afford the cost and on and on and on.
Will we be so desperate as to do our own farm labor, clean our hotels (oops, we will not need those because there will be no tourists), collect our garbage and clean up after ourselves? That would show all those “illegals” that now use all our taxpayer-provided services. Wouldn’t it?
We owe more to this beautiful land with which we have been blessed. We owe more to the less fortunate among us. We have mountains, seashore, desert and agricultural lands in between. We do not have sufficient water or clean air, but we can still do something about that before it is too late. We simply need the will to make the necessary sacrifices in our state’s economy, which for all its problems is still larger than that of most nations. I would remind our elected officials of all sorts that it does no good to be in office if you cannot do the right (correct) thing.
If this column concentrates more on the bad than the good, that is because we have abused the tangible and the intangible until now we have a serious challenge to protect our current society and most assuredly that which we leave for our children and our grandchildren.
Constitutional convention, anybody? Or is that a danger more fraught with problems than solutions?
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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By Dan Waterhouse
It’s been quite a ride the last 30-some days.
The long-anticipated decision in the court case challenging Prop 8 finally came down the day after Memorial Day. The state Supreme Court had heard arguments in March. As reluctantly expected, the court ruled in a 6-1 decision that Prop 8 was a valid use of the “people’s power of initiative.” What the court didn’t explicitly say was that people’s civil rights can now be taken away, unless they’re also protected under federal constitutional law, in the state of California by an unwashed majority.
|former Catholic priest Geoff Farrow speaks at MM4E. Father Farrow stunned his Newman Center parishioners before last November’s election when he spoke against Prop 8 at Sunday Mass.|
That evening, about a thousand people headed down to City Hall to vent frustration. The Day of Decision rally filled the area around the city hall fountain. Bill Stout of Straight Allies For Equality-SAFE-set the tone when he spoke of this “being a civil rights fight, a human rights fight, and a fight for full federal rights” for same sex couples. I was saddened, about the unfairness of the decision, but relieved that some 18,000 marriages (including mine) had been preserved. However, we don’t care for the three classes of Californians the high court established: those who got married between June 17 and November 4, those who can marry now, and those who can’t.
The release of the court’s ruling also “pulled the trigger” on the “main event,” Meet In The Middle 4 Equality (otherwise known as MM4E). MM4E was intended to bring activists from around the state to the Central Valley, instead of San Francisco or LA, to kick off a campaign to repeal Prop 8. Several speakers at MM4E raised issues beyond Prop 8-the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and hate crimes and anti-discrimination legislation. There was a loud call for a march on Washington later this year. One speaker called for a “divorce” from the Democratic Party if things don’t happen in D.C. soon.
MM4E was a great event; roughly 5,000 turned out for it. However, it seemed like we’re still “preaching to the choir.” And, there’s some opinion out there that MM4E may ultimately prove counterproductive for the queer community. For example, it’s been put out there that many in the African-American community will find the symbolism of the 14-mile march during MM4E from Selma (California) offensive and an insult to the 1960s civil rights movement due to its dominant view that homosexuality is a moral, not a civil rights, issue.
There’s tumult inside the queer community after the news media was mishandled during a leadership summit in Fresno the day after MM4E (which followed some miscues with the media in the weeks leading up to MM4E itself). About 250 activists from around the state met and they invited the media in. However, when polling data showing the likelihood that any 2010 ballot measure would go down in flames was about to be aired, the media was told to leave on the grounds the opposition would “get $86,000 worth of information for free.”
|Supporters waiting on Mariposa Mall for marchers to arrive at Meet in the Middle 4 Equality (MM4E).|
Flame wars on the Internet and scathing articles in the mainstream LGBT media ensued. What’s evident, looking at the Internet wars, is the division, likely deep, in the queer community-both locally and nationally. So, we’re beginning to feed on one another. Much of this revolves around the fact none of the big-name groups can claim ownership of either draft ballot measure-both were put together by people with no connection with “leadership.” There’s a lot of scrambling going on, by those trying to assume key roles in the movement locally and statewide. There’s so much maneuvering going on right now that it may sink any ballot measure in 2010-which, in the long run, might not be a bad thing.
Flaming also was aimed at a group of in-your-face protestors who confronted anti-queer Rev. Jim Franklin and his overstated crowd of 300 down at City Hall the evening after MM4E. Personally, I was hoping Franklin’s Still Standing in the Middle for Marriage (non)-event would be put on “Ignore” by the community, but two groups decided to exercise their right to protest it. Both groups had confrontations with Franklin’s security or supporters. A group of “Christian bikers” invaded a prayer circle of silent protestors until chased away by Fresno police. Members of the more confrontational group were pushed and shoved by Franklin’s folks. One, a youngster wearing a t-shirt bearing a swastika, was shoved to the sidewalk by some of Cornerstone Church’s “security.” The cries of “violent” queers coming from people wanting to be “leaders” are nonsense.
The one bright moment amid the chaos was Pride. This year’s Pride Parade and Festival was the biggest and best in years. At least 3,000 spectators crowded the sidewalks in the Tower District on a gloriously nice Saturday morning. My husband had a ball as he directed the parade flow. City council member Cynthia Sterling asked him as she passed in a Pedi cab, “am I the only one (council member) here?” He replied, “Yes, you are. It’s too bad the other two (Henry Perea and Blong Xiong) couldn’t show up.” And as I was standing in the middle of Olive Avenue shooting photos, a straight friend of mine in the parade stopped and gave me a big hug and a kiss.
The topper to all this was the bad news about HIV/AIDS cuts. The state is broke and the Governor wants draconian cuts to education and the safety net. Funding for education and prevention programs could go away entirely, and access to life-saving drugs drastically cut. Toni Harrison of The Living Room, said at a downtown press conference two days after Pride that if the cuts were imposed, there would be “new cases, people would be getting sicker sooner, and there could be an epidemic in California” on the same scale as the epidemic of the 1980s.
|Marchers completing the 14-mile walk from Selma arriving at Fresno City Hall during MM4E.|
|Word on the Street By Richard Stone On Sunday May 31, we went to City Hall to interview attendees at the Celebration of Marriage following the California Supreme Court’s decision re Prop 8. Trying to get personal answers rather than Biblical citation, we asked the following question: “If gay marriage was made legal, how would that impact you personally?”|
Nasario Rodriquez: “It’s bad. I wouldn’t want to see guys kissing each other and stuff like that.”
Bob of http://www.libusters.com: “It would not affect me personally. It may affect how my children think, and other Americans, to know it’s two dads and a chemistry set.”
Carol Hanssen: “I think it’s negative. It would open gay sexual relations to be seen in schools and churches. It’s against my Biblical values which I hold dear.”
Dolores Estrada (after asking a pastor if it was all right to answer): “It would disappoint me. It would tell future generations it’s okay to be open about sin in your life…If we legalize it, it tells children that [one of God’s sins] is all right, that a child might say ‘I can just do this and be this way.'”
Ignacio Garibay (recent candidate for mayor of Fresno): “For me, America already decided marriage is between man and woman. But I have children; I don’t want my family to repeat someone else’s mistake. When children see bad stuff, they want to do it…But I give my respect to others, they can live as they want.”
Josh McLane: “It would cause me trouble…It’s not about me, it’s about what God said. [Reporter repeats question to refocus.] It wouldn’t really affect me, but I don’t agree with it. I’m not against anyone else, but for me marriage is between a man and a woman.”
The Community Alliance Newspaper
PO Box 5077
Fresno Ca 93755
Fax: (559) 226-3962