“The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is the aphorism by which community activists live. And the biggest community organizer of them all is the President of the United States today. But the sleepy suburban town of Fremont is hardly the typical setting for activism. A bedroom community in the Bay Area with a large population of immigrants, the city has muddled along with haphazard development plans for years, with only fringe input from its residents.
But the recent plan to relocate the A’s stadium to one of a possible couple of locations in south Fremont galvanized the usually apathetic community. NIMBY! ( Not In My BackYard) was the rallying cry, as horrified residents in one of the best school districts in the city contemplated the repercussions of traffic, crowding and strain on essential city services. The emotion was strong enough that a quick web group was formed, the Fremont Citizens Network, which actively began advocating against the presence of the stadium.
Deepak Alur is one of the founders of the Fremont Citizens Network. He and his friends enlisted the help of experts in the field to determine the impact of building a stadium on a city and quickly came to the conclusion that no stadium construction has ever benefited a city in the long run.
In the beginning the concerned residents communicated by email. As the numbers grew, Deepak and his fellow techies decided to create a community group called the Fremont Citizens Network with a website that would keep track of the research, resources and plans involving the stadium project.
As befits Silicon Valley, the group is purely a web-based one. The power of the internet was harnessed to mobilize the group to protest the stadium on Tuesday, February24th, right outside the City Hall, where the city council was due to have its meeting about the project.
This was not the first outreach for FCN. “The first thing we did was to ask the city council if they were interested in the research we had done,” says Deepak. ” I went to the city council meeting and was given 2 minutes to talk about it. The response of the city council was that it was too premature to be talking about the project at the time. But within a few days members of the council were making public statements about the stadium coming to Fremont.”
Members of FCN also attempted to present their findings to the Fremont Planning Commission but were rebuffed. That’s when the idea of the protest was formed. “We were dismayed at the lack of transparency and openness in the dealings of the city,” says Deepak. The protest was a way of getting the attention of the city government.
For a small web-only group, FCN has been surprisingly successful. Perhaps the current economic climate has made the development of the stadium less viable but there is no doubt that FCN’s activism made it clear to the parties concerned that the residents of the city were not going to passively accept the decisions of the city council.
A letter from the developer for the project, Lew Wolf, arrived at the eleventh hour, withdrawing from the project, somewhat taking the wind out of the protest’s sails.
But the protest went on anyway. Not being a fan of the stadium project myself, I took my 13-year old to his (and my) first protest yesterday. A large group of Fremont citizens stood on the sidewalk outside the City Hall holding signs saying “Fremont First” and “No Stadium”.( One even asked for Mayor Bob Wasserman’s recall!) Knee-high little kids chanted “No stadium”, “No Stadium”, probably the first few words of their vocabulary. The protesters represented Fremont’s diversity, with an equal number of Indian Americans, Asian Americans and Caucasians. Pizza, chips and protest signs were being distributed.
“It was a humbling experience,” adds Deepak. “Ours is not a funded group but some members just decided to pitch in on their own.” Someone brought the pizza while another distributed T-shirts with the words ,”No Stadium”. Deepak himself got some FCN caps printed for the main organizers.
I talked to protester Shaital Desai who was there with her husband. “This was just too important an issue not to be involved,” she said. She had come in reponse to the email alert sent out by FCN and did not know any of the other people there.
The number of protesters kept growing. An unofficial count put it at 521, which is really significant in a population of just about 250,000. People spilled over to the roads and had to be herded by policemen so as not to obstruct traffic but it was all very peaceful and non-confrontational.The spirit was buoyant and when my son and I left around 7:15 the protest was moving to the main street.
Cars driving by showed their support by honking. Deepak contends that once the populace is informed of the facts surrounding the stadium project, even residents not too concerned about it today will reject it. That is why FCN is now moving forward to assure two things. One that the project is not resuscitated quietly once the fuss dies down and secondly that the matter be eventually put to a vote so that it is taken care of for the foreseeable future.
It was remarkable to see community activism in action. One hopes that through the FCN, the citizens of Fremont have a united voice for their concerns. To paraphrase President Obama’s line from yesterday’s Address to the Congress, “We all love this city and want the best for it.”
For more informationabout the Fremont Citizens Network click here.