IEB Meets with Senator Harris’ Staff, May 2018

Sen. Harris office visit 050518

By Myra S. Mitzman

On May 3, 2018, Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Kamala Harris’ State Director, Julie Rodriguez, and Bay Area District Director, June Williams, in downtown Oakland.  

We opened with a serious discussion surrounding ICE tactics of detaining pregnant women and separating children from their parents. Julie stressed that, in light of misinformation about the recently-arrived “caravan,” it is important to humanize the narrative—something we can do to help. Please email Senator Harris if you have a story concerning someone adversely affected by these harsh ICE policies.

The dialogue turned to national security, in particular Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel (torture, anyone?). We pointed out that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA Rendition, Detention and Interrogation, about the treatment of detainees during the so-called “War on Terror” rightly belongs to the Senate, not the CIA, and perhaps could be publicly released by any member of the Senate Intelligence Committee – which includes both Senator Harris and Senator Feinstein. Also on the national security agenda: Syria, where there is seemingly no long-term strategy, and where, according to Julie, the U.S.’s “muscular diplomacy” (i.e., ability to engage in effective negotiation) has dwindled.

On the topic of Social Security, IEB members and staff alike took umbrage at the characterization of this program as an “entitlement” when so many of us have paid into it for decades. Ironically, one of the best things we could do to shore up Social Security is to pass comprehensive immigration reform, so more young immigrants will be able to pay into the system—and earn more money, and create more jobs, growing an economy that can take care of the aging population. And let’s not forget how the Trump tax scam was always intended to dry up funding for social safety net programs.

Over the course of the next 60 minutes, we covered climate change (see S.2352, the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2018, currently in need of co-sponsors); Puerto Rico (debt restructuring/renewable energy?); Trump’s latest judicial appointments (see snippet of Senator Harris grilling Wendy Vitter); defense spending (don’t count on a Harris “No” vote on increases); election security (demand paper ballots!); and sexual harassment in Congress (Harris’s staff undergoes regular harassment training, but she appears to be in the minority in doing this).

We also got into drug policy, including Senator Schumer’s proposed national Democratic platform for marijuana decriminalization. Julie pointed out that, with Democrats holding so few Washington “power levers,” one way to effect change is through the appropriations process. If Congress doesn’t approve appropriations, the Department of Justice can’t implement its regressive drug enforcement policies. For now, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment is still good law (the DOJ isn’t supposed to spend money enforcing federal drug laws in states that have legalized medical cannabis). But as we know, true drug reform requires reforming sentencing laws, eliminating cash bail (promising, but not if the algorithm used to determine flight risk, etc. is inherently biased), and decriminalizing marijuana (including a nationwide “equity agenda” similar to Oakland’s).

Sen. Harris office visit 050518

A few more notable moments:

  • Julie saying that, for Senator Harris, the conversation always needs to be, “How do we improve people’s lives?” It’s her “litmus test” whenever evaluating an issue or proposal. Amen.
  • Quote of the day: “The Senator’s ability to be fearless is because you all are.” Awwww. See the Senator’s interview on the Stephen Colbert show, where she was perhaps a bit measured, but watch and judge for yourselves.
  • Reminding Julie that, despite Mitch McConnell’s bluster, any Senator can introduce the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which would protect Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia 

Last but not least, we’re pushing for another town hall. June Williams said she’s been pressing the Senator on this. Historically, town halls were held only by House representatives. Fun fact: Before the 2016 election, Senators Feinstein and Boxer had not held a town hall in 24 years—last year’s Feinstein April town hall in San Francisco was her first ever! But in these troubled times, people’s demands have changed, and town halls are an important way to have our voices heard. Please call our senators and reps and demand more town halls this year—then show up (and speak up!) if and when they happen.

Myra Mitzman is an Oakland real estate/business attorney and sideline women’s fiction author (under the pseudonym Sheryl Sorrentino).

Photos by Maria Bernstein

 

IEB Meets With State Senator Nancy Skinner

On April 27, Indivisible East Bay had our first sit-down meeting with Senator Nancy Skinner, who represents California Senate District 9, covering Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and several other East Bay cities and towns. We met Senator Skinner in her district office in downtown Oakland, where she spends most Fridays meeting with constituents and groups. We packed a lot into the very short – less than half hour – meeting.

First, Senator Skinner was curious to hear about IEB, especially wondering where most of our members are located and what our relationship is to other local Indivisible groups. Then we launched right into our big questions about why our Democratic legislature has been falling short of the bold, progressive agenda we think it should be capable of. Skinner pointed out that due to resignations we no longer have a Democratic super-majority, which complicates things.

In response to our question about why so many bills get held up—by Democrats— in committee when it looks like they have the votes to pass on the floor, she responded that it depends on the bill:

  • According to Sen. Skinner, SB 100, the 100% Renewable by 2045 energy bill that she co-authored with Sen. Kevin de León, was held up last year because the only version that could have passed at that time and gotten the governor’s signature would have had some harmful “poison pill” provisions attached. She thinks that being patient (and she didn’t say this, but we inferred, waiting for a new governor) will get us a better bill. Of course the longer we wait the better the bill will have to be if it’s going to get us to that 2045 goal. Skinner said this was just one example of the tradeoff between pushing a bill through quickly and ensuring a bill doesn’t have any “poison pill” provisions attached to appease the other side. Sometimes a bill is critical or time-sensitive enough that add-ons may be acceptable, but she usually prefers a “clean” bill.
  • On the other hand, Skinner said that in her opinion the “health care for all” bill, SB 562, the Healthy California Act, was held up in order to protect members who did not want to take a vote.

We moved on to upcoming legislation we want Skinner to support:

  • Assembly Bill 3131 would restrict police and sheriffs’ departments’ ability to buy and use military equipment. Skinner said that it hadn’t made it to her desk yet, but that she would be sure to take a look. We will follow up to make sure she does.
  • When we called AB 3131 a top criminal justice priority, Sen. Skinner asked, what about her Police Misconduct Right-to-Know bill, SB 1421? We were happy to tell her that one is also on our priority list—and we thanked her for introducing it.
  • We also asked her to keep an eye out for AB 3115, the Jails: Voter Education Program bill requiring that county jails allow external organizations to provide voter education to the incarcerated.

We moved on to discuss urban planning, telling Skinner that while there is disagreement within IEB (as across California) about the specifics of SB 827, the controversial “housing near public transit” bill she co-authored, we agree that we want her to do something to address the affordable housing shortage and boost public transit. She told us that she used to be one of those people who thought our government should not do anything to make it easier to build market-rate housing in the Bay Area, but that as she became better acquainted with the situation she came to realize that we need the revenue from that market-rate housing in order to subsidize affordable housing.

On the subject of elections, we asked Skinner whether she was familiar with Risk-Limiting Audits (RLAs). She isn’t, but expressed willingness to read our memo about election infrastructure issues, which includes a section about RLAs, the gold standard of post-election auditing of ballots that election security experts recommend all states implement ASAP. You can read our memo here.

We had no time to go into detail on election infrastructure, health care, immigration, cash bail, or CalFresh and other poverty reduction programs, but we left Skinner a detailed memo and promised to continue the discussion at another, hopefully longer, meeting very soon.

Want to get involved in talking to our state legislators about priority issues? Other state senators representing districts with a large number of IEB members are Bob Wieckowski in Senate District 10, which includes Hayward, Fremont, San Jose, etc.; and Steve Glazer in CA Senate District 7, which includes Walnut Creek, Antioch, Pleasanton, Livermore, etc. We’ve interacted with them in various ways and plan to set up similar meetings soon. Please email us at info@indivisibleEB.org if you want to get involved!

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.

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. Adding to the importance of voting for Becton in June: If the winner in this three-person race gets a majority, it’s over; there will be no run-off in November.

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