Woman, 85, arrested at Chase Bank

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By Rose Aguilar
January 17, 2011

Some of the most undercovered stories of 2010 were actions taken by ordinary people standing up for a more just and equitable society. People are taking to the streets on a regular basis across the country, but unlike the corporate-sponsored Tea Party -- whose spokespeople can't answer basic questions about the deficit they claim to be so worried about -- those who believe in health care, affordable housing, economic justice, education, a living wage, and a better life for all rarely, if ever, get the attention they deserve. Instead, the media, even the alternative media, spent the better part of last year obsessing over the Tea Party and manufactured personalities like Sarah Palin, while ignoring people like 85-year-old Julia Botello.

Last month, Botello was among 22 people arrested for blocking the doors of a Chase Bank branch in downtown Los Angeles. Over 200 people, many of them homeowners facing foreclosure and eviction, took part in the action organized byHome Defenders League and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

According to the Alliance, these families have never participated in an event or protest before, but they have exhausted all other options. Imagine if over 200 Tea Partiers took part in a similar action. Imagine if an 85-year-old Tea Party member was photographed being led away by two cops, one holding each arm. Not only would this video footage be shown over and over again on the cable shows, Julia Botello would be bombarded with interview requests, but because she's standing in solidarity with people who are losing their homes, she's only been contacted by two other reporters.

"If we're united, we're a better force. We need to stand together," she says. "I use my voice for the people. I know all of the councilmen and councilwomen in my area. I'm not afraid to speak and ask for better conditions for my community."

Botello found her voice 10 years ago after falling and hurting her knee on a routine walk home. Her South Central Los Angeles neighborhood was usually dark because the street lights rarely worked. "We usually had only one light that worked, so I went to local council meetings and raised my voice. Why are our streets dark? We need light. My neighborhood hasn't been dark since." She's been going strong ever since. If there's an action focusing on an issue she cares about, she will do whatever it takes to be there, even if it means rescheduling an overdue eye surgery. "I still have time and I want to keep going."

In addition to the Chase Bank action last month, several other grassroots actions failed to receive the attention they deserve. These actions, no matter how small, should not be discounted. Let's hope these voices and demands become too loud to ignore in 2011.

 -- On December 9, thousands of inmates in Georgia state prisons began a six-day strike to call attention to their treatment and to demand basic human rights: a living wage for work, educational opportunities, decent living conditions and health care, and an end to cruel and unusual punishment. It was largest prison strike in U.S. history, but the New York Times was one of the few mainstream outlets to cover it.

“Perhaps there was a larger hand at play—one that did not want the deplorable conditions of the Georgia prison system to surface,” writes Death and Taxes’ Joe Weber.

For extensive coverage, analysis and interviews with inmates, you had to turn to independent outlets like Facing South and the Black Agenda Report. “They want to break up the unity we have here,” said an anonymous strike leader in an interview with the Black Agenda Report. “We have the Crips and the Bloods, we have the Muslims, we have the head Mexicans, and we have the Aryans all with a peaceful understanding, all on common ground.”

Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in radio show on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and KUSP 88.9 FM in Santa Cruz, and author of Red Highways: A Liberal's Journey into the Heartland.

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