RICHMOND, Calif. - One by one supporters of Occupy Richmond stood at the microphone and spoke their minds in front of Civic Center Auditorium on Veterans Day. More than 90 people attended the Occupy Richmond rally and shouted together, “We are the 99 percent!”
Organized by a coalition of allies including the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), the issues at hand in the rally were wide ranging. Speakers shared stories of unemployment, foreclosed homes, homeless families, a broken education system and the need to incorporate youth and immigrant communities into Occupy Richmond.
Twenty-four year-old Luis Chacon, a Richmond High alumnus and Richmond resident since 2002, drove from San Jose to Civic Center in order to represent his family in the movement against economic inequality. Chacon is currently enrolled at San Jose State’s graduate school, studying Mexican American Studies.
In his speech to the crowd, Chacon addressed the need to outreach and mobilize high school youth into Occupy Richmond spoke about how inequalities in education are tied to Occupy Richmond. “I have more friends in the military than I do in my master’s program. Schools are in crisis.” said Chacon.
Chacon encouraged youth to speak out, saying the local movement must do a better job of letting students know that they will be safe and respected when they share their own concerns and opinions. “Share your struggles," he said. "If people discount your opinion and your struggle, let them know that’s why youth are not coming (to Occupy Richmond.)”
In a later interview, Chacon said the Occupy Richmond movement, in addition to its larger agenda of wealth inequality and divestment from the banks, has to address local issues affecting Richmond’s large immigrant and undocumented communities of color. “(We need to) have them share, have them tell us what they need from us; what we can do with them, how we can build and mobilize with them,” said Chacon.
Addressing the home foreclosure crisis that plagues Richmond, Silvia Ledezma told the crowd about losing her home of seven years in the neighboring community of El Sobrante. In 2009, Ledezma became disabled due to a work related injury. According to Ledezma, the financial group managing her home loan, AFG/Springfield Financial, intimidated her and pressured her to get a job despite being injured. She was counseled by an AGF officer to short-sale her home.
In her documents from AGF, Ledezma discovered that she received no tax forgiveness on her 10-99C form. Ledezma quickly called the company to make a correction, but the delay caused Ledezma to miss the tax-filing deadline. Ledezma now lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Point Richmond. It is a drastic difference compared to her El Sobrante home which had a yard with 11 fruit trees. “There has to be a change in how the banks do business with us,” said Ledezma. The experience has left Ledezma scarred. “I don’t feel like buying a house. I don’t trust the system anymore. I don’t trust the banks anymore. Even if I have the means to buy a house…it doesn’t appeal to me anymore.”
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also spoke to the crowd, referencing Richmond’s most famous “1 percent” corporation, Chevron. Despite a number of community grants and contributions the company has made to the city, McLaughlin said Chevron’s generosity is false and not at all on par with the contributions she believes they should be making to the city.
McLaughlin cited Chevron’s recent tax property appeal, which would refund $150 million to the company, as an example of corporate greed. McLaughlin said Chevron and Richmond do co-exist, but Chevron must do right. Mayor McLaughlin is proposing a resolution that Chevron withdraws its appeal.
In addition, the mayor reminded the crowd that Richmond residents have for years raised the same issues now being brought to the foreground by the Occupy Movement. Richmond is a city that knows pain and is no stranger to challenging corporations, she said. Richmond Progressive Alliance member Andres Soto agreed, saying that Occupy Oakland and San Francisco movements are playing catch-up to Richmond. While not done under the media’s eye, Soto noted, Richmond deals with impacting inequalities systematically, through council meetings, resolutions and local elections.
Mayor McLaughlin was criticized for supporting an Occupy Movement demonstration, and especially for attending Occupy Richmond on Veterans Day. The West Contra Costa Times released an editorial Saturday condemning MacLaughlin for not setting aside her “hard-core politics for just one day” to honor veterans. A handful of veterans attended the demonstration, speaking in support of Occupy Richmond.
MacLaughlin stands firm on her position. “I embrace the Occupy Movement and of course, Occupy Richmond,” the mayor said. McLaughlin counted the Santa Rosa City Council’s action of issuing protest permits as an approach that is similar to hers. “That’s the kind of relationship elected officials should have and certainly the kind of relationship I have with Richmond. It’s different from how it was approached in Oakland, and I am clear and consistent on where I stand.”
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