Imagining community: Signs inspiring humanity

Repurposing political slogans to tell a community story

Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.—Abraham Lincoln

’Tis the political yard sign season. Carefully crafted squares of wares shouting candidates’ names. Most often accompanied with a catchy slogan like, “I’m with Her” or “Make America Great Again.” (As if staring at a ballot and recognizing a name is enough to win my vote. Ha, fat chance.)

An epiphany: What if I take the campaign slogans of Chico City Council candidates and use them as writing prompts? And what if this is entirely detached from the candidate, political party or confirmation bias? I’ll simply use them to tell a community story.

Here we go, in random order …

Chico for All

Nothing rings truer for all of us than the hellish Camp Fire aftermath when the citizens of Chico opened their hearts and doors to their neighbors from the Ridge.

The immensity of need overwhelmed me during my first outreach visit to the tent city that sprang up in the Walmart parking lot on Nov. 8, 2018. I met and comforted a dozen fire victims needing tires, shelter, food and finances.

A gray-haired woman touched my heart with her voraciousness for humor as comfort at being burned-out and living in her car—a dog in the packed back seat and a cat on her lap. She was an open book sharing deeply personal stories of mental health challenges, punctuating them with jokes when the memories elicited pain.

After a few hours my team of two returned to the central area to report what we had witnessed. Out of nowhere, as if he fell from the sky, a young man confidently marched toward the group. He stopped and proclaimed, “I’m Greg from Butte County Behavioral Health. How can I help?”

We took him to meet the sweet lady and her precious pets. Through the open driver’s side window I gently told her that someone from Behavioral Health was here to help her.

She said, “Oh good, someone who likes talking with crazy people!” The medicine of the ensuing laughter lifted our spirits to the clouds and back.

For District “X”

Simplicity and practicality at its finest. Like my small apartment complex where we knock on each other’s doors bearing gifts and needs. My door knocks run the gamut of “Good morning. Can I borrow some coffee?” to “Man, I’m really struggling and need someone to talk with.”

Sometimes the knocker needs assistance in solving a community problem. Deciding that we needed to evict someone from our parking lot was a tough, and recent, community decision. Help comes with the understanding that the health and safety of community sometimes overrides the needs and wants of the few.

Sweet and Safe Chico

I was riding the bike path just north of Cohasset Road when a tall shirtless man jumped from the ground 50 yards in front of me flailing his arms in the air, screaming in anguish. No one else on the path, just him and I, his back towards me oblivious to my presence as I plotted a cautious approach.

When I was about 10 yards away, he jolted around then plunged to the ground in a bellowing squat. Our eyes met for the first time. Through his pain and vulnerability a look of sorry crept over his face as he gently moved himself a few feet to let my bicycle pass. With our eyes still locked, he started gently rocking as a coping mechanism.

I remain struck by the sheer act of a man, in distress, comforting himself into calmness to make me feel safer. A bittersweet moment if there ever was one.

Fighting for a Stronger Chico

I have walked alongside many incredible volunteers during my 10 years in Chico. We’ve gifted our time to clean creeks and greenways, provided comfort and sustenance to the poor, and tried to bring joy and civic awareness to the masses on KZFR 90.1FM. Yet it’s not a fight. It’s a labor of love.

Prioritizing Community Health and Safety

I’m flabbergasted how the principles of this longstanding commitment has lost the “health” part and shifted in focus almost entirely to “safety.” In my formative years, we never thought about community, or the public, without considering health and safety as paramount co-equals.

A fear-mongered community vanquishing health to the thunderous rush for safety has lost its way and most of its soul. Here’s to the betterment of both health and safety, for all of Chico.

Let’s Fix Chico

Today I focused on accepting people’s help—that which vibrates an equal sense of belonging to the Samaritan and recipient. One such opportunity was when I dropped my house keys and they fell directly in the path of an elderly woman who was being assisted into Safeway. “Oh dear, you dropped these let me get them for you.” I saw her face for just a split second before she gingerly stooped to pick them up, and in that moment a smile came over her. She handed the keys to me and laughed, “Glad to be in the right place at the right time.” Indeed. Gifting and receiving help, without question or malice, is a cure for a lot of our ails.

More Housing, Better Neighborhoods

People sometimes reach out to me for help with housing, less for who to call for assistance and more in seeing me as a “Without a Roof” miracle worker. That simply isn’t so. If that’s how things worked, they wouldn’t have been in the position of needing to ask.

I was at Windchime Park on Humboldt Avenue one recent morning dropping off milk to Mama Rose, who lost her income, her husband and her housing during a heartlessly cruel 2014 Christmas season. She lives in a trailer parked on the street and longs for a legal and safe place to put it, a place to call home.

This is one of the hundreds of similar situations I have witnessed in Chico, and throughout the North State. For every houseless human being there are another four teetering on the edge of the same fate. “More housing” isn’t some catchy abstract to these vulnerable people. From their purview housing remains precarious or out of reach entirely. Survival mode takes up the majority or their day.

And more housing does result in dramatic improvements in poor neighborhoods that bear the burden of being on the wrong side of the tracks. Healthier, safer and stronger neighborhoods are the essence of all we hold dear—money, or the lack thereof, aside.

Until the next time always remember, if you have a roof be grateful.

Bill “Guillermo” Mash is a Chico advocate, writer and radio personality, and one-man show behind Imagining Community, a grassroots media and civic engagement endeavor “sharing stories that make our collective imaginations sparkle and engage.”

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