IN THIS ISSUE:
Drug Wars in Fresno
Can Labor Get Out of This Mess?
Community Alliance Writer Put in Solitary Confinement
Letters to the Editor
Dolores Huerta to Speak in Fresno
Working Against the Death Penalty
ACLU Annual Meeting
Honduras Coup: The US Connection
Cuba Caravan Finds Success
Fidel and Raul Castro
Helping Hands: A Guide to Assistance
Music and Arts Calendar
Peace and Social Justice Calendar
Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots
Stop the Forced Repatriation of Hmong Refugees
Residents of West Fresno Demand Environmental Justice
CWA Reaches Tentative Labor Agreement
Lahori Tikka, Restaurant Review
The Economy Goes “Up in Smoke”: What’s Really Behind Fresno’s Drug Wars?
By Mike Rhodes
|Proposition 215, passed in 1996, decriminalized the medical use of marijuana. Why then has the City of Fresno filed a lawsuit against a medical marijuana dispensary in the Tower District?|
Fresno County has been a war zone this summer as multiple government agencies work to eradicate marijuana in the Sierra Mountains and shut down a medical marijuana dispensary in the City of Fresno. Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (aka the drug czar), even came to town to observe the large-scale operations in the mountains. Kerlikowske and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims held a press conference in July to announce Operation Save Our Sierra, which has now resulted in 91 arrests and approximately $1.6 billion worth of marijuana plants seized.
According to the Fresno County Farm Bureau, grapes are listed as the No. 1 agricultural crop in this county, with an annual value of $723 million. Almonds are second at $591 million. Marijuana, if legal, would be listed on the Farm Bureau Web site as the No. 1 agricultural crop in Fresno County, far exceeding the value of grapes and almonds combined.
Sheriff’s officials said they have confiscated more than 400,000 plants in Fresno County this year. Last year, 137,409 plants were destroyed. That makes Fresno County one of the top marijuana producing counties in the state (or at least a county where a lot of marijuana plants have been confiscated). Last year, Lake County was No. 1 with 499,508 plants seized and Tulare County (just south of Fresno) was No. 2 with 395,489 plants confiscated.
Mims said Mexican drug cartels are behind most of the marijuana being grown in the Sierras, east of Fresno. But when asked to name any of the cartels involved, she said that she did not want to talk about it. The overwhelming majority of the people arrested in the raids were Mexicans. Mims also emphasized the damage done to the environment by marijuana growers, displaying fertilizers, pesticides and trash left behind at the camps.
Nancy Botwin (not her real name), a marijuana grower at the 3,000-foot elevation in eastern Fresno County with more than 10 years of experience in the business, said she has never seen any sign of the Mexican mafia in the Sierras. Botwin says she has, however, seen plenty of evidence of the SOS campaign. “They have been flying back and forth in their military helicopters for a couple of weeks now,” Botwin said. “A couple of days ago, they hovered over a garden a few hundred yards from here. What that did was tell the locals where the pot is at. Sure enough, a local teenager went down and harvested the pot and he was busted later in the day.”
In a media advisory sent July 22, it was announced that more than 300 personnel from 17 local, state and federal agencies were involved in the operation.
|Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (aka the drug czar). The new drug czar has promised to end the war on drugs, but this year’s budget actually increases spending for interdiction.|
Botwin says most of the people she knows are growing “legal” medical marijuana. Kerlikowske, when questioned if he considered marijuana a dangerous drug that should demand the level of resources in this campaign, said that “marijuana is dangerous, it has no medicinal benefit and that is why it is a Schedule 1 drug in the Controlled Substances Act. If you look at the number of people that call hotlines across the country, not just here in California, for help because of addiction, you clearly see that marijuana is, if not at the top depending on location, very close to the top.”
Botwin thinks we are all losers in the “War on Drugs.” She said that “they are cutting back resources to our schools, reducing county employees’ hours, our healthcare system is going to hell in a hand basket and they have the audacity to waste taxpayer money on this so-called SOS campaign. Why is preventing a cancer patient from getting medicine to stop his or her suffering so important to these people? I think they are just trying to justify their bloated budgets by blaming it on Mexican drug cartels.”
The argument about environmental degradation to public lands did not impress Botwin either. “I think that is just BS. They are crying crocodile tears over a minor problem. They [?] spread pesticides from one side of the San Joaquin Valley to the other, it drifts into schools, it causes birth defects, and where is Sheriff Mims and the drug czar when that is happening? In fact, it is right-wing zealots like those behind Operation SOS who are screaming to ‘Turn on the Pumps,’ which would probably bring about the loss of an entire species of fish. It is just all so hypocritical.”
The drug wars are also playing out on another front. The City of Fresno filed a lawsuit against a Tower District medical marijuana dispensary. In the complaint, the city claims we will “suffer irreparable harm and injury by the maintenance of conditions with the City that violate the FMC [Fresno Municipal Code].” The City of Fresno does have a provision for legal medical marijuana dispensaries. The ordinance says the facilities will be allowed only if they are “consistent with state and federal law.”
When in Fresno, I asked Kerlikowske if a medical marijuana dispensary would violate federal law. He said that he expected the attorney general to issue new guidelines soon that will clarify the situation. In February 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that states should be allowed to make their own rules on medical marijuana and that they would end raids on pot dispensaries in California. “What the president said during the campaign, you’ll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we’ll be doing here in law enforcement,” he said. “What he said during the campaign is now American policy.”
|Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims held a press conference to announce operation Save our Sierra, which has now resulted in 91 arrests and approximately $1.6 billion worth of marijuana plants seized.|
The Los Angeles Times announced in March “that the Justice Department has no plans to prosecute pot dispensaries that are operating legally under state laws in California and a dozen other states-a development that medical marijuana advocates and civil libertarians hailed as a sweeping change in federal drug policy.”
Somehow, Fresno did not get the memo and instead filed a lawsuit against the dispensary at 210 E. Olive Ave. saying it is “a public nuisance and threat to public health and safety.” The City of Oakland, on the other hand, passed Measure F in July 2009 that authorizes the city to impose a 1.8% tax on the gross receipts of “cannabis businesses” located in the city. The city estimates that it will raise $294,000 in additional tax revenue in 2010 as a result of Measure F passing. It passed by an 80%-20% vote.
When asked why Fresno is taking such a hostile approach to medical marijuana, nobody at City Hall would comment.
Can Labor Get Out of This Mess?
By David Bacon
For anyone who loves the labor movement, it is not unreasonable today to ask whether we’ve lost our way. California’s huge healthcare local is in trusteeship, its leading organizing drive in shambles. SEIU’s international is at war with its own members, and now with UNITE HERE, whose merger of garment and hotel workers is unraveling.
In 1995, following the upsurge that elected John Sweeney president of the AFL-CIO, the service and hotel workers seemed two of the unions best able to organize new members. Their high-profile campaigns, like Justice for Janitors and Hotel Workers Rising, were held out as models. Today, they’re in jeopardy.
This conflict has endangered our high hopes for labor law reform and beyond that for an economic recovery with real jobs programs, fair trade instead of free trade, universal healthcare and immigration reform that gives workers rights instead of raids. The ability of unions to grow in size and political power is on the line.
|Sara Steffens, a reporter for the Contra Costa Times, was laid off in retaliation for leading a union organizing drive at the newspaper. Hundreds of people rallied with her in front of the Federal Building to urge California Senator Dianne Feinstein to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to join unions and punish employers who violate workers’ rights.|
Today, only 12% of workers belong to unions, and less in the private sector-the lowest level of organization since the years before the great longshore strike of 1934. And falling numbers aren’t the whole story. Some labor leaders now say that only huge deals at the top, far from the control of rank-and-file workers, can bring in new members on the scale we need. To make those deals attractive to employers, they argue, unions have to be willing to make deep concessions in wages and rights, and in our political demands on everything from single-payer healthcare to immigration reform.
We need some better ideas about how unions should organize-to rethink even what a union actually is.
Part of our difficulty is that our labor movement, and the workers themselves, think about their interests in relatively narrow terms. By comparison with workers in South Africa, El Salvador, or even Mexico and Canada, we are very conservative and reluctant to see the root of our problems in the system itself, or to talk openly about the need to change it drastically. It is more important than ever that workers see their class interest, but what is that interest? How should we defend it?
Our labor movement has resources and wealth that are enormous by comparison with most unions around the world. But what good is it if we don’t at least use it effectively to defend ourselves, or if it even becomes a brake on our willingness to take risks like those French workers who lock their bosses in their offices, or Mexican workers, who facing the declaration of their strike in Cananea as illegal, have defied and fought it for the last two years?
Over the last four decades, corporations have built an international system of production and distribution that links together the workers of many countries, but in which workers have no control over the expropriation and distribution of the wealth they create. Furthermore, this system has forced devastating and permanent unemployment on entire generations of U.S. workers, especially in African American and Chicano neighborhoods. Meanwhile, neoliberal economic policies displace communities in developing countries, creating a reserve labor force of hundreds of millions, migrating both within and across borders, desperate for work.
Employers have always used the migration of people to this country as a labor supply system. Today that use is more overt than ever. NAFTA alone created such displacement in Mexico that more than 6 million Mexican workers and farmers have come here looking for a way to guarantee their families’ survival. Our immigration policy is then used as the means to criminalize, not just their labor, by making it a federal crime for a worker without papers to have a job, but to criminalize the very status of millions of people, who, like everyone else, have no alternative but to work.
Large corporations, with allies in the administration, among lobbying groups in Washington, and even in our labor movement itself, are now proposing changes that would substitute contract labor programs for family reunification, force all workers to carry a national ID in order to work and require the firing of millions of workers who can’t get the required “work authorization.”
Our labor movement was organized by immigrants and their children-by people who came from somewhere else. But our unions have been organized in a working class deeply divided by race ad nationality. The key issue confronting our labor movement for the last 180 years is inclusion or exclusion. Today, undocumented immigrants ask, will the unions I paid my dues to defend me when the government tells my boss to fire me because I don’t have papers? It’s not an abstract question; 254 workers at Overhill Farms, fired two months ago in Los Angeles, are asking that question to UFCW Local 770 today.
|This picket line took place in front of the Fresno Bee during an organizing drive in 2001 to organize workers in the press room. Management at the Bee has been extremely hostile to workers organizing into collective bargaining units.|
For unions and workers to survive in this environment, they must demand increasingly radical reforms. Accepting the limits of “what’s politically possible” as defined by Washington insiders, whether they seek to prevent discussion of single-payer or the repeal of employer sanctions, is a recipe for disaster. We cannot defend ourselves if our only goal is to “be at the table.”
Each month for almost a year, more than half a million people have lost their jobs. Banks, meanwhile, have been showered with hundreds of millions of dollars to keep them afloat, while working families can’t get their loans renegotiated so they can stay in their homes. Yet there has been no national demonstration called by either the labor federation, demanding a direct federal jobs program or redirecting the bailout to workers instead of the wealthy.
One of the most important reasons why change is so hard for U.S. unions is the continuing legacy of the cold war.
Discussion in labor is difficult because the cold war taught unionists that political differences beyond a limited range would result in marginalization at best, expulsion at worst. You can’t talk freely if you’re afraid for your career or your job. That cold war straightjacket strengthened a hierarchical structure and culture, very different from the egalitarianism in the COSATU or Salvadoran unions. We have forgotten the Wobblies’ idea that we’re all leaders, equals among equals. At the same time, unions have accumulated property, treasuries and political debts, and have an interest in defending them, making institutional needs paramount. We don’t challenge the government out in the streets beyond a certain point because we don’t want to risk not being at the table when the deals affecting our future are made.
Radical ideas and the language to describe them continue to be illegitimate because their suppression has been unacknowledged. After 1995, the prevailing attitude in national leadership was, “We don’t need to rehash the past. Let’s concentrate on where we’re going now.” It’s difficult, however, to determine that new direction if you can’t talk about where the old one was headed and what was wrong with it. Nowhere is this confusion more evident than in labor’s attitude toward U.S. foreign policy. In Colombia, the barriers to solidarity with its left-wing union federation came down, and unions like the Steel Workers became bastions of support for its embattled unionists. Yet next door in Venezuela, U.S. labor supported coup plotters against the radical regime of Hugo Chavez. Under pressure from U.S. Labor Against the War, the AFL-CIO publicly rejected U.S. military intervention in Iraq. Yet the Democratic Party’s support for war in Afghanistan and for Israel’s attack on Gaza is greeted with silence.
Change is always uneven and incomplete, but the change process in U.S. labor has virtually stopped, leaving unions increasingly caught up in internal divisions and conflict.
Lacking agreement on how and why the power of unions was undermined by the suppression of the left, there has been no consensus on what should replace the old cold war philosophy.
A deeper understanding (i.e., greater class consciousness) can lead to ideas for alternatives, both in radical reforms of the existing system, and even its replacement. This kind of education, part of the normal life of unions in South Africa or El Salvador, requires an investment of time, and a real interest in how workers think. People act autonomously based on their ideas, and workers with greater understanding and consciousness are able to lead themselves and each other, rather than acting solely on directives from above. Furthermore, while education doesn’t necessarily produce immediate mobilizing results, it does treat workers as the people whose thinking, and eventually whose leadership, is the key element in building a union.
The North American Free Trade Agreement caused a huge debate in labor that coincided with the rebellion that brought Sweeney into office. It marked a watershed in the growing awareness among U.S. workers of the impact of globalization and brought forth important new movements of solidarity, especially between unions and workers in the United States and Mexico.
NAFTA and the battle in Seattle at the WTO not only profoundly affected the thinking of workers about the future of their own jobs but also set the stage for the huge debate over immigration that followed. Those workers and unions who were educated by the debate were in a much better position to understand the way neoliberal reforms displaced workers and farmers in Mexico, and led to migration across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The debate over immigration policy now puts critical questions before U.S. unions. Are unions going to defend all workers (including the undocumented), or just some? Should unions support immigration enforcement designed to force millions of workers from their jobs, so that they will leave the country? How can labor achieve the unity and solidarity it needs to successfully confront transnational corporations, both internally within the United States, and externally with workers in countries like Mexico?
|Other Resources For more articles and images on housing and hunger, see http://dbacon.igc.org. See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the United States, Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006), www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=4575. See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004), www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9989.html|
Understanding that NAFTA hurt workers on both sides of the border is a crucial step in answering these questions, providing the raw material workers need to understand globalization. But raw material is just that. Workers and unions need an education process, and educators who can help turn that raw material into consciousness and action. In more radical times, left-wing socialist and communist parties played that role of educator. Because this kind of organized left presence in labor is much smaller today, it is unclear what can take its place.
While we try to find organizational answers to these questions, however, we can find ways of trying to use these problems and crises to ask questions of each other, and the workers around us. Perhaps these questions, and our efforts to answer them, can tell us something, not only about the nature of the system, but why we want to change it, and to what.
So here’s a question. Let’s think about the future. If there were not such wide gulfs in the standard of living from country to country-if we had a socialist world-would the migration of people stop? We move and migrate in part because we can. We can get on a plane and travel halfway around the world in a matter of hours. Mexican undocumented workers, living on a hillside under the trees in San Diego, call and check in with their families by cell phone 2,000 miles away in a small village in Mexico. And we are more connected than ever before by the bonds of family and friends to people across many borders.
So what does the great liberatory goal of socialism mean to the movement of people? The character of migration under capitalism, especially today, is that it is forced migration, manipulated by the powerful as a labor supply system. So wouldn’t socialism mean that we would do away with the forcible nature of migration, while we also protect the ability of people to move and travel wherever they want, and defend their rights wherever they go?
And the last question-do we have to wait for socialism to move toward this goal? Is it possible to end forcible migration and protect the rights of migrants under capitalism? Is this system capable of such a radical reform?
And, of course, the answer is, it depends on us.
David Bacon is an award-winning photojournalist, author, labor organizer and activist for immigrant rights. Mike Davis calls him “the conscience of American journalism.” Bacon’s latest book, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants, received the C.L.R. James Award for best book of 2007-2008 by the Working Class Studies Association.
Community Alliance Writer Put in Solitary Confinement
By Mike Rhodes
Boston Woodard, a prisoner/journalist who is a frequent contributor to the Community Alliance, was put in solitary confinement in retaliation for an article he wrote about conditions at Solano State Prison. Woodard, in a letter he sent to me from Solano, stated “I was placed in Administrative Segregation [“The Hole”] on July 9, 2009. I was NOT given any disciplinary action and there is NO charges/violations leveled against me. The official ‘lock-up order’ (CDC-114-D) states I was being removed from the general population because I am a ‘security problem’ and pose a ‘threat’ to the safety and security of this institution, because of my writing.”
In May, we published “Rogue Prison Staff: Breaking all the Rules,” in which Boston described in detail the threats and intimidation taking place at Solano – the filing of false disciplinary charges, mail tampering, verbal threats, etc. After reading that article, representatives from the California Department of Corrections (CDC) held what Woodard described as a Kangaroo Court. According to Woodard, “CSP-Solano’s warden John W. Haviland told me that I am being transferred to another prison because of my journalistic activities. They even put that in writing.”
On August 3, David Newdorf, Woodard’s legal counsel, filed a lawsuit against warden Haviland and those responsible for the violation of his client’s free speech and civil rights. The lawsuit states that “State prisoner Robert ‘Boston’ Woodard, a jailhouse journalist, was placed in administrative segregation (“ad seg”), denied visitation and telephone calls, and separated from his property (including typewriter and legal papers), because California jail officials did not like what he wrote about their prison for an outside audience. Officials also retaliated against him when he filed grievances complaining about the harassment and retaliation by correctional officers for his writing.”
Woodard was removed from The Hole and transferred to the State Prison in Susanville a couple of days after the lawsuit was filed. The lawsuit, which you can read at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/08/05/18614132.php, will continue until Woodard and all prisoners are guaranteed the right to write about their experiences in the Prison Industrial System without being subjected to threats, intimidation and retaliation. To help defend our Free Speech rights, the Community Alliance has established a Legal Defense Fund to pay for Woodard’s defense. Contributions can be sent to the Community Alliance, P.O. Box 5077, Fresno, CA 93755. Note that the contribution is for the Boston Woodard Legal Defense Fund.
The article that follows was written by Woodard 13 years ago when he experienced a similar violation of his Human and Free Speech Rights.
By Boston Woodard
After many months of threats from prison officials about my newspaper articles, I knew something was about to happen to me. I wasn’t exactly sure what or when it would be. I would find out soon enough.
Two hours before I had scheduled a telephone interview to discuss my removal as editor of the Men’s Prison Colony’s prison newspaper with a journalist from San Luis Obispo, I was arrested by the prison’s security squad on the prison yard. Five members of this horde, the Goon Squad, surrounded me. They ordered me to my knees and told me to lock my fingers behind my neck. Guards in nearby gun towers aimed high-powered mini-14 assault rifles at me. My hands were shackled, and leg irons were forced tightly onto my ankles.
I was taken to a small interrogation room and was forced to sit on a small plastic box in the center of a circle of folding chairs, occupied by several lieutenants, sergeants, and guards, who asked me vague – and if you ask me, stupid – questions. “Why are we questioning you, Woodard?” they taunted. “How many of your friends are out there?” they asked. When I asked them to be more specific, I was told I had violated the California Code of Regulations (CCR, Title 15,) rules governing the California Department of Corrections (CDC). They kept repeating that I was “resisting” them by not “complying.”
There was no legitimate reason why I was removed from the general prison population and placed in isolation. It was the result of a personal vendetta against me by the warden and his associates, I was being punished for exercising my First Amendment rights to describe the way I saw life behind bars. It is much easier to deal with convicts when they are carted off to The Hole. There are few legal resources available, no telephone access, no contact visits from family or friends, and absolutely no way to do research or speak with witnesses to build a defense for whatever bullshit charge may have been leveled against him while the prisoner was in The Hole.
“Put this asshole in Ad-Seg now,” said the Internal Affairs captain. While being ordered to stand up, I was simultaneously yanked off the small box by both arms. My hair was pulled. My wallet, comb, and prison I.D. were tossed into a small sandwich-type paper bag. I was literally dragged by the handcuffs, locked tightly behind my back, to a clinic where I would be “medically cleared” by hospital staff before being thrown in The Hole, or, more formally, Administrative Segregation.
I was forced to stand with my face pressed against a wall while a medical technical assistant (MTA) asked me my name and prison I.D. number. This took about 20 seconds. The MTA told the guards he would get the rest of the information from my medical records. I was never examined. Before being escorted to Administrative Segregation, I was circled by the goons, and then made to strip naked. I was forced to bend over and stretch the cheeks of my ass “wide open” so six perverts could see what I “had going on.” Sick bastards.
I was given a pair of white boxer shorts three sizes too large, a pair of socks, a small paper cup containing a plastic comb and toothbrush (both cut in half), two pieces of plain white paper, and a very dull two- to three-inch wooden pencil. The small cell was cold, and smelled like piss mixed with a potent industrial disinfectant. Flies were everywhere. A torn rubber mattress was rolled up on a concrete-and-metal slab. There were no sheets, only a thick, dirty, blue, quilt-like blanket that was “designed so disturbed prisoners can’t hang themselves.”
There was no natural light in the cell – save for what dimly seeped through a smoky, non-transparent window on the back wall of the cell. The cell was bare except for the steel toilet, which I found out soon after I arrived in Isolation was the only place to sit and eat meals. If you sat on the toilet facing backward, you could use the tiny sink built into the back of the toilet as a table.
More than 20 men were housed in separate isolation cells in the section of The Hole I was in. If I strained some, I could see the vague image of another convict through his small, filthy cell door window directly across the hall from me. I don’t know if he could see me.
Shortly after I was thrown in The Hole, an elderly Hispanic prisoner on heavy psychiatric medication was put in one of the cells next to mine. About the third day after my new neighbor moved in, he was accidentally given another prisoner’s medication. “Don’t worry,” the sergeant told the MTA. “The old guy is so fucked up in the head he won’t know the difference.”
A few hours later, we began to hear loud, thrashing noises coming from his cell. “Man down,” we shouted out to the guards, who finally checked him.
The next morning, when the old man did not come to the door to pick up his breakfast tray, about 10 guards in full riot gear – thick, green security vests and shielded helmets – and armed with metal night sticks and large canisters of a potent pepper spray tripped over one another entering the cell, lying on the floor in a mass tangle of useless gear and the California Department of Corrections’ finest.
Loud insults and laughter rang out from many of the prisoners in The Hole. For someone who spends 24/7 in a filthy, cold, empty cell, subjected to disrespect and insults day in and day out, it’s hard to resist hurling a few verbal specialties at your keepers when the opportunity presents itself. In The Hole, any action can be a form of entertainment or distraction from the intense boredom that comes with almost total isolation. When anyone enters the Administration Segregation cell block, the noise from the metal gates or doors echoes loudly, and every prisoner moves to the front of the cell to see who might be coming.
Ten minutes later, the old man was removed from his cell and strapped onto a gurney just outside his cell door. I never did hear what happened to him. Not much information gets to the men in The Hole, though new arrivals usually fill in the other prisoners on what has been going on throughout the rest of the prison.
About a month into my isolation stint, a guard informed me that I could have my dictionary and reading glasses. If the prison staff knew what my dictionary meant to me, how important it was, it would have no doubt been destroyed or lost. I bought the dictionary for a couple of bucks in the early 1980s at the San Quentin commissary.
For 18 years, that small paperback dictionary had traveled with me to five different penitentiaries. I must have read each page a hundred times. Every page is full of highlighted and underlined words, and ink dots to indicate new words that I had learned, or that I needed or wanted to learn. As for my reading glasses, I had to agree to have the arms, or ear pieces, broken off so that I couldn’t use them as a weapon. Then at least I would be able to read my dictionary – a much better weapon!
Because it was my first time in The Hole, I was seeing and learning things I had never experienced before. Men on the main line returning from Isolation had told me how they had been deprived of clean bedding, showers, toilet paper, and exercise. But when I saw guards stealing and eating food sent to The Hole on hot carts for the prisoners, it made me sick. I could see the Ad-Seg office from my cell. Guards routinely took cases of juice, dry cereal, and fruit, stashing it in boxes on the floor of the office, and then eating the hoarded food throughout the rest of the day.
It is disgusting that California prison guards, making upwards of $50,000 annually, would deprive an isolated prisoner of a cup on juice, probably the only thing nutritional on his food tray. During my time in isolation, I received breakfast juice only one time. When you live in a completely bare concrete-and-steel room in your underwear, stripped of everything, a small cup of juice means more than you can imagine.
During the months I spent in The Hole, I would go to the tiny yard for an hour or so several days a week for “exercise periods” mandated by the federal court. If prison officials had their way, we would be kept locked in our cells 24 hours a day.
Yard times were set up according to a prisoner’s race or case. Every Administrative Segregation unit in the prison system has what are referred to as its black, white, and Hispanic yards, each arranged into whatever faction (or gang) a prisoner may be affiliated with.
There are separate yards for child molesters and snitches, who have been placed in The Hole for protective custody so that they won’t get beat up or killed by other convicts. Most units also have a General Population yard for regular, non-affiliated prisoners, who, for the most part, get along well with one another, and that was the exercise yard I should have been assigned to.
Putting convicts on the wrong yard on purpose is another way to retaliate against a prisoner. I was first placed in the black yard, where I knew nearly every prisoner because of the music programs and concerts I had set up for prisoners on the main line. One huge black dude who played drums in many of the shows I organized said he had heard about me being set up and put in The Hole. He asked if I wanted to play handball. Other black prisoners said, “Fuck ’em, Boston. We heard what they were trying to do to you.”
I was also placed in the yards for the Hispanic and white-guy factions, with the same effect. Almost every man I met in The Hole had already had some sort of contact with me out in the general population, mainly through the music and literacy programs or sporting events I wrote about for the prison’s newspaper, The Communicator. Instead of making my stay in The Hole more miserable than it normally would have been, the guards’ attempts to get me beat up or killed backfired. Instead, it allowed me to get around and talk to some old friends who in some cases I hadn’t seen for years.
Everyone in prison who is placed in The Hole has a reason why he is there. My writing got me put in The Hole, and now it was tough trying to get enough paper to write on. I learned how to write letters using small print so that I could get more words on the page. I also used the sides of the small paper sandwich bags our lunch came in for letters and for drawings for my friends out in the free world.
Late one night, during my second week in The Hole, while most prisoners were sleeping, the small food port in the center of my steel cell door unlocked and opened. I saw a hand come through the slot in the door, and I heard what sounded like a handful of plastic buttons hitting the floor. I jumped up from my bunk and felt around in the floor in the dark. Pieces of paper were strewn about on the floor, and there were a half dozen, full-sized sharpened pencils with erasers.
I strained to look through the crack in the side of the cell door to see who had thrown the stuff in my cell, but whoever it was had left. I collected the paper, about 30 pieces in a pile and found eight pencils by feeling around the floor with my hands. I placed the paper and pencils under my mattress. I didn’t know if I was being set up to receive more disciplinary action for having “contraband” or an “excessive amount of supplies,” or if someone just wanted me to write about what was happening with me, about why I had been placed in The Hole.
I spent the better part of the morning hiding the pencils and writing paper around the cell. I never did find out exactly who threw the pencils and paper into my cell that night. But I was happy they did. And when I was eventually transferred to another prison, I left the pencils for other prisoners to use.
|Support Free Speech The Community Alliance newspaper has established a Legal Defense Fund to help pay for Boston Woodard’s defense. Contributions can be sent to the Community Alliance, PO Box 5077, Fresno Ca 93755. Note that the contribution is for the Boston Woodard Legal Defense Fund.|
Before I was sent to Isolation, a young ACLU attorney had been helping me file a complaint regarding the blatant disregard of my First Amendment rights by prison and Department of Corrections officials. The lawyer’s visits continued while I was in The Hole, sometimes three or four times a week. According to other prisoners on the exercise yard, my lawyer visited so much, the weekly beatings in The Hole completely stopped. The guards, sergeants, and lieutenants who ran the isolation unit must have thought I was reporting their dastardly deeds to my lawyer. On at least four or five occasions during my time in The Hole, guards told me that my being in their charge was putting a crimp in their program.
While I was confined in Administrative Segregation, my disciplinary and institutional appeal hearings were held inside my small isolation cell. On one occasion, for a second-level appeal hearing, I was handcuffed behind my back through the food slot in my door, and leg irons were squeezed tightly on my ankles. Approximately six goons in all-out riot gear shuffled into my cell. Two officers grabbed me by the back of my T-shirt and my arms and ran my face into the wall behind the toilet. Someone poked what felt like a night stick into the center of my back and was pushing me into the wall.
I heard a voice say, “My name is Captain Case. I will be your hearing officer today. Do you have anything to add to your appeal?” After delivering his 21-word message, Captain “Coward” backed up and exited the cell as fast as he had entered. So much for my fair hearing.
I was eventually released from The Hole and illegally transferred to Solano State Prison in Vacaville, California, about 200 miles north of San Luis Obispo. It was an adverse, illegal transfer, since my custody level and medical status were falsely altered to accommodate the move to another prison. In California, a point system determines which prison a convict will be placed in. After so many years in San Quentin, Old and New Folsom, and Soledad without a single disciplinary infraction, I was in the low point category and should have been classified for a lower-level institution.
The day I was chained up and put on a CDC prison transfer bus, two members of the Goon Squad hauled two large clear plastic trash bags containing about a third of my total property, including personal items, letters and photos from home, and all of my confidential attorney-client legal mail. I found out later that prison officials had trashed or kept many of my personal photos of family members and friends, and that they had ripped many of my legal documents into small pieces, which they threw into the plastic bags. Those sick bastards had a field day with my stuff. That’s why I sent my bass guitar, built for me by another prisoner, to a friend on the outside. I wasn’t taking any chances with my most important personal possessions.
Dolores Huerta to Speak in Fresno
|Dolores Huerta is the co-founder and First Vice President Emeritus of the United Farm Workers union. She will be the featured speaker at the KFCF/FFCF Annual Dinner on Saturday, September 19.|
The KFCF / Fresno Free College Foundation’s Annual Banquet will feature Dolores Huerta. This year’s annual banquet will be held on Saturday, September 19, at Cardinal Newman Hall, 1572 E. Barstow Ave. (on the southeast corner of Loftus & Ninth Ave. across from Fresno State). Huerta is co-founder of the United Farm Workers and coordinator for East Coast efforts in the table grape boycott of 1968-69, which helped to win recognition for the farm workers’ union.
In the 1970s, she headed up UFW’s political arm and helped lobby for legislative protections. Then in 1988, while demonstrating peacefully in San Francisco, she was severely injured when police clubbed the demonstrators. She eventually won a considerable financial settlement as well as changes in police policy on handling demonstrations, and she used the proceeds from the settlement to start the Dolores Huerta Foundation. Her foundation runs Vecinos Unidos (Neighbors United), which develops grassroots leadership to pressure elected officials to be accountable to their constituents by addressing issues of economic disparities in housing, education, health and employment, and the Dolores Huerta Community Organizing Institute, which trains new organizers and community organizations in the organizing methods pioneered by Fred Ross Sr., C‚sar E. Ch vez and Huerta.
Huerta is an outspoken advocate for women and labor rights as well as against injustice wherever she finds it. She was most recently in Fresno speaking at “Meet in the Middle” against Proposition 8.
You are invited to attend a delightful feast catered by Love and Garlic featuring lemon caper fish skewers, pork roast and vegetarian polenta with basil and cheese sauce, as well as a spinach salad bar with fresh oven-grilled vegetables. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., dinner starts at 7 p.m., and the speaker begins at 8 p.m. We will also be announcing this year’s winner of the FFCF Free Speech Award.
Tickets are $40 in advance and $45 at the door; they can be purchased at the station (1449 N. Wishon in the Tower District) or online through Brown Paper Tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com. Speaker-only seating is $10 (or $5 with a student ID).
The Fresno Free College Foundation was started in 1968 to defend the rights and academic freedoms of professors at Fresno State College who were fired for various political reasons during the era of Ronald Reagan as governor. Over the years, the foundation has been the home of various arts, cultural and free speech events and is the home of Keyboard Concerts, the Ananda Fund, the Fresno Poets Association, Houzeconcerts, the Mountain Waters Fund and KFCF-FM, 88.1 MHz. For more information, contact Rychard Withers at 559-233-2221.
California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty
By Maria Telesco
Just because California hasn’t had an execution since Stanley “Tookie” Williams on Dec. 13, 2005, don’t get complacent. Just because there’s been a de facto moratorium since the almost-execution of Michael Morales, which was scheduled for shortly after that of Williams, don’t exhale yet.
The death penalty is alive and well in California and preparing for a comeback. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has prepared a new protocol for the execution procedure, and it is ready to resume executions as soon as the courts send them whoever’s appeals run out first.
There’s an overabundance of candidates, with 684 men on San Quentin’s death row and 16 women on death row at Chowchilla, though none of the women are anywhere near the head of the line. A likely candidate could be Kevin Cooper, who was convicted in 1983 of multiple murders that many legal authorities believe he did not commit.
“It took just 80 words for a federal appeals court to deny Kevin Cooper’s most recent plea to avoid execution. But attached to that order was a forceful 101-page dissent by a judge, all but pleading to spare Mr. Cooper’s life,” says John Schwartz, a legal writer for the New York Times.
“‘The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man,’ [the dissent] began.
“The judge who wrote the dissent, William A. Fletcher of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, argued that the police and prosecutors had withheld and tampered with evidence in the case for decades; Judge Fletcher even accused the district court of having sabotaged the case.
“Compared with the dry, mannerly prose found in many opinions, Judge Fletcher’s passion in Cooper v. Brown is startling. But these kinds of fervent, lonely dissents, urging that a prisoner’s life be spared, have noticeably increased in the last decade, compared with previous years.
“In dozens of capital cases in recent years, appeals court judges, some of whom have ruled in favor of the death penalty many times, have complained that Congress and the Supreme Court have raised daunting barriers for death row prisoners to appeal their convictions, and in many cases the judges have taken on their colleagues,” Schwartz continues [emphasis added].
There are many innocent persons on death rows in California and throughout the United States. In the August Community Alliance, you heard from a local man who swears he is innocent. Donald Young and his brother, Timothy, both of Hanford, were found guilty in 2005 for the murders of five victims in the Pato’s Place bar shooting in Tulare in 1995. Both men remain on death row. They believe they can prove their innocence, but the wheels of justice grind at a snail’s pace.
And there are others. So many, in fact, that citizens are mobilizing to abolish the death penalty. Not just to talk about abolition, as formerly, but to get down to the brass tacks, the nitty-gritty, of ridding California of state-sanctioned murder. Permanently.
California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty (CPF) has begun a Fresno chapter. This dynamic interfaith and ecumenical organization consists of men and women of all religious backgrounds and faiths. They chose to ally with the CPF for that reason. We won’t get far with a lone abolitionist here and there, but put us all together and we have the power of numbers. There are Catholics, Unitarians, a Hindu and Protestants of various persuasions. Although some may differ in their theology, all agree that killing someone because he killed someone goes against their moral fiber.
The CPF is an activist organization. Members plan to:
- Educate one’s faith community and the public about the death penalty.
- Attend death penalty seminars.
- Speak before organizations, churches, schools and the media.
- Contact legislators.
- Attend trials of those accused of capital crimes.
- Receive training in, and give support to, families of murder victims.
- Offer support to families of death row inmates.
- Write to and/or visit/befriend a death row inmate.
- Organize and attend vigils and demonstrations at times of executions.
While California has been experiencing its de facto moratorium, and several states have abolished the death penalty recently, including New York, New Jersey and New Mexico, other states are proceeding with business as usual in the execution department.
Georgia wants to kill Troy Davis, a black man likely innocent of killing a white police officer. There is no evidence to prove Davis’s guilt except the testimony of several people who later recanted their testimonies and a man who has not recanted but is believed by lawyers to be the actual killer. Davis is nearly out of appeals; his final one is at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pennsylvania is still determined to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal, even though the courts keep squelching the state’s killing machine. Abu-Jamal, an African-American journalist, is almost certainly innocent of killing a white police officer; he has been on death row nearly 30 years. Does race play a part? Poverty? There are no millionaires on death row. Status? Is the life of a police officer of greater value than yours or mine?
The CPF will be following these and other cases nationwide as well as in California. Organizers have issued an invitation to the Fresno and Central Valley communities to join and participate, regardless of whether you are part of a faith group.
The CPF chapter was organized by Father James Rude, the social justice director of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno. Father Rude was familiar with the many CPF chapters in northern and southern California and realized one was needed in the Central Valley. The first meeting was in August. The next will be Sept. 26 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the St. Joachim conference room on the Diocesan campus (1550 N. Fresno St., just south of McKinley Ave.). Light refreshments will be provided. Admission is free.
For more information, contact Father Rude at email@example.com or Maria Telesco at 559-255-9492 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maria Telesco is a community activist engaged in prison ministry and advocacy for death row prisoners. She can be reached at 559-255-9492 or email@example.com.
ACLU Annual Membership Meeting
By Bill Simon
During the summer, members of the Fresno Area Chapter of the ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) participated in the Fresno Police Department’s community meetings during June and in the Gay Pride Parade and Festival on June 6. The Homeless Issues Committee continued monitoring encampment cleanups and the closing of the H Street Encampment. The committee toured the Sanitation Department’s facilities for storing homeless people’s property after cleanups. The Police Issues Committee continued its investigation of video surveillance in Fresno with a tour of the traffic surveillance camera facility. And the ACLU lawsuit against the City of Fresno and the Police Department in regard to Public Record Act requests continues. But sometimes it’s the little things that bring some sense of accomplishment; after two and a half years of mailing list mix-ups, our members and friends in Kings and Tulare counties are finally getting our mail and e-mail.
Now we are looking forward to our annual membership meeting and election of officers for the coming year. The membership meeting will be held on Monday, Sept. 14, at the Golden Restaurant (1135 N. Fulton St., just south of Olive Ave.). All are welcome.
We will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a complementary Chinese buffet dinner (RSVP required) to celebrate the work of so many of our members and the support of all our members and friends. At 6:45 p.m., we will hold a business meeting for ACLU members with reports on the issues that we have been working on this past year. Our affiliate will also report on its current campaigns. We will hold an election of board members for the coming year. Non-members are welcome to attend the entire meeting, but we particularly encourage the public to attend the second half of the meeting, starting at 7:30 p.m. At that time, we will welcome Abdi Soltani, the new director of the ACLU-NC, who will be our guest speaker. His topic will be “ACLU-Northern California 75th Anniversary: The Past and the Future.”
Both members and interested non-members are invited for the dinner at 5:30 p.m. However, dinner seating is limited to 60 people so RSVPs are required. Please RSVP no later than Monday, Sept. 7, if you can come for dinner. But seats are going quickly. RSVP by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you require a vegetarian meal, please include that information in your RSVP.
If you would like to serve on the board or know someone else who would like to serve on the board, please let me know. The only requirement is that the candidates be members of the ACLU. We hope that we can continue and even add to the ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic diversity of our board. Nominations will be open until the vote is taken at the meeting. Membership applications ($20 regular or $5 for students) will be available to renew your membership or for friends who would like to become members.
Thanks to those who have served on the board during the past year: Chuck Krugman, vice chair; Teresa Hernandez, secretary; Georgia Williams, treasurer; Heidi Saunier, field rep; Russ Barker, alternate field rep; and members at-large Lloyd Carter, Daljit Dhami, Donna Hardina, Rev. Floyd Harris, Jean Hays, Devoya Mayo, Abbas Mehdi, Yolanda Moreno, Summer Vue, Jamie Xiong-Vang and Dan Yaseen. Thanks also to our many committee members who are too numerous to name in this article.
Bill Simon is the chair of the Fresno Area Chapter of the ACLU-NC. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Honduras Coup: The U.S. Connection
By Conn Hallinan
Although the Obama administration was careful to distance itself from the recent coup in Honduras-condemning the expulsion of President Manuel Zelaya to Costa Rica, revoking Honduran officials’ visas and shutting off aid-that doesn’t mean influential Americans aren’t involved and that both sides of the aisle don’t have some explaining to do.
The story most U.S. readers are getting about the coup is that Zelaya-an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez-was deposed because he tried to change the constitution to keep himself in power.
That story is a massive distortion of the facts. All Zelaya was trying to do is to put a nonbinding referendum on the ballot calling for a constitutional convention, a move for which trade unions, indigenous groups and social activist organizations had long been lobbying. The current constitution was written by the Honduran military in 1982, and the one-term limit allows the brass hats to dominate the politics of the country. Because the convention would have been held in November, the same month as the upcoming presidential elections, there was no way that Zelaya could have remained in office in any case. The most he could have done was to run four years from now.
Although Zelaya is indeed friendly with Chavez, he is at best a liberal reformer whose major accomplishment was raising the minimum wage. “What Zelaya has done has been little reforms,” Rafael Alegria, a leader of Via Campesina, told the Mexican daily La Jornada. “He isn’t a socialist or a revolutionary, but these reforms, which didn’t harm the oligarchy at all, have been enough for them to attack him furiously.”
One of those “little reforms” was aimed at ensuring public control of the Honduran telecommunications industry, and that may well have been the tripwire that triggered the coup.
The first hint that something was afoot was a suit brought by Venezuelan lawyer Robert Carmona-Borjas claiming that Zelaya was part of a bribery scheme involving the state-run telecommunications company, Hondutel.
Carmona-Borjas has a rap sheet that dates back to the April 2002 coup against Chavez. It was he who drew up the notorious “Carmona decrees,” a series of draconian laws aimed at suspending the Venezuelan constitution and suppressing any resistance to the coup. As Chavez supporters poured into the streets and the plot unraveled, he fled to Washington, D.C.
|Confronting the army to defend democracy.|
There he took a post at George Washington University and brought Iran-Contra plotters Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams to teach his class on “Political Management in Latin America.” He also became vice president of the right-wing Arcadia Foundation, which lobbies for free market policies.
Weeks before the June 28 Honduran coup, Carmona-Borjas barnstormed the country accusing Zelaya of collaborating with narco-traffickers.
Reich, a Cuban-American with ties to right-wing factions all over Latin America and a former assistant secretary of state for hemispheric affairs under George W. Bush, has been accused by the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization of “undeniable involvement” in the coup.
This is hardly surprising. Reich’s priors makes Carmona-Borjas look like a boy scout. He was nailed by a 1987 Congressional investigation for using public funds to engage in propaganda during the Reagan administration’s war on Nicaragua. He is also a fierce advocate for Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, both implicated in the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1973 that killed all 73 on board.
Reich is a ferocious critic of Zelaya and, in a recent piece in the Weekly Standard, urged the Obama administration not to support “strongman” Zelaya because it “would put the United States clearly in the same camp as Cuba’s Castro brothers, Venezuela’s Chavez, and other regional delinquents.”
Zelaya’s return was unanimously supported by the UN General Assembly, the European Union and the Organization of American States.
One of the charges that Reich levels at Zelaya is that the Honduran president is supposedly involved with bribes paid out by the state-run telecommunications company, Hondutel. Zelaya is threatening to file a defamation suit over the accusation.
Reich’s charges against Hondutel are hardly happenstance.
The Cuban-American, a former lobbyist for AT&T, is close to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and served as McCain’s Latin American adviser during the senator’s run for the presidency. McCain is Mr. Telecommunications.
McCain has deep ties with telecom giants AT&T, MCI and Qualcomm and, according to Nikolas Kozloff, author of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge of the U.S., “has acted to protect and look out for the political interests of the telecoms on Capitol Hill.”
AT&T is McCain’s second largest donor, and the company also generously funds McCain’s International Republican Institute (IRI), which has warred with Latin American regimes that have resisted telecommunications privatization. According to Kozloff, “President Zelaya was known to be a fierce critic of telecommunications privatization.”
When Venezuelan coup leaders went to Washington a month before their failed effort to oust Chavez, IRI footed the bill. Reich, as then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s special envoy to the Western Hemisphere, met with some of those leaders.
In 2004, Reich founded his own lobbying agency and immersed himself in guns, rum, tobacco and sweat. His clients include Lockheed Martin (the world’s largest arms dealer), British American Tobacco and Bacardi. He is also vice chairman of Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production, a clothing industry front aimed at derailing the anti-sweat-shop movement.
|Protestors surround a tank in protest of the coup in Honduras.|
Republicans in Congress have accused the Obama administration of being “soft” on Zelaya and protested the White House’s support of the Honduran president by voting against administration nominees for the ambassador to Brazil and an assistant secretary of state. But meddling in Honduras is a bipartisan undertaking.
“If you want to understand who is the real power behind the [Honduran] coup, you need to find out who is paying Lanny Davis,” says Robert White, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and current president of the Center for International Policy.
Davis, best known as the lawyer who represented President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial, has been lobbying members of Congress and testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in support of the coup.
According to Roberto Lovato, an associate editor at New American Media, Davis represents the Honduran chapter of CEAL, the Business Council of Latin America, which strongly backed the coup. Davis told Lovato, “I’m proud to represent businessmen who are committed to the rule of law.”
But White says the coup had more to do with profits than law.
“Coups happen because very wealthy people want them and help to make them happen, people who are used to seeing the country as a money machine and suddenly see social legislation on behalf of the poor as a threat to their interests,” says White. “The average wage of a worker in free trade zones is 77 cents per hour.”
According to the World Bank, 66% of Hondurans live below the poverty line.
The United States is also involved in the coup through a network of agencies that funnel money and training to anti-government groups. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contribute to right-wing organizations that supported the coup, including the Peace and Democracy Movement and the Civil Democratic Union. Many of the officers that bundled Zelaya off to San Jose, Costa Rica, were trained at the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former “School for the Americas” that has seen torturers and coup leaders from all over Latin America pass through its doors. Reich served on the Institute’s board.
The Obama administration condemned the coup, but when Zelaya journeyed to the Honduran-Nicaragua border, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced him for being “provocative.” It was a strange statement because the State Department said nothing about a report by the Committee of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras charging 1,100 human rights violations by the coup regime, including detentions, assaults and murder.
Human rights violations by the coup government have been condemned by the Inter American Commission for Human Rights, the International Observer Mission, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protest Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.
Davis claims that the coup was a “legal” maneuver to preserve democracy. But that is a hard argument to make, given who some of the people behind it were. One of those is Fernando Joya, a former member of Battalion 316, a paramilitary death squad. Joya fled the country after being charged with kidnapping and torturing several students in the 1980s, but he has now resurfaced as a “special security adviser” to the coup makers. He recently gave a TV interview that favorably compared the 1973 Chilean coup to the June 28 Honduran coup.
According to Greg Grandin, a history professor at New York University, the coup makers also included the extremely right-wing Catholic organization, Opus Dei, whose roots go back to the fascist regime of Spanish caudillo Francisco Franco.
In the old days, when the United States routinely overthrew governments that displeased it, the Marines would have gone in, as they did in Guatemala and Nicaragua, or the CIA would have engineered a coup by the local elites. No one has accused U.S. intelligence of being involved in the Honduran coup, and American troops in the country are keeping a low profile. But the fingerprints of U.S. institutions such as the NED, USAID and the School for the Americas-plus bipartisan lobbyists, powerful corporations and dedicated cold war warriors-are all over the June takeover.
Conn Hallinan can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historic 20th Cuba Caravan Finds Success
By Gerry Bill
It was definitely exciting to be part of the 20th Pastors for Peace caravan to Cuba during the 50th year of the Cuban Revolution. Not only did the two anniversaries make it exciting but also it was the first caravan since Obama took office and only the second since Raul Castro took over as president of Cuba. There was a definite sense that there is real potential for change in U.S.-Cuba relations.
As caravanistas, we wondered if the border crossing from Texas into Mexico would be easier under the Obama administration than it had been under prior administrations. That border crossing is often the flashpoint of the caravan’s challenge to the U.S. blockade of Cuba, which is still in effect. We cross the border in open defiance of the law as a blatant act of civil disobedience. How would the U.S. exit customs agents handle our challenge this year?
|Fresno bus with local caravanistas L to R: Leni Reeves (Auberry), Cia Sangeri (San Jose—bus driver), Mike Bielstein (Corvallis), Diana VaVerka (Fresno), Gerry Bill (Fresno), Nita Palmer (Vancouver, BC—route coordinator), Alicia Jrapko (San Jose—spokesperson), Alida Espinoza (Fresno), Doug Halloran (Fresno)|
The Power of Body Language
Well, it turns out that not a lot has changed. Perhaps the border guards were a bit more friendly than usual. By this point they are on a first-name basis with Lucius Walker, the leader of the caravan, and they exchanged pleasantries. However, after x-raying our 12 vehicles they began searching some of them and started removing computers. That is the same thing that happened last year, when they detained more than 30 of our computers.
This year, after they had seized just two computers, they came to a bus that had several computers on board that were destined for a particular medical project at a particular hospital in Cuba. Walker was not about to let them take those computers. He asked the 100-plus caravanistas present to surround the bus, which we happily did. We did not threaten the border agents in any way, but by our body language we made it clear that they would have to arrest large numbers of us in order to remove those computers. They really did not want to arrest us. This put Walker in a strong negotiating position, and he was able to get them to agree to let the caravan proceed without taking any more computers than the two they already had seized.
After we had successfully crossed the border, Walker told us that it was our body language that had made the difference in the negotiations, and he thanked us for taking the risk that we did.
Could we have pulled off something like that last year under the Bush administration? We don’t know for sure, but it is possible that the border guards had been instructed from the higher-ups to try to avoid a confrontation.
We successfully delivered our 115 tons of humanitarian aid to Tampico, loaded it into shipping containers and flew to Havana the next day.
|Hear what the caravanistas|
learned about the current
status of the Cuban Five
by tuning in to
The Stir It Up Show
on KFCF 88.1 FM
on Sept. 9
3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
|Caravan en route to border crossing into Mexico (McAllen to Reynosa)|
(photo by Gerry Bill)
A Visit to the Bay of Pigs
In Cuba, the 130 caravanistas were divided into three groups to make the numbers more manageable. We visit hospitals, museums, educational sites and so on, and 130 at a time would be way too many.
Four of our nine days in Cuba were spent in the provinces away from Havana. This year, I chose to go with the group that went to Matanzas Province. One of the sites we visited in that province was the Bay of Pigs Museum at the place the Cubans call Playa Giron. This, of course, was the site of the April 1961 invasion by the U.S.-supported mercenary army, as the Cubans call the invaders.
The Cubans are proud of how handily and quickly they defeated the Yankee invaders. They see it, of course, as a David-and-Goliath battle, with tiny Cuba standing up to the mighty imperialist superpower.
It was interesting to hear the story being told from a Cuban perspective. They see it as the victory that really solidified the Revolution. The Revolution was barely two years old, and there was still some counterrevolutionary activity occurring here and there in the provinces. The United States had counted on the counterrevolutionaries joining up with the invaders, but that never happened.
Initially, the invasion was supposed to happen at the seaside town of Trinidad, where there was some counterrevolutionary activity. However, by the time of the invasion the locals in Trinidad had brought an end to the counterrevolutionary activity in that area, and there would be little support for the invaders there.
The next choice, the Bay of Pigs, was chosen for strategic reasons. There was a small piece of dry land, almost an island, surrounded by marshland. The plan of the invaders was to establish a beachhead that they thought they could defend, assuming that it would be difficult for the Cuban army to cross the marshes.
|Caravanistas surrounding a P4P bus at the border crossing|
(photo by Gerry Bill)
|Sign marking the furthest point inland reached by the Bay of Pigs invaders|
(photo by Gerry Bill)
The Cubans were prepared for an invasion, although they did not know where it would occur. Fidel assumed that the plan was for the invaders to seize a piece of land and declare a provisional government. At that point, the U.S. government could recognize the provisional government and start aiding in its defense. For that reason, Fidel said that it was imperative that the invasion be crushed within the first 72 hours.
The Cubans did better than that; they defeated the invaders within 66 hours, capturing nearly 1,200 of them. More than 150 Cubans were killed during the invasion, and all around Playa Giron one sees the monuments marking the exact point of death-and burial site-of each of the martyrs.
The museum recounts all this history and has photos of a downed U.S. plane, Fidel on a tank and captured mercenary soldiers. The whole thing is a source of great pride for the Cuban people.
The body of the pilot of the downed plane, by the way, was not returned to the United States for interment for 10 years. Why? The protocol would be for the U.S. government to ask for the return of the remains of one of its nationals, but the United States refused to do that. To ask for the return of the remains would be admitting that the plane was being piloted by someone from the United States, and the government did not want to admit that.
Return to the United States-Easy for Some, a Bit Nasty for Others
The other potential point of conflict between the caravan and the U.S. government is when we cross the border back into the United States from Mexico. Of course, we make no secret of the fact that we have been to Cuba. In fact, one of our chants as we entered the immigration building was “We want you to know, we’ve been to Cuba.” That, plus our matching red Cuba caravan t-shirts and the Cuban flags we were waving made it pretty obvious where we had been.
We thought they might seize the Cuban flags, but that did not happen. We all had to go, one by one, before an immigration officer to answer certain questions. The only questions we would answer were the ones on the official immigration forms that everyone entering the United States submits. For any question beyond that, we would invoke our constitutional right to remain silent.
The process was pretty easy this year, at least for the U.S. citizens. The immigration officers were friendly and professional and did not give any of us any trouble. We were processed through in record time.
However, it was a different story for the international caravanistas. They had a more difficult time than usual. There had been quite a few internationals with us in Cuba, but many of them had flown back directly to their own countries. By the time we got to the U.S. border, we had with us four Canadians and two Germans. For some reason, half of the internationals were singled out for special treatment.
|Message on the front of one of the caravan buses|
(photo by Janine Bandcroft)
Message: Demand our right to travel to Cuba
Two Canadians and one German were taken, one by one, into a back room by themselves. There, they were threatened with immediate deportation and a permanent ban on future travel to the United States unless they answered the questions the rest of us had refused to answer. You see, the internationals do not have a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent like the rest of us do.
As part of this process, the internationals were each subject to a complete body search during which all of their private parts were handled. One female Canadian described it as inappropriate groping and an obvious attempt to make things so uncomfortable that they would never join a caravan again. No one remembered this ever having been done before. Is this a new Gestapo tactic of the Obama administration?
The internationals were eventually let through after Walker negotiated with immigration. The internationals agreed to answer some of the questions on the questionnaire, but not others. For the questions they did answer, they were allowed to give vague answers that would be of little use to the U.S. government.
Is This Change We Can Believe In?
Unfortunately, I would have to say that not much has changed under the Obama administration. The changes in Cuba policy that he has called for have not yet been implemented. He is supposed to make it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit their families in Cuba and easier for them to send remittances. We shall see if that really happens. Meanwhile, the blockade and the travel ban for the rest of us remain in place, making highly appropriate the sign painted on the front of one of the buses: “Demand Our Right to Travel to Cuba.” Until we are free to travel where we want, are we really a free people? I think not. Start planning now to help us challenge the travel ban again next year.
Fidel and Raul Castro Meet with Caravan Leadership
By Gerry Bill
|Lucius Walker with Fidel Castro|
(photo courtesy of Pastors for Peace)
“How is Fidel?” people ask me every time I return to Fresno from Cuba. “Did you see him?” they ask. They are joking, of course, but they are not far off the mark. There was a surprise meeting with Fidel Castro this time-not for all of the caravanistas, but for the leadership.
Lucius Walker, Tom Smith and Ellen Bernstein, the three top leaders of Pastors for Peace, had a two-hour meeting with Fidel in his private residence. They reported that Fidel is doing well and that his mind is still as sharp as ever. Photographs of the meeting are posted on the organization’s Web site, www.pastorsforpeace.org. These are the first photos of Fidel to be released to the public since February 2009.
The visit to Fidel came about in part because of the historic nature of this caravan, being the20th Pastors for Peace caravan and occurring during the 50th year of the Cuban Revolution. The coincidence of those two anniversaries led to an invitation to Walker and two others to attend the official celebration of Cuba’s national holiday on July 26, which marks the starting date of the Revolution. The celebration moves to a different location each year; this year, it was in Holguin in eastern Cuba-a two-hour flight from Havana.
At the national celebration, in keeping with tradition, there was a presidential address by current President Raul Castro. Those of us who were not invited to Holguin watched the speech on national television. In his speech, Raul recognized the work of Pastors for Peace and the current presence in Cuba of Caravan No. 20. As he spoke those words, the camera zoomed in on Walker, who was standing in the front row close to the podium, highly visible in his red caravan t-shirt.
After the speech, Raul invited Walker to fly back to Havana with him on his presidential jet. Walker accepted and spent about four hours with Raul, discussing the future of Cuba and the future of U.S.-Cuba relations. As he was leaving, Walker asked Raul to give his greetings to his brother Fidel. Raul replied that he would arrange for Walker to do that in person, and two days later the meeting with Fidel was held.
Walker and Fidel have a friendship that goes back more than 15 years. They have met several times, but this is the first time they have met since Fidel stepped down from the presidency for health reasons.
The fact that Pastors for Peace was chosen to release the first photos of Fidel in the last six months shows the high regard the Cuban leadership has for the organization.
The fact that Pastors for Peace was chosen to release the first photos of Fidel in the last six months shows the high regard the Cuban leadership has for the organization.
|L to R: Rev. Lucius Walker, Fidel Castro, Ellen Bernstein, Rev. Tom Smith|
(photo courtesy of Pastors for Peace)
OUTRAGE OF THE MONTH: our readers weigh in
By Al Williams
|The above citations were issued to Al and Terry who had been homeless, but just recently got into housing. The harassment of the poor and homeless by the Fresno police department is senseless and chronic. What good comes from ticketing two friends who are talking to each other in a public location?|
On July 22, I made my usual rounds to the Parkside section of Fresno (near Olive avenue and highway 99) to visit my friends, among them homeless people and my close friend for several years, Terry Hoag, who for the past few months has been what we might call semi-homeless. He has been a guest of another friend of ours, Bill, who lives at Park View Mobile Home Park.
Terry and I were standing at the entrance of the trailer park, which happens to be behind the Olive Mini-Market that Terry and I patronize almost every day. Fact is, we had just purchased some orange juice and soda there just minutes before Corporal Kurt Smith of the Fresno Police Department drove up in his cruiser and told us we had to leave because we were trespassing on private property.
We asked each other how do you trespass at a public store where you just minutes before bought something? Since I was about to return home anyway, and Terry was about to return to his place at the mobile home park, we moved to the front of the store, maybe 18 inches from the sidewalk, but still on the store property where I was telling Terry that I would probably be back later that evening.
Like any respectful person would do, we were saying our good-byes when Corporal Kurt Smith quickly drove up in his cruiser, hopped out of the cruiser and said that we were being detained and that he was giving us a citation for trespassing.
Another officer drove up, and Officer Smith had the other officer write me a citation, while Officer Smith wrote Terry a citation. As the two officers were writing the citations, Jim, a friend of ours who knew we had purchased items from the store, asked Officer Smith, “How much time does a person have after purchasing something from the store before they are trespassing?” Officer Smith replied that if Jim didn’t leave immediately, he would be arrested.
After the citations were written, Officer Smith went into the store and forced Sam, the owner, to sign the citations, so as to appear that he had called the police. Sam did not call the police. We know that for a fact. Terry and I asked Sam why he signed the citations if he did not call the police. His reply was that the officers forced him to. This is something the police do regularly at small stores in the Parkside area.
After we received the citations, we noticed that the officer had forged Kurt Smith’s name, signature and badge number on the ticket he wrote me. In comparing the citations, there was clearly a handwriting difference.
Also, Officer Smith never had Terry sign his citation. The next day, I was stopped by a female officer who questioned me about where Terry was because she needed to find him so he could sign the citation that Officer Smith had written him. A few days later, Corporal Smith attempted to give Bill, the gentleman that Terry stays with, a citation on the mobile home property where he resides.
Officer Smith has a long history dating back to the early 1990s of harassing homeless people. Back in the 1990s, we, the homeless people and Food not Bombs, took Officer Smith to City Hall before the Human Relations Committee for injustices done to the homeless and poor people. Why is he still being allowed to do this to poor and homeless people? It is an outrage.
Al Williams is a homeless advocate who was homeless in the Parkside area for 13 years. He was one of the recipients in a settlement of $2.35 million against the City of Fresno and Cal-Trans, which ended his homelessness. E-mail Al at email@example.com.
|The Community Alliance would like to hear from you. This month, we are starting a new column and will select from our readers’ nominations the most outrageous action of the month by a public official or body. Nominations must cite sources and identify themselves.|
Helping Hands: A Guide to Assistance and Service
By Community Alliance Staff and Central California Legal Service
Over the next few months, we will be offering a series of brief articles about accessing help in key areas of everyday life. Subjects will include food, healthcare, housing, employment, income, personal safety and immigration. We will look at the availability of and obstacles to services, eligibility and obtaining assistance.
These articles will not be comprehensive; there are much more extensive resource guides, including the County Information & Referral Directory and Making Connections, a community resource directory published by Fresno Metro Ministries. Instead, we will focus on where to begin and how to cope with difficulties in obtaining aid.
This month, we want to introduce our partner in this series, Central California Legal Services (CCLS). The CCLS employs more than 60 staff members who provide a broad array of legal services in the Central Valley. Staff, volunteer attorneys, paralegals and others serve a large population that lives at or below the federal poverty level. Clients are the working poor, immigrants, families with young children, the disabled, veterans, victims of domestic violence and elder abuse, seniors and other low-income individuals. Some common issues for advice and representation include tenant rights, Social Security, taxpayer rights, naturalization, youth rights, labor and employment rights, and domestic violence protective orders. (Note: Services are not provided in criminal matters.)
The CCLS provides free legal clinics (self-help materials and possible representation) in areas including victims of domestic violence, HIV/AIDS cases, guardianship and veterans’ affairs.
The CCLS also houses the Fresno Health Consumer Center, which educates consumers about their rights, assists with receiving healthcare services and helps consumers understand their health plan benefits.
Services are available to eligible low-income people (according to federal guidelines) with legal immigration status who reside in Fresno, Kings, Mariposa, Merced, Tulare and Tuolumne counties. Offices are located in downtown Fresno (1401 Fulton St., Suite 700, Tel. 559-570-1200), Visalia (208 W. Main St., Suite U-1, Tel. 559-733-8770), Merced (357 W. Main St., Suite 201, Tel. 209-732-5466) and, for domestic violence issues only, Hanford (1208 N. Douty St., Tel. 559-582-1621).
CCLS has as its mission statement “to advance justice and empower people through education, outreach and zealous representation in civil legal matters.” Though what it can do is limited by time and budget constraints, we know CCLS to be truly dedicated to helping its clientele and to have entered into class-action lawsuits that have changed living or working conditions for large numbers of people. It is something of a small miracle that the CCLS continued to receive federal funding through the Bush years and is still here to do its important work.
Next month: Accessing food-food stamps and food distribution sites.
Edited by Richard Stone
Our colleague Ruth Austin sends us two more poems from her workshops.
Where I’m From
By Ida Vicari
I am from the Mother Land of Africa, the cradle of all humanity
The genetic scientists say I am a descendant of our common ancestor,
But that is not new to me
I am from the “beginning,” from genesis you see
I am the daughter of the son of our Father Abraham
Who took a wife from the daughters of Ethiopia land
I am from my father the farmer, my mother the college student
I am from my great auntie the domestic and my great uncle the carpenter
I am from my grandparents, the Browns and the Waters, the Wilsons and the Thompsons
I am from slavery, and emancipation, and segregation and civil rights
and integration and affirmation
I am from Brown versus the Board of Education at the highest court in the land
I am from Ruby Bridges, and the Little Rock Nine, and
I am from those who took a stand
I am from sit-ins, and marches, and protest songs
I am from Stevie, the Beatles and Marvin singing “What’s Going On”
I am from Virginia and Maryland around the Chesapeake Bay
I am from the land of pleasant living
I am from those who teach there is love in giving
I am from jump rope, and jacks, and hop scotch we played
I am from tricycles, and bicycles, and skates and pick-up sticks too
I am from Brownies and Girl Scouts with my two Cousins
I am from Nancy Nurse dolls, and Easy Bake ovens
I am from dominoes and gin rummy and spades and old maids
I am from running and playing outside ’til dinner
I am from cook-outs in the park, and ice cold Kool-aid
I am from “be careful, be caring, and remember to think of others”
I am from the Lord’s Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount
the Parables taught by Jesus and the “Golden Rule.”
I am from weekly prayer meetings, protestant churches and lessons from Sunday school.
I am from penny candy at the neighborhood Mom and Pop
I am from dressing up on Sundays with white gloves, a purse and hat
I am from pet puppies, and goldfish and soft fuzzy kitty cats
I am from the conscience stirring 50’s and social changing 60’s and discos of the 70’s
I am from birth control and free love, and protests and hippies
the movements and smoking pot
The anti-establishment, Army Medical Corps, and Vietnam Vets
I am from all these experiences, whose wisdom means a lot
I am from “power to the people,” and “viva la raza,” and “by any means necessary,”
I am from free Huey, free Angela, and the Chicago 6
I am from the Black Panthers, and the “Revolution Will Not Be Televised”
I am from the March on Washington in ’63
I am from the greatest of speeches “I have a Dream”
I am from “we shall overcome”
I am from “free at last”
I am from keep hope alive and the audacity of hope
I am from the Afro, and bell bottoms, hip huggers, tie dyed shirts, and love beads
I am from clenched fists raised in protest, peace signs and picket signs, and the struggle for dignity
I am from James Brown, “feeling good,” saying it loud, “I’m black and I’m proud”
I am from Motown music and black-and-white TV where I watched Gidget grow up
I am from Coca Cola the real thing and the un-cola Seven Up
I am from James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Maya Angelou too
Paul Laurence Dunbar, Zora Thurston Neale and Langston Hughes
I am from reading in my room on rainy summer days
I am from “A Raisin in the Sun” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”
I am from “Five Smooth Stones” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”
I am from Nancy Drew mysteries and James Bond and Bruce Lee
I am from love and marriage with babies and children
I am from the wisdom of my aunties, and grandmas, and girlfriends and books
I am from discipline and hard lessons and parental looks
I am from God in Heaven, sent to be
A daughter, a cousin, a sister, a friend, and a wife
A mother and grandma, a caring nurse, too
Both a student and teacher of life you see
I am from loving and serving others the best I can be.
Ida Vicari is a student at the Clovis Center from SP 09.
Where I’m From
By Aileen Imperatrice
I am from extended family
I am from passing on of loved ones
I am from “Giving Away Days”
I am from birthday parties
I am from farm animals and chores
I am from visits to grandma every Sunday after Church
I am from going to the Mexican bakery in Chinatown
I am from pan dulce, conchas and puerquitos
I am from grandma’s bu¤uelos
I am from Mexican chocolate
I am from homemade tortillas and tamales
I am from homemade jams and butter
I am from mi hija
I am from Don’t be like your sister
I am from I’m gonna tell Mom and Dad
I am from Think about what you’ve done
I am from Watch out for the corners
I am from Do the best you can
I am from Hurry up
I am from Grandma
I am from Grandpa
I am from brothers and sisters
I am from cousins, tias and tios
I am from Chatho, Penny, Midget and Muffin
I am from Sniffer and Blaze
I am from looking out at the whole property
I am from watching friends come up the ladder
I am from hiding and spending time alone
I am from looking out at animals
I am from scared of treehouse snake
I am Aileen Imperatrice.
Aileen Imperatrice is an artist working out of her studio in Fresno. She says that “motivated by experiencing life, I take personal impressions and create my art.” She attended a poetry workshop sponsored by the Women’s Studies Department at Fresno City College last semester.
“There Will Be An Epidemic!”
By Dan Waterhouse
“In five years, unless there is a change,” The Living Room’s director Toni Harrison says, “there will be an epidemic as bad as in the 1980s.” Harrison was describing what she expects the impacts of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cuts to state HIV/AIDS programs will be.
While the impacts of Schwarzenegger’s blue pencil cuts in Fresno County are not yet known, they are going to be severe. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors terminated the county’s contract for prevention services with The Living Room on August 11. “There will be no education or prevention services in Fresno County,” Harrison said.
The county’s van that provides anonymous testing is expected to be parked, sources say. Harrison commented that once the van is mothballed, “people won’t go down to the County (health department) to test-it’s too visible. So they won’t test at all.” Which will lead to what she expects to be an epidemic on a scale not seen since the 1980s.
Some in the community feel there are issues greater than marriage equality at the moment. They believe, as Nakhone Keodara of Los Angeles wrote recently, that “one would be hard pressed if one looks at the pro-2010 contingent with their go it alone at any cost mentality. The sacrificing of the most vulnerable of our communities, people infected and affected with HIV and the People of Color LGBT communities, is a blind spot for most Caucasian LGBTs and is a demonstration of selfishness and self-centeredness to the extreme.”
After the State Assembly refused to approve off shore oil drilling during recent budget revisions, Schwarzenegger blue-penciled 80% of the funding for education and prevention and testing programs, leaving only federal dollars available to continue testing efforts. However, the Ryan White Act program ends on September 30, unless renewed by Congress.
Care and support systems for persons with HIV or AIDS have been gutted by Schwarzenegger. The elimination of these funds includes approximately 50% of the total funding for early intervention (primary medical care and transmission prevention counseling) and home- and community-based care (medical case management) programs. Again, the state is depending on federal funds to continue some services. The AIDS Drugs Assistance Program, which many low-income patients rely upon, is only funded until the end of June 2010. After that, it’s uncertain whether the program will continue.
California’s HIV/AIDS funding was cut by $85 million. The AIDS Project Los Angeles announced on August 11 that it intends to sue Schwarzenegger. “The governor has placed at risk the lives of many thousands of Californians who depend on these vital HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs,” said APLA Executive Director Craig E. Thompson. “In doing so, he has overstepped his constitutional authority and left no other option.”
Advocates and the legislative council argue that the governor only has “blue pencil” authority over original budget appropriations. Schwarzenegger, however, made the latest cuts to Assembly Bill 1, which only “reduced the amount of an existing appropriation previously authorized” by the Legislature in February, the Counsel contends. The governor is “not granted new expenditure authority, nor is a state officer’s expenditure authority extended in any way by an item or section of a bill that solely makes a reduction of an existing appropriation,” the Counsel’s memo notes. Assembly Bill 1 was passed by a simple majority in the Legislature – not a two-thirds vote mandated for original appropriations that are subject to the blue pencil.
“The California Constitution provides important safeguards to prevent a single elected official from circumventing the entire legislative process,” Thompson added. “We’re confident that the courts will agree.”
If the Ryan White Act is not renewed by the end of September, there will be no funding in California for any HIV/AIDS services. What people fear would happen with Schwarzenegger’s cuts would become a certainty-people will die.
The Bilerico Project Report printed an alert on August 7. “AIDS Action is prompting the national HIV/AIDS community to take action and call President Obama and Secretary Sebelius to demand that Congress act to extend the Ryan White Care Act before it sunsets on September 30, 2009.
“Unless Congress and the President take action, the Ryan White AIDS Program will be terminated in 8 weeks and the federal government will shut the doors of access to critical care, treatment and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“As America experiences a national crisis involving healthcare reform, conservative groups are actively disrupting town hall meetings for Members of Congress to listen to the challenges of people falling out of medical care simply because they are not eligible for health care coverage or they just find the system of care impossible to navigate. Call The White House and Secretary Sebelius and tell them to voice their support to Congress for extending the Ryan White Program. For talking points and contact numbers, check on line for AIDS Action’s Action Alert.”
By Richard Stone
He answers the phone, “Ensher here.” How apt. For years (although he’s slowed down a little now), it seemed that wherever you went-to a meeting, a rally, a play, a concert-Ray Ensher was there.and talking excitedly about all the other events he’d recently attended. Looking over his resume, including artistic, political, social justice and just plain social involvements, it is hard to imagine that Ray ever slept.
If you know Ray even superficially, certain characteristics stand out. First, he is a true “public figure.” He loves having an audience, whether as an actor in plays, or speaking on behalf of a favored cause, or as a character in an event (think of Ray in his Uncle Sam outfit at a parade, or as Town Crier at a debate), or even as the hawker of tickets on behalf of a fund-raiser for a charitable organization.
Second, he is deeply moved by all kinds of injustice. He says, “It probably began as a kid being picked on for being Armenian. That was a long time ago, but I remember how it felt, and I don’t want anyone to have to experience that.” And he does something about it, too. He was an early, ardent and loyal support of the movements led by Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez; he advocates for the just treatment of Southeast Asian refugees; and he stands publicly with the LGBT community as they fight for their rights.
Third, Ray is extraordinarily generous to organizations and causes, but also privately to acquaintances in need-with money, time and thoughtfulness.
Fourth, while loving to talk about all the events he’s attended and places he’s traveled to, he is essentially modest about personal accomplishment. “There are leaders and there are followers. I don’t initiate, but I’ll put my all into supporting those who have the vision to make things better.” Leading or not, Ray’s importance to Fresno has not gone unnoticed. He has received numerous awards-from Teacher of the Year to Democrat of the Decade and the Way of Peace Award. (After our interview, as I perused the papers he gave me, it became clear that Ray is not merely a follower. Among his innovations are a debate league, the Squirrel Cage Theater in North Fork, two congressional bills for the free school lunch program, the Madera Mountain Teachers Association and the Kennedy Club.)
What guides his involvements? He begins with the drive and vision of his grandfather, Elias Ensher, who came to the United States from Armenia and, first as a healer and then as a grower of what he thought to be healing produce (especially asparagus and pomegranates). Eventually, he became one of the founders of a large agricultural enterprise. Within that familial culture of education, creativity and hard work, Ray was expected to excel in school and to make his own way. “We weren’t given allowances. We were given produce to sell, and little red wagons to carry it around with. I still have the wagon.”
Ray says his involvement in politics and civic causes began as a student at Roosevelt High. “Several of us went down to try to save the old courthouse from being torn down. I couldn’t understand the thinking of a City Government that would do such a thing, would destroy something beautiful.” It was also at Roosevelt that Ray discovered theater and theatricality. “We called our drama teacher ‘Ma’ Kircher, but she really taught living out loud. She was like a second mother, she changed my life.” Later, having become a teacher himself, (first in Sanger, then North Fork, Madera and Fresno), he could never confine his concerns to the school, but became involved in the civic life of the adjacent communities as it affected the quality of life of his students.
And it was only a short step from there to embracing the stirring causes of King and Chavez. “They were the great advocates for tolerance and respect. When I was in the army in ’57-59, I was sent to Virginia and had my first contact with Blacks and with Jim Crow. I remember wandering into a sandwich shop and being asked to leave by the Black proprietor so there wouldn’t be trouble. I was truly shocked and when the movement arose to redress such injustice, I had to be part.”
Besides our national heroes and the international figures who have stood for peace, like Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, Ray has also been inspired by local figures, “those who persevere year after year.” He cites people like Venancio Gaona and Ellie Bluestein, still at it over decades, but also younger people like Mike Rhodes and Dan Yaseen. Or, in the arts, people like Edna Garabedian. “When I see her passion to bring the joy of opera to young people who have had no exposure, I become equally passionate. These are people who forge ahead despite all obstacles.”
For himself, Ray says he feels his youthful optimism has been somewhat eroded by all the wars and genocides, all the time the United States has been on the wrong side of liberation movements.
“I really had hope when the U.N. was founded, but its effectiveness has been limited. So I’m wary when I look at the significance of Obama’s election. At least he’ll talk with enemies instead of bombing them.”
Ray does feel, though, that he has found a spiritual home with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno. “I’ve been to dozens of churches, but I couldn’t live with their passivity in the face of injustice, the intolerance of other beliefs, and the hypocrisy between what people said in church and what they did outside. The U.U.’s creed expresses my hopes perfectly, and the congregation makes real efforts to live up to the words they profess.”
Ray Ensher is remarkable in the breadth and passion of his interests and involvements. He is another one-of-a-kind Fresnan.who carries in his wallet inspirational words from St. Francis, M.L. King and Gandhi, while he acts the joker in his Uncle Sam suit. The Gandhi quote is a list of “the seven big sins of life”: 1) Wealth without work, 2) Pleasure without conscience, 3) Knowledge without character, 4) Commerce without morality, 5) Science without humanity, 6) Worship without sacrifice, 7) Politics without principle. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Uncle Sam in Washington also lived by such principles?
Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots
By Eduardo Stanley
In recent years, the topic of family values stopped being personal, or about family, as it became a political matter-propelled by conservative sectors of society.
The so-called Christian right, for which political expression is found primarily in the Republican Party, incorporated moral elements into its political agenda. Naturally, the objective was to win the support of various sectors of the population for the interests of its political party.
In this way, in addition to proposing tax cuts, increasing militarism, reducing social costs and the participation of unions in society, conservatives propose prohibiting abortion, imposing religion in schools and giving more power to churches and their “family values”-including, of course, the repudiation of homosexuality.
These conservatives who criticize Islamic “fundamentalism” want to impose their own fundamentalism, eliminating the principle of separation of church and state that has existed in our country for more than 200 years.
The majority of political conservatives profess “family values.” They shout about it at all costs criticizing divorce and judging everyone else based on these values.
But what happens when they are the ones who should be setting the example of what they say?
The same day as Michael Jackson’s funeral, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y,) didn’t waste any time in shooting off some heavy artillery. He called Jackson “perverted” and a pedophile-something that was never proven in the deceased singer’s case.
A much more entertaining case was that of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford who on June 24 publicly admitted having had an amorous adventure.in Buenos Aires! The governor took a plane and traveled 8,000 kilometers to spend a few days with his lover. To do this, he left the state leaderless for five days and didn’t let anyone know.
Sanford always declared himself to be a defender of family morals and values, such as marriage and fidelity. As expected, he sobbed and asked his wife, four children and the citizens of his state for forgiveness-no one was left off the list.
It is important to also highlight that Sanford, besides being a moralist, is a very particular conservative. After criticizing President Obama for his economic stimulus plan, he was the only governor that refused a portion of the $700 million destined to combat the poverty in his state, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
But perhaps the champion of family values is Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who on June 16 admitted to having an affair for almost a year with one of his employees, the wife of one of the members of his work team and “a friend of the family,” according to his own statement.
Ensign is a member of Promise Keepers, a Christian movement that seeks to strengthen the institution of marriage according to the principles of the Bible. This senator, who is married and is the father of three children, was one of the numerous moralists who demanded the resignation of then President Bill Clinton when he admitted to having relations with a White House volunteer. Ensign also did not hesitate in demanding the resignation of his colleague Larry Craig-also a Republican-after he was arrested in an airport bathroom in 2007 for “lascivious” acts.
As opposed to Peter King, Sanford and Ensign should be grateful to Michael Jackson-or to his death. Thanks to him, the media and the public, at least for now, are not focused on their hypocrisies.
Eduardo Stanley is the editor of El Sol, a weekly Spanish publication in Tulare County and host of Nuestro Foro, a weekly radio show on KFCF 88.1 FM, in Fresno. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Greenhouse
by Franz Weinschenk
Two Long Shots
“Satellite May Send Energy to Valley” was the front-page headline in the Fresno Bee (4/15).ÿAnd not just enough to flicker up a few television sets- but enough to provide clean electric power to “nearly a quarter of a million homes” right here in central California! The system is called “High Efficiency Energy Conversion,” and even though right now PG&E isn’t giving the proposed builder, Solaren Corporation of Manhattan Beach, any money for the project, they must have a lot of faith in it since they’ve already applied to the California Public Utilities Commission for permission to purchase 200 MV from this company just seven years from now in 2016.
The fact that up to now no one has actually built a working prototype of this kind of system tends to make us doubtful about its efficacy, but that doesn’t deter Gary Spirnak, a long-time space engineer and Solaren’s CEO. First, he’s firmly convinced that all the scientific theories involved in the project are well established, and since the proposed system is based on sufficiently tested satellite communications principles, he’s positive about the outcome.
Here is the way it’s supposed to work: Solaren will launch a group of satellites into a stationary orbit about 22,000 miles above the earth’s equator. These satellites will collect some of the sun’s ample rays and convert them into radio waves. The radio waves containing the converted sunlight energy are then beamed down to a receiving station right here in Fresno County where they are converted into electricity and delivered into PG&E’s grid. The radio waves do not pose any danger to objects like aircraft flying through the wave field. Spirnak and his engineers are so sure this is actually going to work that they are already looking to purchase a couple of square miles of marginal land in western Fresno County near an existing PG&E’s facility to serve as the receiving station.
If it pans out, it will be the world’s first high energy efficiency conversion. No new launch vehicles are needed since existing launch capabilities can do the job. Question: Is there enough energy out there to make the project worthwhile? Answer: When you’re “out there,” a narrow strip of space one kilometer long receives enough solar flux in one year to equal all the oil energy reserves on earth. All the electricity produced will be completely carbon-free, and there is practically no impact on the environment. Lastly, the system does not require large amounts of water for cooling as do nuclear plants. Spirnak expects the project to cost around $2 billion. That’s a lot of money, but not all that much when you consider the cost of a nuclear plant ranges from $10 billion to $14 billion.
Will it work? Guess we’ll find out about seven years from now.
And then up in northern California, the Lawrence Livermore Lab is telling us we may have yet another big time, non-polluting energy maker-“laser powered fusion.” Right now, it’s all housed in a 10-story building three times the size of a football field called the National Ignition Facility. Inside this building, they’ve got 192 powerful laser beams all aimed at a tiny kernel of frozen hydrogen inside a golden capsule. When all the lasers are fired simultaneously-and that’s supposed to happen next year- it’s expected they will fuse the hydrogen atoms in a way that will produce enormous amounts of energy. This represents the culmination of more than 50 years of scientific work to achieve fusion in a laboratory producing the possibility of “limitless electric energy.”
We’re told that once the lasers hit the hydrogen pellet, it will reach temperatures of more than 800 million degrees Fahrenheit-far greater than the temperature at the center of our sun. The pellet actually becomes a tiny sun itself and gives off huge bursts of energy that can be harnessed by liquid salt. Since the salt has the ability to hold large amounts of heat, by using heat exchangers the hot salt will produce unlimited amounts of steam that in turn will power traditional turbines to generate unbelievable amounts of electricity.
Commenting on the process, Governor Schwarzenegger says,
“This system will generate endless amounts of carbon-free power but without the drawbacks of conventional nuclear plants, no risk of reactors melting down. Nuclear waste is minimized since live engines can burn nuclear waste.”
So there you have ’em. Two huge possible game changers- “High Efficiency Energy Conversion” and “Laser Powered Nuclear Fusion.” Either one could change our energy future-BIG TIME!
Hope Rising above Chaos
By Ruth Gadebusch
Now that the state legislature has again passed, with the governor signing, a state budget, it is no time for us to sit back and relax. Just days afterward, the budget is imploding and we will be suffering the consequences for years to come. Or more accurately, our descendants will be paying the price.
“Smoke and mirrors” is not good government. Good government is more than no tax increase, however appealing that might sound in the immediate. While efficiency and elimination of fraud are to be desired, it is seriously doubtful that alone could let us continue the style in which we have been living. Yes, this downturn of the general economy exacerbated the situation, but it is far from the whole story. We have been living well beyond our means for many years-most particularly since the passage of the notorious Prop 13 in the late 1970s.
Quite simply, it is impossible to provide all the services needed by a growing, diverse population with increasingly limited resources. With our government by initiative catering to narrow positions without regard to the whole, we have tied our state into knots letting chaos reign.
With our term limits, we have left the legislature devoid of experience. Ironically enough, the experience lies with the unelected staff who move from legislator to legislator whenever the opportunity arises. The legislators themselves move from the Assembly to the Senate, or vice versa, ever positioning themselves for higher places thus ensuring job security.
It isn’t much different in Congress where having had a taste of “Paree,” the farm is no longer exciting. Therefore, they abandon their heretofore advocacy for citizen legislators who do the job and come home rather than become career legislators. That is, unless they can transfer to a high paying lobbyist position.
Our legislative districts are set up more to preserve the interests of the current office holders, or at least the party balance, rather than the interests of the constituents. We, the voters, then fall for all the election propaganda thus preserving the status quo.
With our horrendously expensive election campaigns to disseminate that propaganda, we have ceded control to the special interest groups. Continuous fund-raising is a necessity with all too often the election going to the highest bidder.
With our “lock ’em up and throw away the key” attitude, we have filled our prisons to overflowing and have created virtually graduate schools of crime. We have a politically powerful law enforcement-conceded their jobs are not pleasant-often more influential than education, another power group in this state. With our insistence on the death penalty, we have spent millions more on the hundreds awaiting the final payment on the sentence than we would with life without parole. Nor have our draconian laws reduced criminal activity. No one thinks s/he will get caught.
As for the power of education, it seems more tilted to the providers than the consumers. All too often education is the one on the short end. That, despite some of those initiatives ostensibly meant to protect education but contributing to the confused state government more often than not. In its simplest form, education is the agent of prevention for much of the above deplorable conditions.
Clearly, education is not living up to its potential but it remains our best hope. So long as society expects more entertainment than education, so long as teachers do not have the respect of society, so long as society does not value learning, education is being asked to do the impossible. We neglect our public schools at our peril. Public education is the only institution for developing commonality in this nation. It is the hope for understanding our kind of government, thus allowing it to function. It is our hope for more thoughtful voters-voters with compassion for the less fortunate and a willingness to shoulder responsibility.
We should question the system, but we dare not abandon it. A new school year always begins with hope. At this time, the community would do well to focus on all that it does well rather than bemoan its failures. Success breeds success. To fail our children is to eat our seed corn, a concept this agriculture area should well appreciate. Education is not something for someone else to do. All of us are a part of the system. We can and we must do better. It is our legacy to the future.
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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Progressive Religion…Is Not an Oxymoron
Compassion & Sustainable Communities
By David E. Roy
This summer, I had the opportunity to teach a brief course on spiritually rooted compassion for Northern Arizona University’s masters program in sustainable community. This visionary graduate program, at a state university no less, is the result of an extraordinary effort by Sandra Lubarsky, department chair, who is joined in the program by her husband, Marcus Ford. Sandra says they are training scholar advocates-thoughtful troublemakers, in other words.
Collapse by Jared Diamond
The course included a section on UCLA Professor Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking Press) in which he analyzes about 15 ancient and contemporary societies to determine the factors that contribute to survival-or collapse.
The major focus in this column will be on Collapse because, as with many, I see our world as facing cataclysmic environmental challenges that, if left unmet, eventually will lead to regional collapses and quite likely a global catastrophe.
Regardless of how one feels about spirituality, religion and the Divine, this is an issue we all need to address.
Distorted Worldview = Bad Religion
I don’t think, though, that spirituality and religion are irrelevant. In fact, I feel strongly that religion based on a seriously distorted view of reality has only made things worse.
If we can correct our worldview and see the fundamental nature of reality differently, religion can be transformed from a force that supports the destructive status quo into a force that promotes life. And spirituality, which is the experience of being connected to a deeper and wider universe, can be a means for that transformation.
Survival Requires Sustainability
But first, Collapse. Diamond, who has spent decades doing studies around the globe, demonstrates repeatedly that the capacity for a society to endure for centuries depends significantly on its ability to achieve a sustainable harmony with its environment.
Although there are some environments that would be a serious challenge to even the most attuned society, invariably it was how the society responded to environmental damage that determined the outcome.
50,000 Years of Damage
Diamond is pointed in his conclusion that in every instance over the past 50,000 years when humans migrated to a new area the environment eventually suffered serious damage. The destruction was unwitting, at least at the start.
Fortunately, there are examples of societies, both old and current, that have managed to seek a sustainable balance once aware of the environmental damage. There were others, however, that woke up to the problems too late to make the necessary adjustments.
Then there were those that had obvious evidence of serious problems but chose to avoid responding in any effective way by denying, minimizing or ignoring, thereby guaranteeing collapse.
A Collapse Is Ugly and Deadly
Diamond’s book describes vividly what happens when a society collapses: extreme violence, starvation and cannibalism. Well-to-do citizens might delay the inevitable a bit longer than most, but not by much.
To avoid this being our future, individuals and local communities, national governments and especially corporations need to come to terms with the fact that if we continue to despoil the world’s environment on the scale that exists today, let alone with the expansion that is taking off, the world will spiral into a collapse of catastrophic proportions.
Decision Makers Need This Book
This book should be on every policy maker’s desk-local, state and national-not just sitting there, but read, underlined and used to guide policy decisions. It contains an enormous amount of information, much of it hard data, to support his conclusions. It certainly has relevance to the environmental debates that are raging currently in the Central Valley.
This book is not a polemic. Diamond’s style is low-key and personal. His approach to the subject matter is intentionally “middle of the road,” in part because he has extensive experience with major environmental organizations and with international corporations. He takes wry satisfaction in having been condemned by both camps.
Not All Corporations Are Bad
While he is unsparing in the details of the ruthless and devastating actions by some companies and nations, he also shares in-depth information on international corporations that have decided it is in their best interest to protect and sustain the environment so that it will support their industry over several decades.
A prime example he gives, based on personal experience, is with Chevron’s Kutubu oil fields in New Guinea.
He was sent as an investigator by World Wildlife Fund to assist in WWF’s efforts to put together and implement a large-scale conservation and development plan that covered the whole watershed, a plan requested by Chevron.
Diamond is candid that he came expecting Chevron would be doing a horrible job: “Like much of the public, I loved to hate the oil industry.”
Corporations, he asserts, have tremendous power on the international scene to accomplish good works, if they so choose. If they are, or can be persuaded to do so, Diamond advocates helping and praising them.
Where to Apply Pressure for Change
For some unresponsive industries, he advocates ignoring the companies responsible for direct production and the resulting damage and recommends instead putting pressure on the companies that retail the products (e.g., Home Depot for wood from sustainable forests).
Diamond includes detailed suggestions for what individuals and groups can do to push for change. This is critical because, as previously stated, of the five factors involved in the collapse of a society, the human response is always the most important in the long run in determining success or failure and is the only one truly under our full control.
The Human Response: Critical
Two brief and illuminating examples: On Easter Island, instead of adapting to the ecological crisis, the chiefs did even more damage toward the end by demanding still larger statues to ward off pending doom. This resulted in resources being further depleted: more food for the workers and more trees for the rope to drag the enormous heads into place.
In Greenland, the Vikings attempted to import their European culture. The early animals wrecked havoc, the lush grasses took years to re-grow instead of a season, and the settlers’ devotion to outfitting churches deprived people of necessities. Strangely, they did not eat fish and when the end came, those left starved to death.
By contrast, the Inuit, who arrived in Greenland 500 years after the Vikings, adapted to the demands of the environment. They were skilled at fishing. They continue today to live in the region in a sustainable manner.
Besides the human response to eco-disasters, the other four factors are the environment, natural climate change, hostile neighbors and trading partners when they stop bringing essential goods from the outside. All five factors are interactive, though environmental damage is usually the precipitating cause of collapse. If there is no good water or the soil is ruined, people will starve to death, for example.
Tikopia as a Sustainable Community
Perhaps the greatest example of a sustainable community that Diamond found is on the tiny Pacific island of Tikopia. As I mentioned in a previous column, the Tikopian civilization has endured for more than 3,000 years.
Part of what aids their collective ability to live within their environmental means is the fact that they all literally see the same environment. Because the island is less than two square miles in size, the ocean is visible from nearly everywhere.
Their responsiveness to their environment has to have been helped by this common point of view. In today’s world, however, it is an understatement to say that such a common perspective cannot be as easily developed on a global basis.
Barriers to a Shared Viewpoint
Part of the blame for this inability lies with how we look at the world. For centuries, we have been shaped by Plato and those who followed him to see reality as inert matter in motion, devoid of purpose, mentality, free will and spirituality, lacking any form of connection except external.
This worldview easily leads to using people and the natural world as a means to an end while simultaneously denying the intrinsic value of the other, and strenuously avoiding any sense of being intimately connected with anyone or anything else, especially those who are different or out of sight.
With this cosmology of the experience of connection and community, our dominant worldview emphasizes separation and differences.
Feeling Deep Connection Leads to Compassion
Whitehead’s cosmology emphasizes exactly the opposite. This cosmology explains the world as made up of processes that are internally related to each other. You are a part of me and I am a part of you-from the inside. This is the basis for our profound connection, so often not recognized.
Compassion enters the picture when we are attuned to this deep, real and fundamental connection because the most basic nature of this connection is conformal: I feel your pain, painfully; I feel your hunger with my own hunger pangs; I feel your fear as my own; likewise, I feel your joy joyfully, your enjoyment adds to my own enjoyment.
The Sacred Call to Care for the Well-Being of All
The spiritual dimension of this is a conformal response to the Divine care for the well-being of all. When we are attuned to this, then we not only feel another’s agony but we also are moved to act in a way that will relieve that distress.
There is no limit to this compassion except what we impose on it due to our capacity and prior beliefs. We can and must learn to be compassionate with a wide range of human beings and our natural world. If enough of us can learn how to do this and to live out of this perspective, our species might just survive.
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. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Hmong Refugees: Where will they go?
By Mike Rhodes
After the Vietnam War, a significant number of Hmong refugees from Laos settled in Fresno, Merced, and the Central Valley. The Hmong are about 10% of the population in Fresno, moved here to be near family members, and many work on small farms. The Hmong were US allies in the Vietnam War, which resulted in a relaxed immigration and citizenship policy for them. But not all of the Hmong left Southeast Asia. Many are now held in Thailand refugee camps, with 4,700 in one camp. The Thai government is threatening to repatriate them to Laos. Mai Summer Vue, a spokesperson for the group – Hmong American Community United released the following information:
Hmong women and children (infants) with Refugee status has been detained in crowded jails for 999 days (as of August 11, 2009) with out proper food and water. US representative told 4,700 Hmong in camp that the United States has no program to help them on August 7, 2009 visit. All will be forced to return to Laos.
- We call for the immediate cessation of forced repatriation of Hmong refugees from Thailand to Laos,
and that the Thai military restrain from using psychological coercion. Both Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch have reported returnee abuse in Laos.
- We call on the Thai government to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
unhindered access to these refugees to determine which ones have legitimate protection concerns. There
needs to be a transparent screening process which complies with international law.
- We ask that third countries, such as the U.S., Australia, and others step forward and volunteer to
resettle those found to have legitimate protection concerns.
- Those Hmong determined not to be political refugees must be returned to Laos with sufficient
- We ask that the 158 UNHCR-recognized Hmong refugees being held in Nong Khai jail be released
immediately and allowed to resettle in third countries. This group, mainly women and children, have been held
in captivity for 999 days under extremely inhumane living conditions. Many plan to commit suicide rather than
be forced to return to Laos.
- There are approximately several hundred more Hmong who have already received UNHCR refugee
status. They should also be allowed to leave Thailand for third country resettlement.
|Hmong children jailed in Thailand.||Mai Summer Vue speaks out for justice.|
Darling International Stinks up West Fresno
By Mike Rhodes
“The stench is just indescribable. Morning, Noon, and night it penetrates the walls, it comes through the windows. . . I don’t want dead carcases processed in my backyard and I know that people in other parts of Fresno don’t want carcases processed in their backyard.” That was the Pastor B.T. Lewis of the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church as he described what it is like to live across the street from Darling International, a rendering plant in West Fresno.
Mary Curry, the designated spokesperson of Concerned Citizens for West Fresno called on the City of Fresno to remove the plant saying that this kind of facility would never be tolerated in North Fresno. Speaking in front of the plant on an August morning, Lewis asked “why should I have to endure more flies in this part of town than you endure in other parts of town? The flies gather around here, the dogs gather around here, this is a wasteland and as long as the City of Fresno endorses companies like this in Southwest Fresno, the residents of Southwest Fresno will never experience the growth and prosperity that they deserve.”
Lewis described dogs in the area following trucks that leak blood from the dead animals they are hauling to the rendering plant, where 850,000 pounds of meat is authorized by the City of Fresno to be processed every day. Lewis concluded “this company is a blight, this company is a destroyer of the community, this company can do business somewhere else, that is why we are here.” For more information about this and other environmental justice issues in West Fresno, call (559) 233-9348.
|Mary Curry, the designated spokesperson of Concerned Citizens for West Fresno said “we feel that the City of Fresno has not dealt fairly with the community, they have allowed this company to be here for 50+ years, knowing full well they are polluting the community and they have done nothing but continue to issue them permits.”||Pastor B.T. Lewis of the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church said “we are tired of the environmental injustice perpetrated on this community day after day.”|
Phone Employees Settle Contract
By Stan Santos
Communications Workers of America, District 9, has reached a tentative agreement with AT&T West for a new three-year labor contract. CWA District 9 represents California, Nevada and Hawaii and includes approximately 23,000 workers. More than 80,000 CWA members continue bargaining with their eyes on District 9. The proposed contract is being studied by the membership, and a ratification vote will conclude on September 1, 2009. CWA concerns included issues that are shared by most labor groups facing bargaining at this crucial time: healthcare, job security and broken promises to retirees. AT&T claims that technology and an ailing economy have created a difficult, competitive environment, ignoring the almost $13 billion in profits last year. AT&T is on pace to meet or surpass that level in the current year and continues to lavish top executives with multimillion dollar compensation packages, luxury housing allowances, corporate jets and country clubs.
|Communication Workers of America, Local 9408 members and allies held this picket on July 8, 2009 in front of the AT&T district office in Fresno.|
This proposed agreement comes after four months of working without a contract-a tense period filled with uncertainty. The membership voted 88% approval of a strike if the Company refused to provide a just contract. CWA Local 9408, with almost 1,000 members in the Fresno area, marched and picketed AT&T offices in Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento and San Ramon. In San Ramon, the main headquarters for AT&T in California, they hung hundreds of t-shirts, jackets and other items of branded apparel in a “Clothesline for Justice” that stretched for several hundred feet. In the proposed contract, pay increases are substantially offset by healthcare premiums and deductibles. Important job security measures are intact and hundreds of term (temporary) technicians are to be made permanent. If the members vote approval, CWA District 9 can then turn its attention toward the resolution of the national healthcare crisis and winning approval of the Employee Free Choice Act. Organizing the unorganized is another important goal in the coming years. CWA Local 9408 recognizes the support of active members, retirees, the Fresno Madera Tulare Kings County Labor Council and the community for a positive outcome to this round of bargaining.
Stan Santos is a Vice President of Communication Workers of America Local 9408 and sits on the Executive Board of the Central Labor Council. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Restaurant Review: Lahori Tikka
By Vanessa Rhodes
Hussain Zaidi, owner and operator of the Lahori Tikka Restaurant is an artist by trade. The menu at this one-of-a-kind Halal restaurant is complete with conventional Pakistani and Indian dishes. However, Zaidi reinvents the typical by creating unique compositions of traditional flavors. When I asked him what his single favorite spice is, he responded by saying, “A painter doesn’t use just one color.” Zaidi describes the use of fixed Eastern spices and herbs such as cumin, sweet basil, cilantro and nutmeg, not only as flavors but also as the medium for food to be actualized-to reach its potential. His developed understanding and respect for the flavors has powerful results.
The food is exceptionally savory with subtle hints of both spicy and sweetness in almost every dish. Luckily, Zaidi recognizes the need to include herbs and spices with digestible qualities when working with food that has such rich and complex flavors. This allows one, like myself, to overindulge in such robust tastes. Both clever and complementary, the tikka is served with sliced onion and lime wedges. The masala is smooth and sweet, leaving a slight nutty taste. The menu doesn’t include anything leafy green but has several veggie dishes, and vegan dishes can be prepared on request. The mallai kofta, which is veggie balls prepped with a traditional masala, cream cheese and dried nuts, is highly recommended.
Pakistani food skirts the exotic in Fresno, and the restaurant’s location is unusual. The storefront keeps company with a massage parlor and a nail salon on the northeast corner of Palm and Bullard avenues. Inside, on a Saturday night, you will not find a bustling business. Instead, you will discover a few tables, mostly empty, and a couple of exceptionally attentive employees eager to make you a dish from the menu or of your own invention. Aside from a lively lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Lahori Tikka relies heavily (80%-90% of its business) on takeout and delivery
It is special to have a restaurant that offers a new twist on old flavors. Lahori Tikka, a young and innovative restaurant celebrating its second birthday in September, is grossly underused but not underappreciated.
Special this month (through Sept. 22), Lahori Tikka is offering an evening buffet from 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. for Ramadan.
Vanessa Rhodes has been eating since birth, and she has something to say about it. E-mail her at email@example.com.
New National Challenge to Democrats and Republicans
By Kevin Akin
Announcing its intention to challenge the Democrats and Republicans in 2010, a national organizing effort to build a new electoral party of the left has selected interim leadership and prepared a basic unity statement. Debra Reiger of Sacramento, who also serves as north state organizer of the Peace and Freedom Party, is the interim chair of the National Organizing Continuations Committee (NOCC). The committee was empowered to coordinate the multi-state effort at the National Organizing Conference held on August 1 in San Francisco. The interim secretary is Georgia Williams of Fresno, who also serves as secretary of the Peace and Freedom Party State Central Committee.
“We oppose rule by the wealthy and their corporations,” says Reiger. “Their bloody wars, their exploitation of workers, their oppression of working people and of dissidents at home and abroad continue no matter which big-money party holds office. We are working to build a national slate of candidates for the Senate, the House of Representatives, and other offices in the 2010 elections-and that’s just a start.”
Williams comments, “Some people claim the Democrats are socialists. This is ridiculous. It becomes clearer every day that the Democrats are capitalists who serve the corporations and their wealthy owners. The NOCC serves as an umbrella organization for people and organizations who think the working people of our country should own the goods and services they produce and run the economy.”
Welcoming the participation of existing organizations, the NOCC unity statement describes the coalition as “multi-tendency” and “non-sectarian.” “We are building the umbrella organization that will enable a broad range of left activists to run for office,” explains Reiger.
For further information, contact Debra Reiger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-698-8131. For local information about the Peace and Freedom Party, contact Georgia Williams at email@example.com.
Kevin Akin is the Peace and Freedom Party State Central Committee chairperson.
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