Kathryn Forbes

Opinion and Analysis From The Grassroots

Mixed Emotions and Painful Choices
By Ruth Gadebusch

Without a doubt, Occupy Wall Street, the 99%, our own Courthouse Park campers or whatever the title, have legitimate causes; however, difficulties come with some of the tactics. In a nation of laws, change comes through the ballot. The challenge is to develop the political climate for ballot success. It is this that the demonstrators, marchers, etc., need to create.

While I salute the dedication of those occupying Courthouse Park, I question if continuing is making many converts, always needed by a movement. Both the deputies and the campers have shown admirable restraint. Nevertheless, no responsible citizen could fail to question if the cost is justifiable, particularly in today’s dire financial circumstances. No responsible citizen could fail to note that the overcrowding of our jail is already forcing the release of those far more deserving of jail time.

There are even those who think that the stretching of freedom of speech to this extent is comparable to the Supreme Court’s declaration that corporations are people. Many sympathetic to the cause recognize the sheriff does not make the law, but her oath requires enforcement. Another part of me thinks why not wait and see if the camping doesn’t fade on its own.

Still another part of me hopes that it doesn’t fade. Unquestionably, change is needed. While the sharing of leadership is praiseworthy, somewhere along the line there must be an articulation of just what is wanted—needed for a meeting of the minds. Most likely, success will be in small steps, not so easily measured, rather than some big dramatic happening. Will it be enough? In law-abiding nations, the process is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

I have little hope for changing the minds of current officeholders. They appear too locked into their power plays. The best hope is in convincing voters for the next election. There are many who take joy in the turmoil created by the evening tête-à-tête of the park occupiers and the sheriff deputies, but it requires more than turmoil to make a difference at the ballot box.

Too many citizens look on the occupiers as “ne’r do-well” instead of the committed and unemployed—not by choice—that the majority probably is. Admittedly, while commending the dedication, I can’t help but wonder if leaving the site during the forbidden overnight hours wouldn’t serve the purpose just as well, and even collect a few powerful friends from the more compassionate conservatives.

There comes a time when a tactic begins producing diminishing returns, losing its effectiveness thereby needing replacement. Desired results require political organizing beyond demonstrations and marches. It is essential that demands be as well articulated as those of the Tea Partiers. The need is recruiting candidates and electing them by using the same commitment and devotion that it takes to camp out getting arrested in Courthouse Park.

In the meantime, when, where and how to demonstrate or march must be carefully thought out. Just what is the goal? Will the particular action advance the cause? Who are our allies? What are our resources? How can we sustain the movement personally and financially?

Demanding change is easy. Finding solutions is much more difficult. Keep the faith, but ensure that the actions are effective.

*****

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.

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CSU Priorities Skewed?
By Kathryn Forbes

Kathryn Forbes

In mid-September, California State University (CSU) Chancellor Charles B. Reed again ignored an independent fact-finder’s recommendation that the CSU administration agree to the California Faculty Association’s (CFA) salary proposals. Because teacher working conditions are student learning conditions, CFA’s proposal would preserve quality education for the state’s middle-and lower-income families. Chancellor Reed insists that the system has no money and he refuses to honor past promises of even the most modest salary increases for faculty.

However, he apparently does not think that CSU’s financial situation is dire enough to warrant reining in administrators’ salaries. Witness, for instance, the recent $100,000 salary boost for the president of CSU San Diego announced just as the Board of Trustees approved a 12% student fee hike. Indeed, since Reed became chancellor student fees have increased 242%.

California taxpayers must demand that CSU’s administrative bureaucrats be held accountable for privileging their own
financial interests over the needs of students. We must not cede communal ownership of public education to the values of an elitist group more interested in ensuring their own financial stability than transforming the lives of students through quality education.

Administrators’ growing financial privilege created under Reed’s leadership is not limited to a few upper executives. Since he became chancellor, the number of managers and administrators in the CSU has grown 22% while there has been no growth in the percentage of non-temporary faculty positions.

A quick look at the Fresno State 2009–2010 budget book presents a sobering picture of our publicly paid middle and upper management. In the same year that part-time faculty lost work, classes were cut, student fees increased, course sizes ballooned and administrative assistants laid off, all of our campus managers at the level of college dean and above earned at least in the top 10% of Americans with about half earning in the top 5%. Chancellor Reed out earns 99% of U.S. citizens.

The Chancellor’s Office and the CSU Board of Trustees typically say that these salaries are necessary to “attract the best and the brightest” to higher education. Setting aside the obvious rebuttal that California’s students deserve the “best and the brightest” in all areas of public education, my reply to this rationalization is simple—“prove it.”

At a time when people clamor for accountability among teachers and students, we have somehow failed to demand that administrators provide evidence that their salaries are justified. As a result, under Reed’s leadership, the CSU administration has created a system in which administrators are responsible to one another rather than to students, faculty or other California taxpayers.

Our collective ability to counter the chancellor’s reasoning is hindered by a workplace climate that equates criticizing organizational inequalities with acting as a disgruntled employee. Chancellor Reed would rather us adopt a myopic view of work, one in which the maintenance of a positive attitude is the focus rather than one in which the preservation of a quality public education is the goal.

Yet it has been students and faculty who have challenged CSU executive privilege. Last year, Students for Quality Education (SQE) organized walkouts and rallies to counter Chancellor Reed’s draconian cuts. In addition to supporting SQE events, the CFA has staged rallies and political theater events on the Fresno State campus and throughout the CSU system. In November, CFA held a variety of job actions throughout California, including an informational picket on Nov. 9 on the Fresno State campus.

But more support is needed. It is time for the California legislature to step up and hold the Chancellor accountable. Legislators have a fiduciary responsibility to see that taxpayer money is not frittered away on executive salaries and pointless managerial initiatives that do little more than reproduce the cadre of edu-managing bureaucrats for whom the classroom is a remote country.

Moreover, California taxpayers must insist that Chancellor Reed is held responsible for decisions that undermine quality education for the people of California.

*****

Kathryn Forbes is an associate professor of women’s studies at California State University, Fresno. She is also the California Faculty Association faculty rights officers for the Fresno campus. Contact her at kathrynf@csufresno.edu.

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Somos del Agua—We Are the Water
By Stan Santos

Stan Santos

I believe life is like the water that envelopes our earth, la Madre Tierra. We join the great migration when we are born with the morning dew. We rise through the atmosphere and travel across borders and continents. We gather in gentle, yet powerful formations, and fall to the earth in massive cloudbursts. We engorge the rivers as they rush to the sea, itself, a huge celebration of life. Then the cycle begins anew. We are transformed during our journey as we share our environment with those who travel with us and those who came before. We merge with their lives, breathe their air, and become part of a community, a nation, a higher organism.

This notion that our lives are shared runs contrary to those who elevate the solitary, rugged individual, “going it alone” to heroes’ status. They condemn us when we say “We are one!” Our expression, “Tu eres mi otro yo—You are my other me” is reduced to indigenous naivety. They laugh when we cry out in protest at their greed and lack of compassion for humanity and nature.

The Violent Destruction of Homes

On Oct. 27, we witnessed the first blows of a campaign for the violent separation of families from their homes. Men in suits directed a dozen or more men with guns and operators with large tractors poised for the demolition, like a military operation. They threatened the most defenseless members of our community with arrest and an uncertain future. Some of their elder victims and those clearly suffering from disabilities may find themselves in emergency rooms with potentially fatal consequences due to exposure to the elements. The young men could end up in jail or fall victim to all kinds of street hustles and violence. Without the fabric of this fragile support structure, the women may be subjected to predators and horrible forms of exploitation. Is this any less violent than a military occupation?

Many left with shopping carts and a few precious belongings, numbed and uncertain where they would shelter that night. When the destruction began, we were a handful against dozens of city officials, law enforcement officers and maintenance workers. When I recall the huge claws demolishing homes, I am shocked by the realization that this takes place every day against Palestinian families. In fact, what is happening in our inner cities is also happening in Mexico, the Amazon rain forests, Africa and Asia. It happens wherever there are people who stand in the way of development or the exploitation of a nation’s resources by profiteers. Our homeless are joining the ranks of millions of displaced workers and internal refugees throughout the world.

But Some Fought Back

“Patch,” with his distinctive eye cover and grey hair, was one resident who stepped forward, articulate and angry. He rallied with us, encouraging others to resist. I soon learned that he was once a splicing technician with Pacific Bell. Before becoming a truck driver, he worked for 10 years out of the same corporate yard where I now report. He reminds us that we are all one pink slip away from life on the streets.

We were all heartened when we saw an animated wave of Occupy Fresno activists approaching to join this unfair standoff between the poor and the suits and guns. Suddenly, a hundred or so young men and women stepped briskly into the breach, locking arms and chanting. The poor, the Occupiers, university students and community supporters stood together in front of the officers who threatened us with arrest. The massive bulldozer paused in its destruction, the operator uncertain, as the entire operation ground to a halt.

A young man by the name of Kyle, White and maybe in his teens, had already begun moving his belongings. Like others, he was resigned to whatever the City had decided to do. He was close to tears as his shelter was destroyed and he described how he built it from pallets, plywood and tarps and made it sturdy against the elements. The last time I saw Kyle, he was venting his frustration, yelling at the officers.

I was inspired by a determined young woman from Occupy with a beanie cap. We asked Keith, a young Black man if he was surrendering his shelter. He responded “no” and we stood our ground. Having nowhere else to pitch their tent, two black sisters, Rose and Fatima, also asked if they could stay. When I last saw the young Occupier, she was helping another woman who had given up the fight and was gathering her belongings ahead of the bulldozer.

The Outcome

By the end of the day, the only structures that remained were the ones that we had stood in front of. The next day, I drove by and found only an empty street. The City did as we feared: It waited until we left to complete the destruction of the
encampment whose residents were clearly not a threat to public safety, or “living in a dangerous place” as they likely are now. Most suffered from age, disabilities and the ravages of poverty.

A few days later, I went to Occupy Fresno and was happy to find Patch in good spirits and companionship. City officials had lied, even to the media, when they said that he had been provided a voucher and shelter. With a toothy grin and winking from his one eye, he said, “But I got a bus pass,” and we shared a good laugh.

I learned that Kyle had headed for the river to set up a new shelter. Someone said Keith may have tagged along with two young men, one Black, one White, against an adverse environment. Rose and Fatima went to stay under the G Street bridge, eventually making their way to Occupy Fresno where I found them one night. Momma, Lola, Chuey and the rest faded into the unforgiving urban hardscape of downtown Fresno. I see them every day in the faces of Fresno’s houseless community. They taught me a lesson that I will never forget of the desperation of life on the streets: You must seek community if you are to survive.

The End, or the Beginning?

On Oct. 27, the City of Fresno launched a campaign that would culminate with the total destruction and removal of all poor people’s street shelters in central Fresno. During this time, it can be concluded without doubt that the mayor, the city manager, the deputy city manager and the leaders of the Homeless Task Force have perpetrated a crime against the poor of Fresno. There weren’t enough of us to stop them, and it is now complete.

There are times when we grow weary with the weight of so many lives, so much suffering in this construct of capitalism, with its legacy of militarism and fascism. But something transforms us when we join the struggle to create a better world. We may saturate our brains with readings and the underlining framework of democracy, socialism or anarchy, or we may reflect our raíces indígenas. But the commitment literally comes from the heart. We forget that important organ with thousands of sensory neurons for processing information, which operates instinctively and thrives on giving and receiving love. Every time we touch another life, we give them a part of our heart. When we fight for a just cause, it is usually against seemingly insurmountable odds. And it is our heart muscle that is engaged, racing at full throttle, thinking for us.

We pause to remember them and cry the tears of vindication, certain that someday we will prevail and Wall Street will fall. We will continue to share the gifts of our hearts until they are all gone. I take comfort in the knowledge that on Oct. 27 in a homeless encampment in Fresno, I was not alone on my journey to the sea.

*****

Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at ssantos@cwa9408.org.

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We Are the 99% and We Support the Teachers
By 
Noah Canton

Noah Canton

One of the most rewarding elements of being an active Occupy Fresno participant, in addition to being part of a dedicated, compassionate and imaginative community, is the positive direct actions we involve ourselves in on behalf of ordinary people looking to reshape society in a just and equitable way. It has been argued that Occupy Fresno should focus its energy on demonstrating against the corporate greed of Wall Street and financial institutions and their influence on our politicians to make and support policies that hurt the 99%.

Occupy Fresno’s decision to focus its attention on the Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) is a direct response to teachers, staff and parents explicitly asking us to stand up to the injustices the children of Fresno are facing.

So what does this have to do with the whole Occupy Wall Street movement? Specifically, the budget crisis our schools are facing has been created by the unethical practices of our financial institutions in their quest for ever-increasing profits. It is these practices that have created the long-term recession and the resulting high unemployment rates, reduced tax revenues and unsustainable government spending.

In Fresno and hundreds of other communities across the country, the budget crisis has led to the elimination of school programs such as art and music, significantly larger class sizes, the elimination of teaching positions and forced salary cuts in various forms for the remaining teachers.

Occupy Fresno recognizes that the FUSD must deal with these reduced budgets. What it objects to is the fact that the sacrifices that have to be made have not been shared equitably. Teachers have been required to take pay cuts while having to deal with larger class sizes. Students have involuntarily been forced to accept an inferior education, jeopardizing the very future of our community.

But what sacrifices have senior FUSD administrators and supervisors been required to make? Virtually none. As such, Occupy Fresno is compelled to seek redress of this situation immediately by requesting that the superintendent of the FUSD, along with classified supervisors and administrators, take a 25% salary reduction, while certificated supervisors and administrators take a 10% salary reduction until the budget crisis is resolved. Should voluntary salary reductions not be forthcoming, the FUSD Board should mandate these reductions. (Note: The superintendent’s salary is currently $277,000). The impact would be an additional $4.8 million that could be used to retain more teachers and reduce class sizes as well as restore programs that have been eliminated.

In addition, the FUSD maintains an $87 million budget reserve, which is 14% of its total budget. This compares to an average of 1% in similar districts. Occupy Fresno firmly believes that this reserve should be reduced substantially with the released funds being put back into the working budget in order to restore quality education to our children.

Approximately 20 Occupy Fresno members marched to the FUSD’s Board meeting on Oct. 12 to speak out during the open session forum on non-agenda items. Seven members took turns asking if Superintendent Michael Hanson would take a 25% pay cut to share in the sacrifices teachers and students were being forced to make. Despite repeated requests, the Board refused to comment. At one point, an FUSD lawyer went to the microphone to inform the public that the Board is not able to answer questions or make comments.

The following week, 35 Occupy Fresno members went to the Board meeting and spent an hour and a half repeating the same question in various forms. As soon as the lawyer again noted that the Board was unable to respond, Occupy Fresno responded by directing the attention of the Board to Education Code 35145.5, Government Code 54954.2, which states, “Board members or district staff members may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed by the public about items not appearing on the agenda.” The lawyer sat down, but the Board continued to refuse to acknowledge Occupy Fresno’s questions.

For the Board meeting on Nov. 16, Occupy Fresno requested and was granted placement of two issues on the Board’s agenda. The two proposals on the agenda were 1) a 25% cut for classified supervisors’ and administrators’ salaries and a 10% cut for certificated supervisors’ and administrators’ salaries (for a total savings of $4.8 million) and 2) that a significant portion of reserve money be spent on hiring teachers and reducing class sizes, restoring art and music programs, funding disabled student services and reducing healthcare costs for teachers and staff.

To effect these specific changes, the community needs to get behind them and demonstrate their support by calling or e-mailing the FUSD Board members, going to the Board meetings and coming to Occupy Fresno general assemblies every day at 6 p.m. at Courthouse Park in downtown Fresno to provide input and suggestions to help make this and other efforts successful.

*****

Noah Canton works part-time at a bar while continuously looking for full-time work. He holds a B.A. in global studies from UC Santa Barbara and a master’s in global movements, social justice and sustainability from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Contact him at noahcanton@gmail.com.

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“Be Prepared” Is Not Just for Boys Scouts
By Richard Gomez

Richard Gomez

So whether you believe in change or just want to make a change through the electoral process, you better get prepared. We’ll be voting for a president next year, but what if the current batch paraded on television makes you want to wretch? Maybe you should look at what the Green Party has to offer if you want to transform this world into a better one. Please investigate on your own to be prepared to make the best decision.

The Green Party has two candidates for president at this time.

Dr. Kent P. Mesplay of San Diego has a Ph.D. in biomedical science and is leading a movement for Grassroots Green Renewal, which is a renewed emphasis on the Green Party’s Four Pillars and 10 Key Values. Green power to the people!

He believes that sustainability is security. Humanity must do everything possible to stabilize the climate. Cutting way back on carbon emissions is a key step, requiring a change in our lifestyle as U.S. citizens. Scientifically, this is a real issue as human behavior affects the climate, and public policy and private action must be geared to recognize and correct the problem.

Mesplay says that he will provide leadership at the federal level to create a public works program, called a Green New Deal, so that everyone can have meaningful work as we strengthen our infrastructure and transform into living sustainably. For more information, visit www.mesplay.org.

Dr. Jill Stein says that “young people have been told that they have to choose between two parties that have been smothering them with student debt and destroying their future. We [the Green Party] gave them a real alternative, and they responded. This is how real change in Washington begins—by just saying ‘no’ to candidates that you don’t really trust.”

Stein believes America deserves a new deal—a Green New Deal that provides a secure future for We the People and the planet. Under her five-point plan, unemployment is not only a crisis that hurts families and communities but also a drag on our economy.

The Green New Deal will directly create jobs, put 25 million people back to work, end the Bush/Obama recession and jump-start the green economy. Jobs that it creates will build the infrastructure for a stable, renewable energy economy, providing real national security by making wars for oil obsolete. It will build public transportation, clean manufacturing and sustainable agriculture. To read the entire Green New Deal, visit www.jillstein.org/green_partys_stein_pulls_27percent.

Voters may select any candidate in California’s 2012 Primary Election, regardless of political affiliation, owing to Proposition 14, which places all appropriate candidates for political offices on all ballots except the presidential candidates. Voters will receive ballots based on registered political party to vote for President followed by candidates running for other offices.

So if you want to vote for a particular presidential candidate in the primary, you need to be registered in that party. If you discover that Dr. Stein or Dr. Mesplay could do the job, then you need to be registered in the Green Party.

The Fresno County Green Party meets at the State Department Building in downtown Fresno on the second Thursday of the month. The next meeting will be Dec. 8 at 7 p.m.

*****

Richard Gomez is currently a council member of the Fresno County Green Party. Contact him at 559-408-3320 or nate136_66@yahoo.com.

 

 

  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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