If you have ever told someone that Fresno is a conservative community, take a look at the maps below. The large map illustrates how we voted last November on Prop 32, the initiative promoted by big business and their allies, which would have been a near death blow to organized labor. Most progressives voted no on Prop 32 because we support unions and believe in paying workers a living wage and improving the lives of the working class. The map shows us, again, that there is a major split in this community, with the more affluent areas in the north voting against working people’s interests and just about every precinct south of Shaw voting in support of progressive causes.
Last month, we printed the smaller map below, showing the outcome of the presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. We posted that map on the Community Alliance Facebook page, and it immediately became a huge focus of attention. More than 28,000 people viewed the map, 82 of them “shared” it with their friends and there were 170 “likes.” That is a lot of attention for our humble Facebook page.
The comments were even more interesting. I was struck by how many people said they did not believe the information they were seeing and wanted to know our source (the Registrar’s Office). Their denial reminded me of the first stage of grief when someone gets bad news—they might say “this can’t possibly be true!”
This was followed by anger (the second stage of grief) where a number of visitors suggested the intelligence level of those in the blue sections of the city was below average. Before I knew it, the bargaining commenced—writers posted comments suggesting that just because people voted for Obama, that doesn’t mean they are liberal. Writers suggested the Registrar had altered the vote and how you can’t trust big government.
Some conservative visitors started to realize that this map is for real and they suggested that now might be a good time to move out of town (or across the street to Clovis). They were so depressed by this new reality that they wanted to escape.
Of course, the final stage of grief is acceptance. To me, that seems like a great place for us all to end up. Conservatives should realize that they are a minority in this town. Once progressives realize that they are the majority, we can figure out a strategy for taking power and running this town in the interests of those of us who do not live in the affluent north, overlooking the San Joaquin River.
The first test will likely be a vote on whether to privatize the city sanitation department (see story elsewhere in this paper). Supporting workers’ rights to have a decent job that pays a living wage and benefits is a core progressive value. Plus, keeping a publicly run sanitation department will keep costs down, maintain the excellent service we have come to expect and prevent a massive giveaway of public property to Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s big business buddies.
The map showing the results from the Prop 32 vote is a good indication of how this election to stop the privatization of the city sanitation department will go. The critical factor will be our ability to increase voter turnout south of Shaw. The only reason the conservative north side is able to win is by suppressing the vote. The further south you go, the lower the voter turnout. This is not random. It happens for a reason.
We have lower voter turnout in the southern part of the city because voting laws favor the rich. For example, if you move, you have to re-register at your new address before you can vote. Who do you think moves more—poor people renting an apartment near Butler and Orange avenues or an affluent resident who has a house on the bluffs?
Another cause for low voter turnout is that on any given election day there are 4,000 people locked up in the Fresno County Jail who cannot get out to vote. More than 70% of them have not been convicted of a crime. They have been arrested and are waiting for trial—innocent until proven guilty, right? Yet, they are unable to vote. Why not set up a voting booth at the jail so these overwhelmingly poor and working people can vote?
Those of us living south of Shaw (not to mention Belmont) have more transportation and work issues that prevent us from getting to the polls. Most affluent people have a car that runs, they can more easily take time off from their jobs and their polling place is usually nearby. In recent elections, we have had elderly people in southwest Fresno who had to walk for miles to get to their polling place.
The good news is that there are progressive groups who are aware of these challenges and are developing a strategic plan to use the democratic process to empower the majority in Fresno who want clean air, universal healthcare, immigration reform, a fully funded and functioning educational system, and an end to the endless wars of occupation.
It starts by understanding the political landscape of the community we live in. It is my hope that these maps will get you thinking about how progressives are the majority in this city, acting on how to use this information to take power, and to join in unity with others to make that happen.
A good place to start is by joining the Central Valley Progressive PAC and working with it to make the possibility of social and economic change in Fresno a reality. See the CVPPAC ad in this newspaper and join them as we work together to reclaim what is ours.