Progressive News Briefs

Dream What We Can Become and Rejoice

Almost 50 years ago in the fields of the Central Valley, a movement formed to bring dignity and collective bargaining to the plight of farmworkers. As the memories of those days fade, Arte Américas brings back the images captured for all times by George Elfie Ballis, a photojournalist who spent his lifetime documenting and advocating for social justice.

The exhibition, prepared by George and Maia Ballis with the support of Eastman Kodak, has been touring university and community venues under George’s multifaceted Sun Mt project. Although smaller aspects of the exhibit have been displayed locally, the full exhibition of 108 large photos has not been seen in our area since 1995 when it was displayed at Centro Bellas Artes.

The Sun Mt project gives Arte Américas an opportunity to pay tribute to George Ballis, who died last September. His wife, Maia, assisted the center with the installation.

For those who knew and lived those times, and those who want to learn more about them, Arte Américas has prepared the center with books and videos and scheduled a series of presentations and discussions on Sunday afternoons through May 15. The galleries and related programming during this period is free to the public in an effort to reach out to the many people of our region.

Sunday, May 1, 2 p.m.–4 p.m.

The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle is a two-hour documentary that details the history of the movement. The historic footage and interviews pay tribute to the tremendous advances made by Chávez and all the men and women of the United Farmworkers Union who fought for a stake in the American dream. Produced, directed and written by Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles. The film was produced by Paradigm Productions and aired on PBS from 1997 through 2000. Discussion following the film will involve local people who participated in that struggle.

Sunday, May 15, 2 p.m.–4 p.m.

The Closing Reception and Panel Discussion will feature community representatives and organizers who will discuss how the issues of the farmworker movement relate to those of today. What have we learned about organizing? What are our challenges now?

This exhibition, and all Arte exhibitions in 2011, are part of a project to bring the center from its roots in the Chicano movement to the myriad expressions of today’s artists. Arte calls it Regeneración. By reconnecting with veterano artists and bringing in emerging ones through an intergenerational group of artists who help design and participate in the programming, Arte Américas will identify and reflect on the arts and issues of today and prepare the center for its next generation.

Arte Américas is located at 1630 Van Ness Ave. in downtown Fresno (www.arteamericas.org).

*****

Fresno First Steps Home

Early last year, Mayor Ashley Swearengin established (with great fanfare) the Fresno First Steps Home (FFSH) as a nonprofit that she said would work to end homelessness in Fresno. In May, she handed out cards telling the homeless to call 211 and encouraged residents to give those cards to the homeless instead of money. The goal was to raise $1 million a year by getting Fresnans to donate $1 a month. In July 2010, she announced that $221,000 had been donated by three corporate sponsors.

Greg Barfield was the homeless prevention and policy manager at the City of Fresno during this period of transition to privatize the effort to end homelessness. Barfield has since moved on, but he still works at City Hall as City Council member Oliver Baines’ chief of staff.

Barfield is listed on the FFSH Web site as the person to contact for more information about the project. If you go to the Web site, it asks you to send your donation to City Hall. The Community Alliance asked Barfield how much money FFSH has received and how it has been spent to help the homeless. He refused to provide us with that information, saying he was not required to do so, because FFSH is not an official government project.

Why is there no transparency or a willingness to share information about all of the wonderful things this group is doing? The Community Alliance has found that it could be because the group has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars and not spent any of it to help the homeless. In an e-mail to a homeless advocate, Barfield admits that little money has been used—just some spent on corporate filing fees and promotional materials.

FFSH has been in operation for about a year now. It has brought in a significant amount of money from individuals and corporate donors, but from what we can tell it has not spent any of its money to help the homeless and it doesn’t want you to know the details.

Fresno is fortunate to have at least two local groups that are transparent and spend all of the money they receive to help the homeless. Both can use donations. They are St. Benedict Catholic Worker, 4022 N. Cheryl Ave., Fresno, CA 93705, and Food Not Bombs, c/o Wesley United Methodist Church, 1343 E. Barstow Ave., Fresno, CA 93710-6309. For Food Not Bombs, make your check out to WUMC/FNB and include a note indicating that the donation is for FNB.

*****

Environmental Justice and Kettleman City

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its Investigation Report identifying serious and chronic hazardous waste violations at the Chemical Waste Management hazardous waste facility in Kettleman City. The EPA’s investigations, beginning in February 2010, found widespread violations occurring over a number of years at the facility, including the 18-month period during which Kettleman City experienced an unexplained spike in birth defects. Violations include illegal disposal of hazardous waste and problems with the company’s laboratory and analytical methods. The EPA is now taking enforcement action against Chem Waste.

This report provides the public with detailed information on events that led the EPA to issue a Notice of Violation to Chem Waste on February 25, 2011. The serious violations identified by the EPA include the following:

  • Impermissible land disposal of prohibited waste, including over five years from January 1, 2005, to July 23, 2010.
  • Failure to determine whether hazardous waste met treatment standards prior to disposal 2005–2007.
  • Problems with the Chem Waste laboratory’s analytical equipment and calibration verification.
  • Open containers and improperly marked containers of hazardous waste.
  • Failure to properly maintain and operate the facility relating to risks of fires, explosions or releases, which could threaten human health or the environment.

The EPA also noted problems with Chem Waste improperly diluting hazardous waste so that it would meet treatment standards.

“The EPA’s investigation proves that our concerns about illegal and unsafe toxic waste dumping at Chem Waste are real,” said Maricela Mares Alatorre, a Kettleman City resident. “Many of these violations took place at the same time the birth defects and infant deaths happened. How many more violations will take place before government agencies do their job and deny Chem Waste’s permit applications?”

“We have said all along that Chem Waste’s landfill was not run properly, and this EPA investigation proves we were right. We applaud US EPA for finally doing their job and cracking down on Chem Waste’s chronic and serious violations,” said Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

“This Investigation Report calls into serious question Chem Waste’s ability to safely dispose of hazardous waste and monitor its own compliance with hazardous waste regulations,” said Ingrid Brostrom, attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “It also makes clear that the company is not in a position where it should be expanding its operations.”

  • 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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