vigil dec 11 2007

How to destroy good schools... test them to death (the most intersting thing)

Here's a story out of the New York Times a former student sent to me. The whole idea of such testing is so foolishly wrong-headed and nothing could make the point better than this story. Imagine requiring an across the board jump in scores like the one currently required. Oh wait, you don't have to imagine it because YOU are requiring it of these kids right now. How bankrupt! How totally stupid! The cynicism of the politicians and the irresponsibility of this as policy and the callousness of it as child-rearing is simply ... predictable ... we're the society with the most massive population behind bars in the industrial world. We build jails, and too many of our school begin to resemble the authoritarianism we practice rather than the freedom and exploration we say we value:

SACRAMENTO — Prairie Elementary School had not missed a testing target since the federal No Child Left Behind law took effect in 2002. Until now. (read more)
vigil dec 11 2007

Logan Barrio Reunion

Yesterday I went to the Logan Barrio reunion with several other members of Chican@s Unidos to attend a ground breaking ceremony for three new houses and the cookout in Chepa Park. With Joe Andrade and Sam Romero's approval we also distributed fliers concerning the city's Renaissance Specific Plan. The Orange Juice! blog has run a story.

At the ground breaking, a variety of the official representative of the people of the city were on hand. Lou Correa, Jose Solorio, Claudia Alvarez, Vincent Sarmiento, and Michele Martinez as well as the former council person and current city commissioner who was central to the promotion and execution of the plan to construct housing on site within Logan that had long since been given-over to industrial development. That person is Lisa Bist.

Bist confessed to an espeically soft spot for Logan, basd upon its neighborhood identity. She identified the community as the source of her interest in helping it to eliminate an innappropriate (industrial) use within its midst. More on that community identity in a moment, because it is the real sunken road in this story--the invisible power that made today a reality.

Councilmember Michele Martinez spoke more emphatically about the community in her remarks. She singled out Bist for what I thought was the best praise of the day by pointing out that the term limited Bist took the rookie council member Michele on a tour of the Ward, including Logan, and personally introduced her to active community members.

Michele then moved on to note the significance of the Andrade and Romero families and others in terms most of the speakers neglected. She spoke of their work in building community coalition and training each other to fight for housing. As everybody who knows Logan knows, these and other familie in the neighbohood have for decades been the heart of a community organizing effort that has waxed and waned but never fully vanished.

When Santa Ana mayor protem spoke, she repeatedly sai that we should "give credit where credit is due." She thanked many people, but barely mentioned the neighborhood and focused much attention on Lisa Bist. Bist obviously deserves notice for her community work, but if you want to understand why the city bought the site of an industrial facility in order to failitate the building of three low-income houses, you need to look where Bist herself suggested we look, where Martinez suggested we look: you need to look at the community itself and its usually little notice, no prestige, low budget, long-term effort to press for attention to its health and safety needs.

In Logan I see part of what I playfully call "the sunken road" on this blog. Josephine "Chepa" Andrade, her son Joe, and Sam Romero represent remarkable and to me inspiring examples of what deep community ties can do. In this day of global firms whose idea of "flexibility" means they can and should move jobs around the world as often as they like seeking simply the most rock bottom sweatshop labor conditions, Logan is a representative of what a relatively recently established but now three generations old community might become as a force for locality, responsibility, and community democracy. That is a segment in "the sunken road"--a part of our lives and history buried under the waves of images of wealthy "Laguna Beach" denizens and politicians who falsely promise to solve our problems with top down, technocratic, global-corporatist "solutions."

Our communications technologies do less to link-up the Andrades of the world than they do to broadcast disempowering messages into their homes. So it's as inspiring to see people undefeated and as it is to see government forced to respond to them.

So I was there with Chican@s Unidos to help. And we passed out leaflets designed to help Chican@s Unidos build a "Saul Alinsky" style community network. In doing so, we are only reviving something Josephine "Chepa" Andrade and Sam Romero and others did in the 1970s. They fought the demise of the neighborhood and built a community organization that became a model for other areas of the city.

And there we were, beside "Chepa Park" listening to Joe Andrade speak as president of the Logan Neighborhood Association. He spoke about how they had pressed for housing to replace light industry and how the "new residents will help us fight... whatever we have to do to keep this neighborhood here." Here we were in Logan, which reportedly has both a much lower crime rate than elsewhere in the city and an unusually tortured and difficult history with a city government long intent on dumping inappropriate development among the residents. And yet as Joe announced that Logan would work on community health issues and as Sam singled out Ware Disposal as the next industrial company to go, you had to think it was possible that they could succeed.

And if you had doubts that they could succeed, you would have to have let them go as the Priest went around scattering holy water on the parched brown earth and the people present in order to bless the building project about to commence. There was Sam Romero urging him that "some of these people need it" (extra holy water blessings). "Get that guy twice!" "See that guy with the glasses, get him."
vigil dec 11 2007

Race, Culture, and Obama (the most interesting thing I read today)

A little told story in the campaign is how race really is playing out under the radar of the major public polling. There has been quite a bit of talk about "the race card" but little writing I have seen that shows the analytical subtlety of this piece. The real undecided factor in the campaign is how Obama's racial status and his attitudes toward racial status will ultimately be perceived by the remaining undecided voters. One of the things I love about Obama and his campaign people is how brilliantly aware they are of the stakes here and how well they have managed it so far, with only minor errors. But what the linked article points out is what Obama cannot escape even though he is astutely strategic and tactical: our culture of race and race-baiting will break this election one direction or another and probably not until election day in the voting booth, when America will be alone with its history and make a decision about its future.
vigil dec 11 2007

The OC Register's convenient label

I am wondering how the Orange County Register knows that the motive in the murder of Miguel Fernandez in April 2007 was "gang rivalry." How can they know that? The assailants have never been caught or identified. And it is a fact that Fernandez was at a legit job that Sunday morning at 9:30am. He had no gang or criminal history. He was a high school graduate. As I wrote a while back in an update about this case, Fernandez's family is apparently pursuing a state workman's comp claim. Yet, somehow the Register believes it alone knows the motive in the crime and has attached a map to this story that labels the motive "gang rivalry." It strikes me as disrespectful to the dead. What's the evidence?
vigil dec 11 2007

Town hall meeting on shootings in Santa Ana

In a press release dated September 11, Michele Martinez, Santa Ana Councilwoman and candidate for Mayor of Santa Ana, is calling for "a town hall meeting addressing the ongoing issue of gang violence."

"In light of the shooting and death of 13-year-old, Rodrigo Valle," a few nights ago and the arrests that have been made since, Martinez is calling for the town hall meeting to "allow residents to voice their concerns... and share their ideas."
Such shootings have increased this year. Martinez says that she has "received numerous calls" on the issue "from parents, teachers and students... pressing for a meeting to tackle this problem."

The meeting will be held Monday, September 15, 2008 at 4 pm. at Angel Park on 3rd Street and Flower in Santa Ana.

vigil dec 11 2007

A 9/11 memory that begins September 8, 2001

On September 8 2001, I was in lower Manhattan for a wedding at CBGB’s, the legendary club that launched the Ramones and a host of other famous acts of the American punk scene. In High School I had attended countless shows there. One friend’s band had played there on a few occasions. Now another friend was getting married in the space. There was a measurable dose of NYC-love in the room – that Manhattan identity that brings some folks to the conviction that they’re fortunate not to be stuck in that land of picket fences that surrounds the island.

The next day, as we left the city to return to Virginia, traveling south on I-95 past Newark International Airport, I pointed out to Wendy how the Weehawken heights to the east cut-off the view of all but the highest buildings of Manhattan. It was a clear bright September Sunday and you could see midtown, anchored on the south by the Empire State Building and then moving your eye south along the empty space of uninterrupted sky above the cliffs there suddenly appeared the Lower Manhattan skyscrapers, most especially the Twin Towers of the WTC.

Looking at them for a moment, Wendy said of the towers, “they look so vulnerable.”

I disagreed.

Wendy added that Newark International looked vulnerable too. She wondered aloud what was stopping someone from just pulling over on the highway and firing surface-to-air missiles at the planes a few hundred yards away on the runways and landing strips.

I argued that the police-state apparatus of the US was such that there was no way an attack would ever get that far. I thought the government would surely learn of any such plot long in advance.

On the morning of September 11 we were back in Virginia. I listened and watched live as the second plane stuck.

I grew up more or less in sight of the WTC Twin Towers. They were visible from lots of parts of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, New Jersey, and Long Island. You’d turn a corner and suddenly they’d be visible in the distance—if you even noticed anymore. I visited them several times. I sometimes went down there with friends in the middle of the night to walk around the ghost-town financial district. We’d stand right beside one of the towers and stare straight up into the distant dark.

The buildings were designed to sway several feet in any direction under strong winds. Staring upward, I thought I could see the buildings sway.

Before the first one fell, I saw it wavering.

When I was a kid I remember asking my mother how the skyscrapers would be taken down one day. I also used to wonder what would happen if any of them fell. Maybe one day they would fall into disrepair. I wondered if it was possible to implode buildings as tall as the Twin Towers were.

And then it came down right in front of my eyes, live on TV.

I didn’t know it yet, but in that moment my younger brother was running from the collapse, as was a friend. A few alumni from my high school died.

When I reached my brother on the phone, his voice was at least an octive higher than normal – not because of panic but because of the incalculable deep-laid stress of the event. Covered in dust, he described what he’d seen.

Then there were more planes in the air. I was listening live to a radio report from inside the Pentagon when the reporter suddenly broke off to say, “I don’t want to make anyone panic but we just felt an enormous jolt and I can see workmen from a worksite fleeing the building.”

Then there were still more planes in the air, destinations unknown.

Wendy briefly thought we should evacuate. We lived in the most militarized region of the most militarized state in the union. About seven major military installations were within five to 55 miles of us. All of them were also near and even down-wind from a very old very vulnerable nuclear reactor that was itself only three-to-five miles away from our apartment.

I was against the idea. We stayed put. No attack came. But I did learn that the FBI suspected that one of the attackers had come through the area, scoping out possible targets. For a while we displayed a set of photos on a poster near the circulation desk of the library I worked in. The signs asked people to come forward with information if they had seen the men pictured.

I didn’t recognize them. But I remember the strange psychological struggle with myself over whether I recognized them. Did I? This blur grey-zone of memory and desire for memory struck me as related to the frenzy for connection to the incidents that many seemed to be searching for in the first days.

A TV went up next to the circulation desk with 24/7 coverage, which was not a welcomed thing to me, as people kept approaching and talking about it. It seems now that the haze of depression that I was in lasted for weeks.

An acquaintance came up to the circulation desk one night and we talked about a vigilante mob of thousands in Boston that had congregated around a Marriot Hotel in downtown on the rumor of a would-be hijacker being cornered there by the police. They had blood in mind. “If I was there, I’d be right with them!” he insisted. I’ve never viewed that guy the same way since.

Then the war came, and I remember being unconvinced that they could catch Bin Laden with an invasion.

Then the war after the war came, and I openly opposed it from the day the sabers started rattling.

The “War on Terrorism” is the New Cold War. Some ruling politicians, usually Democrats, will speak of it more benignly and less frequently. Other ruling politicians, usually Republicans, will speak of it more often and more belligerently. But both parties will affirm “the War on Terror.” Its narrative will be one of the most important controlling influences in the creation of political consent for at least a generation: we were attacked and therefore we must maintain 500-700 military bases around the world, we must invade other countries, we must overthrow governments, the commercial interests of global corporate capitalism must be guarded against terrorists.

Live long and you may not outlive this story that has just begun.

[originally posted Sept 8, 2007]
vigil dec 11 2007

Two updates on the murder of Miguel "Mike" Fernandez

Miguel Fernandez was 19 years old when he was shot on a bright Sunday morning at about 9:30am, April 15, 2007. He was a recent graduate of Santa Ana High School. Police designated the crime "gang related," which I always thought an insult to the family because of the stigma that label carries, implying wrongly that Fernandez was a criminal.

Because I, my daughter, and my friend Madrigal witnessed the shooting I have of course wondered what became of the investigation. Chican@s Unidos held a vigil for Fernandez, and I was interviewed by police in April and August. But I saw no indications that they had any leads, or had even applied much in the way of resources to Fernandez's case.

I frequently go back to Santa Ana and my old neighborhood. I learned last fall that a private investigator had come through the neighborhood on behalf of Fernandez's relatives. And yesterday I learned of one witness who was served a subpoena in a suit by the family against the state workers compensation board: Fernandez was at work that morning, driving around the city restocking stores.
vigil dec 11 2007

Lake Forest day laborers win

“I was advised by Scott Sink this evening that the police have caved in, and will comply with the demands made,” wrote Orange County activist Sharon Tipton in an email last Tuesday. She was helping to spread the word to call off a small rally at court in Santa Ana where a hearing in the Lake Forest day laborer suit was to be held. I don't want the victory to go by without brief notice.

The Orange County Register ran a story on August 19.

"Scott Keltic Knot" had been seeking people to "bear witness" at the hearing with the Tonantzin Collective, the Association of  Workers from Lake Forest, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who were the plaintiffs on behalf of the workers and were represented by the ACLU.

In 2006 the Lake Forest City Council approved a law prohibiting solicitation of work in public places. Although later repealed, "OC sheriffs, a private security company, and hate activists have continued to harass, arrest, and scare away employers,"  According to "Scott Keltic Knott." The purpose of the suit was, he added, "to stop the illegal police harassment, and defend the freedom of all workers to be able to seek employment."

According to an ACLU press release from 2007, similar practices have been successfully challenged in Los Angeles County, Glendale, and Redondo Beach.

In the release, activists defended--rightly--the community presence and human diginity of immigrants generally and these immigrants in particular. Remarked Pablo Alvarado, “day laborers are members of the Lake Forest community, and they provide an important service through their hard work.”

“This country was built through the hard labor of immigrants, whether on the railroads in the 19th century or in today’s booming housing market,” said Nora Preciado, ACLU/SC staff attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow in the ACLU press release. “This kind of discrimination is contrary to our deepest principles of freedom.”

They were right, and this week they won.
vigil dec 11 2007

Chican@s Unidos endorses Martinez for Mayor (invite for campaign kickoff)

Michele Martinez is running for mayor of Santa Ana against the long-lived Pulido machine. I am on her campaign committee. We have established a facebook page for networking and a campaign website.

We officially endorsed her candidacy at the Chican@s Unidos meeting yesterday in Santa Ana. I personally don't normally get involved in electoral campaigns, but Michele is different--a genuine progressive grassroots leader up and out from the local streets. She attended all the candlelight vigils for slain youth in the streets of Santa Ana in 2007 that Chican@s Unidos organized. She has been a consistent advocate.

Here is an invite to the official campaign kickoff:

The Committee to Elect Michele Martinez for Mayor cordially invites you to an evening reception with prominent Santa Ana residents and hosts:

Joyce and Ralph Allen
Thursday, August 21, 2008
5:30p.m.-7:30 p.m.
1002 W. River Lane
Santa Ana, CA 92706
Cost $99.00 per person
(Students complimentary)

Please RSVP at and please mail contributions to:

Friends of Michele Martinez for Mayor
555 S. Flower Street, Ste. 4210
Los Angeles, CA 90071
FPPC ID #1308492
Appetizers and Refreshments will be provided!
More later...
vigil dec 11 2007

Mr. Pedroza goes to City Hall (happy birthday Art)

I received a note from Art Pedroza the other day announcing his birthday party /slash/ fundraiser for his campaign for Ward 3 on the Santa Ana City Council. The party is tonight. I won't be at the fundraiser, but I want to wish him a happy birthday. He's a one of a kind gadfly.

I have met Art many times in community meetings associated with Michele Martinez, and he and I apparently shared a passion for Iggy and the Stooges when we were teens on opposite sides of the continent. The issues he outlines on his campaign website are the issues I have heard him promote before in person and on his noted local blog: libraries and shopping carts and city-wide wifi. I'm glad he's had something of a political reconstruction and moved away from homophobia and its Republican Party; for more on that one see Gustavo Arellano's brief appreciation at the OC Weekly site.

Personally, I get a "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" feel from Art's commentaries sometimes, and I suspect he could filibuster with the best of 'em, old style like Jimmy Stewart did in the film. It will be very interesting to see where his campaign against Councilmember Carlos Bustamante takes him.

Happy birthday Art.