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Sunday, November 6, 2011

North Bay Organizing Project - Celebrating Success

Celebrating Success

By Bonnie Petty
A raucous crowd of approximately 800 filled the auditorium at Santa Rosa High School to standing-room-only capacity on Sunday, October 23rd. Over 20 faith, labor, environmental and community groups came together under the banner of the North Bay Organizing Project to publicly celebrate their successes and to press forward on their projects to make social change a reality in Sonoma County.

The event was the follow-up to the initial meeting—called the Issues Assembly—in February, where the affiliated groups pledged to work together on issues that affect Sonoma County.

At that meeting, participants selected two issues to focus on for the next several months.: the car impound policies of local law enforcement, and transit equity/neighborhood development.

In his opening remarks, NBOP President Omar Gallardo said, “If we are serious about producing change, it is our responsibility to hold ourselves accountable, to hold our institutions accountable, and to hold public officials accountable to the people.”

David Walls, retired Sonoma State University professor and organizer for MoveOn Sonoma County, presented NBOP’s vision for the region to bridge the “dividing line between, race, class, gender and geography…[to] engage in public life, organize and build our collective power.”

NBOP Vice-President, Leticia Romero, along with Kim Caldeway of the Redwood Forest Friends 
Meeting, related stories of rising above personal traumas and oppression. “When we share our stories, we move from oppression to power. Each of us has a story of having been wounded by injustice and oppression in some way. [NBOP] is all of us, broken, oppressed and angry people who, despite everything, come together in love to demand our collective freedom.”

A brief presentation followed, outlining the experiences and the devastating effects that car impounds and law enforcement policies that refused to recognize Mexican consular identification cards have had on non-criminal immigrants and their families.

For seven months, the task force met with law enforcement agencies in an effort to change the policies regarding the car impounds and the acceptance of the Mexican IDs. That effort had found some success with local law enforcement agencies, but was solidified when Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law in October, pushed by Assemblymember Michael Allen (D-Santa Rosa), which limited police ability to impound vehicles from immigrants whose only crime was a lack of acceptable identification.

The question of what is a valid identification was the next hurdle, requiring a more sustained effort. In the end, Sonoma County Sheriff’s office and the Santa Rosa Police Department sent representatives to the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco. Satisfied that the process provided secure and verifiable identities, both agencies instituted policy changes. Their agencies would now accept the IDs for non-criminal immigrants, and training is now in progress for their officers.

The second task force—whose work focused on transit equity and neighborhood development—has been taking part in the community meetings and planning sessions around the SMART train and the station area plans.

Their work recently joined the effort to pass city agreements to move forward towards the construction of the proposed community connector bridge, planned for the area near Santa Rosa Junior College, spanning Hwy 101, and connecting the SR Junior College to Coddingtown.

Four Santa Rosa Junior College students, all of whom are dependent on public transit, declared that Highway 101 has “deeply divided Santa Rosa by race and class.” They pointed out that the college and nearly all necessary services lie on the east side, while the residents most in need of those services resided on the west side. As the list of reasons was ticked off for building the connector bridge, placards were carried onto the stagein a visual allegory of the bridge.

But stating the need was not enough. Elected officials, including Allen, were led onto the stage and each was asked one simple question: will you help get this connector bridge built. They were limited to very short answers—and each responded with a resounding, yes. And the crowd went wild.

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