Refinery Town & the Work of Communities

Mill Valley Public Library interviews Steve Early & Andres Soto

My goal is to keep this blog short, optimistic, and filled with enough specific content to encourage you to explore further. Like many of you sheltering-in-place, I’ve been reflecting upon giving back, the additional changes I wish to make to my life, and hopes I have for the future. How will we move forward after COVID-19? What will the world look like next month, year, decade? What changes do we hope to make, and how will we implement them?

While we certainly do not have all the answers now, on April 13, I had the opportunity to sit with two members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA): Andres Soto, an activist, and Steve Early, a journalist (both among other things). During our conversation, I gained additional insight about the movement they have been a part of in Richmond, California. In short, the RPA has worked together to become involved in politics and social organizations in the city in order to promote social, political, and environmental policies that they consider nearer to an ideal.

Understand that I am not suggesting that this is the way forward. The RPA provides one 

approach. At the most basic level, this approach is becoming involved and supporting the changes that you hope to be implemented in the community in which you live.

Speaking with them has encouraged me to consider what organizations, people, and policies I wish to support in my current community and how I might better become involved (giving to the local food pantry last week and donating to an organization that supports homeless youth was a start). But, more than this, our April 13 conversation got me reflecting upon the past. While I live in Santa Rosa today, I come from a place where there is a lot of industry like Richmond, a small town in the Ohio River Valley. At times growing up there, I didn’t agree with what I saw and was in the minority. In fact, I may have been more in line with the RPA. Because of this and other reasons beyond politics, I almost always felt at odds with my peers and community. At the time, I saw my status as “different” or “odd” as a negative. However, now that I’ve lived a bit more and continue to learn from mistakes as well as successes, I see that I was just as necessary to them, as they are necessary to me. 

What am I getting at here? 

Although the experiences I had growing up were mostly painful, I am grateful for them for the most part. I know they have shaped who I am and what I believe in today. Even though I have had to learn to accept that some in my hometown will never understand me, I like to think that without me and other perceived “non-aligners” they would not be who they are today, too. While it’s easy to grasp on to simplistic views of places as well as people, more and more, I find myself combatting this notion. No place can be encapsulated by a list of points. Not the Ohio River Valley. Not Richmond, California. No set of people either. 

In the end, we aren’t so different from one another. Not really. We all want the world to be a better place even if we may disagree with what that world should look like. 

That push and pull is what is necessary in our democracy. Your disagreements with me. My disagreements with you. That friction results in a more perfect union for all. I know this may be idealistic, but I truly believe we might work together to change things. For better or worse, that’s what I am: an idealist.

In short, thank you for reading, and it’s okay if you disagree with me or the RPA. However, in my experience, it never hurts to listen in to “the other side.”

For insights from Steve Early and Andres Soto, please visit this YouTube video featuring our original conversation or the condensed discussion as part of our Borrowed Time podcast series. 

Sarah Broderick of Mill Valley Public Library