Community and Labor Activists Begin Movement to Change San Diego

by on August 28, 2011 · 10 comments

in Economy, Labor, Organizing, Popular, San Diego

The crowd assembles in the Auditorium of Horace Mann Middle School, Aug. 27, 2011. (All photos by Patty Jones.)

Over three hundred community and labor activists met yesterday, Saturday, August 27th, for an all-day economic summit and began the process of building a movement to change San Diego.

Under the title of “A Better San Diego”, yesterday’s event at Horace Mann Middle School was the culmination of months of meetings and discussions initiated by San Diego’s Labor Council.  Back in the late Spring the Labor Council, headed up by Lorena Gonzalez, had called for allies from the community to join with them to build a community-labor coalition.

By time the Summit rolled around yesterday, you could see the hard work achieved by these activists. The diversity of the crowd rivaled any political grouping of San Diegans in recent history.  Folks in the crowded auditorium were welcomed by Lorena Gonzalez, and she was followed by the Rev. Gerald Brown, Kelly Mayhew, Mark Cafferty, and Norma Chavez-Peterson.

After these energizing talks, the crowd bustled away into the classrooms of the school where 14 workshops were held – most centered on economic issues that San Diegans feel are important. Workshops on countering bank foreclosures, on organizing the unemployed, on the privatization of city services, on jobs, grassroots media, health care reform, halting the impounding of immigrants’ vehicles, on middle class tax reform … and more were held with full attendance by the conference attendees.

The OB Rag's break-out session - developing community grassroots media.

The OB Rag sponsored one such work-shop, with the subject of developing a network of community bloggers, writers, videographers who could not only write for this website, but also begin their own blogs, and be part of a network of “rapid response” letter-writers to counter negative stories in the local print press.

As people munched on their burritos provided by the Labor Council during the lunch period, they listened to keynote speaker, Richie Ross speak about the experiences and lessons he learned from fabled-farm worker organizer Cezar Chavez. “One by one, one to one,” Ross said, “that’s how movements are built. One person to one person.”  He summoned the organizers and activists to frame their issues in positive, inclusive language.

Through out the hot day, speakers, organizers, and workshop leaders encouraged people to step up, join the movement to change San Diego, to change the narrative from “pension reform” to jobs and infrastructure, and to join the coalition. “We’ll be around not over for the local elections in 2012, but also in 2013, 2014, ….” one activist said.

The Coalition already has plans to host a mayoral debate on October 19th.

If you’d like to join this coalition, or receive additional information, email either the Labor Council or email the OB Rag at


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

barbara August 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Thanks for the run down. Wish I could have been there. Really appreciate you keeping us informed.


Allen Lewis August 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I know that this is’t the first city to try and make a change, but I think it may be the first on the west cost, this is a good thing. Maybe some day most cities in the US will move in this direction, and who knows we may have a movement across the country.


Rocky Neptun August 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Labor/Community Coalition in San Diego? Will it Change a Damn Thing?

As a high-classed, sassy, male hustler in Hollywood, I used to be bustled off, half-clad, to the homes of some of the biggest names in Tinseltown in the 1970’s. As a poor boy, from the other side of the tracks – white trash – some would call us; I would have, gliding along Sunset Strip, such tremendous excitement, a burgeoning sense of expectation at dating such famous people and a great hope that the hopes and dreams I had would be furthered by these encounters.

What I usually found were frantic luminaries, desperate for any kind of affection and support. Their movie and television images of courage and prowess, from which I would draw macho nectar, like a bee from a flower, for days before the date, would create in me an inflated ego, a sense of being somebody, of being accepted within the recognized elite. Only to crash amid the reality of who these people really were.

It was interesting last Saturday that some of these same experiences kept me from attending the Labor/Community Forum. I was on my way from my lover’s house in Rosarito Beach, sitting in my car at the border, when an image of one of my old tricks, Robert Reed from the Brady Bunch television series, burst forth, It was the day he cried on my shoulder and said the danger of creating an image of oneself, an illusion of action, is that the shadow becomes more real and we become trapped by who we think we are based on who we want others to think we are.

“We build glass houses, malls and even restaurants because we need for others to look in….to define and validate who we are by where we are, who our chummies are and how much we posture,” he had whimpered. He died alone, bitter and wretched.

For many years I have attended left-wing, progressive forums in San Diego. From the 2000 Ruckus Society training at the Che Café at UCSD to the 20002 grand convergence of the Cultural Creatives at Springfield College to the 2004 Affordable Housing Forum at Golden Hall where several thousand attended. And for just as long, I have watched power liberals, strut, posture and be awash in their aura as “the loyal opposition.” Their hierarchical, self-serving, activism (many are paid professionals) has long ago abandoned organizing in the neighborhoods, the hoods and barrios. Their liberalism, weak, shallow; it tinkers rather than confronts, compromises rather than challenges, sends you to “break-out sessions” rather than to the streets.

I attended a meeting of Activist San Diego recently on nuclear power and it was so disgusting, I went away in anger and refused to even write an article about the event. Power liberals, seeped in their agendas, like putrid tea bags left in the water for too many years, rambled on about their projects, theories and personal philosophy, talking, as my grandmother used to say “to hear their heads rattle.” Very few of the new people there, mostly young, were allowed an opportunity to express their questions, concerns and fears, much less their opinions and went away disappointed and turned off by our progressive movement here in San Diego.

Saturday’s so-called labor/community forum was, indeed, as Frank pointed , the first time that organized labor has come to the progressive community for back-up. So…..where has the political power of the labor unions been all these years? Feathering their own nests? Now, weakened and under attack, they seek allies.

Where was the AFL-CIO Labor Council in 2001 when a small group of activists, known as the HOPES Committee, later expanded into the Affordable Housing Coalition of San Diego County, picketed Mayor Murphy’s first State of the City speech for decent, reasonably priced housing? Where was organized labor when whole families, some third generation, in the last decade, were being displaced from City Heights, then other neighborhoods like Barrio Logan, by gentrification? Where was labor all these years that the Renters Union has been trying to get rent control on the agenda or ballot?

Where has the labor council been all these years while ill San Diegans and their safe, legal access to their medicine has been under attack by a vicious District Attorney?

Where was union leadership during the first decade of 2000 when the homeless were being hammered with beatings, arrests and harassment? And, to come down to the nitty gritty, why haven’t the unions tried to organize one big union for the city which would cover all those stressed out AM/PM clerks, service workers, gardeners and all the rest of us who work by the hour?

I do hope something concrete and confrontational comes out last Saturday’s event; that it just wasn’t another episode of diversion theatre with the usual cast of activist actors, like Daddy Brady, spinning shadows, an illusion of what could be. Only time will tell us, but the record in our city has not been great.


annagrace August 28, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Rocky, I’m sorry you didn’t attend the summit. I think both your critiques and issues would have been welcomed. We need a Renters Union, and we need a Transit Riders Union, and we need one big union that covers everyone you mentioned. A labor- community coalition seems to be the right mechanism ( and necessary mechanism) to bring those unions into existence.


Jeeni Criscenzo August 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Two weeks ago I fell off my bicycle and broke a bone on my hand. It hurt but could have been worse, and that’s got me thinking that the next fall could do a lot more damage. The same can be said of bikes as horses, when you fall off, you have to get back on again right away, because the more you think about it, the less likely you’ll try it again. Perhaps the same can be said of anyone who has been working for social justice. Lately, it seems like everything positive we try, lands us in a worse place than where we started. Some days it seems like the only thing we get for our efforts is criticism. I’m beginning to feel about the same about activism as I do about bike riding – afraid of falling/failing again.

Tonight, as I was considering what to write for the Activist San Diego newsletter op-ed, I read this comment on the OB Rag by a long time activist that is a scathing criticism of “power liberals”. The author chose to use his literary gifts to fire a barrage of cynical criticism against recent efforts to organize the working class. I understand his anger and frustration. For too long we have been banging our heads against the wall as we watch every advance we’ve fought for in fairness, equality and human rights, falling apart. Programs that should be helping people in these terrible times are being starved to death or commandeered to serve developers and investors. We’re all feeling battered and bruised and afraid of getting “back on that bike” anymore!

Every day I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” So far, I have been able to convince myself that feeling ineffective is a lot less painful that conceding defeat to the forces of greed and hate. And fortunately there are many others who also persist against all odds in the work for justice. We may not agree on strategies or even agendas, but for godsake please, if you’ve reached the point where you just can’t fight the fight any more, don’t be pulling down the people who have the courage and vision to keep getting back on their bike, or horse or whatever they choose to ride into this desperate battle.

In his inspirational keynote address at the Economic Summit for a Better San Diego this weekend, Richie Ross said, “The politics of anger is unsustainable.” I’d add that if we turn that anger on each other, we’re all screwed.


annagrace August 28, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Jeeni- I really like what you said. I am not much of a meeting goer anymore- I spent many years of my life involved with both the process and substance of community meetings and finally said “enough.” I felt that I had worked hard for the right things and lost on virtually every count except the moral one.

Over the years I have come to believe that the moral issue of social and economic justice for all is important enough that I need to get back up on the horse that threw me. I am still adverse to attending meetings, but when I do go, I generally find myself in a room filled with good people with progressive political beliefs. Whatever criticisms and disagreements I may have with them is tempered by the knowledge that “the abyss does not divide us, it surrounds us.” And so I return, filled with hope, ready to begin again because it is ultimately the only thing that matters.


Frank Gormlie August 29, 2011 at 8:43 am

^bump (as we say here on the OB Rag – hat tip to Lane T)


RB August 29, 2011 at 7:32 am

“join the movement to change San Diego, to change the narrative from “pension reform” to jobs and infrastructure, and to join the coalition.”

When you have a $2 billion city pension problem created with the votes of three labor leaders on the pension board, I understand why the unions want to change the narrative. Their will be no jobs, infrastructure, or help for the needy until there is pension reform.

In general, it is impossible to fund these defined pension plan with risk free rates of return in CDs and T-bills under 1%, bonds returns under 5%, negative returns on real estate and a stock market up or down 20% on any given year.


doug porter August 29, 2011 at 8:43 am

convenient how you forget that pension payments were deferred (and benefits raised) to help finance a GOP convention in San Diego and a baseball stadium deal that promised hotel rooms that were never built. yes, dems and gopers all supported these measures. The chamber of commerce and labor unions did too.
But now it’s only the fault of the labor unions. therefore, following the logic used by adherents of your point of view, the city’s workers must be made to suffer. meanwhile, Carl Demaio, the sockpuppet in charge of pension “reform” is saying that he’s “open” to using public monies to subsidize another stadium. and while we’re at it, let us not forget that the stock market’s sordid state is due in no small part to the financial “de-regulation” that amounted to a license to steal for a few rich people….


RB August 29, 2011 at 9:03 am

I am sorry. I thought the reason three union leaders and other pension members were on the pension board was to protect their members. I did not vote to defer, they did.
Also, I agree the deregulation under Clinton was a big mistake and I am disappointed Obama and Dodd-Frank did not reinstate Glass-Steagal.


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