Peace Center in Walnut Creek raises awareness of social justice issues
By Lou Fancher
Racism is baked into America’s history: More than 200 years of uncomfortableness dating back to the Declaration of Independence keeps the issue at the forefront of political, social and institutional constructs and discourse in 2017.
This was the premise behind a series of free, community conversations hosted by the Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center and members of the Facebook group Diablo for Peace.
“One of the missions of the Peace Center is to raise awareness of social justice issues in the local community,” said Executive Director Margli Auclair. “I recently met a group of local young people who are passionate about addressing the many facets of exploitation in our society, such as racism. I believe it is a difficult but important discussion that we must continue to have.”
The Peace Center, founded in 1969, joined forces with the newly formed intergenerational group of local, mostly Walnut Creek residents at public gatherings held at the downtown Walnut Creek library and at Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church.
Emmy Akin, a graduate of Las Lomas High School, along with other founding members of Diablo for Peace organized events and produced a zine, “Call of Diablo,” that includes essays, research data, information and action plans aimed at cultivating anti-racism in Diablo Valley.
Akin said the first talk centered on understanding systemic racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and other forms of oppression. Audience members, she said, were concerned with recognizing inherent bias and experiencing discomfort — guilt, anger, defensiveness — while seeking to better understand racism at the local level.
The meeting ended with solutions involving intergenerational connections and using people’s time, talents, money and other resources to work in teams.
Albert Ponce’s interactive presentation May 18 began with a framework whose entry point was the year 1619.
“That year, a nation state was constructed upon the removal of indigenous people,” he said. “Conquest and genocide gave birth to the nation.”
Referencing the exploitation of Native Americans and the first African slaves introduced to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, the assistant professor of political science at Diablo Valley College said, “In that moment, the idea of race becomes real.”
But changing practices by which people will lose power, money and prestige is difficult and will come only with education, he said. To divide by skin color or gender and conquer, Ponce said, was the fundamental structure behind pivotal moments, laws, actions and declarations made by prominent people throughout world history.
“The Constitution secured property rights over human beings, yet all men are created equal? Is that a fact?” he asked, as one example. “Where are the women in that moment, or indigenous people?”
In school textbooks and cultural lore, Ponce said revisionism leaves out Thomas Jefferson’s 225 slaves; educational segregation that continues by way of underserved public schools in poverty-stricken locations; Japanese internment in the 1940s in what scholars and historians now call “concentration camps” that resulted from executive order 9066; and laws that create hierarchical us-above-them groupings.
“How does racism happen? Through laws we accept as justice. It’s OK today to target whose who don’t look American. It’s guilty until proven a citizen.”
White nativism and power behind Trump’s “making America great,” he said, brings us to a contentious moment. But the impact on the Latino community of high numbers of deportations during former President Barack Obama’s presidency, he said, was significant and the subject of ongoing studies.
The for-profit prison industry’s incarceration rates for people of color and law enforcement departments incentivized to arrest people of color in particular, Ponce said, was “state-supported violence we just don’t see.”
Compelled to promote critical thinking in the classroom and at community events like the series on race, Ponce said, “I’m here to provoke. To see the complexity and ugliness. How do we construct the happy future? Anti-racist work, civil disobedience (in the tradition of Thoreau), dismantle white supremacist capitalism, talk to each other, strategize. Then, when times demand it, do not let an ICE officer question a fourth-grade student.”
The final talk May 21 featured Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle and co-founder and executive director of the Love Not Blood Campaign. His talk addressed healing through resistance to state-sponsored violence and discussion of the movie made about the killing of his nephew, “Fruitvale Station.”