By Mike Rhodes
If progressives want to win political power in Fresno and beyond, we must build a coalition that includes both organized labor and grassroots community groups. A big leap forward in this effort has been the coalition that emerged to defeat the mayor’s plan to privatize unionized sanitation workers’ jobs. That victory was the result of unity between organized labor and progressive community groups.
Ruben Zarate is a labor activist and a member of the Central Labor Council (CLC); he is active with the Fresno Partnership (FP) and is on the executive board of the Central Valley Progressive PAC (CVPPAC). In a recent interview, I asked Ruben about his political work and the potential we have in the 2015–2016 election cycle to get more progressives elected locally.
Rhodes: Why is a labor/community alliance of strategic importance in the effort to get more progressives elected in Fresno?
Zarate: There’s not a lot of progressive parity in local and state level elected progressives representing the Central Valley. Interestingly enough, however, we have a couple of good candidates for the presidential election, and it’s great that one is a woman. Then we have an interesting pair of women for a statewide U.S. Senatorial seat that should bring out labor and progressives. This is something that we’re working hard at increasing, awakening and reenergizing the folks that are registered to vote but for some reason haven’t yet participated in the electoral system.
Rhodes: As a core member of the CVPPAC, the FP and CLC, tell me what those organizations are doing that will help elect progressives to political office in this community.
Zarate: The three groups, CVPPAC, the FP and the CLC, are pretty much on the same page philosophically. We are all working hard to promote and improve precinct structure and registered voter turnout. We are working to strengthen and build relationships with other allied community groups. Also, we are identifying, mobilizing and advocating around progressive labor issues and candidates.
Rhodes: The Fresno Partnership is holding a training in October. What is that about?
Zarate: The FP is conducting a Regional Community Organizing Training on October 2–3. The training will consist of conservation groups, community organizations, progressive activists and labor learning the organizing skills required to develop and run campaigns to create lasting environmental, social and electoral change.
The invitation is extended to all of the Fresno Partnership member groups and like-minded organizations and individuals committed to environmental advocacy, as well as social and environmental justice. We’re seeking participants who have or wish to make an ongoing commitment to community organizing work, have leadership roles in environmental, SJ and EJ organizations, and have a background or strong interest in advocacy, coalition building and campaigns. Our goal is to provide training to establish a group of 50 professionally trained field organizers to work on their key issues, with an emphasis on water-related actions and the minimum wage.
Rhodes: What political races do you think progressives should work on in 2015 and 2016?
Zarate: So far in local races, the slate is blank and no progressives have declared, but there’s still a little time for that to happen and there are a few names out there. On the national scene, we have the presidential race; Bernie Sanders appears to be the progressive choice, with Hillary Clinton as a second option. It appears Bernie is becoming popular and gaining momentum.
Rhodes: What would you say to someone who is interested in seeing more progressive elected officials in Fresno? Why should they join the CVPPAC?
Zarate: I would tell them that we have a definite place for them to be. For sure, CVPPAC is a great start! We have a great group of folks from diverse backgrounds, professions and political parties that share like values. Anyone who would like to join, has any questions regarding membership or just needs more information, please check out our membership Web site. Also, I would be happy to meet over coffee to provide additional information in person.