In November 2011 the University of California at Davis Center for Regional Change published a study titled "Land of Risk/Land of Opportunity" (Merced Sun-Star, Nov. 15, 2011).
A quote from the study reads: "The Central Valley-with its rich farmland, hard-working people, vibrant businesses, and beautiful vistas -- is the newest frontier of the California Dream."
But for who?
The study, among other findings, pointed out:
More than 31 percent (1.2 million) of San Joaquin Valley residents face extreme cumulative environmental and social vulnerability.
An additional 20 percent of San Joaquin Valley residents (1.9 million, or 47.5 percent of the Central Valley's population) face elevated cumulative environmental and social vulnerability.
Does the Central Valley need a social-political awakening? Have both major political parties ignored the needs of the 47 percent -- the 47 percent of Central Valley residents who face elevated cumulative social vulnerability, those who are unemployed or underemployed, who live near or under the poverty level?
This opinion piece is written with the conviction that, regardless of all the rhetoric from all the politicians about the economy, job growth, helping small business, none has even acknowledged the existence of these sobering statistics nor advanced a solution or even an opinion regarding these problems.
Without alleviating this staggering poverty dynamic, economic improvement will not happen. How can one claim to improve the socioeconomic standing of the region when 47 percent of its population is ignored? The simple answer -- it's not possible. It is economically impossible for growth to occur when 47 percent of your population cannot participate in the process.
I have seen no engagement by politicians from any party with the underserved and underrepresented of our population. I have seen no political "white paper" addressing the plight of this segment of our population. None of our local politicians have addressed the needs of the 47 percent. Do candidates think this will just go away if they ignore it?
Has none of these Merced city and county elected officials read "Land of Risk/Land of Opportunity"?
Action principles from the study:
Strive for environmental justice.
Actions should reduce cumulative health impacts on the most affected and vulnerable communities.
Action should be precautionary, not reactive.
Agencies should act to introduce this type of precautionary, not reactive, approach into decision making.
Break out of silos and build bridges.
Public agencies must work collaboratively across institutional boundaries.
Residents speak for themselves.
Agencies must engage with residents of the affected communities in a climate of mutual respect and shared learning.
This study should be taken as a devastating exposure of the status quo and the suffering these people endure. The recommendations -- "action framework" -- should be taken seriously and acted upon, but there seems to be no evidence that this has happened or will happen.
Do these politicians think the problems will just go away? Do they think these people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Pretty hard to do if you have no boots.
I would think that some enterprising politician will soon realize that a base of 1.9 million people, who at present are not represented, would be the start of a promising political life.
Until that time comes, our current politicians must engage this demographic because no real socioeconomic progress will occur without including them.
The time has come for politicians to engage the 47 percent and for the 47 percent to realize that they can make a difference. The time has come for them to be represented in the political process. The time has come for the political revolution of the 47 percent.
Holmes is a Merced resident and retired surveyor.