Marriage Equality - The Civil Rights Movement of the 21st Century
Letters to the Editor
Community Rallies Support for Hmong Gardeners
How Green is your Garden?
Homeless Lawsuit Settlement Helps the Homeless
The Federal Plan to End Homelessness
Bubba Attacks the ACLU
How to Become a Card Carrying Member of the ACLU
The Fresno Free College Foundation Turns 40
Conflict at KPFA in Berkeley
Progressive Religion is not an Oxymoron
Stressful vs. Mindful, You have a Choice
Photo Archive Project
Peace and Social Justice calendar
Word on the Street
Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots
Progressive Community Groups
Betty Harmon Case Dismissed
The Cultural Arts Renaissance in Fresno
I know that it would possibly give us more weight, more credibility, more support if I could unequivocally argue that the marriage equality movement is a direct comparison to the civil rights movements of the past, but I can’t. What I can say is that I have never felt more moved to do whatever it takes to make sure that all of my gay brothers and sisters are treated equally under the law.
Growing up in Mississippi, the belief that race segregation was a thing of the past was essentially a joke. I can remember hearing stories from my mother about the race riots and efforts for and against segregation. But in my mind, I asked as she spoke of this "past;" has it ever really changed? I knew that the African-American community wasn’t dealing anymore with the blatant aggressive attacks of public beatings and dogs being released on them just for speaking up for their desire to be treated equally. But, there was and STILL IS, segregation. In the schools, in the neighborhoods, in the friend groups that exist and in the basic places people shop and entertain themselves – individual efforts of segregation cannot be legislated away.
We can’t say LGBT people are not beaten as they were in the past because we find that to be untrue all the time. In fact, less than two weeks ago a transwoman in Memphis, TN, who had been beaten recently under police custody, was killed. Allegedly, the officers insulted and harassed her, continually referring to her as "heshe." We can’t say LGBT people have never been arrested or harassed because they were fighting for their basic rights. Because, as you will read in this edition of "Community Alliance" in these past few weeks, my LGBT brothers and sisters, including myself, have faced numerous incidents of interrogation, threats and retaliation.
So, today as I think about those times, what I can admit is that there will never be a way to directly compare these two movements; however, in both movements – each group was justified in being frustrated, saddened, hurt, angered and determined to do more. And, just as we have learned in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education and we will learn again with the overturning of Proposition 8 – both movements were and continue to be a civil rights movement from the voice of the marginalized minority to be treated fair and equal under the law.
One very distinct difference between the civil rights struggle of 50 years ago and our struggle today – we, as LGBT people, have the burdened luxury of constructively hiding our identity to our surrounding neighbors; if we so choose. As I ponder that fact, it makes me wonder if this is one reason why we have been struggling since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and even before then, to acquire equal rights and acceptance. I mean, really? We have been in this battle for civic equality since before I was born and in the enlightened year of 2008 when we have had plenty of time to learn from our historical mistakes – we are actually questioning again, is "separate but equal" fair?
Robin McGehee speaking out for equal rights.
Father Geoff Farrow was the keynote speaker at the NO ON 8 rally held at Fresno City Hall. In October, Father Farrow, who was a priest at the Saint Paul Newman Center in northeast Fresno, came out against Proposition 8. For this courageous act, he was suspended as a priest and removed as pastor.
Christine Chavez, labor organizer Cesar Chavez’s granddaughter, spoke at the NO ON 8 rally .
To be honest, I think we ALL know the answer. But, I think because there is still not enough sustained social climate change towards the LGBT people, others still feel justified, protected, and able to work to keep us silenced. The problem with the movement that I am directly linked to is that there is still too much widespread social acceptance of public discrimination, devaluing, and demeaning of my LGBT community.
The sign is referring to Fresno mayor Alan Autry who was a speaker at the YES ON 8 rally held at City Hall the previous weekend.
Comparably speaking that is where the reality between the LGBT movement and the race equality movement of the past has gained much separation. There was a time when the "will of the people" believed that people of color should be told who they could or could not marry. The "will of the people" confined Japanese Americans to internment camps. The "will of the people" decided that Armenian’s couldn’t buy land in Fresno County. But, those bigoted decisions were eventually overturned and the people realized just how unjust those decisions were. In today’s world, if a devoted mother at a Catholic school was volunteering as a Parent-Teacher representative and was forced to step down because she was married to man outside her race – our community would be outraged. Civil rights groups would be protesting with much visibility and hardly anyone would question their right to do so. But, today, it is still socially accepted to marginalize and silence a person just because they are living the life they were built to live. (Remember, I come from a South that while sitting in church, I heard the Pastor preach against interracial relationships, because the "The Bible" stated that we were not to mix the races. Social acceptance and Biblical interpretation changes – examine history.)
Personally, I cannot stress enough that just because it is the "will of the people" does not make it fair, just or right. This is an issue of the separation of church and state. My desire to marry civically (I am welcomed to marry in the church where I am a member) is a CIVIL right, and this right does not affect another’s religious freedom. And if a person of conservative faith believes their freedom of religion threatened by the reality of same-sex marriage – then, I ask, why not as well work to eliminate the rights of the heterosexual person who just meets and marries a person in less than a month with no claim to religious affiliation? Or, take away the rights of marriage from those who are found to be infertile or pass the age of fertility. More than that, make divorce illegal – I can offer statistics and evidence of how much that decision alone affects children. Or, can we just call this Proposition’s efforts what it really is – another way to legislate and socially stigmatize the LGBT community with your socially accepted homophobia?
Again, I admit that this is not directly comparable to the civil rights movement of the 60’s. But, it does not mean that this is NOT a civil rights movement. I pray that our High Court does not, for the first time in California’s history, modify our Constitution to take away rights from the group who will never be in the majority. I am forever grateful for the confirmation that although perceptions of my community may be changing – we are still suffering from inequality and unfairness. This reminder has me committed more than ever to convince every voter in Fresno, and the surrounding areas, that we MUST find a way to agree to disagree and then, work to better our Fresno community.
It frightens me that if the California Supreme Court does uphold Proposition 8 that those who are content in keeping homophobia alive and well – will not stop there. I have no doubt that if my LGBT community was not privileged with the burdened luxury of being able to constructively hide or shadow ourselves from those who want us silenced – we may very well be on the same road of injustice where we could find ourselves at the back of bus, with separate drinking fountains and even a door sign that reads, "No Gays or Dogs Allowed." Remember, we do live in a society where segregation clearly still exists. May my Prince of Peace (don’t forget, I have the right to religious freedom, too) and the high court overturn such a homophobic amendment – just as they would a racist piece of legislation passed by the "will of the people."
But, if they don’t, I am committed to my wife. As Charleston Heston said about his rifle, I say about my wedding band, "from my cold dead hands." I want the dignity, responsibility and respect that ONLY marriage can provide and no one will ever be able to legislate that desire away. I am optimistic about the final verdict, but I have been hurt too much recently to not have some doubt that others will act fairly. You may have the "will of the people," but I have the commitment of my family, and that is why I fight, in this civil rights movement, to have my marriage validated.
Robin McGehee is the Central Valley Program Director for the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and Development Director for Reel Pride, Fresno’s Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. She teaches Communication full-time at College of the Sequoias in Visalia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marriage Equality Activists at Fresno City Hall (November 2, 2008)
By Dan Waterhouse
One of the unintended victims of the Yes On Proposition 8 campaign was Fresno No advocate Robin McGehee’s son Sebastian. He had to change kindergartens after Robin was removed as president of his school’s Parent-Teacher Organization shortly after the election.
Sebastian was a student at St. Helen’s School in southeast Fresno. Even before he was enrolled in pre-kindergarten last year, his mother had volunteered there. Before she and spouse Kathy Adams even decided to enroll Sebastian at St. Helen’s they had a sit-down meeting with the principal. "We were very upfront and never hid the fact that we were a two-dad, two-mom family," McGehee says. "We explained that we’re a nontraditional family and we wanted to make sure the school was comfortable with that and that they would support us being involved with the school."
When the president of the Parent-Teacher Organization, Letty Baldwin, decided to give up her post, she asked McGehee to become the new president. The principal phoned McGehee and encouraged her to accept—which she did in May 2008. But McGehee wasn’t in the position long because on November 7 the school forced McGehee to resign.
Why? Because McGehee was involved in the "No on Proposition 8" campaign. School authorities told McGehee that they wanted her to resign because she spoke at a candlelight vigil earlier that week. Father Salvador Gonzalez, Jr., told her that because of her visibility at the vigil, which was seen in direct opposition to the Catholic church’s position on Prop 8, she was being forced to resign. She was not allowed to attend the PTO meeting planned for the following night and the school decided to close the meeting to all parents, allowing no questions about what was happening or why. Only three representatives of the PTO were present and they were only told that McGehee was no longer president and that they would be holding nominations and elections for PTO positions. PTO vice president Tiffany Rodriguez was one of those in attendance, and she stepped down from her post because the school asked McGehee to resign.
Man Pulled Over By the Police for Wearing a No On 8 Button
By Mike Rhodes
On the Sunday before the November 4 election, Drew Stoeckel went to services at Cornerstone Church. Stoeckel said that his No on Proposition 8 button caught the eye of Cornerstone security, who kept an eye on him inside the church. As he left services, church security monitored him as he walked to his car. "I passed a lot of security guards and after each one I passed I could hear them talking to one another on their walkie-talkies describing my location, describing what I was wearing, that I was in the parking lot," Stoeckel said.
Immediately after Stoeckel left the parking garage, a police cruiser pulled up behind him. Within a block he was pulled over and questioned by an officer who said she was investigating vandalism against downtown churches.
Jim Franklin, the pastor at Cornerstone Church, had spoken at the Yes on 8 rally the weekend before. He and Fresno Mayor Alan Autry, who also spoke at the rally, claimed later in the week that they received an email death threat. Some No on 8 supporters question whether a death threat was made and suggest that if one was received it could have been made by Yes on 8 supporters trying to discredit the No on 8 campaign. The Fresno Police Department has not yet made an arrest in the case.
Stoeckel said that being followed by Cornerstone security and stopped by the police was "a really underhanded attempt to put me on the list of people suspected of making death threats." To see a video of Stoeckel describing this incident, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHy-7OMqqRw .
Summer Vue was asked by the Hmong gardeners to be their spokesperson. Vue spoke on their behalf at this press conference, at city council meetings, and with the media. For her efforts to help the gardeners she was attacked by some at City Hall who said she was a troublemaker and questioned her leadership.
In October, the little-known Hmong community garden at Belmont and Dewitt Avenues in southeast Fresno was in the news weekly, and sometimes daily. The City of Fresno plans to demolish the 13 year old garden and replace it with a Fresno Police Department substation. When the community learned of the plans, there was a public outcry. It soon became clear that this is not a simple story and its implications are still being uncovered.
These plans had been reported in the Fresno Bee and in the Community Alliance early in the summer. Why did the issue cause such excitement and engage the community, the city government, and the media in October? Credit goes in part to Diana Marcum’s sensitive Fresno Bee story that appeared on October 1, 2008, "Hmong immigrants lose a secret garden: The city plans to build on land where Hmong immigrants have gardened for 13 years." The gardeners had a November 1 move out deadline. Marcum’s article introduced readers to the garden and gave the Hmong gardeners a face and a voice. The apparent injustice touched many readers. See http://www.fresnobee.com/907/story/905324.html and www.fblinks.com/pt6 to read the article and view the video.
The story created a flood of letters and comments. Readers reacted to varying issues inherent in the story – social justice, sustainability, food security, US foreign policy, culture and diversity, land use, health, and due process in public policy. Some of Marcum’s readers contacted each other and decided to take action.
On October 7, four supporters addressed the city council and asked them to reconsider the plans for the garden. None were willing.
Seeking support for the garden, the four reached out to others. They set a meeting for Saturday, October 11. Several Hmong attended. Summer Vue reported her conversation with Councilmember Blong Xiong who told her, "This is not a Hmong issue; no one from the Hmong community has contacted me." Then Vue challenged the meeting organizers asking, "Where are the Hmong gardeners and what do they want?"
Vue took on the task of contacting the gardeners and the Hmong community. She went to local radio station KBIF 900 AM and, as the guest of Marina Yang, brought the issue to the Hmong community in their own language. During the two-hour radio show, the board lit up as caller after caller expressed support for the gardeners. Vue invited listeners to join the gardeners and the community at large at a town hall meeting on October 15.
Seventy people attended the Hmong American Town Hall meeting. Gardener Joua Lue Lo spoke for many of the gardeners in opposition to the city’s plans. Several Hmong leaders expressed their views – some in support and others in opposition to city plans. The day before the meeting all city council members and Park and Recreation Department Director, Randall Cooper, were sent an email invitation to the meeting. Maiyer Vang, assistant to Councilmember Xiong, attended. Richard Yanes, Director of Metro Ministry, spoke about the history of local social service agencies supporting the garden over many years. Organizers encouraged all to attend the city council meeting on October 21, and to contact city council members beforehand.
This Hmong gardener said she did not want to move.
Hmong gardeners working at their Belmont and DeWitt plot of land. The City of Fresno wants to replace this garden with a police station.
On Saturday, October 18, a front page Fresno Bee headline read "Fresno, Hmong agree to move garden." It told how city officials and the gardeners had reached an agreement the day before to relocate the gardeners to a community garden to be created at Melody Park near the corner of Shields and Fowler Avenues. The message to the community was End of story – everyone is happy! Supporters were shocked given the gardeners’ passionate objection to that plan just days before.
The gardeners’ understanding of what took place between them and the city was quite different. They say a Hmong leader, Lue Yang, Executive Director of the Fresno Center for New Americans, approached them on Friday morning and asked them to assemble all gardeners that afternoon at 3:00. At the appointed time, several city officials, including Bruce Rudd, Assistant City Manager, Randall Cooper, Maiyer Vang, and Monica Yang, assistant to Councilmember Caprioglio, and Fresno Bee reporter, Jim Guy, and a Bee photographer arrived at the Hmong garden.
The city officials and Hmong staff urged the gardeners to go with them to look at the site where the city wanted to relocate the Hmong garden – Melody Park. Councilman Xiong met them at Melody Park. When they saw the small, dry ponding basin the city was offering, they were insulted and did not make an agreement with the city. They refused to make statements to Bee reporter Jim Guy and refused to be photographed. They were very upset when their position was misrepresented the following day in the Fresno Bee.
The gardeners, with the help of supporters, called a press conference for the following Monday to tell the community that there was no agreement with the city the previous Friday. They unequivocally expressed their desire to remain at the current location. Several city officials came to the garden and made statements to the press as well. The group included Bruce Rudd, Councilmember Caprioglio, city spokesperson John Wallace, and Monica Yang, who had translated the "agreement" previously.
On October 21, opponents of the city’s plan filled the council chamber and expressed their objections in three hours of testimony. This outpouring of community concern prompted the city council to schedule a vote on the issue. Councilmember Mike Dages asked that the following item be placed on the October 28 city council agenda: Reconsideration of plans to locate Police Substation at Belmont and Dewitt (Hmong garden location).
During the month supporters of the garden learned about the past events and role of key players. They learned that the council had voted on the issue twice since June, when the city staff first recommended the site of the Hmong garden as the location for the police station. Initially the vote was 3-3-1, with Calhoun, Caprioglio, Xiong for the plan, Duncan, Perea, Dages opposing and Sterling abstaining. On the second vote, Sterling joined those voting for the plan. Councilmember Jerry Duncan, who opposed the action, questions a transfer of money into the city’s general fund from the "sale" of land from the Park Department to the Police Department. Developers Kashian and Richards claim to have offered the city a sweetheart deal to build a police substation in the Fancher Creek development just a mile from the current location of the Hmong community garden. City Manager Andy Souza says that’s not true. He claims no written proposal has been submitted to the city; Kashian claims the proposal was submitted. Police Chief Jerry Dyer weighed in with concerns about access to the proposed Fancher Creek location.
October 22, Councilmember Xiong, in response to criticism and flanked by Mayor Autry and several Hmong leaders, held a news conference to denounce the efforts of Summer Vue and supporters of the gardeners. Xiong said that the discussion all along has been about a police station — not whether to support Hmong culture. "It is disappointing that the Hmong community again is being hijacked by political interests," Xiong said.
However, the press conference did not deter the gardeners and their supporters who went again in mass to the city council meeting on October 28. Councilmember Dages reviewed reasons for locating the police station at Fancher Creek. City Manager Souza dismissed the Fancher Creek proposal maintaining that plan had not been submitted in writing. Police Chief Dyer defended his preference for building the station at Belmont and Dewitt. Assistant City Manager Rudd made a power point presentation reviewing the city’s efforts to notify the gardeners of city plans and said the city would stand by the commitment made on October 17 to give the gardeners until December 31 to vacate the current garden. In a new move, he said the city would create a community garden at the Al Radka Park – much closer to the current location. Councilmember Sterling charged the city staff with the task of working with the gardeners and the community to create a workable solution, but was unwilling to support Dages’ motion. Councilmember Calhoun was absent. The motion failed with 3-3 vote.
As of the writing of this article, November 15, the gardeners and the city are looking at possibilities for a new location and are discussing an agreement.
The vote was a big disappointment, but there are some positive outcomes. The gardeners have been given time to harvest their crops and have been offered a site miles closer to the current garden than Melody Park. They were supported by many who appreciate their accomplishment in creating the garden. The city is demonstrating flexibility in working with the gardeners to establish a new garden.
There are also lessons for all. Mayor Autry’s comment, "City officials may have made a mistake by allowing the farmers to use the land for so long," indicates a lack of understanding that the community came out in support of the gardeners because it values their efforts and wants to honor them. Elected officials and city staff should recognize that the people of Fresno want parks and are upset when park land is lost. The public has been reminded that we cannot afford to be inattentive to the working of government.
Camille Russell joined others in support of the Hmong community garden. She is a part-time elementary teacher in Madera Unified School District and a founding member of Peace Fresno. email@example.com
Americans are enamored with weed-free green lawns (all year long) and bug-less flowerbeds with sterile dirt between flowers and bushes. Most often our lifestyle sends us off daily to work and play away from home. Sadly, we do not have time to enjoy working in our yards; spending relaxing time digging and planting, trimming and weeding. Most of us employ gardeners to keep our yards tidy and our neighborhoods beautiful.
Today we are all becoming aware of the negative effects of our beautiful yard lifestyle choices. Seventy percent of water usage in most homes is for yard and garden. Water, however, is no longer plentiful, and drought has caused water-rationing in several large urban areas. The little water we do have often becomes saturated with pesticides and fertilizing chemicals along with our soil. The Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District and other urban water agencies are desperately trying to inform consumers about the need to cut down on commonly used pesticides and fertilizers that pollute yard water runoff.
Our air is filled with dust and exhaust from blowers and mowers and breeze-borne pesticide drift. The two stroke engines used in garden work produce NOx (oxides of nitrogen), one of the two ingredients that create ozone (or smog) pollution. The air pollution created by one lawnmower running for an hour is the equivalent to the pollution created by 40 cars driven for the same time. Our children do not know the sound of frogs and crickets singing them to sleep. We have created an unhealthy environment for living things. The gardeners who provide us service are at increased risk for asthma, cancer, hormone disruptions, and other negative effects of the chemicals and pollution they work in daily.
Luckily in Fresno, we now have professional Green Gardeners who are informed and eager to keep our yards and shopping centers beautiful in environmentally healthy ways. The first group of Fresno/Clovis Green Gardeners graduated November 20th. They completed ten classes and passed a test to earn certification.
Developed in Santa Barbara with the State Water Resources Control Board, the Green Gardener Certification Program goals are to train professional gardeners to:
Conserve water and reduce water runoff and contamination
Reduce pollution and waste associated with landscaping practices
Improve the health, appearance and value of landscapes
What do the gardeners think about this opportunity? One bright-eyed young man started three years ago in landscaping and learned on the job. "Now I know the terms to match my experience, and know what I’m talking about." Another ten year landscaper enjoyed gaining knowledge so he could do a better job. "Every week is different, and adds more to what I know". A third gardener appreciated learning how to truly care for plants and trees, to keep them healthy and thriving.
DO YOU HAVE A GREEN GARDENER?
Green Gardeners learn about clay, sand and silt soil types from Florence Cassel-Sharmasakar
If you care about a healthy environment around your home, employ a Green Gardener who can:
Water according to the needs of the season, the plant, and site soil
Prune selectively and properly to compliment the natural form and needs of the plant
Use alternative approaches such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques before turning to pesticides and herbicides
Install and regularly maintain efficient irrigation systems
Compost plant debris and grass-cycle
Help protect air quality by using hand-powered equipment or fuel-efficient, low-emission equipment
Use local plant varieties that are California natives or adapted to our climate
The Green Gardener Certification Program in Fresno/Clovis is sponsored by Fresno Metro Ministry, Ecology Action of Santa Cruz, Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District, Fresno-Clovis Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility, The Fresno Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (FresCAMP), and The Rose Foundation.
For more information or to connect with a professional Green Gardener, contact Jenny Saklar at Fresno Metro Ministry, 559-485-1416.
Summer Vue is not a vacation spot (the second word is pronounced "voo") nor a hyphenated French verb. Summer is a Fresnan of Hmong descent, a determined and outspoken woman who, against long odds, has become a respected spokesperson for her ethnic community during several occasions.
It has not always been that way. Post-Viet Nam War refugees from Laos, a young Summer and her family found their way to Portland, Oregon where her eldest sister and family lived. There she was thrust into an alien culture with an unknown language. At the age of 14, she was uprooted again. She was forced into a traditional marriage to her husband who was overly possessive and temperamental. He began to abuse her three days after their wedding.
At the age of 16, she was living with her husband’s family in Fresno pregnant with their second child and going through high school hell. "I was being ridiculed unmercifully by my classmates and kids at school for being pregnant." Rescued by an understanding teacher, Mrs. Gendron, who gave her safe haven and encouragement, Summer was able to grasp that her way to freedom was her education. Not yielding to the strong traditions and traditional marriage, she left and put herself through college and teacher training right after her 21st birthday. She has supported herself and her children since as an elementary school teacher.
Summer began to find her advocate’s voice while still in high school. Disturbed by discrimination and hardships caused by language and cultural barriers, she began to speak out for friends and classmates at school. She said once she was interviewed by a News Crew from San Francisco, putting a short story about her unique life, she told the reporter, "I wished that the Hmong women can be as strong as American women". When asked if she would be the first to lead the Hmong women toward that change and she replied, "Yes!"
That question persisted as Summer breaks away from strong cultural oppression and expectations of how a worthy Hmong woman should behave. Gradually, she began to create change in the lives of those who are close to her like her girlfriends, daughter, nieces, and students. As she aged, her wisdom and commitment toward social justices for her community also grew.
A turning point occurred when the AAA magazine published an article in which Lao women were described in what was felt to be an inaccurate and derogatory way. The Hmong American Political Association (HAPA, comparable to the Hispanic MAPA) mounted several protests led by their president Tulu Thao, in which Summer took an active public role. Since then, she says, "I learned that we have rights too so when someone is discriminated against, I help ensure that justice is served where justice is due."
Two years ago, an incident occurred that gained international news coverage. 28 Hmong children were kidnapped and sent to Laos. Summer was recognized by International Human Rights Watch and Hmong People’s Congress as a key figure in the Fresno Hmong community; she was asked to mobilize protests, raise money and public awareness, and lobby political representatives and organizations with power to help. In an unprecedented display of visibility and political awareness, over 500 people (mostly Hmong) demonstrated in the streets of Fresno, signed petitions and raised money. Summer proudly reports that, due to international pressure, 21 of the 28 children were safely returned.
Last April another international incident occurred. Refugees from Laos still living in a Thai camp called Whitewater were summarily evicted, with no place to go. Doctors Without Borders teamed with Hmong Human Rights Watch to raise money for new homes; and Summer was asked to co-chair the American effort along with Laura Xiong of HHRW in California. They raised $20,000 from the American Hmong community for construction.
And in the past weeks Summer has been in the papers again as a very public spokesperson for her community in the Hmong garden mess (see related article). She says, "This could easily have been avoided if the City had shown us some respect and consulted with the gardeners in a timely way."
But Summer’s work does not end when crises pass. "Work is on-going. We have a lot of problems with the police that I help mediate—and seeing this, I am working to get police oversight like an independent police auditor. There are several issues concerning women within our community I continually come up against, such as polygamy, under-age marriage and spousal violence. And we need to organize ourselves to have a political presence in the city."
Summer worked for the election of fellow-Hmongs Tony Vang to the School Board and Blong Xiong to the City Council, but says she now realizes that electing individuals is not enough. "Even though they know the particular issues we have, they do no have the political freedom, or perhaps courage, to act on our behalf. We understand they are responsible to other constituencies too, but sometimes they seem to lose sight of us. We have to be organized enough to remind them."
Summer cites as special allies in her work Peace Fresno, the Central CaliforniaCriminal Justice Committee, Rev. Floyd Harris and his National Network In Action, and both individuals and faith groups within the Hmong community. She says she sees her community in transition now, from a time when a few advocacy groups with traditional leadership were relied on to mediate with the unfamiliar American culture. "Now," she says, " we begin to act like individual citizens coming together around issues and policies, not clan cohesiveness. We want direct participation in democracy, so we are forming lobbying groups where new leaders and new ideas can emerge."
There is potential tension between self-initiated political activism and traditional values—Summer’s leadership as a woman is one obvious example. But as a person consciously shaped by her ethnic history and culture, Summer would also seem to represent a way through the apparent contradictions to a new integrity.
Yes, after years of organizing protests at Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics, and picketing Reel Pride, the local Christianists are now the targets, and they don’t like it!
Jim Franklin of Cornerstone Church bleats that when the Religious Right does it, it’s practicing "religious freedom," but when they are picketed for practicing their bigotry in supporting Proposition 8, it’s "religious bigotry." No, Rev. Franklin, it’s called "freedom of speech," a right you and your followers believe belongs only to you and no one else.
While the Yes on 8 supporters complained about violence supposedly directed at them, all the violence locally was done by them: a Yes On 8 supporter struck several people with her picket sign at a No rally at Blackstone and Shaw in late October; several No supporters were manhandled by Yes supporters and Cornerstone Church security people at the Yes rally at City Hall; a Fresno Police Department volunteer who openly said he supported Prop 8 threatened to arrest a No rally organizer at another Blackstone and Shaw avenue rally after the volunteer was asked to move people out of traffic and refused to; and a local church that opposed the proposition was threatened. And, Father Geoff Farrow, the keynote speaker at the No on 8 rally a few days before the election, had to wear a bulletproof vest out of fear that some whack job Yes on 8 supporter would try to assassinate him.
The Yes supporters made much of news reports before the election that Bubba Autry and Franklin had been threatened in an email sent to the mayor’s office. Police chief Jerry Dyer said police had identified the owner of the computer and were "close" to making an arrest. After a week of dead silence, and no arrest, Channel 30 said there’s no way of ever identifying whoever sent the message. It’s now likely this is a hoax.
Speaking of the Yes rally at City Hall, Bubba lied to the Fresno community several years ago when, according to participants in the mayor’s Forum for Civic Understanding, he vowed he would not use his office or City Hall to advocate for unfairness. He also committed to updating the city’s mission statement to reflect the City of Fresno embraces all its citizens. Patsy Montgomery, one of the forum members, said the mission statement has yet to be updated as promised.
There are ways to let those who supported Prop 8 know how unhappy we are, without damaging property or lives. Picket the Cornerstone Church at every opportunity. Picket the Golds’ Gym or the Starbucks on Fort Washington Road—that’s where Bubba hangs out. Show up at KYNO over by McLane High whenever Bubba’s doing his radio show. Find out who donated to the Yes on 8 campaign and boycott them publicly. For example, anyone who voted no on Proposition 8 who is a Fresno State men’s basketball fan might want to bear this in mind: head coach Steve Cleveland donated $2,500 in cash to the Yes campaign.
The Prop 8 supporters expect things to return to normal; let’s move on and get back to everyday life. Hope there aren’t hard feelings. But Prop. 8 supporters need to understand the basic truth: they can’t have it both ways. They won a bitter, unpleasant and divisive battle. It’s ridiculous to now expect those who lost their rights will understand and respect the Prop. 8 point of view.
Let me close this column with these words: "you do reap what you sowed."
Social service workers, police officers, and workers at Fresno City Hall have expressed concern that the $2.3 million settlement in the homeless lawsuit would end in tragedy. They said the homeless could suffer from drug overdoses, robbery, and violence when the money hit the streets. This concern became a part of the settlement, when the City of Fresno insisted that the majority of the money be given for housing, utilities, etc. Only $485,000 was allocated to be given in cash to the homeless people who are members of the class action lawsuit.
Fresno City and County elected officials met on December 7, 2007 to listen to Phil Mangano (center) tell them about the Housing First program. This meeting led to the establishment of a Task Force that developed a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Fresno.
Fortunately, the predicted boon for drug dealers and predators does not seem to have occurred. Instead, a small but growing number of the homeless benefiting from the settlement, have rented apartments or houses and are looking forward to a second chance at life. Alphonso Williams, one of the named plaintiffs in the case, paid for 14 months rent at his new apartment. Williams said "it feels great to be out of the ditch and have a bed to come home to at night."
Williams was a named plaintiff in the lawsuit against the City of Fresno and Caltrans. The lawsuit, Kincaid v. City of Fresno, was filed in October 2006 and a preliminary injunction was issued by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger within a month. The injunction stopped Caltrans and the City of Fresno from seizing and immediately destroying homeless peoples personal property. Williams and his wife Sherri had their wedding pictures, a wheelchair, and many other personal items taken and destroyed by the city. Other homeless people lost identification cards, clothes, tools, tents, blankets, and medicine. One woman lost an urn containing her granddaughters ashes, which was taken and destroyed by city sanitation workers.
The settlement of the lawsuit took place in June 2008 and the large monetary settlement electrified the local homeless community. Everyone and their brother wanted to be a part of the class action lawsuit, after it was settled. Liza Apper, who is with the St. Benedict Catholic Worker < http://www.sbcw.org/ >, was appointed by the court as the settlement administrator. It was Apper’s job to equitably distribute the proceeds in the settlement to those who had been affected by the city’s policy. It was because of her attention to detail and commitment to distribute the money in a way that benefits the homeless that the nightmare scenarios (drugs, robbery, and violence) never materialized.
Everyone knew that the distribution of money was not going to be easy. There was no roadmap or perfect system that could be used to guarantee absolute fairness. It was anticipated that some people were going to apply who were not homeless at the time of the city raids and it was acknowledged that some people who were affected had moved to another city, had died, or for some other reason could not fill out the paperwork. Ultimately, 352 people did apply and 344 were accepted as class members.
The 344 class members were rated on a scale of one to five to determine the level of compensation they would receive in the settlement. A box detailing those 5 levels is on this page.
Apper began the distribution of the settlement money on October 2, 2008. She limited cash dispersements to $1,000 a month and insisted that each homeless person receiving money had a bank account where the money could be safely deposited. Checks for housing or other necessities were made out directly to the business or individual providing the service. This did not always go smoothly, as some stores did not honor the "third party" checks. One homeless woman told me she was "embarrassed and humiliated" when her check was rejected at Target. She said "I was with my friend yesterday when we took a full shopping cart to the checkout counter. They told us, in front of everyone, that our check was no good." The same problem happened to Alphonso Williams at Sears when he tried to buy a TV. "What the F**K is going on with our money?" he asked me.
Bryan Apper, Liza’s husband says that they are having ongoing problems with Sears and Target, but that Wal-Mart is now accepting checks without any problems. The check cashing problems are due to the store’s policies of cashing third party checks and has nothing to do with the solvency of the settlement account.
Cynthia Greene, another one of the original named plaintiffs in the case, also has problems with the settlement. "My friend Charles Montgomery, who suffered as much as any of us out here, only got a small amount of cash. It iss not even enough for him to replace the teeth he lost in one of the raids. It is just not fair!" Montgomery told me that he will also receive money for housing, but that would not get him back his teeth. "How come my friend Geno got a lot more money than I did. . . we filled our forms out together and they were pretty much the same," he said. Geno confirmed the story and said he had no idea why he got more money than his friend Charles. Both Geno and Charles wanted to know what they could do to appeal what they considered an arbitrary and unfair decision. Bryan Apper said that he and Liza would not discuss any individual cases.
Arnold Sanchez was also very disappointed in the outcome of the settlement. Sanchez told me that he wanted to "buy some tools so I can go into the bicycle repair business and get a small apartment so I’m no longer on the street. Honestly man, I need to get off the streets, I don’t want to die out here." Sanchez, who says he has been homeless for about 8 years, says he suffered repeatedly from the city raids on homeless encampments. He said the amount of money he received in the settlement was insulting and unfair. Sanchez said that he has complained to Fresno mayor Alan Autry about the situation and that he plans to bring the issue before Judge Oliver Wanger.
Lori Bailey was upset and frustrated that she only received $300. "Caltrans took all of our things two times and the Rescue Mission took them once. Why did my husband and I only get $300? I don’t understand why this happened and why some people, who were not even homeless are walking out of there (Liza’s office) with checks for tens of thousands of dollars." Bailey wanted to know what she could do to appeal Liza’s decision. Bryan Apper said his "understanding is that the decision of the Settlement Administrator is final" and "as a practical matter, the pie has already been divided. To create a new round of awards would require asking other claimants to pay back a portion of the money that they already received."
Paul Alexander, lead attorney for the homeless in the lawsuit, said in response to inquiries about the fairness of the settlement that "Liza Apper was selected by the court to be the settlement administrator in the case. The settlement administrator has the authority to determine who is a class member, how much money each person will receive, based on factors such as the nature of property that was destroyed, whether the claimant suffered severe emotional trauma, how many times the claimant suffered property destruction and the like. For many reasons, her decisions are essentially final. In fact, it appears that she has made her decisions with considerable care and sensitivity for the class. The process she chose — individual interviews and an attempt to develop some kind of plan for as many people as possible — caused some initial frustration because it took a long time to implement. In the end, though, it appears that this process has been a good one. It is inevitable that not everyone is satisfied. But looking at this as a class issue, the process has been a major benefit to a great many members of the homeless class. Overall, it has been very good."
Some class action members who were on level 5 received more than $20,000. Randy Johnson, one of the original named plaintiffs, bought himself a car and has plans to get married. Cynthia Greene is looking into buying an inexpensive house and other homeless people have moved into apartments or houses. In the first month, at least 48 homeless people have gotten off the streets and into housing as a result of the settlement. More are expected to move into housing soon.
Apper, who has refused to accept compensation for her work as settlement administrator, is expected to release a financial statement at the end of November. That report will provide transparency in a process that has been criticized by many of the homeless who believe that money has been inappropriately spent. The rumors include paying off drug dealers, giving money to friends, favoritism, and giving money to those that are not homeless. The financial report will be made public and anyone wanting to see how the money was spent will have the opportunity to do so.
The settlement money, which everyone knew from the start was not enough to end homelessness in Fresno, did succeed in getting at least 48 people into decent housing. The settlement has also had a ripple effect in other cities that were taking and destroying homeless peoples property. For example, Elisa Della-Piana, one of the attorneys in the Fresno case, said "partly as a result of the Fresno case, and as a step toward more effective homelessness policies, the City of Oakland is considering changing its practices around confiscation and destruction of homeless people’s property, as well as changing or ceasing the criminal enforcement of laws against sleeping."
The City and County of Fresno have also made substantial adjustments to their homeless policies, at least in part as a result of the lawsuit and settlement. For example, both the City and County have, with great fanfare, announced a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Preparations for this plan started in December of 2007 at a joint city/county meeting with Philip Mangano, the executive director of the Bush administration’s Interagency Council on Homelessness. Mangano’s pitch to end homelessness was followed by the establishment of a task force that studied the problem and presented the 10 year plan to both the City Council and Board of Supervisors. The plan was adopted in September 2008, but many, including those on the task force, say it is hard to see what concrete progress has been made to end homelessness in this community. Kiel Thomas Famellos-Schmidt, a member of the Ten Year Plan task force, said that "after the plan was adopted, it seemed to go underground. I have no idea what if any movement has happened since then."
Kevin D. Hamilton, RRT,RCP, Director Special Populations Program at the Clinica Sierra Vista Divasadero, was on the task force with Kiel. He said "I am pleased we now have a Ten Year Plan. It is up to us to hold the city, county and agencies that serve the homeless accountable for its implementation. We must be quick to point it out when they lag and just as quick to congratulate them when there is progress. One thing we cannot allow is for this plan to end up on a shelf along with so many others. The work has just begun. Let’s get to it!"
Gregory Barfield, City Council member Cynthia Sterling’s assistant, told me that they are moving forward with the Ten Year Plan and Housing First. When the Santa Fe railroad told the city they were going to evict homeless residents from their property on H street (south of Ventura), the city and county got together to discuss what options they had available. Barfield said "we are looking at existing buildings that can be quickly placed in service." According to Barfield, they are also looking at a program, perhaps something like the one used in the settlement, as a model for how to provide homeless people with decent and affordable housing. The city and county are seriously looking at providing homeless people with a place to go, rather than forcing them into tool sheds or chasing them from one encampment to another.
While this policy change is being looked into, the City of Fresno is continuing to "clean up" homeless encampments in the downtown area. This sometimes involves taking homeless peoples property and sometimes they only take the trash that inevitably accumulates. The court order prevents the city from taking and immediately destroying homeless peoples property. The city policy now directs the sanitation department to take anything of obvious value that is found during a "clean up" and store it for 90 days. There are problems with the implementation of this new policy, which for all practical purposes, results in the same thing that was happening before the lawsuit - homeless peoples property is taken and destroyed. The only difference is that the city stores it for 90 days first.
After the first "clean up" when the new policy went into effect, I went with Dee Phillips, whose property was taken, to see if she could re-claim it. What Dee saw made her upset. "It’s all ruined, we can’t even use our sleeping bags because they all smell like mildew." The city had put the homeless peoples property in a large container, put it on the parking lot at the city yard downtown, and not properly covered it. The rain ruined everything in the container.
Austin Simon and Joanna Garcia were homeless until they received their share of the record $2.3 million settlement in the class action lawsuit. Now they live in this apartment complex and are starting to rebuild their lives.
Dee Phillips was shocked and angered when she tried to recover her property, taken by the city in one of their clean-ups. The city was ordered by the court to store homeless peoples property for 90 days. Instead of safely storing property, they put it in this container, where it was destroyed by mold and mildew after it rained.
Arnold Sanchez says he is not happy with the outcome of the settlement. He believes that a lot of people who were not homeless received money and that some people like himself, who he says suffered greatly under the City of Fresno’s "clean ups," got next to nothing.
My next experience with recovering homeless peoples property from a "clean up" was with Cynthia Greene. This time the container was properly covered, but the 8 x 8 x 20 foot container was packed solid with homeless peoples property and garbage in varying states of decay. To find something, you literally had to dig through tons of property and garbage, with cockroaches climbing all over you, lifting and moving couches and other heavy objects. Re-claiming property from a "clean-up" is not for the weak or faint of heart.
If you ask the city sanitation department about homeless people re-claiming their property, they will tell you that almost nobody takes advantage of their services. There is a reason why!
The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Fresno focuses on the Housing First model. Housing First, as it has been described by Philip Mangano, will put chronically homeless people into decent housing. The program provides housing to people without pre-conditions. In other words, in order to get housing, a homeless person does not have to stop drinking, taking drugs, or be suddenly cured of mental illness. The theory behind Housing First is that once you stabilize housing, then people are able to address the other issues in their life that are preventing them from living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. An integral part of the program is to provide each homeless person with all of the help they need to get off and stay off the streets.
When Mangano presented the Housing First model to Fresno a year ago, he said that providing housing for the homeless is less expensive than the current "shelter model" and it has better success at reducing homelessness. Mangano cited a study in San Diego where "after they had expended three million dollars on 15 people at the end of 18 months those same 15 people were in the same condition and situation that they were at the beginning of the 18 months. They were on the same streets, the same street corners, same doorways and more importantly ready to randomly ricochet through those very expensive systems once again." Mangano said that the City of San Diego could have provided these homeless people with luxury condo’s on beachfront property and spent less money.
The reason, according to Mangano, that it is so expensive to maintain the current system is that the city and county has to pay for emergency medical services, police, sanitation, food, shelter, and other services for homeless people. He said that "by providing them with permanent supportive housing you can actually achieve cost savings."
"In the cost studies that have been done around the country, the range of chronically homeless people going through those expensive health and law enforcement systems ranges from $35,000 - $150,000 per year per person. The cost of providing housing, a room, or an efficiency apartment with support services is between $13,000 - $25,000. So, for public policy makers, the choice is an obvious one. We can pay a lot to have people continue to be homeless and randomly ricocheting through expensive systems or we can pay much less to actually solve the problem by providing permanent and supportive housing," Mangano said.
The lawsuit helped to focus the City and County of Fresno on the homeless issue, the settlement has had a significant and beneficial effect on many homeless people, but now it is time to institutionalize the changes that are needed to end homelessness.
With a new mayor in Fresno, a commitment from both the city and county to take on this challenge, and a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, this community has every reason to expect (AND DEMAND) substantial progress on this issue in the months and years to come. You can count on this newspaper to give you accurate, insightful, and continuing coverage of this important community issue.
For a list of articles and documents about the struggle for civil liberties for homeless people in Fresno, see: http://www.fresnoalliance.com/home/homelessness.htm
Full Disclosure: Mike Rhodes believes homeless people deserve the same civil and human rights we all enjoy in this country. He was also a paid consultant for the homeless plaintiffs and attorneys in the class action lawsuit against the City of Fresno and Caltrans.
Levels 1 - 5
Why Some Homeless People Received More than Others in the Settlement
Level 1 class members shall be those members of the Plaintiff Class who, in the judgment of the Settlement Administrator, had their property seized and destroyed in a sweep or clean up by any of the Defendants after October 17, 2003;who were not present when their property was seized and destroyed, whose property was of a nature that can be reasonably be replaced for $500 or less, and who did not suffer any significant emotional trauma or injury as a result of the seizure and destruction of their property.
Level 2 class members shall be those members of the Plaintiff Class who, in the judgment of the Settlement Administrator,had their property seized in a sweep or cleanup and suffered a more substantial loss than a Level 1 Class member, but who appear not to have suffered significant emotional harm or trauma associated with that destruction.
Level 3 class members shall be those members of the Plaintiff Class who, in the judgment of the Settlement Administrator, suffered a more substantial loss of property than either a Level 1 or Level 2 Class member, who appear not to have suffered significant emotional loss or trauma, and who, considering the number of destructions he or she suffered and the nature of those destructions, appear to have suffered total injury and damage at a level lower than a Level 4 or Level 5 Class member as described below.
Level 4 class members shall be those members of the Plaintiff Class who, in the judgment of the Settlement Administrator, suffered more substantial total loss and injury than a Level 1,2 or 3 Class member, including multiple destructions of his or her property, destruction of his or her property in a manner causing emotional harm or trauma, destruction of his or her property in a situation in which he or she was present, and other factors indicating a total loss and injury greater than a Level 1,2 or 3 Class member, but not as great as a Level 5 Class members.
Level 5 class members shall be those members of the Plaintiff Class who, in the judgment of the Settlement Administrator suffered the most substantial injury and damage and therefore have the largest claims. The following factors will be used to determine whether an individual class member is a Level 5 class member: 1. whether the individual was present at the time of the seizure and destruction of his or her property, 2. whether the individual suffered multiple seizures and destructions of his or her property, 3. the nature and value of the property that was seized and destroyed, 4. whether the seizure and destruction of the property appear to have caused significant emotional pain and suffering, and 5.any other factor that heightens or worsens the degree of loss suffered.
In a matter of weeks, thousands of people who survived Hurricane Katrina and, in some cases, the formaldehyde-contaminated FEMA trailers, are about to be evicted from their housing and made homeless all over again. Worse yet, these are primarily elderly and disabled people as well as single parent families with young children. Still worse, if that’s even possible, this low intensity crime against humanity isn’t being perpetrated by cruel landlords but by government on all levels. I will give you the background.
Everything you need to know about the Federal post-Katrina relief effort along the Gulf Coast can be summed up in the three answers I received to this question: "What has Phil Mangano’s role been?" Mangano, often referred to as Bush’s "Homelessness Czar," is the director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. If anyone should have been helping the people of the Gulf Coast, it’s Mangano. The storm sure made enough people homeless.
I interviewed Mangano once on the air. He said, "I often don’t feel like a czar, I often feel like a mendicant beggar going around the country and in Washington to ensure that homeless people have what they need." "What we’re attempting to do," he further explained, "is to create the political will so that no American is without a home." Of course, no one man can end homelessness alone, but it’s good to know that someone who’s a cross between Joan of Arc and St. Francis of Assisi is heading up the Bush Administration effort.
The Interagency Council’s big push is to get communities to adopt 10-year-plans to end chronic homelessness. The plans have surely done some good for those on the receiving end of the dough, but Katrina mocks the pretension that they are paths to ending homelessness. How can anyone tell how many homeless there will be in ten years when one storm can make hundreds of thousands of people homeless overnight? In fact, there’s not a projected end even to existing homelessness under the ten-year plans, not in ten years, not ever. So what would Phil Mangano do when confronted with a sudden, screaming need for housing that contradicts his own preachments, and a need that arises innocently at that? If getting clopped by the worst natural disaster in American history doesn’t make you deserving, what does?
I went down to the Gulf Coast to do advance work for the Homelessness Marathon, an annual 14-hour overnight live national radio broadcast (now television too) focusing on homelessness and poverty in America. We originate from a different city each year. Next February 23, for our twelfth broadcast, we’re going to originate from Pass Christian, Mississippi. That’s right next door to Waveland, which the Army Corps of Engineers has officially designated the "Ground Zero" where Katrina came ashore. We’ll be describing our broadcast as coming from the "other" Ground Zero, the one that didn’t get so much attention.
People down there will tell you that New Orleans made it through the storm, and that the catastrophic failure of the levees was largely a man-made disaster, whereas the devastation on the rest of the Gulf Coast was done directly by Katrina. Pass Christian was less affected than Waveland. It lost a reported 100 percent of its public buildings and 100 percent of its businesses but only 80 percent of its homes.
The Marathon’s producer, Abby Harmon, and I expected to hear from the survivors a long-term tale of too-little-help. We did hear that, but we heard about some bright spots, too, like the volunteers who, everyone agrees, have been responsible for most of the recovery effort, proving both a right-wing and a left-wing point. As the right wing says, if the government does little, the people will do amazing things. But as the left wing says, without the help of their own government, the people can’t do nearly enough. A common estimate is that the Mississippi Gulf Coast is only about 20 percent rebuilt, maybe a little more.
What we didn’t expect to find was a short-term crisis. In the coming five months, advocates expect to see a new wave of post-Katrina homelessness. You may be sure the people of the Gulf Coast want to be saved by the stroke of a pen more than they want to be evicted at the stroke of midnight. You may be sure that they will want the Obama Administration to change the Bush Administration policies that are putting them out of their homes.
These are the simple facts:
- Thousands of people in Mississippi remain in temporary housing. In January the leases will start to expire on MEMA cottages (MEMA is Mississippi’s FEMA). According to MEMA spokesperson Jeff Rent, there are 2810 of these in the "lower six," Mississippi counties that were blasted by Katrina.
Most have multiple bedrooms and, presumably, hold multiple dwellers, though no one seems to have done a census of them. MEMA actually wants these temporary domiciles to stay put, but local governments want them removed. In some cases this may be in order to keep promises written into the covenants of wealthy neighborhoods. In some cases it may be to protect the tax base so as not to have the burden of too many poor, as one local county official explicitly stated (undoubtedly, some kind of Federal guarantee would solve this problem).
Some residents may find a way to stay in their cottages by moving them to new locations or by making them permanent with concrete foundations or whatever. MEMA says it is working to help all of the cottage dwellers, but a low-end expectation would be that only around seven percent will be able to keep their cottages. The icing on the cake is that on March 1 the "Special Use Circumstances" permits that allowed for the placement of FEMA trailers will expire. There are an additional 3211 of those.
- Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour diverted $600 million slated for housing to repairing and expanding the port at Gulfport, which received only an estimated $50 million in damage, and that was covered by insurance. An editorial in the New York Times called this diversion "the shame of Mississippi." Twelve members of the House, including Maxine Waters and Barney Frank, tried and failed to insert language into an appropriations bill to bar the diversion. They noted that Mississippi has "only devoted 55 percent of its [Community Block Development Grant] funds for direct housing recovery," and that "the State has frequently sought and received waivers of the low- and moderate-income requirement." Nonetheless, the Bush Administration’s regime at HUD approved the diversion.
- There is not nearly enough existing affordable housing to house the vast majority of the still-displaced survivors. For example, Hancock County, where Waveland is located, has more than 450 remaining trailers alone but only an estimated 312 rental units. Of those, only 60 are classified as "affordable" because they can be obtained for a rent of $800 per month, but most of the people facing eviction from trailers and cottages have incomes in the $400-$600 per month range, often from social security.
- Some new housing is being built but the reconstruction is going very slowly for many reasons, including new building codes (especially in the "Velocity Zone"), higher insurance premiums, a shortage of capital and outstanding lawsuits with commercial insurers who refused to pay Katrina-related claims.
The bottom line is that there is not a chance in the world that enough affordable housing can be built in time to replace more than a fraction of the temporary housing that is about to be withdrawn, and the math is devastating. If, of the roughly 6000 temporary units, as many as one-third stay in use or are replaced by permanent housing, and, on average, the remaining 4000 units house only two people, that still makes for 8000 residents, mostly children, elderly, disabled, and frantic mothers, being tossed out like garbage. The actual number will probably be much greater.
Fortunately, Phil Mangano’s Interagency Council on Homelessness — which includes, among others, such Washington lightweights as the secretaries of Defense, Energy, HUD, Transportation and Interior — is tasked with seeing that Americans are housed. If anyone should help the Katrina survivors by czaring it up and getting in the faces of the big boys on his council, it should be Phil. If anyone should be going around like a mendicant beggar, seeking funds for the poor Katrina folks, it should be Phil. So it’s only right to wonder what Phil Mangano, the Bush Administration’s mouthpiece on homelessness, has been doing to meet the needs of the Katrina survivors in the lower six.
This is who I asked:
- Kathleen Johnson. Kathleen is a native Australian who has been in this country for more than thirty years. She has worked on Katrina relief since the storm, supervising a team of case managers who are currently working under a FEMA grant but many of whom worked for free before it came through. She has her fingers in more pies than one of Sweeney Todd’s victims, doing everything she knows to push the recovery process along, and she does it, she says, without pay. She sleeps in primitive conditions she doesn’t want discussed because they’re "luxurious" compared to the makeshift shelters where many Katrina survivors remain (some of them never had temporary housing to get evicted from). She insists, "I haven’t wanted for anything," but in truth, she recently was unable to go back to Australia for her mother’s death and funeral. She looks tired too much of the time.
- Keith Burton. Keith is a long-time journalist. His on-line newspaper, the Gulf Coast News (http://www.gulfcoastnews.com), has become a widely-read chronicle of the recovery effort. He describes himself as a conservative Republican, but he condemns what we’re living under now as "Corporate Feudalism." In 1969, he says, after Hurricane Camille, the military came right in and cleaned up, but after Katrina, because of the way government services have been privatized, it was all a matter of negotiating contracts that would be implemented at a snail’s pace without accountability.
- Al Showers. Al is a good example of why we have to retool the format we have used for eleven years on our broadcast, because there will be no way to divide our guests between those whose testimony is subjective and objective. As the Hancock County reporter for WLOX-TV, a profitable ABC affiliate in Biloxi, Al is a great source of objective information, but he is also someone who has had his share of subjective experiences.
Among them was a long night as the only TV reporter to stay in the local Emergency Operations Center when Katrina hit. Things got so dicey that they made a list and magic-markered numbers on their hands in case they drowned, so their bodies could be identified. Al was number 34.
Why ask these three people about Phil Mangano? I am sure that they’ll tell you that in the big scheme of things they’re not important, but I think they are. They are as knowledgeable and committed as they could be and, beyond that, they each exemplify the limitless humanity Katrina unleashed even while it swept away human lives. Unfortunately, something too often happens to that humanity as soon as it gets a government position. When I asked these three people about Phil Mangano’s role, they all said the same thing: "Who’s Phil Mangano?" Heckuva job, Phil.
What has happened to the Katrina survivors poses many questions that have no small bearing on the future of our country. Is this how we will treat the victims of future natural disasters? Is this how we will treat the victims of the current foreclosure crisis? How come guilty people on Wall Street were allowed to drive away with buckets of cash while innocent Katrina survivors are going to be thrown on the streets with next to nothing? Should the new administration take a new approach (yes) and, if so, what should it be?
Those questions are for another time, and we’ll sure be asking them on our broadcast. What is imperative now is that there are just weeks to get the evictions stopped.
Jeremy Weir Alderson is the director of the Homelessness Marathon. http://www.homelessnessmarathon.org
Want to Help the Homeless?
The Community Alliance Newspaper recommends making a donation to:
Saturday Food Not Bombs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sunday Food Not Bombs (http://home.comcast.net/~fresnofnb/)
St. Benedict Catholic Worker (http://www.sbcw.org/)
The Sleeping Bag Project: http://www.sleepingbagproject.org/
They give food to the homeless without any strings attached. We would not want our readers to give contributions to groups that force the homeless to attend religious services or worse, take and destroy homeless peoples property.
Larry Arce, the CEO of the Rescue Mission, has directed his staff to take and destroy homeless peoples property. In October 2006, when he was called as a witness in the federal lawsuit, he said "we clean the street in front of the Rescue Mission every day and throw everything away that is left behind." When asked if they would throw someone’s property away if they had left it in a cart in front of the mission while they got a warm meal, he said "if someone leaves their property in front of the Fresno Rescue Mission, they have no sense." Arce said they have thrown many shopping carts full of homeless peoples possessions away over the last several years.
Attorneys for six homeless people have filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court alleging that the Rescue Mission (a homeless shelter in downtown Fresno) has taken and destroyed personal belongings that are critical to their survival, such as clothing, medication, tents and blankets, as well as irreplaceable personal possessions, such as family photographs, identification, personal records and documents.
In October Fresno Mayor Alan Autry and U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger debated the specifics of the Fresno homeless case, environmental policy, and the legal foundations upon which our country was founded. During this debate Autry made a series of assertions about the intent, history, and goals of the American Civil Liberties Union, many of which the ACLU and its allies vigorously disagree with. Autry also leveled some strong accusations at the ACLU staff and lawyers involved in the homeless case. Both sets of accusations will be addressed in this article.
Judge Oliver Wanger and Fresno mayor Alan Autry discussed the role of the courts
at this October 15, 2008 debate at the Downtown Club. During his presentation,
Autry made some very "controversial" assertions about the ACLU
While Mayor Autry will soon be leaving office it is hard to imagine him fading back into the obscurity of private life. Those aware of conservative attacks on the ACLU recognize his arguments as typical to conservative critics, rousing to their base, and persuasive to those unaware of the full legacy of the ACLU. Those with knowledge of the Fresno homeless case find his criticisms insulting and outrageous.
Driving Away in Limos
"I saw these so called caring lawyers running from the homeless once this was settled They couldn’t get out of town fast enough. They left these poor people crying on the side of the road tugging at these lawyers and them yanking their arms away trying to get into a limo and get out of town." -Mayor Alan Autry
One of Autry’s more insulting claims is the one above, a claim ACLU lawyer and lead attorney on the homeless case Michael Risher finds ridiculous. In preparation for their defense of the homeless ACLU staff and attorneys spent countless hours interviewing witnesses and victims many of whom were hard to reach due to their living situations. Even today, months after the case was finally settled, Risher spends at least several hours weekly trying to ensure the settlement process is implemented fairly: talking to clients and other homeless residents, the settlement administrator, members of the legal team, responding to concerns from the City of Fresno, as well as individuals in other cities who hope to stop similar abuses.
Risher returned to Fresno as recently as October to talk with clients. In response to Autry’s remarks Risher says,"The notion that we ran away once the case was over is absurd, as is the notion that we drove off in limos." Risher explains. He adds later that he, in fact, drives a ’94 Honda rather than a limousine. In response to Autry’s assertion that attorney’s changed the numbers on their business cards after giving them to the homeless," I have given out scores of my business cards to homeless people I spoke with in Fresno...and I continue to receive calls from them. I have no idea of why the mayor stood up in front of a room full of people and made completely false statements about the ACLU."
Outmanned and Outgunned
Autry also attempted to portray the city, rather than the homeless, as the helpless victims of this chapter in Fresno’s history. He makes reference to the "limitless budget " of the ACLU and asserted that the city was "outmanned and outgunned " by the ACLU’s legal team who had "gun to our head." Perhaps referring to this as gross exaggeration is a bit too generous. To put things in perspective, the City of Fresno has a budget of over one billion dollars while the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, the organization in charge of litigating the case on behalf of the homeless has a budget of just over $7.3 million, far less than the City of Fresno.
Attorney Michael Risher speaks on the issue," The notion that the City didn’t have the resources to fight this case is absurd, particularly since by the time they agreed to settle the case the only thing left to do was to pick a jury and try the matter." Prior to the lawsuit being filed the ACLU even requested that the city temporarily halt their practices to avoid legal action. As we now know, the city refused to do even that and in order to defend the rights of their clients the ACLU was left with no choice but to sue.
Fresno mayor Alan Autry made comments about the ACLU and the attorneys representing the homeless that had no basis in reality
Autry also asserted that the ACLU was "ripping this city off " and "using " the City and the homeless people for the settlement money and further questioned the motives and level of genuine concern the attorney’s had for their clients. Autry’s comments imply that the ACLU attorneys were merely doing this to line their own wallets. Once again Autry’s claims are ridiculous and ultimately insulting. First, the ACLU is a nonprofit organization. They operate without the goal of making a profit and the compensation of their employees is ultimately capped at a certain point. Financially speaking, the most they can hope for is to break even And, as with most people in the nonprofit or government sectors, employees with the ACLU are driven by
a desire to serve rather than a desire to become wealthy. Not surprisingly Risher finds Autry’s claims insulting as he is not working for the ACLU with the hope of becoming wealthy. In comparison to lawyers in private practice and even in the public sector, ACLU attorneys make much less,"I make less money working for the ACLU than I would have if I had continued to be a public defender for Alameda County." Risher adds,"If I’m reading the Fresno Salary Ordinance correctly, many lawyers and managers working for the City of Fresno also have higher salaries than I do."
In reference to the attorneys fees awarded and the assertion that the city was somehow ripped off, of the $2.3 million settlement the ACLU received about $375,000 for over two years of work. Risher related to me in an email interview that the amount they received was less than one-third of the fees they would have been entitled to had they prevailed after trial. He went on to tell me that the money from such settlements goes directly into the ACLU’s general fund to support ACLU programs which operate for the benefit of all Californians. They do not, as Mayor Autry might have you believe, enrich the attorneys who worked on the case.
The first half of Autry’s comments during the debate were dedicated to smearing the national ACLU. The American Civil Liberties Union was formed in 1920.The years preceding its founding were ones of turmoil: women were still fighting for the right to vote, racially motivated violence against blacks was common and accepted, and activists were jailed for dissent. Across decades the ACLU as an "enemy of America " denounced Japanese internment camps during World War Two ((standing almost alone in opposition), was a key player in the civil rights movement, helped secure a woman’s right to choose, fought against censorship, for the rights of religious minorities to practice their faiths, and along the way even their right wing critics such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
Roger Baldwin, who our mayor decries as an avowed agnostic and socialist was one of the organizations founders and leader of the ACLU for decades. Baldwin was in reality a lifelong Unitarian who even at one time taught Sunday School, spoke out against communist policies and totalitarian regimes and sought to rid the ACLU of those aligned with totalitarian organizations. Baldwin even served as a consultant for general Douglas MacArthur who was far from radical.
Any organization will have its detractors and supporters, some obvious victories and some stands they perhaps should not have taken. Looking at the whole history of the ACLU, the characterization of it as the "enemy of America " or an agent which has done irreparable damage to our country is shameful and ignorant. It is to either ignore important components of its legacy and in doing so knowingly mislead individuals or to infer that some of the ACLU’s most important achievements are ones you disagree with. In smearing the ACLU does Autry tell us that he disagrees with some of the accomplishments listed above and the values the ACLU defended?
Autry’s diatribe was a pathetic example of a leader desperately trying to pass the blame; to the judicial system, to those defending the rights of those who have no audible voice, to the victims themselves, to anyone but those actually responsible for the ultimate outcome of the homeless case. Excuses will continue to be made, agendas will be distorted, and people will essentially be slandered, but at the end of the day the facts remain: the city government violated the rights of the homeless and had to reap the just consequences of its actions.
Brandon Hill is a progressive activist and college student. He can be reached at email@example.com.
As I write this article, I have just returned from a visit with a few Fresno Chapter Board Members and parents to Edison High School. Edison parents and students had come to the Board with complaints that Edison was in violation of the Williams vs CA court case decision and hadn’t gotten its fair share of Measure K funds. I thought the school looked pretty typical of Fresno High Schools. As Chuck Krugman pointed out, there are ADA violations. Donna Hardina pointed out that the library is a disgrace, the classroom floors and restrooms were dirty (it was Friday just after school let out), computers are outdated and there don’t seem to be enough books in all classes so that students can take books home to do homework for some classes. Pretty typical. It points out that we all need to get involved with our schools and figuring out how to get the money to fund the schools we want and need. We’ll do a more formal analysis in the near future and discuss Edison at the next Board Meeting.
We’re also beginning to hear reports of City vs homeless problems in Madera, similar to the problems in Fresno which led to Mayor Autry’s favorite court decision. Someone suggested to me that we should give Mayor Autry a special award for increasing awareness of the ACLU.
We’ve had reports of many local election problems, ranging from limitations on distributing campaign materials at the Fresno Fair to verbal and physical harassment at Prop 8 demonstrations to people tearing down Proposition and candidate signs.
On a more positive note, Heidi Saunier, our Field Rep, reports that the Fresno Chapter will be the recipient of the annual Dick Criley Activism Award for ACLU-NC chapters that are active and committed to carrying out the goals and vision that Dick Criley devoted his life to achieving while working with the ACLU from 1934 to his death in 2000.
The next Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 16, 6:30-9:00 pm at the Carrow’s Restaurant located at 4280 N Blackstone near Ashlan. All the previously mentioned items will be included on the agenda. All ACLU members and other interested members of the community are invited to attend.
Bill Simon is the Chair of the Fresno Area Chapter ACLU-NC. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org
The liberal segment of the Fresno State faculty established the Fresno Free College Foundation, an organization whose essential purpose was to provide support for the inevitable court cases of deposed faculty. It was established in 1968 primarily for the defense of Robert Mezey, but the foundation eventually devoted its resources to the support of many other professors and students. Starting as an organization of faculty, the Board of Directors expanded to include business and community leaders, students and representatives of racial and ethnic minorities. In addition to committing its resources to legal protection - over 80 percent of its funds - The Fresno Free College Foundation established scholarships for minority students and an open forum for the expression of controversial opinion. Within a few months, the Fresno Free College Foundation soon became the major supporting body for all those whose right to free inquiry and free expression of ideas was jeopardized at Fresno State College.
- Excerpt from The Slow Death of Fresno State, by Kenneth A. Seib
The Fresno Free College Foundation is now in its 40th year of operation. To get a perspective on the organization’s purpose and history as well as the direction it is headed, I thought it best to ask two individuals, Alex Vavoulis and Rych Withers, who have been and still are, respectively, deeply involved.
Alex Vavoulis became a director of the board for the FFCF in 1972. He retired as President in 1992, but rejoined the board in 1999, and is now finishing his second term. Alex, for the most part, represents where the Foundation has been. Currently, he is living his heart’s desire with his wife, Vasiliky on the Greek island Samos. He sent me a photo showing off a beautiful vantage point from his window overlooking the Aegean Sea, along with correspondence answering my inquiries concerning FFCF.
Alex credits five professors for having started the Foundation - Russell Leavenworth, Symour Mack, Jack Pitt, Benjamin Burton and Dale Bush. "Dale Bush played a key role in keeping the Foundation active in court cases," Alex states. "He did a lot of work with the attorneys because of his grasp of laws as they were related to academic situations. He was a counsel for the Foundation." Alex goes on to mention Dale Burtner, Kenneth Russel, Heywood Moore and Frank Laury playing similar roles in the development of the Foundation. "A very important individual without whom KFCF would have never happened is Rand L. Stover, a radio engineer, who has served as a volunteer chief engineer to this day," added Alex.
There is no question that radio station KFCF 88.1 FM is the Foundation’s crowning achievement. There is a black and white file photo from 1975 archived somewhere of a youthful Alex, grinning like a father witnessing his child being born, tuning in KFCF on his home stereo in 1975 for the first time. To this day, the Foundation continues to own and operate this non-commercial, entirely listener supported radio station. Alex reflects on some of the Foundation’s past successes via KFCF. "This medium has allowed the Foundation to project itself into the Central Valley and the mountain communities. For several years it recorded the concerts of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra, broadcasting them on KFCF and on KPFA as well. All of the Foundation’s musical programs were broadcast including the Keyboard Concerts series and the Orpheus concerts."
Alex Vavoulis, who has been a part of the Fresno Free College Foundation
since it started, is seen here tuning into KFCF 88.1 FM for the first time in 1975.
The radio station is now the foundations largest project.
Alex had his own personal broadcast career with KFCF, hosting a Greek culture and music show for many years on its airwaves. Alex points out how KFCF has increasingly become the focus of the Foundation. "In the past, KFCF was just another project of the Foundation; now it is basically the only project. All of the board’s time and energy is focused on KFCF. I understand this project is an important one, and it’s clear the community supports it."
Alex in closing goes on to offer some words of encouragement to the current Foundation board. "I wish the board luck in finding the right direction for the Foundation. It’s clear it needs a building of its own and it is up to the individuals on the board to find the answer. I wish them well." Perhaps to finish with a fitting description of Alex’s influence on the Foundation, are the words of African -American, former Fresno City Council and Foundation board member Les Kimber who spoke at an event honoring Alex Vavoulis for his service to the Foundation in 1992. He said, "If all people in our society were like Alex, we would not have a race problem."
If Alex epitomizes where the Foundation has been, then his counterpart, Rych Withers, represents the new face of where it is headed. Not that Rych is new to the Foundation. Currently he is the Exective Director after having been President of the Foundation for roughly a decade. "I have been involved with the Foundation since 1975, with varying degrees," he says. "And much of that was focused on KFCF, as radio is my true love. But I have helped and supported many of the projects, and look forward to the future of the Foundation as a multi-cultural organization, working to stimulate and foster the intellectual, cultural and artistic individuals and groups in our community."
When asked to outline what is and has been the Foundation’s mission in his own words, Rych answers: "The mission of the Foundation is to support free speech, civil rights and to foster intellectual, artistic and cultural freedom and expression."
He also goes on to comment on the future of the Foundation. "I’m hoping the Foundation will continue to sponsor new ideas, by nurturing and mentoring groups, and continue to do the things it has in the past. The Foundation needs to assess the future and figure out what it needs to do to bring in younger people, and I think that is happening, but somewhat slower than I’d like. The Foundation has lofty ambitions, but limited resources. In order to expand, the Foundation will need to have more people involved, but being such a bare-bones operation over the years, that is a tricky process. We’re still in the process of learning to identify and plan more effectively." Rych also describes the challenges of a new and small staff instrumental in developing volunteers for the Foundation. "If you want to develop volunteers, you need someone to nurture, manage and grow the volunteers. Right now with KFCF, and all of the other things that the Foundation is trying to do, there are a lot of balls for a few people to juggle. And to some degree, since all of the staff has only been hired in the last few months, we’re having to juggle and to identify what we’re juggling."
If you who are reading this right now, feel like you would like to help keep free speech alive in Fresno and outlying communities and are interested in learning more about the Foundation, give them a call at 559-233-2221, and see what you can do to help.
Rick Flores lives and works on his family farm west of Easton. He hosts "Wasteland of the Free" heard Tuesdays on KFCF, 88.1 FM from 10 a.m. to noon.
Gerry Bill (left) gives Jim Grant (right) the Fresno Free College Foundation 2008 Free Speech award. Jim, who works at KNXT-TV channel 49 was instrumental in bringing Democracy Now! to television viewers throughout the Central Valley. You can now see Amy Goodman’s in-depth coverage of the events that are shaping our world every weekday at 6 PM. Howard Watkins took the photograph.
One of the problems about using "crisis" and "KPFA" in the same sentence is that the audience generally reacts with, "So what’s new?" One can hardly blame them.
But right now there is a "crisis," and it is one that threatens not only KPFA but also the entire Pacifica network, which includes KFCF.
I was asked to write something about this crisis, but before I do, a little truth in advertising. I am not an "objective" reporter, but one of the principals involved in the sturm und drang at KPFA. I am vice-chair of KPFA’s Local Station Board (LSB) and a founding member of a group called Concerned Listeners (CL). Since the current LSB is divided between CL members and a collection of factions and "independents" that generally vote in lockstep, you should take what I write with a grain of salt: I am a partisan, even though I will try to present the issues in as honest a way as I can.
I won’t spend a whole lot of time going into the details of the infighting, because the people of Fresno have more important things to think about, but a quick sketch is in order.
The overarching crisis that KPFA and the Pacifica network faces is financial, one of the most serious in its history. While KPFA does an excellent job of raising money, other stations — in particular WBAI in New York — run enormous deficits. These deficits pose a threat to the very existence of the network.
There are a number of causes for the crisis. Costs are going up and audience sizes are not. In New York, WBAI’s listening audience is smaller than KPFA’s, even though the potential audience is three times larger. Since Pacifica relies on listeners to fund its operations, this is not good news.
There is also resistance to doing things differently. When a proposal was made to defer a Pacifica National Board meeting — they cost around $30,000 a pop — some people said it was a "threat to democracy" and resisted.
The solution, of course, is more money, but many listeners are feeling pretty tapped out. We could stick up banks, but that is probably not a good idea, plus it’s not clear there is any money left in banks. Or we can expand our audiences.
Some of the financial problems stem from the enormous upheaval the mass media are going through: radio (and newspaper) audiences are declining all over the country, partly because of the explosion of competing sources on the Internet. KPFA has done a fairly good job of keeping its audience, but it has not expanded it.
So you would think that the major focus at KPFA would be on how to expand the station’s audience. However, rather than taking up the issue of how to bring in new listeners and tap new media of technologies, KPFA is wrapped up in internal matters. The two most contentious issues are a fight between a faction of unpaid staff members and station management, and a recent incident in which police were called in to remove an individual from the station. What both issues reflect is the dysfunctional level of problem solving at KPFA, and the way disputes can escalate into all-out war. I am constantly thankful that no one at KPFA possesses nuclear weapons.
The unpaid staff issue is a long-standing one, but what it boils down to is, who gets to vote for staff representatives on KPFA’s Board? To have voting rights, Pacifica bylaws stipulate that an unpaid staff member must work 30 hours in a three-month period under the supervision of station management. But they also say that if station management formally recognizes an unpaid staff organization (UPSO) — whatever its membership rules — then the members of that organization all get votes. Since there are "collectives" that claim upwards of 20 members at KPFA, this potentially swells the number of people who can vote in an election, leading to the possibility that a few well-organized programs could inflate their staff lists to stack Board elections.
Right now KPFA management doesn’t formally recognize the unpaid staff organization as it is presently constituted, because its criteria for membership violate Pacifica bylaws. Some unpaid staffers call that "union busting." Management says it will recognize UPSO if it corrects its membership rules and gets a majority of the station’s unpaid staff to say they want to be represented by it.
The second crisis was sparked by an arrest at the station.
Several months ago an unpaid staff member (whether she was former or current is in dispute) was asked not come back to the station because she screamed at and pushed an employee.
Several months later she returned and took over a studio to make phone calls. A staff member who needed to use the studio asked her to leave and she refused. Pacifica’s human resources director recommended the police be called, which resulted in a confrontation and an arrest.
The incident has caused an enormous uproar, the details of which I will spare Fresno readers. But what is relevant is that some programmers took the issue to the airwaves in the middle of a fund drive. One can only wonder what some new listeners thought of the whole matter.
In a normally functioning organization there would be a frank discussion about under what circumstances one calls the police. The obvious problem with police is, once you call them, you lose control of the situation, and police will generally act like — well, police. But what should a staff member do who feels intimidated or threatened? And what responsibility does the person who was barred from the station bear for refusing to leave? Who should have access to the station and its resources? All of this was lost in the uproar over the incident.
Keep in mind that all of this happened in the middle of a financial crisis, one of the most important elections in generations, and at a time when the voice of the left and progressive community is desperately needed. The only analogy that comes to mind is people arguing over who controls the deck chairs as the Titanic steams for the ice. There is a deep political division at the heart of the current crisis, and it is hardly a new one. It boils down to whom KPFA wants to address. Is it just activists, or activists plus a much broader audience? If KPFA is only interested in keeping a small, hard-core audience, then we only need to concern ourselves with politics. But if we want to reach a broader audience, then we also need to be concerned with quality. The competition out there is fierce. Unless we produce really good, professional-sounding radio, we will continue to lose audiences, particularly young ones.
"Professional" is a complex term, but what I mean by it is that while Pacifica’s content is alternative, it needs to be presented in a way the public — particularly new listeners — will recognize as listenable radio. There are some in KPFA’s orbit, however, who equate "professionalism" with elitism. Professionalism just means producing good radio, and unless we start doing that, we are going to be road kill.
Reaching a broader audience doesn’t mean watering down content. People are reaching out for new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. But if we are sloppy, presumptive, or boring about the way we present progressive information or ideas, our audience is going to look elsewhere on the dial.
There is a very practical angle to this argument over increasing audience size: Pacifica relies on its listener base to raise funds. If our audience goes down, or simply remains the same, then Pacifica is in trouble.
Pacifica needs quality, professional, sharp-edged programming. But we cannot produce it if we are at war with one another, and if every management decision is taken as some sinister move on a political chessboard. If a show is not holding its own in terms of audience and fund raising, shouldn’t management be able to consider putting on a different kind of show without igniting a riot? KPFA needs to get past the current polarization and recognize that what unites us is more important that what divides us. We can respect our differences without demonizing one another, and we can try to do what is best for the network, not defend a particular piece of turf.
Right now the Pacifica network is in serious financial straits. It is not inconceivable that the network could go under. Infighting and invective may end up doing what the government has never succeeded in doing: silencing Pacifica.
At the same time the country is going through a political awakening. Who do we want to be talking to? The choir? Or the more than two million young people, and tens of millions of Latinos, that voted for Barak Obama? Do we want an audience that numbers in the tens of thousands, or the hundreds of thousands, even millions? That is the discussion KPFA and Pacifica needs to have, and it is, after all, at the heart of the "crisis." Will we have it? I hope so.
* Sturm und Drang (the conventional translation is "Storm and Stress"; a more literal translation, however, might be storm and urge, storm and longing, storm and drive or storm and impulse) is the name of a movement in German literature and music taking place from the late 1760s through the early 1780s in which individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in response to the confines of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements. Definition from Wikipedia.
Conn Hallinan is an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, part of the Institute for Policy Study; a columnist for the Daily Planet; former director of the journalism program at UCSC. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
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Science and Religion: Mortal Enemies or Synergistic Allies?
Adherents to the domains of science and religion have long had an uneasy and frequently acrimonious relationship. While Copernicus’ 16th century theories that suggested the earth was not the center of the universe did not initially provoke any objections from the Roman Catholic hierarchy, by the next century when Galileo was peering into the heavens with his telescope, the church had risen up in opposition. The idea that the earth was not the center of the universe had become a serious challenge to the truth of scripture in the minds of those in power in the church (as well as an enormous blow to human narcissism).
Charles Darwin’s 19th century theory of the origin of species, commonly known as the theory of evolution, has been treated as a weapon of mass destruction almost from the beginning by Christians and the Christian church.
Some scientists and more than a few followers of science have responded in kind by dogmatically asserting that science eliminates any possibility of the existence of a transcendent source of creation – i.e., of the existence of a Creator God.
In the extreme, religious believers assign evil to those who oppose their views and scientific adherents assign ignorant superstition to their religious counterparts. While the occasional dramatic clashes between these two extremes make for exciting news stories and talk shows, there are many others in the two camps who find value in both positions.
Are there, after all, any middle grounds, any places of meeting – and even more intriguing, are there any third ways that can bring these two domains together in a way that retains the essential truths and findings of each while yielding a more integrated understanding of the universe?
This article will look at two examples, one a recent conference (a place of meeting of these two cultures), and the second a philosophical cosmology that has demonstrated the ability to bring the ideas and facts from these two realms into a single, harmonized perspective.
Neurosciences and Spiritual Practices Conference: A Report
Last October, there was an historic and groundbreaking conference in Claremont, CA, that brought together neuroscientists, religious practitioners from Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as theologians, philosophers, and mental health professionals for three days of presentations and serious conversations.
The conference was co-sponsored by the Fetzer Institute, the Center for Process Studies, and the Claremont School of Theology. It was organized by Andrew Drietcer, Ph.D., associate professor of spiritual formation at CST. The conference website is http://neurospirituality.blogspot.com/. (Eventually, the conference organizers will make papers and videos available, probably after the first of the year.)
Common Aim: To Increase Compassion
While some of the dialogue was highly abstract and esoteric, the conference leaders voiced a common concern to work together across disciplines for new understandings and approaches in order to foster an increase in compassion within human beings for each other and for all life on this planet. One of the primary vehicles for this effort is mindfulness meditation (discussed in more detail below).
The ability for these professionals to enter into serious and respectful exchanges with each other was, in my experience, unique. As previously stated, science and religion frequently have a highly antagonistic relationship with each other (the Dalai Lama not withstanding).
Part of what made this conference work, besides an attitude of interest and respect, is that the focus of study by many of the neuroscientists is on the impact of meditation on the brain and central nervous system.
Another contributing factor was the progressive quality exemplified by the religious practitioners and theologians. The effect of this was nicely summed up in the closing session by a research psychologist who had grown up in an atheist home. The religion he was hearing in this conference, he said, was quite different from what he had learned to expect. The implication was that there was an openness and a genuine interest in hard, rigorous science, something that was not the case with the religious individuals he had encountered previously.
Mindfulness Meditation: A Central Topic
A topic central to many of the presentations was the meditative state called mindfulness, a topic with which I have become familiar in my work as a psychotherapist. Over the past 10 or 15 years, mindfulness has taken center stage in the field of psychotherapy, including here in the Central Valley. I personally was introduced to this Buddhist practice a decade ago through the writings of the venerable Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn (his book Peace is Every Step is one I recommend frequently to my clients). I found a receptive audience in 2002 when I led a workshop for therapists on integrating mindfulness with their work. Last fall, I attended a massive conference at UCLA on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy that featured Thich Nhat Hahn, Dan Siegel, and Jack Kornfield, among others. (A summary of the conference can be found here: http://sa.sjsu.edu/download/sa/2007_Mindfulness_Conference_at_UCLAx_Ellen_Lin.pdf) This conference, with several thousand registrants, confirmed the now-mainstream appeal of the value of mindfulness for psychotherapy as a method of healing and growth. This status was confirmed in the Claremont conference which included a large number of mental health professionals as both leaders and participants.
Mindfulness is a Buddhist practice that involves learning to focus attention on one’s immediate experience. The way this was being framed at the Claremont conference, mindfulness requires learning to be intentional about how and where one focuses one’s consciousness – including awareness of being aware. Quite frequently, mindfulness practice leads to learning to attend to one’s deeper and fuller experience without being taken away by any one particular thought stream or emotional surge.
The fruits of mindfulness include a greater sense of inner peace and joy, remarkably similar to the stated goals of many forms of spiritual practice as well as of psychotherapy. It is not surprising, therefore, that this practice would be compatible with a variety of spiritual disciplines as well as to the mental health field; nor is it surprising that research scientists would want to examine this using empirical methodology, both to objectively evaluate the subjective claims but also to correlate the practice with neurological activity.
Dr. Daniel Siegel and Mindfulness, Attunement, and Interpersonal Neuroscience
One of the leading researchers and practitioners in the field of mindfulness is Daniel Siegel, M.D. Siegel is a child psychiatrist on the faculty of UCLA, the author of a several books on mindfulness and related topics, and the founder of a new multidisciplinary field called Interpersonal Neuroscience. He was one of the keynote speakers at the Claremont conference (as well as last year’s at the UCLA gathering). Among other things, Siegel is an advocate for teaching mindfulness to children as a part of basic education. He calls this, "No mind left behind."
Touching on neuroplasticity, one of the neuroscience themes at the conference, Siegel cited a research project that demonstrated that meditation training resulted in measurable neural growth in a portion of an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is associated with organization of the personality as well as advanced human skills such as planning, impulse control (emotional regulation), the sense of self (identity), and even insight and empathy, among other things. (See http://www.drdansiegel.com for a place to start.)
Drawing from his work in attachment theory (which preceded his movement into mindfulness), Siegel brings the idea of attunement to describe one of the ways in which mindfulness can be healing intrapsychically as well as interpersonally. Traditionally, attunement has been understood as the idea attitude for healthy parenting. Simply put, attunement means being emotionally and cognitively responsive to a child’s needs and emotions in a manner that is affirming, non-judgmental and noninvasive. This harmonic helps develop a positive sense of self. (This is not the same as being ultra-permissive. Limits can and must be set; attunement has more to do with how limits are set, for example.)
Siegel is extending the application of attunement to one’s own self as well as to others. The vehicle for this is mindfulness. Christians and Jews, for example, would understand this as loving another as one loves oneself. Obviously, people with a negative self-image do not love themselves – and often this extends to others with whom they relate in an unloving manner.
The Shamatha Project
Another neuroscientist who was on a panel I helped moderate was Clifford Saron, Ph.D., an assistant researcher at the Center for Mind and Brain at U.C. Davis. Saron is deeply involved in the Shamatha Project which is an incredibly complex study of the neurological responses and changes correlated with extensive meditation training. (If I had stayed in experimental psychology, I would want to be on this study’s team.) While the bulk of the findings are due to be released sometime next year, one of the intriguing discoveries shared was that when trained meditators were presented with painful images of violence, they were able to calm themselves more quickly and also able to shift from a desire for revenge toward compassion more quickly, in comparison to non-meditators.
Saron spoke strongly about the reality and importance of neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain can and does change in response to how it is stimulated. This is good news at every age, from the very young to the very old.
Another intriguing idea he shared was that, under powerful magnification, one can see a nerve cell’s dendrites dance. (A typical neuron is composed of dendrites that receive the synaptic stimulation from another cell, a cell body, and an axon that extends out from the cell body to the dendrites of the next cells to be stimulated.) The idea of a totally fixed, hardwired brain has given way to something much more responsive to the mind and the rest of the body as well as to the larger, external environment.
Other Spiritual Practices Leaders
There were several other leaders from various spiritual disciplines who presented on contemplative practices, including Alan Wallace, Ph.D., (an energetic expert on Buddhism and the meditation teacher for the Shamatha Project), Fr. Thomas Keating (a long-time expert on Christian contemplative prayer), and Nahid Angha, Ph.D. (founder of the International Sufi Women Organization). The conference website (http://neurospirituality.blogspot.com/) carries links to most of the presenters if more information is desired.
A Process Perspective on Science and Religion
One of the conference co-sponsors was the Center for Process Studies at the Claremont School of Theology. (See http://www.ctr4process.org.) If I were to offer a suggestion for future conferences of this nature, it would be to include more input from the process studies contingent. This is because the process metaphysics has demonstrated its capacity to clearly, rigorously, and systematically bring together ideas from science and religion.
Process philosophy stems from the writing of Alfred North Whitehead, a 20th century mathematician, physicist and philosopher. His work has led to an understanding that process (the subjective state of becoming) is more fundamental than substance (the objective state of being or "thingness"); and that the basic unit of reality is something like a drop of experience that includes the physical, the mental, and the spiritual as integrated components of a single entity.
Because of this, Whitehead’s metaphysics can embrace both science and religion in a way that validates the truth of both ways of understanding the universe – as well as providing a critique of the limitations of both perspectives.
Evolution: A Third Way (Without a Supernatural Deity)
One of the most inflamed battlegrounds in this unnecessary war is over evolution. On the scientific side, the amount of evidence gathered in support of the development of life forms from simple to complex is overwhelming. On the religious side, for a large number of Christians, particularly those who lean toward what is called biblical literalism, these solid findings from science are rejected because God nearly always is removed as an agent in creation and only materiality is considered real.
The recent exception to this elimination of the Divine from evolution is Intelligent Design. However, the way this is understood by most of its adherents is that God magically created the world a few thousand years ago totally complete. It only appears that life forms evolved over billions of years, according to this view. This, of course, is an anti-scientific point of view.
Process thought provides a third way to understand the role of the Divine in the world – not as a force that pops in from time to time, overruling the laws of nature, but as the most intimate part of every aspect of the world, as an essential and vital dynamic in nature. The idea of a supernatural God is rejected.
In process thought, creativity is understood as one of the ultimates and God is the chief agent of creativity in the universe. This means that the Divine aim is always toward change and development and for greater complexity in particular. This principle, then, underlies all evolution.
Was the Evolution of the Brain Purposive?
In the paper I presented at the Claremont conference, for example, I suggested the possibility that the development of the vertebrate brain, the primate in particular, follows this model. That is, it is possible that the increasing complexity of the primate brain evolved in response to the latent potential of the mentality that is a component of these basic units of reality and not simply random changes that accidentally led to a higher degree of survival. This requires a purposive quality (which science rejects) that could be under the influence of a sacred aim.
Even a leading neuroscientist suggests that there are multiple causes of evolution, not simply natural selection based upon random genetic changes. (See Georg F. Striedter, a neurobiologist at University of California at Irvine, in his recently published book on the Principles of Brain Evolution.) In Beyond Darwin, edited by John B. Cobb Jr., one can find serious, scholarly arguments that suggest a purposive quality to evolution rooted in the application of the principle of creativity by a God that is an intimate part of nature.
Conclusion … or, a Beginning
I am aware that a relatively brief essay on this topic will likely leave more questions than provide substantial answers; and that this column merely flows into an enormous stream of serious and sometimes heated discussions on this topic. But it is a topic well worth our attention. If the problem on the side of religion is bad theology, which I believe is often the case, then a serious conversation could help change that. If the problem on the side of science is a cosmology that limits itself to visually defined materialism, this too can be modified and expanded through this exchange.
And, finally, if there are what might be called sacred aims that promote the common good and the well-being of all, it would be extraordinarily helpful to learn how to be attuned to them both personally and collectively. Our world increasingly appears to be at a tipping point that could go either way and we need all the tender, caring, and sensitive wisdom we can find.
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. Send comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 5475 N. Fresno St., Ste. 109, Fresno, CA 93711.
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When we feel a threat to life or limb our autonomic nervous system (ANS) kicks in and automatically, the sympathetic nervous system prepares the body to fight or run.
This is what happens:
• Adrenaline is released
• Heart pumps faster
• Blood pressure spikes
• Breathing gets rapid and shallow
• Blood sugar rises
• Vessels and airways expand or constrict to get oxygen and blood to the brain and limbs
• Muscles tense for physical exertion and flight
Now, if we’re face to face with a dragon, it’s a great reactive mechanism.
But, if the body reacts automatically like this because our boss didn’t say good morning today, like every day this week, we have a problem. And if this happens most days, because we react to challenges to our ego, sense of security or control as if they were a dragon, we will be chronically "stressed-out" or hyper-aroused and we’ll really get burned by a "true dragon."
The physical health consequences of chronic hyper-arousal include:
High blood pressure, shallow breathing – hyperventilation, high blood sugar – diabetes, high cholesterol, indigestion – irritable bowel, arterial problems - heart attack or susceptibility to stroke. The constant presence of the steroids cortisol and cortisone suppress immune function making us susceptible to chronic infections like Epstein –Barr, hepatitis and diseases like cancer.
Chronically tense muscles cause backache, neck and shoulder pain, and jaw clenching.
Other symptoms include: sweating, dry mouth, chronic fatigue and insomnia.
Increased alertness and hyper-vigilance create a chronic nervous state which interferes with attention, focus and memory.
The mental and emotional health consequences include: anxiety, depression, anger, withdrawal, irritability, impatience, and forgetfulness.
We have a choice.
We can be mindful, not stressful.
We can intentionally train and enlist the parasympathetic nervous system to help us respond to what we perceive as threats that create stress.
This takes instruction and practice.
There are three mindfulness practices that can be learned and practiced daily to rewire your ANS:
1) Belly breathing
2) Body Scan
3) Mindfulness Meditation
Belly breathing: Allowing the belly to inflate on the in-breath and deflate on the out-breath stimulates the vagus nerve to activate the parasympathetic response. This rest and digest response relaxes the body and the brain within a few moments. Finding your breath and re-arriving in the body is the first step toward reversing a chronic fight or flight reaction.
Body Scan: Yoga niedra or scanning through the body part by part with the mind while breathing from the diaphragm releases fatigue and tension and puts us back in touch with sensations bringing blood flow back and reenergizing us from the inside.
Mindfulness Meditation: Taking a backward step away from the edge. Finding a space of calm in the mind from which you can observe thinking and not be caught up in it, helps you move from automatic pilot reactivity to skillful responding.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an 8-week training program that teaches the practices that help to rewire the stress response. This program, one of the most researched and funded complementary treatments of all time, was originated by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the early 80s. MBSR is now taught all over the world in corporate board rooms, in hospitals to both patients and medical residents, in schools, in correctional facilities, everywhere.
MBSR is now available in Central California through The Center for Mindfulness.
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Longtime community photographer Howard K. Watkins has announced that his Photographic Archive Project has just received commitments for a $10,000 matching fund. The fund is composed of an award from the Fresno Regional Foundation and donations from the McCormick, Barstow law firm and another Project supporter. If this $10,000 total is matched, the Project will have $20,000 to help meet its costs in digitizing and indexing the more than 175,000 photographs in Watkins’ collection.
The Project covers the broadest photographic collection of people, places, and events in the greater Fresno area over the past 35 years. The goal of the Project is to establish an online photographic database through the Madden Library at CSU Fresno. Watkins has now raised over $100,000 of the $150,000 needed to complete the Project.
Individuals and others wanting to help meet the $10,000 match may do so with a tax-deductible donation to the Fresno Regional Foundation (5620 N. Palm Ave., #228, Fresno, CA 93704) with a notation that it is for the "Watkins Photo Archive Project." Watkins stated, "I am very grateful to the more than 400 friends, colleagues, law firms, and others who have already been generous with their support."
More information about the Project, as well as all of the 15,000+ photographs (covering some 600+ events) that Watkins has taken since September of 2007, are available at his personal website at www.watkinsphotoarchive.com. Viewers are free to download any of the photographs for personal use. The website also includes a list of the Charter Donors through October 20, 2008. The list will be updated again as of December 31, 2008. Watkins asks that if you have already donated, to let him know if your listing needs any changing. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
In a related matter, Watkins and his photographic work are among the honorees to be recognized by the Fresno Metro Ministry at its Annual Anniversary Dinner set for Thursday, December 4th, 2008, 5:30-8:30 p.m., at Hope Lutheran Church (Fresno and Barstow Streets, Fresno). The other honorees are Coke Hallowell, George "Elfie" Ballis, State Senator Dean Florez, LUCA (Latinos Untied for Clean Air), and the Holy Family Episcopal Church.
If you would like to attend the dinner, tickets are $40 per person (checks made payable to "Fresno Metro Ministry" and sent to 1055 N. Van Ness Ave. Suite H, Fresno, CA 93728). For more details on the dinner or to be listed as a program sponsor, contact Metro Ministry directly at (559) 485-1416.
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The Community for Fair Representation, a group of concerned residents from District 3, has in recent months initiated an effort to recall Fresno City Councilwoman Cynthia Sterling. This is the same district that nearly four years ago voted her as the first African-American woman to be elected to the Fresno City Council. It seems a befitting title for a woman reared by activists parents who according to an article by Rev. Floyd Harris (see Community Alliance Nov. 2008 issue) described Sterling’s parents as "pioneers and business owners" and as "those who stood for civil rights". Again, in 2006 the people of District 3 reelected Sterling to serve another four year term. Yet, it seems that some in the same community that voted for Sterling, not once, but twice have now lost confidence in the Councilwoman.
District 3 is without a doubt one of the most diverse areas in Fresno. It has its own share of problems. West Fresno, the same area that Sterling represents has often been the subject of law enforcement press conferences. Just last week while preparing for the question of the month, I made my way throughout Mrs. Sterling’s district to get responses from the residents. During, my West Fresno visit a resident and his young son had just picked up dinner and were on their way home, when he asked if he could in turn ask me a question. I obliged, but was unprepared for what he was about to say. He explained to me with his young son standing next to him, that his oldest son had been killed by gang members. He questioned what the lure was for young men to join a gang. Then he asked how he can prevent his youngest son from finding the same things appealing. He mentioned activities that took place while he grew up in the same area that had just claimed his son’s life, a time when gangs and high crime didn’t govern the streets like now. He recalled the days of Community Centers being open and sports being played. A time he said where things were not so unequal where one could look at Fresno as a whole and not feel as if the Westside was a different Fresno. He recalled that young men and women once had something to do, something productive and those he said that chose otherwise, didn’t disturb the community as a whole. Yet, despite all that he has endured, he said that he hadn’t given up hope on West Fresno and he said that he hadn’t given up hope on Councilwoman Sterling either. The gang member responsible for the murder of this man’s son was arrested and is currently awaiting trial. For that reason his name was not used.
Whether the recall is successful or if Sterling remains in her seat as the voice for a community in definite need, we all hope for the best. Now on to the question.
Do You Support the recall of City Council Member Cynthia Sterling? Why or why not?
"As a new developer in the West Fresno area, I received no help from Cynthia Sterling. Myself and my wife went to her office to see if we could get help under Urban Development. We discussed it with her assistant and he said he would pass it on to her and that she would get back to us. She never did. If the people here want another person to replace Sterling, they better hope that whoever that someone is does more than the little that Sterling does. Because even with the little that Sterling does at least she does something or else they will not have a voice at all. Whoever replaces Sterling must be involved in the community and step up to be a voice for West Fresno."
Yes, she is not doing what she should be doing for her constituency. She doesn’t represent the interests for the people of District 3. I can’t think of a single thing she’s done for West Fresno, as far as what she’s done and as far as her record is. She was elected to do something and she’s not doing it that is why I support the recall. She’s been there in that seat almost four years, and she’s going to be there another four years, I mean as far as I’m concerned that’s four years of wasted time. We need to get someone in there that is going to fight for the area. West Fresno right now is ignored; the only time they pay attention to West Fresno is when Running Horse or whatever, then the politicians are involved, they want to get in there. But then after the party’s over and there’s no need for them, they’re gone, there’s no one around, West Fresno is ignored it’s just an abandoned part of town, every other District gets the money for whatever but West Fresno hasn’t changed. We need a new councilmember somebody that we can support, that can support us. Prime example look at the Hmong Garden that is something that she should have supported and she went against it. Those people are minorities, they are trying to do something with an area that was not being utilized by the city, and she votes against it. I mean this is stuff that she should’ve supported and she didn’t. You know who she represents is not the people of her district but the developers, the politicians, the people with money but it isn’t West Fresno. It’s time for change."
"She doesn’t know what she s talking about, yes I support the recall. I feel that she should be recalled because she doesn’t follow through on a lot of the promises she makes. She’s very repetitive on the things she says, but she does nothing about it."
"I don’t have a lot of negative things to say about her, I think she has done some good for our community she has made some changes, I really can’t make an educated comment regarding the recall because I really don’t know why they are trying to recall her, I wasn’t aware of that. As a resident of West Fresno, I know that there is still a lot of work to be done, if Mrs. Sterling elects to do that or if she is still willing to fight for the betterment of West Fresno that is yet to be seen. I can’t personally say that she’s done a bad job. There is more improvement that needs to be made. If she’s willing to do those things and those things are on her agenda than I would say give her another chance. I can’t really give that much of a response on the recall because I don’t know the pros and cons of it."
"Well, it’s something I need to know more about. I don’t really know much about her. She should just get out and do something, get out and speak, so I could know more about her."
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Ten percentage points. This was the margin of victory of political newcomer Ashley Swearengin over Fresno City Council Member Henry T. Perea for Mayor of Fresno. Given that most politicos thought this was going to be a close race and that Perea had the backing of both the local Chamber of Commerce and all of the unions, I, too, was surprised by the margin of the victory.
Both candidates were articulate on the issues and promised to bring positive change to Fresno. On many issues, their positions were quite similar: supporting Downtown Fresno, the cultural arts, reducing crime, improved efficiency in government, creating more jobs and expanding the use of alternative energy, and finding constructive ways to meet the needs of the homeless. They both brought a lot of energy and thought to their campaigns and promised to redirect Fresno into a high quality city. However, there were a few key differences that figured in the outcome. Here are some thoughts on why the difference.
First, Swearengin was able to position herself as the outsider, even though she had the endorsement of Mayor Alan Autry and State Assembly Member Juan Arambula. Her lack of experience at City Hall did not appear to hurt her.
Second, is the impact of Proposition 8, which sought to deny same-sex couples the right to be married in California. While this Prop 8 narrowly passed statewide, it passed in Fresno County by a more than two to one margin. Swearengin ultimately supported a Yes position on the Proposition. Perea, while personally believing that marriage should be between a man and a woman, opposed Prop 8 on the grounds that it would deny a basic civil right to ten percent of the population. I expect that for many people on the fence as to the Mayor’s race, were tipped to vote for Swearengin because of this highly charged issue.
Third, while a lot of union money and time went into getting out the vote in precincts favorable to Perea, the voter turnout was just not as strong as the north-end precincts were for Swearengin. Sadly, Fresno is still a tale of two cities with Swearengin running heavily in precincts north of Shaw Avenue and Perea doing best south of Shaw.
Fourth, another difference was Perea’s opposition to having an Independent Police Auditor in Fresno; while Swearengin was in favor of one. For some progressives, this was a significant difference. Perea was willing to bring the different factions together to try to work something out, but nothing specific was proposed or done. It also remains to be seen what type of an IPA Swearengin will support.
Fifth, the local Republican Party’s Lincoln Club spent several thousand dollars effectively turning out Republican voters for Swearengin.
The November 4th election was historical on the national level with the election of Senator Barack Obama as our next President and the Democrats having a potentially filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate. At the local level, the election of Ashley Swearengin as the next Mayor of the City of Fresno may come to be seen as an historical turning point for Fresno. She has established a knowledgeable transition team and will likely hit the ground running as Fresno’s next Mayor. The City Council could be interesting with two new members, Lee Brand succeeding Jerry Duncan in representing northeast Fresno and attorney Andres Borgeas replacing Brian Calhoun in northwest Fresno. Both are bright and energetic. 2009 could be a year where the Mayor and the City Council work together to improve our city for all. Given the severe down turn in the economy and dwindling resources at all levels of government, this will be a difficult task.
There were other local races in Fresno. The results for Fresno Unified School Board showed that former Fresno Teacher Association President Larry Moore defeated incumbent Manuel Nunez in the Roosevelt district and incumbent Janet Ryan defeated FTA-endorsed Virginia Hermosillo in the Hoover High district. It appears that incumbent and FTA-endorsed Carol Mills narrowly defeated challenger Natalie Clark in the Fresno High district. All three winners say that they support Superintendent Mike Hanson. It will be interesting to see if Moore, who was an outspoken advocate on behalf of FTA will bring a more constructive approach given his new responsibilities as a Board Trustee with responsibilities concerning all employees (including teachers, staff, and management), students, and the residents of the school district.
The race for Superior Court had two attorneys from the District Attorney’s office competing countywide. Jim Kelley defeated Doug Treisman, even though Treisman had the endorsement of most law enforcement organizations and The Fresno Bee. As is typical in judicial races, both were relatively unknown to the voters prior to the June primary. Kelley was effective in getting his campaign signs plastered everywhere and early. His resulting name recognition was at least one factor in the outcome. While the CVPPAC and I both endorsed Treisman as the better candidate, we are fortunate that Kelley, too, will make a fair and hardworking judge. Hopefully, the Governor will appoint Treisman to a judgeship next year.
In sum, the local elections had a mixed result for progressives. The saddest outcome to me was the passage of Proposition 8. Whether or not the California Supreme Court rules the result unconstitutional as being a revision of the State Constitution (which requires a 2/3’s approval vote of both houses in the State Legislature), this issue will be back. Next time, I predict that, if necessary, the voters will re-instate the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Howard K. Watkins is a retired attorney and chair of the Central Valley Progressive PAC. For more information about CVPPAC go to www.cvppac.org.
Far too often it appears that the death penalty debate hinges on the Method of Execution. Sodium thiopental followed by pancuronium bromide or potassium chloride - - is this an agreeable cocktail? Has anyone reconsidered the gas chamber; electric chair; lynching; firing squad or guillotine? Pick your poison. . . it all amounts to government sponsored premeditated murder. As death penalty opponents we can not afford to slip into this quagmire of legitimizing "any" Method of Execution. The concept of a humane execution is an oxymoron. Any way you enunciate "method" is synonymous with cruel and unusual punishment. We can not fall for this circular strawman argument of method—if only we could find the correct draconian, barbarian "method" for the government to premeditatively murder death row prisoners.... Death penalty proponents have the temerity to employ the "method" debate as a distraction from the germane issues.
We are fighting to abolish the death penalty because it is morally, ethically, socially, culturally and even economically reprehensible. No one has the right to murder - not even the government. Our government is fatally flawed as a whole; riddled with corruption, mistakes and racism. The death penalty is final - no place for corruption, mistakes or racism. There will never be a humane way for the government to premeditatively murder prisoners on death row. The government absolutely must be genuinely flawless in all aspects of litigation and law prior to state sponsored premeditated murder - nothing concerning humankind has ever been flawless.
Each death penalty sentence is a notch on the prosecutors bed post. The prosecutrix I faced was immediately promoted to the judiciary—subsequent to my death sentence. Contemporaneously I was being erroneously caged inside the venomous belly of the diseased beast squatting on the bay, San Quentin; ergo ultra ambitious prosecutors with everything to gain, metastasize in this cesspool. Over one million additional dollars rendered per death sentence, when juxtaposed to a life without the possibility of parole sentence.. .should these billions of taxpayer’s dollars be spent on services?
Upon graduation medical students take the Hippocratic Oath which reads in relevant part, "Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. Above all, I must not play God." This begs the question; why are medical personnel violating their oath by participating in government sponsored premeditated murder.... Are they in fact playing God?
We are battling to put an end to the mind set that would execute an innocent person. Immoral, unprincipled, biased prosecutors and judges turn death penalty trials into a farce and a shame by allowing: fabricated evidence logs and police reports, false and/or perjured testimony, unreliable evidence, discovery violations, destroyed exculpatory evidence as well as prosecutorial misconduct for the state and/or government. In the same vein they reject exonerating evidence proffered by the defense. Prosecutors and judges who are death penalty proponents should be excised from the just - us system. United States constitutional "Due Process" of law is an empty formality as it stands. Equal protection of the law; right to a fair trial; jury of your peers; death penalty qualified attorneys pursuant to the American Bar Association; proper defense funding; required expert witnesses; adequate appellate review. . .exist only in theory.
Approximately 130 death row prisoners have been exonerated since the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty. Copious innocent death row prisoners are being wrongfully premeditatively murdered by the United States government. The influence of passion and prejudice manipulated by the corporate media insures an innocent defendant’s death sentence. How would I know. . .well, I am one of the innocent on death row awaiting exoneration. I have been held captive on California’s death row for 2 1/2 years - no time to procrastinate in the struggle!
We are struggling for the people who can not labor for themselves. Death row can be overwhelming, causing suicide. . .mentally ill death row prisoners volunteering for execution via abandoning their appeals to expedite death. Over 10% of death row prisoners executed since the 1976 reinstatement of capital punishment in the United States have been volunteers.
We all need to have a reason to get up in the morning, if we lose the desire to rise—we die: psychologically, emotionally, socially and inevitably physically. Motivation to face another day, attempting to make each day more productive than the day before.
Every person convicted and sentenced to death in which that person dies before the appeal process is exhausted, dies an innocent person pursuant to the legal principle of United States law "abatement ab initio." This legal principle nullifies and extinguishes indictment, jury verdict, conviction and sentence as if they never existed. Who enforces this law? Surely we can not expect immoral, sanguinary judges, prosecutors and investigators - who make a living off death sentences to obey the law, consequently deducting from their murder count.... Former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay convicted of conspiracy and fraud died July 5, 2006 an innocent person pursuant to "abatement ab initio" equal protection of the laws, right?
700 or so people on California’s death row and I am number 600 plus. Am I supposed to quietly stand by while California executes over 600 people—until my number comes up.... I will speak out for all of the people on the government’s hit list, I mean short list. Shut down the death machine... no humane way to murder. Unity in our common cause is essential! I will continue the ardent struggle from the "inside out" as you fight to abolish the death penalty from the "outside in" may we intersect in success. Immorality depicts the death penalty—accordingly the "method" is obsolete....
I leave you with;
strength and solidarity in the struggle
Donald Ray Young E-78474
P.O. Box E-78474
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974
With the outcome of the presidential election we progressives have much to rejoice about. It is the beginning of a new era for our nation and for the world. There is excitement in the air; however, we had best savor it while we can for challenging times lie ahead. Arguably, no one entering the office has been faced with circumstances with any more serious potential. Without doubt Barack Obama is as well equipped as any human could be to deal with all the challenges and most of us citizens hopefully place our faith in his ability to lead us to a better tomorrow.
Closer to home, ten days after the election, Proposition 11 is still eking out a victory giving us hope for fairer electoral districts for our state government. Endorsed by almost every good government advocate one would have expected an overwhelming victory. Alas, it seems that people rather stick with something that they know than take a chance on something unknown. Never mind that almost anything is better than our current system where our legislators continue to protect themselves at the expense of diversity and a willingness to actually face the state’s problems.
Where, oh where, is the statesmanship? In hopes that termed out legislators might show some courage the governor has called a special session of the legislature to grapple with the dire financial situation of the state. Unfortunately no one, at this point, has come up with any better suggestions. They simply stick with their own hard stands that made for the longest delay in history for passing a state budget - smoke and mirrors from the day it was passed. There is not much hope that this group will stand up to their responsibility. Compromise, anybody? We can only hope that the new members can muster the character to actually do what they were elected to do.
Then there are those voters, with urging from the religious fundamentalists, who would abrogate the rights of their fellow/sister citizens to choose their own life partners. In sticking to attempts to force their religion on all and failing to realize that the definition of words evolves through the years they insist on their version of marriage even though another’s marriage does not affect them in any way whatsoever. If they would accept "civil union" as the government’s interest for all and leave marriages to the churches there would be no problem, or - even easier - recognize that the word "marriage" is not their exclusive possession. The emphasis is on treating all the same.
It isn’t as if all the marriages of the kind they approve of are so happy. If that were true there would not be so many divorces, or a claimed need of Proposition 4 for so called protection of minors because the girls involved would be embraced in loving, peaceful family life in their time of need. Of course, if they were not so uptight about teaching sex education in schools in the normal course of teaching health the teens might not have a pregnancy that requires attention.
Fortunately the voters realized that the court recourse for a girl unable to talk with her parents was not satisfactory because such a procedure triggers a Child Protective Services investigation — no doubt exacerbating the problem.
Even closer to home, we have elected a mayor who, though beautiful and articulate, does not respect the right of women to manage their own reproductive life or for a large segment of our population to choose their own life partners. Worse yet, as in the primary the vote was largely split between the more affluent and the less so sections of the city. Let us fervently hope that the mayor can narrow that gap bringing us a united city.
On that last subject it is time for the unincorporated communities surrounded by the city to join up. After all, whether in or out of those boundaries, all are affected by the actions of the city. A consolidation of sundry districts could only enhance our ability to look at the big picture. This is a subject for another day but in the meantime we can be grateful that the California voters looked at the big picture in approving the bond for beginning the long development process of fast rail travel in our valley.
While there were disappointments for us progressives in the election, by and large we have much to celebrate. We have HOPE for individuals, for our nation and for Planet Earth.
Ruth Gadebusch is a former naval officer, 13 years as a Fresno Unified School District Trustee, Vice-President of the Center for Civic Education, Community Activist.
Hurricanes have been much in the news lately. While we were still recovering from "Katrina," "Gustav" barely missed mauling New Orleans all over again. And then, just a few weeks later, down the coastline comes "Ike" which hit Galveston with a vengeance. Question: Would you move your family to the Gulf Coast?
Hurricanes are born at sea, usually between May and November when the water is warm (has to be at least 79 degrees Fahrenheit). They all start as small rainstorms. As warm moist air rises in the middle of such a storm, it lowers the air pressure at its center and starts the wind rotating in a clockwise direction around its central axis or "vortex." The warm moist air in the middle of the storm rises up through the vortex until it gets to the top where colder temperatures condense its moisture into sheets of rain that whirl into the swiftly rotating outer regions of the storm. The same cycle—that of sucking up warm moist air from sea level, driving it up to high altitudes through its center and then transforming it into raging wind and driving rain is repeated over and over again. As long as the storm travels over warm water, its size and ferocity increases. Since the wind whirling around the storm’s base is extremely strong, it blows the water outward and upward, higher and higher causing what is called the storm’s "surge."
Once wind speeds reach 74 mph. with a surge of 4 feet, what used to be a "tropical depression" or "storm," becomes a "Category 1 hurricane." If wind speeds increase to 96 mph with a surge of 6 to 8 feet, it’s called a "Category 2 hurricane." On and on, all the way up to a "Category 5 hurricane" where winds are in excess of 155 mph. with a surge of 16 feet or more.
Storms travel. If they happen to pass either over colder water or land, their strength diminishes because there is no more warm humid air to feed them. When they hit land, the most immediate danger comes from the surge. That’s what caused the major damage with "Katrina" and "Ike." It was the surge which accounted for most of the flooding and destruction of coastal facilities. But even though once over land, hurricanes will diminish, they still pack formidable winds and drenching rain which can inflict serious damage for hundreds of miles inland.
And what about global warming? Does it have any effect on hurricanes? The answer is "yes" because the warmer the ocean, the more intense the storms. Simply stated, the April, ‘06 issue of Time Magazine puts it this way: "Ocean waters have warmed by a full-degree Fahrenheit since 1970, and warmer water is like rocket fuel for typhoons and hurricanes."
And then, there’s another consideration—what scientists call the "feedback loop." This has to do with the fact that, in the past, the polar icecaps have reflected most of the sunlight that hit them. But since so much of those icecaps have already melted, and more are expected to melt, the dark waters underneath the ice, instead of reflecting the sun’s heat, now actually absorb it thus speeding up the process of warming the oceans. Don’t believe it? Just fill two tin cans painted black on the inside with water, cover one with a white cover, and leave them out in the sun all day. Now check to see which one’s water is warmer.
From 1850 to 1990 in the North Atlantic, the average number of tropical storms was ten, including 5 hurricanes. In the last 10 years however, that average has increased to 14 storms, including 8 hurricanes. Just three years ago, we experienced the most active hurricane season on record. This was the first time we‘ve ever had three Category 5 hurricanes in one year including "Wilma" (the most powerful hurricane ever recorded), "Katrina" (the most destructive hurricane in US history) and "Rita" (the fourth-most powerful hurricane ever recorded). Last year, we experienced 13 storms including seven hurricanes. This year, so far we’ve had 13 named storm of which 5 had hurricane strength including "Gustav," and "Ike" both of which caused much damage along the Gulf Coast.
It took many decades of global warming to arrive at where we are today, and it’ll take at least an equal period of time to turn things around. Therefore, if we want to reverse the process, here are some steps we must take: l. We need to provide adequate ocean barriers like wetlands, dunes, barrier reefs and off-shore islands to protect low lying coastal areas from flooding during hurricane storm surges. 2. Construct strong sea walls that are high enough and strong enough to hold back the relentless oceans which accompany hurricanes. 3. Improve building codes in low lying areas so that homes and businesses can withstand the ferocious winds and torrential rains brought in by hurricanes. 4. And most important of all, stop sending millions of tons of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere since we know these to be the root cause of global warming and by extension, the warming of our oceans.
Franz Weinschenk has been a teacher and school administrator in Fresno for over fifty years. He can be contacted by e-mail at franzie@SCCCD.org
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Uncle Bill from Porterville sends us this timely reminder that, while we might rejoice that Veterans Day Parades can celebrate the survival of those who fought in U.S. Wars, there is little to cheer about in war itself.
Compiegne, France, 1918
November 11, a dismal rainy morning.
Armistice signed in a railroad car.
40 million deaths.
The "War to End All Wars" is over.
No more trenches, barbed wire, poison gas.
Millions of dead,
And the seeds of the next war planted
In the Treaty of Versailles.
200,000 maimed and "shell-shocked" men
Return to civilian life
We create a national holiday
To celebrate their return,
And call it "Armistice Day."
Armistice Day, 1945
Echoes of the atomic bombs still in the air.
72 million dead
The war that will surely end all wars is over.
700,000 maimed, wounded, and "battle fatigued" vets
Return to civilian status.
Armistice Day, 1953
The Korean War goes to armistice.
Three million deaths.
100,000 "operationally exhausted"and maimed vets
Come back to try to salvage their lives.
Armistice Day 1975
The Second Indo-China War
Which we called the "Vietnam Conflict." is over.
6 million dead75,000 U.S. Veterans severely disabled
Most will never be whole again.
Armistice Day 2008
Tens of thousands dead
15,000 US military wounded, maimed
300,000 stress -disorder claims filed.
Refusal to look into the dark mirrors
Continuing to regard war as a solution
Rather than as a problem.
Preferring to march to bright music,
Parading our pride
To the flapping of colorful flags,
With lip service, plaintive bugle call, and a rifle volley,
While hundreds of thousands of veterans are homeless.
18 veterans will commit suicide this Nov.11.
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Betty Harmon (center) marching for justice in the case of her mother’s death (December 2007). For more information see: http://justiceforlillymaeharmon.org/
The lawsuit filed by Betty Harmon against the City and County of Fresno and a number of individuals involved in the alleged failure to investigate the suspicious death of her mother in December 2004 was dismissed by federal judge Lawrence O’Neill in late October.
Judge O’Neill dismissed the case against the County, the county’s Department of Human Services, the county Coroner’s Office, chief deputy coroner Bob Hensel, sheriff’s detective Ryan Gilbert, the City, city police lieutenant David Belluomini, sergeants David Newton and Doug Goertzen, and detective Henry Monreal, essentially because the complaint was "riddled with deficiencies which cannot be overcome by an attempt at amendment. On its face, the complaint reflects that its claims are time barred and lacks facts to justify the limitations period. The complaint lacks facts and related allegations to meet elements of its claims."
Harmon discovered shortly after her mother’s death in December 2004 that someone had emptied her bank account. Harmon believed her mother had not died of natural causes and sought assistance from local law enforcement, which according to her, never materialized. She later hired a private investigator to look into her mother’s death. Her mother’s caregiver, Theresa Centeno, confessed the theft of $7,000 while being interviewed by the investigator, Jeffrey Pearce. Centeno eventually pled no contest to charges of theft.
In February 2005, she asked that her mother’s body be exhumed for autopsy. The county coroner’s office refused. The remains were exhumed on her request in September 2006 and were sent to Nebraska for autopsy. The following March, an autopsy was conducted by Dr. Mathias I. Okoye, the state’s chief coroner. Dr. Oyoke concluded that Lilly Mae Harmon had died of "acute and chronic arsenic poisoning."
The California Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse closed their investigation, saying its pathologist disagreed with Dr. Oyoke’s findings, in August 2007. Harmon filed claims with the city and county in September 2007. Both claims were denied. She filed suit six months later.
The lawsuit alleged negligence by the defendants’ failure to investigate Harmon’s allegations resulting in the "injuries so inflicted on the decedent" and her death in December 2004; intentional infliction of emotional distress; conspiracy to interfere with and reckless indifference to her civil rights by supposedly "conspired to not investigate the circumstances of the decedent’s death;" and wrongful death by forcing Harmon "to incur funds to ascertain the cause of death via an independent autopsy."
The lawsuit was originally filed in Fresno Superior Court in March 2008 and was transferred to local federal court shortly afterward by the defendants.
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Fresno is a hotbed brimming with a myriad of cultural arts expressions, but the city doesn’t quite know it yet. That will change if Cynthia Cooper and her colleagues have their way. Cynthia is Executive Director of a plucky organization with an impressive name and ambitious agenda, the Fresno Coalition of Arts, Science and History, endearingly known as FCASH. Her guiding inspiration comes from Helen Keller:
"No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to human spirit. One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is not safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing!"
That is how Cynthia takes on her job. FCASH is a diverse collection of cultural organizations, large and small, traditional and cutting-edge. Their goal is to raise the profile of the city’s cultural sector and put cultural participation and appreciation on the map in a big way. Step by step, FCASH is connecting people and organizations with one another to create a synergy that will enrich Fresno in ways both measurable and immeasurable.
Mural art brightens up the old Gottschalk’s building on the Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno.
Mural by the Visual Love Art Collective.
Anthropologists describe culture is the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. It is that broad definition of culture that FCASH and it’s allies are promoting. They consider culture arts to include not only the symphony or the opera, theater or concerts, visual expression or museums, but activities far beyond those walls. Writing poetry, taking pictures, folk dancing, downloading music, quilting, and culinary expression are also cultural arts.
A recent research study entitled Cultural Engagement in California’s Inland Regions commissioned by the James Irvine Foundation underscores this perspective. It looked at the many ways in which people participate culturally. This detailed census reveals a rich tapestry of cultural activities in the San Joaquin Valley, much of which takes place "off the radar" of the traditional cultural infrastructure. Cultural engagement may be based in a family setting, or rooted in celebrations of heritage, or in a church or a park. Research also indicates high levels of personal cultural participation and creative expression in our region. The study concludes that "cultural providers and funders should look deeper into the fabric of their communities for new partners, new settings and innovative approaches to drawing residents into cultural experiences".
With all this creativity and participation going on, the need for support at all levels of society comes into play. That support can come in a variety of ways. A key objective of the James Irvine Foundation with the study is to stimulate dialog among cultural arts providers, foundations, and public leadership about how best to support arts and culture in a diverse and changing community such as the San Joaquin Valley. The challenge for providers is in finding a variety of ways to engage more people, partnering with others for greater reach, motivating cultural role models for creative activities, and connecting with community leadership.
After the brainstorming and the strategies, actual work needs to be done. The study recommended specific programming approaches to increase cultural vitality that, if well supported, could lead to significant gains in cultural vitality across cultural groups in the San Joaquin Valley. These approaches call for organizations to help identify and stimulate the use of community venues such as public schools, parks, churches or retail stores; to promote transmission of cultural traditions, customs and values; to communicate in multiple languages to help a diversity of people find cultural resources; to help adults and children chronicle their lives and tell their stories; and to encourage and facilitate self-guided arts activities at home and provide low-cost musical instruments and low-cost instruction.
The good news is that some of these things are already starting to happen around here. That’s where FCASH comes in. Through conferences and monthly meetings FCASH brings together cultural arts groups and lets the chemistry happen. Out of this kind of cross-fertilization grows a richer collective energy through outreach and collaboration. The sharing of ideas and strategies helps arts groups to bond in common interest and mutual cooperation. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. And it is starting to pay off. Right now some 400 philanthropic organizations, including James Irvine, have their eyes on Fresno.
At their second annual Cultural Leadership Conference in October, FCASH emphasized "Vision plus Strategy" to local cultural leaders from the worlds of art, literature, education, film, photography, museums, music, dance, theater, media, history, science, business, politics and philanthropy. The overarching theme was how to implement the vision and strategy. In other words, working together to get things done. A glance at the conference workshops led by local experts reveals that hands-on approach: Audience Development Technologies, Marketing Tools for Artists, Arts Education, Arts Advocacy, Growing a Festival - Building Destinations and Driving Local Economies, Mural Visions and Strategies - How Murals Can Change Neighborhoods. Much emphasis was given to increasingly important role that 21st Century technology plays in promotion, sharing and networking. In Fresno cyber networking is already well developed and has palpable impact on the local cultural scene.
Last but not least, the bottom line message for local leaders is simply that culture good for the economy. FCASH helped to facilitate the gathering of the detailed economic data from 69 arts organizations that were among 6,080 local arts organizations surveyed nationwide. Americans for the Arts, which conducted the national study, is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America.
The local data reveals that Fresno County’s nonprofit arts industry generates $119,700,000 in economic activity annually, including:
2,725 full-time equivalent jobs
$61,300,000 in resident household income
$3,704,000 in local government tax revenues
$7,683,000 in state government tax revenues
Cynthia Cooper said, "The organization took a giant leap this year, requesting and receiving support from city and county entities and the Regional Foundation to conduct this overdue study. It definitely shows that Fresno County’s nonprofit cultural arts institutions both create jobs and economically impact the community in direct and indirect ways at a significant level compared with other areas nationwide. It also shows the cultural arts have so much more growth potential in impacting our community." FCASH Board Chair Ron Eichman put it this way, "Culture should lead the new vision for our community because cultural workers are not only the fun people, they’re the people who know how to do things."
This new cultural spirit was in full view at the recent reopening of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum after substantial renovation. The celebration was literally an outside-the-box production which lasted for 55 straight hours, day and night, all for free. The families and friends who mingled, ate and listened to music in the large new outdoor plaza were by any measure a true cross-section of Valley folks. It was apparent just from a few minutes of people-watching that people were having fun, and that they will come to a museum if they know about it and have an incentive. Likewise the schedule of events represented the awesome talent, diversity and richness of performing artists in Fresno. The museum exhibit was also a star attraction for everyone and similarly open all night. Who, after all, doesn’t like dinosaurs? Naturally the Met will not be having stage shows and free admission all the time, but this party had an open-arms attitude and they created an actual downtown open space and performing arts venue all rolled into one. That is an indicator of a bright future for local cultural arts, and a better quality of life for all.
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