Vote Becton for Contra Costa District Attorney June 5

Last September, Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors appointed retired Superior Court Judge Diana Becton as interim district attorney. The position became open after a scandal forced the resignation of then DA Mark Petersen. The state charged Peterson “with 13 felonies connected to his admitted use of his campaign fund as if it were a personal bank account.”

Did you hear about her appointment at the time? With the perpetual Trump tornado in Washington, many important stories wind up getting overlooked. Catch up on the history at our prior articles. And make no mistake: this was an important story then and has grown to even greater significance now.

As interim DA, Becton became the first woman and first African-American to hold this position in the 168-year history of Contra Costa County. She now seeks to remove the “interim” from her title as she competes in the June 5th election for District Attorney. The June 5 winner becomes the next DA; this is NOT a primary and there will be no run-off election.

Following a poll where Judge Becton received unanimous support, Indivisible East Bay’s CA-11 Team endorsed Becton for the District Attorney position, and the IEB Governance Committee subsequently voted to endorse her. We strongly urge all Contra Costa County IEB members to vote for Judge Becton. “Lower down on the ballot” offices are too often overlooked by voters, due to a lack of name recognition, uncertainty as to the positions of the candidates, or a mistaken belief that these offices don’t matter. Don’t let this happen here! Judge Becton is precisely the sort of progressive candidate that IEB is proud to support.

Prior to her current position as DA, Becton was a Judge in Contra Costa for over two decades and was elected by her colleagues as the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court for the First District Court of Appeals. Calling her a “great DA,” the Richmond Progressive Alliance recently wrote: “Becton received highest marks on a [Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition] community scorecard that ranked candidates on a range of issues, from bail reform to support for re-entry services.”

The District Attorney position critically affects the lives of many county residents. The DA has the power to decide whether criminal charges are brought against an individual, the severity of the charges, whether the person is diverted to a system such as mental health, and the priority of cases. Becton has worked especially hard to improve diversion programs for low level crimes and for people with mental illness who need treatment, not punishment.

With her predecessor criminally charged and her main opponent involved in questionable campaign activity regarding a donation from Sheriff David Livingston, we need a District Attorney with the record and integrity to bring transparency and accountability to the office. Judge Diana Becton is that person.

The IEB CA-11 team is putting our energy where our endorsement is, and volunteering to help elect Judge Becton — can you join us?

  • Saturday, May 5,  9 am to 1 pm: table for Judge Becton with the CA-11 Team and others at the El Cerrito Farmers Market  
  • Monday, May 7, 4 to 6 pm: help pass out flyers at El Cerrito Plaza BART station

And to learn more about the candidates:

  • April 28, 2 PM: meet Judge Becton, the featured speaker at the Courageous Resistance / Indivisible El Sobrante / Richmond meeting. RSVP & all info here.
  • April 30, 6:30-8 PM: Contra Costa County District Attorney Candidate Forum. Hercules Library. Host: League of Women Voters.

Please email IndivisibleCA11@gmail.com if you have questions or want to help.

IEB meets with Feinstein State Director April 17, 2018

On April 17, 2018, a dedicated group of about 25 Indivisible East Bay, Indivisible Central Contra Costa County, and Together We Will Contra Costa members sat down with Senator Diane Feinstein’s State Director, Sean Elsbernd, at the Concord Public Library. After a week filled with news of scandals and investigations in the White House, as well as some major foreign policy developments, the participants were eager to talk to someone with inside knowledge of what’s going on in D.C.

As is typical of our meetings with Sean, IEB came prepared with a checklist of items to discuss. Our goals are to inform Sean of our position on various issues and request actions for the Senator to take — as well as to allow Sean to provide us with his reaction to our requests. This is never dull. Sean is not shy about asserting his views on the agenda topics, whether or not those views align with ours.

In this latest meeting, our checklist was ambitious — it included more than 20 items. Here are some highlights:

The Mueller probe

With Trump frequently commenting about the possibility that he may fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller or otherwise attempt to shut down the Russia investigation, there’s pressure on Congress to pass legislation to protect Mueller. Senators Tillis, Graham, Booker and Coons of the Judiciary Committee, of which Senator Feinstein is a Ranking Member, have sponsored the bipartisan Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act to do just that. Senator Grassley scheduled a Committee vote, though it may be for naught, as Mitch McConnell will not bring the vote to the floor and the House apparently has no plans to do anything on this matter.

Sean offered little hope. He encouraged us to keep public pressure on the Senators and to keep these bills and the importance of protecting Mueller in the public eye. Consistent with news reports and the perception of groups who are mobilizing to protect the investigation (including Indivisibles), Sean believes the real immediate danger is that Trump will fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, as an indirect route to stopping Mueller.

Meanwhile, two committees in the Senate have been investigating Russian interference into our elections: the Intelligence Committee is focused directly on what happened in the 2016 election, while the Judiciary Committee is looking into obstruction of justice concerning the Russian interference. The report from the Intelligence Committee is close to completion. Their findings, when published, need to get to Secretaries of State across the country ASAP, so they can address possible voting obstruction/interference issues. Sean reports that Senator Chuck Grassley (chairman of the Judiciary Committee) has not been helpful in his committee’s investigation. We should be prepared to exert pressure for action here.

Judicial appointments

For judicial appointments, there is a longstanding tradition in the Senate whereby the nominee’s home state Senator is sent a form called a “blue slip” and can signal their support for a nomination by returning a positive blue slip to the Judiciary Committee. Declining to return a blue slip indicates the Senator does not support the nominee; this has traditionally doomed a nomination.

During the Obama administration, GOP Senators often withheld blue slips to prevent confirmation of judges that the Republican party opposed. Breaking with this tradition, Grassley has recently allowed two nominees to go forward without a blue slip. Feinstein has thrown down a marker on respecting the blue slip tradition. We at IEB see this as critical, especially because there are currently seven vacancies in the influential Ninth Circuit, which includes California. Blue slips may be the only way Democratic Senators can influence nominations to this Circuit.

Bombing of Syria

Feinstein believes that, while the President can unilaterally authorize limited strikes, sustained military action should require authorization from Congress. Last year, she voted to debate repealing the 2001 AUMF Authorization for Use of Military Force), but that vote failed. Senators Corker and Kaine on the Foreign Relations Committee have introduced a bipartisan bill to repeal and replace the current AUMF. Feinstein plans to review that bill and continues to support having that debate. IEB also wants Congress to have this debate, but considers the terms of the proposed replacement AUMF very problematic and has asked Feinstein not to support it.

Pompeo nomination

Feinstein opposes the nomination of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. We concur — see our article for action you can take to oppose Pompeo’s nomination.

Offshore drilling in California

Donald Trump continues to push to open the California coast to offshore drilling. Not surprisingly, Feinstein is strongly opposed to this. State Senator Hanna-Beth Jackson has introduced SB 834, which would designate as state land the entire California coast, from beaches to three miles out to sea. The bill would also prohibit “the State Lands Commission from approving any leases of submerged lands that would result in an increase of oil or natural gas production from federal waters.” This would effectively prevent federal authorization of offshore drilling in California. Feinstein supports this bill and additionally wants all California counties to pass resolutions opposing offshore drilling.

We at IEB need to call our state representatives in support of this bill!

Immigration reform

A California woman spoke about her husband who was born in Brazil and had been adopted by Americans as a child. The couple recently learned that, despite the adoption, the husband is not a U.S. citizen. Shockingly, at this point, there is no clear pathway to citizenship for him, nor for others in a similar position. As a result, such individuals could be sent back to their country of origin — where they know no one and do not know the culture. Faced with this prospect, some have committed suicide.

To address this injustice, the woman advocates for passage of the Adoptee Citizen Act of 2018 (S. 2522H.R. 5233), introduced on March 8, 2018 by Senators Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). A similar bipartisan bill has been introduced in the House. The acts “would provide U.S. citizenship to individuals born outside of the United States who were adopted as children by American parents.” She asked Senator Feinstein to support this legislation.

The bill would fix a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000. This existing legislation does guarantee citizenship to adoptees born outside of the U.S. under the age of 18. However, the CCA did not apply to adoptees who were over 18 when the law went into effect on February 27, 2001 — leaving out an estimated 35,000 adoptees. These adoptees remain “susceptible to deportation, unable to travel outside of the U.S. and unable to work legally.”

Everyone in the room was very moved by the woman’s story. We were shocked to hear that so many adoptees are being denied citizenship, and baffled that Congress would find this a difficult problem to solve. Sean rushed over to carefully take down the woman’s contact information, so hopefully Senator Feinstein will take action both on this case and the larger issue. IEB plans to advocate for this bill. So please contact your members of Congress today, and look out for more details and calls to action to come. 

Make those phone calls!

While your calls to our representatives continue to come in, Sean says call volume is down from last year. This is concerning, since if anything our call volume needs to increase — especially on these issues we are most concerned about. Make those phone calls! Today! 

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Senator Harris Town Hall in Sacramento

IEB members who made the trek to Senator Kamala Harris’ Sacramento town hall on April 5 were rewarded with a lively session covering a broad range of issues. Members of the packed audience challenged Harris with questions that were sometimes supportive but more often critical, and overall she deftly replied to the queries.

On holding law enforcement to account

Senator Harris entered to a standing ovation. In her opening remarks, she spoke first about Stephon Clark, the local man killed in his grandmother’s backyard by police who allegedly mistook his cell phone for a weapon. Of note, Clark’s grandmother was in the audience.

The Senator used the Clark incident as a segue to a more general discussion of the history of police violence, dating back to the civil rights protests of the 1950’s and 60’s. She then spoke about how, as California’s attorney general, she had worked to address issues of police bias and accountability. In contrast, she noted that the current U.S. Department of Justice is “led by someone who wants to take us back” to a darker time.

Although Harris helped institute police bias training in California, it clearly hasn’t solved the problem. Acknowledging this lack of success, she spoke strongly about the “profound responsibility” of law enforcement “to give all members of the community dignity.”

The police shooting context lent a somber tone to Harris’ remarks around the adage: “as goes California, so goes the nation.” But she found hope in our response to that shooting and to the other injustices we face, many of them coming directly from Washington, D.C. The main theme throughout the discussion was “fighting for the best of who we are as a country.”

Immigration, the courts, and the power of resistance

When asked what she would say to the DREAMers who watched Congress fail to act to protect them, she told them to “keep on leading.” The DREAMers, she said, “believe that if they are seen and if their stories are heard, it will matter. They believe in our democracy.”

In response to the question of an organizer who has been leading protests outside Representative Tom McClintock’s district office regarding what to do about “counter-protesters trying to stir up trouble,” Harris said:

Speaking truth often invites people who don’t like to hear that truth to try and suppress you, and we can never be suppressed… And take a look around this room right now and hold on to the belief that you have a lot people supporting you even if you don’t see them at that moment… There are more of us.

Appropriately for a recent addition to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Harris spoke several times about the vital role the courts play in our government. Asked about the outsized influence of money in politics, specifically Citizens United v. FEC, she discussed the issue and then also pointed out the importance of several other Supreme Court decisions — including ones on collective bargaining, Brown vs. Board of Education, and the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act.

Asked about DACA, Harris spoke of the importance of lower federal courts as a defense against the extreme positions of this administration. So far, these courts have successfully prevented the administration from rescinding DACA protections.

Toward the end of the town hall a heckler interrupted to criticize Harris for her leadership in the Democratic effort to attach the DREAM Act to a must-pass government spending bill. The heckler asserted that doing so prioritized one group of people over another. The Senator rejected this characterization, saying that the attachment was needed because “the approach this administration has taken is not just, it is not fair, it is not about giving people due process or equal opportunities.”

Senator Harris Town Hall April 2018

Areas for improvement

Overall, IEB members found several of the Senator’s answers incomplete, unclear or unsatisfactory. We plan to follow-up with her on these and other matters:

  • Harris talked about “reevaluating” Social Security and other expensive government programs. While she acknowledged we had to keep “our promises,” IEB would like to get more specifics as to her intentions here and to provide our suggestions for how to raise revenue.
  • We’d also like to discuss Harris’ remarks about “smart” allocation of national security resources. For example, she co-sponsored S.1414 – the SHIPS Act, which mandated that the Navy build up its fleet to an arbitrary 355 ships, a number that forward-thinking military experts have questioned. More generally, she has voted for bills that, in our view, astronomically increase military spending. We’d like to get more clarity on her national security priorities.
  • Near the end of the Town Hall the president of the California Urban Partnership (C.U.P.) asked Sen. Harris what will be done to ensure that the marijuana industry successfully transitions to a legal business — and not become “another cotton or sugar or tobacco where [Black people] work for free, where we do all of the jail time, but reap none of the benefits.” Sen. Harris agreed work was needed here and promised to follow up — but did not offer any specifics. We at IEB plan also want to follow up here — both with Sen. Harris and the C.U.P.

The Senator asked the audience to continue to find common ground and to build coalitions to fight for our values. She urged us to march and shout and speak up and organize. Finally, she said “thank you” for all the work we’ve done so far — and the town hall was adjourned.

Photographs © photographybyrex.com

“Mission Accomplished” in Syria? Tell Trump He’s Not Above the Law

By Alice Towey

On Friday, April 13, 2018, the Current Occupant of the White House announced that the United States was launching a missile strike against Syria. Trump said that he had ordered U.S. armed forces to launch strikes on targets associated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program. It was the culmination of a tumultuous week in the White House. But the military strike on Syria did not eliminate concerns about Trump and the rule of law; rather, it added to them.

The previous week had been rough for Trump. On Monday April 9, the FBI raided the office and home of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, seizing information that – we later learned – might include recordings of private conversations. Later in the week, it was reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had evidence that Cohen had visited Prague in 2016, lending credence to the Steele Dossier. On Wednesday House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will not seek reelection. And on Thursday, excerpts of former FBI Director James Comey’s forthcoming memoir leaked to the press, including salacious details about his time working for Trump. By Friday, America was poised on the edge of its seat, and there were rumors that Trump might fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

In the midst of the chaos the White House abruptly scheduled a press conference, and Trump announced that the U.S, France, and Great Britain were launching missile strikes on Syria, in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

Make no mistake: the Assad regime has committed repeated atrocities against its own people, and the use of chemical weapons is inexcusable. However, the timing of this action, and Trump’s process for implementing it, are highly troubling:

  • Just last week, Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from Syria. Why become even more enmeshed now? Was the decision to use military force influenced by a desire to distract the country from the ongoing scandals and legal turmoil surrounding him?
  • Trump’s sudden concern for Assad’s victims is highly suspect in light of his repeated efforts to ban Muslims and Syrian refugees from entering this country. So far this year, only eleven Syrian refugees have been accepted for resettlement in the U.S. (compared to almost 800 by this time in 2016).
  • Trump blatantly circumvented Congress in launching this hostile military act. Under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the authority to declare war; not the President. Unless the U.S. is in imminent danger, the President must seek Congressional approval before undertaking military action. So far, the Trump administration has neither sought Congress’s approval nor explained its rationale for bypassing Congress to strike Syria.
  • Trump is not above the law. Every illegal action that he is allowed to get away with sets a dangerous precedent, bringing us a step closer to Mueller or Rosenstein getting fired.

What You Can Do Now:

Our Members of Congress (MoCs) must make sure Trump knows that they hold him accountable, now. They need to assert their role in our government and insist that Trump not launch military offensives without consulting Congress, and they need to press for an actual strategy on Syria that includes diplomacy and real, significant humanitarian aid. And they need to make Trump understand clearly that any action to interfere with or distract from the Russia investigation will not be tolerated. 

Call or email your Members of Congress. The following actions are based on the statements each of our MoCs has made, beginning with their tweets immediately following the bombing:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Thank Senator Feinstein for her statement that Congress “must be consulted about the use of force,” which is an improvement over her statements following last year’s missile strikes. Ask her to insist that Trump come before Congress prior to launching any further action in Syria, and to vote NO on any authorization for further force in Syria, based on Trump’s demonstrated recklessness and lack of a full strategy. Thank her for her opposition to Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Senator Harris tweeted from her personal account: “The president needs to lay out a comprehensive strategy in Syria in consultation with Congress — and he needs to do it now.” Please call Senator Harris and thank her for this statement, and tell her you’d like her to make a stronger, official statement condemning Trump for bypassing Congress. And please ask her to vote NO on any authorization for further force in Syria, based on Trump’s demonstrated recklessness and lack of a full strategy, and to vote against Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who does not think Trump needs Congress’ approval to strike Syria.

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095

Representative DeSaulnier penned a very thoughtful piece in the Chronicle about the president needing Congressional approval for further military involvement in Syria. Please call Rep. DeSaulnier and thank him and tell him that you agree that we need a cohesive strategy around Syria, and that you want him to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661

As ever, Barbara Lee comes through; please thank her for her strong statement criticizing Trump’s use of military force without Congressional authorization. Tell her you agree that only Congress has the power to authorize use of force and that you want her to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Rep. Swalwell also made a strong statement condemning Trump’s action; please thank him and tell him that you agree that we need a cohesive strategy around Syria, and that you want him to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

Concerned About the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria?

Consider supporting a group like the International Rescue Committee that is providing vital support to people within Syria, as well as to refugees around the world fleeing violence. Here is a list by Charity Navigator of charities providing humanitarian aid in Syria, along with their ratings of the charities’ efficacy.

Alice Towey is a Civil Engineer specializing in water resource management. She lives in El Cerrito, where she and her husband are active in Indivisible CA-11 United.

Fun Ways to Help Flip CA District 21

By Ted Lam

The CD-21 Action Coalition, which includes many Indivisible East Bay members, is working hard to make it easy for us in the blue Bay Area to help flip nearby Congressional District 21. Centered in the San Joaquin Valley, District 21 includes parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Tulare counties and is currently represented by Republican David Valadao, who’s running for re-election in November 2018.

Read my account of canvassing in Mendota over a recent weekend – it was really fun (and great food)! One-day canvassing involves less planning and no motel cost, but definitely offers plenty of opportunities to get great food. Sign up for any of the upcoming canvassing events below. There’ll be a quick briefing and training session before each, and if you’ve never canvassed the organizers will teach you how. You can also get connected with folks who are carpooling. And if you’re thinking it’s too far to drive, consider a normal Bay Area commute – driving from San Leandro to San Jose during rush hour can take me two hours and it takes only that or just slightly longer to get to the CA-21 canvasses. Best of all, you’ll be riding with other like-minded people.

Here are canvasses scheduled through June 2018; see each link for more info and to RSVP:

And if you really can’t get out to canvass, postcarding also works! You can help TJ Cox, the Democratic candidate in CA-21, by writing postcards from home, or you can organize a postcard party outing with friends at any friendly location (IEB just had some at friendly local pubs – you might want to arrange something like that with the venue in advance). You provide your own postcards (see this article for more info on postcard activism) and postage. Email me for addresses and scripts targeting voters in rural areas of the district, and if you have questions about canvassing, or contact me on IEB’s Slack at @Ted Lam.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

Graphic copyright Govtrack

 

Tell Jerry Brown: Keep CA National Guard off the Wall

By Ted Landau

So you want to build a wall along the Mexican border of the United States — at an estimated cost of between $12 and $67 billion — but Congress only gave you $1.6 billion for “increased border security.” What’s your Plan B? That was the dilemma confronting the current occupant of the White House. His solution was to have thousands of people line up along the border, hold hands to form a human chain and start singing “Give Peace a Chance.” Okay…not exactly. Actually, he authorized the mobilization of up to 4,000 National Guard troops to stand guard along the California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas borders.

However, Trump doesn’t actually have the power to deploy those troops, and each state’s governor has the legal authority to refuse the President’s direction. The governors of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico – all Republicans – promptly agreed, at least in part, to Trump’s request. 

In a letter dated April 11, 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown said yes – and no. He agreed to deploy troops to combat gangs, human trafficking and illegal arms and drug smuggling—but not to build the wall or enforce federal immigration laws:

[L]et’s be crystal clear on the scope of this mission. This will not be a mission to build a new wall. It will not be a mission to round up women or children or to detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.

As the San Francisco Chronicle says, there is no sensible goal for Trump’s actions. Whether you’re talking about a border wall or a deployment of troops, these actions remain a Trumpian fantasy that won’t stop illegal immigration or improve U.S. security … and will only serve to harm relations with a neighbor and close ally. Similarly, as Brown notes, there is no clear need for troop deployment at a time when border crossings are at their lowest point in decades.

What you can do:

Tell Governor Brown he must hold firm and NOT accept federal money for National Guard troops, or agree to deploy troops, under any conditions other than the ones he has set out in his letter:

Ted Landau is a retired professor of psychology. He has also spent several decades as a tech journalist/author — writing primarily about Apple products. He has been politically active in the East Bay since moving here in 2004.

California Indivisibles Stand Together

Members of IEB Governance Committee
Members of IEB Governance Committee at California Conclave

Several members of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee attended the first-ever Conclave of California Indivisible groups in Sacramento on April 7-8. Organized by Indivisible National and California Indivisible folks, members from around 50 groups came together to discuss best practices and share stories. Hearing what Indivisible San Diego and Indivisible Calaveras are doing in red areas was eye-opening and inspiring to those of us in solidly blue East Bay.

IEB Governance Committee member Nancy Latham speaking at Conclave. Photo by Tama Becker-Verano.
GC member Nancy Latham speaking at Conclave. Photo by Tama Becker-Verano.

Over the weekend (plus Monday for lobbying), the presentations – channeling Jerry Maguire – helped us learn how to help ourselves. Sacramento union leader Fabrizio Sasso reminded us that today’s attacks on unions are a threat to everyone. Racial justice and equity leader PaKou Her shared with us Gloria Anzaldúa’s feminist theory of the borderlands, a powerful concept that challenged us all to think about our proximity to those in power. The big takeaway from the first day was to remember that it’s not just about fighting the big chicken, but about lifting up others and finding ways we can be of service.

IEB Governance Committee member Andrea Lum, with a {not} friend
GC member Andrea Lum, with a [not] friend
One of the Conclave’s most important goals was to build how we work together as a California network of Indivisible groups, so we can reduce duplication of effort (e.g. access a common repository of tools, research, trainings, etc.), avoid reinventing the wheel (learn about the amazing tools and models other groups have developed), and amplify our voices by engaging in advocacy coordinated across the state.

To build our California networked infrastructure, on the second day we broke into four work groups: Policy & Advocacy, Communications, Organizational Sustainability, and Electoral Action. Each work group formed sub-teams which created action plans to carry the work forward. It was inspiring to hear at the end of the Conclave how the sub-teams plan to work on California-wide teams to influence policy, amplify our collective voice, ensure our members and groups are sustainable, and flip the House in November!

Interested in learning more about IEB’s Governance Committee? Want to know how you can help build our organizational capacity? Please email uswe want to hear from you!

 

 

Tell Congress: For Students to Prosper, Ditch the PROSPER Act

Not sure who House Republicans had in mind when they came up with the higher-education targeted PROSPER (Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform Act) Act, H.R. 4508 – but a close look suggests it might be financial institutions and for-profit colleges, rather than students, who would be prospering.

In December 2017, the 590-page PROSPER Act cleared the House Committee on Education, with NO hearings. The higher education community’s calls for additional time and input went unheeded, and Democrats say they were not included in any aspect of drafting the bill.

The bill is a monstrous overhaul of the existing student loan program. It would end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, under which teachers, social workers, and public defenders who work for the government and other non-profits now can qualify for student loan forgiveness after 10 years. It would also end subsidized student loans that permit low-income students to avoid interest while in school. In addition, it would require a minimum loan repayment, even for students at or under 150% of poverty level, who now have monthly payments of $0. 

The bill’s supporters point to its provisions for using grants to incentivize graduation in four years, abolishing loan origination fees, and expanding the work-study program for low-income students. The conservative Heritage Foundation claims that “[s]tudents and taxpayers win in the scenario where you have private lenders actually competing in the market, and ultimately we would hope that puts more pressure on inflated tuition prices.” However, an analysis by the American Council on Education – the nation’s most influential, respected, and visible higher education association – says an undergrad who borrows $19,000 over four years and makes payments on time would see a 44% increase in the cost of the loan if subsidies were eliminated under the PROSPER Act. A student who borrows $23,000 would experience a 56% increase. Nearly 6 million students would feel this effect.

PROSPER would also eliminate current safeguards that protect students from predatory lenders. It nixes the “90/10” rule, which bans for-profit institutions from collecting more than 90% of their revenue from federal aid. It would abolish the gainful employment regulation, which requires for-profit institutions  – like Trump U – to meet established debt-to-income ratios for students or risk losing federal financial aid. And it would remove states’ ability to oversee online schools and hold student loan providers accountable.

You’d think legislation this sweeping shouldn’t be rushed through in secrecy, but should rather be carefully weighed in a bipartisan fashion with expert input, time, and care. But sadly, this isn’t our first Rodeo; we’ve come to expect this rush-it-through bill behavior from the GOP (e.g. the tax scam). But it ain’t over yet.

What you can do:

It’s time for us to get loud about this legislation that would make it even harder for students to prosper. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on March 18 that he has joined the attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia to oppose the bill. Ask your MoC to join the volley of voices opposing the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508).

What to say:

My name is ________________, my zip code is _________ and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay.  I’m calling to express my opposition to the PROSPER Act. It will make it harder for students, especially low-income students, to repay their loans, and would remove safeguards that protect students from predatory lenders. I’m asking you to speak out against this hastily drafted bill that has potential to block access to higher education for millions of students.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Bay Area Marches for Our Lives

Indivisible East Bay members attended March for Our Lives events in several locations in the East Bay and beyond on March 24; here are some of their impressions.

Richmond

Tom Janci: We attended the March For Our Lives event in Richmond. Organizers estimate almost 1,000 people turned out to show support for the young people who organized such an incredible event. It was incredibly moving to hear their stories. It was also a good reminder that our children are not just our future – they are our NOW. City and county elected officials as well as State Senator Nancy Skinner and Representative Mark DeSaulnier attended the event.

March for our Lives, Richmond, photo by Alice Towey
March for Our Lives, Richmond, photo by Alice Towey

George McRae: I went to the March for Our Lives in Richmond. The March started at the intersection of Nevin and Harbour Way, opposite Kaiser Hospital, which treats its share of gunshot victims, and ended at City Hall Plaza, where government officials and the community work to mitigate gun violence. Along the route, one could look up at the lamp and power poles and see the “shot spotter” equipment … they’re everywhere in Richmond.  I listened to the speakers, those whose lives were directly impacted and those who have been elected to legislate gun violence out of existence. I can say with complete certainty whose reflections impacted me most. The names of Richmond victims were read in between the speakers. The list went on … and on …  I left carrying the memory of people I have lost to gun violence. None of us are immune. According to a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, as an American,  YOU have a 99.85% chance of knowing someone victimized by gun violence in your lifetime.  These children know they are in the gun sights, and it’s up to all of us to make the elected people do OUR bidding, not the NRA’s. Enough.

March for Our Lives, Richmond, photo by Heidi Rand
March for Our Lives, Richmond, photo by Heidi Rand
Catherine de Neergaard: It was a really sweet march and rally on 3/24 in Richmond, California to stop gun violence. At about 3000 people, it was a more accessible, intimate, and quieter event than the much larger rallies in SF and Oakland. I liked that. There was space to be able to hear and chat with old buddies, neighbors and new people too. About 25 people from Indivisible East Bay met at the beginning of the March. It was wonderful seeing the children and young people some of whom made speeches or read poems.
Sixteen year old Shelton McAdoo opened the rally with a moving speech. Interspersed with the speeches, names of those slain in gun violence were read. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia both made short, passionate speeches supporting the young people to lead this country to end gun violence. Towards the end, there was an open mike. I made a brief speech about the many new laws we need to control guns and stop gun violence, including the need to permit and fund the national health agency, the CDC, to do research on the health effects of gun violence, and the need for a national database of guns, gun owners, and gun sales. Indivisible East Bay, Rich City RIDES, and Citizens Power Network were doing voter registration. IEB and League of Women Voters had petitions to sign. Thank you organizers! Let us not stop until guns are controlled.

 

Oakland

Ward Kanowsky: On March 24, 2018, over 840 cities around the world participated in the March For Our Lives. With gun violence impacting the Oakland community, it was important for the city to be a host of one of these events. I was one of several members of IEB who staffed a booth during the rally, which included student speakers from local high schools, poetry readings, youth from the Martin Luther King Freedom Center and Bay Area Students for Gun Violence Prevention, and alumni from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, among many others. Following the two-hour rally, there was a brief but rousing march to Lake Merritt, led by four of the student organizers of the event.

You can continue to support the inspiring work of our young people by signing the March For Our Lives petition, which calls for Congress to pass legislation that will protect and save our children from gun violence.

Ann Daniels: I was helping to staff the IEB table in back of the crowd, so I didn’t hear the speakers very well, but I got to interact with a steady stream of people of all ages and races. Some were long-time activists but many were new to activism,or hadn’t been active politically for several years – this cause, this moment, was the “last straw,” as one woman told me. They wanted information about how to be active on more than this one issue, which was wonderful. I also loved seeing how many people felt positive, full of admiration for the young people from Parkland and all over the country who have stood up and become leaders.

March for Our Lives, Oakland, photo by Deirdre Spencer
March for Our Lives, Oakland, photo by Deirdre Spencer

San Francisco

Helen Clifton, Poinsett Indivisible: The San Francisco March for Our Lives was inspiring, rousing, energizing. People of all ages attended, listening to and cheering on this youth movement. Unlike the Washington, D.C. March, there were adult speakers as well as MANY amazing articulate youngsters from around the Bay Area: we heard from Senator Dianne Feinstein, Jennifer Seibel Newsom, London Breed, current SF Mayor Farrell, Grace Slick, and Pastor Michael McBride and Leo Mercer, who work with communities and organizations in Oakland. There was also a woman who survived Columbine, two alumni from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and the father of a student who was killed at the UC Santa Barbara massacre, who works with Everytown for Gun Safety. Dr. Gregory Victorino, M.D., chief of the Trauma Center at San Francisco General Hospital, spoke about the huge gun violence issue in American public health. A leading trauma surgeon, Victorino was involved in treating victims at the Columbine and Aurora Theatre shootings.  

Many speakers addressed the prevalence of gun violence generally in America, as only 4% of gun deaths are from mass shootings. They also pointed to the horror of so many deaths caused by police shooting Black people, most recently Stephon Clark in Sacramento, unarmed, on an iPhone, in his grandmother’s backyard, leaving two little boys without their loving father. They also spoke of women being killed by domestic partners, and Jennifer Seibel Newsom brought up Toxic Masculinity! One teenage girl, a senior in high school, talked about PTSD from when she was 13, walking fourth-grade sisters home from school, and being surrounded by gunfire in their neighborhood, only steps from home, dropping to the ground until bullets stopped. She has grown up with the constant fear of gun violence in the streets. 

Everyone around me was very moved, stood and listened throughout the unusually long rally, then marched forever down Market Street to the Ferry Building. 

March for Our Lives, San Francisco, photo by Helen Clifton
March for Our Lives, San Francisco, photo by Helen Clifton

Did you march? There’s more you can do! Help keep the momentum these young people have built going — contact your Members of Congress to ask them to hold a Town Hall for Our Lives in solidarity with those across the country on Saturday April 7.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661

Count Every Person

Call us nerdy, but we’ve been worried for some time about the impact of the administration’s apparent plan to under-fund the 2020 United States Census, since that count will be critical in drawing political districts, allotting congressional representatives, and distributing billions in federal funds. Turns out our concerns were justified, and then some.

The Department of Justice has asked the Department of Commerce to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. Many experts, including former census directors, believe that including a question about whether residents are citizens will discourage non-citizens from completing the census, resulting in reduced response rates and inaccurate answers. The likely result: states with large immigrant populations like ours would be under-counted and thus underrepresented in Congress and short-changed in getting state and federal funding for health care, education, infrastructure, and more.

California, which would be greatly impacted if non-citizens were leery of filling out the census forms, is leading the fight. CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra is on the case – literally. Calling the move “an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes,” Becerra filed a lawsuit in the name of the State of California, which 14 other AGs quickly joined on behalf of their states. Experts believe that a citizenship question could intimidate people into not participating in the census. But the U.S. Constitution requires the census to count the entire population every ten years, including citizens and non-citizens alike; non-citizens’ non-participation as a result of a citizenship question could “translate into several million people not being counted.” Such an undercounting of the state’s population could reduce everything from Congressional representation to funding for necessary services, all of which depend on the 10-year Census count. Is it just coincidence that the Administration wants to add a question that could diminish Congressional representation from states with high immigrant populations? Hmmm …

And the Senate is taking up its own attack with S. 2580: “A bill to amend title 13, United States Code, to make clear that each decennial census, as required for the apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States, shall tabulate the total number of persons in each State, and to provide that no information regarding United States citizenship or immigration status may be elicited in any such census.” (emphasis supplied). Senator Kamala Harris is one of the bill’s original sponsors.

What you can do: 

Thank Attorney General Becerra for filing the lawsuit, and for his strong public opposition to a citizenship question. Email: attorneygeneral@doj.ca.gov

Thank Sen. Harris for her sponsorship of S. 2580; thank our other Members of Congress for speaking out in opposition to the citizenship question and urge them to support legislation to prohibit a citizenship question.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Call the Department of Commerce, Office of Public Affairs (202-482-4883) and say:

I’m calling to urge you not to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Adding it will skew the census count by discouraging immigrants from participating, and that will block many states from being fully represented and receiving sufficient federal funding. Please tell Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that it is unconstitutional not to count everyone, everywhere.