Noe Valley Voice November 2005

Group Promotes Social Justice in Noe Valley

By Liz Highleyman

If you believe "think globally, act locally" is a good prescription for change, a new neighborhood group may be right up your alley.

Noe Valleyans for Community and Social Justice (NVCSJ), formed this past April, grew out of a series of events: the successful campaign to save Cover to Cover bookstore, the creation of the Noe Valley Farmers' Market, and the ongoing effort to win fair treatment for the terminated employees of the long-shuttered Real Food health food store.

"Noe Valley has a long progressive heritage, and we want to build on that," says Elizabeth Street resident Peter Gabel, who spearheaded the group.

While some might not see affluent Noe Valley as ground zero for social justice work, Gabel hopes that activist-minded residents will come to view the neighborhood as an important starting point.

"During the Bush years, many people feel isolated and unable to take positive action," says Gabel. "This effort is not something so abstract as the whole country, where people feel powerless, but focuses on making positive changes in our own neighborhood."

About a dozen members have big plans in the works, including helping students and teachers at James Lick Middle School create an organic garden. According to NVCSJ member Judith Levy-Sender, a garden would not only teach kids how to grow their own healthy food and encourage environmental awareness, but would also foster closer bonds between the students and the community.

"The garden is a way of bringing people together," says Levy-Sender, who with husband and fellow group member Ramon Sender, is creator of the Odd Mondays series at the Noe Valley Ministry.

NVCSJ is also working on an educational campaign to promote the "No Sweat" anti-sweatshop ordinance recently passed by the Board of Supervisors and endorsed by Mayor Gavin Newsom. "We want people to think about what we're buying and selling in our neighborhood, out of concern for the humanity of the people who make the clothes we wear and the food we eat," Gabel explains.

Other plans include promoting fair trade and patronage of locally owned businesses, encouraging sound ecological practices such as composting and bicycling, holding a community-wide art project, and providing support for Noe Valley's homeless population. The group recently co-sponsored a fundraiser at Bliss Bar to help with rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

NVCSJ regards itself as complementary to existing neighborhood groups such as the residents group Friends of Noe Valley, the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, and the Noe Valley Democratic Club.

"I see all these groups as working in tandem with each other," says Levy-Sender, who also serves on the membership committee of the Democratic Club. "We want new businesses and residents to be aware of the concerns people have about humanistic solutions. Our focus is both philosophical and practical: This is our daily bread--how are we going to share it and make sure we're all taken care of?"

The progressive group is confident that others will pick up its banner.

"People long to connect," says Gabel. "They want a meaningful life, not just a pleasant life. There is more to life than economic security."

Noe Valleyans for Community and Social Justice meets on the first Wednesday of the month, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez Street. The next meeting is Nov. 2. To find out more about the group, call Peter Gabel at 282-7197 or e-mail