UndocuFund and the Philippines

Petaluma   Two interesting meetings, one in San Jose and the other in the north bay city of Petaluma in Sonoma County brought the issues of immigrants, both documented and undocumented in California, into stark relief.

I tracked down Davin Cardenas, co-director of the North Bay Organizing Project, and lead organizer for their tenant organizing for many years.  We knew Davin well from the Organizers’ Forum dialogue in Bolivia several years ago and keep in touch.  My first concern was to find out how the coalition they had organized was doing in their efforts to rekindle a petition drive around rent control in Santa Rosa.  They had narrowly lost last year at the ballot, but in the aftermath of the disastrous fire that raged through Sonoma County, the shortage of housing and high rents was an even greater issue, so they were in the middle of another signature drive to see if they could put the issue on the ballot again.

We’ll dive deeper into that discussion another time, but one of the interesting things Davin shared, especially given ACORN’s experience in the aftermath of Katrina, was their own efforts to organize support for undocumented workers and their families in the area after the fires.  They organized something they called UndocuFund.  The idea was simple.  There are some 3000 undocumented workers in Santa Rosa and more in the county.  Many of them lost work and housing in the fires, which displaced both rich and poor indiscriminately.  The difference is that FEMA does not support undocumented immigrants, so the UndocuFund was designed to provide similar emergency cash support to fill the gap for these families.  Davin said they hoped to raise a half-million, but they hit a cord and raised over $6 million, gaining a lot of attention.  In the six months or so since the fire they have already given out more than two-thirds of the money and are getting ready to make an additional appeal since some of the same issues persist.  Fires in the Santa Barbara area also triggered establishment of an UndocuFund in that area.  This is a real unique organizing breakthrough!

Less encouraging was a meeting I had earlier in the day with an immigration lawyer based in San Jose who specializes in dealing with issues relating to immigrants from the Philippines.  In his case load the issues were less about documents and more about other issues where predatory practices target immigrants.  His other concern was for families caught in the crossfire of the government in the Philippines and its extra-judicial killings that are little more than masked vigilante activity triggered by concerns over drugs.  At one level my friend was shocked at the amount of support some of these actions had among the Filipino community.  At another level the organizing problem became how to offer support to people and institutions willing to stand up for justice and the rule of law.

The issues are daunting and effective strategies are illusive, but as Davin’s experience indicated, where organizers and organizations are close to the ground, feeling the pain, and moving with their base, they are coming up with creative approaches and responses.

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Ontario, Canada is Populist Battleground in Coming Elections

Toronto     The late Rob Ford gave steady and staid Toronto an international profile as mayor that wasn’t at the top of the local tourist board’s wish list.  He had ridden into office on a wave of populist discontent from the outer, working and middle-income districts of the city of Toronto, and he rode out on scandals involving not only his pronouncements and policies, some of which were acceptable to ACORN Canada, but also on his stays in drug rehab and videos of him buying crack on the streets, while mayor.  His excuse is a political classic.  He simply shrugged and said he “was hammered.”  His most consistent defender was his brother, an elected member of the Toronto city council at that time.

Now, it’s brother, Doug Ford who has them shaking in their snow boots with his upset win as leader for the Progressive Conservatives (whatever that oxymoron means as a name for a political party) making him a surprise, dark horse candidate for Premier of Ontario, the Canadian province containing more than a quarter of the country’s population as well as the cosmopolitan city of Toronto.  Pundits and opponents are quickly trying to brand Ford as the “Trump of the North,” and though the comparison is not exact, there are some likely similarities.   He has raised the question of revisiting abortion laws for example and his positions on climate change are questionable, but he is no Trump when it comes to immigrants and immigration, enjoying strong support in his races from the recently arrived, known as “new” Canadians in the north.  Observers believe his success in the party primary indicates that he may be able to tap into the feelings of anger and alienation in deindustrialized sections of Ontario where factories have closed and jobs have disappeared.  His record on issues effecting suburban women would not make him their first choice though nor would his tendency to move political closer to the bullying part of the spectrum.  Whatever might be the case, at the least his name on the list guarantees a very different election in the coming months.

The race is set to determine whether the longstanding government of the Liberals will be allowed to continue.  Polls indicate that there is a lot of voter fatigue with their government, although the current premier had been trying to recast herself as a candidate of change, Ford’s presence in the race is likely to disrupt that strategy.  Whether the more progressive, minority New Democrats can take advantage is also an open question.

The Ontario election seems to be worth following as part of the global contest over populism.  There is no question the election is shaping up as perhaps the least Canadian in terms of classic norms and sensibilities that has been seen in the great north in many decades.

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Please enjoy Led Zeppelin’s Immigration Song.

And celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Otis Redding’s Sittin On the Dock of the Bay.

Thanks to KABF.

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