East County Residents, Leaders Turn Out for Action

By Walter Ruehlig

There was surprise for those who pre-stereotyped last night’s “East County Community Action – To Build Opportunites For All” town hall meeting. It was neither Occupy Oakland nor the Tea Party.

The event, put on by the Contra Costa Interfaith Sponsoring Community Organization (CCISCO), brought out a bevy of community, political and faith leaders and a highly diverse crowd of some 400 people to St. Ignatius of Antioch Church. The audience was treated to a rousing start by the award-winning Voices Of Antioch choir from Antioch Church Family.

Missing were the kitchen sink atmosphere of yoga sessions, splinter political movements and Save the Amazon registration booths indicative of the boldly ecletic, proudly amorphous, distinctively undisciplined Occupy Oakland movement. This was not a spontaneous Be-In and hinted no disorder.

The crowd had, in some sense of demeanor, more of a straight-laced, family-friendly Tea Party ambiance with agreed upon ground rules for behavior. It offered badges and a rigorous, orchestrated agenda with well-defined and specific objectives. It started and ended on time. There was an abundance of pre-event research, community input, and political groundwork.

It certainly did, though, have something of the Occupy spirit of egalitarianism and moral social agenda. Again, the affair defied easy categorization as the crowd had a significant Filippino, Latino and African American composite with clergy and congregation from St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, St. Anthony Catholic Church, Antioch Christian Center, Community Presbyterian Church, Most Holy Rosary Catholic Church, St. John Lutheran Chrch, Antioch Church Family, Islamic Center of the East Bay, and the International Christian Ministry.

The meeting co-chairs were Fr. Robert Rien of St. Ignatius of Antioch and Dr. Mario Howell, Pastor at Antioch Church Family. Rev. Will McGarvey and Dr. Paul Taylor gave a prophetic statement, with Rev. Keith Archuleta offering supporting testimony. Elected officials included State Sen. Mark Desaulnier; Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Wade Harper and Council Members Mary Rocha and Gary Agopian; County Board of Education Trustee Cynthia Ruehlig; Antioch Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donald Gill and Trustees Gary Hack and Walter Ruehlig; Oakley Mayor Jim Frazier; Bart Commissioner Joel Keller; liasons from Congressman John Garamendi’s and State Assemblywoman Susan Bonillas office; and former Antioch Mayor Donald Freitas.

Highlights of the meeting were Fr. Robert’s stirring testimony that St. Ignatius of Antioch had been the first church in the country to divest itself from the Bank of America and that, as of now, over four biillion dollars of divestiture has since resulted. This includes 1.2 million from the City of Antioch. Rev. Howell also brought the crowd to their feet with his story of being handcuffed and arrested for his objection to the banks’ stubborn refusal to work with homeowners.

It was proposed that we locally replicate the Boston community Capital Sun initiative that purchases foreclosed properties at current market values and resells to their current occupants at a discounted rate. A request was made to Sen. Desaulnier to continue pushing his SB 447 legislation requiring financial instititions wishing to do business in California to provide their track records on a number of measures including loan modifcations.

Antioch city counselors were encouraged to stress foreclosure registration ordinances and to set $1,000 daily code enforcement fines on negligent banks holding blighted properties. They were asked to affirm their support. They gave moral support but could not technically affirm as three members were present at the meeting. That verbal consensus would have violated the Brown Act.

The education community was commended for the trail-blazing linked learning pathways programs taking root in Antioch. Dr. Gill and myself spoke about the recent 1.025 million dollar career academy grant awarded us and our county-leading reduction from 29% to 18% in dropout rate. We confirmed our support for broadened tutoring programs and equitable behavioral support systems.

The eBART project was commended for insuring that 25% of work hours and 50% of apprenticeship hours be performed by East County residents. A move for more such local hiring was applauded as it augurs tax dollars and shortened commutes.

On the health care access front, La Clinica will be soon opening a new site in Oakley offering services on a sliding fee structure. This provides physicians to Oakley and should take some strain off already overburdened emergency services.

Stay tuned – by all accounts this struck me as a determined movement not easy to pigeonhole and not soon going away.

No Comments so far.

Leave a Reply