The San Joaquin Valley of California is the most productive agricultural region in the world yet also has the highest levels of poverty, pollution, and hunger in the United States. This paradox did not occur by happenstance, nor should the poor be blamed for their condition. Geographies are planned and constructed; by definition, imprinted with our designs.
Few are aware of the histories that inform their lives, leaving society susceptible to acquiesce into accepting and normalizing injustice and oppression. Today we increasingly understand how the Valley was engineered to be unequal and unjust – a feat accomplished through massive infusions of public investment in the last century, including the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.
Today we face the task of mitigating, rectifying, and transforming past mistakes, including non-enforcement of federal laws and corruption in public institutions – decisions which prioritized and privileged a handful of powerful landowners over the needs of local residents and the citizens of this nation, and which neglect environmental stewardship.
On May 19th, 2018, progressives throughout California – local residents of the San Joaquin Valley, policy advocates, seasoned activists, and community organizers who have worked on California water issues for decades – traveled to Fresno to draft a set of positions and policies on water in the San Joaquin Valley.
Though specific to the region, the platform has broader application and import. We hope Friends will join us in realizing the concerns and objectives of this platform, and assist us in the work of realizing its values.
A Human Right to Water
Everyone has a Say
Data and Technology
Healthy Mountains, Rivers, and Aquifers
Water is Not for Sale
Since California’s statehood, the San Joaquin Valley has been one of the most politically charged, economically polarized, and socially segregated places in the United States. Periods of outright political violence have continually boiled over in the process of consolidation of the region’s rural economy, the privatization of its natural resources, and the importation and exploitation of foreign workers.
Concurrently, local communities and their allies have organized resistance, including the United Farm Worker movement of the 1960s, supported by the American Friends Service Committee and other Friends in the West. Although victories have been won by workers, injustice and poverty continue to characterize the region.
The Valley’s paradoxes raise moral questions. When public institutions are co-opted and corrupted, how shall we acknowledge, testify to and transform unjust structures within our society? Quaker practices of corporate deliberation and discernment leading into nonviolent action are well matched to the complex of issues that undermine democracy, public health, and environmental sustainability.
Local residents and advocates in the San Joaquin Valley would welcome assistance from Friends and other allies across California and the United States, as we engage and challenge the long-established power structures of our region. To help, get involved and support the Central Valley Partnership by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. ~~~
Daniel O’Connell is Executive Director of the Central Valley Partnership, a regional progressive network of activists, community leaders, and organizations spanning the southern San Joaquin Valley. He is also a member of the Visalia Friends Meeting (PYM) and was previously active on AFSC’s Farm Labor Committee in the region.