The Autumn of Awakening
By Wendy Russell
We moved from Fresno to Costa Rica (a country that has had no army since 1948) for many reasons, but paramount for me was the feeling that our beloved United States spiraled downward to disaster and no one cared.
Each power group took turns taking what they could from the people as their cronies looked the other way or even helped. The banks enjoyed real high interest rates as long as possible, the mortgage companies took the homes of hardworking folks, unions were busted beginning in the auto industry leaving Detroit a ghost town, the corporate farmers took over the subsidies until the small farmer was no more, hospitals for the poor were closed as doctors picked and chose who could afford to be their patients, every summer vacation our gas prices went up higher and as jobs outsourced to third world countries too poor to be picky about worker rights or decent wages our unemployment went higher and higher—yet no one fought back.
No one asked if the unemployment rate matched the rate of jobs sent overseas. No one asked if all these wars really changed anything, except to build our empire and make people hate us. Apathy ruled the common people giving the wealthy 1% free rein to take all they could. No one was helping us, the other 99%. And the few that did complain were photographed by police at protests, had their phones bugged (it’s real easy to do that now), were labeled commies or wackos, or were just ignored.
Apathy gave the greedy all the power. Sometimes I think that our news here in the rainforest must be lacking, that maybe I am just not getting all the facts, because to us here, really only getting foreign news (BBC and CNN International, because we never turn on that evil Fox News), it seems that the United States is peopled almost entirely by non-thinking robots, slaving away in service to that richest 1% that are greedily gobbling up all assets.
What else is the explanation when the struggling Joe Plumber says the rich must keep their tax cuts, while he loses his job, health insurance and any education worth a darn for his kids? It doesn’t make sense. I mustn’t be getting all the facts. I thought that when a group proudly boasts that no governing would go on that was not supporting their own agenda, those words would be labeled terrorism, or at the least labeled as the words of a pushy greedy bully, but no, it’s the Republican Party, ignoring and circumventing the voting choice of the people.
Then began the Arab Spring and as the world watched, upliftment and hopeful change came to many countries wanting their own freedoms, their own dreams and their own basic human rights. Now comes the news of protests around the United States demanding that a spotlight focus on Wall Street, corporate greed, union busting and poor education, and this news has ignited a flicker of hope in me.
One thing though—and I have said this before in these very pages—saying this to you will not change anything because you already feel like I do, or you would not be reading Community Alliance. Better is that each one teach one, as we say in the reggae world. Try to educate and change the mind of even one Joe Plumber equivalent. A talkative Republican friend of my husband’s once told him that “all stupid people are Republicans, but not all Republicans are stupid,” and I ask you to try to reach one of those people and get them to wake up.
Maybe, just maybe, everyone will wake up from this bad dream. Maybe the Arab Spring will bloom into the autumn of awakening in the United States. Just imagine…
In the past, Wendy Russell was involved in the worldwide reggae industry, while here in Fresno she had her programs on Satellite Radio Bilingue, authored “Word on the Street” in the Community Alliance and hosted Stir it Up’s WILPF segment on KFCF—all before moving to Costa Rica and becoming a farm laborer, bird watcher and organizer of Arte en el Parque in San Vito and Pintemos Juntos en Sabalito, where everyone paints together. Contact her at email@example.com.
Biting the Hand That Fed You to Free Up the Hand That Slaps You
By Daniel Luna
Wow! Nowadays, so-called Tea Party members allegedly constitute part of the aggrieved grassroots in this country. Anyone with a solid understanding of this country’s history can easily understand how this could not be.
For the most part, these individuals seem to come from White and/or affluent backgrounds, so what exactly are they so aggrieved about? Are they currently being separated from their families like our undocumented neighbors, are large numbers of their youth being incarcerated and/or neglected by our educational system or do they still suffer the remnants of colonization or slavery?
Well who knows, it’s not like it’s a competition of who is suffering or has suffered the most at the often complicit hands of government. Although they may be rightfully aggrieved, their articulated grievances do seem to be misplaced and a façade. Like a child who does not get his way, they scream, mimic and sarcastically express themselves so their ideas can be magnified by the willing media that spoils them with attention. Just contrast the coverage of the Tea Party with the courageous Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
My father, born in Mexico and a lifelong farmworker in the United States, has always instilled in me and others the notion that we live in a great country full of opportunities and promise. With my critiques and all, I truly believe this notion. I think this is chiefly among the reasons why I find the articulated goals of the so-called Tea Party to be so alarming.
We currently live in the richest and most powerful nation and, yet, if we believe the conservative propaganda, we are geared for complete collapse, unless, of course, we follow their lead. Well, we will only collapse if we allow it to happen and following their lead will not make things better. If we actually adhere to their rhetoric, we will end up exactly with what has gotten us into this mess: an economic and political system that thrives on inequalities and does not look out for the least privileged among us.
Our country is indeed going through tough times, and although government has allowed it to get here, we need government to get us out of it. We just have to look at our educational system, incarceration rates and unemployment rates to see that we are doing poorly and that things must change.
By that same token, those that helped us get into this mess need government to maintain it, hence they seek positions within government or to ensure they control those running it. The Tea Party, through its rhetoric, then is really not about saving this country but rather about maintaining the way Wall Street and other economic and political forces do business.
The reality is that conservatives are the ones truly afraid of change and are poised to maintain a status quo that, no matter how unfair the inequalities, they insist on conserving. In the Central Valley, conservatives appear poised to maintain the agricultural, low wage, low education worker economy.
There are legitimate gripes among many in the Tea Party such as wasteful government spending and the condition of our economic and educational systems. However, recent demographic and political changes have created gaps in people’s understandings that are easily manipulated by strong political forces. In the case of Tea Party members, their concerns, in some cases legitimate, are being manipulated by powerful entities that seek to distort reality for their own economic and social benefit.
One should not have to be afraid of these changes because, in reality, only the shade of our collective skin tones is changing and people are learning to be more inclusive and respectful of our differences. No matter what America’s overall pigment is, it can continue to be a great leader in the world.
Yes, President Obama is dark skinned, but he is qualified and was rightfully elected to be our President. However, he alone is one man and only the President of the United States, who, in order to properly execute the laws of this country, needs cooperation from Congress.
“Checks and balances” were not meant to equal “delay and obstruct” as currently demonstrated by conservatives. I have studied the social construct of race and know that not every critique of President Obama is grounded in race, however, given the unprecedented nature of some of the obstruction, I can comfortably conclude that at a minimum there is an improper bias, which most likely can be attributed to his race. Nonetheless, the point of this piece is not to engage in a racial analysis but to discuss our overall current national political discourse.
Seeing people clap during the Republican debates when the corrosive notion that President Obama is a socialist surfaces is a keen example of the effort to manipulate reality and confuse people. These perceptions may be real to some who don’t understand any better, however, they are not based on an objective reality and only benefit forces that as of late have done harm to our communities.
The Right has done a masterful job at redirecting people’s frustration with the economy and demographic changes by diverting such frustrations against our government. They have done such a good job that even many Baby Boomers who benefited tremendously from government have conveniently turned against government even though it was government that enabled their wealth gathering with post‒World War II programs like the GI Bill and other efforts that led to the creation of the middle class.
As such, in a way, the Tea Party is biting the hand that fed them only to free the hand that slaps them and the 99%.
Daniel Luna is an employment and labor attorney who is part of the San Joaquin Valley chapter of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) and the Comite 1ro de Mayo. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patric Needs a Saint
By Julius Chatton
When the average person thinks of life in a post-secondary education environment, images of thriving, carefree, academically competent, students are what usually come to mind. Our Western media has done a sufficient job of portraying college and university life as a stage in adolescence where people are free to be indecisive, behave as irresponsibly as they please, throw caution to the wind and party till dawn, yet manage to still make the 8 a.m. class on Monday morning and maintain a 4.0 grade-point average.
The realities however, are that the challenges of balancing academics, employment and any subsequent relationships during college have left countless students in chronic states of anxiety. In recent years, a new obstacle has become increasingly prevalent on our college campuses and has stealth-fully worked its way into the lives of many of our young pupils—the threat of homelessness.
Believe it or not, there are secret societies of homeless students in campuses across the nation, and the increasing dilemma has created a need for resources that have been seemingly unnecessary before now. Most of us categorize homeless life to fit the mold of the sign holders we see in intersections. However, there are growing numbers of displaced or transient students who look and function exactly as someone who has a residence.
In late September 2011, I caught up with a 19-year-old Fresno City College student by the name of Patric Rojas. Patric was kind enough to share his story of survival as a displaced adolescent, struggling to simultaneously secure a residence and maintain his GPA.
Long before college began; Patric had a plethora of obstacles to overcome, as a child with absent parents. It was in a casual manner that Patric discussed the nonexistent relationship he has with a mother who’s struggled with a drug addiction and a father whom he’d recently met for the first time in late September 2011.
Patric was raised by a loving grandmother, who apparently spoiled her grandson, gave him all the affection he could ever ask for and protected him from harm. Her death, which came when Patric was 13 years old, resulted in the devastated teen being taken in by his aunt Corrina and uncle Lamar, who already had a house full of small children.
As the oldest in the household, Patric was no longer the center of attention and had to adjust to the responsibilities of being an “older brother figure” to his cousins. In recent years, Patric went on a personal journey of self-discovery, which led him to identify and accept his sexual orientation as a homosexual male.
As an attempt to define his affiliation, Patric came out to his aunt and uncle, which ultimately had a huge impact on their relationship. Derogatory comments and disapproving glances from the only family he had left resulted in Patric being thrown out of the last place he was able to call home.
Patric now bounces from one friend’s house to the next, sleeping on couches and in beds of people whom he has convinced himself are trustworthy. In our exclusive interview, Patric revealed to me that he has clothes at three different people’s houses and that he never leaves in the morning without taking a bag filled with toiletries and a change of clothes for the following day.
Ironically, Patric’s living circumstances haven’t altered his desires to remain as social as any of his other college peers. One of Patric’s main coping mechanisms happens to be frequenting the gay night club scene. Patric stated that “when I’m in the club, I feel like all stress and all tension is just lifted off of me ’cause I get to dance and feel free. It’s also an opportunity to meet other people too.”
Many of the people Patric stays with have been contacts he’s made at the clubs. There are many risks, however, in putting oneself in an unknown or unfamiliar environment.
So as homelessness among college youth begins to increase, we may begin to see rises in crime, survival sex and fatality as students go into survival mode and resort to dangerous methods to survive and avoid sleeping on the streets.
Julius B. Chatton is a freelance writer, photographer and amateur documentarian of Fresno. Born in Hollywood and raised in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles, Julius has had ample exposure to various cultures, religions and political affiliations, which contribute to the levels of empathy he is able to convey in his journalism and literary works. Contact him at email@example.com or 559-473-3341.
Where Is the Vision?
By Ruth Gadebusch
Once upon a time, Fresno was a leader in something good instead of heading the various insulting lists of high crime rates, bad air, foreclosures and more. Now, there are those who would destroy the Fulton Mall because it hasn’t been a magic bullet for revitalizing downtown.
Never mind that shortly after the mall was built zoning went amuck allowing building further and further north with seemingly no regard to how much commercialism could be supported. The population has increased but not enough to support all the building allowed. Many commercial corners and some of the larger developments—with parking—have not fared any better than downtown.
It may well have been unsustainable in a better economy, much less in today’s. This devastating economy was not foreseeable, but had common sense prevailed overbuilding would have been evident. Development and campaign contributions appear to have ruled. Make no mistake. This has affected not only downtown but also viable agriculture land, a story for another day.
My concern at this point is the Fulton Mall. It is a park. It is an outdoor art haven. Many long-gone citizens contributed to the vision of such an environment, not to mention dollars to purchase and install the art. Let’s keep the faith with them.
It has been allowed to deteriorate, but it is the northward movement that brought it to today’s sad state. To note its rustiness is not to deny its continuing value. It can be refurbished. Even in its current condition it is still one of the few downtown draws. Unfortunately, most of the businesses remaining have limited appeal, especially with desirable merchandise available nearer home. Granted, it may be a chicken-and-egg situation with mall and business attraction, but I contend that is no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
To speak of saving the art with a meandering street, parking and wide sidewalks all in one breath is ludicrous. Has anyone measured the space? Should traffic actually develop, can you imagine the congestion with cars pulling in and out of parking spaces? How will parking be managed? Meters? Limited time? Two-way traffic? These same “saviors of downtown” have been known to bitterly complain about one-way streets. The Fulton Mall may be in trouble now but we haven’t seen anything compared to what this proposal would create. To revert to plain parking/street/sidewalk would be so ordinary as to abandon all hope for a thriving downtown.
Why would anyone want to go there as opposed to more convenient shopping elsewhere? Time was when we might have counted on running out of land for development, but it has already crossed the river as well as infringed on east and west farmland. That brings me back to the idea that it is planning that needs to be addressed, not destruction of the Fulton Mall.
Whatever happened to the idea of making it easier to infill, or the “square off” of city boundaries eliminating county islands and numerous districts with little understood function? With a salute to the Assemi development and the Mural District along with others working for improved neighborhoods, as well as the struggling merchants loyal to downtown, I dare say the idea of housing development in the area would do more for revitalization of the mall than anything else.
Fresno, don’t let the lack of instant gratification destroy hope. It is time for true vision again. The Fulton Mall is to be cherished.
Ruth Gadebusch, a community activist, is a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified Board of Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.
Need to Work on a Common Issue
By Ed Castro
Rev. Edward and Dorothy Pinkney from Benton Harbor, Michigan, were on a northern California tour recently. They spoke in Fresno about what is happening in Benton Harbor since the passage of the Emergency Financial Manager Law. This law allows the governor to appoint someone as a financial manager. That manager has the authority to dissolve all power of public agencies. The agencies are then powerless to make any decisions.
Rev. Pinkney indicated that while groups and individuals may have a variety of concerns, they need to work on a common issue. They do not have to like each other. It could be taxing the rich, holding banks responsible for their actions, stopping the elimination of social programs for the needy or any issue on which there is common ground.
He gave an example from his recent jail experience. The prisoners had a variety of complaints about jail conditions. Rev. Pinkney worked with various prisoners, including Latinos, African Americans and White Supremacists, to find a common issue to fight. It was getting rid of the “buck naked fish,” which most prisoners did not like to eat it when meals were served. By working together, they stopped the serving of this fish.
The approach he used was simple: the stick and move method. He stated that not everyone will get involved on an issue. When talking to someone, if that person is not interested move onto the next person. He says this saves a lot of time in organizing.
Rev. Pinkney indicated that a common issue around which people can galvanize is the death penalty. He feels people of various ethnic groups, of moral conscious and advocates of social justice do not support the death penalty. He used as an example the execution of Troy Anthony Davis, which was done without the support of hard evidence that he had actually shot an off-duty police officer. This campaign could be used as an organizing tool to get people motivated to support serving prison time instead of the death penalty if found properly guilty by a jury.
As for the financial crisis, there is a need to organize so that people are aware of the hostile takeover by rich corporations of public programs against the 99% of the people who are suffering from the current economic crisis that was caused by Wall Street and corporations.
This organizing could take us toward the development of a new political and economic system that looks after the interests of the 99% rather than the 1%. A new system would provide the jobs and necessities needed by the 99%.
Rev. Pinkney says that we should not allow the government, the rich and other special interest groups to curtail this movement in their own interests. People must begin to understand that the 1% do not represent the interests of the 99%. We need to stop depending on the corporations and government for the creation of jobs. The creation of a new political and economic system is the only way for society to be in the interests of the people.
Rev. Pinkney stated that the People’s Tribune, an independent newspaper with an editorial board based in Chicago, was a tremendous weapon in fighting the charges against him. It helped in publicizing nationwide the injustices committed against him by the State of Michigan. Although corporate media was not interested in his case, the People’s Tribune published monthly articles by Rev. Pinkney.
This writer did a short interview with Dorothy Pinkney, a strong woman who fought her husband’s case both politically and religiously. She kept the fire going by organizing and speaking out. Dorothy feels that the Emergency Financial Manager Law is genocide against poor people—as if they were not important to the community. Due to this drastic law being passed, about 12,600 people will be taken off the welfare list with no other benefits for them to survive on.
Power to the people.
Ed Castro is an organizer for Journey for Justice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.