Intro to V. 23: Right to Write

Right to Write CoverBy Jess Clarke

“Writing has given us the gift of healing, of being seen and taking risks, at a time when our voices must be amplified,” so says contributing editor Karina Muñiz-Pagán about the process of creating the book Mujeres Mágicas: Domestic Workers Right to Write. This issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment is dedicated to amplifying voices from across California’s dispossessed communities.

In addition to the stories and interview from the powerful women of Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), we are graced by multiple contributions from Kelly Curry, a fiercely independent food justice organizer from Oakland. We publish an excerpt from her memoir, Until the Streets of the Hood Flood with Green about her work bringing nutritious food to children in Oakland as well as a poem and vignette dedicated to our migrant compañeras.   (Both of these books were co-published by Reimagine! in collaboration with Freedom Voices Press and are available to premium donors as acknowledgment gifts.)

In another excerpt from a forthcoming book, long-time RP&E contributor Marcy Rein collaborates with Mickey Ellinger and Vicki Legion to tell the story of the successful 2012-2017 campaign to keep CCSF open, accredited and community-centered. Free City! The Fight for San Francisco’s City College and Education for All is due out from PM Press in Fall 2020.

“I want to create a story that can create a brighter reality that’s not oppressive; that’s against oppression,” says Sage Cain in our latest installment of I Am San Francisco, the wide-ranging collection oral histories produced by Jarrel Phillips. It too is being shaped into book form.

On a slightly different track, we close out this edition with excerpts from two interviews I conducted in collaboration with the California Environmental Justice Alliance on Central and Inland Valley residents choking in the pollution generated by Amazon’s ever-expanding warehouse operations. You can hear the full interviews on Radio Reimagine! our continuing podcast series,  

These long-form slow-media productions are a part of the in-depth reporting and immersive journalism practiced at Reimagine! You can receive printed copies of our contributing editors’ books when you become a premium level donor at Please join us.


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Shifting Power From the Inside Out

A conversation between Juana Flores and Maria de Lourdes (Lulu) Reboyoso of Mujeres Unidas y Activas and Ana Pérez and Emily Goldfarb from RoadMap Consulting.

The following conversation is an excerpt from a video produced by RoadMap Consulting and Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA). Since 2014 MUA has worked with consultants from RoadMap to design and implement a capacity-building program called Futuro Fuerte (A Strong Future). The program strengthens leadership professional development and internal practices so that MUA can become an organization successfully led by its Latina immigrant women members. Over the course of several years, 16 immigrant women members took on paid staff positions and occupied key decision-making roles in the organization. MUA’s process shows ways that movement organizations can tackle internalized racism and structural barriers to change. The results are documented in the RoadMap published report Shifting Power from the Inside Out.

Ana Perez: Why have you come to center leadership of the immigrant women in MUA?

Juana Flores: I believe three things. If a woman does not support herself to be sure of herself,  if a woman of the base is not developed to take an internal role in the organization, then the woman will not be prepared to have an external political role. When a woman form the grassroots is truly at the table her voice will be heard. It is the immigrant woman who has the experience. There is a need for the leadership to come from the bottom up, and not from the top down.

Ana Perez: Many organization in the movement have good membership numbers. They go out and recruit them and involve them and build leadership, but when it come to major decisions, the strategic positions, are not occupied by people from the base. You Know? People like me, educated in the United States, or white people, not the base, are brought in and take too much power, take the most important positions and control the strategic direction of the organization. Although it is in collaboration with the members, it is different. What we see at the national level is that those are the same people who are speaking for the immigrants, for the woman are from the membership and not for the women themselves.

Lulu Reboyoso: For an organization led by its base, it is really the women of the membership, of the base whose voices are heard in the organization in setting the direction for the organization. Moving the organization forward with their own voice, their own experiences, as Juanita said. They are valuable and that is something very important.

Ana could you tells us about a tool that you thought about when you started working with us? In Futuro Fuerte you said “This is what Mujeres Unidas y Activas needs”

Ana: Systems of power impact us on a personal level and they take away our trust and make us doubt ourselves. When I was able to share the tool of how to overcome internalized oppression, I gave a new language to all the women on staff who began as members and they were able to say, “Oh I’m clipping my own wings,” right? or “You are enabling me.” (Rescuing me in a dysfunctional way.) I think it helped to change the women’s narrative and it gave them strength. I feel that this too is what helped transform how they felt. Therefore they could have more confidence in themselves to be able to speak, to be able to disagree, to be able to say what they felt.

Lulu: What Futuro Fuerte can achieve and has achieved in organizations is a deep change from within, even if it hurts, right? Although that change can hurt us. Although this step hurts so much, it is a step that we have to take to cleanse and heal, to heal ourselves, at be a guide for other organizations as well.   

Emily: We identified that one has to be able to give and receive feedback. One tool is how to show up for courageous and difficult conversations. We had another one about guidelines and agreements for meetings to ensure that in each meeting everyone agrees, that in this space we are going to talk honestly. We are going to listen well

Lulu: They gave Erica and I the roles of Wellness Coordinators (Coordinara de Bienstar) We are sharing and keep refreshing these tools These tools are not going to be put in a folder and put away in a desk, but we continue engaging. We revisit them, each meeting, although it times it can be difficult, because we get so caught up in being busy all the time. It is a bit difficult at times to make the time to continue implementing and practicing these tools. A little bit about the tool “El Pozo” (hole or mud pit), what we learned is that everyone will feel badly when something goes wrong, right? So the first reaction as a human being is to start blaming ourselves, to start saying that we were to blame, or that someone else did this or that, and “That’s why I am here.” And then we begin to sink deeper in the mud pit, because we are already in that pozo. So what we have learned is how to get out of that pozo by asking, “Why am I here, Why am I feeling this way?”

Ask yourself questions. “How did I get here? And now, what things can I do to start getting out of here?” because it’s not good to feel that way. It does not feel nice to be there in the pozo.

Futuro Fuerte has not only been for professional development, to provide training for us to do a good job, Futuro Fuerte has and is creating a space for us to identify the ways in which we’ve internalized oppression and to change and transform that internalized oppression.

That grassroots Latina immigrant women are leading. And that we don’t just give her a title but that she really is fulfilling the responsibilities of the position. We have power, we have strength, our rights as women, as workers, as immigrants, as domestic workers, we have strength and we also have the strength to make the change. We have the courage to make the change.  Something that I really like that is happening in the organization is that not only the grassroots woman is taking leadership in being for example, a supervisor. She is not only supervising other women from the base. No right now, women who came from the membership are supervising women who are not from the membership base. By this I mean that Futuro Fuerte is transforming the organization. Futuro Fuerte is creating a program that other organizations must implement.

Ana: People of color are 10% of all the leaders of non-profit organization sin the movement. I come with a university education from here. I speak English. So for a woman like you Juanita, a woman from the base who is learning to speak English, you are very rare in the leadership of the movements of this country. In reality there are thousand and thousands of Juanitas in this country, because there are thousands and thousands of immigrant women who might be playing leadership roles but they do not, because of racism, xenophobia, or classism, right?

Because they have to be educated in the university to be the leaders of the organizations, many of the job descriptions include this. So what we are doing is limiting the potential of immigrant women from the base. Imagine if we had thousands of Juanitas what would the immigrant rights movement be like now? What new strategies might be emerging? We need to be very aware that if we do not have people from the base at the forefront then we are not achieving our mission. We are simply replicating the same systems of oppression.  Therefore, organizations such as Mujeres Unidas y Activas must receive the support of the entire system so that they con continue to develop the leaders we need at the head of our movements.

Really the capacity is there, but there is a lack of development, investment, conscientization. If we don’t have this, yes there can be internal local movements but we will not get where need to go at the state national and international levels where the women from the grassroots base can be the ones creating the vision, the strategy, making the decisions at the tables where this work is done. Not only in the immigrant rights movement, bout women’s rights, in the right to live free of violence, the right to our own bodies, the right to everything we have and have had taken from us. n

For more information visit: or Juana Flores is the Executive Director of MUA, Maria de Lourdes (Lulu) Reboyoso is the Grassroots Fundraising Coordinator of MUA. Emily Goldfarb is the former director of RoadMap and Ana Pérez is a RoadMap consultant.


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Mujeres Mágicas - Domestic Workers Right to Write

front cover mujeres magicasThis section contains excerpts from Mujeres Mágicas - Domestic Workers Right to Writeby Las Malcriadas

The book is edited and translated by Karina Muñiz-Pagán and Argelia Muñoz Larroa.


by Karina Muñiz-Pagán

I am a grandchild of immigrant domestic workers and a writer connected to la frontera, as if my ancestral umbilical cord is buried in the desert terrain of the U.S./Mexico border. I’ve spent the last several years excavating stories never told.

When my father was ten years old, he lived near in el barrio Val Verde, Texas. One day in 1947 he was playing stickball with his friends on a dirt road when the green border patrol trucks charged towards them. They scattered, praying la migra wouldn’t send them far away. Being born on the U.S. side of the border didn’t help. They ran past the evaporating traces of disappeared neighbors, family and friends. At that time, ten years had barely passed since the massive deportations of thousands of Mexicans and Chicanas/os, blamed for the U.S. Great Depression.

Today, migrants are scapegoated all over the world, and the U.S./Mexico border is ground zero for deadly and draconian policies. Stories of resilience and survival, such as the ones in this book, must be excavated with a newfound urgency.

As an immigrant rights activist, I first became familiar with Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) in 1999. I heard Clara Luz Navarro, co-founder of MUA, speak about their work at a training for domestic violence counselors. Clara Luz had a vibrancy that filled the room. She had short, dyed blond hair and a passion in her voice that made you fix your posture and listen attentively. She spoke of the dignity and power of Latina immigrant women, cleaning homes in San Francisco, taking care of children and the elderly, making all other work possible and building their own power.

What Clara Luz shared resonated with me. My maternal great-grandmother, Karin, was a domestic worker too. She migrated from Sweden to San Francisco and worked for 30 years for a family on Russian Hill. My paternal grandmother, Candelaria, migrated to the U.S. from México and was pulled out of primary school to work as a domestic worker, washing the clothes of others on the El Paso/Juarez border. With grandmothers from both sides of my family, having done the often invisible and invaluable work of home care, I was drawn to community work that honored the dignity and value of immigrant women and domestic workers of today, as well as their legacy.

MUA is a Latina immigrant and domestic worker rights base-building organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. I worked there as the Political Director while I was also a student at Mills College, pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. As a Community Engagement Fellow, Mills gave me the opportunity to teach creative writing and step outside our campaign work. This book includes writing from the participants in those workshops and reflects MUA’s accomplishment of their mission through art and literature. The MUA writers have also been at the forefront of preserving San Francisco as a sanctuary city. Together, we have fasted and engaged in civil disobedience. They’ve taught me what bravery looks like when they have risked their own safety to strengthen the #NotOneMore deportation campaign and led the domestic worker rights movement in the state of California.

In 2015 when this project began, my biggest fear was failing my compañeras. I wanted the class to be worth the sacrifices made to attend. For members who weren’t staff, attending class meant at times turning down a job. We didn’t have childcare the first year; participants had to arrange that as well. For MUA staff, the workload didn’t lessen; the 3-hour-a-week class plus homework was in addition to the responsibilities they held in each program.

We began the class with ceremony. I learned the power of this intention from workshops taught by Cherríe Moraga, a mentor instrumental in my life and in so many others. La maestra pushed us to bring our whole selves to the space and page. One of the compañeras, Sylvia, was from a danzante indigenous community in Oakland. She and her daughter began by recognizing we were on Ohlone land and guided us through the four directions, keeping the copal burning on the altar as we each set our intention for ourselves and collectively. This is how we would hold and push each other through the process.  

One main goal was for each participant to discover stories inside themselves they never knew existed. They were there, waiting in the ethers to come to life. I opened our first class, after ceremony, with Gloria Anzaldúa’s “Letter to Third World Women” in the anthology This Bridge Called my Back published in 1981 and co-edited by Cherríe Moraga. As a queer Xicana, the book, and the letter in particular, have had such an impact on me over the years. Anzaldúa’s words exposed me, broke open my heart and put it all back together, as if her voice said to me, “Ándale, mi’ja, you’re meant to do this. We’ve got you, now get to work.” I hoped her words could move others as much as they had transformed me. So we read out loud parts of her letter translated into Spanish and printed to take home to read in its entirety:

“Rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you...
I say mujer mágica, empty yourself. Shock yourself into new ways of perceiving the world, shock your readers into the same. Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don't let the pen banish you from yourself.”

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"...Mujer mágica, empty yourself. Shock yourself into new ways of perceiving the world, shock your readers into the same." —Gloria Anzaldúa


by Karina Muñiz-Pagán

The name of our writing group, Las Malcriadas, emerged from a story written during an exercise in class, and featured in this anthology. Malcriada often means bad-mannered, rebellious, and unladylike. In the story, the young girl questions why she has to do so many chores while her brother gets to play.

“¡Malcriada!” she was called and scolded by her aunt. We found commonality in that word, sitting around the table with our own resistance stories about how a woman is expected to act in our society and cultures. We decided to flip the script and embrace our rebellion.

The bravery of the writers shows up in the work you will read here, told in their own voices, rather than the stories so often written about them. At one of our public readings, just eight days after the 2016 presidential elections, our emcee, Maria “Chuy” Hernandez, opened the evening, saying, “Please do not hear our stories and see us as victims, as pobrecitas. What we share isn’t always easy and there is no denial our community is in crisis. But we want to be seen as our full selves: in our joy, our pain, and our resiliency.” Then she called for “solidarity with all communities that are hurting and vulnerable.”

Eighteen member-leaders participated in the creative writing courses held over two years. Not everyone has had access to formal education, and in the beginning, some who were not yet comfortable with writing dictated their stories, if that felt better, until they were ready to write on the page. The stories born out of the class are vulnerable, at times humorous, honest, and resilient. It takes guts to pull out a memory from under a childhood rock resting on soil you may never touch or see again.

From the writing exercises, three main themes arose: childhood, borders crossings (both physical and invisible), and life here in the U.S. This is how the book is divided and you will find several of the authors contributing to each theme. The stories that came out of life here in the U.S. also reflect the political education and organizing work we did as a base-building group.

In our leadership retreats and ongoing political education about domestic worker history and organizing, it has been crucial that we recognize how the legacy of slavery and racism lives on in U.S. labor laws against domestic workers; how labor rights exclusions today are a direct product of racism and sexism against a predominantly women-of-color workforce, with the continuous devaluation of work that women do in the home—both paid and unpaid. In our workshops we discussed the history of Black women domestic workers organizing in this country: of washerwomen, who organized in the South in the late 1800s, to domestic worker leaders, such as Dorothy Bolden, during the civil rights movement. When state violence against Black lives is rampant, and anti-immigrant racism becomes more and more entrenched, understanding this context and writing about it has been imperative.

We also focused in particular on what solidarity looks like with the Movement for Black Lives as a Latina immigrant rights organization. How can we confront and change deep-seated anti-Black racism in Latinx communities? In this anthology, you will see honest prose that grapples with this reality.

You will also find stories about creativity, buried for decades, because of a mother’s rage when she discovers her seven-year old daughter’s love of fiction-writing.

Or the nine-year old girl playing bus with her siblings under a cherry tree, her fare paid for with leaves as pesos. Everything changes when loss grips and divides the family, and she won’t hear from her siblings again until years later on Facebook. You’ll come to know the sound of mamá’s slippers during wartime blackouts, and prayers for papá to return home.

The writers explore given names, ones with inherited scars, that hold the memories of a grandmother whose dementia has tried to sweep them away like dust on a broom. And chosen names, proud and bold, declaring, “This is who I am.”

bell hooks writes about engaged pedagogy—when you ask your students to go to vulnerable places, you have to be willing to go there yourself. During the writers’ groups, I was asked to share a personal story of my own, a memory from childhood, which is also included.

There is prose that speaks of how the perilous journey to the U.S., filled with loss and extremities, is just the beginning of fear and uncertainty, yet the love of a son creates hope for a better tomorrow.

Other essays shine the light on living through the inequities of Oakland and San Francisco’s changing landscapes. Another essay grapples with how we are learning and building complex relationships across movements like disability justice, where leaders are also employers advocating for their rights, too, as a community.

You’ll find the story of a battle against sexual harassment in the Tijuana maquiladoras, won thanks to an unexpected encounter in the local market. And of warrior sisterhood needed in this movement, creating space for laughter and nurturing love, in the midst of the attacks on immigrant communities.

Writing has given us the gift of healing, of being seen and taking risks, at a time when our voices must be amplified. The writers have had to return to places filled with the gamut of emotions and bring them to life—to say here I am, and yes, some stories are rough, but don’t look at me with pity. See my power. This anthology reminds us of the imperative courage needed to write, speak, and as Edwidge Danticat says, “create art dangerously” against the erasure of our people, against the constant buzz asking us to normalize this moment, as our communities continue to be terrorized.

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My Barrio is Beautiful — Where I Live

by María de Jesus

Where I live, my barrio is beautiful, with a view of the bay and the city of San Francisco.
Where I live, we are a mix of communities: Latinx, African-American, and Samoan.

In my barrio, I always see a street sweeper. He reminds me of the block where I lived in Mexico, greeting me in the mornings.

My barrio, where I live, is one of the forgotten neighborhoods of San Francisco, one of the public housing projects. It’s hard to get pizza or UPS to make deliveries and, in some cases, taxis don’t show up either. The media fabricates a need to fear our barrio, embedded in an unjust system.

When I came to live in Potrero Hill thirteen years ago, I too was terrified by the stereotypes I carried with me of Black and Brown communities. I was afraid to walk around. I felt like they were going to assault me or hit me. I didn’t let my daughters play outside. I did not have the courage to look my neighbors in the eye. When the police arrived to patrol the neighborhood, I felt more secure. I thought they were there to take care of us.
After a few years, I pushed past the fear and I soon discovered that all those unfounded messages in my mind and heart were not real. I started by saying hello to my neighbors, not hiding my bag, going out and playing with my girls, getting to know the people who lived right next to me.

Where I live, we are a community and we protect each other. Now, my neighbors take care of my daughters and I take care of their kids. We share our meals.

Where I live, I feel a sense of security and community. Police, even helicopters, continue to arrive, continue to intimidate and isolate our community. Now, I know the police are not the solution. I learned that a united community makes a community safe. And that’s what makes the place where I live even more beautiful.


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Shifting Power from the Inside Out

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That Naughty Girl!

By Lulú Reboyoso

“Hey muchacha, go and serve your brother some hot food.”

“Why me? He can do it himself.”

“Look at you asking why! Why? Because you’re a girl.”

“No, tía. He has his hands. He can do it.”

“Listen, you little naughty girl, muchacha malcriada! Men are not made for the kitchen. Women are. This is our role. So go on. Instead of climbing trees and playing marbles or baseball, go and help your mom with the chores.”

“No, tía. Why don’t you tell my brother to go do that? We’re all the same.”

“What did I just say to you, naughty girl. A good woman knows how to cook, clean, sweep and sew. Sit down with her legs crossed and not speak. But you, you have bad manners!”

Well, this bad-mannered girl never listened to the advice of her tía. Not only did she refuse to do work based solely on her gender; she resisted the paternal authority of her father, talking back, defying a patriarchal family system, and this bad-mannered naughty girl got her share of slaps for it.

When I was older and I thought of my aunt and all the recommendations she gave me on how to be a good woman, I wondered—why? She had been a woman ahead of her time. She had challenged the establishment, defied patriarchal authority, defended herself against abuse, left her groom at the altar because she did not feel like marrying. She raised her child as a single mom. She was judged harshly, deemed a worthless woman, a bad woman because she lived her life as she wanted to live it, because she did not follow what was established.

Maybe she thought paving a new path, questioning, doing what she wanted to do was too hard, too lonely. Maybe she didn’t want me to be judged, singled-out, excluded for thinking for myself. But the seeds of being a Malcriada, a misbehaving, rebellious woman, had already been planted. And in these times, I am not alone. We Malcriadas are multiplying…

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t the seeds of being a Malcriada, a misbehaving, rebellious woman, had already been planted. And in these times, I am not alone. We Malcriadas are multiplying…" — Lulú Reboyoso

The Right to Write

by Neira Ortega

I often wonder why I write. I know I’m not alone; others ask why too. I try not to question whether or not I’m a good writer. I just know it started when I was a little girl and learned to read at five years old. My family was surprised, and my mom said the book, First Words, the one we used in our kindergarten class, taught me how to read.

I’m not sure if it was that book, or if it was because I spent so much time reading everything I saw around me—from the title covers of my dad’s records to the newspaper. My dad liked to read La Alarma, a magazine about police activity in Mexico, and I would read that too. I had an intense addiction to comic books, short stories, novels and any type of magazine. My mom had a small bread shop in the market which made it easy to find reading material. Without much access to books, I read whatever I could get my hands on.

Since I read so much, it occurred to me, why not try to write? I began to write short stories where I was the protagonist. Stories of a young girl rejecting her family—her alcoholic father and parents so busy with their bakery that they didn’t have time for their daughter. I wrote stories of a young girl who was adopted and sent to live in another country. This girl was very happy with her new family. I even invented the name of the city and exact street address. I was captivated by writing these stories; I escaped and was transported to another world for those brief moments.

A world where I was happy in another country, like the U.S. Where another language was spoken and machismo didn’t exist. Where mothers were free and didn’t get beaten. I imagined I lived in a big lovely house with a beautiful garden and that my parents were with me playing in this garden. I talked to myself, pretending to be on the phone with my grandmother telling her how happy I was in this big house. How my parents were happy with me and they didn’t fight. I wrote these stories with accompanying drawings and lots of colors.

I left my stories everywhere, I didn’t care who read them. Unfortunately, my mom didn’t like this. She said what I wrote could only come from a deranged mind and she thought I was crazy. I couldn’t process all of this at seven years old and I started to get scared. Still, I continued to write, even when my mom used to tear up all my writing in fits of rage. One day I felt so terrible. I thought I was bad and convinced myself I was only writing to embarrass and anger my mom. I promised myself I would never do it again.

I got along with only reading up until middle school when I started liking boys. I wrote poems of love and my friends made fun of me. I fought with one of them when they laughed at the passionate poem I had written:


You are my ignited passion

That fulfills my desires

You are discovered magic

That inspires my desires

You have arrived in my life

Filling my emptiness

You are a lit candle

Among my nights without brightness

My love, since we met

I realized I already loved you

Our encounter is the culmination

Of our past love


I laugh at this poem now, but back then I was angry, upset that my friends had pried into my intimacy, misinterpreting my simple poem. I think that’s why it’s so hard to read what I write in public today. It’s a challenge, difficult, but not impossible.

Now I think writing is a right. My will to tell my story is greater than the frustrations I feel about my writing. When we write, we transform our feelings into words. I remember the letter Gloria Anzaldúa wrote to women of color, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” in the book, This Bridge Called my Back: “I write because I’m scared of writing. But I’m more scared of not writing.”

These words have been engraved in my head. As a woman of color, Latina immigrant, feminist, activist, fighter for women’s rights, how could I not write? Like Anzaldúa said, “In that very act [of writing] lies our survival, because a woman who writes has power.”

In this patriarchal society, what more can we do than write, to give value to our voice, capture who we are on paper? It’s an imperative necessity for us to create consciousness in this society where we are always on the worst side of inequality.

I go back to the times of Sor Juana Inés, the 17th-century Mexican feminist, writer and philosopher, and the challenges she overcame to write. The right to write didn’t exist for women, especially a poor “illegitimate” one. It didn’t matter that she created famous phrases like, “Send me to the fire pit, make me a martyr, let all watch me burn for defending the right to think.”

A brave woman with an incredible strength and talent. Now, we have the right to write, to call out oppression and demand our rights as women. As Assata Shakur says, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Writing breaks these oppressive chains, a way to free ourselves, like when the bird sings to liberate herself from the cage, and as women we must support each other, accept and love one another.

Just like my little seven-year-old girl, who naively resisted being part of the family she was born into, writing stories of a better world for her. Now I can write and resist in a society where a woman of color suffers from oppression. I write to create a better world where we can all live in peace, with dignity, equity and love.

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"My will to tell my story is greater than the frustrations I feel about my writing." — Neira Ortega

We Watch Out — Where I Live

by Claudia Reyes

Where I live, we have to watch out for who knocks on our door. Where I live, it’s not safe to leave the door half open or unlocked. It’s not because we’re worried about the cold air coming in or the wind blowing in leaves or dust. Where I live, we have to keep our door locked with a chain because ICE might arrive and try to tear it down. Now, before we open the door we have to look carefully through the peephole or the window curtain to see who is knocking.

Now, where I live, we have to train the kids to not run outside or open the door. Where I live in this country, we don’t even know our neighbors well, much less now when we have an underlying fear they may be ICE informants.

Where I live, now we spend almost all of our time watching TV, seeing how dumbass 45 keeps fucking us over with his damn wall and deportation priorities.

But in the same place, where I live, there lives a woman warrior who fights back, fasts, walks 100 miles or more against deportations and the separation of families. Where I live, my mom also lives, and she is not afraid to open the door to her neighbor.

Where I live, on Sundays we don’t lock our door with a chain, because that’s when the family comes by to be together. Where I live, my mother talks with her grandchildren, telling them to not be afraid, because the government is afraid of us. My mother shows them how she is here Without Papers and Unafraid.

That is where I live.


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This Is a Poem for You

This is A Poem For You
by Kelly Curry

This is a poem for you
For your dreams 
the ones you gave to the stars 
in the night a long, long time ago

For the sweet breeze
that comes on the hottest day and relieves you when you thought it would be a day without relief 

This is for your Love that will be pure 
forever and ever 
no matter who or what conspires to pollute it 

For the cool, sweet strawberry in your mouth when your throat is parched, hot and dry 

These are words of love strung together, side by side, like a song sent down on particles of stardust trillions of years ago that have mingled in the cosmos to become sunlight and 
land on your skin today 

the sweat on your brow a kiss from the galaxies in between 

This is a poem For the prayers you pray while you 
are stirring your coffee 
or waiting on your ride
or watching your children play
Or wondering whether the rain will come behind the assembling clouds and claps of thunder 

This poem is for all the little things you do to keep shit together that nobody knows about...but you

this poem wants to soothe you when worries rattle you from sleep 

to remind you to rest in faith’s bosom so your angels can prove to you...again...that they never left you 

This is for the elegant beat of a heart that rises and falls inside a body that gives life to a Soul full of love and passion, healing sorrows and organizing  victory through a delicate but intense collaboration of your dreams and your hands and your mind to mold and shape a world safe and sound for everyone’s babies including your enemy’s

For your sisters who didn’t make it and for the ones who did...then broke your heart cuz they changed on you 

for my mother who left ahead of me to prepare a heaven and gives me glimpses of it here on Earth and shows me that it is in your heart in your hope in your your you.

This poem is for you


Este es un Poema Para Ti

por Kelly Curry  

Este es un poema para ti
Para tus sueños
los que le diste a las estrellas
en la noche hace mucho, mucho tiempo  

Para la dulce brisa 
que llega en el día más caliente y
te alivia cuando pensabas que sería un día sin alivio 

Es para tu Amor que será
por siempre y para siempre
no importa quién o qué conspire para contaminarlo 

Para la fresca y dulce fresa en
tu boca cuando tu garganta está
sedienta, cálida y seca 

Estas son palabras de amor entretejidas, lado a lado, como una canción
enviada en partículas de polvo de estrellas hace millones y millones de años que se han mezclado en el cosmos para convertirse en luz solar y
aterriza hoy en tu piel
el sudor en tu frente
y en medio, un beso de las galaxias


Este es un poema Para las oraciones que rezas mientras
estás revolviendo tu café
o esperando un aventón  
o viendo a tus hijos jugar
O preguntándote si la lluvia vendrá
detrás de ese ensamble de nubes
y el estruendo de los truenos. 

Este poema es para todas las pequeñas cosas
que haces para mantener toda esa mierda junta de la que nadie sabe ... solo tú
este poema quiere calmarte
cuando las preocupaciones te agitan y te quitan el sueño
para recordarte que descanses en el seno de la fé
así tus ángeles puedan demostrarte ...
una vez más ... que nunca te dejaron 

Es para el elegante latido de un
corazón que se eleva y se cae dentro de un cuerpo que le da vida a un alma llena de amor y pasión, curando las penas
y organizando la victoria a través de una delicada pero intensa colaboración de
tus sueños y tus manos y
tu mente para moldear y dar forma a un mundo sano y salvo para los bebés de todos, incluidos los de tu enemigo

Para tus hermanas que no lo lograron
y para las que sí ... y luego
te rompieron el corazón porque cambiaron contigo
para mi madre que partió antes que yo
a preparar un cielo y darme un
vistazos de él acá en la Tierra
mostrándome que está en tu corazón en
tu esperanza en tu amor ... en tus sueños ... en ti. 

Este poema es para ti

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Reimagine! Movements Making Media

Until the Streets of the Hood Flood with Green

By Kelly Curry

This is an excerpt from the book Until the Streets of the Hood Flood with Green co-published by Reimainge! and Freedom Voices.

My father was Horatio Alger… or at least the kind of character made famous by the Horatio Alger, the 19th century writer who chronicled through his fiction the archetype of the poor boy who works his way up from very little to achieve great riches, respect and love from the community. When my dad was a kid, America was still a place where this could happen. America was a place where the ethos and consciousness of many of its citizens understood and valued equal participation.

Born in 1946 in Raymar Alabama, my father was the son of bona fide country beauty. Mama Baby, as she was known, was the daughter of African and Blackfoot Native American folk who sharecropped the land at Pine Level, a tiny, rural community a stone’s throw from Montgomery. They worked, lived, ate and breathed country life, country air and had simple down-home ways.

After a brief tryst with a handsome, married, middle class businessman from the neighboring town, once she found herself in the family way, Baby was promptly abandoned to deal with the situation on her own.

So though he would carry the Curry name, my father’s rearing, his loving, his spiritual development and common sense understanding of the world around him, would come from his mother’s people, the Guice clan. When my father was old enough for his mother to realize that he was “different” or “special”, as I’ve heard it called, it was with a broken heart  and a head held high with hope that she left him temporarily to go find work in Detroit, Michigan. Her intention was to sow the seeds of a life that held the promise of more opportunity than the meager existence she could eek out of Jim Crow, on the red clay of Alabama. She wanted to organize an environment where a boy like her son, Charles Henry, could be well educated and reap fully the benefits of what seemed to his family and community to be a sharp, gifted mind.

Like many young, single mothers, through her focused determination and hard work, she blazed a pathway for my father’s education and a future for him that would exceed anything she could ever dream of for herself.

While she was in Detroit, my father was left in the care of his grandparents, Mama Deah and Daddy Morgan. During the days he ran with his older cousins. One afternoon his destiny unfolded when on a short visit back home, Mama Baby put some money in the hands of my dad’s eldest girl cousin. “Ya’ll go on down to the store and get some candy n’ things. Make sure Charles Henry get some too.”

I imagine that my grandmother’s strategy was born of the idea that providing candy money for all of the kids, would mean that her own love, her only child at the time, who she missed terribly and was working diligently to be reunited with once things came together in Detroit, well he would definitely get some.

As fate would have it, things didn’t quite come together the way Mama Baby had planned. Instead of happily buying the candy and sharing with my father, his cousin bought the candy and passed some around to every one of the kids except my father. When he protested a squabble broke out and little Charles Henry was pushed and rolled down into a ditch.

While the other children continued on down the road back to the farm, eating, drinking and enjoying the fruits of his mother’s labor, their voices became distant echoes and my father was left to contemplate his lot.

He shared this story with me and I’ll share it with you in his own words.

“Lying in the ditch, crying over the fact that my cousins all had more stuff than I.

We’d just left the store and they had Igey Mikes and drinks and maybe even some candy. I got to drink a sip from them, if one of them felt like sharing. I had to ask them and they had the power to say no and often did. I cried in that ditch and said “one of these day I won’t have to ask nobody for nothin’. And then I proceeded to live my life intentionally with a plan to get to that point where I wouldn’t ever have to again.”

My father was probably four year old when all of this happened. And with the clarity and zeal we often experience when we are deeply wounded by the ones we love and trust, my father used his wound and his pact of to never have to ask nobody for nothin’ as rocket fuel to catapult himself from that ditch, to the highest ranking member of any and every school he attended. Charles Henry, who became Chuck or Charles once he moved to Chicago, had so much athletic, social and academic success by the time he graduated from college that he was courted by Oxford University to join the coveted Rhodes Scholarship program and also had invitations from the University of Chicago and Northwestern to complete his graduate education.

He chose Northwestern, where he completed his Masters in accounting and finance. When I asked him why he chose not to follow the path of Rhodes Scholarship (which must have been a thrilling opportunity for this child from the red dust of rural Alabama) he related this.

“Your mother and I had a son and you were on the way. I’d been so impressed with the impact of not having my father in my life or being raised by him, that there was no way I could even consider studying abroad and leaving my little family such a long distance. I wasn’t ever going to go live anywhere that I couldn’t take you all.”

Running into li’l homie on 7th and Peralta made me think a lot about my father, the circumstances of his life, the players and agents that supported his opportunities, as well as my country. The United States of America.

Like many of us who get so caught up in the story of our day to day, I probably never would have thought about many of  the facts of my own lineage the choices and decisions of my mother, my father, my grandmother going to Detroit back in the 50’s… or the world that supported these choices… the USA attitude back in those days that said “if there was a will there was a way” and that it would be a waste, no matter what color or how impoverished, for a mind like my father’s to go to waste…he must have every opportunity to thrive and organize his energy into the great miracle of a healthy successful, positive life…raise a family if he wanted to and participate fully as a healthy, contributing member of society and the world.

That afternoon on 7th and Peralta and meeting that bright, beautiful boy…li’l homie, made me deal with the fact that that time had come and gone.  Somewhere, somehow, something had gone terribly, terribly wrong.

My father chose to pursue a career in marketing and advertising. I guess because it was competitive and interesting enough, while still being super stable and potentially lucrative. In the seventies, while we lived in Chicago and he worked at Proctor and Gamble, my father would come home every night and we’d have dinner at a large dining room table my mother’d procured from an antique shop and brought home to accommodate me and my brother’s school buddies.

Back in those days, our classmates were from parts of the world where the US government was making mischief, doing the things that tear up communities, families and homes, entire countries, under the name of “freedom and American ideals.” Some were from Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, others from Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, and other occupied zones.

Like a lot of kids do after school we gathered to do home work. Since our mom was one of the only mom’s who didn’t work and was cool with them chillin’, our place was the spot. Our friends would end up staying for board games and at some point my mom would get a request from one or all of us about them staying for dinner. Mom was ahead of us, she’d already talked to their moms .

The night would culminate with all of us eating together as a family at that table.

Those were great times.

It was at that table, on a street called Belle Plaine, where I heard the stories of an American community, South Chicago, all bundled up in a neat package as seen by my mom and dad—young parents, two kids really, who had been childhood sweethearts—who grew up during a time when folks  believed that anybody could achieve anything in this country, as long as they rolled up their, sleeves, worked hard and stayed late. The only way you couldn’t make it in America, is if you were lazy. Of course Black folks and people of color had to work harder to make it, but you could still make it.

To me, that was America.

And it seemed, at least to me, from mom and dad’s stories, because people had come from so many places to enjoy a better world and here we were, enjoying that better world, it seemed to me, that America was a place that would continue to feel that way. Continue to feel that everyone deserved an opportunity and that everyone in this country felt that way. After all, there was so much movement in the 50s, 60s and 70s. People like my grandmother were migrating every day from one part of the US to the other, knowing that where they were going held one thing they could count on, hope. There was an agreement that America would become more inclusive, more prosperous, more egalitarian—at least it seemed that way.

So there we were at that table, the motley lot of us and we’d all listen as my parents transported us back to their world, Post-World War II, Baby Boom Chicago. It was a living, breathing, mystical moment where for a time, America was beautiful and proud and hopeful and strong. Not because of its army or its stupid meddling wars, but because of the people who agreed that this place would be better. My parents would share the most beautiful, funny and uplifting tales, the way they did with anyone who visited their home, especially at the dinner table, especially about the neighborhood they grew up in.

South Chicago was a small multi-ethnic enclave that ran along Lake Michigan towards the end of Illinois and bumped up against the Indiana State Line. It was a bustling, thriving and upwardly mobile community that stood in the long shadows of the Chicago Steel Mill.

“You had everybody,” my mother would say. “The Greeks, German folks, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Hungarian, and of course our folks were pouring in everyday because of the lynchings Down South. And there were all kinds of food. On one side mama owned a BBQ restaurant and bar, and on the other you had Frank’s tacos. We all lived there together and everybody got along. You had the rail lines, the steel mill, the port. You never had to leave unless you wanted to because anything you needed was right there. It was like we existed in our own world. You were every neighbor’s child, you didn’t talk back to grown people and you had respect. I mean, we had a neighborhood drunk who would fall down in the street, I mean pass out DRUNK with a capital D and somebody, a neighbor or one of the guys comin’ home late from work at the mill, would cover him up so he wouldn't get sick. We weren’t even really a part of the rest of Chicago. We were South Chicago. It was beautiful.”

One of these nights, long after we’d finished eating, my mother shared with us the story of a sunny afternoon where she and her little girlfriends were playing on her porch. An elder neighbor, who’d been enjoying watching them play with their dolls, jump hopscotch and skip rope, called my mother over and asked her to sit down next to her.

 “I have something to tell you.”

She told my mother about a man, who came to her city and made sure that everyone of her family was taken away, including her.

They came and put us on the trains and we walked. They put us in long was cold, everyone slept in the same area, there was so little many got many died. Then she rolled up her sleeve and showed me a tattoo of numbers, permanently inked into her skin. This was a very bad man and this is what he did to me.” 

The man’s name was Hitler. That was how I learned about the genocide of the Jewish people during World War II. My mother’s neighbor had survived the camps and had come to the US to start a new life.

I met my own life lessons at this table as well.  I’ll never forget prepping the condiments for mom’s delicious tacos, with the recipe she got from Frank’s Taco Stand. It’s a combination of chorizo and ground beef. Nowadays it can also be made with vegetarian ingredients, just as delicious. Anyway, it was my job that night to prep the lettuce, tomato, onions and cheese with my dad. Everything was goin’ good until I pulled the lettuce out of the fridge. It was soft. I knew that if the lettuce was soft then I was gonna be dispatched to “run to the store”...CHE...across the street.

CHE was short for CHECKER. Story was the painter had run out of red paint so instead of CHECKER, it was known as CHE, so was the owner.

My mother and her favorite command “Run across the street right quick to CHE,” was looming someplace in my not too distant future. I didn’t wanna put on my shoes and coat and go to CHE’s. So I decided to do it my way. I would wing it. Winging it meant hustling the lettuce to the faucet past my dad so he didn’t see it AND rinse it so well that a miracle would occur and I’d bring the lettuce back to life. If I couldn’t bring the lettuce back to life with the ice-cold-winter-Chicago-tap-water, I’d have to employ some magical thinking and hope no one noticed the wilted, melting lettuce on the platter of otherwise hearty, robust vegetables and cheeses.

When the resurrection did not occur, undaunted, I put the lettuce on the platter and started sliding the knife through green layers of wilt. My father who’d been watching me organize this nonsense the whole time, unbeknownst to me, finally took pity on me and stopped the show. The kitchen rumbled with the boom of his voice, Moses-like, from the other side of the room “Kelly, what are you doing? That lettuce is gone.”

What followed was a verbal chain link of “B...b..b..but I,’s just...umm...ya’ know…” I was busted and embarrassed. Not only was I caught,  but I’d let my dad down and I was probably still gonna have to go to the store. My father took my hands in his and pulled my embarrassed chin up to meet his eyes.

 “I want you always to remember that whenever you put food in front of someone to eat, that it must be wholesome, these aren’t ornaments, the food we serve is for the nourishment of their Body and Soul.

I can’t remember whether I had to bear the elements and march off “right quick” to CHE’s, but I never forgot my dad’s words. I realize now that Belle Plain Avenue and that fabulously large table of my mother’s was where I received 90% of my spiritual development as a kid.

It was around that time that my dad shared with us his first experience making money, picking cotton in the fields of a neighboring farm back in the country, at Pine Level.

“I was the first one on the truck. Wasn’t even daylight. Soon as we got to the farm, I was off and running, so excited to make some money, make my contribution. I worked all through the day, never took a break, picked more cotton than any of the boys, or men for that matter and when it came time for work to end, I stood there with all my bushels, I was so proud because I had more than anyone, so naturally I assumed I would get more or at least as much. So I waited as he made his way down the line and I saw him pulling out dollars to pay the other men, everyone got a dollar or two, when it came to be my turn he looked down at me and reached down into his pocket, when he pulled a coin out, I knew it must have been a special coin, but when I saw it... I looked at it twice because I thought that my eyes deceived me.

It was a dime. 

I was five and I spent alot of time trying to figure out why, if I’d worked just as hard...harder... why I didn’t get paid just as much, I’d done just as much...more.”

I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face which expressed the disharmony of the experience and this new feeling I had in my belly that my father had been hurt as a young boy.  That he’d been hurt and exploited. That he’d been betrayed by the adults in his life, all of them—the neighboring farm owner and the other men from his family who didn’t stand up for him. It was the first time I felt that way, but it wouldn’t be the last. It made me so sad and angry and for the first time I felt true helplessness. Something in me wanted to be the person that went back in time and protected him.

In my world, every adult in my life was looking to protect me, not exploit me or trick me or steal my energy. It was through these stories that I realized how unlike my life was compared to the two people who had brought me into the world and what a complex place America was. There were parts of their stories that I loved. Trust me, I would have traded anything to be a part of that world they lived in as kids.  But things like that farm story or like my mom’s mother having mistreated her or the other things... It seemed to me as a kid hearing these stories, it was my belief that we were moving towards a world where there would be more protection for children and community.

Not less.

The safety around me said so, the safety of my community said so. And the fact that we were living in my parents vortex of positivity and baby boom abundance said so.

In 1979, everything in my life attested to it.

And I think that somehow, so many years later, when I ran into little homie on the corner of Peralta and 7th, the same corner that Marcus Garvey organized on in the 30’s and the Black Panthers organized on in the 60’s and 70’s, I think all the lessons and the stories that I’d heard at that table, and my own my little buddies... kids whose families were taking refuge here from all over the world whose moms were struggling to make ends my grandmother my Pop could make something of his life... something about those stories, that training that I received at that table... all the love, our laughter... what I believed America was… and what it certainly was not... made me make a promise to li’l homie that had its roots in justice, common sense and love.

About a year or so after we moved to Belle Plaine, Ronald Reagan was elected to the highest office in the land. He announced on TV one afternoon that ketchup was a vegetable.

So was relish.

So was mustard.

Relish and ketchup and mustard would replace the vegetables that the American government had promised public school breakfast and lunch programs when the Black Panthers shamed them into feeding children school lunches and breakfasts just a few years earlier.

My mother shook her head and sighed, “Lord have mercy. I’ll just be damned...”

That was when another America started to take shape for me. One where every night, on television, from the nightly news and Mork and Mindy, people who looked like me, my brother, my friends were profiled as criminals, lazy, lawbreakers and losers.

The steady stream of propaganda coached anyone who would listen on the terrors of “inner cities,” “Black Crime,” “black-on-black crime” and the evils of somebody called “The Welfare Queen.” She lived in Chicago, cheated the system, bought Cadillacs and Mercedes with her welfare checks and had more and more children at the expense of hardworking taxpayers. Anyone with any sense should resent her because she was lazy, liked to lay up and have babies, so she could collect more welfare... so she could drive her Mercedes to the market and buy steak and lobster for her “welfare babies.”

This was the nightly news—American media—shaping the opinions and thoughts of one citizen against the other, building fear and sowing the seeds of discord, weaponizing race and class when less than twenty years years prior, Dr. King had shared his dream of folks coming closer together.

The federally funded “bootstrap” programs in our Chicago neighborhoods that had sent folks back to school and gave people a second chance at participating if they were high school dropouts or had had struggles with drugs or otherwise peripheralizing circumstances were cut and replaced with, get this, nothing.

People were left out in the cold and the energy in the country not-so-slowly started to change. Reagan would come on TV and say things like, “We are going to take things back to the good old days,” and my mother would get that same tone in her voice that she had when the ketchup as a vegetable thing happened and she'd look at me and say, “You know what he’s talkin’ bout baby don’t you? The good ol’ days?”

When I didn't answer, she’d school me. “He's talkin’ about Jim Crow. He's talking about slavery. Lord have mercy.” This seemed outlandish to me, but he had said that ketchup was a vegetable and I knew that was nonsense. So maybe mom had a point...but slavery? Jim Crow? How could they do that? Jim Crow was when my father, a child laborer had received a dime for before sun-up to sun-down labor. I couldn’t picture me or my brother doing that, or my mom and dad  or Michael Jackson or James Earl Jones on an auction block.

 Could my mother be right, could they put us back in chains and find a way to pay us nothing for our work?

Could you even make kids work?

Not in America...

The beat continued and the nightly news was doing plenty of reporting about how aimless and lazy Black Americans were and if we could just stop being so paranoid in thinking that there were “conspiracies” working against us that we would truly be able to join the American middle class and things would get better for us.

The mood at our dinner table started to change too. I started hearing words like “propaganda” and we would discuss, especially my parents and their friends, “look how ignorant they make us look on TV these days,” and “Why do they always choose the most ignorant Black person in the crowd to comment whenever something happens?”

After Reagan had taken office there were alot of changes in the community too.  A depression of spirit hit.

Very quickly, communities and cities in our country that had been organizing and fighting for equity and human rights were flooded with crack cocaine and a gap, a large void began to take shape that created gulfs as big as the Great Lakes that would further disconnect Black folks from white, middle class from poor, and everyone else from everyone else.

That other America, the one where you could roll up your sleeves and work hard and make something of your life, even if you were poor, the one where folks could safely care about one another was receding and the one where folks were being seduced by one of the richest opiate—fear—loomed.

And the poor, they were pariahs, to be discarded, couldn’t be trusted.

They were poor because they were wastes of time and energy and belonged at the bottom.

The poor were poor because they were lazy losers and deserved to be poor.

The America of my parents dreams, the beautiful, idyllic stories of their Baby Boom community seemed further and further behind us, as distant and unrealistic as the promise of a job with a great future with US Steel, which slowly downsized until it announced its closing in 1992.

I didn’t know it back in those days, as a kid sitting at that table, but all of these things were forming and coloring and shaping and shading the outlines of the world and circumstances of a little boy who would  appear on my horizon... and that I would meet thirty plus years later on a street corner in West Oakland.

Somehow,I would enter, the intolerably bleak void that he stood in, called out from and dwelled within and meeting him would change the world for me. It would be that gleam in his eyes, the sound of his voice, his laughter and the fact that my heritage and teachings and ancestral traditions told me that even though we’d only met once, that he was my brother, my cousin, my nephew... my son....

I’d see all too clearly how Reagan’s promise and my mother’s fears had come true.  He said “We are going to take things back to where they used to be.” They made good on that one..

That boy, that child, was mine... he belonged to me and every other American that had been convinced of his worthlessness. The programming and propaganda of the nightly news and America's original, shameful wounds of land theft and enslavement of the African had slowly and methodically coerced Americans into a solid hatred and fear of poverty and Blackness.

Once and for all... obliterating any sense that this place would be different... that this place would be better.

As my father shared with us at our dinner table, from his training at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, “All you have to do to make something the  truth is repeat it over and over and over and over again. One day, people wake up believing it is true and that it has always been true..”


That’s what commercials are. That’s what advertising does. Program us.

Smoking is sexy.

Indians are red.

Drink Cow’s Milk for Calcium

Coca Cola is good for you.

Trust a man in a white coat.

Beware the Welfare Queen.

Beware Black youth.

By the time I run into li’l homie on 7th and Peralta, Reagan's peeps are reaping the dividends on their promise to “take things back to the good old days.” and I see what I could not have imagined when I was eleven and my mother pronounced the outcomes... Jim Crow... Slavery.

Neo-slavery would not be a public auction  block in the public square. It would happen behind God’s back and manifest through an elaborately tight weave of manufactured consent on behalf of Americans who forgot all about Martin Luther King’s vision of equal economic participation for all races. His poor people’s campaign had been flipped to the war on the poor launched by Reagan and his boys.


The tools:

  1. A completely chemicalized, weaponized food system that makes people sick, disorients them and dumbs them down.
  2. School systems that organize youth into despair, despiritualization, and hopelessness.
  3. Corporate sponsored, locally run correctional facilities and police forces who  act as herders for youth into local justice systems as first step to a life of free labor behind the bars of state and federal prisons. Neo slavery.
  4. An American populous that through corporate control, media, advertising, and materialism is being herded and does not have time or resources to unravel the truths of the manipulation and the reasons for it all: control of energy and resources in order for a few folks to control most of the wealth and resources in the land.

In 1974 Gil Scott Heron released his prophetic Winter In America.

It took us a while. But Gil knew that we’d make it. Now here we are. 44 years later, we are living it. Our children stand within the void and Horatio Alger is long gone.



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"Healing our bodies, returning to natural patterns of sleeping and eating and being in community and with the earth.., may be the first steps towards sustainability and balance."

I Am San Francisco: Black Past and Presence

Jarrel Phillips at IAMSF, San Francisco State University c.2017 Richard Lomibao/ Golden Gate Xpress)

By Gabriel Agurcia
Source: Golden Gate Xpress

“When we say black, what does that mean?”

Phillips chose his favorite quotes from all the conversations and scattered them across the gallery’s long, curved wall. The gold lettering stood out against the black background, with gold dust resembling nebulas and galaxies strewn around the quotes.

Phillips said he got the idea for this layout from his Christian upbringing. He said although he no longer has any religious affiliation, he’s fond of the ideology of a heaven-like realm being the birthplace of everything around us. He likened it to Creationism, with his chosen quotes sparking new ideas and discussions, the way god’s words created the world.

“The idea of space,” Phillips said. “Where from that infinite nothingness, everything becomes.”

Phillips also got a musical performance for the opening reception of the exhibit. Edward Jackson, a member of Urban Funk Machine and longtime favorite of Phillips’, performed a tap dance routine to Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” and showcased his iPad and Intel-driven music production technology. He said he was interested in being part of Phillips’ creation almost immediately.

“I said to myself, ‘That young man is so heavy,’” Jackson said upon his first conversation with Phillips. “What we talked about had to do with god, art, the ancestors. I want to pay homage to Jarrel, because I normally don’t come out [for events]. But this has been such an honor and privilege to support the community here.”

Phillips mentioned that a young girl who had originally agreed to participate in the exhibit later declined, stating that she couldn’t think of anything positive to say about being black. Phillips said he fully understands what “Black Lives Matter” means, but he knows that there are some people who simply don’t, which could even be a black child.

“How do we magnify that significance that is there but sometimes overlooked?” Phillips said. “How are you mindful of just saying, ‘There are no black people.’ Say that to the black person at this exhibition who needs to see black people. It’s important that we create the narratives as much as the narratives create us.”


Editor's Note: I Am San Francisco: Black Past & Presence (IAMSF) explores social and cultural values and concerns through the depth and diversity prevalent within Black life and culture in San Francisco. From past to present, IAMSF honors Black existence, voice and insight that transcend, both, time and place.

This project captures the depth, beauty, complexities, and abundance prevalent within ‘Black life,’—culturally, communally, and individually—through the personal reflections of its contributors.

Premiering at City College of San Francisco in April 2016 – November 2016, then at SF State University in 2017, it is the second installment of two multi-media art exhibitions themed “I Am San Francisco.” It will unfold with a short film, a print version, and a culminating event, a collaboration between Reimagine! — a grassroots cooperative of writers, editors, artists and designers based in Oakland and AVE. AVE is dedicated to youth and community by integrating meaningful experiences through play, work, art and learning.

I Am San Francisco for Reimagine! RP&E
Lead Artist Jarrel Phillips (AVE Founder), with collaborating artists Kheven LaGrone, and Christine Joy Ferrer and Jess Clarke from Reimagine!

This interview and the excerpts that follow are portions of an on-going project called I Am San Francisco: Black Past & Presence (IAMSF). Created and curated by Jarrel Phillips, IAMSF was presented as an art exhibition at City College of San Francisco’s Rosenberg Library. The purpose of IAMSF is to recognize the depth, beauty, complexity and abundance prevalent within ‘Black Life’ in San Francisco—culturally, communally and individually.

The stories we tell showcase what humanity’s all about because we are a part of humanity.
—Thomas Simpson, AfroSolo Theater Company, Founder and Artistic Director

IAMSF was first featured at City College of San Francisco in 2016 and is an ongoing project in collaboration with Kheven LaGrone and Reimagine! RP&E, the national journal for social and environmental justice.

Featured Artists/Storytellers:
Dr. Amos C. Brown; Ahmad Jones; Aliyah Dunn-Salhuddin; Alma Robinson; Dr. Andrew Jolivette; Emory Douglas; Sophie Maxwell; Dr. Joseph Marshall; Thea Matthews; Virginia Jourdan; Kali O’ray; Stewart Shaw; Blanche Brown; Bongo Sidibe; Ras K’dee; Carol Tatum; Edward Jackson; Isiah Ball; Joanna Haigood; Maya Rogers; Liz Jackson-Simpson; Marco Senghor; Megan Dickey; Sydney “Sage” Cain; Sabrina Lawrence; Dr. Toye Moses, Theo Ellington; Thomas Simpson; Wanda Holland-Greene; Jacqueline Francis; Wanda Sabir; William Rhodes; Michael Ross; Rhiannon MacFayden; Devorah Major; Gregory Harden; Virginia Marshall; Xavier “Chavi Lopez” Schmidt; Tania Santiago; Samoel “Urubu Malandro” Domingos; Halima Marshall; Careem Conley; Mohammed Bilal; Kristine Mays; Michole “Micholiano” Forks; Katherine Connell; Mark Harris; Assata Conley; Francine Shakir; Jamila Turalba-Khalil; Malik Turalba-Khalil; Seneca Jackson; Ruby Jasmine; Madison Moody; Kairi Hand; Zylah Coleman; Vievon Coleman; Diyari Vander Linden; Zade Vander Linden; Asha Romesburg; Kheven LaGrone

Lead Exhibition Graphic Designer, Christine Joy Ferrer

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"It’s important that we create the narratives as much as the narratives create us.”-- Jarrel Philips

Dr. Andrew Jolivette

All these limited ways that we define identity are what’s causing us so many problems. When we stop having a “white” everybody can have a cultural identity and heritage. Then we can have some real conversations. Until we do it is always going to be: white is the norm and everything else is abnormal.

Black presence means that we don’t have to ask permission to be visible. It also means that we see each other. Like when you see another black person and you nod your head or say something. It’s recognition. It’s how we say, “I see you. You’re present. You’re here. We’re not alone.”

I think about the black presence here in San Francisco and it can’t be all numbers. It has to be qualitative, not quantitative. It has to be about how black people are represented, understood and respected by each other and by those outside of black spaces and black community. There needs to be more black spaces. How do we create those? How do we find each other? How do we say, “What’s up?” when we don’t even see each other sometimes.

It’s been interesting seeing how much the city has changed. It’s become more and more gentrified. But not even gentrified— segregated. I think people don’t know each other anymore. When I was growing up I knew my neighbors. I don’t think people know who their neighbors are.

We have to remember that there is a history of intergroup organizing that’s always existed among different communities. Where there’s been tension, there’s also been a lot of unity and working together. San Francisco has really produced some of the most radical changes that we’ve seen in our society in modern times. How many firsts has San Francisco accomplished in terms of political mobilization or organizing? So I think this city still remains a place where we can produce radical change. The question is: will we do it bringing everyone along for the ride or will we displace so many people that it will no longer be that place of radical transformation but a new place of neoliberal bullshit?”

Dr. Andrew Jolivette
Chair of American Indian Studies, SF State

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Bongo Sidibe

 Bongo Sidibe

If I were the Mayor of San Francisco, I would charge tech companies and corporations to build community places where kids can come and be exposed to art. I love Loco Bloco, because Loco Bloco is a good organization that is focused on kids from the Mission to Bayview-Hunters Point. A lot of the organizations I’ve worked with don’t even reach those neighborhoods. Those kids need it, too. That’s not how it should be.

Lots of people always say they want to have a community center but they don’t really know what a community is. In my Matoto community everybody knows me. I know everybody from the oldest to the youngest. I know each family and everybody’s name. We always greet each other and visit each other. You come to my house. I go to your house. We’re good friends who help and support each other. You see everybody every day. We don’t need to set up meetings because everyone talks to each other all the time. You see people from your community everywhere. That’s what we call community back home. You have to be a part of a community.

I am an artists and a drummer. An artist is a messenger, someone with positive ideas and solutions who can inspire people in the community. Djembe Bara is the original name of the drum I play. Djembe means “together,” and Bara means, “circle.” The two together, what do you call that? Unity.

With my art, I bring people together and when they see me on the stage it inspires. I build the community. Here in the US you live with people of so many different ethnicities, each celebrating their own culture. Artists are the ambassadors of these cultures. As a Guinean artist, I am an ambassador of African culture. I want to see all the Africans come together. And I’m not just talking about the black people. We really need to get together, even if you’re not black. 

Bongo Sidibe
Vocalist and Percussionist
Originally from Conakry Guinea


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Carol Tatum

Carol Tatum

African Americans have always been fighting for something in San Francisco. There was a student-led strike at San Francisco State University (SF State) [in 1968]. Black Students and a coalition of other student groups led the strike to expose the racism found on campus and demanded increased student of color representation.

[The Black Student Union, Third World Liberation Front, select staff and faculty, and members from the larger Bay Area community, organized and lead a series of actions against systematic discrimination. The five-month even was the longest campus strike in US history.]

This laid the groundwork that led to the establishment of the College of Ethnic Studies at SF State. They began raising awareness around the issue of Ethnic Studies because they wanted to learn about themselves. The strike was

multicultural. Everybody got in it. Whites, Asian, Native American, and Latino people all got in it.

We needed those folks. There have always been people whose interests were in the right place. There were even white people in the founding days of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). So, do we need each other? Yes, we need each other because as soon as they finish with one group they get on to the next group, and the fight is the same. None of us need to do the fight alone. We lead the fight and then others join later.

I represent being a part of the solution and working towards improving the quality of life for all people, but particularly improving the quality of life for African Americans in San Francisco. To those who still live here: We need to love our Creator, and then we need to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s hard to do because you have to separate your neighbor’s behavior from the person. And in order to love somebody else you have to love yourself, so we have to constantly look in the mirror. What am I doing and what can I do to make our city better?

Carol Tatum
Community Leader and Activist


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Francine Shakir

Although they talk about the diversity of San Francisco and it being a progressive place, it’s hard for black children. You either send your kids off to school somewhere else or you have them stick it out to try and fit the mold of being a smart black kid in San Francisco where they’re either going to make it or break it. Figuring out where my kids should go to school was probably the most difficult thing I had to do and I’m not sure I made all the right choices, but I did my best.

My siblings and I were the first black children to integrate into a public school in our San Francisco neighborhood. We weren’t bused in. My parents were fortunate enough to buy a house in that neighborhood and it was long after Brown v. Board of Education that this particular school decided to bring black students in. We faced hell, being the only black children in that school.

Two years later, they started to bus in kids from Bayview-Hunters Point. I went through a real transformation during my time there. I had to find a way to feel okay about myself being so different and also find a way to help others feel okay about me. My siblings and I don’t talk that much about how we suffered as individuals, but I know I suffered. I didn’t even have my first black teacher until sixth grade but when I did I wanted to follow her all over the world.

My daughter now has three children with her husband and is living in San Francisco. They have two boys and a daughter, and she’s constantly at that school trying to figure out what needs to happen in regards to her kids, these teachers, and the on-going racial issues. I said, “I told you. If you’re going to have children, you need to be ready.” You have to know what schools they’re going to go to. You need to prepare for that because it’s going to be one of the most difficult challenges in your life. I don’t think she listened, but I’m helping her out as best I can.

Black children need to be grounded in their own culture. They will be stronger if they’re really grounded in who they are as African people. Make sure they know they wear a crown, the responsibility that comes with wearing it, and that they should not allow anyone to take away that crown or the light they carry within them. Lastly tell them that they must honor who they are and persevere.

Francine Shakir
Founder and Executive Director of the Ascend Institute for Educational Change
Culture and Arts Director of the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center, SF State


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Gregory Harden

Time never looks back. Time goes forward. So to see how we got here today, you have to look back. They tell us, “You have no past. You have no accomplishments. You didn’t contribute.” Our history is faded but it is still here.

Someone once told me that the beauty of a tree is what you see and the strength of that tree is what you don’t see. Every place in America where there are black people, are untold stories of how we have made a difference. It is not just history it’s our story. We came here at the beginning. We’re part of all of this and we will continue to be a part of all of this. Our places are solid.

I remember while working at the shipyard, to keep people removed from the process of leadership they’d hoard the knowledge. When I started, I would hear the old guys, the old black men in particular, talk about how their white counterparts would hold the blueprints to the ships. They would tell the black people, “Go get this. Go get that.” And while we were gone, they’d look at the blueprints. It was as if they had all of this knowledge, but really, all they had were blueprints. It takes me back to brother James Brown, “I don’t need nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door. I’ll get it myself.”

I think the lack of communication is one of the things that has held us back. The words we say echo. When I worked at the San Francisco shipyard as a young man, the old guys used to always say to me, “Young man, just keep getting up in the morning and you’ll be amazed at how far you can go. Keep pushing, keep struggling, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t, when you can. You have the self-confidence to go forward.” I’ll never forget that.

We’re all here as a result of them old folks and they’re here as a result of the old folks that came before them. It’s amazing when you think of life’s process. My dad and mom created me. My grandfather and grandmother on my dad’s side created him. You start going back and back and the connection and the stories are just really amazing. All of the folks in this struggle of life, who brought us to where we are now—those unnamed people—thinking of them is what moves and shakes me.

Gregory Harden
Musician, Youth Worker, Audiopharmacy Producer & Seventh Native American Generation


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Isiah Ball

I didn’t even think about race when I was younger. There were black, brown, Asian and then like one white person in our school. It wasn’t until like high school when I noticed segregation. A lot of the separation was grouping based on cliques and popularity but it does often fall back to what you look like and what is relatable to you.

I don’t keep count, but I definitely have black friends. I have friends of Chinese descent, Japanese descent, Salvadorian, and Irish. I don’t pick my friends based off race. Do you pick friends off race? I think racist people do that. I base the relationship on how we communicate and how we hang out. If you’re a black person who mostly hangs out with black people because there’s a huge African American community where you live, where you work, and where you hang out then of course that’s what happens. That’s different. That’s how it was for a lot of people.

I think that the higher educated you get the more you realize people that don’t look like you aren’t as scary and not everybody that looks like you wants to relate to you. You might have to branch out and get out of your comfort zone. Our city has been changing. San Francisco, as we know it, is becoming less and less diverse. There are more black people outside of San Francisco than in the heart of the 7x7 San Francisco city where there’s not many at all. I definitely see a lot of Asians and I still see a lot of Latinos in their same neighborhoods, but the black community is definitely lacking in the city. A lot of the people I grew up around are not here.

Isiah Ball
Standup Comedian and Writer

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Kali O’ Ray

We have left no legacy behind in the Fillmore. I’m telling you that in 10 to 15 years the only way you’re going to know that this part of San Francisco used to be black is by looking at the bricks, or by the tour guides on buses that tell you, “This used to be the great jazz district.” But this area was the Chitlin’ Circuit. When black people in the United States decided to settle in California, they either came to Los Angeles or to San Francisco’s Fillmore district...and I mean everybody. We were thriving and now we’re not even on the map anymore. What’s left for us here? Look at the state of Fillmore now. We lost it all, and it’s happening everywhere. It always happens in the same format. The first projects in the United States of America were in Atlanta called Bowen Homes. When they closed it down, they told the people, “We’re going to rebuild this really nice place. It’s going to be brand new and you can come back.” But by the time they rebuilt it, they also pulled out the red tape. And people couldn’t afford to move back. This dispersed us even more. Now we are so scattered and have had to assimilate so much that we are just everywhere. Not that that is all bad. We do need to assimilate some, but it’s cost us.

Now, I’m talking about economics. More of us need to become entrepreneurs and build businesses to establish a legacy where you don’t have to depend on somebody else to give you a job. We’re just giving our money to anybody and it’s hard to grow like that when we live in a capitalist society. Whether you like it or not, you need to have money and you need it in order to participate. We need to start investing in ourselves. We’re going to always create music. We’re going to always start the hottest trends. We have that part down. And now, it’s the time to start setting up structures and setting up businesses.

We must plan to leave something behind for the kids that are coming up and make sure they learn about themselves. As a parent, you have to make a black child feel good about being a black child because so much of the world is telling them that they’re nothing and that there’s not much of a future for them. You can’t expect school to fill the voids.

If you look at the news, it’s always negative and this is how the world looks at us. Even if you start picking out black role models, you’ll notice that a lot of them are entertainers. So we make sure our kids are playing some kind of sport because we think that as a black man you got to be an entertainer to make big money. That is not true. Stop pushing them into football. If they’re good, they’re good, but they can also start a business. Yes, we’re always going to entertain. It’s in our blood, but dig deeper for the next generation. I would like to see us change focus. Tell the youth to go create something. No, creating something is not easy. Either way you’re going to struggle so you might as well struggle for four or five years building something that will be yours. You can start with something simple, like teaching kids how to use a camera. That’s what I do. The San Francisco Black Film Festival is the thing that keeps me going. We really need it badly. People need to see these stories, these positive roles that we do play as opposed to the stereotypical negative Hollywood versions. To most of the nation, even to the world, San Francisco still means something. The Black Film Festival allows the world to see us in a different light than what’s normally portrayed.

Kali O’ Ray
Executive Director of the San Francisco Black Film Festival


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Liz Jackson-Simpson

Beatniks, hippies, the Summer of Love—all kinds of culture, all kinds of drugs, all kinds of sex, all kinds of love—we saw all kinds of stuff. It was a very formidable time in the history of San Francisco and in our culture because it was also the Civil Rights era. So in addition to having all the hippies and the Bohemians, we also had the Black Panthers and the Black Arts Movement. In such a very revolutionary period, everybody was vying for freedom and their place and space in society and culture.

I’ve traveled to a lot of places around the world and I can still say that San Francisco is my home. It’s because of the diversity and the culture that’s present. It’s a place where people can be heard and things happen differently, even though we do have our own set of politics as well.

Folks here are being pushed out of the city due to increases in the costs of living. I’m not sure that we’re doing everything we can to mitigate that outmigration. It is especially apparent within the African American community.

The African American community has made great contributions to San Francisco, however we are constantly reminded that it is not ours. For whatever reason, there’s no sense of permanency here. We constantly have to figure out how to navigate through society. Externally and internally, we have had to assimilate and integrate through various forms

and communities. It’s quite a skill knowing how to straddle these fences just to navigate. The best of us know how to do it really well. It’s more of a safety and survival mechanism. These are the skills and traits I try to pass on to my children and to the young people we serve in order to better navigate our city.

Having grown up in the Haight-Ashbury and now living in the Bayview, I was blessed with having a plethora of friends, experiences and flavors in my community. It helped me learn to navigate through diverse environments and I’m grateful for that. That’s the way the world should be because we’re not meant to live alone. We need to look to one another for support and resources. We must continue to support, nurture and educate one another.

Liz Jackson-Simpson
Executive Director of the Success Center San Francisco


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Marco Senghor

Marco Senghor

America is known as the big melting pot and San Francisco is like a smaller version of America. I learned about the melting pot in my schooling in France, but when I arrived here I felt like it was not true. When I got here I thought, “Whoa, it’s stratification.” There were just different segments of people: black, white, Asian, and everybody seemed to be separated by race.

When I first arrived in San Francisco they asked me to fill out this form and it asked me, “What is your race?” I didn’t know what to put on the paper because I had never been asked that in my life. There were all these different characters to choose, and I thought

to myself, “Which one am I going to pick?” because I’m mixed. I turned around feeling embarrassed and a little stupid because I had to ask the flight attendant. “Excuse me, what should I put here?” She responded, “Of course, black.” “Oh,” I said. “All right.” I thought, “Maybe she didn’t understand my English.” So I ask the lady next to me. “Can I ask you a question? My mom is white and my dad is black so what do I put?” She looked at me and said, “Of course you put black.”

I called my parents and told them I had arrived in the United States and explained what had happened. My dad said “Well it is you in America. Don’t worry.” My mom said, “Did you tell them I’m white?” I said, “They told me to put black so I put black. That’s it.” They already categorized me. I was forced to choose. That was my first experience coming here. It seemed like even my name was less important than my race. I had already been categorized to fit within this system of race. With time I began realizing that there’s social discrimination in this country.

I’ve been to many countries. In my travels, I have learned about so many different systems in the world like democracy, capitalism, communism, anarchism, and so on. But in a village, I really believe in the fundamental value that exists... to love one another and share with one another. It’s an extension of your family.

Marco Senghor
Ownder of Bissap Baobab


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Maya Rogers

We need to create a better environment and give kids stronger chances to be awesome in life. We want them to be good people, succeed in society and have the opportunities to do well and not struggle in the ways that we have struggled.

Right now, one of the big trends in the city is everyone acting independent of one another. People use to be more interdependent, where you knew you could depend on your neighbor if you needed. Another huge thing is police violence against people. Police shootings are a huge thing nationwide. In our community here in the Bayview, there’s a large part of activism centered around respecting people’s civil rights and just not shooting or killing people. It sounds very simple but it’s a more systemic situation.

A huge piece of what I teach my daughter is about differences and knowing that you’re blessed even if you don’t live in a multi-million dollar house. You’re blessed to be here. You’re blessed to be able to have food to eat and a roof over your head. Another part is self-love, which doesn’t mean dislike of others. I love everyone, including myself and I want my daughter to love everyone, including herself. If you don’t love you, you can’t love anyone else in a real, genuine way. My daughter and I talk about things like homelessness, because those are very real things that she comes in contact with every day. I don’t ever want her to ignore these societal issues no matter what her position in life becomes.

Maya Rogers
Community Advocate and Social Worker


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Ras K’Dee

It’s important to understand where you live. There is indigenous culture from where you are. If you live in San Francisco, learn about the Ohlone people. They are the true natives of this land. Learn about their traditions and their culture. Learn about what this used to look like before it became covered with concrete. Think about that when you’re walking down the concrete street. This used to be a rich marshland, a bird paradise where millions of birds used to flock. San Francisco has a lot of history. We have rich histories. If we look at the indigenous communities that lived here and still live here, we could learn some of the ways in which they maintained their survival for hundreds of years.

Don’t let them tell you that humans and the earth are separate. We’re all connected to the stars. Even scientists are telling us that we come from stardust. The earth was made from stardust. We’re a reflection of what’s happening celestially in the universe. In Native American culture I was taught that a meteor landed between two mountains. In that meteor was our DNA in the form of a spider, and the spider came and wove everything that we see in her web. That’s what it is. We are all connected. That’s the truth. Go out with your friends, stand on the hill and move around, and you’ll see the stars shift. I’ve done it with youth. Whatever we do in the world is reflected in the heavens. So what we do and say right now has power. We are the power.
I feel really blessed to be born into this legacy of black brilliance that across the board is one of the most appreciated in the arts, whether it comes down to visual arts, with Michel Basquiat, or music, with soul, funk, blues, reggae and hip-hop. Those are black arts. That’s black brilliance and black love being perpetuated into the universe. Those art forms are going to be listened to 36,000 years from now. That makes us immortal. So we are immortal through our art, our love, and through our conversations.

Ras K’Dee
Musician, Youth Worker, Audiopharmacy Producer & Seventh Native American Generation

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Rhiannon Evans MacFayden

I identify as being mixed or black. I have a lot of Welsh in my family and I feel very connected to Wales and their history and stories. I also have this huge connection to Africa, but Africa’s a big continent. with many countries and many languages. Being from Egypt, is very different than being from Nigeria or South Africa. One of my favorite words that I wish we still used is “Afro-American.” It feels more authentic because points to the flavor, history and more ancient connections. It’s the seasoning of who I am.

To me “Black” is about what you look like and has a lot more to do with how other people treat you, whereas “African American” is safer for other people to say. I don’t usually use the word African American for myself.
“Black” is more comfortable to me. But the phrase “the black experience” drives me crazy... the idea that there’s one black experience. There is no one black experience. Most people define it as something they saw on TV but when I’m talking about being black, I’m talking about my experience, which is why sometimes I’m not black. Sometimes I’m in a place and I really genuinely feel mixed. Other times I’m in a room and I’m black." n

Rhiannon Evans MacFayden
Curator and Project-Based Artist

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Sage Cain

I always knew that drawing was going to be my road to self-discovery and self- understanding. Drawing ancestors and creating all these entities has me working on a deeper level. It comes so natural to me. It’s like having a conversation with myself. I think that’s why art is so healing.

I think art can definitely heal community. When I was younger, seeing art that was a reflection of me made me feel good. I wanted to do that too. I want to create a story that can create a brighter reality that’s not oppressive; that’s against oppression. When I see art in communities that you can tell is removed from the community, you can tell its soul is lost. It’s not healing. I call it art gentrification and that’s creating something that just doesn’t fit or help the community. Instead, it perpetuates whatever issue was already there.

We look around for reflections of ourselves. But if we don’t find it and we don’t see it, we need to look for it within ourselves. Where else better to start than with our ancestry? Your parents are included in that. They’re the two that created you.

It’s important to reach back and learn about yourself. I believe in things getting passed down to us ancestrally, through our DNA and memory. I believe our stories are passed down through our actions. The things we go through are always intertwined and related to our ancestry. Sometimes we don’t know why but we end up doing things that reflect the generational trauma and behaviors that comes up for healing. Sometimes we have to relive that story to work that out within ourselves.

I do have a story to tell. My story is part of a whole story that includes an endless amount of people. Thank you for allowing me to share my story, helping me realize that my story matters, and allowing others to share theirs. It’s warming anytime you’re invited somewhere... to be included and know someone else is interested in your voice and your presence. I ask that everyone look at their own story. Explore where you come from, where you are at, where you are going, and maybe where you need to be. Whatever you do comes from the soil to which your feet are planted and comes through the soles of your feet. How we walk is how we give reverence to our story. So, where do you want to go — spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally? We can go there.

Sydney “Sage” Cain
Graphite Visual Artist and Muralist


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Tania Santiago

“Art brings so much to the community. San Francisco with no art would be like a place with no heart. Dance is important for me. It keeps me alive. It makes me strong as a black person, because it’s not easy to be a black person in this world. So dance for me is everything. I dance with my ancestors. They’re with me through everything in my life.

It’s because of our ancestors that we are here. We always have to remember who we are, where we came from, and why we have so much. Black people we are brothers and sisters. Your ancestors are my ancestors. Although I’m from Brazil and you’re from the United States, Haiti, or Cuba, we still feel and experience the same thing that our ancestors experienced. The racism still happens. I want to see us come together and support each other.

I’m a little sad about “community” in the United States. I don’t think it exists. I’ve lived in the same place for 13 years, and I don’t even know my neighbor. That is not a community. We need to recreate our community here. I have to create my own community. That is what I do inside my dance classes. Cultural arts are important because it brings people together and helps people understand one another.

In my classes we come together to dance, travel and help each other. But I really want to see us even more together. We are too separate. I want to see more black people happier and smiling. We need that here.
I don’t think another color could be so strong. It is a strong force. It is beauty. It is art. The color black absorbs a lot of energy. We as black people absorb a lot of energy. We absorb good energy. I am a black person, dancer and a fighter. Being black is everything to me. We are our hearts."

Tania Santiago
Afro-Brazilian Dance Teacher, Choreographer and Massage Therapist
Originally from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Virginia Jourdan

I had a conversation with someone about the gentrification that’s taking place in San Francisco. They talked about gentrification being a good thing if it’s development is controlled and spearheaded by the community instead of when it’s used to displace a majority of the people. I thought that was an interesting point and it made me think about it. It seems cyclical though.

In the past we’ve had the same situation. A lot of white people were living in the suburbs while the blacks were living in the city. And now the whites are moving back to the city and the blacks are moving back to the suburbs. I wouldn’t be surprised if later in the future the reverse interchanges again, where the whites are moving back to the suburbs and the blacks are moving back to the city.

Virginia Jourdan
Artist and Painter, Member of the 3.9 Art Collective


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Virginia Marshall

Everybody wants to give and everyone wants to belong. We just have to teach it.

Traditionally, the teacher was the role model, the person who was looked up to. They were often the most respected and educated person in the neighborhood. If you needed some help with a paper you’d say, “Let’s go to Mrs. Jones because Mrs. Jones knows how to do this.”

But we don’t have the teachers living in the community as we once did. Urban renewal wiped out our beloved community. We had it, but we lost it. Everybody needs a home. Many of our young professionals move out because they can’t afford to live in San Francisco. They spend hours driving in and out the city every day from places like Antioch, Pittsburg, Pinole and Hercules

Our students have experiences that students on the other side of town don’t have... they just see it on TV. They think it’s not real, but it is. When you have a whole cluster of sixth graders, many of which have social needs and academic needs, what do you do? Teachers in our communities are more then just principals, teachers, and afterschool supervisors. This is what we do:

We help students and their parents access all the services they need. We make sure the kids get scholarships. We take the kids on college tours. If someone gets sick, we make sure they get the medical care they need. If someone is shot, we go to the funeral and support the family of the child who gets buried. Sometimes our kids make mistakes and get arrested. So we go to the Youth Guidance Center. Our day is not 8 to 3. Our day is pretty much 24/7. We help students accomplish whatever they need to get done so they can become productive citizens.

Our goal is simple: it’s to make education the number one priority in our community. Every school should be a great school. Why is that? We’re teaching future leaders. Who’s going to take care of us? We got to think about that. Who’s going to run the country? Who’s going to run this city? When I get sick I want a great doctor not a good doctor. So we need to make sure that every school has the resources they need. A school can’t have all brand new teachers. It needs to have some experienced teachers too.

Virginia Marshall
Vice President of the San Francisco Alliance of Black Education


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Reimagine! Movements Making Media

Image Gallery Volume 23- I Am San Francisco

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Reimagine! Movements Making Media

Amazon Delivers Low-Paying Jobs and Dirty Air to California

By Jess Clarke

Bloomington residents and environmental advocates gather outside the San Bernardino County Government Center in February 2018 to protest warehouse development plans. ©2018 Anthony Victoria

Amazon, long known for its low pay and bad labor practices at the company’s fulfillment centers, is starting to feel some heat. One of the largest trade unions in the United Kingdom, GMB, is staging ongoing protests, the SEIU has launched a “Warehouse Workers Stand Up” campaign in New Jersey and Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced the Stop BEZOS Act. The legislation would recapture the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars provided by the US Treasury for health coverage, food stamps and other government payments to Amazon workers.

But Amazon is also wreaking havoc on the environment, and its delivery vehicles are generating untold amounts of greenhouse gases, ozone and particulate matter. California environmental advocates are taking on this challenge to protect the air quality in communities living with these warehouses in their backyards.

The US alone has more than 124 million square feet of fulfillment centers already built and another 41 million square feet in the planning stages, according to logistics industry trade publication MWPVL. Amazon is expanding its footprint at the expense of communities already overburdened by pollution and traffic of the dirty diesel trucks that move goods to and from the centers. From New Jersey to California, Amazon warehouses are remaking the physical environment.

US locations of Amazon’s current fulfillment centers ©2018 Google Courtesy of

As the real estate boom in California drives gentrification and displacement to even more remote suburbs, communities on the periphery that are already burdened by toxic landfills and pesticide-driven agriculture are battling a new source of poisoned air and water: warehouse distribution centers.

California is home to 18 of Amazon’s huge distribution complexes. The newest is the 855,000-square-foot facility in Fresno, a town located about halfway between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. One of the top three, coming at over 1.1 million-square-feet, is a facility built in San Bernardino County in 2016, directly east of Los Angeles.

The stakes are high for California’s once-rural suburbs. Life expectancy in West Fresno is more than 20 years lower than in the unpolluted East Side neighborhoods. The Inland Empire, which includes San Bernardino, has some of the worst ozone pollution in the country, according to the American Lung Association, and it has worsened over the last two years. Things have gotten so bad that Southern California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District voted in May to regulate warehouses as indirect sources of pollution because of the truck and locomotive traffic they attract.

Leo Macias ©2018 Leadership CounselTwo California residents — Leo Macias and Dania De Ramon — both say they have experienced firsthand the impact of Amazon’s expanding footprint. Macias, who has owned a home in Fresno since 1967, describes the high rates of cancer he has observed on his street. De Ramon, a high school student in San Bernardino County, describes the widespread respiratory problems afflicting her classmates.

“Two of my family members have developed cancer, I have cancer, asthma and a lot of other respiratory problems,” said Macias. “My neighbors right next door to me passed away due to cancer, and another two neighbors on the other side. Yeah, this is very hard for us because we’re dealing with a lot of [contamination] in the air, in the water, in the soil, everything.”

De Ramon feels similarly frustrated. “We live in a toxic cycle where we depend on a supply and logistics industry that does little to curb its emissions and exploits folks in low-income communities for low pay. Most of us don’t even realize the harmful impacts on our health. I grew up believing that asthma was normal because I had so many classmates who had it,” De Ramon said.

Ashley Werner, senior attorney with Fresno-based Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability echoes these concerns. “It’s worth noting that this Fresno neighborhood has been identified under CalEnviroScreen as the most pollution-burdened census tract in California. That’s because, in addition to the new facilities the city is permitting, this area also has several hazardous waste sites, a landfill … and farming that uses hazardous pesticides.”

Macias has been working with the Leadership Counsel to fight locally against a huge expansion of warehouses for unknown new tenants, now planned at over 2 million square feet, but he says, “They want to build with no input from the community. When we talked to the city council, they ignored us and laughed at us.”

Macias and Leadership Counsel decided to take their fight to the Sacramento Legislature and are pushing AB 2447, a bill currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. AB 2447 would give communities advance notice of developers’ plans to build or expand industrial facilities in environmentally burdened communities.

“In the past year and a half, the City of Fresno has approved millions of square feet of industrial warehouse space across the street from my neighborhood and near our local elementary school,” said Macias in testimony on AB 2447 in Sacramento. “We were never told about these projects while the city was planning them, and now the dust from construction is choking us and triggering our asthma.”

Allen Hernandez, executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, based in Southern California’s Inland Empire region, has also called on Governor Brown to take action. “The trucks that travel to and from warehouses contribute dangerous air emissions which causes more traffic congestion and that means more air and noise pollution near our homes and schools.”

The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice is leading the fight against a new warehouse that would be built 70 feet away from a residential community and less than a tenth of a mile from a high school in the small town of Bloomington in San Bernardino County.

“The residents of Bloomington demand transportation justice for their health. California must re-shape our land-use planning to promote investments without displacement and move away from a culture that relies on fossil fuels.” said Hernandez.

Dania De Ramon ©2018 CCAEJ

For De Ramon, air quality isn’t the only impact. “When I was younger, my mother would work two jobs to financially support us,” he said. “Many times her work was in warehouses — where some days she would work up to 16 hours. There was a period of time in my childhood where I would see my mother only for a couple hours a day because she was constantly working to get the two of us by.”

The California Environmental Justice Alliance, a statewide environmental group, is supporting AB 2447 and also calling for much broader change.

“AB 2447 is a crucial first step to addressing long-standing pollution in many low-income neighborhoods and communities of color by creating ‘Green Zones’ — places where community-led visions and solutions are transforming toxic hot spots into healthy neighborhoods,” says Tiffany Eng, Green Zones program manager for the alliance.

The California Environmental Justice Alliance has also released a new report, “Green Zones Across California,” detailing community-led transformations in nine regions of the state. In addition the organization has set up a petition calling for statewide support to encourage Governor Brown to sign the bill.

And of course, all the groups have been turning out their members for the many demonstrations and actions being organized in response to Governor Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit that begins September 12 in San Francisco. The kick-off march Rise for Climate Jobs and Justice drew tens of thousands to the streets of SF and to protests across the US. Educational sessions at multiple locations and direct action at the summit itself are planned for the rest of the week.


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Amazon is wreaking havoc on the environment, and its delivery vehicles are generating untold amounts of greenhouse gases, ozone and particulate matter.

Fresno Residents Choking on Amazon’s Dust Demand Rights

Leo Macias ©2018 Leadership CounselAn  interview by Jess Clarke with Leo Martinez Macias and Ashley Werner

As the online retail market continues to expand, massive warehouse and distribution facilities are being plopped down in communities already overburdened by hazardous wastes, industrial and agricultural pollution. In Fresno California the city council recently permitted three million square feet of construction in what the California EPA measures as the most environmentally burdened census tract in California. Neighbors weren’t notified about the project until construction had already begun. Jess Clarke sat down with a local resident, and an attorney advocate who have been battling this new pollution source in their community.

Jess Clarke: First off, it’d be great if you could introduce yourself and just tell me a little bit about how you came to be in Fresno and what it’s been like living there all these decades.

Leo Martinez Macias: Sure. My name is Leo Martinez Macias, and I originally came to Fresno in 1960. I purchased a home there in 1967 on 1443 East Central Avenue, trying to live out on the country where I'd like to raise my family in a safe, rural environment because I'm used to living out in the country.

But over the years all varieties of industrial plants and hazardous waste facilities sprung up, bringing toxic air pollution, constant truck traffic, and contaminating our water. We were never consulted or asked before these facilities appeared and started to impact our quality of life.  Now, our community ranks in the 100th percentile for pollution burden according to the California EPA.

So we are already in in a tough situation. Recently, all of a sudden, all this construction started going up on Central Avenue and Cedar Avenue and all around the community. There were several different big factories going up and very little input from the community. There was no way of knowing what it was all about. The city did not actually want to communicate with us to let us know what was going to happen with all this construction.  One big concern is they’ve taken all water supply by building big wells for all the new construction. Our wells are going dry, ours is on the brink of going dry and we’ve got no water or sewer connection.

Clarke: If you want to share this,  can you give us a little sense of what the stakes are for people who are exposed to these toxins?

Macias:  Yes, it’s very concerning. I’ve seen a lot of it my family. Two of my family members have developed cancer, I have cancer, asthma and a lot of other respiratory problems. My neighbors right next door to me passed away due to cancer, and another two neighbors on the other side. Yeah, this is very hard for us because we’re dealing with a lot of [contamination] in the air, in the water, in the soil, everything.

Now the dust from construction is choking us and triggering our asthma. We are told that more than thousands of trucks will pass by our homes everyday. But we have not yet heard what will be done to protect air quality, or ensure that kids can walk and bike safely.

Clarke: Ashley, I imagine you have some background on that.

Ashley Werner:  Yes. It’s worth noting that this neighborhood has been identified under CalEnviroScreen as the most pollution burdened census tract in California. That’s because, in addition to the new facilities the city is permitting, this area also has several hazardous waste sites, a landfill...and farming that uses hazardous pesticides. So there’s a whole range of facilities that are really impacting them and then contributing to these poor health outcomes that Leo and his family and his neighbors are experiencing.

Clarke: Worst in California. That's a tough honor to bear.

Werner: It is. It’s just kind of amazing to me how that's such a significant fact, and yet it doesn’t really carry weight in Fresno. That's an example of why we can’t afford to just leave it to the locals if they’re not going to do anything. We really need the state to step and say, you know, we’ve developed a tool, CalEnviroScreen, to identify communities being overburdened. Now, we need to take the next step to make sure that they’re allowed to be engaged in these processes that are creating these outcomes of disproportionate burdens.

Clarke: So they don't give you any notice, and they don't tell you what they’re building? And they don't want to hear about it when you do find out? That's the basic sense of it.

Macias: They made applications with no restrictions on the warehouses. They want to build with no input from the community. When we talked to the city council. They ignored us and laughed at us. They didn’t seem to care about the community. We weren’t able to communicate with him. When we do find out they basically ignore us and keep on constructing whatever they want.”

When we had a meeting and we asked about them building a four-lane on Central Avenue they said they didn’t have the money to do so. Just a lot of little things that were showing that they were not interested in caring about the area.

Like I said, they didn’t facilitate any bike paths or anything like that for commuters to ride along the paths if they wanted to go to work on bikes or widen the streets. So that made that area a lot more congested with traffic and everything, and, like I said, not allow for walkways, bike paths, or anything like that.

Clarke: So what you’re asking for, in terms of getting some new legislation on the state level…want to sum that up in your own words in terms of what kind of notice you feel your community should be receiving?

Macias:  Well, I am really impressed with the AB-2447 legislation to make sure that people get notice and are aware of what’s going on in their communities and that somebody is letting them know about the hazards and all the things that go with building a safe community, that the environment is protected from pollution and so forth. To me, it’s very important for a safe community, where they do the necessary studies and everything to make sure that the pollution just doesn’t go to one area and pollute all of a certain part of Fresno or the community. You know, any concern about whether they’re polluting more than it should be or just making sure that the laws are being followed by the city planning commission and the city council.

We deserve to know what will be built in our neighborhood and how it will affect us.

Jess Clarke is the the Project Director of Reimagine! Movements Making Media and supports  CEJA’s Green Zones Initiative with media making and communications capacity.

Leo Martinez Macias is a longtime resident of Fresno, California where he volunteers with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability where Ashley Werner is the Senior Attorney.


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"They made applications with no restrictions on the warehouses. When we talked to the city c ouncil. They ignored us and laughed at us." - Leo Macias

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"They made applications with no restrictions on the warehouses. When we talked to the city council. They ignored us and laughed at us."  - Leo Macias

Full Text Transcript of Interview with Leo Macias and Ashley Werner

Fresno Neighborhood Choking on Amazon’s Dust Demands the Right to Know

An interview by Jess Clarke with Leo Martinez Macias and Ashley Werner, Attorney for  Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability

Jess Clarke: First off, it’d be great if you could introduce yourself and just tell me a little bit about how you came to be in Fresno and what it’s been like living there all these decades.

Leo Martinez Macias: Sure. My name is Leo Martinez Macias, and I originally came to Fresno in 1960. I purchased a home there in 1967 on 1443 East Central Avenue, trying to live out on the country where I'd like to raise my family in a safe, rural environment because I'm used to living out in the country.

Today I’ve got my grandkids here. They’re all here making a lot of noise. I forgot to say that I had a family function at this time. It’s our anniversary of 54 years of being together, me and the wife.

Clarke: Congratulations.

Macias: It’s nice. We’re a pretty close family. We have a lot of functions together.

Clarke: How many kids do you have?

Macias:  Oh, my own children? We have four. Three boys, one girl, altogether, grand kids, We lost count, but I think there’s about 22, 23 grandkids and great grandkids.

Clarke: So they grew up in Fresno there?

Macias:  My kids yeah, they grew up here in 1443 Central Avenue. When I bought this home at that time it was surrounded by farmland.

But over the years all varieties of industrial plants and hazardous waste facilities sprung up, bringing toxic air pollution, constant truck traffic, and contaminating our water. We were never consulted or asked before these facilities appeared and started to impact our quality of life.  Now, our community ranks in the 100th percentile for pollution burden according to the California EPA.

So we are already in in a tough situation recently, all of a sudden, all this construction started going upon Central Avenue and Cedar Avenue and all around the community. There were several different big factories going up and very little input from the community. There was no way of knowing what it was all about. The city did not actually want to communicate with us to let us know what was going to happen with all this construction.  One big concern is they’ve taken all water supply by building big wells for all the new construction. Our wells are going dry, ours is on the brink of going dry and we’ve got no water or sewer connection.

Clarke: Listen, if I ask you any questions you don't want to answer, just take a pass. As I understand it, there are a lot of people in your neighborhood, and your family who have suffered various kinds of health conditions that might’ve been caused by the pollution that's coming off these facilities. If you want to share any of that, give us a little sense of what the stakes are for people who are exposed to this stuff?

Macias:  Yes, it’s very concerning. I’ve seen a lot of it my family. Two of my family members have developed cancer, I have cancer, asthma and a lot of other respiratory problems. My neighbors right next door to me passed away due to cancer, and another two neighbors on the other side. Yeah, this is very hard for us because we’re dealing with a lot of [contamination] in the air, in the water, in the soil, everything.

Now the dust from construction is choking us and triggering our asthma. We are told that more than thousands of trucks will pass by our homes everyday. But we have not yet heard what will be done to protect air quality, or ensure that kids can walk and bike safely.

Clarke: Ashley, I imagine you have some background on that.

Ashley Werner:  Yes. It’s worth noting that this neighborhood has been identified under CalEnviroScreen as the most pollution burdened census tract in California. That’s because, in addition to the new facilities the city is permitting, this area also has several hazardous waste sites, a landfill. They’re quite near farming that uses hazardous pesticides. So there’s a whole range of facilities that are really impacting them and then contributing to these poor health outcomes that Leo and his family and his neighbors are experiencing.

Then it also is combined with these facts of, you know, they’re on domestic wells and the neighborhood is running dry and even though right across the street these new facilities are getting water and sewer. If residents get notice of these projects, there’s a real opportunity to assess how the project might be compounding all of these impacts that are leading this neighborhood to be the worst in California and identify appropriate ways to reduce those impacts.

Clarke: Worst in California. That's a tough honor to bear.

Werner: It is. It’s just kind of amazing to me how that's such a significant fact, and yet it doesn’t really carry weight in Fresno. That's an example of why we can’t afford to just leave it to the locals if they’re not going to do anything. We really need the state to step and say, you know, we’ve developed a tool, CalEnviroScreen, to identify communities being overburdened. Now, we need to take the next step to make sure that they’re allowed to be engaged in these processes that are creating these outcomes of disproportionate burdens.

Clarke: So they don't give you any notice, and they don't tell you what they’re building? And they don't want to hear about it when you do find out? That's the basic sense of it.

Macias: They made applications with no restrictions on the warehouses. They want to build with no input from the community. When we talked to the city council. They ignored us and laughed at us. They didn’t seem to care about the community. We weren’t able to communicate with him. When we do find out they basically ignore us and keep on constructing whatever they want.”

We were not even asked about the area being industrial, but it’s industrial on one side of the street because it’s city. The other side, it’s county, and I think we’re in-between there. They just kind of thought they would ignore us and keep on constructing whatever they wanted, they’re planning. Like I said, when we tried to go to the city council there and require some information, they really ignored us.

When we had a meeting and we asked about them building a four-lane on Central Avenue they said they didn’t have the money to do so. Just a lot of little things that were showing that they were not interested in caring about the area.

Like I said, they didn’t facilitate any bike paths or anything like that for commuters to ride along the paths if they wanted to go to work on bikes or widen the streets. So that made that area a lot more congested with traffic and everything, and, like I said, not allow for walkways, bike paths, or anything like that.

Clarke: So what you’re asking for, in terms of getting some new legislation on the state level…want to sum that up in your own words in terms of what kind of notice you feel your community should be receiving?

Macias:  Well, I am really impressed with the AB-2447 legislation to make sure that people get notice and are aware of what’s going on in their communities and that somebody is letting them know about the hazards and all the things that go with building a safe community, that the environment is protected from pollution and so forth. To me, it’s very important for a safe community, where they do the necessary studies and everything to make sure that the pollution just doesn’t go to one area and pollute all of a certain part of Fresno or the community. You know, any concern about whether they’re polluting more than it should be or just making sure that the laws are being followed by the city planning commission and the city council.

Clarke: Right. I know I saw a study there that Northeast Fresno, life expectancy is almost 20 years higher than Southwest Fresno. So obviously the burden of pollution has added up there. So what would you like to see in your own neighborhoods there? What kind of facilities would you want to permit or what would you want to build to make that a better, safer, healthier community for you?

Macias:  I know it’s too much to ask, but you would definitely want to make sure that the air environment is safe enough to be outside and to be around there. I think that that needs to be monitored very closely for everybody. Since we’re on the south side of Fresno, since all the wind just blows towards the south side of Fresno, that's very, very common that we get all the dust and everything else from the north side and not protected from anything like that. Streets are definitely not equal from the north side of Fresno to the south side of Fresno. They’re neglected because they were all, like I said, debating who should care of it, the city or the country. The streets were so eroded. There were so many potholes you had to just be zigzagging all over the place to get around there.

Of course we’d like a neighborhood park. At one point, they were talking about making a park out of the city dump that used to be the Orange Avenue dump, but that's all so contaminated that I think that’s where a lot of contamination comes from.

Clarke: So do you get retail stores and shopping opportunities put into your neighborhood?

Macias:  There’s no retail stores out there. Nobody wants to go out there. It’s a slow-growing community. There’s not a lot of people around there. All you see is maybe gas stations or just fast food places, but there’s no big retail stores going around there.

Clarke: So you’ve got the Amazon warehouse and the Ulta Beauty warehouse but you don't have any place to shop yourself.

Macias:  Correct. Like I said, it’s totally a different thing than living on the north side of Fresno. It’s just one of those things that I suppose you tend to learn that you don't have the resources that other people have. You don't have the money to contribute to candidates to do what they want and so forth, so they’re not going to look after you. That's my way of thinking. I mean, sorry, but I was born poor, and I guess that's the way it’s going to be.

Clarke: So you guys are trying to build some power using beside money, then.

Macias:  Yeah. Well, of course, like I said, we feel that by affiliating with the Leadership Council, we at least had a little voice there or something where they could finally recognize us and talk to us a little bit about what our needs were, and so forth, and they paid a little more attention as to not polluting our air so much and making the traffic so congested and all that. There’s a lot that needs to be done in that area.

Clarke: All right. Well, it was good talking with you. I appreciate you taking time out on your anniversary, and congratulations again. 54 years is no small accomplishment, not to mention 20-something kids that you can hardly keep track of who are bouncing around in the background.

Macias:  Thank you very much. I'm very proud of my family —and my dog, I call him Tarzan, they love him, and then they get around here playing…and it’s a handful when they get together. We’re expecting about 35, 40 people right now here.

Anyway, like I said, we’re a very happy family... until we start talking about our health and talk about what each of us are going through. Then, well what can you say, “Oh, well, I hope you do better. That’s not enough. That's why sometimes you have to deal directly with the source of a problem.

We deserve to know what will be built in our neighborhood and how it will affect us.

Clarke: Okay. Well, let us let you get on to your festivities. Congratulations on what you’ve accomplished so far in life. You’ve kept that house going, and you’ve got a good family.


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Solidarity to Solutions: San Bernardino Groups Take on Warehouse Pollution

"These diesel trucks are going to go in our neighborhoods, regardless if you're in Bloomington, Jurupa Valley, Fontana. These warehouses are going everywhere.... The beauty of this environmental justice struggle that we’re all fighting is that we’re not alone.... the beauty of it is getting the people together. We don't got money, but we got that people power." Chela Larios


Jess Clarke: Please welcome Chela from the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice from the Inland Empire. Coming at you from San Francisco Sol2Sol convening in the face of Jerry Brown’s West Coast world summit of climate inaction. Chela, what’s your full name?

Graciela-Larios ©2018 Anthony VictoriaGraciela Larios: My full name is Graciela Larios and Chela for short. All my friends and family call me Chela, and everybody I meet is becoming my friend, my family, so, please, call me Chela.

JC: What kind of issues have brought you into working with your community group?

GL: Just to put a little context of where the Inland Empire is, or what we like to call Inland Valley, we’re not LA. Let’s start there because every time we go out of state, they ask us, “Where is Riverside County? Where is San Bernardino County?” We’re actually what we like to call the dry port of California, meaning we’re not the wet port but whatever goes through the ports of LA and Long Beach have to come through inland to the IE, the Inland Valley, the Inland Empire. So what issues come in our way? Well, whatever cuts through the ports has to have a place to be stored. It has to have a place to get distributed.

So our issues in the Inland Valley are distribution centers, warehouses, and of course the rail lines that are bringing that cargo from the ports. We got three major rail yards in our area. We got diesel trucks going all over the place in front of elementary schools and community areas. We got natural gas storage plants across the street from an elementary school, and I call it a storage because over 60,000 gallons of natural gas are right across the street from an elementary school. It’s actually a refueling station for the public transit system in San Bernardino. I mean, we got bad land uses of lands that have been contaminated and homes being built on top of it. Transmission lines. We got truck stops that we’re fighting. Take your pick. A bunch of cumulative impacts. Plus, the freeways, which we’re not a stranger to.

JC: So you have Interstate 10, Interstate 15, and the last part of Interstate 40, right, kind of bleeds off from Nevada, right?

GL: 210. Yeah.

JC: So you got three freeways, three rail lines, and one hell of a lot of pollution on your hands. What are the impacts on people’s health and their ability to live a decent life?

GL: Just to give you a little visual on how it is, there was a study not so long ago. I believe in 2012, 2011, Loma Linda University did a health study on an elementary school right across the street from one of the major rail yards, and their conclusion was that over 47% of those students in that elementary school had asthma or asthma-like symptoms. 47%. These are our kids, our future, and they can’t even be kids because to run around isn’t healthy for them. And that's just to show you a little visual in what the community is going through. We got three major cancer clusters in that area, the west side of San Bernardino. We got any type of illness that has to do with our lungs. It’s a lifestyle that people got used to because they thought it was normal, but it’s getting to the point where it’s too much of a coincidence that they all live in the same area and they’re all getting sick. And now they’re saying, “This is not normal. This cannot be our lifestyle,” and people are fighting back. Even though they’re sick, they’re getting out there in front of a microphone and telling their leaders what is going on with their families, with their community, and how they want that to change for the near future.

JC: What kind of impact does that have on water quality? Is it also affecting the food supply? Is it getting into people’s bodies only through their lungs or is the soil and water also contaminated?

GL: Good question. I mean, to top it off, we have a food desert. The communities that are highly impacted are the ones that are surrounded by the warehouses, the ones that are surrounded by the diesel trucks. They don't have a Vons, an Albertsons, a Ralphs. I call them fancy-looking stores because we got liquor stores. We got…you know, they’re not bad, but they’re little mom and pop stores, and some of them are not even walking distance. So we got those struggles to face with, plus our income level does not reach the prices of your Albertsons, your Ralphs, even your Stater Bros. So, I mean, to top it off, we don't have access to it. Plus, we can’t afford it.

And what happens? We got businesses leaving our areas because they can’t be sustained with our income level, and yet we keep getting more warehouses with the false context that warehouses are going to rise the income level, warehouses are going to bring jobs, warehouses are going to give people more money in their pockets. That's wrong, because we got them, and it’s not working. It’s not helping.

JC: So what’s the average pay of a warehouse worker in your area?

GL: Minimum wage, at the most. When they talk about wages that are beyond that, you're looking at managerial wages. You're looking at a small percentage of those people, and it’s not usually the people that live there locally. It’s usually either people that they brought from somewhere else or people that they already had in mind. When they say local jobs, that's not the case. There’s nothing that tells them that they got to make sure that whatever they promise when they’re trying to propose this development, that it is exactly the number of jobs that they promised. There’s nothing that says that they have to complete that promise.

JC: Do you have any union drives going on to unionize the warehouse workers over there?

GL: The beauty of this environmental justice struggle that we’re all fighting is that we’re not alone. You know, we have to team up with our local unions. We have to team up with our local organizations, like the Warehouse Worker Resource Center. Shoutout to them in Ontario. We have to team up with them. We do deal with the environmental justice element. We have to know about what are the working conditions inside the warehouse? What are they fixing inside? Because that’s also part of the problem. It’s not just the people living next to the warehouses, it’s the people working in the warehouses as well. So we need to team up with people that know about those conditions.

JC: I understand you have the third largest Amazon warehouse in the state of California, over 1.2 million square feet in just one warehouse. Do you know anything about the health conditions that are happening for the workers that are actually in the warehouse, what kind of conditions they’re under?

GL: I wish my compañera, Vero, was with us. In fact, she just had to leave early this weekend, but she can give you that visual. We just had a county meeting where she went up on the microphone and said she’s faced people that were missing fingers. This is mistreatment of humans that we don't talk about. In fact, we brush it under the rug. That's just to show you just a little bit of what’s going on. The chemicals that are within the warehouse, people have to pay from their own paychecks to use gloves, to use even dust masks. And it’s coming out of their own paychecks. They don’t even get anything. That's just to show you a little visual what’s going on inside, and I bet you there’s so much more that those politicians or those people pushing for warehouse jobs do not talk about when they’re proposing, when they’re saying, “This is the future. This is what we need.” They don't mention these things, and they’re happening today. I welcome you to ask the Warehouse Worker Resource Center.

JC: I understand that in Bloomington right now they’re trying to put up a warehouse and that the city is going to rezone it to encourage warehouses. They haven’t learned their lesson.

GL: I’m glad you bring that up. Those are some of the problems. Bloomington is not a city. It’s actually an unincorporated area in the county of San Bernardino. I come from the area of Jurupa Valley, where we became an incorporated city seven years ago. In fact, nobody knows who we are yet because we’re still a baby, but the beauty of becoming a city is that you have your representatives, your city council fighting for your own city, fighting for revenue for your own city, and you're not fighting against this massive county that does not give you the benefits within your little unincorporated area. So those are one of the problems that Bloomington is facing. They don't reap the benefits from the big county of San Bernardino, and this is what’s happening to them. They are proposing a warehouse left and right. I mean, in your face, right across the street from an elementary school. You got the kids playing and those big building walls going up already in front of them.

Now, they’re proposing a warehouse less than 60 feet away from the residents that are already there. If you follow baseball, it’s like going to first base. How are they going to do it? They’re going to rezone. They want to rezone saying it’s a residential area, but we got to rezone in order to put something industrial next-door to it. That's disrespectful. They say they represent the community members, and I'm talking about the county [board] members of San Bernardino, they don't because the community members are speaking, and they do not want this, and they just don't listen.

JC: So what kind of leverage can you guys get over them? How are you going to move this county bureaucracy? How is the city of Jurupa Valley going to affect the balance of power in San Bernardino? What kind of stuff are you working on there?

GL: Our power is people power. People are just showing up to these county meetings. In fact, on September 25th is our second chance to speak about no on the Slover Distribution Center, no on rezoning this area in Bloomington. I’m glad you mention the people of Jurupa Valley because the beauty of it is that we’re not just Bloomington, we’re not just Jurupa, we’re not just the west side of San Bernardino. We’re the Inland Valley. We’re the IE. And even though we have our own little cul-de-sacs, our little areas, it impacts all of us. These diesel trucks are going to go in our neighborhoods, regardless if you're in Bloomington, Jurupa Valley. These warehouses are going everywhere, Fontana. So the beauty of it is getting the people together. The number of people is what goes against their dollar bills, and we don't got money, but we got that people power. So we will show up. We will show up on September 25th, tell them what the people don't want, tell the county board members, if you want to represent us, you listen to us, and, honestly, telling the media, telling the rest of the state, the rest of the area what we’re facing and getting our help from our legislative officials. We’re happy to say that our senator, Connie Leyva, our legislator, Eloise Reyes, she’s behind us. Those two ladies are behind us, and hopefully they will be present on September 25th.

JC: So how does statewide regulation of diesel emissions, particulate matter, California Air Resources Board, and the legislature affect your community? How do you guys intend to effect the regulations that they’re doing? If you had zero emissions diesel trucks, what would that do for the area?

GL: I’m glad you mentioned it. Zero emissions is the only way to go. Not near-zero, none of this natural gas way of living, no. Zero emissions is the only way to go, and I honestly wish that our state agencies, our state air districts have more of a harder hand on this because they can. They can be leaders, but they’re not. I feel like they could do more. As far as community members, we look up to them. We ask them to regulate. We ask them to make the polluters pay, to actually make them follow the law, and it’s hard sometimes. It’s harder to keep putting our trust in them when we feel like sometimes they don't really come out and speak up for the community. They got the studies, Jess. They got the studies. They know the numbers. They got their monitoring systems all over the place, but we see no action. We see no solution, so we hope that we do move into that solution, zero emissions, electrification. That's the only way to go. None of this near-zero. None of this we’re almost there but not completely. We need zero right now.

JC: So how many of these warehouses have solar panels on their roof?

GL: Good question. Not many. Not many at all. That's a great question because we were just discussing here in San Francisco, we’re California. We got sun. We’re the Inland Valley. If you think it’s hot in San Francisco or in LA, come to the Inland Valley. We scoff at how hot it is here. We thought it was wintertime here in San Francisco right now. We’re like, really? This is winter for us. We’re over 100 degrees right now. In fact, we checked the weather. It’s over 100 degrees in our area. We can get so much from solar panels. We have that richness of the sun in our area, yet we’re not taking advantage of that. Not a lot, Jess. Honestly, I can’t even count.

JC: What do you think the building codes would require that if a building is over 500,000 square feet, it has to have solar power on the roof and has to have plug-in stations for the vehicles that deliver to the warehouse?

GL: It sucks that sometimes we got to remind them that this is what our future has to go to, but we see developers come up with proposals that don't even take into consideration of putting in electrical plug-ins. They don't even think about that. Maybe we might get electrical trucks one day. In fact, there’s a truck stop right now getting proposed in the city of Jurupa Valley where electrical plug-ins were something new to them. They never thought about it. And we’re looking at a truck stop, putting more trucks in an area that already receives over 800 trucks in one hour right adjacent to 101 homes, Mira Loma Village in Jurupa Valley. 800 trucks in one hour, and I'm talking about diesel trucks, not people trucks. So the fact that these companies, the fact that these developers are not thinking that we’re thinking about the future, we’re thinking about electrification, the fact that we have to remind them, that is sad. They’re not thinking about our future. They’re thinking about right now, their dollar bills, and not about the health of the community at all.

JC: I understand that PG&E and Southern California Edison got $2 billion from the state to install electric charging stations. Do you see any of those in the Inland Valley?

GL: Not yet, and I hope to, but then we also got to think about who has electric cars? Who has electric trucks? We got to think about how do we get those to community members? How do we get those to to communities that are impacted, communities of color, communities that do not have money. How do we get them those vehicles? It’s great to have those plug-in stations, but, again, if you don't have that car, if you don't have access to it, if you don't have these warehouses or developers thinking about electrifying their fleets, then what is the point of getting these charging stations?

JC: The South Coast Air Quality Management District ruled that warehouses are indirect sources of pollution. What kind of leverage does that give you to get these warehouses to clean up their neighborhoods?

GL: The indirect source rule. We consider that as a victory. We just got it where they’re identifying that there should be rules and regulations for indirect sources, meaning warehouses are not the ones that pollute, it’s the trucks going inside the warehouses. We get it. The air quality management district, they regulate over stationary resources, which are the warehouses. But they cannot avoid the fact that trucks are going in and out, and to acknowledge indirect source rules, we must. We’re hoping that things like having a restricted truck route by a community where trucks are not allowed to be there…we’re hoping that rules actually enforcing trucks becoming electrified before they enter their warehousing areas or their yards, we hope that that happens because that's what we’re hoping for. Again, Jess, this is a victory because an indirect source rule is something that we’ve been fighting for for years, and the fact that they’re acknowledging that there is a problem, that there is an indirect source, this is huge. We’re hoping for the best, and now we’re in the nitty gritty stuff. We’re in the nitty gritty of having them put harsh rules, like real, concrete regulations that will actually make solutions for our community.

JC: That's great. What are some of the other visions that you have going forward. What are your plans for 2019 or what other big campaigns are you taking on in the next year?

GL: 2019. The work never ends. We hate to be like—what’s that called?—warehouse chasers where we always have to be making sure we go to each city council meeting. We always have to be reading all these, you know, EIRs. We hate that. We don't want that. We want a big, massive solution where we can actually get something concrete, something written where we don't have to do that, where there is something hard, like an indirect source rule. We don't have to be doing that. The community is tired, Jess. The community is tired. They keep fighting fight after fight. Their health is diminishing, and they don't got time because they got to work. They got to work to put food on the table. They don't have time to be fighting, fighting all these causes. Our goal is to actually implement something concrete that could be used throughout the state of California, not just the IE.

JC: Have you guys ever stopped the truck traffic on one of the interstates?

GL: I think we’re increasing the truck traffic.

JC: No, I mean like they have up here. They have blockades. They shut down the freeways.

GL: We don’t, but we collaborate with orgs that do. It’s very powerful because it shows that…It starves the business. It stops the way that we want our goods to get faster to our shelves, and it just shows that we got that power to do that, and that's just a little bit we can do. We could do so much more because we got that people power, Jess.

JC: All right. Thanks for joining us here on Reimagine Radio at Sol2Sol convening here in beautiful, cold, wintery San Francisco where the temperature is 67 degrees right now on 9/11, 2018. Thanks very much.

GL: Thank you, Jess.

JC: Graciela?

GL: Graciela.

JC: Mucho gusto.

GL: Mucho gusto.

Special thanks to the California Environmental Justice Alliance and Kay Cuajunco for setting up this interview.

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"These diesel trucks are going to go in our neighborhoods, regardless if you're in Bloomington, Jurupa Valley, Fontana. These warehouses are going everywhere." Chela Larios

The Amazon You Won’t Hear About at Climate Summit

By Dania De Ramon

I have lived in Riverside County my whole life, where every day, I hear the traffic during peak hours and I see the smoggy horizon with an endless trails of trucks and cars pass by. My high school’s campus sits several hundred feet away from the Union Pacific Railyard and about a mile from a major warehouse corridor. Being surrounded by warehouses and diesel trucks is something that becomes normalized for youth growing up in the Inland Empire — most of us don’t even realize the harm it does to our health. Personally, I grew up believing that asthma was normal because I had so many classmates who had it.

The Inland Empire has some of the worst ozone pollution in the country, according to the American Lung Association, and it has worsened over the last two years. A study done by the University of Southern California in 2008, which included children living in Mira Loma where I grew up, found that exposure to diesel truck emissions stunt lung capacity and development. We live in a toxic cycle where we depend on a supply and logistics industry that does little to curb its emissions and scoops up folks in low-income communities for low pay.

When I was younger, my mother would work two jobs to be able to financially support us. Many times her work was in warehouses — where some days she would work up to 16 hours. There was a period of time in my childhood where I would see my mother only for a couple hours a day because she was constantly working to get the two of us by. Ever since the Amazon warehouse began operating in our community, I have seen a number of old classmates and co-workers begin working there.

Inland Empire leaders believe the future of our economy and social development is rooted in the logistics industry. While some employment in this sector provides sustainable jobs, the majority of positions are low paying and unsuitable. A survey conducted by UC Riverside found warehouse jobs provide poor income and benefits to Inland Valley residents. The average annual wage of a warehouse worker is $16,000, which is barely enough to sustain a single person. These working conditions, along with the burdening emissions stemming from diesel trucks and train locomotives, poisons the future of the young people that live in communities like Jurupa Valley and San Bernardino.

Elected officials need to wake up and listen to their constituents who urge them to be more conscious of the effects these projects bring upon communities. On September 8, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice will be joining thousands of allies in San Francisco to demand strong climate leadership that takes into account smart land use and transportation rules.

Today’s youth are tomorrow’s future, or so politicians like to boast. As the Global Climate Action Summit comes to California, you’ll likely hear many of our leaders — including Governor Jerry Brown — celebrate our state’s “progress” on climate action. But they seem to gloss over talking about who exactly makes it to a better future. They cannot possibly be talking about working families that live in communities like mine, particularly if they continue to favor false solutions that exacerbate pollution and do more for corporate exploitation than contribute towards a truly sustainable future. 

We want our legislators to support solutions that require zero emissions, with jobs that pay a decent wage and transition us into a cleaner technology like electric vehicles, and prioritize the use of renewable energy sources over fossil fuels. We demand an end to shadowy deals with polluters — no more deals with the oil industry that have been a staple of Governor Brown’s tenure as governor, for example, and no more to being in the pockets of the logistics industry for our city politicians that rubber stamp projects with no accountability. Real climate leadership means not only speaking about making a change, but actively taking action for a sustainable future that truly reaches everyone, including communities like the Inland Empire.

Dania De Ramon is a senior at Jurupa Valley High School and a member of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.

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"I grew up believing that asthma was normal because I had so many classmates who had it." - Dania De Ramon

Free City College!

By Marcy Rein, Vicki Legion and Mickey Ellinger

This article is a preview from the book Free City! Reclaiming College of San Francisco and Free Education for All.

Community colleges serve more than 40 percent of all US college students and provide a crucial entry point to post-secondary education for working class students and students of color. California teaches an outsize share of community college students, and City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is one of the state’s largest. Since its founding in 1935, CCSF has grown deep roots in the community. It teaches firefighters, chefs, medical techs and scores of other essential workers; its English as a Second Language department, the school’s largest, has taught English to generations of new immigrants; it has opened paths to four-year colleges, second chances, and lifelong learning. Sometimes called “the most important working class institution in San Francisco,” it stands firm on the 1960s legacy of open admissions.

The education reform project, jumping the fence from K – 12 to community colleges, takes aim at this legacy. Reformers seek to narrow the mission of community colleges to completion of degrees and certificates for the corporate workforce, pressuring students to take heavy course loads and channeling them toward taking out student loans.

City College students, teachers, administrators, and trustees united against the reform agenda and led the California opposition to it. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)——one of six regional bodies authorized by the US government to ensure educational quality in community colleges——was a vocal reform supporter.

In 2012, ACCJC slapped City College with the harshest sanction short of closure, though the school had never been sanctioned before and was widely regarded as one of the best community colleges in the country. A year later, the commission said it would terminate accreditation, which would kill the school.

The ACCJC sanctions set off the crisis that brought “shock treatment” to the school. A new interim chancellor created chaos with mass firings and drastic “reorganization” schemes. She bullied the elected trustees into shrinking the school’s mission and closing campuses, as well as accepting both a special trustee with veto power and a fiscal review that mandated “structural adjustment” policies, including attacks on wages, benefits and job security.

Supporters of City College fought on every front possible. San Francisco voters passed the Proposition A parcel tax to support the school financially. American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 (AFT 2121), CCSF’s faculty union, mounted legal, regulatory and political challenges to the Accrediting Commission’s authority, as well as an internal organizing effort. Save CCSF, a feisty faculty/staff/student/community coalition, dug into the roots of the crisis and pulled people into the streets. Militant students held teach-ins, rallied, and occupied campus buildings and the mayor’s office.

RP&E  Volume 21-1, “Power in Place,” included a package of articles that set the unfolding struggle for City College in the context of both education “reform” and the displacement sweeping San Francisco. In a forthcoming book tentatively titled Free City! Reclaiming City College of San Francisco, RP&E contributor Marcy Rein collaborates with Vicki Legion and Mickey Ellinger to tell the story of the successful 2012-2017 campaign to keep CCSF open, accredited and community-centered. Free City! is due out from PM Press in Fall 2020. The preview that follows takes place in 2013, just after the ACCJC announced its intention to shut down the school in a year’s time, and the state of California put it under emergency management with the special trustee in charge.

All the Work Matters

The July 9 rally at the US Department of Education (DOE) office felt and sounded like a revival city college student trustee. Shanell Williams kicked it off: “We are not here to mourn; we are here to fight!” It was a call and response crowd: “We did everything we were told by the special trustee Bob Agrella, who has sole power over our college now and makes a thousand dollars a day”—boos—“shame on him!”  The crowd echoed “shame, shame, shame!” 

“They want to steal our right to a quality affordable education.  Are we going to let that happen?” 

“No. No. No!”

And the crowd’s favorite, State Assembly member Tom Ammiano, joking, pointing upward: “Look in the sky—it’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s SuperTrustee!” The crowd roared and clapped, and Ammiano turned serious.

“I spent two years in Viet Nam and the mantra then was, ‘We destroyed the village to save it.’ Well, fuck you! ...There’s another agenda here and I want every elected official from the mayor on down to protect our family.

“They’re punishing the wrong people and who the fuck are they to punish anybody? I’m tired of Mommie Dearest the executive director and them not respecting our diversity, not respecting our gender diversity, not respecting anything San Francisco stands for. City College is a success. City College is a treasure. What’s the real agenda here? …

“They have not the right to say to us that the people we elected, whether we love them or not, are not our representatives. That is tyranny!” he yelled. “That encourages a revolution here in San Francisco.”

The New Blow to the School

A year earlier when the accreditation commission slapped the show cause order on City College, people were stunned and fearful.  When, after a year of work to meet the standards, the ACCJC moved to close the school, they were furious.

The crowd had begun massing in front of Downtown Campus at Fourth and Mission Streets at 4pm on Wednesday, July 9. The Brass Liberation Orchestra backed up the boisterous chants that buoyed the crowd down Market Street: “Whose college? Our college!” “Education is our right/that is why we have to fight,” and of course, “Save City College!” By the time it reached the DOE offices in the heart of the Financial District, it was 4,000 strong. Unions and community groups joined CCSF students and faculty, and homemade signs sprouted everywhere.

“If you looked down Market Street, you couldn’t see an end to the march,” Williams remembered. You saw “streams of people all with the same energy and same feeling of frustration, an uprising of San Franciscans saying ‘You’re not going to take this away from us.’”

The termination letter jolted people into action who’d been on the sidelines before. One was Thea Matthews, who’d just started studying at City College. “When the news dropped that City College may go under I just broke down and cried….[T]he woman I am today is because of City College, the relationships, the bonds that people make there. It’s a really magical space,” Matthews said.

“I was bawling my eyes out,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what am I going to do?’ and I called my counselor Sarah Thompson, ‘What am I going to do, City College is going to go away!’

“And she just said, ‘You get up and you fight. Don’t let them take this from you. No, you take a stand and you fight back.’ Like, ‘Whose city? Our city!’ And that really helped take the snot and tears off my face and get me up off the carpet floor in my bedroom. And that was the turning point of, ‘OK time to get involved.’” So she went to the march, linked up with the Save CCSF student organizers, and began helping with outreach to summer session students.

The day after the march, Save CCSF brought former CFT president and ACCJC expert Marty Hittelman to speak at their open meeting. Before a packed house at CCSF’s Mission campus, Hittelman forcefully argued that the ACCJC’s extraordinary sanction rate was driven by a predetermined agenda, not a legitimate educational critique. A week later AFT 2121, with help from Assembly member Ammiano, pulled together another packed community forum in a large auditorium at the California State Building. That event highlighted the college’s deep roots in communities of color, with moving testimony from students and community members about programs ranging from certificates in health care interpreting and drug and alcohol counseling to post-prison support programs. Local politicians and leaders who had been hanging back, like Supervisor John Avalos, stepped up to speak in support of the college. The State Building forum was also the first time the Save CCSF Research Committee mass leafleted a discussion paper about the roots of the crisis in corporate education “reform.”

Organizers sought to capture people’s energy, offering involvement as an antidote to despair. But the full weight of the moment crashed down on AFT 2121 in its contract talks.

Bargaining With Their Backs to the Wall

Three people sat across from the AFT 2121 bargaining team at their first session since the termination notice: SFCCD’s longtime employee relations officer Mickey Branca; Jeff Sloan from the corporate law firm Renne, Sloan, Holtzman, Sakai, LLP—and the California Community Colleges Executive Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Steve Bruckman, who played a key role in putting the state takeover in place.

Since March 2012, contract talks between AFT 2121 and the San Francisco Community College District (SFCCD) had been jolting along like a car with worn shocks on a rocky road. Even before the ACCJC’s show cause order, the district’s tight finances posed a major obstacle. The cancellation of the 2010 summer session, the aging facilities and faulty computers frustrated teachers as well as students. Faculty had not had a raise since 2007. They had even agreed to temporary pay cuts totaling 4.3%, in the cooperative spirit of the bargaining that brought union gains in better times.

“They went through two or three administrations when they actually got some stuff, they got job security and 80% pro-rata pay for part-timers,” said Joe Berry, a labor studies instructor, long-time organizer of part-time faculty, and Local 2121 Executive Board member.

Previous chancellors, though they didn’t take part in negotiations, did talk with union leaders “off the record.” Interim Chancellor Fisher refused to even chat with the union without an attorney present.

Talks had already been bumpy when Local 2121’s contract expired in June 2012. The two sides agreed to a six-month extension, but bargaining only got gnarlier after the show cause order and the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) report.1 FCMAT tagged three decades of union gains as threats to fiscal responsibility. Its report slammed City College for its high percentage of full-time teachers, as well as the health benefits and pay scale for part-timers.2

Just nine days after San Francisco voters supported Prop A’s $14-16 million per year lifeline, the district administration sent a letter to the union demanding a new raft of givebacks, including permanent wage cuts, lower pay rates for part-time faculty, and—for the first time—worker contributions to retiree health care. Employee Relations Manager Steve Hale prefaced this list in his Nov. 19 letter with the comment, “The issues identified below address accreditation recommendations and long-term structural deficiencies identified by FCMAT.”

By the new contract expiration date of December 31, 2012, the two sides were farther apart than ever. Interim Chancellor Scott-Skillman put coal in the faculty’s Christmas stocking with her Dec. 20 letter announcing that the district was imposing a 4.4% pay cut effective Jan. 2, 2013, with another 5% scheduled for July. The union filed a grievance with the California Public Employment Relations Board, and went back to bargaining.

The spring saw little progress. Then came the ACCJC’s termination letter and the state takeover.

The takeover galvanized members. “People were upset and kept coming to the office to see what they could do to help,” said AFT 2121 Organizer Athena Waid. The local channeled some of that energy into ongoing community outreach and organizing, and harnessed some to support the bargaining. It invited members and community supporters to come to bargaining sessions. The district wouldn’t allow observers at the negotiating table, so the union asked people to come, sit in another room, and caucus with the negotiating team on breaks. The local also expanded the team; one of the new members was Jessica Buchsbaum, an ESL teacher at the Downtown Campus.

When she heard about the termination, Buchsbaum said, “My first thought was, ‘What the heck?’ and my second thought was, ‘Well, AFT2121 will take care of it,’ and then my third thought was, ‘Well, where’s AFT 2121?’” She laughed sheepishly. “That was my moment of awakening.”

Still, she said, “Becoming a union activist was not on my to-do list.” She was the mother, of two boys, aged two and seven, and her mother had Parkinson’s disease.

“I was in a world of imminent crisis between the kids, my mother and my job in 2013, everything falling apart. The fact that it was this existential crisis really pushed me to become more involved, because our family depended on the job.” First she helped organize the July 18 forum at the State Building, and then Alisa Messer invited her to be part of the bargaining team.

The union called for a week of intensive negotiations in early August 2013, just before the beginning of the fall semester. Members turned out to bolster the negotiating team.

“I’m here to see with my own eyes what these guys are doing, and I want the people in the negotiations to know they have faculty union and community support,” said Malaika Finkelstein who taught in Disabled Students Programs and Services.

The bargaining sessions themselves proved excruciating. The two sides met in the small, windowless conference room at 33 Gough St. “I still get the heebejeebes going in there. It smells so bad,” Buchsbaum said.

“It was super-emotional, full days—eight hour, sometimes 10-hour days, and we were having to make these terrible decisions. They wanted to get rid of rehire rights, any kind of rights for part-timers, cut our pay by 10–12%. One of the hardest things I remember bargaining over was prescription drug co-pay reimbursements” for full-timers. “That benefit didn’t affect very many people…. but for people with a chronic illness, it was thousands and thousands of dollars every year. For the very few, it would make a huge, huge impact… and we decided to let it go, because we decided it would be better to have a smaller pay cut for everybody.

“We were over a barrel. It was the low point of the whole thing. It was awful. I remember Alisa Messer basically didn’t eat that whole time. She would drink these tea things but she couldn’t actually put food in her mouth…everyone who was at the bargaining table or supporting us felt brutalized by that process,” Buchsbaum said.

Some Local 2121 members believed a strike could right the imbalance of power at the negotiating table. AFT Organizer Alyssa Picard helped the local think through this strategy.

“The local had a good activist base but not a wide reach,” said Picard, a veteran of graduate student and adjunct faculty organizing who’d been deployed by AFT’s national office to help Local 2121 through the crisis. “They [the local] had a core of about 50–75 people whose commitment to the union and the progressive values of the union was a mile deep,” many more members they’d never talked to, and sharp disagreements in the ranks.

“There was the left flank, people who would show up and say, ‘We should’ve gone on strike six months ago, you’re a crappy union leader for not having taken us out on strike,’ and some people, including some very reasonable people…. whose initial posture was, ‘We need to figure out how to do these things the ACCJC is asking us to do.’…. It was a weird gamut of opinion among the faculty about what ought to be happening and who ought to be doing it, and just a pretty fractured situation,” Picard said. She helped Local 2121 launch a serious internal reorganization. It reinvigorated its precinct rep structure and set out to talk with all its members. The tool it used to open the door was a petition to Special Trustee with extraordinary powers Robert Agrella.

Just after the intensive negotiations wrapped up, CCSF supporters got their first bits of good news.

First Turnings

State Chancellor Harris addressed the CCSF faculty in the Flex Day assembly Aug. 13, 2013, the day before fall semester classes started. “I remember he gave this ridiculous speech about how he was working with us to save the college,” Tarik Farrar said. But Harris left out one critical bit: DOE had just sent a letter to the ACCJC upholding some key elements in AFT 2121’s complaint.3

The DOE agreed with the union that appointing Barbara Beno’s husband to the visiting team created the appearance of conflict of interest, and that the team didn’t include enough faculty members. The department also found fault with the ACCJC’s evaluation process. It noted that the commission used “recommendation” to mean both recommendations for improvement and the much more serious “non-compliance with standards,” which could trigger sanctions. The commission’s failure to identify deficiencies “impacts the agency’s ability to provide institutions with adequate due process,” the DOE letter said.

Also, the DOE noted, ACCJC identified two serious issues in its 2006 “action letter” to CCSF and required two interim reports. But the agency didn’t comply with the “two year rule,” which would’ve required CCSF to come into compliance within two years or face sanctions. “The ACCJC cannot treat an issue [as] serious enough to require reporting and to be part of the rationale for the show cause letter, but not serious enough to enforce the timeline to return to compliance, as required by federal regulation,” the letter stated.

The DOE could have taken action against the ACCJC right away. Instead, it gave the agency a year to come into compliance. The department’s finding also sidestepped the questions of political agenda, conflict of interest over the retiree health benefit prepayment, and anti-union bias that the union included in the complaint.

As the wheels of the regulatory process began to grind, student activists once again took direct action to highlight the high stakes in the fight.

Students Take City Hall: ‘Where’s Ed Lee?’

Student activists had been trying to get a meeting with Mayor Ed Lee since the state takeover seven weeks earlier. Several times they politely asked the mayor’s office for an appointment.

“We wondered if Ed Lee or a representative would meet with us,” Eric Blanc said. “Some people were really hoping he would. They just systematically ignored us.” The students carefully prepared to escalate their request. When they started talking civil disobedience, they made the risks quite clear.

“We were really conscious that we weren’t putting anybody—in particular without papers or who had priors—at risk,” Blanc said. “We did a forum and [during the action we] made a lot of announcements suggesting that people leave if any of these things applied to them. We knew it was politically important not to put people at risk without their having full knowledge.” Newly engaged students stepped up at this point; others who’d already been involved took more leadership.

The Aug. 20 action began with a rally in front of San Francisco City Hall. “A number of people were there who were outside supporters of City College students,” Windsong said. “We had passed the bullhorn around and talked about ourselves and our involvement and it was just really cool to hear other people’s stories. That’s one of the inspiring things about rallies.

“Different characters stuck in my mind… it was so beautiful, the different kinds of people: elders, a mother who talked about how taking classes had helped her. There was a big presence from VIDA with the undocumented perspective and that was incredibly inspiring. There were other people who were City College alums and had moved on to [San Francisco] State and were now doing organizing at State, and they were talking about the importance of Diversity Studies. A lot of people were shouting out to the Diversity Studies departments how learning about their cultural background really empowered them as people.”

As the rally ended, students filtered in to City Hall. Someone even managed to smuggle in a banner.

“We went to bring the rally inside, because ‘we deserve for you [the mayor] to hear us’,” said Thea Matthews. This was one of her first protests ever. The attack on City College politicized her, she said: “I learned that…what I’m living in this present moment, what I’m being impacted by, is political and is connected, inherently connected, to the systemic infrastructure of this society, the systemic lines of oppression, and it’s not just some macro-level bullshit in the ether.”

The students planted themselves in front of Mayor Lee’s office and hung their banner over the wrought-iron balustrade facing the marble staircase that sweeps up from the lobby to the second floor. They came in just before the end of the workday, and their last request for a meeting with the mayor went unheeded.

In the measured language of their press release, the Student Committee of Save City College said the mayor “has the political and moral responsibility as the leader of San Francisco to throw his weight behind the effort to overturn the ACCJC attacks on City College.” But once inside, they sent their chant ricocheting off the building’s dome.

“Where’s Ed Lee? Where’s Ed Lee?”

They held the space until almost midnight. In between chanting and singing, they played “the type of games that you would play at camp, silly ice-breaker type things,” Blanc said. “I remember being pretty goofy and it being a funny contrast between this lighthearted almost festival type spirit of the occupation, with the periodic police announcements that we were going to be arrested.”

They got hungry, too, and tired; the wooden benches and marble floors didn’t lend themselves to comfortable naps.

Around midnight the police finally carried out their arrest threats.

“When we were getting arrested, when the sheriffs gave the disperse order, we said ‘no,’ and they started arresting us one by one,” said Matthews. “We sat down, and as we got up one by one, we sang civil rights songs—Windsong is a singer—it was beautiful, we had smiles on our faces, we were happy because we knew we were doing the right thing. Thank God there was no confrontation or agitation between students and police. It was like they understood what we were doing.

“And they took us into this little hidden area in the City Hall building. We all got ticketed and discharged. The tickets had court dates on them, but we had lawyers and thankfully the charges were dropped.”

Standing, daring and laughing together forged strong bonds among the new and more seasoned activists. “Everybody came out of that as friends. You made friends in an intense way overnight. It’s hard to imagine in any other context that happening so rapidly,” Blanc said. And coming when it did, the sit-in helped weight the narrative towards the supporters of City College. A surprise announcement from an obscure body in Sacramento nudged the needle further.

 ‘I have never met with a more arrogant, condescending or dismissive individual’

A markedly bi-partisan “good government” consensus triggered a state investigation of the ACCJC.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Yuba City), a long-time right-wing stalwart, represented rural north-central California. On his Senate web page, he proudly identified as a rancher and a defender of private property rights against “overzealous government bureaucrats.” Lifelong liberal Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) spent his career advocating for affordable housing, better transportation, and support for foster youth. These two co-authored a letter requesting that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee formally ask the California State Auditor’s office to look into the ACCJC.

Sen. Beall led off their Aug. 21, 2013 presentation to the committee. Bald and broad-shouldered, Beall rose to the mic to declare the ACCJC a “monopoly…The stakes are high and the commission’s power is absolute,” he said. “We believe it is imperative that the commission be audited by the state auditor.” 

Sen. Nielsen spoke from his seat, shock of iron-gray hair vibrating with indignation. He stressed that the audit request would apply to community colleges around the state. Complaints from various schools, the ACCJC’s lack of accountability, and the DOE complaint had thrown up red flags for him, he said. Then he and Sen. Beall had met with Barbara Beno.

“In all my career, in my thousands of meetings with agencies and individuals, representatives, secretaries, etc., I have never dealt with a more arrogant, condescending and dismissive individual,” Nielsen said. ”That attitude in such a senior person raises huge red flags for me… And we had asked for lots of information, Senator Beall and I. We had previously and formally asked for it and we asked for it in this meeting. 

“Three days after meeting with these individuals from the ACCJC, President Beno released a commission statement—I have a copy of it here—directing members of the evaluation team to shred confidential documents, personal notes, evaluation team reports, committee reports and evidentiary documents provided by an institution. Shredding of documents! Talk about red flags, ladies and gentlemen, that certainly is one. What have they got to hide?” Nielsen said.

The audit request passed the committee by a 10-1 vote, with three abstentions.

The next day would see the biggest crack in the gloom yet, with City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s announcement that his office was suing the ACCJC to keep City College open.

The People Challenge ACCJC

Ever since CCSF’s crisis began, people had been coming to San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera asking what he could do. “There were a lot of conversations that were happening,” Alisa Messer said. “I don’t know everybody who talked to Herrera but I know Tom Ammiano talked to Herrera. [Newly elected City College trustee] Rafael Mandelman got a meeting with him,” she said.

In the beginning Herrera didn’t see much of a legal hook. “People approached me more as a politician than as a lawyer,” he said.

San Francisco is one of only 11 California cities that elects its top lawyer, and voters have favored aggressive advocates. Herrera’s predecessor, Louise Renne, sued the swanky Olympic Club for excluding women and people of color, and was one of the first city attorneys in the country to sue tobacco companies to recover the costs of medical treatment for smoking-related illnesses.

Herrera won his first term in 2001; in 2004, he filed the first suit defending lesbian and gay couples’ right to marry, and his office litigated on the issue until the Supreme Court upheld marriage equality in 2013.

When he heard the ACCJC planned to close the school, he was “outraged,” Herrera said, “and I was outraged by what I perceived to be just sort of a go-along to get-along approach by some elected officials and regulators. Instead of focusing on the importance of City College and how we could keep it open and serve San Franciscans, they took it almost as a fait accompli….

“Considering the history of this office and its independence and the ability we have to use the power of the law to fight injustice, I felt we had a real opportunity if we could find the right legal hook.” He called on the “complex and special” litigation team to investigate.

No one on the team knew anything about accreditation and its arcane rules. “We started with Google, embarrassingly enough…. We start there more often than we’d like to admit, when we don’t know the lay of the land at all and are trying to get our minds around a completely new thing,” said Sara Eisenberg, the deputy city attorney who led the City College work. Then the team members read everything they could find, including all the ACCJC’s reports about City College and other schools and AFT 2121’s complaint to the DOE.

“We dug in quickly, and got up to speed as fast as we could. The more we dug in, the more we found there was something there that was not right,” said Eisenberg. About seven weeks of research convinced the team they had a strong case.

At an Aug. 22, 2013 press conference, Herrera—with Eisenberg standing just behind him—announced that his office was suing the ACCJC in state Superior Court on behalf of the people of California. People of the State of California ex rel. Dennis Herrera v. Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, et al charged the ACCJC with bias and flawed process.

“The accreditor withdrew accreditation in retaliation for City College having embraced and advocated a different vision for California’s community colleges than the ACCJC,” Herrera said at the news conference.

In quick strokes the complaint painted a picture of City College, its commitment to open access, and its strong role in opposing the Student Success Task Force and the proposals that flowed from it. The case exposed the corporate roots of the “student success” agenda and the ACCJC’s aggressive advocacy for it, which put it in direct conflict with City College.

The complaint contended: “By evaluating City College while embroiled in a public political fight over the proper mission, vision and role of community colleges in California, and in specific ways detailed below, the ACCJC violated both its own conflict of interest policy….as well as California’s Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code Section 17200 et. seq., which prohibits unfair, unlawful and fraudulent business acts and practices.”

Citing the Department of Education’s findings, the complaint also objected to the lack of academics on the ACCJC visiting teams, the appointment of Barbara Beno’s husband to the 2012 team, and the Commission’s failure to distinguish between “noncompliance with accreditation standards” and “areas of improvement.”

The suit sought to overturn the show cause and termination decisions against City College and block the ACCJC “from engaging in accreditation evaluations at any of California’s 112 community colleges in a manner that violates applicable federal or state law.”

The filing brought immediate blowback.

“I remember the beef with the mayor’s office,” Herrera said. “They called me down there and were, like, ‘Who’s your client?’

“My client? The people of the State of California. I don’t need to represent the City and County. It’s a 17200 action, I can do what I want…. We got into it. We got into it hard,” he said.

The San Francisco Chronicle blistered Herrera for filing the suit. Its editorial titled “Off target” charged him with “playing with fire.”

“When you have a losing argument, change the subject,” the Aug. 23 editorial began. “That’s been the approach of certain City College defenders who want the (sic) attack an accreditation commission instead of the serious problems it has identified. Now City Attorney Dennis Herrera has put his imprimatur and legal muscle behind this dubious tack of distraction that is raising the risk of a shutdown.”

People kept emailing the editorial to Sara Eisenberg. She was sitting at her desk biting her nails when Herrera rang. “In some really colorful language, he said ‘forget those guys, we’re doing the right thing, you’re doing a great job, keep going’,” Eisenberg said.

Herrera also heard from CCSF administrators. “In the beginning it’s fair to say that there were folks there who thought that our litigation would impede ongoing political and other issues at City College,” Herrera said. 

“There was a feeling I was taking one side, on behalf of teachers, labor, against administrators and others that were trying to impose reforms on City College to get it on better financial footing…where I was just focused on keeping the place open and making sure ACCJC was playing by the rules,” he said.

Still, having the city attorney act on such a strong critique of the ACCJC sent the strongest signal yet that the activists defending City College might yet prevail.

An email tipped African American Studies Department Chair Tarik Farrar off to Herrera’s press conference, and he pulled a news site up on his computer. “I just sat there and started crying,” Farrar said. He likened it to the climactic moment in the third Lord of the Rings movie.

“Minas Tirith is under siege and the army was coming from Mordor, and its forces have broken the wall, and Gandalf is pulling back the forces, and they’re running up to the top tower. It seems all is lost and then you hear this horn off in the distance (da-nuh, da-nuh he hummed softly) and if you’ve seen the second movie you recognize that horn. That’s the horn that they brought from Rohan.

“Gandalf looks out and you see this ledge out in the distance and suddenly you see these horses coming up to the edge of the ledge. Rohan had been called three days earlier, and there they were, all massed on the hill. The battle wasn’t over by any means but somebody with some strength and determination [had arrived]…

“Ed Lee had been doing nothing but criticize and here’s Dennis Herrera. I guess when that happened I felt, ‘We’re going to be OK’,” Farrar said. n

© 2018 by Marcy Rein, Vicki Legion and Mickey Ellinger



1.          The state legislature established the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) in 1991 “to help California’s local educational agencies fulfill their financial and management responsibilities by providing fiscal advice, management assistance, training and other related school business services.” (from In the guise of offering technical assistance, FCMAT has helped push privatization and austerity. In 2003, it played a key role in the takeover of the Oakland Unified School District. Ten years after the takeover, one in four Oakland students attended a charter school.

2.          Before AFT 2121 made “equal pay for equal work” a priority, part-time faculty got paid on a lower scale than full-timers teaching the same classes. Over more than two decades, the local organized and bargained to put all faculty on the same scale, with part-time pay set at a percentage of full-time—“pro-rated,” so it is called “pro-rata” pay. Full-timers have some non-teaching duties that part-timers do not, hence the higher pay.

3.               The US Department of Education authorizes accrediting agencies. AFT 2121, along with the California Federation of Teachers, filed a formal complaint against the ACCJC with the department in April 2013. The complaint charged the accrediting commission with violating federal and state laws and its own internal rules, and asked the DOE to order it to rectify the abuses. For more information, see

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Reimagine! Movements Making Media — the home of Race Poverty & the Environment (RP&E) Radio Reimagine and NOOL.

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Earth Day Is Here. Mother Earth Is Pissed. We Need to Get Busy.

Needless to say we canceled our release party at SF City College, so...
You are invited to read volume 23 of  Reimagine! Race Poverty & the Environment online! Great articles on Free City College organizing, immigrant women workers' rights, Black culture in San Francisco, food justice and green smoothies in Oakland and much more.
 If you make a premium level donation to honor our 30th anniversary you can choose from RP&E Journals/Anthologies and books for your acknowledgement gift.

by Jess Clarke

It’s tempting to blame Donald Trump for the fact that the US was woefully underprepared for this pandemic, but getting caught up in a manufactured made-for-TV surreality show could kill us. Our most urgent task is to reimagine our social order, our economic policies and our relationship to planet earth.

The fact that Italy, Spain, France and England have all made the same derelict choices as the buffoonish US administration, that Brazil and India are on the cusp of following the same path and that Africa lies essentially unprotected in the face of COVID-19, are proof positive that the global capitalist system cannot serve human needs. We are on a path toward environmental and economic collapse of an order of magnitude even greater than what we have now begun to experience.
The cumulative injustices of segregation in housing, education, health care and employment that are showing up in public health department body counts across the country are part of this larger process. African Americans and people of color are dying at twice the rate of other populations—just as they were before this crisis. The searing statistics for the elderly, prisoners and immigrants that are just beginning to be published should be a wake-up call that we have to go much deeper in challenging the current order of things to survive.
The wildfires in Australia and California that dominated the news cycles last year are harbingers of the same message. There is no need to recount the many other climate disasters already underway. While the current wave of death and illness is sweeping across continents at unprecedented speed, environmental justice advocates are all too aware that frontline communities, those least responsible, are bearing the brunt of the destruction visible in New York, Detroit, New Orleans and Milwaukee.
Thirty years ago on Earth Day 1990 a group of racial justice advocates created the journal Race, Poverty & the Environment (RP&E). They were motivated by an emerging analysis of how toxic pollution in certain communities was killing African Americans and other people of color at disproportionate rates. Over the succeeding decades the advocacy groups of which they were a part formed a national network of organizations to defend our communities.
Five years ago, when Urban Habitat shut down the journal, we relaunched it. We have won some and lost some. But I think it’s fair to say that we are better off for the effort. We posted the entire thirty-year archive for free download on where we serve 60,000 plus monthly visitors over a million pages a year. We also make back issues available to university researchers through JSTOR and each year over 1,200 different universities and colleges download our articles. In addition to publishing RP&E, Reimagine! has also co-published two books from our contributing editors. Unfortunately, we have not managed to generate a real revenue stream despite ongoing readership. Our business model relies largely on volunteerism and donated labor. But we are keeping at it. We of course welcome your donations and will offer a premium level membership that gives you the gift of printed copies of either our books or the journal.
I think the words that inspired us to found Reimagine! are worth revisiting. This is what Grace Lee Boggs said in 2012:

“We are at the stage where the people in charge of the government and industry are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It’s up to us to reimagine the alternatives and not just protest against them and expect them to do better.

What we need is the kind of work that women do—not counting the hours because they care—and that’s a real transformation from a patriarchal concept of work to a matriarchal concept of work….
We are at the point of a cultural revolution in ourselves and in our institutions that is as far-reaching as the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture 11,000 years ago, and from agriculture to industry a few hundred years ago. How do we reimagine education? How do we reimagine community? How do we reimagine family? How do we reimagine sexual identity? How do we reimagine everything in the light of a change that is so far reaching and is our responsibility to make? We have to think beyond capitalist categories. We can’t expect them to make it. We have to do the reimagining ourselves.”

I'm still convinced that’s as good a call for our times as we will find. And at RP&E and Reimagine! we are carrying on in this spirit.  What we will do next, I don’t know. But I do know that we have to do it together. And that we can’t count on the ruling class to get us to the next stage, no matter how well-meaning and liberal they might say they are. Grace Lee Boggs also said the following, and I will close with this:

“Radicals don’t usually talk about souls—but I think we have to. What I mean by souls is the capacity to create the world anew, which each of us has. How do we talk about that with one another? It’s not only important to act, it’s important to talk because when you talk you begin to create new ideas and new languages. We’ve all been damaged by this system—it’s not only the capitalists who are the scoundrels, the villains; we are all part of it. And we all have to change what we say, what we do, what we think, what we imagine.”

We invite you to take a free read of the current issue. No release party. No promise of free appetizers and an open bar. What we can offer this issue are great stories by committed and creative workers. Hope you will join us.

Earth day is here. Mother earth is pissed. We need to get busy. Hope you will join us. 

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We are on a path toward environmental and economic collapse of an order of magnitude even greater than what we have now begun to experience.