Friday, December 15, 2006

A Day of Days

A Day of Days
Robert W. Stanford

December 5th 2006 was truly, a day of days. Perhaps I was the only one who knew this.

I awoke in the morning as though I were a child waking up and rising with the excitement of what I was to find under the Christmas tree.

There was to be a Modesto city Council meeting at 5:30 that evening, and just like a child building up the cache` of presents beneath the tree in the minds eye, I found myself pacing about my office like a hungry, restless panther, pent up in a cage. Who will be there tonight? Who will be there to hear me speak? Will I even get an opportunity to speak, what with so many people in attendance? I had better get there early. There will surly be nothing but standing room only. Yes. Best if I secure the table at the back with that reporter from the Modesto Bee. I wonder if fox 40 will be there. Where will they setup at?
Maybe I should have some statements handy. The whole state will be hearing about this one. I am sure of it!

And for the rest of the day it was nothing but excitement, apprehension and nervousness. The office trashcan eventually overflowed with wadded up sheets of notebook paper consisting of dozens of statements, speeches, and outlines started and re-started over and over again.

I arrived at the Modesto City Council Chambers an hour early, with nothing prepared for anyone. I felt okay about that, since I was sure I would not have the opportunity to speak anyway. So many people would want to speak. And the times I do speak, it’s usually nothing more than local law enforcement issues.

I eagerly stood beside the locked doors of the Council Chambers. “O.k.”, I thought to myself, rising a bit on the tips of my toes, with a pursed lip, “I can stand here and greet everyone
as they come in. Thank them for coming.”

It slowly became fifteen minutes before the meeting was to start and in the forty-five
minutes preceding, I saw only city and county employees, leaving to go home for the day. “O.k.”, I thought. “The doors will open and I can rush in and grab my seat at the table.” And just then, they did unlock the doors – remotely.

I went ahead, as I had planned, taking my usual table at the back. And sure enough, Adam Ashton from the Modesto Bee followed suit.

And within the remaining moments leading up to the commencement of the meeting, only a couple of residents from the entire county appeared. Not one other activist, like myself.

The feeling I had awoke with that day, steadily morphed from sweet anticipation to sorrowful ferocity.

I was to be the only on speaking on the issue. After merely a salute to the flag, a prayer, and few rules of order, my time had come, as the only one to speak on behalf of what has become “My District”. And this is more or less what I had to say:

As I walk though the streets of the Airport District, I am often swept back through time to when I was sixteen years old, walking through the streets of Sioux Indian reservations in South Dakota, looking for non-tribal police, toting my bulky 35 mm camera.

There were no sidewalks or streetlights and just like the Airport District, many of the residents were forced to live in squalor.

I never did find any non-tribal police, but what I did find was something that changed the way I looked at the world, the way I looked at other communities. It changed the way I looked at other people.

These beautiful people, through all of their pain and suffering, were proud to be living on the reservation.

They weren’t proud because they had no sidewalks or basic services like those who lived outside of the reservation, they were proud of their community. Just like the beautiful people living in the Airport District.

Today is truly a day of days. Because today, we – the citizens of Modesto – we have an opportunity to reclaim that which we have somehow lost.

Today, we have an opportunity to show our family of the Airport District that not only are they on the same team, they are very important member of that team.

Author's note: Visit and support
your community with your own awareness.

Copyright 2006 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Little Things Add Up

Little things add up
(originally published in Peace/Life Connections Dec. 2006)

The Holidays are fast approaching. Arriving with them are the all too familiar songs we have heard all our lives. Multiple chances to stock up on eggnog and watch various sections of A Christmas Story over and over again (not that I am an advocate for war toys). And over and over again, you will hear the pleas from various charities to remember those less fortunate than you are, by dropping a little change into red pots or delivering grocery bags of canned food items to a location near you. And every year, over and over again, you will hear — Donations are down again this year.

Whether financially secure or not, every family has a set of goals they struggle to achieve. Some of these goals are fixed, while others are in a constant state of flux. It is the latter that many of us find so difficult to fathom — the difficulties so many families and individuals in our communities encounter every day throughout the year. Some of us have never experienced anything coming close to them. But let us never forget that they are, in fact, very real and are very painful.

Most communities have a food stamp program which allocates a certain amount of money specifically for groceries. While for so many families, this truly is a God-send, most families will have exhausted both their groceries and their food stamp allotment by the third week of every month. This is because most communities do not provide economical assistance of an informative nature. Even a simple brochure detailing precisely how to make appropriate shopping choices such as concentrating more on ingredients and cooking rather than ready-to-eat items. This simple shopping method could ensure that so many families are not going hungry for a full week or more out of every month of the year. All together, this adds up to three months per year. After four years, it would be an entire year. An entire year of hunger.

Too few of the less fortunate individuals within our communities have ever had an opportunity to sit down with someone who could explain the most basic life-skills to them. Skills that so many of us take for granted, that we might often assume that anyone who does not practice them, probably has made an irresponsible choice not to. My hands-on experience has shown me, in no uncertain terms, that this just simply is not true. I can think of no better example to illustrate what the cliché - “Falling through the cracks” really means.

I encourage everyone to give the most they can this and every holiday season, and for those who are unable to give, I understand that it is most certainly by no fault of their own. However, I do believe that, if those of us further along the path of financial stability, would just take the time to reach out to our struggling neighbors and teach them the methods necessary to achieve their goals, provide them with the necessary tools of budgeting, home economics, a little research of programs that may help them find employment, or better employment, perhaps then they would be in a position to give in the next year or maybe, better yet, they would be able to provide these same tools to another family. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, not just for the Holidays, but for all year long and every year after.

Robert Stanford
Community Advocate

Friday, September 15, 2006

Just the Facts, Sir

Just the facts, Sir.
Robert W. Stanford
(originally published letter to Peace/Life Connections September 2006)

I am a human/civil rights activist and as such, one of the many duties I have taken upon myself over the past few years, is to monitor the conduct of law enforcement throughout Stanislaus

Over the past two months, there have been significant incidents of police conduct and procedure which have been extremely questionable. One in which involved an un-armed black man who
was shot by one of three officers. This occurred in Modesto.

And then of course there was the incident some in the public has deemed more notable – the rather ambiguous riot occurring in downtown Modesto over this last Labor Day weekend.

Though very few individuals have asked me about the first case, constantly by many people, I am being asked about the second.

In both of these cases, there exists a lack of evidence for any potential victims of Civil Rights Violations/Abuses. Such as consistent witnesses, video footage or photos. At least that
I know of at this time that is publicly available.

In other words, at the time of this writing, one would have no way of effectively presenting either of these cases in a court of law citing Civil Rights violation/abuses.

I feel that, personally, as a Civil Rights activist, I am left with no alternative but to do my very best to appropriately utilize these perceptions – That there “may” have, in one or both instances, occurred police misconduct which resulted not just simply within the Civil Rights violation/abuse of individuals of color, but at the general public at large (there is no difference). And then again, maybe not. Yet, another perception with the same insufficient amount of evidence.

Either way, there is now dialogue commencing between the general concerned public and local law enforcement. And law enforcement is immediately addressing police procedure reviews.
It is the perception, at this point in time, that can be used as a powerful force to send a positive message to ALL law enforcement what the expectations are in our communities – That we
demand and insist on having for ALL people, equal justice and our innocence until guilt is proven to the sincerest effort that truly proper police and legal procedure will allow. Not just on the
streets, but in our court and prison systems as well.

And in the meantime – Let us all cut right to the chase, wake up and realize that Respect and Dignity is a two-way street. Get me some video
and/or pictures. My contact information is below.

Copyright 2006 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.

For the Want of a Glass of Water

For the Want of A Glass of Water

Robert W. Stanford

(originally published Stanislaus Peace/Life Connections September 2006)

My name is Robert Stanford and I am a Civil/Humanrights advocate and activist. I am also aCaucasian, with a family history of immigrationto the United States rescued from Naziconcentration camps of Poland.

I grew up on a goat farm in Delhi, surrounded by Mexican immigrants, most of which could not speak English, but this did not deter my Grandparents and myself from working and communing with thesepeople over several years, without being able to communicate in a conventional sense.

My best friend was named Pedro, who spoke only Spanish, while I spoke only English. But I remember many dinners and evenings our families spent together as well as countless hours and events of my childhood comprised of Pedro and me.

When I contemplate what it would take to elicit compassion and understanding for undocumented Mexican immigrants from a seemingly hostile,competitive and heartless general public, too easily do I forget my own life experiences that have made it so much easier for me to open my mind and heart to undocumented Mexican immigrants despite any language or cultural barriers that might exist.

In the summer of 2005, I organized a coalition comprised of the only people I could convince to flock to my banner – Latino Senior Citizens,who themselves in their youth had worked in the fields of the Central Valley, to seek out small farms throughout Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties, delivering bottled water, health and pesticide information to undocumented migrant Mexican farm workers.

On one of these excursions I encountered an elderly undocumented Mexican woman. It was all she could do to walk over to me, navigating the furrows of the dirt field with legs that were tired and weak from hours of squatting with noshade or relief. When she reached me, I held out a bottle of the iced water I had brought. She ignored this and instead wrapped her arms around me and held me so tight, that I could feel her heart beat through the fabric of my perspiration-soaked t-shirt.

It was right then and there that I had a moment of clarity. I knew exactly who these people were, that were dying in record numbers at our border as well as in our very own fields. They were our Mothers, our Fathers, our Brothers, our Sisters, and our children – our Family.

A few days later, I stood respectfully before the Stanislaus Board of Supervisors pleading for understanding of the fatalities being suffered by migrant farm workers in our very own communities here in the Central Valley.

With great passion, emotion and tears, I spoke without rehearsal,“They are dying in our fields today, to put food on your table tomorrow!” I said, banging myfist on the podium.

One look at their indifferent white faces showed me that clearly I had wasted my time. For the same reason my voice and actions are marginalized by the local media, my passion and feelings were dismissed by these people.

How could I possibly know anything about the plight of a Mexican farm worker? I was not a Mexican, and even if I were, what would be their excuse then? To not so easily prevent the loss of a precious human life.

All for the want of a glass of water.

Robert Stanford