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I first met Mary Borders after I saw her dance.

It was at a gathering in Palm Springs in 1997 to honor the 84th birthday of civil rights icon Rosa Parks. To the accompaniment of drums, Borders danced a free-form combination of modern dance and African tribal movements. Her style was lyrical, fluid and emotional. It was mesmerizing.

Borders, now 72, lives in Perris after being a long-time resident of Rancho Mirage and Cathedral City. She was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and raised by an aunt (“who I think of as my mom”) along with her grandmother, and four cousins who are “like my sisters.”

“My aunt would always tell us that when we grew up, we would go to college and be able to be self-sufficient,” Borders says. “We weren’t to rely on a man for a living. She’d say, ‘You can do it yourself.’ She was there all the time, and she seemed to know everybody and whether they were a good person or not. I also saw my real mother from time to time.

“My dad (uncle) was in the lumber business. He was a strong Black man who laughed easily. He was a solid provider, and although he didn’t talk a lot, he was always friendly and warm. He was every bit my dad as he was with his own kids. He showed me what a man is supposed to be like.

“Our house was like the United Nations, with friends who might be Jewish, Muslim, Okies—lots of people who exposed us to so many other cultures.”

After high school, Borders attended Riverside City College, and later studied business at Ohio State University during her second marriage.

“In my third year, somebody put a cross in our front yard, and the Ku Klux Klan did a march down our street,” Borders says. “We were the only Black family in our neighborhood. We moved to Chicago after that, and then came back to California in 1980.”

Borders’ first job was at March Air Force Base. “It started out just clerical,” she says, “but after three months, they made me a staff accountant. I had studied bookkeeping, so I started working as an accountant and did that all through my career.”

Borders’ daughter, Sherri (“She’s 35 and she still gets carded,” laughs Borders), had asthma and allergies. They used to come to the desert to visit Borders’ half-brother, Tahlib McMicheaux, then a minister in Desert Hot Springs. “Sherri would always feel well in the desert climate,” she says.

Borders sold her house in Los Angeles, and she and her daughter moved to Rancho Mirage in 1994. At first, Borders had trouble finding a job. She contacted a telemarketing company, and after a phone call was asked to come in. “When I got there for the interview, the guy looked at me and said, ‘Uh … I didn’t know you were … uh … a woman.’ I reached across the desk and picked up his business card, turned it over, and said, ‘I’m going to need some information so I can tell the Labor Board.’ He said, ‘OK, I’ll hire you, but you have to meet quota, or you’re outta here.’ I not only met quota; I became director of minority affairs. The company marketed themselves as meeting Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting employment discrimination), so I got them to put ads in Hispanic newspapers to show they were looking for diverse employees.”

Borders moved on to work as sales director for Desert Woman, a local magazine that targeted Coachella Valley women. “I got a call from the editor saying that Anita Rufus told her she needed to integrate her staff, and that she should call Mary Borders,” she says. “I got a first-class education selling for Desert Woman. There were local business people who wouldn’t advertise if they thought I owned it: They didn’t want their ad dollars going to support someone who looked like me.

“One woman thought she recognized the designer jacket I was wearing, and asked me outright about it. When I said yes, it was that designer, without asking if I got it on sale or whatever, she said, ‘I can’t afford a jacket like that; how can you? I want to see your car. If you have a new car, which I can’t even afford for myself, I’m not taking out any ads with you.’ You can’t make this stuff up!

“After that, I worked with the SunLine Transit Agency for six years until I decided to retire. They needed someone who could bring the union and non-union workers together, and I also did PR with a focus on creating a positive public image. ”

Is Borders still dancing?

“I’ve danced all my life,” she says. “I once met a guy associated with Three Dog Night who had gone to Africa and participated in a ritual to make a sacred drum. He offered to drum for me, and I studied the moves. I remember that night at Rosa Parks’ birthday so well—we had Native American bird dancers, and a tribute to Mexican Americans. The guest speaker was Ron Karenga,” the civil-rights activist best known as the creator of Kwanzaa.

“It was quite a night. Later, after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, once I recovered, I went cruising. They had a salsa club onboard. I came back and spent three weeks in New York taking salsa lessons. One year, I was Salsa Queen of the Desert!”

In 2017, Borders’ aunt was recovering from surgery, and Borders had broken an ankle that was not healing well, so she moved to Perris to be closer to her family.

“I’m now taking soul line-dancing classes offered through Riverside County,” Borders says. “Each class includes a party where you get to know everybody, and we’ve all become friends. After the pandemic hit, it was my birthday, and they came in 10 cars, and put gifts on the curb and sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ It was a total surprise. Now we do it for everybody—socially distanced and dancing in the street with masks on. We also go to a local park, and everybody brings a chair and food for lunch. Then we dance down the path, all 28 of us!”

How does Borders feel about the current activism regarding racial equality?

“I had a therapist who once said there had been a dark space in me that had come to the surface and erupted, and I had to forgive and move on, and eventually the scab would come off,” Borders says. “We, as a society, have had a sore that has festered and finally erupted, and we have to heal it. I always remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s words and believe that if there is injustice anywhere, then everybody is in danger, because none of us is safe.

“I feel bad for my white friends, who are being lumped into the racist label. People are striving for something to say or do, but people have become afraid to say anything, because it may be the wrong thing. That’s a shame, because it’s all a teaching opportunity.”

Mary Borders has a positive energy that is infectious. She is who she is, with no pretense. She says her greatest accomplishment in life is her daughter—especially since she was told early on that she couldn’t have children. She also says that the best decision she ever made was moving to the desert: “Everything I did turned to gold. Even confronting the racism just made me stronger,” she says.

That strength comes through whenever you see Mary Borders dance. She is mesmerizing.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show The Lovable Liberal airs on IHubRadio. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On July 31, Dr. Conrado Barzaga will celebrate his one-year anniversary as the CEO of the Desert Healthcare District—and what a completely unforeseeable year it’s been.

His organization and the valley’s overall health-care infrastructure are being severely challenged by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic—as well as a related and much-longer-term issue that came to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness on May 25, when George Floyd was killed while restrained and lying on a street in Minneapolis police custody.

The baring of the long-simmering racial injustices in our society ignited the passion of Barzaga—so much so that on June 3, he issued a statement linking systemic racism to the subpar public-health outcomes of minority populations, both in the Coachella Valley and across the country.

Here is an excerpt: “As communities across the country take to the street and risk their lives to demand justice, the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation stands in solidarity with protesters and against racism, oppression and inequality in all of its forms, because we believe that inequities have consequences, both visible and invisible. … Some may say that our focus is health care. It is in this context that we recognize that the killing of Black Americans in this country is, and for too long, has been a public health crisis.

“It is a crisis rooted in the toxic traditions of systemic racism and white supremacy. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many more have died at the hands of the police and vigilantes—they should all be alive today. For this, we condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. No one should have to fear for their lives because of the color of their skin, ethnic origin or identity. No parent should have to worry for their child’s safety and well-being when they venture outside of their home. No community should disproportionately bear the burden of social, economic and health challenges, and yet studies show that the overall health of people of color ranks lower than the overall health of whites.”

The Independent spoke with Barzaga recently and asked what motivated him to issue such an emphatic statement.

“I believe strongly that racism has public-health consequences, and that is the reason why we took that position,” Barzaga said. “For one thing, we see that Black Americans have higher mortality rates compared to other races due to a variety of issues. One is the murder rate. If you look at deaths from a public-health standpoint, there is such a thing as ‘untimely death.’ Black Americans die in an untimely (fashion) resulting from police brutality. That is a fact. But there are other public-health issues that affect that community, and those are the result of systemic racism. Black children are born at a lower weight, and they’re born prematurely (more frequently) as a result of racism. That inflicts a tremendous amount of stress and distress on Black women.”

Barzaga said institutions of policing, learning and health care all need to undergo an important change in perspective.

“I believe that we have been (following) a philosophy of diversity, equity and inclusion that’s causing many public entities and the majority of health-care foundations to address funding through an equity-based lens,” Barzaga said. “I believe that we need to take the conversation a little bit further. We need to move from diversity, equity and inclusion to have a conversation about ‘belonging’ in our communities. The people need to feel ownership and that this is their place—not that they’re being integrated into a community or that they ‘count.’ It’s not an issue of counting; it’s an issue of belonging.

“When I moved to the desert, I found that the community is welcoming. I believe that everyone should have that same feeling—not only that you’re welcome, but that you feel you belong in this community, that you’re part of it, and that you’re celebrated. Not because you’re white, or Black, or gay, or straight, or a man or a woman; I think it’s an issue of belonging. And, when we incorporate that lens of belonging, I think we will make our desert a much better place.

“Although, I do have to say that the desert is a wonderful place—but there is space for improvement.”

The DHCD is working on taking immediate action to address longstanding needs in local Black communities, such as the Desert Highlands Gateway neighborhood of Palm Springs. Barzaga and the DHCD Board of Directors have introduced a resolution formalizing a grant of more than $432,000 for minority health-care improvement, some of which will be earmarked to improve overall health-related conditions for those who live there.

“The district has been working for years with the Desert Highland Gateway community, and I think this will be a continuation of that response,” Barzaga said. “But this time, there will be a definitive action to bring health-care as a reality to that community. That’s what the community says they need; that’s what the community wants; that’s what they have expressed through their community health-needs assessment; and that’s what the leaders are saying. They have been raising the issue of a lack of affordable, nutritious food in that area. There’s no supermarket or any market at all that’s providing services to that community. So there are many issues that I believe require a collective response, not only from the DHCD, but from the city of Palm Springs as well. We are trying to mobilize other resources so that this can become a more comprehensive response to the needs of that community.

“The district is taking a leadership role. We have made a beautiful statement about solidarity, but I think we have to show actions, and not only words—and this might even become a template for how we address the health-care needs of other minority communities in the Coachella Valley.”

The DHCD board recently voted to allow all funding provided to the district to be spent in any region of the expanded “One Coachella Valley” district, whose boundaries now run from Palm Springs in the west to communities like Coachella, Indio and Mecca in the east. The district’s eastern boundary for years was Cook Street, but voters approved the expansion in November 2018. However, that expansion did not come with an expansion in revenues.

“The people have decided that the DHCD should cover the entire Coachella Valley, so, that’s what we’re doing,” Barzaga said. “We will continue to raise the issue of funding disparities between east and west. I think, ultimately, it may have to be the Legislature who will have to provide a solution for that valley-wide funding issue.”

Barzaga said the imminent danger presented by the pandemic has highlighted inequities in the Coachella Valley. By a wide margin, there have been more COVID-19 cases in Indio and Coachella than any other valley city.

“It is clear that we cannot neglect the health-care needs of the eastern Coachella Valley residents, and COVID-19 really put this front and center,” Barzaga said. “Very early on, we knew that we were going to have a much larger problem in the eastern valley as related to COVID-19. These are residents who depend on working day-to-day (outside of their homes). They don’t have the same ability, as many of us do, to work from home. They have to go into the fields, and they have to go and serve the people of Coachella Valley (via the service industry) while being in close proximity to one another. This population doesn’t have the same access to health care as residents in the western parts of the valley. That combination of less protection, less access to care and a more impacted (personal) immune system has been a formula for disaster, and we are seeing the results right now. We have made very heavy investments in our community clinics to make sure that we’re deploying resources for the serious needs of that community.

“There is a gap between the health outcomes in the east and west that we intend to close,” Barzaga said. “It will be years before we have a more-robust health-care infrastructure that can meet the needs and demands of everyone in Coachella Valley. That’s why we’re doing the Community Health Needs Assessment, which is a community-driven plan. Through that needs assessment, we want the community to tell us what they want as a health-improvement plan, and that health-improvement plan will be the road map for the next 10, 20 or 30 years for the district’s investments in the health care structure of the valley, and to be responsive to the needs of the neediest in our communities.”

Published in Local Issues

Happy (?) July, all. The news of the day:

The reopening process is moving further backward: Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced that restaurants, movie theaters, family-entertainment centers and other businesses in much of the state—including Riverside County—must shutter all indoor operations for at least three weeks. Bars must completely shut down, and parking lots at state beaches will close for the weekend.

• The governor is also imploring people NOT to have personal gatherings—and threatening to withhold some state funding from counties that disregard the state’s mandates and requests.

He also took a veiled swipe at casinos. The state does not have regulatory power over them, but he said the state is “in deep conversations and will be making public the fruits of those efforts to at least get a rationale of understanding between partners in our sovereign nations and the state of California.”

• The city of Palm Springs is tightening up the mask mandate, making them mandatory when someone is near any business or in any business district; at restaurants when servers or other employees are near a table; and while working out in gyms.

• While the state is rolling back the reopening process, it’s also no longer funding new testing sites, and is closing underutilized sites, according to the Los Angeles Times. What the hell, California?

Apple is temporarily closing another 30 stores, including a bunch in the L.A. area—but for now, the Palm Desert location is remaining open.

• News that a small trial study of one vaccine candidate yielded promising results got the stock market all excited this morning.

CNN took a look at the mess in Imperial County, where Americans who live in Mexico are crossing back over the border for COVID-19 care—and overwhelming the small county’s medical system.

• It’s official: The European Union is allowing travel again—but those of us from the U.S. aren’t allowed in.

• The coronavirus situation has gotten so dire at San Quentin State Prison—more than 1,100 inmates have the virus—that about 20 prisoners have gone on a hunger strike, according to The Appeal.

The virus is spreading among detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, too.

Along other guidelines, the FDA says a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will need to be at least 50 percent more effective than a placebo in order to be approved for use.

A study at Stanford University is looking into the possibility that Apple Watches, Fitbits and other wearable technology could let people know that they may have the coronavirus before they start to feel sick.

• The Conversation looks at what went wrong in Texas—and what needs to happen for that state to get out of its current COVID-19 spike.

• The Seattle Times reports on yet more evidence that the widespread Black Lives Matter protests have NOT led to spikes in the diseaseoffering pretty convincing evidence that the disease does not spread well among people who are outside and wearing face coverings.

• One of the biggest mysteries of this damn virus: Most people don’t seem to spread it—but a select few REALLY spread it. The New York Times talks to experts who are trying to solve this mystery.

Autopsies are helping scientists better understand the damage being done by COVID-19—and that’s helping doctors and researchers develop better treatments.

• The fight between insurers and pissed-off business owners who want business-interruption payments are heading to the courts. The Wall Street Journal looks at hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed—and explains why some business owners may have precedents on their side.

United Airlines thinks people are in the mood to travel again—and as a result, it’s adding hundreds of flights to its August schedule.

I did not predict this side effect of the pandemic: Pissed-off otters are biting people.

• OK, now for some good news: The Palm Springs Cultural Center is launching a drive-in movie series—and kicking it off with free showings of Hamilton this weekend.

• One activity that’s free and will always be open: skywatching. Independent astronomy columnist Robert Victor explains what the heavens have in store for us this month.

Finally, we all have something to live for: New episodes of Beavis and Butt-head are coming.

That’s the news of the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Become a Supporter of the Independent, please, if you have the funds and you value what we do. The Daily Digest will return on Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

Today was one of the biggest COVID-19-related news days in quite a while, so let’s get right to the links:

Reopening processes around the country—and in some parts of California—are coming to a halt or being reversed, due to increasing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. In Texas and Florida, bars are being closed, and other business are being restricted.

San Francisco was planning on allowing hair salons, outdoor bars and other businesses to open on Monday. That move has been delayed indefinitely.

• And most worrisome locally: For the first time since the reopening process began, the state has told a county that it needs to re-impose a strict stay-at-home order—Imperial County, our neighbors to the southeast. And another neighboring county, San Bernardino, is close to running out of non-surge hospital beds

Riverside County is behind the curve at hiring contact tracers. The good news is that as of yesterday, the county was up to 220 of them, with 180 added in the last five weeks, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise. However, the state says we need around 375 of them.

• Dr. Anthony Fauci said the federal government is considering a new way of testing for SARS-CoV-2—pool testing. “The approach works this way: Samples from, say, 20 people are combined into a single pool,” reports The Washington Post. “One coronavirus test is used on the entire pool. If the test comes back negative, researchers know they can move on to another pool of samples. If it comes back positive, only then would each individual be tested.

A Tucson emergency room doctor penned a column for The New York Times with this headline: “I’m a Health Care Worker. You Need to Know How Close We Are to Breaking.”

• While the state-by-state numbers here are probably too small to take too seriously … a recent Axios/Ipsos poll shows that 64 percent of Californians wear masks whenever they go outthe second highest percentage behind New York.

• A JPMorgan study shows a correlation between restaurant spending and the spread of the coronavirus, according to CNBC—and, conversely, “higher spending at supermarkets predicts a slower spread of the virus.” However, experts point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean restaurants are to blame for the spread.

• Also according to CNBC: The number of homeowners delaying their monthly mortgage payments is on the rise again, after falling for several weeks.

Can you shop safely in a brick-and-mortar clothing store? Esquire talked to some experts to get answers. Key quote from Erin Bromage, associate professor of biology and immunology at the University of Massachusetts: “It comes down to how long you spend in the store and how many people are in the store. If you are only in there for a short period of time, and they’re restricting occupancy, then the risk is low.”

From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: University of California campuses are telling students to prepare for a fall semester that will mostly—but not entirely—take place online.

• We’re now moving to our WTF?! portion of the digest, starting with the news that American Airlines is going to stop keeping middle seats open, and resume booking flights to capacity.

• It’s not often that I’ve wanted to tip my hat to Dick Cheney, but here we are: He says that real men wear face masks.

• Did you know North Carolina has an anti-mask law? It’s true—and it’s caused no small degree of confusion. It turns out the law is a decades-old measure meant to crack down on the KKK—but thankfully, it’s been temporarily suspended, at least through Aug. 1.

• Finally, this story is particularly devastating news to those of us here at Independent World Headquarters: Costco has stopped making half-sheet cakes. DAMN YOU ’RONA! DAMN YOU!!!

• No … we take back that “finally”; we can’t end the week on that awful note. So here’s some good news: San Francisco’s Transgender District was “the first legally recognized district in the world dedicated to a historically transgender community.” The economic downturn almost forced the nonprofit to close—but then came the Black Lives Matter protests. Now, the Transgender District is on firmer footing, as “the two movements have converged in a kind of intersectional synchronicity that is bringing renewed attention to the realities of transgender people of color,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Readers, these are scary times. Please, take care of yourself this weekend. Wear a mask when you go out. Check in on neighbors and loved ones. Live in the now and enjoy life, because these days still count against the total number you have on this planet. Right? Oh, and help out the Independent, if you’re able, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Areli Galvez began her speech by asking the crowd to imagine George Floyd’s final moments—without ever mentioning his name.

“Nothing is working,” she said, reading from her phone. “So you do what you do best when everything goes wrong: You call for your mom. You begin to yell, ‘Momma, Momma please!’ Yet you’re still stuck in the same position.”

The powerful four-minute talk by the 16-year-old La Quinta High School student was one of the key moments of the “Enough Is Enough” Black Lives Matter rally and protest, at Palm Springs’ Ruth Hardy Park on Saturday, June 6. Around 1,000 face-mask-wearing people attended the morning rally, which was organized by Galvez and several other young women—including Hina Malik, Jazlina Morgan and Sadie Reese—who took on the name Young Justice Advocates.

During a subsequent phone interview, Galvez explained how her group and the rally came to be.

“We came together with one of our friends, and she decided that we should start a protest,” Galvez said. “We were actually going to do it the first Saturday (after) George Floyd died, but we thought it was too soon. Then we started planning more.”

The group was originally going to have the event in front of the Starbucks Reserve on Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way, but they decided to move it when they realized how large the crowd could get. The group worked with the city and let the police know about their plans—collaborations which earned the Young Justice Advocates some criticism on social media. However, Galvez said the group never intended for the rally to be disdainful of all law enforcement, in any case.

“We spoke to (Palm Springs police) to ask for a couple of them to be there for our own safety—because we are minors,” she said. “We’re all underage. (Our goal was) being together and having unity. … To have them there just showed unity.”

The group made sure to get plenty of water, sunscreen and masks for people who showed up ill-prepared to march on the warm June day—as well as a proper sound system and a DJ to help with the atmosphere and the speeches.

“Since there were so many other protests before ours, we looked at the guidelines of what to have and what to prepare for,” she said. “We asked for donations. We said, ‘Hey, everyone, if you can, please donate water, snacks and sunscreen.’ … When we started, we weren’t expecting so many people to donate. Of course, we received so much water and so much sunscreen.”

After leading several chants, the young women led the crowd in a march around the park, with most participants holding signs and repeating those chants.

"No justice, no peace!"

"Hands up! Don’t shoot!"

"Black lives matter!"

"I can’t breathe!"

Later during the two-hour event came the speeches by Galvez, her fellow Young Justice Advocates and others. However, Galvez said her favorite moment of the day came when the DJ started playing music.

“Everyone got together and started dancing. It was just such a beautiful moment that really made me think, yes, we’re going to make a change,” she said. “This is all for a reason. It was just so amazing to see everyone dancing and singing and being together, united. We’re all equal—and we were all equal and united at that moment.”

However, Galvez said she isn’t always treated as an equal.

“I have a lot of experience with racism when it comes to my school environment,” she said. “If I were to get into an altercation, I would get more of a harsh punishment than someone else, because of the way I look. It’s happened multiple times.”

Galvez mentioned one incident in particular: During a basketball game, while Galvez went for a jump ball, the opposing player—a white girl—punched her in the face. While she did not retaliate, Galvez said, she was nonetheless punished.

“It was on a recording, so there was proof that I didn’t hit her, that I didn’t start it,” she said. “But right after she punched me, I got tackled by one of our staff members at the school and put into a separate room—as if I was some animal or something. Then they told me that I wasn’t allowed to go back out into the game, and I was suspended from school for three days, and couldn’t play in about five to six basketball games. I had to have my mom fight for me, because so many people were there and saw that I didn’t start the issue, and I didn’t hit her back, yet I was treated as if I was an aggressor, or as if I did something wrong.”

It’s experiences like that, Galvez said, that made her and her friends want to organize—and they don’t plan on stopping their work anytime soon. Galvez said they’re trying to organize a caravan protest so people at a higher risk of COVID-19 can make their voices heard, but first, the slightly renamed Young Justice Advocates will be holding a Juneteenth barbecue, at 5 p.m., Saturday, June 20, at Frances Stevens Park, at Palm Canyon Drive and Alejo Road, in downtown Palm Springs.

The reason for the slight name change: Due to “undisclosable reasons,” there are now two Young Justice Advocates groups. The other one is also planning a Juneteenth barbecue—at 1 p.m., Friday, June 19, at the Desert Highland Community Center, 480 W. Tramview Road, in Palm Springs.

Galvez said she and her fellow Young Justice Advocates of the Desert need to keep fighting for equality in the Coachella Valley.

“We are all mixed. None of us are actually white or Caucasian,” she said. “We go through the issues of racism and being racially profiled all the time. We got together, and we were like, ‘We’re tired of this; we need to change. We need to come together. We need to show that we are equal and deserve all the same rights as everyone else.’”

For more information on the Young Justice Advocates of the Desert, Galvez’s group, visit www.facebook.com/groups/252683602492267 or www.instagram.com/youngjusticeadvsofthedesert. For more information on the Young Justice Advocates, visit www.instagram.com/youngjusticeadvocates. 

Published in Local Issues

It’s time for Gov. Gavin Newsom and, if possible, the California Legislature to make the usage of face masks mandatory.

It’s time. We see what’s happening in other states—most notably our neighbors to the east—where hospitalizations continue to skyrocket. We also keep seeing science come out showing how stunningly effective the use of simple face masks can be in slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

What else are we seeing? We’re seeing concerning local upticks in hospitalizations. We’re seeing local business owners—trying so hard to do the right thing—upset after influxes of customers, many of whom are from out of town, wandering in without wearing masks, in violation of local mask mandates.

We’re seeing local health officials fleeing from their jobs due to public and political pushback—including death threats. And we don’t even have the words to describe the hostile insanity going on in Orange County.

The verdict is in: Masks work. Masks could potentially help society keep going without total calamity until we get a vaccine or otherwise get a handle on things. Masks can help retail, offices and restaurants keep their doors open. But due to horrific leadership from the top, misguided business lobbying and public intimidation, local mandates are being revoked or just not followed—if there are local mandates at all.

Since nothing’s ever going to happen at the federal level, that leaves the state.

In the seven-plus year history of the Independent, we’ve never written an endorsement or editorialized directly on policy. That is, until now: Gov. Newsom, it’s time to save lives and give California’s reopening process its best chance of success by enacting a statewide mask order.

Today’s links:

• Some of the most encouraging medical news since the pandemic began came out today: A commonly used steroid, called dexamethasone, has been shown by scientists at the University of Oxford to save the lives of many COVID-19 patients who require oxygen. According to The New York Times, “In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.” Now, this doesn’t solve the pandemic, and the study has yet to be peer reviewed, meaning we need to take the news with that massive grain of salt we keep talking about. Nonetheless, this could be a very big deal in terms of saving thousands of lives.

• Speaking of taking things with a grain of salt: The county released its weekly district reports today. Looking at the District 4 report—in other words, the Coachella Valley—the COVID-19 numbers look so-so. We’re holding steady, more or less, with one big exception: The positivity rate is up to a disturbing 16 percent. However … the numbers don’t add up. If you divide the number of positives (345) by the number of tests (4,840), you get the positivity rate—and while the report explains that there’s a lag because tests results can take 3-5 days to come in, the difference between 345 divided by 4,840, or 7.1 percent, and 16 percent is so massive that it doesn’t seem possible for all these numbers to be correct; it’s also entirely possible I am misunderstanding something. I have a message in to the county to get an explanation; I will report back when I get an answer.

• The Palm Springs Police Department today announced that an officer has tested positive for COVID-19. The city says that officers who were in contact with that officer have been quarantined—and all seem fine—and that any known members of the public who came in contact with the officer have been notified. Get the info here.

• If you’re eating, or will be eating soon, or are generally averse to things that are disgusting, skip to the next item. Otherwise, check out this story from The New York Times; as someone noted on Twitter, this headline gets more disturbing with each word: “Flushing the Toilet May Fling Coronavirus Aerosols All Over: A new study shows how turbulence from a toilet bowl can create a large plume that is potentially infectious to a bathroom’s next visitor.”

• The San Francisco Chronicle talked to the owner of a Napa restaurant who opened his doors—only to close them again, and go back to doing just takeout, a week later.

• As noted in this space, numerous large media organizations have faced reckonings regarding diversity ever since the Black Lives Matter protests began—including the Los Angeles Times, NPR reports.

• From the Independent: We’re talking to three local protest organizers about their motivations; for the second piece in our series, we chatted with Erin Teran, one of the organizers of the #NoMoreHashtags rally in Indio last week. Key quote: “Going to a protest or a rally is so very important, because we have to be able to assemble and have a voice—but young people have to understand that you need to have a voice at City Council meetings and Board of Supervisors meetings, too.”

• Federal law enforcement agencies have pledged to investigate the hanging deaths of two Black men in Southern California in recent weeks. Local authorities have said there are no signs of foul play—but family members of the two men aren’t buying it.

• Some members of Congress who received federal stimulus grants and/or loans are now opposing legislation to shine a light on where all that taxpayer money went. See a problem?

• A GOP congressman who refused to wear a mask on the House floor has now come down with COVID-19, as has his wife and son. Ugh.

That’s enough for today. Thanks to all of you who have become Supporters of the Independent; if you would like to join these people in supporting quality local journalism, made free to all with no paywalls, you can do so here. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

A group of people—mostly born and raised in Indio—organized a rally on Tuesday, June 9, at Miles Park to fight for racial equality and urgently needed policing reforms.

The group called itself We Are Indio—and called the event #NoMoreHashtags.

One of the organizers was Erin Teran, a nurse at a local hospital.

“There were five of us,” Teran said about the organizing group. “Three of us have grown up together. (Indio City) Councilmember Waymond Fermon and I have been friends since kindergarten, and April Skinner and I have been friends since we were really young, too. Our parents were even friends. They’re both people I talk to all the time, and we always support each other.”

The other two members of the team are Maribel Pena Burke and Kimberly Barraza, Teran said.

“When the whole George Floyd incident happened, I was so upset and emotional about it, because one of the things that Waymond and I talk about all the time is (his fear) that it could have been him, and that could have been his fate,” Teran said. (Fermon is Black.) “I think people forget that, and I just felt so emotional and sad. We just really wanted to do something. I think part of it for me was that it’s important I acknowledge the privilege that I have because of my white skin and blond hair. So I think it’s important that I’m standing with my friends and my community to say, ‘This isn’t OK.’”

The rally was initially scheduled to take place on Monday, June 1—but just hours before the scheduled start time, Riverside County invoked a 6 p.m. countywide curfew.

“Part of the group felt that we should just do it and hold (the vigil) anyway,” Teran said. “But we also wanted to be respectful. We felt that we needed to respect the policy (decisions) even when we didn’t agree with them. We did feel that we should have the right to go out and peacefully assemble, but sometimes you just have to do the right thing, even when you feel like it’s wrong, so we decided to go ahead and reschedule it. It took a lot of work, so it was very frustrating—but there were some positive things that came out of having to postpone the event. There were people who couldn’t come on the original date, who we really wanted to have participate. Once it got rescheduled, we were able to get some of those people. We had more time to do some things, like go out and write the names in chalk of (victims of police brutality) who had passed over the last years. That was something small, but for us, it was meaningful.”

The We Are Indio team received some criticism after announcing the event.

“Originally, I think somebody put out a flier that matched ours, and it said people shouldn’t attend this vigil, because it was being organized by white people and the police,” Teran said. “It was obviously upsetting to see that. I’m actually a Latina, but I have blond hair, and I’m very fair-skinned. I felt that we were trying to say that it doesn’t matter who you are: Right now is the time to stand up and have a voice, and to say that Black Lives Matter. It’s just such a really important cause to me. I know a lot of the stories that my friends have experienced, and it’s very emotional to hear those things.

“I know some of the things that (Fermon) experienced as a young man. He’s been on the side of being in law enforcement, but he’s also been on the side of having the barrel of a gun pointed at him. When you hear those things, obviously, you want to stand up for your friends. But it’s more than just your friends. This is an issue nationwide, and it needs to be addressed. It’s been going on for far too long.”

Teran said she asked Fermon what they should do about the negative feedback.

“He said, ‘You know what? Just keep going. We know what we’re doing. We’re just going to focus on having a positive event in our community.’ And I think that’s what we did. I think we were able to accomplish that.”

Indeed, Teran said she was pleased at the turnout.

“Although I believe there were a couple of outsiders who did show up, we had a lot of people (attending) who grew up in Indio, and they knew that our intentions were to have a peaceful gathering and to really be able to come together as a community,” Teran said. “Something so different about Indio is that we all grew up with a very diverse mix of friends. Although we all know that we have different colors of skin, it’s just something that we didn’t pay attention to. There are people who grew up with us who are now part of the police department, but when we come together, we come together as one. So when those outsiders (who may have had ill intentions) showed up, there were (attendees) who made it clear that’s not what we were looking for. It was great to see people coming up to speak to the City Council members, and I even saw some people go to talk with the police chief (Mike Washburn, who attended) about some of the issues that they were facing. That’s what we were trying to do. We wanted to create a dialogue and have transparency and (talk about having) oversight over the policies taking place. We want to create an environment where we can see positive change and look forward to the future.”

As for that future: Teran said people need to stay engaged.

“We had several community members reach out to us to say, ‘We’ve got to keep this going. This was so wonderful,’” she said. “So one of the things we’ve discussed is trying to do some kind of community barbecue in the future. We definitely need to encourage members of our community to be out there and to have a voice.

“It’s more important than just one day of action. Going to a protest or a rally is so very important, because we have to be able to assemble and have a voice—but young people have to understand that you need to have a voice at City Council meetings and Board of Supervisors meetings, too. You need to call in and comment to make sure that you’re heard. It can become very important in the decision-making process. We did have voter registration out at our event, and we kept trying to impress the fact that it’s not just important to register to vote—but it’s so important to come out in November and actually vote. Work on a campaign; make some phone calls; help to mobilize and organize, because we have to get those people out of positions of authority who are not willing to be transparent and work with the community.”

Teran also emphasized how important social-distancing guidelines were at the vigil—and will continue to be moving forward.

“For us, it was really important to follow the social-distancing guidelines—and I’m a very big advocate of wearing facial masks,” Teran said. “We took a lot of precautions cleaning, and each speaker or performer had their own microphone cover. We designated places for people to sit, so we really did follow social guidelines. I think it’s important for people to know that (COVID-19) is a very real thing, and it’s very important to follow those guidelines.”

For more information on We Are Indio, visit www.facebook.com/groups/2656275024692257.

Published in Local Issues

Toward the start of the stay-at-home order, I remember telling a friend (on a Zoom chat, of course) how much I looked forward to that wonderful day when the lockdown was over, and we could meet for happy-hour and hug again.

Ah, how naïve I was. If only it could be that simple.

We could meet for that happy hour again on Friday, as bars will be reopening that day. However, the scene would not be like it was in my mind’s eye. When I imagined that wonderful day, I didn’t imagine face masks and socially distanced tables—nor did I imagine the agonizing, scary dilemma going out to a bar would present.

And that hug? It’s definitely too soon for that.

Nothing seems simple in this pandemic-tinged, half-assed world in which we now live. On one hand, I keep seeing justifiably optimistic announcements on social media about gyms and cocktail lounges and movie theaters and even Disneyland reopening soon.

On the other … I keep looking at the local COVID-19 stats, and sighing at the across-the-board increases—which, predictably, people are freaking out about on social media. According to the state, our local hospitals have 85 coronavirus patients as of yesterday—the highest number I have seen a while.

But there’s a dilemma within this dilemma: The experts have said all along that when we reopened, cases would begin to rise. As Gov. Newsom said yesterday: “As we phase in, in a responsible way, a reopening of the economy, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases.

He’s right. They did say that. The goal is to make COVID-19 a manageable problem as life resumes. But it’s still a problem—a potentially deadly one—and nobody’s sure if we’ll be able to keep it “manageable” or not.

Today’s links:

• It’s official: Coachella and Stagecoach are cancelled for 2020. Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, officially pulled the plug this afternoon. “I am concerned as indications grow that COVID 19 could worsen in the fall,” said Kaiser in a news release. “In addition, events like Coachella and Stagecoach would fall under Governor Newsom’s Stage 4, which he has previously stated would require treatments or a vaccine to enter. Given the projected circumstances and potential, I would not be comfortable moving forward.”

• If you’re one of the people who is sniveling about masks, or denying that they work … it’s time for you to stop the sniveling and the denying.

Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege and the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association are in the midst of a war of words. Here’s the brief, oversimplified version what happened: On Monday, Holstege wrote an open letter to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in support of Supervisor V. Manuel Perez’s proposed resolutions to condemn the killing of George Floyd (which barely passed), and request the Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies (which failed when Perez couldn’t get a second). In it, Holstege wrote, among other things: “Like most communities throughout Riverside County, in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, we have a long history of racial segregation and exclusion, racial violence, racist city policies and policing, and injustice and disparities in our community that exist today.” This did not sit well with the officers’ union, which today accused Holstege of not bringing up any problems with the department until now, as well as “vilify(ing) our officers and department.” Holstege has since responded with claims that the union is mischaracterizing what she said. All three statements are recommended reading.

• Related-ish: San Francisco’s public-transportation agency recently announced it would no longer transport police officers to protests. The San Francisco Police Officers Association’s response? Hey Muni, lose our number.

• From ProPublica comes this piece: “The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years. I Know Because I’m One of Them.” Wendi Thomas’ story is a must-read.

• The Black Lives Matters protests are resulting in a lot of long-overdue changes. One shockingly meaningful one was announced today: NASCAR will no longer allow confederate flags at its racetracks.

And Walmart has announced it will stop keeping its “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cases.

And the Riverside County Sheriff announced today it would no longer use the use the carotid restraint technique.

• The government is understandably rushing the approvals processes to make potentially helpful COVID-10 treatments available. However, as The Conversation points out this is a potentially dangerous thing to do.

Also being rushed: A whole lot of state contracts for various things needed to battle the pandemic. Our partners at CalMatters break down how this created—and forgive the language, but this is the only word I can think of that sums things up properly—a complete and total clusterfuck.

• Provincetown, Mass., is normally a packed LGBT haven during the summer. However, this year, businesses there are just starting to reopen—and they’re trying to figure out the correct balance between income and safety.

Your blood type may help determine how you’ll fare if you get COVID-19. If you have Type 0, you may be less at risk—and if you have Type A, you may be more at risk.

Wired magazine talked to three vaccine researchers for a 15-minute YouTube video. Hear the voices and see the faces of the scientists behind the fight to end SARS-CoV-2.

A study of seamen on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt—where there was a much-publicized COVID-19 outbreak—offers hope that people who recover from the disease may have immunity.

If it seems like groceries are more expensive, that’s because they are—about 8.2 percent more expensive.

What fascinating times these are. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Black Lives Matter. Please help the Independent continue what we’re doing, without paywalls, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will likely be back tomorrow—Friday at the latest.

Published in Daily Digest

Let’s get right to the day’s news:

• I owe Supervisor V. Manuel Perez an apology. In this space last Friday, I called his attempt to get the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies “pretty weak,” because, well, he was asking THEM to review THEIR OWN policies, more or less. Here’s what’s happened since. First, the department’s union announced they were opposed to the idea because, in the words of the union president, “There is no need to suggest or invent problems that do not exist in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.” Then Sheriff Chad Bianco—the one who has recently been on Fox News—said he didn’t want a “political” process, and pointed out that the County Commission doesn’t have authority over him. Second, Perez’s motion by the County Commission failed, because he couldn’t get a second. Yeesh. Key quote from Bianco, to the supervisors: “It's not your job to tell me what to do.”

• From the Independent: We spoke to Angel Moreno, one of the organizers of the June 1 Black Lives Matter protest in Palm Desert: “What’s happening right now is just really unacceptable, and we just wanted to do this protest so our words could be heard.”

• The TV show Cops’ 33rd season was slated to premiere next week. That’s not going to happen now.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently asked an epidemiologist how long it’ll take to determine whether the Black Lives Matter protests will cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Key quote: “(Dr. George) Rutherford is encouraged by what he sees in Minnesota, which is where the protests started on the week of May 25. It has been almost a full two weeks since the protests began, and the number of new confirmed cases statewide is actually trending downwards.”

The Conversation uses science to explain that COVID-19 deaths and the killing of George Floyd (and many other Black men and women over the years) have something in common: Racism.

• The state announced late yesterday that movie theaters could reopen—at 25 percent capacity—on Friday. However, most of them probably won’t open that soon. Deadline explains the reasons why.

• Meanwhile, The Living Desert is reopening on Monday. Here’s what the people who run zoo and gardens are doing to reopen as safely as possible.

• Yesterday, we discussed how a WHO doctor created a furor by claiming asymptomatic SARS=CoV-2 infectees don’t spread the virus all that much. Well, today, WHO did a whole lot of backpedaling.

• One of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the state is taking place right now in a prison in this very county: Almost 1,000 inmates at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison have tested positive, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Why is COVID-19 killing more men than women? The Conversation examines what we know, what we don’t know, and, uh, why we don’t know the things we don’t know.

• Some people who are making the very wise decision to stay home while the world around them reopens are getting shamed, according to this USA Today columnist.

Even though you might think the opposite if you’re a loyal viewer of NBC Palm Springs, Amazon’s coronavirus response has been rather problematic. Therefore, it’s a good thing that the retail giant is going to soon start testing its workers a whole lot more.

• Yet another analysis of SARS-CoV-2 mutations explains why the San Francisco Bay Area was briefly such a COVID-19 hotbed: The virus entered the area from all sorts of different places as it started to spread.

A company that’s on the leading edge of the vaccine race just got all sorts of government cash to work on a treatment to battle COVID-19 designed around antibodies.

• On a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he was “almost certain” more than one vaccine being developed would work against the disease he called his “worst nightmare.” He also made it abundantly clear that we’re nowhere near the end of this damned pandemic.

All of the state’s DMV offices will soon be open again. (Well, except for the one damaged by looters in San Bernardino.)

• This story probably has no application to your life whatsoever, but we’re presenting it here because it’s so damned weird. The Business Insider headline: “People are paying as much as $10,000 for an unlicensed remdesivir variant for their cats, in a thriving black market linked to Facebook groups.”

• Finally, on his Netflix show Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj explains why a whole lot of local newspapers are in trouble—and how essential they really, truly are.

That’s the news for this Tuesday. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Fight injustice. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means to do so. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, parks and streets around the country and world have become staging grounds for massive outpourings of frustration and anger over systemic racism in the United States.

On Monday, June 1, a Black Lives Matter protest took place at Palm Desert’s Civic Center Park, organized by a self-described band of “newbie” community organizers who wanted their voices heard. Their Instagram account is called Coachella Valley Activists.

The group originally called for an evening protest on El Paseo. However, on the day of the gathering, the group moved the event to Palm Desert’s City Hall-adjacent Civic Center Park—and made the start time earlier in response to a countywide curfew.

“For everyone, it was their first time staging a protest rally,” said Angel Moreno, one of the organizers. “Our team is more than 20 people. It’s a big group. But, actually, it started with an idea between my friend and me. All of our friends talked about how there should be a protest on El Paseo in Palm Desert, but nobody ever took the initiative to make one (happen). So, we had the idea of making one, and he made a page (on Instagram). I helped set it up, and I was contacting everyone to spread the news to actually make a protest in Palm Desert. Everyone agreed, and shared and talked to people.”

Moreno said his group wanted to “wake up the people in the valley” about unacceptable things going on in the world.

“A lot of lives are being lost, and a lot of police brutality is happening, and the police are not being held to account for it,” Moreno said. “This group is very diverse. We have white, Mexican, Black, Asian (and) gay (members)—and it hurts our African-American friends more. I’m Latino, and I do feel it, but it hurts to see them hurt. And now, even with everything that’s going on in the world, Latinos are getting abused by police and discriminated against. What’s happening right now is just really unacceptable, and we wanted to do this protest so our words could be heard.”

When the group’s Instagram post announcing the protest started getting attention, various people and media sources—the Independent included—reached out and asked who the Coachella Valley Activists were. There was no response before the protest; we asked Moreno why.

“That’s just because there were a lot of messages going on,” Moreno said. “We didn’t expect our page to blow up, but when it did, there were so many messages and comments, and we were really just overwhelmed. We tried to get to as many as we could, but only my friend and I have the account.”

Moreno said he is happy the group decided to move the protest from El Paseo to Civic Center Park. After rioting and looting took place in cities around the country over the weekend—and after a quickly retracted Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce Facebook post the night before inaccurately claimed “busses are arriving already with people”—concerned El Paseo business owners boarded up windows and braced for the worst.

“It was a great thing that we changed the location, and not just due to the fact that everyone was asking us to please not do it on El Paseo because of all the businesses,” Moreno said. “We weren’t going to do anything, but then we thought, ‘Well, let’s move to another area, because we don’t want to cause any problems.’ Even though we weren’t going to (cause problems), people thought we were. So we wanted them to know that we heard them. That’s why we decided to move it.

“Also, we were getting a lot of followers and people saying that they were going to come, and we knew we’d need a bigger area.”

That surprising level of engagement, coming from an Instagram account just a few days old, continued to grow right up to the start time.

“When my group and I first showed up,” Moreno said, “we saw protesters there already, even before the scheduled start time, which was really surprising. We said, ‘Oh my god, this is a whole lot of people.’ There were at least 150 people already there, and as time went by, it just kept increasing more and more. It was so amazing to see so many people. We didn’t expect it to be this big. Not at all. I mean, we were just amazed.”

The rally itself was, by design, a free-form event.

“Here’s the thing: We didn’t want it to be about ourselves,” Moreno said. “We didn’t want to say, ‘Hey, we’re the protesters, and we made this (demonstration).’ We didn’t want that. We wanted the people to be heard. Everyone could take a turn speaking and talking. It was just amazing how organized it was—for not being organized. It was truly amazing, because it was really peaceful. There was no violence at all. Everyone just took turns talking, chanting and speaking their truth. Eventually, we thanked everyone for attending, and then we started marching down Fred Waring past Monterey towards Highway 111.”

Moreno described what happened as the 6 p.m. countywide curfew approached.

“We turned around and went back to City Hall, because we wanted to keep protesting,” Moreno said. “Then, once it hit 6 p.m., which was the curfew time that came out that day, we told everyone that they should leave for their own safety. But a lot of people wanted to stay. We kept telling people to leave, because we didn’t want anybody to get hurt at all. We didn’t want the police to do anything. But, thankfully, people did stay after 6 p.m. … While I was being interviewed (on TV news) exactly at 6 p.m., the crowd kept going eastward on Fred Waring, and they stopped close to downtown Palm Desert. I was asked then if I thought all the (attendees) were leaving, or if they were going to continue to protest. I told (the news) they didn’t want to leave, because this was very important to them, and they wanted their voices to be heard.

“I got interviewed for just a few minutes, and then we followed the rest of the group. That’s when the police started covering the street (around us), and we told people not to do anything stupid and just keep our distance. We had, like, six car lengths of distance (between the line of police and the group of demonstrators), and we weren’t doing anything. We were kneeling down and chanting when out of nowhere, the police threw a smoke grenade. First one, and then around four more of them started throwing (the smoke grenades). People took it easily, because it was just smoke. They backed up away from the police and tried to get out of the smoke. So, everyone wasn’t running or (being) violent or anything. They were just trying to move out of the way.”

Moreno admitted the COVID-19 pandemic was indeed a concern.

“But it would be hard to tell people to stay six feet away from each other, and also to be in formation (while demonstrating),” he said. “So we were concerned about the coronavirus, but we told people before the protest even happened to not touch each other, and that they should wear masks. We wanted people to be safe, but the protest was happening, and it was more important than the pandemic right now. I don’t think people are even thinking about the pandemic while they’re protesting, because they’re speaking out of anger. They’re speaking from their hearts.”

What’s next for the Coachella Valley Activists?

“Right now, we’re supporting other protests that are happening around the Coachella Valley. Also, we’re (gathering a list and) sharing the names of black-owned businesses. Because our page blew up so big, we now have a lot of followers in the valley, and we just want to share our platform with other groups.

“I do want to say that we did this not for ourselves, but for everyone around the world,” Moreno said. “We want to be part of the change that’s happening right now, and we want the people in our cities to be heard. We don’t want to be silenced, and we just want peace. That’s all we want.”

For more information, visit www.instagram.com/coachellavalleyactivists.

Published in Local Issues

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