Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why I Vote

Why I vote* would be easy enough to answer, as I could just be honest and say, “Because my mother told me I had to.” But as I have learned more, read more, and watched more, I have a deeper understanding of all that was sacrificed so that women and people of color could have this right, which should have been inherent to us when establishing this country. I don’t see my vote as some sort of patriotic duty but more as a way to honor those who sacrificed so much for me to be able to do so.

But yes, my mom told me I had to vote, even when I told her that I didn’t like any of the candidates and that I might just write-in Kermit the Frog – she didn’t care.

Recently, I asked her why she felt so strongly about voting (it is amazing what you can learn from your mom when you ask). “Our family has a long history with voting,” she said.

Just a reminder: my mom’s family was in Texas before Texas was a state.

She shared that when she was 10 years old, my great-grandfather
told her that even though they had to pay a poll tax in order to vote, he and my great-grandmother felt it was better to pay than not vote – though it was very difficult for them to do so at the time. She added that my great-great-grandmother was active in LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens).  They also felt voting could help prevent discrimination.

My mom was also the first Latina on the Board of the League of Women Voters, and she said that it was in the League that she began to realize that the only way to better our lives was to encourage people, especially in disadvantaged areas, to vote for people who look out for our communities.

So that is partially why I vote – because of my mom.

But thanks to documentaries, movies, books, and other people, I have learned a lot about those who sacrificed their lives and freedom for the vote. Unfortunately, growing up in Texas means I had to learn through their pro-white high school textbooks, and I don’t remember much about this except for maybe a paragraph about the 19th Amendment or Civil Rights.

I don’t mean to give everyone a history lesson, but did you know it has not even been 100 years since women have had the right to vote? And what motivated many women to fight for this right was not simply the injustice of it all, but the deeper issues that men didn’t understand or care about. Only women understood their horrific working conditions as well as the conditions in which their children were living, and they could see that the men weren’t exactly voting with the working poor on their minds. Women also didn’t want their daughters to be without any rights or be seen as mere property.

When I look back at the strategies used by the women’s suffrage movement, it is exciting to see how strategic they were and how many of these tactics are still used today. They not only used protests, marches, and consistent campaigning, but many of these brave women, from England to the US, used more “radical” tactics, including throwing rocks through windows. Many women spent time in jail and when they refused to eat (they were political prisoners but were not treated as such) and were force-fed. (Quick shout out to Lucy Burns and Alice Paul.).

Carol J. Adams has a wealth of knowledge on these histories!

Now, I know that there were some concerns about “distractions” when it came to the suffragette movement and the right for Blacks to vote, but some understood the connections of these issues and supported both - like Frederick Douglass! Again, many issues of oppression are connected and we have to work together to fight them all.

In the US, many people of color are still
facing barriers to the right to vote – from states now requiring IDs to straight up intimidation.

If voting was pointless, why would white people be working to scare people of color away from doing it?

This blog is getting long, but let’s take just a quick look at the Freedom Summer organized in the 1960s (by SNCC, SCLC, CORE & NAACP) to register Black voters in Mississippi. Black activists had to fight, and I do not mean that figuratively. Some lost their lives – just to help the Black community register to vote. More than a thousand people were arrested, there were beatings, Black homes and churches were burned, and even some people were killed.

For the right to vote.

I don’t want to pretend that Blacks now have an easy time voting, but this only happened 50 years ago in 1965.

Although I think I had a paragraph in my textbook about the Civil Rights movement, there was pretty much nothing about Chicano history and voting rights. As many people of color know, our histories are not often covered in schoolbooks. In fact, it is difficult to find much about Chicano history anywhere.

Clearly not being able to speak English was a voting barrier for many. (Again, we are talking about land that was Mexico.)

I am often amazed how many white liberals speak out against voting – a right they have had for a long time, while many in our communities have only enjoyed this right a short time.

Not to mention that many positions require the person running to already have money. Many elected officials do not earn much money; therefore, individuals have to have a very flexible job and/or already have money. (When I was in college in Texas, many legislators were doctors or lawyers because the legislature is not in session all year or even every year – it takes someone with money to be able to take three months off during the session.)

Although we know there are many problems with the system, I encourage people to vote because there is likely more than one issue (especially those of us who live in states with ballot initiatives) or even one person you can vote for.

Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying here – I am not saying voting is what creates change in this country but for me, I want to vote in honor of those who wanted me to be able to. (see quote at the end of the blog).

For all of those who sacrificed for this right, and to those who have tried to prevent us from doing so – I vote.

(Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!)

After reading this blog our board member Rick Kelley thought I should add this quote from Howard Zinn:

"I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice."

- See more at:

*As a 501 (C)3 Food Empowerment Project cannot endorse any candidates.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Touro University honors F.E.P. community organizer: Acceptance speech given by Maria Guevara

Acceptance speech of Maria Guevara, Food Empowerment Project's Vallejo Community organizer receiving a Hero Award


Thank you Touro University for choosing Vallejo to serve, to lead and to teach. You have served our community in so many ways and we are forever grateful.

Thank you Alicia, Gayle, Brigida and Touro’s Public Health Program for this beautiful award.

In researching this award, it was delightful to learn that it was established in conjunction with the Day of Compassion.
Wow, A Day of Compassion.

As I googled it, there were many things that came up about this day which is celebrated by many people all over the world.  Some celebrate it by honoring veganism and the promise not to eat animals, others by sponsoring a child in other countries and some would ask their congregation to spend a day volunteering to serving those in need.

Time dedicated to a response to the suffering of others is a familiar to me as I have seen time and time again, in this compassionate town of Vallejo - so many caring individuals, performing so many selfless acts of love-
going out of their way to help the physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of others.

Vallejo Together an eternal volunteer organization was established in 2010 to build 6 areas of community - business, culture, education, faith, government and safety.  Having over 400 residents attend our first meeting, we continue to be, more than 6 years later, excited about serving our community.  We are grateful to work hand in hand with agencies, entities, government, organizations and individuals to usher in humane policies and break barriers for all those in need.

We are privileged to have so many heroes that work alongside us, which we are so glad to have as our guests here today.  Heroes like Lauren Ornelas, founder of Food Empowerment Project who came to study Vallejo’s food desert and is demanding change in the way Vallejoans are given access to healthy food.  Or Lisa Gutierrez Wilson, co founder of the Vallejo Peace Project who encourages youth to take a pledge to be peacemakers in their schools. Veronica Vega, a public health nurse who happily delivers food and clothing to refugees seeking safety. Supervisor Erin Hannigan who stopped 7 mothers and 11 children from being evicted from their housing. Divine Mercy Prayer Group who gathers together once a month from many cities in the North Bay to prepare food and deliver to 100 senior citizens and friends in need. Community Life Integration Foundation’s Sonya and Nyesha Russell who works hard day and night to fund a building they occupied in faith. And Julie Brand, who owns A Wise Retreat, a 24/7 substance abuse treatment home for women.

We know that we cannot do it alone.

Together, we can.

Often times, the public health issue of those we serve is not physical but internal.  It is mental and spiritual. More than empty stomachs, our friends have their hearts emptied, clutching to the little amount of hope they have because they have suffered and continue to suffer so many disappointments in their lives.  All they have left, and sometimes barely, is their will to survive.

Working with our friends in need have taught us that if we really wanted to help, we had to act FAST and act NOW.  We had to put aside every barrier and help them as soon as possible. And even if they weren’t ready yet, we had to be prepared when we get that call.

We did not knock on doors, we created our own pathways.  

We did not to wait on things to happen - we made things happen.  

We did not wait for someone else to do it, because WE were the ones who our friends had been waiting for.

And they needed us right now.

Our efforts were always two pronged. Helping now with immediate needs, but always working towards a vision of solution of a more permanent structure, a foundation of solid services that will be available for those in need in the future and will outlast us when we are no longer here.

One of Vallejo Peace Project’s founder Lisa Gutierrez Wilson’s favorite quote is “Complacency Kills” And it truly does.  Every moment spent allowing another to suffer is a moment lost to show compassion and love.

And we don’t have to do BIG things - let’s start with a smile, first at ourselves, knowing that our little light can shine wonders in others once we allow it to be free. Next, let’s look at what we want and can do to help and then little by little, just do it.

On behalf of all us present here today, Vallejo Together, our partners and friends accept this award and dedicate it to all the heroes present here in this room, and all those in the community who display the courage to be compassionate. Thank you for going the distance for those who can no longer take the next step.

Thank you for being you.

So remember…

In a world of suffering, be compassionate.

Together, We Can

Monday, April 4, 2016

What exactly is “mainstream” about injustice?

Guest post by Anika Lehde, volunteer coordinator for the newly established Washington chapter of Food Empowerment Project.

I’m thrilled to be working on the issues that Food Empowerment Project addresses here in Washington State—from educating the public on issues with cocoa farmed in West Africa to supporting the Driscoll’s/Sakuma berry boycott in solidarity with Familias Unidas por la Justicia. But I have to share a story that illustrates the barriers that Food Empowerment Project has faced since its founding in 2006.

As a burgeoning chapter, one of our first tasks is to get the word out about Food Empowerment Project, helping folks expand their circle of compassion to human animals and non-human animals, which means tabling at our local Seattle VegFest. This event is ideal because we would be able to reach thousands of vegans and vegetarians with information about farm worker rights, child labor in the chocolate industry, etc., and also help the hundreds of omnivores who attend embrace veganism and animal liberation without dismissing human needs. There is no better event for us to table.

Which is why I was crushed when I was told via email that the event was full and we wouldn’t be able to rent table space. I was also extremely surprised, since I had contacted them more than a month before the event and, having attended many times, I knew that there were often empty tables near the other non-profits. I wrote them back, pleading: “Isn't there anything that can be done? Anyone cancelling? A wait list? Any spare tables in the back?” I didn’t want our new chapter to be left out of this community event and asked them if they could help in finding of any other way we could be involved. But I never received a response. Crickets, as they say.

Then, thankfully, a friend of Food Empowerment Project found a group that would be willing to share their table with us, since they were light on literature and thought having another group sharing the space might draw more people to the table in general. Problem solved! Hurray! Right?

Alas, when this arrangement was discussed with the organizers, they admitted to our friend that they didn’t want Food Empowerment Project at Seattle VegFest because we cover issues that are “out of scope” of the event. That’s right: a vegan food justice organization is not welcome at Seattle VegFest because we care about a multitude of related food justice issues. Mind you, this event lets Safeway and QFC table (last year handing out flavored bottled water), though these companies openly make millions from the exploitation of non-human animals. That’s right: corporations are “in” and Food Empowerment Project is “out.” To say we were frustrated would be an understatement. 

This is a pattern for Vegetarians of Washington, the organizers of VegFest, who claim that they don’t want anything to detract from the mainstreaming of veganism. They actually don’t use the word “vegan,” even though their monthly dinners are vegan and many of the organizers are ethical vegans. How can we get our friends to embrace veganism for ethical reasons if even vegans are too worried about using the word? They believe that they are making veganism more palatable for Seattle citizens. Here is where I think they are sending the wrong messages to their enthusiastic audience.

If we continue to pretend that our fellow humans don’t care about one another and pretend that we should only focus on our own health and never mind the impact of our choices, we are disrespecting our fellow citizens. VegFest organizers think that they are making veganism easier and more mainstream, but they are actually making it harder for those in Seattle who care about wider justice issues. They are making veganism seem single-issue, personal-interest, and out-of-touch. In Seattle, food justice, anti-racism, labor rights, and environmental justice are all issues taken up by significantly more people than veganism or animal rights. VegFest organizers are turning their backs on the very people that vegetarian groups should be reaching out to – they are making veganism less palatable for Seattle.

I know that Seattle cares about justice, and I know that Seattle vegans see beyond the pallid version of veganism that VegFest offers. So to ensure that my fellow rad Seattle citizens get a better experience, we will be bringing lauren Ornelas to Seattle herself, for a completely free event, that will include a great talk, amazing food, and a version of justice that meets the needs of our future world. If you’d like to be invited, please follow the newly created Food Empowerment Project WA Chapter Facebook Page or email me at veganscore {at} live.{com}.

Lastly, I am not saying that folks should avoid Seattle VegFest, but if you want to see them expand their concept of mainstream veganism beyond consumerism, be sure to give them feedback via email or social media. Then maybe next year we’ll see you there!