Community activists on Sunday celebrated recent gains helping young people and immigrants, and they urged supporters to push for a $15-an-hour “living wage” for those who work for or have ties to Sonoma County government.
More than 500 people gathered at Santa Rosa High School for the fourth annual public gathering of the North Bay Organizing Project. The group consists of about 20 labor, religious, environmental and community organizations.
The group this fall hopes to persuade county supervisors to set a minimum wage of $15 an hour in a manner that would affect about 5,000 people who work as employees or contractors. Most of those who would benefit are in-home care workers, who now earn less than $12 an hour, organizers said.
“We deserve the same thing as all workers,” in-home care worker Connie Barker told the audience. Barker, who has clients in both Sonoma and Marin counties, said her fellow workers one day hope to secure such benefits as vacation pay, health care and pensions.
The meeting’s theme Sunday was “Fanning the Flame: The intersection of Love and Justice.”
The organizing project wants “to show what love and justice look like in the public realm,” said President Leticia Romero. Sunday’s gathering, she said, was both a celebration of past victories and a call to action.
Looking back, the group celebrated its ongoing work with Santa Rosa City Schools to reduce student suspensions through an approach known as restorative justice. The program, which seeks to give victims a voice and offenders an opportunity to atone, has been in place at some campuses for more than a year, said a school staff member.
The audience also applauded a new law that next year will provide California driver’s licenses to undocumented residents. Petaluma Police Chief Patrick Williams, the chairman of the county’s law enforcement chiefs association, told the audience Sunday that the police chiefs have agreed that the new licenses will “carry the same weight” as those currently in use.
A third highlight was a new program that next year will provide free rides to college students and veterans on county transit buses.
County Supervisor Mike McGuire, in attendance with colleagues Susan Gorin and Shirlee Zane, told the audience that the county would be among the first in the nation to offer such service to veterans. The program, he said, would save participating college students up to $500 a year.
Organizers said they will push to gain free bus service for all youth on all public transit buses in the county and its cities.
Not all the presentations pointed to victories. Speakers noted the ongoing failure to pass changes in immigration legislation in Congress.
Liliana Garcia of the Graton Day Labor Center told the audience that President Barack Obama had broken promises to help immigrants. She noted that most Latino voters had supported Obama, “who has only disappointed us.”
At last year’s meeting, tears flowed as speakers reflected on the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy. In one emotional presentation, Graton Rancheria Chairman Greg Sarris gave the Lopez family an $8,000 check, the same amount given to each tribal family when a loved one dies.
This year, the shooting was only referenced once from the podium, after the crowd gave a rousing ovation to a performance by the Valley Vibes Orchestra of El Verano School in Boyes Hot Springs. Sonoma State Professor Francisco Vazquez noted that he was on the community task force formed after the Lopez shooting, and one recommendation to provide “healing” solutions would be to start more programs in Santa Rosa like Valley Vibes.