“WHEN THE CULTURE DIES, THE PEOPLE DIE”
Temecula, CA – In the waning days of Occupy Los Angeles, Lisa Schwartz and Jim Vallely approached me with a petition for membership into the Western Service Workers Association. Intrigued I listened to their spiel, noticing Lisa’s sharp, bright eyes highlighting a can-do attitude and Jim’s slight ‘magically delicious’ Irish brogue. They represented a neighborhood self-help organization. Remembering my old political involvement in ‘Naptown’ (1971-72, see soon-to-be released ‘Memoirs of Mr. Pete & Mary Jane Green’), I signed on, and then promptly forgot all about everything as the next thing at OLA caught my attention. But we all know the Force is with Occupy.
Almost two months after Occupy LA was shut down, Occupy The Courts took me to Santa Ana, a city that I had passed through only while on the freeway. OTC was a dual purpose juncture for me, because Sports Fans, like John Cusack’s character in Runaway Jury, I had a hidden agenda going in.
In the 70’s because I was in a service industry [advertising] to the election process, I not only went backstage, I got to deal with the ‘handlers’ of the people running for office. That access offers a view of both sides of the fence, in fact, of the whole political neighborhood landscape. That is what any political party gathering is. Each yard will come to mean a plank in the platform. This is how a political group is steered, by plank movement. However, were the planks to become linoleum or a solid piece/group; steerage becomes untenable. In essence, you don’t hijack the jury, you prevent it.
Occupy is a circus big top of causes, each reflecting a societal ill. The groups are cause-dedicated and with Occupy the various groups came to realize where those ills are collectively coming from. Now the various groups have to grow into linoleum and recognize that the cause for GMOs/Yes On Prop 37 is the same import as a No on Prop 32, because both are symptoms from the same 0ne Percent source. Some are short term battles like the GMO Prop 37/Anti-labor Prop 32 and some are long term struggles such as the healthcare issues for the uninsured service worker. To start the intra-cause connection, I’m the guy stealing this jury. I went to Occupy The Courts with John Diaz and the Label GMO cause with this idea to cross-pollinate.
People were just starting to set up and one of those closest to us was the Service Workers table and Lisa Schwartz. When Lisa started to re-deliver her pitch to me, I stopped her and said, “Weren’t you at Occupy with an Irish guy?”
“Yes,” and she smiled. The rest of the story can be found in the very recent archives. A few weeks later I got a call and ventured into Orange County again. That began an ongoing relationship with the very neighborhood group known as Western Service Workers Association, the Santa Ana branch of a farm labor movement whose roots go back to Caesar Chavez. I remember following the origin via magazine print stories years ago.
On this day I was up in Orange County for the 36th Anniversary Dinner of the WSWA, held this year for the first time at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Commonwealth in Fullerton. Lisa and Jim, her able assistant, were joined by Sarah, Julian, Maria and a cast of others including a retired Kiwanis couple who deliver food baskets from Costco to the Santa Ana WSWA office every Monday. Food stuffs are delivered via volunteers to families that need it with a small tithe for the staff who organize there, all volunteers. With the exception of Lisa, Jim, Julian, the Kiwanis couple and Sarah, who is of Iranian descent, everyone else is Spanish speaking.
Setting up a stage in the nearest corner to the rear entrance of the senior center rec hall, Julian, the program MC of the night, laid out the PA system and sound mixer. Stage right from the angled stage and across the doorway was the room’s kitchen area. In front of the kitchen and running along the wall in an ‘L’ shape were the serving tables and refreshments. Stage left and running along the outer wall before also turning into an ‘L’ shape were a line of tables holding the donated baskets to be raffled off, one which took two of us to lift; the remaining table space held reusable green gift tote bags containing the private label garlic hot sauce that Lisa arranged for the dinner. [PS, it’s tasty!]
The room at the opposite end of the stage held the front door, bathrooms, and an entryway. Handling logistics at the senior center room including table and flower arrangement placement was Christina, a tall blond who spoke of having 33 years service with the organization. Must have joined in kindergarten, I thought to myself.
The floor space in the room middle held about twenty round tables which filled to capacity requiring the end two tables that formally held the some raffle baskets, to be used for some late arriving families. But the night belonged to the two groups of people, the families that came and the talent onstage.
The people and families that came are the people directly involved with the outcome of the organization’s efforts either as beneficiaries or as service donors. For both groups a sense of pride and accomplishment filled the room because the families served have members or are members of the organization. Dues are 62¢ a month. The organization also offers children education/tutor programs free of charge. Free medical services and free legal consultation/representation are also offered.
The entertainment was a mix of professional, Son Del Centro, who brought a dance box with the aforementioned sub-title written in Spanish, and Nedi Sings [acoustic guitar], combined with talented amateur/coached dance groups, Celtic Gold Irish Dancers [a Jim Vallely acquisition] and Ballet Folklórico of Huntington Park High School. The latter two groups were dressed in authentic cultural costuming for their neck of the woods and the innocent passion generated was reminiscent of the energy produced at The Vault ‘underground’ all-ages music shows.
Being a family filled hall, the parents and kids in attendance were thrilled by the stage show from the youth and the adult talent. Some kids wandered up front to get close to their peers onstage and other various adults captured the performance moments on their smart phones. A warm glow filled the room and applause filled the air when Lisa gave her program forecast which was then translated to the probably 75% Spanish speaking gathering by Maria.
There were a few more acts scheduled but a lull in the evening line-up gave me the pause to hit the road as my ‘magic carpet’ arrived to return me back to T-town.
I live in a beautiful town idyllic in its setting where many Christians take pride in doing foreign missionary work. They hold fundraisers, car washes, sell candy, and gather tithes to fund travel to overseas countries so they can come home and be proud to have helped third world misfortunes.
How much more blessed are the people like Lisa, Jim, Maria, Sarah, Norma Romero, Julian, Christina, and their wonderful staff who stay at home to offer aid to the local inhabitants? By organizing a membership and requiring some level of dues, people keep their dignity. But by organizing a membership that doesn’t speak your native language, for people who are under the bottom rung of legal employment, service workers, and doing this work for 36 years, not as some temporary mission, but as a mission, seems a lot closer to what Jesus did and said do.
As I stopped to look back at the half empty room before bidding a hasty adieu to Lisa, Jim, and Sarah, a room still filled with families whose first internet is the kid’s smart phone; deserted of those who left to catch the last bus, the 8:45, back across town, I thought that it is these people above all who have no clue about GMOs or the Prop 37 to label them for the state’s food products. These are the people who will be targeted in Monsanto’s coming mailer campaign. Benefits are important but useless if you are ingesting poisoned food, polluted water, being exterminated like a bug.
In the Revolution there are many goals. Some are long term like the 36-year ongoing program done by the Western Service Workers Association; others are short term like the Label GMO Prop 37. Somehow I was going to have to convince Lisa about the importance to carry a short and long term message. Perhaps Mother’s, a sponsor of WSWA and Label GMOs, see archive stories like Mother’s Knows Best, is a common ground start. As I often said at Occupy LA, ‘this isn’t my first revolution’ …but I want it to be my last! Stay tuned, this is a developing story.