Mendocino County Today: Monday, March 20, 2017
by AVA News Service, March 19, 2017
A READER WRITES: There is an unfortunate civil war going on in Redwood Valley between long time residents. One would think that anti-GMO, pro-organic farming advocates would all be on the same page, but in RV, they are divided and in conflict. The issue is the old Grange Hall.
Once the National Grange, now promoting industrial and GMO agriculture as necessary to feed the world, revoked the California State Grange charter in 2013, that left the status of all the 182 Granges in California in question. The National Grange set up a new, California State Grange, which sued the revoked Grange for the trademark name and won. That left the 182 CA Granges to decide if they would go with the newly formed California State Grange, or the newly renamed California Guild.
The organic farmers of Redwood Valley are now in a war over this issue. The majority faction followed the votes of the membership and took actions accordingly, always offering means for compromise and community cooperation to the disaffected minority. The minority faction disagreed and recently locked the majority out of the Hall. The majority faction is paying all the bills, and the minority faction is keeping all the rental revenues. The battle may have to be settled in court.
I think this is an issue worth investigating. I was hoping that an independent investigative reporter could look more deeply into this issue and report on the tragic story of a functional community that broke.
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DAWN HODSON, of the Georgetown Gazette, has written the following excellent account of what has happened with the Grange, with Part Two coming right up.
Did A Power Struggle Start A Grange War?
by Dawn Hodson
It’s hard to imagine The National Grange, this country’s oldest agricultural organization and one devoted to both community betterment and the protection of agriculture, to be at the center of so much litigation.
But there it is.
Officially referred to as the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the organization was founded after the Civil War in 1867. Operating in 37 states, this year it celebrates its 150th birthday. Effective at lobbying for both agricultural and political issues, it successfully lobbied to establish the Cooperative Extension Service, Rural Free Delivery and the Farm Credit System, among other programs.
So what happened to make it the epicenter of so much ill feeling?
Multiple issues seem to figure into the turmoil: conflicting personalities, politics and a divergence in philosophy between some of the local chapters and the state and national organization over agricultural policy.
California, in particular, became an irritant of the the National Grange after Bob McFarland was elected Master of the State Grange in 2009 and again in 2011. Master is the same as being president.
McFarland, hoping to revitalize the State Grange, added new members and local granges and supported resolutions in favor of organic farming and against genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
But in 2011, the relationship between McFarland and the head of the National Grange, Ed Lutrell, soured. Lutrell claimed that McFarland had not followed certain procedures. He at first suspended McFarland and later sent him a prewritten letter of resignation which McFarland refused to sign. That then set in motion a split in the state organization and subsequent lawsuits.
With the battle lines now drawn, in 2013 Lutrell revoked California’s 145 year old charter.
Following that, 95 percent of members in most of the state’s 206 granges reelected McFarland to a third term and decided to continue functioning as a State Grange separate from the National.
At that point, Lutrell demanded the granges turn over all their buildings, land and bank accounts to the National Grange and stop operating as separate organizations using the name grange. The National Organization also reconstituted the California State Grange with a new Master, Ed Komski.
McFarland and many of the former granges then formed a separate organization called the California Guild after they lost a trademark lawsuit over who has the right to use the name grange. Those groups now call themselves guilds although that judgment is being appealed.
With local granges forced to choose between the State Grange and the State Guild, the State Guild now claims 125 chapters while the State Grange claims all the former granges in California, even those who chose to go with the guild, because of a separate lawsuit that was decided in the State Grange’s favor. According to a Sacramento Superior Court decision in 2015, all the property of the granges belongs to the State Grange. That judgment is also being appealed.
Meanwhile other lawsuits have been filed and according to one grange member, there are at least seven or eight of them now.
The renegades of El Dorado County
Particularly rich in granges, El Dorado County has six including the first one founded in the state: Pilot Hill which is in Cool. Others include the Gold Trail Grange in Coloma, the Hangtown Grange in Placerville, the Marshall Grange in Garden Valley, the Pleasant Valley Grange in Diamond Springs and the Three Forks Grange in Somerset.
Three of them have since left the State Grange including Marshall, Pleasant Valley and Pilot Hill which now calls itself the Cool Community Association.
Mary Jane Battaglia, who with her daughter Bonnie and husband belong to the Pleasant Valley Grange – now Guild, have their own take on what set these events in play.
“Prior to Bob getting into office, the National Grange controlled who became the state master,” said Mary Jane. “There was this one lady who thought it was her time to be master and fully expected to become master and was backed by national. But Bob got elected and that did it. She then went to national and asked for help … The gist of it is insurrection in the ranks. It all started with that one person mad because she didn’t get to be the master and McFarland was. McFarland didn’t back down which also added fuel to the fire.”
Wally DuBois, a leader of the Cool Community Center, had a slightly different take on why it all happened. He said in a prior election, the man who ran against McFarland is the son of the woman who is now the head of the National Grange and that accounts for the sour grapes.
Apparently the leaders at the National Grange found themselves increasingly put out by what was happening in California and their inability to control it.
A separate issue was that many of the members of the California granges were in favor of organic farming and opposed the planting of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
When the National Grange supported the Supreme Court’s decision in 2014 and sided with Monsanto after the company sued an Indiana soybean farmer for violating one of their patents, some members saw it as a threat to their own views on agriculture.
“Bob started the movement to label GMOs and to legalize hemp for rope,” said DuBois. “National doesn’t like that. They are tied into Monsanto and big agriculture. They just wanted an excuse to get rid of McFarland.”
With two different organizations vying for control in California, the dispute now comes down to who gets the assets of the granges. The state and national organizations say they all belong to them. The members of the breakaway guilds say no, it’s theirs.
“There is no legal standing for the State Grange to take the land and buildings of granges,” said DuBois. “National never drove a nail, painted a board, paid a tax or cleaned a toilet. Originally, the granges were meeting places for farmers, warehouses so they could leverage their buying power of things like fencing and seeds. A lot of these places were built in rural areas where there was nothing. Then cities built up to them and their value went up.
“So when the big war started in 2010, 2011, they expected California to roll over. They did the same thing in Wyoming. They jerked the money and there are no halls in Wyoming any longer. We calculate that up to 2014 they spent $3.5 million on lawsuits trying to get Bob and get the California granges. Komski and another guy were talking about a supergrange. Take all the weak halls, sell them off and put the money into a supergrange,” he continued. “A witness said the concept was that Komski wanted to cloud the title to all the halls so they could have more control. Komski has always said we own your halls and your property and Bob has always said no, they belong to the community. These lawsuits are designed to suck the funds out of the original state grange. They are corporate tactics Monsanto would use. They hire a lawyer who specializes in going out and crushing small companies. Basically they are saying we don’t own these granges, give them to us.
“The grange laws did not state who individual grange property belonged to until the National Grange in 2012-13 changed it. It was unstated who it belonged to. The only thing the national bylaws stated was if a state fell below six halls, that state may have its charter revoked. Before 2012, upon revocation or if a hall dissolves, those assets would go to national to be put back into the hall and opened up under new management. All the granges have to do their own fund-raising to buy property and build the halls and keep it open. We’re all volunteers but we all have one agreement, and that is it should stay with the community. Up until recently the national and state agreed with that idea and tried to put in backstops against anyone selling the property. But in the 80’s there was a national shift from the members being our assets to the halls being our assets. Komski and the new national leader Betsy Huber, use threats and intimidation. Huber could have ended this a year ago but said you have to rejoin Komski under his rules and be a grange and that’s your only option.”
What they want is the land, insisted DuBois. The national organization is hurting for money and members and their legal fees are going up. “They were down to 62,000 members in 2014 in 36 states.” he said. “Three years ago they spent $300,000 for their yearly convention, then two years ago spent $500,000 for a convention for about 100 people. They are living in a bubble but forget where the money is coming from. They have since done away with all the checks and balances if a grange is suspended. They just do it for ‘the good of the order’ and take people’s property away.”
Out in the cold
Probably one of the strangest examples of what DuBois was talking about happened at the Marshall Grange – now Marshall Guild – last year.
“We were closely watching what was happening at the state level,” said Phyllis Polito, who is a member of the organization.
Changes to the state bylaws gave Komski their building, although at the time they had the sole title to it. “That was all new language,” she said, adding that the reaction to the changes was, “this is crazy.”
“In January 2016 we notified all the members we were going to discuss which group we were going to join. Without our knowledge, Komski found out about the meeting and showed up for it. Komski was very emotional. He threatened us. He said he could come in and lock our hall. But we voted to stay with McFarland. Then on Feb. 10, Linda Chernoff, who was our vice president at the time, had a letter from Komski suspending us and saying she was not going to allow us to hold a meeting. Members rejected the letter and the group decided to hold a meeting anyway. Linda left the meeting with her husband and a few others. After the meeting, we discussed the letter and concluded it didn’t apply to us. The next day, Feb. 9, Linda changed the locks on the hall and locked us out. She said the State Grange requested she change the locks to send the message that they meant business regarding ownership of the hall and that it remain in the hands of the fraternal grange members. Komski also made Chernoff acting president.
Polito said they contacted a lawyer who specializes in corporate law as Marshall, like most, if not all, of the granges-guilds are incorporated. “He told us she can’t do that. California corporate law does not allow that. So we went back a couple days later on Feb. 12 and changed the locks again. Linda called the Sheriff and blocked the driveway with her car and said no one was leaving the property, even the locksmith. A deputy showed up and he told her to move her car so the locksmith could leave. So the deputy left and we sat down and met with Linda and her husband in the hall.”
Polito said they continued to allow her and others access to the building while this played out in court as others rent the hall and they didn’t want to disrupt their activities. “We wanted everyone to have access to the hall. We were friends. We had dinner at each other’s homes. We thought, let’s continue our good work and let the courts figure it out. But on Feb. 18, Linda changed the locks again and installed a burglar alarm. At the same time our bank account was frozen and it’s still frozen until we get a court order. So every month we held meetings in the parking lot in the cold and the rain. Since then we have not had the use of the building. Linda claims Komski told her to do this.”
Polito claimed this was followed by people being threatened with some leaving the group because they were afraid of Komski. “There were police reports on people. I was secretary of the guild and was called by Komski and told to not represent myself anymore as secretary of the Marshall Grange because ‘he would hate to see harm come to my family,’” she said. “That’s just one example. He also said that to my husband. Another lady in her 80’s is very active as a real estate agent. Komski threatened to see that her real estate license was revoked if she didn’t cooperate with him. The name grange was pulled off the building. He told her, since you defaced my property I’m going to get your license revoked. He actually had local people boobytrap the building with a trip wire.
“There used to be an appeal process in place but that’s gone,” she said. “It’s all down to what a single person decides. Down to one person rule. So the State Grange can revoke a charter. For the good of the order they can take anyone’s property away from them. The money then goes to the national organization. They can take your property for any reason. If you don’t crack a bible at the beginning of the meeting or don’t have the right number of officers.”
DuBois added that the only reason Komski was able to do what he did to Marshall was because two members of that grange decided to go against the wishes of the members and flip it to Komski. “Some granges voted to go with him and some didn’t. This is the only case where a takeover happened and that’s because of those two members. This is the only grange where the members were locked out. A Federal court said we don’t have to join Komski. Our appeal will go to a panel and they will decide if it goes to trial or not and that could be another 2-3 years.
“It didn’t happen to our grange because our members didn’t turn on us,” said DuBois. “Their decision was not only no, it was hell no.
“We all said we’re happy to let the court decide but you’ve got these threatening letters and takeovers. He knows if you voluntarily flip over, he’s won. He can’t take the property any other way. He’s a carpetbagger in the truest sense of the word. It’s very sad. The average age of a granger is 65 to 75. it’s a predator’s paradise. But people just want to be left alone.”
In the meantime, DuBois said the guilds are trying to recruit younger members while allowing each to specialize in different areas whether it’s music or sustainable agriculture. “It depends on what the community is interested in,” he said. “The old rituals are of less interest to new people. Basically this is an inflection point for the National Grange. They have shown us how to get free of them. It’s complex and emotional and very personal.”
(As a side note, Chernoff was contacted for a comment but declined. Komski and McFarland were also asked for interviews but chose to let their lawyers respond instead.)
FORT BRAGG NOTES
Planning Commission Faces Irrational Agenda Wednesday night.
by Rex Gressett
The City Manager, in just over one month, has launched a focused assault on the long formulated and widely discussed community vision for the development of the Fort Bragg mill site.
At the last city council meeting, the city received the stunning revelation that a contract had already been signed, and that money was in escrow for a project that the city manager was supporting with massive intervention but which remained secret from the wider public. Not even the name of the project developer was disclosed.
To push through this mystery development, the city manager and her team at city hall were going to have to dump decades of community input, ditch the plan so far and without further bothersome inconvenience from the pesky public define new parameters and details of the mill site development silently and quickly.
The expected vote at the March 13th City Council meeting was unexpectedly forestalled when more information leaked out of the development director than City Hall could spontaneously spin. A visibly shaken City Council, and a suddenly circumspect City Manager backed up for a quick reappraisal, but the Fort Bragg Planning Commission had already been set up for the next meeting and handed their marching orders.
It had been ordained by the City Manager that at the Wednesday March 22 Planning Commission meeting, the wholesale rewriting of the mill site strategy would be on their table. The future of the mill site was to be reviewed and duly rubber stamped by the Planning Commission.
The assumption was that by Wednesday night's Planning Commission meeting the City Council would have already voted.
But they didn't.
Actually, the City Council had been only slightly less blindsided than the Planning Commission was about to be. City Manager Linda Ruffing had quietly and efficiently blasted public process and to all appearances had every duck meticulously lined up. The unexpected failure last Monday to railroad the council which had been going so well and now looks iffy, leaves the Planning Commission with a full plate and no mandate to proceed.
How is the new Planning Commission going to handle this?
Will the Commission simply vote for a gutting of community protections and kill the community discussion ahead of City Council authorization simply because the City Manager put it on their agenda? Or will they notice that the far-ranging destruction of public process and the imposition of an industrial park by a City Manager working diligently for unnamed special interests has, by a fluke, not yet been authorized to proceed by the City Council?
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Fort Bragg Seagulls Victorious on the Court
That must have been the unmistakable thumping of basketballs, a sound American invention, in a real auditorium where serious basketball is played. Seven balls and twenty athletes warming up. The Fort Bragg Seagulls, Fort Bragg's premier Special Olympics team, were about to run three games with the city's top first responders.
First up the Fort Bragg Fire Department, then Law Enforcement (a formidable encounter), and finally the Coast Guard. All three were pitted against the Seagulls and the Gulls looked ready. The excitement in the Audry Archer Auditorium at the Fort Bragg high school was electric. Hot dogs and coffee had to be brought from home but they seemed abundant. The free throw practice was tightening up the Gulls. Finally, an appalling buzzer went off announcing the commencement of the games.
This was no ordinary game and the run up to it was not ordinary either. To the blasting of the perhaps inevitable anthem “We are the champions,” the Seagulls entered in single file bearing the flag. They circled the empty court dramatically. The fire department followed. The courts were cleared and everybody lined up.
We all sang the Star Spangled Banner, and it sounded really good.
Play was unremitting. The Seagulls took a quick lead, and kept it, I think. The fire department played with ineffable grace and kindly precision. The pace was demanding as the Seagulls kept them on their toes. The crowd was also clearly having a good time.
There was plenty of ball stealing and some edgy moments at the free throw line. I don’t know if anyone was really keeping score, but clearly on an intuitive level the Seagulls were taking it. More than that, they were working it out. They were hustling. The Seagulls were dragging down the baskets, now the crowd was roaring.
The Seagulls moved the ball and kept on moving it, pounding the fire department relentlessly but still making sure every Seagull got a chance to shoot.
Teamwork and careful courtesy energized the crowd. When I looked up from the action on the floor, the bleachers were filled. The Audry Archer Auditorium was filled with love.
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “The Boss rolls me this thing and says, ‘The NFL works out with these, and you should, too.’ I thought the dumb thing was a basketball! Darned near strained a gut trying to pick it up.”
IN RESPONSE to an usually mawkish editorial by the Press Democrat's lead Snowflake, Paul Gullixson, Mike Koepf wrote the following which, of course, the PD's comment line guard poodles would not allow:
Koepf provides some background:
This is Paul Gullixson. He’s the Editor-in-Chief at the Press Democrat. I call him “Cup Cake.” He thinks he’s clever, tough and smart. In reality, he’s intellectually soft. Don’t let that frosting of hair fool you. It looks halfway neat, but since President Trump was elected, he’s been pulling it out by the handfuls. Trump is driving the Cup Cake to be more unbalanced than he was. You too? Fine, protest with rational arguments not with emotional rants or writing using misleading sentimentality to make a point. That way, nobody will think you’re a Cup Cake too. This Sunday, the Cup Cake wrote another one of his endless screeds. This rant was about cuts to NPR, the NEA, and the National Endowments for the Arts.
The Cup Cake believes that a new flak jacket for a marine is not as important as awarding a federal grant for, say, something like a crucifix in a glass of piss. At the PD, one can post an approving or dissenting opinion on the opinions offered. They do this to determine whether or not at least six people are reading their editorials. Anyhow, what follows is what I posted in response to the Cup Cake’s latest tirade against the Wall Man. The little Cup Cake used his big scissors to cut me out. One can easily access the PD to see what the Cup Cake wrote. You may find it to your taste. This time the Cup Cake uses innocent Boy Scouts to make his extraneous point.
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Yes, sad…sad, sad, sad. What is truly sad is that since the election of President Trump, editor Gullixson has fulminated daily on the subject of the new President. It’s his right. It’s anyone's right, but when a right becomes obsessive, objectivity flies out the door. This morning, Gullixson decries that the sky is falling on our entire American culture due to President Trump’s proposed cuts for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (NPR). Alas, no more tax payer's money to hear Terry Gross interviewing lefty movie stars; alas, no more Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, frantically informing us that the United States is responsible for all the troubles of the world. Gullixson’s vision of the arts is parochial. Art and culture are innocent diversions that enhance our lives. Of course, the arts improve our lives, but they can also shape the way we see the world. In other words, the arts can be political. An evil man understood this well.
“In the world today all culture, all literature and art belong to definite classes and are geared to definite political lines. There is in fact no such thing as art for art's sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics.” –Mao Zedong.
Is the artist and actress Meryl Streep political or not? Are the master of ceremonies, actors, directors and writers on stage at the Academy awards political? If one detests Donald Trump they’re not. They’re funny. If one voted for Donald Trump, they are the deplorables. Art is never innocuous.
Writing is an art; even in an opinion piece. For instance, this morning, Gullixson uses an innocent Boy Scout troop to cox a poignant point concerning government cuts to the arts. Of course, the Scouts have nothing to do with the subject at hand, but this is an attempt at the art of writing. In this case using the irrelevant to explain the germane. Gullixson also writes “the number of things that divide us as a nation are almost too many to count anymore.” Failing to count himself, he also fails to count the arts. Is NPR balanced and fair when it comes to representing the political sentiments of all Americans? Have you read a novel lately with a traditionalist point of view? The libertine-progressive point of view has become so entrenched in the arts that we accept it as normal. Who needs to think, when there is only one way to think? NPR, the NEA, the National Endowment for the Arts…have they become just another government funding source for a singular point of view? If their funding is cut, will the arts cease to exist? No. Art is in our souls. It’s best served without the state. Stalinists are the proof of that. With cuts, the funding will shift and move away from the control of the political-artistic elites. Let’s face it; many Americans don’t give a hoot about the arts. Opera, ballet, and poetry, why should they pay for it? They’ve got baseball and beer. Art is best pursued when it comes from the people up, not from our leaders down. Art is rebellion and revolution in the purest sense.
TOMMY WAYNE KRAMER'S bracing Sunday column in the Ukiah Daily Journal is a must-read here at the simpatico ava, where we do a fair amount of lib-bashing ourselves.
TWK writes this morning: … "Examples were recently provided at the Women’s History Gala sponsored by the Mendocino Women’s Political Coalition. Lynda McClure, the abrasive activist who’s had her fingers in every dingbat leftwing local project (KZYX, Simple Living, Cloud-Forest club, Hamburg groupie, Ukiah Enviro Center, union organizer, KMEC, etc.) is, naturally, an office holder with the Women’s Political Coalition. McClure says 'Our goal is to get pro-choice, pro equal rights women into office.' Men, she adds, are categorically denied endorsement for any office by the Women’s Political Coalition. It is obvious Republican women and women who harbor improper thoughts are forbidden admission. Poor Mo Mulhern. She’s on the city council so she was snatched in the talons of the crone club and forced to be this year’s poster girl. Only women who work for nonprofits, government or schools are eligible. No woman who works at Walmart will ever win a prize, and none living in Empire Gardens will ever be invited to the gala. Very diverse…"
IN EFFECT, the McClure group functions as whip for the Hillary Democrats of Mendocino County, people who are really lifestyle libs, worrying their simple, slogan-stuffed noggins with what amounts to gender fascism and who gets to use which bathroom. They're beyond self-parodying, and they are certainly no friends of working people of whatever gender. I also agree that they have an unerring, reverse Midas political touch — everything they touch is self-serving, hypocritical and, worst of all, chloroform-quality boring.
TRUTH IS, when a genuinely liberal woman from Mendocino named Wendy Roberts ran against Hamburg for supervisor, Hamburg got the nod from the Women's Political Caucus, or whatever this same collection of rightwing Democrats was calling themselves at the time.
WHEN MY DAUGHTER was in high school, I tried to get her to listen to a Women's Voices program on KZYX. After a couple of minutes, she said, "God, this is like torture. I've heard enough." My daughter was raised to never, ever tolerate any bullshit whatever from men and has always regarded herself as a feminist. I believe the inflictors of the MEC-KZYX kind of audio pain are called, in the modern idiom, "tone deaf." Young women flee in droves.
AND NOW those of you with short attention spans and historical amnesia, are invited to leave the room while I climb the grassy knoll and ramble on about the only conspiracy I think is real and, unlike the grander ones — JFK, 9-11, and the rest of them — this one is local.
THE MENDOCINO ENVIRONMENT CENTER coincided with the political appearance in Mendocino County of Judi Bari and her then-husband, Mike Sweeney, although all of us who knew the star-struck lovers would agree that Bari was by far the more vivid personality of the two. (We're talking circa 1988.)
SWEENEY AND BARI both had keys to the front door of the MEC premises, located at 130 West Standley, Ukiah, directly across the street from the County Courthouse. The building is owned by John McCowen, presently 2nd District supervisor. McCowen still owns the building housing whatever somnolent environmental and lockstep PC "activism" is housed there. (I've never seen the door open before noon.) But the premises were quite lively indeed when Bari ran the County's activism show. (Bari, by the way, had a low opinion of her fellow activists, regarding almost all of them as "dummies" and "nuts." She was herself a high ability, low tolerance person.)
HERE'S WHAT I THINK history might eventually reveal if the truth is ever told. Please join me in one more fervent prayer to Wikileaks. One more aside. McCowen, whenever our conversation runs off into Bari-related events of the 1990 period, slip-slides away from the following part of our occasional one-on-ones:
IT'S A VERIFIED FACT that beginning in the 1980s, Earth First! was an object of FBI attention. The over-rated federal cops were in between monitoring the defunct Communist Party USA and present day Islam, but here came a bunch of people actively opposed to industrial civ itself. The FBI must have been delighted.
EARTH FIRST!’S founding father, Dave Foreman, was the victim of a well-documented FBI attempt to frame him, to put him away in federal prison for trying to take down power poles in the Arizona desert. (Some other Foreman-inspired doofuses, set up by an FBI provocateur, actually were tried for the same FBI-inspired plot and packed off to prison. Note to sabs. Always commit violent felonies by yourself.)
THE REASON for the fed's Get Foreman effort was what the fed's perceived as industrial sabotage, a federal crime when individuals or groups of individuals deliberately, as a matter of ideological principle, destroy the property of corporations engaged in the extractive industries — mining, logging, animal testing, ski lodges in pristine forests etc.
IN MENDO, Earth First! via Bari and her organ grinder monkey-like stooge, Darryl Cherney, talked up the destruction of logging equipment and tree spiking, although they later denied it in favor of what they called "Gandhian" non-violence, as if there are different flavors of non-violent political protest.
(Bari-Cherney denied circulation this recommendation, but they did use it on this album cover of their “music.”)
I THINK the MEC was established as an FBI listening post, a handy clearinghouse for the feds to keep track of the environmental radicals drifting in from around the country for Redwood Summer, 1990, some of them undoubtedly committed and experienced monkey wrenchers. The MEC as federally sponsored listening post was based on the FBI's similar efforts in black ghettos in the sixties and seventies where the feds, with black agents doing the spying, set up phony poverty offices whose real purpose was to get an idea of who was who in the neighborhood. Which is what they did in Ukiah, too, I'm surmising.
THE FEDS, in my construct, came to McCowen, who has always been close to Mike Sweeney, and said to McCowen: "Johnny, my boy, we got all these nuts coming to Mendocino County from all over the country for this Redwood Summer deal Judi Bari has kicked off. Some of these people are dangerous. It's your patriotic duty to rent us your building and, of course, because we're the feds and money is no object, we'll kick down nice rent money to you every month." McCowen gulped, saluted, and said, "Better send cash. I don't want this getting out."
SWEENEY, who had been around violent left cult groups since he left his posh home and private high school in Santa Barbara for Stanford, a class background ordinarily more friendly to federal police forces than leftwing activity, was the fed's Redwood Summer guy in Mendocino County. (As an undergrad at Stanford, Sweeney wrote a famous-at-the-time article for Ramparts on a BofA arson in Isla Vista, next door to Santa Barbara. The article was written out of inside info, and Ramparts was otherwise off limits to unknown writers.) Was his wife also involved with the feds? I don't know. I have my suspicions. But you tell me how it came to be that a guy with Sweeney's history was never even considered as a suspect when that famous bomb went off in his ex-wife's car in the middle of Oakland? And, while you're at it, explain to me how it came to be that Bari-Cherney's legal team agreed with the federal attorneys to prune the Bari-Cherney federal libel suit of all mention of who might have done the bombing?
PERSONALITY TYPES: How Bari-Sweeney came together in holy matrimony is one for the great gods of irony to explain. She was a hippie, he's the anti-hippie.
SINCE there is no longer any "activism" in Mendocino County beyond the exhibitionistic symbolic type, if you see McCowen around ask him to finally pull the plug on the Mendocino Environment Center.
PS. Please see the ava Bari Bombing archive at: http://theava.com/archives/1235
for endless arcana, the best of which is by Steve Talbot formerly of PBS who did the only investigation of the case in his excellent 1991 documentary “Who Bombed Judi Bari.”
Talbot on Salon.com: http://theava.com/bari/talbot.html
BOONTLING LANGUAGE OF BOONVILLE
A local dialect born in the late 19th century is only spoken in this isolated California valley.
CATCH OF THE DAY, March 19, 2017
Ahumada, Barrales, Bauer
MAYRA AHUMADA, Fort Bragg. Domestic assault.
FERMIN BARRALES, Ukiah. Drunk in public, resisting.
DEBRA BAUER, Ukiah. Possession of meth for sale, sale of meth, paraphernalia, possession of pot for sale, probation revocation.
Boone-Denhem, Bray, Cambell
MEREDITH BOONE-DENHEM, Potter Valley. Contempt of court, failure to appear.
JAMES BRAY JR., Fort Bragg. Drunk in public, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
ERIC CAMBELL, Ukiah. Resisting.
Cheng Cunnan, Dickerson
PIA CHENG, Eureka/Laytonville. Meth possession, burglary tools, evasion.
JOHN CUNNAN, Covelo. Vehicle theft.
JOSHUA DICKERSON, Talmage. DUI.
Hernandez-Sutherland, Hespelt, Howe, Johnson
MIGUEL HERNANDEZ-SUTHERLAND, Ukiah. Under influence.
JOSEPH HESPELT, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.
JACOB HOWE, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
TODD JOHNSON, Redwood Valley. Battery.
Pinola, Sallee, Shields
REGINA PINOLA, Santa Rosa/Ukiah. Under influence, possession of meth, probation revocation.
RICHARD SALLEE, Klamath/Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
RYAN SHIELDS, Willits. Domestic battery, criminal threats.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Perhaps I’m wrong, but I get the feeling that the whole Trump thing has played itself out. After the initial spasm of joy in electing him, the feeling of joy is playing itself out. Now comes the down and dirty part which consists of actually making things happen. I don’t think he can pull it off. Reality has a way of thrusting itself to the front of human consideration, whether they like it or not. The unwashed, older, white men have had their say, but there is little to solidify their wishes. Trump has been stymied as far as most of his attempts to change the way things are being done. After the initial disbelief that he was elected, we are coming to the post orgasmic let down that inevitably follows that spasm of joy. He is being stymied in all of his endeavors and, I think, will continue to be, once people have caught their breath. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Democratic apologist, Hillary and her cohorts betrayed us almost as badly as the Republicans did. Until we get rid of the Oligarchs, the (former) middle class will continue to go down, and companies like Goldman Sachs and their ilk, will continue to call the shots. I think that what we have witnessed currently, is the reaction of the uneducated, uninformed people to the current economic conditions that prevail, ie: the taking over of the government by the corporate interests. Until other people recognize that fact, conditions will not improve. Anybody who thinks that we still have a Democracy, is a fool. Time will prove the truth of what I’m saying.
SANTA ROSA CRACKS DOWN ON A NEIGHBORHOOD NIGHTMARE, SHUTTERING TROUBLED HOME
by Julie Johnson
(Ed note: This story by Julie Johnson in Sunday's Press Democrat is the best thing I've seen in that sad newspaper. There are problem houses everywhere anymore. Here in the Anderson Valley there are at least five, but the one Ms. Johnson describes is above and beyond and, in a desolate, sad kind of way, hilarious.)
* * *
The homes of Richmond Drive are framed with cheery pink camellia bushes and boxwood hedges in a neighborhood tucked away on the northern edge of the Santa Rosa Junior College campus.
It’s a neighborhood of roofers, winemakers and social workers; they are nurses and teachers, people who work at delis and hardware stores; those spending their golden years where they raised their children.
And they’ve felt under siege for decades.
Toward the western end of the two-block street of modest single-story homes, 550 Richmond Drive stands out for the grime, the garbage and the troubled people in orbit around the house owned by the Vincent family since the neighborhood was built in the 1950s. The home has been a refuge for drug users, thieves and lost souls since the mid 1980s, police and city records show.
Neighbors talk about finding human waste in their yards like it’s a regular feature of suburban life. They trade stories of calling police about people passed out in the grass outside their windows, the frightening late-night fights and the break-ins. A neighbor once drove across town before realizing someone was asleep in the bed of his pickup.
And so over the years, residents along Richmond Drive have built higher fences, added locked gates, put in motion-sensing lights and kept police officers on speed dial.
“I don’t feel safe,” said Doris Thompson, 84, who remembers days long ago when she let her young children ride in the street on their tricycles.
For the past 35 years, the city failed to stem the crime and nuisance that have haunted the neighborhood. But what residents call their neighborhood nightmare might be coming to an end.
On Monday, the city installed a 6-foot chain-link fence around the Vincent home and locked it with a padlock to keep the owner, John Vincent, and all others out. The city sued Vincent for creating a public nuisance and allowing his home to be used as a haven for drug use and sales.
Assistant City Attorney Adam Abel said it’s a new strategy for the city, and possibly other cities as well, to use California’s Drug Abatement Act to sue property owners. The law holds property owners accountable for drug crime on their premises, regardless of whether they are suspected of any criminal activity.
Petaluma also is exploring using the act for the first time to address a long-blighted property on Weaverly Drive. Earlier this month, Petaluma City Council members voted to spend city resources to sue the owners and ask a judge to shutter the property and award the city as much as $75,000 in fines.
Abel said he modeled the lawsuit after the $1.1 million judgment the city collected in 2011 against former owners of the shuttered Llano Hotel, once a notorious haven for prostitution. It used a California law called the Red Light Abatement Act, which proceeded the Drug Abatement Act. The laws allow cities to seek payment for the costs of investigating the property and taking owners to court.
On March 3, a Sonoma County Superior Court Judge reviewed a trove of evidence kept over the years and heard testimony from police, code enforcement and a neighbor. His conclusion: 550 Richmond Drive must be shuttered and sold.
In his lengthy, excoriating order, Judge Rene Chouteau asked Vincent if he understood the “terrible, really terrible” impact he’s had on the neighborhood, imploring: “Can you imagine what your neighbors have suffered?”
“Did that ever occur to you how upsetting that might be for people in a residential neighborhood?” Chouteau said. “I have to say, you know, this is the most shocking condition I’ve experienced as a judge and an attorney in this town, and I think my ruling should be clear: Your premises and everything thereon is a public nuisance. You are prohibited from going on the property. The building is to be boarded up.”
About 10 neighbors sat in the audience, holding hands, some in tears.
The city doesn’t own the property, but the property must remain shuttered and vacant until the owner sells it. If it remains abandoned, Abel said the city will seek a receivership order to take control of the property’s sale.
“This is just unbelievable, this is coming to an end,” neighbor Phil Dwight said earlier this week as he watched city staff unlock the fence and let Vincent gather some belongings. “What’s unbelievable is how powerless people were to stop it. It was a snail’s pace with a boat anchor attached.”
Dwight echoed a question asked by many in the neighborhood, who praise police and city code officers for always responding even though they seemed powerless to make the problems end: Why did it take the city so long to shutter a home with blatant criminal activity and horrendous conditions?
Abel, who joined city staff about a year and a half ago, said the city took the issue as far as it could using policing and code enforcement.
“In my opinion, the city did all it could,” Abel said. “He’d do the bare minimum to bring it up to code.”
Three decades of violations
City records detailing trouble at 550 Richmond Drive date to 1986 with a report outlining code violations including an illegal auto repair business, cars parked on the front lawn, shacks for living purposes in the backyard, six to eight neglected dogs, heaps of garbage, “numerous unsavory individuals” and a “disturbing odor.”
Records kept over the years show the problems didn’t stop. Years of police reports show methamphetamine and heroin were the drugs of choice for those who frequented the house, some staying for years and others only minutes for quick transactions. Police would find two dozen people living in the house on mattresses strewn about the floor and in the rafters. For SRJC police investigating stolen bicycles, Richmond Drive was often the first place they’d look.
Police and neighbors said they went to the property daily. Statistics spanning five years show police were called to the property on average five days a week, according to calls for service records between May 1, 2011, and May 1, 2016. Of the calls that resulted in a report, which often means someone was arrested, the vast majority were related to drug crimes and stolen property.
“In my career, I know of no other address that’s drawn more police resources,” Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder said.
Code officers have inspected the property more than 35 times over the past 10 years. The city has repeatedly supplied 20- and 40-yard dumpsters for Vincent to rid the property of decaying food containers and other garbage.
Vincent has been prosecuted by the city’s administrative code department twice and ordered to make immediate repairs and pay fees. Two different groups of neighbors have taken him to small claims court and won, including a $35,000 judgment in 1995 and another in 2009.
With each action, the city and the neighbors prevailed, yet it didn’t stop the problems. Vincent would make repairs and improve conditions “just enough to get by” to enable him to stay in the home, according to code enforcement officer Mark Maystrovich, who has been dealing with the property for more than a decade.
“He knew how to play the system,” said Maystrovich, who said he was once confronted by a knife-wielding man at the property and since asked for police escort.
No criminal record
At the center of the chaos is Vincent, a hapless 72-year-old man who inherited his childhood home after his mother, Effie Vincent, died in 1982. Vincent has a white beard, straw hat and kind eyes. His belly hangs below his T-shirt. A floral sash tied around his cellphone hangs from one pocket, and twine tied to a key hangs out of the other.
Vincent has no criminal record, and he said he doesn’t do drugs other than smoking a joint now and then. He thinks of himself as “answering the needs of people who are homeless and dispossessed” by giving them a place to stay.
People have taken advantage of his generosity and he’s long felt out of control of his property, he said.
“For ages I’ve told people to clean it up,” Vincent said.
By all accounts, Vincent has always let police and city code enforcement officers inside, never demanding a warrant. He’s cooperative and responded to code violation notices with the bare-minimum fixes. Vincent said he’s lived in the backyard since childhood and prefers to sleep outside.
City staff and others described signs posted on the outside of the home advertising a shower for $3 (“bring your own towel”), or a night’s rest in a chair for $2. Vincent admits these anecdotes are largely true.
When asked about the impact on his neighbors, how the fights have frightened people and lowered the quality of life in the neighborhood, Vincent deflects responsibility. He said he has been unable to evict problem tenants and received bad advice. He blames police for not helping him. He blames his inaction on a health condition he described as chronic fatigue syndrome — “I call it the Rodney Dangerfield of illnesses” — and what he calls “the black dog of depression.”
“People moved in and I wasn’t able to control what they did,” Vincent said.
Vincent said out of the hundreds who have lived with him over the years, he can recall only one man who hit him once and a woman with gang ties who may have been dangerous.
“To a major degree, the people who come by are low-level screw-ups,” Vincent said. “I understand the neighbors are concerned, but I didn’t hear anyone from my house threaten my neighbors.”
Vincent’s brother, Osman Vincent, 75, of Berkeley said he gave up any ties to the property years ago and hasn’t been there in more than a decade.
“He means well. He’s basically honest,” Osman Vincent said. “He doesn’t use drugs but he has a bunch of friends, too many friends, who are in the drug world and aren’t like he is, and I think that is where most of the problems are. I really don’t know the details.”
Homeowners given notice
John Vincent has been living out of a van in a north Santa Rosa parking lot for the last year since the house was red-tagged as uninhabitable. He could still spend his days at the property but was supposed to leave at night until the chain-link fence went up this week.
He talks about how someday the home will be a historic landmark once he becomes a famous writer. He describes taking up a healthy macrobiotic diet while living in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in the 1960s and developing a philosophy based on the teachings of Gandhi, Jesus and “the Golden Rule.”
He talks about unrequited love interests that dog him still.
But the activity around his house has forced home buyers to sign disclosure documents saying they are aware of the nuisance property before buying a home. Renters must sign similar disclosure forms before moving in, neighbors said.
“Nothing anybody tells you prepares you for what it’s like,” said Kevin Holt, 56, a winemaker who signed a disclosure document when he and his wife bought their house about three years ago.
The constant parade of people, day and night coming and going from the home, were there every time he walked out his front door or looked out a window, Holt said.
Many neighbors have never been inside.
The conditions inside 550 Richmond Drive are horrific. The home smells of human waste. Cartons of rotting food sat atop mounds of clothing, shoes and junk in the rooms. Black paint was smeared over the windows in one bedroom. Some had blocked the bathroom window to shut the light out.
On Monday, an escort of city staff including Abel allowed Vincent to visit his home and collect some belongings. Maystrovich warned against opening the refrigerator as Vincent grabbed an old shelf and disappeared into the kitchen. Suddenly the loud grinding of a hand-held saw broke the eerie silence, then Vincent re-emerged from the back door onto the rickety steps with half the shelf and began stuffing old books and papers into it.
He walked among discarded appliances, old radios, a crutch, orange peels, milk cartons, clothing, shoes and a dream catcher strewn about the yard around several makeshift shacks. The ground is layered with damp trash, including at least one hypodermic needle. Green water stands in the empty shells of old furniture. An overdue VHS copy of “Natural Born Killers” from Blockbuster Video was pressed into the dirt.
Vincent said he’d sometimes stay with a friend in Petaluma who kept a clean and tidy house to get relief from the chaotic mess.
“That is the way it should be, it’s so much easier,” Vincent said, adding that the disrepair of his home “makes for a Helter Skelter life.”
City seeking restitution
During the trial, Vincent gave power of attorney over the property to a friend, a Cloverdale woman who has told the city she is trying to find a contractor and buyer willing to do the amount of cleanup required. Abel said the city will first bring in a hazards crew to address immediate problems inside, such as rotting food, remnants of drug use and other potential toxic materials.
At a later court date, the city will seek an estimated $50,000 judgment to cover its costs, although the costs of dealing with the property for 35 years are unquantifiable, Abel said.
“I didn’t do this to get the city’s money back. I just want the neighborhood fixed,” Abel said.
For Vincent, he talks about wanting to track down an old flame in Oregon, even as he seems in disbelief he won’t be able to return to his home someday. But he’s thinking about buying a motor home once the property is sold and he’s paid off all liens.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Santa Rosa in my rearview mirror,” he said.
http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6774358-181/santa-rosa-cracks-down-on(Santa Rosa Press Democrat)
JOBS FOR HOMELESS
ED NOTE: In the 30s this was a nationwide government jobs program called the WPA. Now it’s considered novel and “a better way.”
GREG SARRIS AND THE 2017 GEOGRAPHY OF HOPE CONFERENCE
by Jonah Raskin
Call Greg Sarris an anomaly, or maybe call him emblematic of the cultural crosscurrents of our age. Raised in a white, middle class family in Santa Rosa, California and a Stanford Ph.D., he’s the chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and the author of two acclaimed works of fiction about Native Americans: Grand Avenue and Watermelon Nights. Grand Avenue was adapted for an HBO miniseries that Sarris co-produced with Robert Redford and that was filmed in Santa Rosa with real Indians. No less significant is the fact that he co-authored SB 5528 that President Bill Clinton signed into law in December 2000. That legislation created The Graton Rancheria, Sarris’s own tribe. Now in his thirteenth elected term as the chairman, he’s forged — and continues to forge — an Indian tribe that’s a coherent economic and political powerhouse in northern California.
In all of North America, there’s probably no Indian quite like him, and, while he has never claimed to speak for all Indians, he expresses a distinct Indian point of view about the relationships between human beings and the earth itself. Moreover, there’s something fearless about him, something of the warrior. Given his identity and his expertise, it’s not surprising that he was the opening speaker at the Geography of Hope Conference that took place in Point Reyes, March 17-19, 2017. It was the sixth Geography of Hope conference hosted by Black Mountain Circle, a non-profit that was founded by Kate Levinson and her husband, Steve Costa, who for many years owned and operated Point Reyes Books, which served as a cultural hub for the whole community. The store goes on, though they’re no longer the proprietors.
This year’s theme—“Ancestors & the Land: Our Past, Present & Future”—provided a perfect venue for Sarris, whose ancestors take him to many lands. Stay tuned for more about him. But first an introduction to some of the key presenters at the conference, including Nikky Finney, Lyla June Johnston, Winona LaDuke, Llarion Merculieff, and Lauret Savoy. Standing Rock cast a long shadow on all of them and gave this year’s gathering a special urgency.
Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe, gave the keynote address, though at the conference she alone didn’t talk about her immediate ancestors. Her mother was Jewish, her father a real Indian who played Indians in the movies. In 1996 and in 2000, LaDuke ran as the Green Party candidate for Vice President of the U.S. on a ticket headed by Ralph Nader. I voted for her. She and Sarris were probably the best known of the presenters at a conference that has for years brought together activists, writers and intellectuals, energized crowds and sent one and all home inspired. I’ve been three times.
This year, the white guys who spoke from the stage seemed to feel ashamed or guilty or uncomfortable about being white guys. The Indian women and the women of color projected a sense of comfort, confidence and calm, even when they talked about difficult or painful subjects like racism. Moreover, contradiction and paradox came to the women naturally and organically. Part of their strength derived from their ability to speak their own Indian languages as well as English. Then, too, the women presenters seemed to be in their bodies, while the white guys were largely in their heads. Of the 16 presenters only three were white males. Out-numbered and outflanked, they made valiant attempts to relate to the theme of ancestors & the land.
LaDuke told stories about seeds, sturgeon, pipelines and Standing Rock. “Be ready and steady where you are,” she told the packed crowd in the West Marin School Gymnasium. “Be a patriot to the land, not to the country.” Lauret Savoy, a professor at Mount Holyoke College, traced her ancestors back to Europe, Africa and the Americas and noted paradoxically that, “to remember we must forget.” Lyla June Johnston, at 27 the youngest of the presenters, and a recent Stanford graduate, talked about her Navajo and Cheyenne ancestors and her experience as a drug dealer on campus, about which she was not proud.
“We have to remember who we are,” she said. “Whether we’re European American, African American or American Indian.” Johnston added, “Dig deep and see the beauty of who you are.” She won the hearts of the audience when she said, “I am going to love the people who are oppressing me. Forgiveness allows us to fight more effectively for what we believe in.”
Nikky Finney, a passionate, beautiful poet from South Carolina, talked about one of her favorite uncles and about a grandmother who taught her to take a broom and to “sweep away yesterday and allow the new day to begin.” Sylvie Minot, the founder and executive director of Syzygy Dance Project, led the whole audience in body movement. Of French, Laotian and Vietnamese ancestry, Minot noted that her identities were often “at war inside her,” and that while the men in her family tended to be warriors, the women were healers. Larry Merculieff, an Aleut Indian from the Bering Sea, described the U.S. as “the inside out society.” He said that his people had survived for more than 10,000 years because they didn’t label themselves. “The infinite moment is where our real selves live,” he explained.
Nobody at the conference bothered to say much about Wallace Stegner (1909-1993), who coined the phrase “Geography of Hope.” Born in Iowa and raised in Saskatchewan and elsewhere, Stegner taught at Stanford and influenced two generations of novelists, including Edward Abbey, Ken Kesey and Ernest Gaines. In 1971, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Angle of Repose. Stegner first used the phrase “geography of hope” in a letter in which he observed that, “an American, insofar as he is new and different at all, is a civilized man who has renewed himself in the wild.” Of all the many twentieth-century white male environmentalists, Stegner was among the most insightful, though he had cultural blinders. So did Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), one of the founders of the Wilderness Society and the author of A Sand County Almanac. Stegner and Leopold tended to erase Indians from the landscape. There was something of the Boy Scout about them. Not so Greg Sarris.
Acutely aware of the history of the Pomo and Miwok, and intensely conscious of the mountains and valleys of northern California, Sarris tells stories about people and animals that provide a keen sense of belonging. In his view, storytellers can be healers who alter paradigms. They did for him, though he says he didn’t really read a book—Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea—until he was mid-way through high school.
“The only thing that makes humans distinct is that we have language,” he told me during an interview for the AVA a day before this year’s Geography of Hope conference. Sarris added, “We need to change our narratives and we need to reconnect to both ancient ethics and aesthetics.”
When he looks at Santa Rosa, his hometown, he knows that what’s needed are profound social changes and radical shifts in attitude. Three-and-a-half-years after Sonoma County sheriff's deputy, Erick Gelhaus, shot and killed a 13-year old Latino named Andy Lopez, Sarris hasn’t forgotten. Nor has his anger and sadness dissipated. He says he’s still waiting for police officers to walk Latino neighborhoods, talk their talk, understand their culture and not regard them as the enemy.
On a personal level, Sarris might be called happy. Recently, one of his all-time favorite idols, folksinger Joan Baez, accompanied by the Native American activist, Marilyn Youngbird, visited the Rohnert Park resort and casino. Sarris played host. Baez and Youngbird regaled him with stories about the demonstrations they joined last year at Standing Rock in North Dakota, where tribal sovereignty—a cause near his heart—was sorely tested.
I’ve known Sarris for about 20 years. In fact, I served on the committee that interviewed him when he applied for the academic position he currently holds at Sonoma State University (SSU): the Graton Rancheria Endowed Chair in Writing and Native American Studies. Before he came to SSU, he taught at Loyola Marymount University and UCLA. He also authored two important books about Indian ethnography: Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream and Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts. For years, The Press Democrat ran a smear campaign against him and the casino, though he fought back.
Now that the casino is a destination for both local and out-of-town gamblers, Sarris is a kind of institution revered for his wisdom and approached for money. He has access to plenty of it. He’ll have even more access when the tribe pays off its loan. He told me that when that happens the tribe will donate tens of millions of dollars a year to Sonoma County for “environmental restoration.”
Though Sarris doesn’t seek attention for himself, he’s a charismatic figure. You might say that for him the personal is cosmic and visa-versa.
“Clearly the earth is out-of-whack,” he told me. “For us, everything in nature—rocks, stones, air, wind and rain—are living spirits that have power, and everything is connected to everything else.” He added, “the crucial question today is how do we humans not run, not panic, not claw at our cages and instead make this planet habitable for everyone, whether they’re Indians, Anglos, Latinos, African Americans or Asian Americans.”
I have never heard Sarris say, “I’m an Indian.” He knows that there’s no one single Indian identity and he argues, too, that diversity is at the heart of Native American values. His affiliation with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria is in large part something that he has chosen for himself. After all, he wasn’t born into the tribe, didn’t have a totem from birth and didn’t have a Native American point of view, either.
As a boy growing up in Santa Rosa, he didn’t know much about his origins. What he did know was that he didn’t fit in with the other members of the Sarris family. They looked white; he had a darker skin color. Now, he says with almost perfect ease: “I had a Jewish mother, I was raised by Catholics, I had a Filipino grandfather and an American Indian grandmother.” He added, “I’m also gay.” George and Mary Sarris adopted him and raised him in Santa Rosa. (His biological parents never married.) As a young man, he created close ties with older Indian women like Mabel McKay who lived in the South Park neighborhood down hill from the ritzy neighborhoods.
Sarris doesn’t advertise his Jewish ancestors or his identity as a gay man, though he’s not in the closet, either. He told me wistfully, “If all those different identities—Jewish, Catholic, Filipino and Indian—can get along inside me, I don’t see why they can’t get along in our society.”
While Sarris has found satisfaction in his friendships, his work for the tribe, his teaching and his writing, he’s also deeply troubled.
“It hurts me personally that after all these years there are so many disconnections between people,” he told me.
Not surprisingly, Sarris doesn’t like walls. “Build a wall and people will go over it or under it,” he said. “It will eventually crumble or be torn down.” He added, “then there are what the poet William Blake called ‘the mind-forg’d manacles.’ We need to break those manacles, too.”
Sarris doesn’t care for the notion that any one people are “chosen” and destined to own anything. Moreover, he doesn’t like some of the things he sees in Native Americans today.
“Some Indians at some casinos get greedy and replicate the patterns of the society at large,” he said. “They expel members of the tribe. They pay low wages. They don’t have a sense of place.”
At the Graton Resort and Casino, Sarris aims to create an environment in which human beings are treated with respect. Twice a month, Latinos show up for big dances.
“You are safe here,” Sarris told me he tells the crowds. “We are on sovereign Indian land and no on can touch you.”
At the end of the day, he’s hopeful about the prospects for the earth and for humans.
“We’re in for a big test,” he said. “It’s essential not to cower in the face of disaster. We can’t go back into the past. That would be denial. We have to move through fears and into the future.”
(Jonah Raskin, a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University, is the author most recently of “No Walls Now: New Poems for the Trump Era.”)
MEDICARE FOR ALL
Join John Sakowicz and Sid Cooperrider with Carol, Paris, MD, on KMEC Radio, on Monday, March 20, at 1 pm. Dr. Paris is president of Physicians for a National Health Program .
KMEC Radio is your community radio station. We broadcast at 105.1 FM in Ukiah from the Mendocino Environmental Center. KMEC streams live from the web at www.kmecradio.org
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