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A caravan honoring essential workers depart from Oxnard. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Friday, May 8, 2020

By Chris Frost


Oxnard-- It was a caravan laced with hope and determination, May 1, as May Day 805 Oxnard gathered at the Food 4 Less parking lot, determined to make a difference for essential workers in the community.


The event, hosted by the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Energy (Cause), the Future Leaders of America, the Greater Oxnard Organization of Democrats (The GOOD Club) the Oxnard Chapter of the Association of Mexican American Educators and others celebrated workers and immigrants for their contribution to the community each year.


The caravan traveled from Oxnard to State Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin's office in Camarillo and asked that Governor Gavin Newsome cancel rent while honoring essential workers who are struggling because of COVID-19.


CAUSE Community Organizer Nidia Bello said the May Day caravan is vital for everyone.


"We work with farmworker families, and we see that rent is a huge problem for them," she said. "They're essential workers and risk their health by going to work every day. They get paid low wages, have to pay for child care, and have trouble buying groceries. They're going into debt to pay rent, so we need to be here today."


They (CAUSE) are asking Newsome to cancel rent for millions of families who are struggling and need relief.


"Farmworkers are one of the most impacted groups because of COVID-19," she said. "A lot of them can't apply for unemployment or any kind of assistance."


Newsome approved funds for undocumented workers, and she called it a significant first step.


"That would only help about one-in-five undocumented families," she said. "We have about 7,000 people on the waiting list."


Roni Miranda and Dolly decorated her car for the trip and said any event that supports front line workers is vital.


"They've been working throughout this whole pandemic," she said. "They show up and deliver the goods to our stores so we can eat and have fresh food. There is a different event going on today that is trying to force the state open. It's not lost upon me, the irony of it, they want to open the state, and these people are still working. They are marginalized from the relief efforts that still aren't coming to the people who need it. Rent is due, and they have to stay home and educate their kids because there is no school. They're at risk, and they are going out and are subject to compromised health conditions."


GOOD Club President Steven Auclair said it's important they recognize the essential workers.


"We often think about doctors, paramedics, and nurses that we certainly support, but our focus today is grocery workers and farmworkers who put their lives on the line to give us food," he said. "We want to raise awareness that many of these workers don't qualify for traditional government assistance that many of us rely upon."


Auclair wants Newsome to provide more money for undocumented workers because they are an essential part of the economy.


"I recommend an article that came out yesterday called the undocufund, and there are 7,000 families on the waiting list," he said. 


The GOOD Club had to shift all its political activities online because of COVID-19.


"We have nearly 300 members of the GOOD Club, so we're reaching out to them and making sure they're okay and have all the resources they need," he said. "We're the party who cares about people, feels their pain, and wants to get them connected."


Rick Sanchez came out with members of The GOOD Club, and they worked with other organizations to draw attention to working people at Food 4 Less, who are working without a contract.


"I believe they are unionized," he said. "We want to show support for people working in grocery stores because they are essential workers. It's the same thing with the farmworkers in the area here who work seven days a week out in the fields in close proximity to others without protective gear. The Cause Organization is going to be taking protective gear in a few days to the farms in the area."


Sanchez said he's the beneficiary of working people, and his family grew up poor. He grew up as part of the middle class, and that makes May Day a critical event.


"I reaped the benefits of everything, and I want everyone else to have the same opportunities that I've had," he said. "It's a tough world out there, but it's really tough if you're an immigrant or undocumented."


Sanchez said poor people are the last ones to get tested.


"The county is trying to help undocumented workers get healthcare," he said. "They are essential for all of us."


Kim Marra Stephenson said the city must support its food workers, farmworkers, and all the essential workers.


"They provide us comfort and essential services that we need during the COVID-19 outbreak to stay safe," she said. "We should recognize the ones who do the most."


Stephenson is a teacher, and she is trying to keep her kids busy.


"I know what it's like, but I also can be working from home with my kids," she said. "I know there's a lot of people who can't do that."


She's involved with a Lego Drive with LULAC Camarillo, she said, to provide educational toys for farmworkers' children.


"So, the kids who are home educate their brothers and sisters and have things to keep them busy naturally," she said. "They don't have to be skilled teachers to do that."


COVID-19 affects her just like everyone else.


"I have to do things a little differently and practice safe habits," she said. "We have to keep our social distances, stay on top of the news, and learn how to do things remotely. It jumpstarted our teaching workforce going into the 21st Century faster than we had to in the past. Before, it was a choice, and now it's essential. We can't see our kids every day, so we have to do it a different way, and it's been working well as long as we can get devices, WiFi, and hot spots to all our kids." 


Kim's daughter, Grace Stephenson, from the Diversity Collective, was out supporting the essential workers in the community.


"It's exciting to get outside, and we're used to protesting and marching," she said. "It's nice to be able to get out during the quarantine and do this for the essential workers."


She's been busy and has launched Glimmer, which is an online platform for women and LGBTQ individuals to find personalized therapy services and sexual health.


"It's a tailored space for women and queer individuals which doesn't exist yet," she said. "It's a safe space for our community. It's for any female-identifying individuals."


Grace studied international studies and public health in school, and she saw a gap when she worked at non-profits. 


"There is no real place to find an inclusive therapist," she said. "I've had my own traumatizing experiences with therapists who are un-affirming and not affirming to LGBQ individuals. Glimmer is a space they can go to and find a therapist who can help them."


Colin Newton traveled with Grace and thinks the workers and the working class should be supported every day.


"In the context of this pandemic, we should be coming out and supporting the people we deem essential," he said. "We should always support those people."


Coronavirus Resources for Ventura County