For over a century, liberal demonstrations, ideas, and movements have risen in the Central Valley as green shoots struggling against the inert soil of inherently conservative ideas and have surprisingly achieved a rich harvest of success and betterment not only for the Valley but for our nation as well.
A recent green sprout is Faith in the Valley, formerly Faith in Community, which is an amalgam of multiple churches, mosques, and temples potentially involving thousands. It’s goal is “for widening the circle of human concern and for building more power for racial, economic and environmental justice, not only in Fresno, but across the entire Central Valley.”
In May, 1880, our Valley dominated the national scene with the Mussel Slough Massacre near Hanford. The growers at that time were denouncing the oppressive tactics of the Southern Pacific Railroad and were calling for federal intervention. Seven died in this protest.
It was immortalized by Frank Norris’ book, “The Octopus,” and led to a fruitful harvest of substantial reform of the rail industry with the formation of the Interstate Commerce Commission, the enactment of the Sherman Act outlawing some monopolies and much more.
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In the spring of 1966, the Valley once again became the center of a huge controversy involving Cesar Chavez seeking to organize farmworkers. He led a march to Sacramento that drew national attention. A grape boycott in his support riveted the nation. His cause brought in a mighty crop of reform in the enactment of laws recognizing the bargaining power of farmworkers and protecting their environment.
Protests against the Vietnam War transfixed the nation from about 1964 to 1968. Our Valley was no stranger to these demonstrations, which drew more and more support. The movement culminated in the termination of the war. It was a bitter harvest, indeed, but the protests had at least contributed to end the suffering.
Racial justice had huge play in the Valley during the days of marches in the Southern United States in the 1960s, and some Valley folks joined in this cause by marching with Martin Luther King Jr. Others demonstrated locally. Again, one can rejoice at their fruitful results of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Brown v. Board of Education ending school segregation and much more.
Gay rights has been prominent in Valley causes. The annual Gay Pride Parade in the Tower District has highlighted this issue for many years. The past decade has seen a rich harvest in a massive change in national public opinion and in laws now allowing gay marriage and barring employment decisions based on sexual orientation.
The amazing thing about these causes is that at first they were viewed as noxious weeds by most of the mostly conservative Valley community. Yet they have largely succeeded. Racial justice, federal regulation of the railroads, gay rights and the unionization of farmworkers seem like old issues now.
But there are many new issues and they are drawing Valley people into the streets, churches, and public to speak out: the recent killings of unarmed citizens has mobilized the Black Lives Matter movement. Deplorable conditions in rental housing have begun a movement against slumlords.
Economic inequality has roused folks to ask for changes in schools and taxation policies. Pollution has activated many to ask for more strict controls on emissions. And much more. The hopeful green sprouts keep raising their heads.
The amazing success of these earlier movements, some of which began in the Valley, should give activist people solace that their currently reviled minority views could well become the norm accepted throughout the nation.
And for those opposing these movements, the realization that those farmers and largely Latino farmworkers, long-haired hippies, and marchers in gay rights causes have been vindicated and affirmed.
For this hope for future success, we must applaud the founders of our nation, who mandated the lawfulness of free speech, a free press and peaceful protest. These liberties have served our nation and our Valley well. And warn us to listen carefully to today’s vocal minority.
Hark! They could be tomorrow’s majority.
Phil Fullerton of Fresno is a retired lawyer. Email him at Puyricard8@sbcglobal.net