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(en) US, Modesto, California, Smash the State - Build the Community! Why we are Occupying Tower Park

Date Wed, 29 Jun 2005 12:23:12 +0300


Why Reclaim the Parks… …and the streets…and the city…
We are calling for the people of Modesto to occupy Tower
Park on Saturday, July 23rd. Parks represent areas in
communities that are largely still communal and free. They are
open spaces where people can come and enjoy green space,
and not have to worry about pressures of the city, and the
distractions of the commerical/work world. In the past we have
occupied Tower Park to protest the police harassment and
treatment of homeless, the policies of the Gospel Mission, and
also the lack of permanent year round shelter. However,
it’s a bigger problem than just the homeless facing difficult
times, it’s the entire bloc of working people in this city,
(and central valley), that are facing the effects of urban sprawl,
police abuse, environmental devastation, and lack of the basics
of life. Below are some reasons we not only need to come
together to reclaim the parks, but the whole city.

Urban Sprawl
In one of his last speeches as California's top health official,
Dr. Richard Jackson said conventional urban planning, (urban
sprawl), is a culprit in urban health problems, mass pollution,
and leads to stress and friction within families as parents spend
two to four hours on the freeways getting to and from work
each day. Jackson also takes issue with local governments that
allow residential areas to be built without bicycle trails and
playing fields (Modesto Bee, June 23, 05).
Urban sprawl is the growth of roads and industry, which
destroys local culture and control, and replaces it with
corporate power and destruction. The loss of farmland and
open space often causes unexpected economic challenges for
rural communities. In communities like ours, farmland,
forests, ranch land and open space tend to be the economic
drivers that feeds us, provides beauty, and is a home for
eco-systems. Sprawling development compromises the
resources that are the core of the community. Current
development patterns also create substantial air pollution,
largely because of the increased automobile dependence that is
associated with sprawl. With local economies wiped out,
people now rely on strip malls and shopping centers, and the
only realistic choice for running out to these places is to drive.
An academic study commissioned by SGA, Measuring Sprawl
and Its Impact, shows that people in sprawling places breathe
more polluted air. The study found that the severity of ozone
pollution is strongly related to the degree of sprawl. In fact the
difference in ozone levels between the most sprawling and
least sprawling metro areas is 41 parts per billion: enough to
shift a metro area from ‘code green’ air quality status
to an unhealthy ‘code red.’ Other pollutants emitted
by cars, such as benzene and particulate matter, better known
as soot, are associated with increased risk of lung and other
cancers, particularly for those who live near major roadways.
Ninety percent of total cancer risk in the Los Angeles Basin is
attributable to toxic air pollutants emitted by mobile sources.
As a recent headline in USA Today put it: “City, suburban
designs could be bad for your health.”
Urban sprawl then has several affects. It removes farm land
and green space, it removes local autonomy and increases
corporate power, and also leads to more pollution and less
healthier cities. Corporate urban sprawl also means that certain
people suddenly don’t fit into a plan of success of a more
“urbanized” Modesto. This means that homeless
people, youth, poor and working people ultimately don’t fit
into a plan of a Modesto where Starbucks sit across from each
other, and million dollar homes line the street.

Environmental Justice
While urban sprawl pushes out communities of working and
homeless people with high rents and loitering laws, many
communities of people of color and poor people are being
affected by large corporations that threaten our health and
safety. One of the worst polluters is the Modesto Tallow plant.
The plant renders animal corpses, and turns them into pet food
and livestock feed. This causes massive amounts of air
pollution, which have devastating affects on the community,
which is mostly Latino in South Modesto. According to the
Modesto Bee, “Over the past 10 years, Modesto Tallow
violated air quality rules more often than any other company in
the Northern San Joaquin Valley. The company's 124
violations include creating a public nuisance, malfunctioning
equipment and failing to process carcasses within 24 hours,
according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control
District.” Modesto Tallow has been fined at least $1.4
million over the years, about half of which has not been paid.
Modesto Tallow refuses to pay at least $765,000 in air district
fines dating back to 2002. Modesto Tallow also owes $246,607
in taxes dating back to 2000 for its property at 925 Crows
Landing Road, according to county records.
The Tallow Plant has a sever affect on local people. One man
interviewed by the Modesto Bee stated that the stench is
especially bad at night and on weekends, because air district
officials aren't readily available to investigate. Students at the
near by Shackelford School, suffer from headaches, nausea,
and vomiting. As a school worker said, “The students
come out from lunch, start smelling that stink, and it's just
overwhelming. They start heaving up."
But it’s not just the Tallow Plant, another major polluter
and threat to the local community is the Covanta Plant. The
Covanta plant takes trash, (mostly things like computer parts),
from other communities, and burns it in order to create energy
for the city. According to community groups like Grayson
Neighborhood Council, the effects however are disastrous.
“…The incinerator emits dioxin and other highly toxic
pollutants into the air. Dioxin is the most toxic substance
known to science, even at low levels of exposure. Dioxin
causes cancer, birth defects, reproductive illnesses and other
health problems.” The toxins leak not only into the air, but
also into the soil, infecting animals, which are then eaten by
humans.
This says a lot about the kind of town that we live in, and what
kind of people decide the quality of life for many people. It says
that poor people and people of color take the blunt of
environmental terrorism, and toxic chemicals. It also says that
while city leaders often claim that not enough money is
available for homeless shelters, school books, firefighters, etc,
various local corporations owe literally hundreds of thousands
of dollars in fines and have yet to pay up. It also says that while
children grow violently sick, the city cares more about getting
energy and money. Is this the kind of city we want?

Labor Struggles
While our living environments in our communities may be
being destroyed, our workplaces are also declining in their
social worth. With many skilled and industrial jobs leaving the
area, (often moving to other countries because of “free
trade”), the economy in the Central Valley and in the US is
largely moving into the service industry. While small family
owned businesses are pushed out by Starbucks and
Wal-Marts, and union jobs are replaced by unionized jobs,
people’s benefits, wages, and standard of living are under
fire.
On average union workers receive a median of 27% more
money than un-unionized workers. Unionized workers also get
54% more in pension funds than un-unionized workers. Union
workers also get better health insurance, disability coverage,
and life insurance. While the benefits of organizing on the job
are clear, the direction that many jobs in this area are going are
not towards sturdy union jobs, but to unstable service industry
jobs. Low-wage workers have been particularly hard hit by
wage trends and have been left behind as the disparity between
rich and poor has mushroomed. To compound the problem,
the real value of the minimum wage in recent years is actually
much less than in the past (Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt,
1999). Although incomes appear to be rising, this growth is
largely due to more hours worked - which in turn can be
attributed to cut social programs and the tight labor markets.

Homeless Issues
As jobs pay less, and workers receive less benefits, the cost of
living for many people is continuing to rise increasingly. As
people in the bay area flee their own rising rents, landlords and
property owners take advantage of the new market, and raise
rents in this area sometimes by 100’s of dollars. According
to the Modesto Bee, this isn’t going to change anytime
soon, as they reported that rents are forecast to grow 4.4
percent this year and 4.9 percent over the next year. In the mid
to late 90‘s, rents increased faster than income for the 20%
of American households with the lowest incomes.
But there are other serious issues that are contributing to
homelessness other than rising rents and low paying jobs.
Nationally, approximately half of all women and children
experiencing homelessness are fleeing domestic violence
(Zorza, 1991; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,
2001). Approximately 22% of the single adult homeless
population suffers from some form of severe and persistent
mental illness, and many of them are unable to enter into
programs that will help them not only in their illness, but also
become an able member of society (U.S. Conference of
Mayors, 2001).
Under these conditions, the majority of people that face
homeless do not choose it. They are either forced into the
position through the affects of capitalist society: loss of jobs,
rising rents, lack of assistance programs, etc. In this context,
the city of Modesto has largely ignored these problems, and
instead of helping to open shelters and secure programs, it has
passed aggressive anti-panhandling and other laws aimed at
homeless. They city has also recently considered selling off
public parks that are largely used by the homeless. In doing so
the city has sentenced a section of the cities population that
have been placed in a bad position to an even harsher
existence.

Problems with Local Police
According to the Modesto budget of 04-05, the Modesto
Police, (although facing some cuts), will receive around $46.6
million for the year. This comes in the wake of a police officer
being shot in Jan. 05’ in Ceres, where police have
aggressively stepped up efforts against suspected gang
members. During the intensified gang enforcement, 83
individuals were arrested, 270 home searched, and 160
vehicles stopped. Arrests took place all over Ceres and
Modesto but concentrated in the predominantly farm worker
communities. Police also received new automatic weapons,
which were used in stops of largely younger adults that were
“suspected” of being in a gang. Robert Rubin, the
Legal Director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights
(LCCR) said: "However legitimate law enforcement activity
might be, it must not be used as a cover for wholesale targeting
of the Latino community.” While drug dealing and gangs
are a problem, just small fractions of the money going into
automatic weapons and police units, could instead go to
programs that would instead help youth get out of poverty, and
end gangs.
2005 also marks the 9th person being shot by Modesto Police
since 2000. Recently Modesto Police have come under fire by
one of the families of the victims, and are involved in an
ongoing lawsuit. Police have also routinely harassed homeless
people in parks and public areas, youth in the downtown area,
and also anarchist activists, (the collective who is writing this),
in their attempts at documenting police misconduct and
organizing.
The Police department is also un-democratically responsible to
the communities they work in. Complaints that are issued
against police officers are reviewed by internal affairs, which
are other police officers. This process allows police to police
themselves, and thus are accountable only to their own
internal organization. The Police Chief is also only directly
responsible to the city council, and not the community.

Possible Solutions
The current problems that are facing working people in this
community are a result of a system that puts all the means of
which we all need to survive into the hands of a small elite for
the sake of profit, (we call this system capitalism). The
answers lie however not in more government regulation, but in
the creation and maintenance of genuine organs and
institutions of direct democracy and community control, (what
we call anarchism - or self-organized workplaces and
communities).
Firstly, people need to get organized. Organizing unions in
their work places, (especially if they are service industry - go to
www.iww.org), and forming tenants associations and unions to
fight landlords and high rents. Urban sprawl can be countered
by communities planting gardens and new bike paths, and
pressuring the city to develop better ways of zoning areas.
Communities and neighborhoods also need to become
organized such as the local Grayson Neighborhood Council,
which is organized to fight Covanta and other companies
which hurt the local environment - and the people in it.
Homeless people can squat buildings and fix them up, and
create the kind of autonomous villages that exist now along
rivers and in Modesto’s woods. Communities can also
come together to monitor and stop police harassment, as
citizens in Ceres have done, while at the same time organizing
their own systems of mediation and problem solving instead of
involving police. You can also get involved with the D.A.A.A.
Collective, and organize with us! More info at:
www.modanarcho.tk

Smash the State…
…Build the Community!
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