Senior Moment of Impact

By Lynn Lieu

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Posted August 26, 2010 in Feature Story

Originally painted in the ’80s, the “giant apple” boulders off of Highway 74 near Perris have been a hot spot for tourists and locals. The large rocks, painted to look like apple slices, have had their share of graffiti and vandalism over the years. But, thanks to locals like Thelma Grant, community landmarks like this have been restored and maintained.

It was of no surprise—to those who know Thelma—that she would organize a group to help her community. Thelma, who has been diagnosed with cancer and who is currently undergoing chemotherapy, and her husband, Garry, have been active members of their community for years. Together, the British-born couple has created an activist stir in Riverside County, attending every Board of Supervisors and Riverside City Council meeting since 1992. But, they didn’t start until after their retirement and, like many citizens, they didn’t know the rules and regulations until they started.

Yup, nearly two decades of keeping government in check are what the Grants can call their “golden years.”

FIGHTING THE ISSUES

When the couple retired in 1991 to Meadowbrook, just outside Canyon Lake and Perris, off of Highway 74, they discovered a community with little voice and large government involvement. Not too long after the Grants’ retirement, Wildomar tried to tax the residents of Meadowbrook for Wildomar’s parks and recreation. As residents of the rural Meadowbrook with large parcels of land, they saw no point in paying for parks in their area and had no plans to use those in Wildomar. Thus began the first of many activism efforts the Grants would become known for.

“They tried to tax us $39 per acre for parks and recreation, but they had no plans for parks and recreation within our community,” Garry Grant tells the Weekly. So, all the money would be used in Wildomar. So, we fought that issue.”

The Grants have gone on to fight for and against one issue or another, from putting traffic signals at dangerous intersections near their home to development they deemed unnecessary. The Grants have also made a name for themselves due to their rigorous questioning and calling out of Riverside County’s pension system and its redevelopment agency.

“HARD TO THE CORE”

“The Grants are activists, in a sense, protesters, radicals (compared with most), but unlike the thousands of 18-years-olds that attend the G20 protests (mostly because it’s a big party), the Grants prod along, week after week, doing their best to make a better world,” says Francois Choquette, a fellow activist in Riverside County. “They are true activists, hard to the core, dedicated, fearless, wearing brown suits and cowboy hats, because, that’s what they normally wear, not because it’s the latest protest fashion.”

While the two are now seasoned veterans of activism, they weren’t always.  “We’ve attended every meeting of the supervisors and the City Council . . . until we really got to know what was happening in this city,” Garry says. “And this is how it should be with everybody because we are participants of democracy. If you don’t do this, you’re giving your government away to capitalism . . . We learned first and acted afterwards because you’d make a fool of yourself in this whole government entity unless you review the paperwork. Everything that they put out, you need to understand exactly where they’re coming from.”

In 1993, the Grants established the Riverside County United Communities (RCUC) Watch Dog organization to give a voice to people of their community as well as the surrounding area. “We have found that so many decisions are made that affect our lives that the average individual cannot possibly keep up [with it] and only a unified effort can hopefully cope with this problem,” Garry wrote in a statement released by RCUC Watch Dog. “We are committed to work with all organizations and possibly unite so that we can meet the challenge of democracy that we are required to meet.”

BRITISH INVASION

The couple founded the group in order to create a place where people can openly discuss the issues that affect their lives and form a collective in order to deal with those matters with government officials

“The percentage of the population that upholds democracy is very small in this county,” Garry says. “This county does not try to change that in any manner, shape or form.”

The group is now not only open to communities but other cities as well with the hopes that all cities, communities and individuals involved will be able to grow from one another.

“When a different group comes in, they’ve got a different problem,” Thelma says. “So, you learn from these other communities—what’s happening in their area—and it educates everybody.”

While the Grants have been fighting the good fight in Riverside County for the past two decades, the couple that holds up the virtues of American democracy . . . isn’t American. The Grants immigrated to the United States in 1963 from England.

“We came across on the Queen Mary and we traveled by train all across America,” Thelma says.

They ended up in California with, like many other immigrants, the idea of democracy on their minds.

“Europe was in a different era,” Garry says. They grew up with understanding that the distribution of all of the amenities were within their expectations and their burden of cost. This country does not do that; does not follow the principles of development.”

Garry worked for a motor company before immigrating to the United States. He also served 10 years in the military.

“I believed in democracy and I believed in the Constitution. I knew about the Constitution; I knew about democracy. That was one of the directions that we came here for.”

NEVER SAY DIE

“Even though the Grants’ English accent remains intact, they are dedicated American citizens of the likes rarely seen anymore,” Choquette says.

Choquette says the Grants’ steadfast advocacy and activism is impressive; working to improve their community, and putting time and money into their efforts—expecting no monetary compensation just a better place to live. Recently Choquette met with Supervisor Bob Buster to discuss a proclamation to honor the Grants and their service. Supervisor Marion Ashley, supervisor for the district in which the Grants reside in, has been advised about the proposed proclamation.

“The Grants are honorable,” Choquette says. “They have worked tirelessly for the past 18 years (possibly more in their local town) at guarding [and keeping] Riverside politicians in check. That’s why Supervisor Bob Buster suggested to me that the Board could do a proclamation for the Grants, but it has to be initiated by Supervisor Ashley in their district. The Grants have been a thorn to Mr. Ashley and they won’t let him get away with anything!”

But, even if they aren’t honored, despite opposition and sickness they face, the Grants won’t stop.

“We intend to pursue the issues as long as we can adequately do it,” Garry says. “Ultimately, we’re still fighting and everybody’s passed away, I guess.”

For more information about the Grants and their efforts, go to www.rcwdog.com or email them at rcwdog@gmail.com.


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