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.

A Sensitive Subject: Gun Rights from One Perspective

Editor’s note: After the March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives, a member of IEB leadership interviewed an IEB member who is a gun owner and who attended one of the East Bay Marches. What follows is an edited selection of their wide-ranging conversation on guns, gun control legislation, gun ownership, and related subjects. The IEB member has chosen to remain anonymous.

IEB: Why did you want to go to the March for Our Lives? And why did you bring your young son?

Answer: I went to the march (1) to support my fellow IEB members (2) to show young folks that they can lead adults on this issue (3) it was easier just to bring my son due to childcare issues and (4) it’s good for him to see the excitement of older kids on an important issue.

IEB: That doesn’t sound like you felt a particular connection with the subject of the march.

Answer: Not a big connection. I’ve saved my excitement on other issues that Indivisible supports. But being present and showing support was important.

IEB: You’re a gun owner and you’ve told me you support some gun control legislation – do you feel like other gun control supporters do, or could, see you as an ally? Do you think the leaders of the anti-gun violence movement are taking good tactical positions?

Answer: I’m an ally depending on how far they want to go. For example, CA just made it illegal to buy ammunition in the mail. That made me angry. Limiting magazines to 10 rounds is fine. An assault weapons ban is fine. Making it difficult and expensive for lawful gun owners to buy ammo for their legally obtained firearms is not good.

IEB: Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has called for repealing the Second Amendment. What do you think?

Answer: A Constitutional amendment needs two-thirds of both Houses of Congress calling for it, then convening a Constitutional Convention where three-quarters of state legislatures must agree. That’s not going to happen.

IEB: Will you teach your son about guns when he gets to be old enough?

Answer: Only after he’s 18 and if he asks about it. I will teach him about gun safety in a few months, like knowing what to do when you see one: Back away. Don’t touch. Go get an adult right away-preferably, their parent. I’m already teaching him the basics of marksmanship through archery. It’s mostly the same muscle memory.

IEB: Do you ask his friends’ parents if they have guns in the home before you let him go play there? And if you do, how do you ask?

Answer: I actually have several dinners and outings with them. I check them out. I mention my background with the military and weapons. If they don’t offer up, I take it that they don’t have weapons, especially if they have kids and have opportunities to speak up. I’ve told my nearest neighbors that I have a pistol and it’s locked up. We have a lot of play dates with those boys.

IEB: Wow, that’s a lot of work. Has anyone ever said they don’t want their kids coming over to your place after finding out you have weapons, locked up?

Answer: Nope.

IEB: You used to be in the armed services. What kind of gun(s) did you use then, and what kind do you own now? And what do you use them for?

Answer: Let’s talk about my Sig Sauer P229K .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol. I purchased it in 2007 to get extra practice for the US Coast Guard’s pistol range. I was leading maritime law enforcement specialists who were weapons experts. I had to be good with the Sig Sauer to credibly lead them. I’ve fired that weapon tens of thousands of times since then. I’m proficient. I use it only for marksmanship practice. The .40 caliber is the diameter of the bullet. It’s .40” wide. It’s an English measurement as compared to a 9 mm round that is more common. That’s 9 mm in diameter. A gun is a machine. No use keeping it unless you have all the parts to make it function properly. And the training—but that can be subjective. I have my training from the military and that’s my foundation that hasn’t changed that much.

IEB: What kinds of semiautomatic weapons can be converted to fully automatic, and what can’t? Or put another way: why can some weapons be converted and others not, or can any semiautomatic weapon be converted to fully automatic given the right equipment?

Answer: I believe it’s the AR-15 type you can easily convert to auto. Go to the internet and google. Anyone can do it. I could if I wanted to. You can ban things but you can’t ban knowledge.

IEB: You can certainly convert those. I believe you can convert others too. One problem, I know, is that if you ban bump stocks, someone will create a different device … something else you can’t ban is ingenuity.

Answer: You know what the rate of fire could be for full auto? In the hundreds of rounds per minute. Magazine size will take care of that. Keep with 10 round magazines. … magazine change has to happen. So 10 round magazine will take care of that.

IEB: There’s no way that a would-be mass shooter can carry it out with that change?

Answer: No, it would be a lot of magazines. It takes a microsecond to go through a 10 round magazine. Then it takes a second to reload. A microsecond later you have to reload another 10 round magazine which takes another second.

IEB: What do you think of the idea of arming teachers?

Answer: No. It’s a dog whistle for the extremists. Without enough training (100 hours a year at least) anyone with a weapon is a danger to themselves and others. I won’t even go into the dynamics of teachers having guns while other things are going on in a classroom. And they don’t get paid enough—we need to pay our teachers more. Then we can ask them to do more—but not guns.

 

Canvassing in Mendota: Wonderful People (and Food!)

By Ted Lam

I drove to Discovery Bay early Saturday morning and got to my fellow canvasser Rae’s house by 6:30 AM. She offered me a cup of good coffee and then we got in her car and drove the two and a half hours to Mendota. When we got to Mendota’s Rojas Pierce Park, we met Karl and Sophie of Kitchen Table Resistance San Leandro, who coordinated with Swing Left for the two days of canvassing. By 10:30 AM, 30 volunteers had shown up from El Cerrito, Oakland, San Leandro, and San Jose. We downloaded and were trained on the PDI Mobile Canvassing app. TJ Cox, the CA-21 Democratic candidate, joined us to talk about his progressive platform and his business ties in Mendota, including helping to establish a health clinic. TJ canvassed with us on Saturday.

By 11 AM all volunteers headed for our “turfs,” or canvassing routes, most which were just a mile or two away, and started walking. I was very lucky to be paired up with Rae. She spoke fluent Spanish, and having a woman with a man alleviated many residents’ concerns about opening their doors. We took turns talking to residents and updating their voter information. By 1 PM, we had knocked on almost 20 doors. We talked to people in at least six homes, updated their information in the PDI app, talked to them about TJ, and collected some voter commitment postcards for November. Every person we met, whether at their homes or on the streets, was very friendly. We found that most residents felt more comfortable with us because Rae could speak Spanish.

By 1 PM it was time for lunch. We met other IEB’ers at Cecilia’s Restaurant, a local Mexican restaurant with amazing food. After recharging we all went back to canvassing. When we finished we decided our planned hike wasn’t a great idea due to the overcast skies. I invited all the folks staying overnight for Sunday’s canvassing to my motel room later to share two beer growlers I had gotten from an amazing brewery in Richmond. Before dinner we all enjoyed beer and wine tasting, and it was great to have the opportunity to learn more about each other. Canvassing in Mendota Sunday breakfast was at the Blue Flame Diner (I highly recommend the corned beef hash). We started canvassing at 11 AM, and again Rae and I were lucky: we met with large families in several houses. Most of the time Rae was able to explain why we were there to the heads of the households, and everyone was very nice to us.

One incident sticks with me. Rae and I saw an older couple on their porch shelling almonds. We asked if they were Mr. and Mrs. “So and So.” They said no, those people had moved. We thanked them, updated PDI, and were about to walk away when we noticed that they had a beautiful brick altar to the Virgin Mary in front of their house and complimented them on the tile work. Before long, family members came out to the porch and everyone was talking about how the mom made the best tortillas. Soon Rae and I were invited to December 12th’s Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe celebration in front of their house where we would taste the best tamales ever!

Canvassing in MendotaRae and I quickly put it on our calendars. Before we left, we had registered the 22 year-old daughter to vote, got her voter commitment card, and left behind another voter registration card for her sister.

On the way back to the Bay Area, we squeezed in a lunch of very good Salvadoran pupusas. I was inspired and humbled by what I saw in Mendota. The overwhelming majority of people we met and talked to were friendly, obviously worked very hard, and exhibited a strong sense of community. I would love to go back and meet more folks from Mendota.

And find more good restaurants.

You too can enjoy similar experiences canvassing in CA-21 with Swing Left. I encourage you to sign up!

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer.
Photos by Ted Lam

 

February 2018 Meeting with Senator Feinstein’s State Director

By Candace Goldman

On February 7 nearly 35 of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s constituents met with Sean Elsbernd, Feinstein’s state director, at the South Berkeley Public Library. Present were members of Indivisible East Bay and Indivisible Berkeley, and representatives from other local organizations. Abby Ellis, Feinstein’s East Bay field representative and James Chang, from Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington’s office, were also present. Chang moderated the meeting, which was a fairly free-flowing conversation rather than a formal Q&A session. Among the many things discussed:

TOWN HALL: The ongoing question of when Sen. Feinstein will have a town hall meeting remains unanswered.

TAKING ACTION: From a grandfather in particular, but supported by all, was the question of what we could do to help support the Senator and have the greatest impact. Answer: continue our participation as we have been – calls, letters, faxes and emails are all useful, logged and considered. Replies via e-mail are easiest for them. Personal stories on issues are particularly impactful. Sean assured us that issues raised during the discussion would be reported directly to the Senator and that she is very interested in knowing our concerns.

THE BUDGET: The 2-year spending deal just passed did not include specific provisions concerning immigration or DACA. The bill extended CHIP for 10 years, funding for community health centers was extended, foster care (notably in California) was addressed, the Pentagon has some funding stability, and the community development block grants were increased. Sen. Feinstein had voted “No” on the last two Continuing Resolutions (CRs) as they lacked provision for DREAMers.

TAXES, MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY: Sean emphasized that on these issues personal stories are a very effective advocacy tool and they made a difference in the fight over the ACA. He urged people to send personal stories about what cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, CalFresh (i.e., food stamps) would mean to people personally.

DEMOCRACY AND “DE-REGULATION”: Deep concern was stated for the damage to the tenets of democracy, lack of security clearances, lack of Presidential fitness and his attacks on democracy, and the seeming lack of response in Congress (except Reps. Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee), while Republicans seem to be “aiding and abetting” a slow moving coup. Sean said his understanding is that there is in fact concern in the Senate that is reflected in more private conversations, but he was not familiar with the underlying mood in the House. He thought the situation is felt more acutely in the Bay Area. Concerning the apparent lack of DNC response to the wholesale wreckage that seems to be happening, we asked “how can we help.” Sean suggested contacting and volunteering with various groups working on issues such as the ACLU, Center for Biological diversity, state Attorney General offices, and the new group National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

CABINET VOTES/FISA/MUELLER: One woman who described herself as a “progressive 80 year old” asked why the Senator voted to confirm 11 Cabinet nominees. Sean only commented that the Senator thought they deserved a “yes” vote. On FISA, the woman objected to Feinstein’s position on reauthorization of the FISA warrant list. Sean stated that Sen. Feinstein had offered amendments both in the Intelligence Committee and on the Senate floor, but that finally, given her knowledge of actions thwarted by the FISA program, she voted yes. A new Berkeley resident thanked the Senator for her work on the Russia investigation and her release of the GPS Transcript, which the group cheered. She asked about steps to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Sean said there are two bills, one from Booker/Graham and another from Coons/Tillis, both before the Judiciary Committee. The Senator is working to pull the bills together to get a vote. The House is another issue, and Sean indicated the Senator also felt the best protection may be the public’s continued emphasis on the positive work being done.

ELECTIONS: Election integrity and lack of action on social media companies and bots came up. Sean reminded us to keep focus on our state elections (especially gubernatorial) as well as the national positions and to keep the pressure up on ending gerrymandering, which could happen at the state level if we can change the make-up of state legislatures and governorships. On the national level, a flip is essential in part because of Committee chair subpoena power. On social media, he indicated Senators Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff both wrote to Facebook and Twitter about bots, and were swamped with negative feedback; but they are working on legislation and there will be more hearings about social media transparency. He stated net neutrality is still a key issue. Abby also reminded us to be aware of differences between rural and urban concerns and to be sensitive to what impacts rural residents differently. Sean indicated the Census is not high up on the list right now so if we want attention drawn to it we need to be very vocal about it, including doing op-eds, letters to the editor, etc.

STUDENTS: A Cal representative thanked the Senator for her support in the past but was concerned about potential changes to the Higher Education Act, and sought the Senator’s support for re-authorization of the Act. Sean encouraged him to have students contact the Senator and he also said he would be happy to meet with students on campus to discuss their concerns.

ISRAEL: Concerning U.S. military support of Israel a constituent asked for enforcement of Sec. 620M (Human Rights Vetting) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Sean said he would address the question with the Senator, and stated she has been vocal about settlement expansion, and opposed both the ambassador choice and embassy move to Jerusalem.

EMOLUMENTS: About concerns for the apparent total lack of attention to the self-dealing and money accruing to the President and his family, Sean said there are three Judiciary Committee staff working on unthreading “45’s” finances. The Senator has met with outside groups about emoluments litigation, and there is a possibility the Judiciary Committee will investigate.

CLIMATE: In response to a concern about the “wholesale slaughter” of our regulatory system, Abby suggested one thing we could do was a writing campaign to the Department of Transportation to support the CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards). She also reminded people that the Senator had obtained $900 million for the Peninsula when Congress funded Caltrain’s 1.75 billion dollar electrification.

Other issues included a request for attention in assisting millennials with jobs, housing affordability, climate change, offshore drilling, a request for a strong carbon tax proposal, protecting journalists, healthcare finance, nursing jobs, efforts of the Senator to undo what’s been happening, the Senator’s response to the Duty to Warn professionals advocating for application of the 25th Amendment, tensions with North Korea, and the Census.

As we concluded, Sean emphasized Senator Feinstein’s “measured, thoughtful, balanced approach” that helps engender bi-partisan support on issues. He said to keep contacting people we know in red districts to get them to take action in their areas and to keep doing what we are doing as we are already using effective tools.

Imagine Fully Funded Public Schools

By Ted Lam

I imagine a California where our public schools have most of the funding they need, and where our teachers don’t have to shell out their own money for school supplies.

To work to make that vision a reality, this past Sunday I joined ten volunteers from Evolve-CA in the Mission in San Francisco to collect signatures to put Proposition 13 reform on the November ballot in California, seeking to close the corporate real estate loophole that’s been on the books since voters passed that proposition in 1978. It was a beautiful day in the city and families took advantage of the weather to do chalk art, bicycle with their kids, and listen to mariachi bands.

The ballot measure to reform Prop. 13 would keep residential property taxes the same but annually assess corporate real estate valued at $2 million or greater at market rate, as other progressive states do. At least 40% of the funds would go to public schools; the rest would stay in various forms in local communities. California could see at least $6 billion a year in additional revenues. Contra Costa County alone would see at least an additional $200 million each year.

Before we started, 60,000 signatures had already been collected statewide. Around 600,000 California registered voters’ signatures must be collected and submitted by May 1 to qualify the ballot measure for November’s election. But this is easy and fun work – in five hours on Sunday we collected over 400 signatures!

Want to help? Join the fun and volunteer to gather signatures at San Francisco’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Or check out other times and ways to volunteer in the campaign to reform Prop. 13. Give it a try and help our public schools!

Read more here about Prop. 13 and why it needs to be reformed.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer.

Photograph by Ted Lam

A Conversation with Steve Haro, Senator Feinstein’s Chief of Staff in DC

By Catherine de Neergaard

Things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes you have to improvise. Such was the case when Steve Haro, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Chief of Staff, met with Indivisible representatives on February 21, 2018.

As Chief of Staff, Mr Haro occupies the most prestigious position on Feinstein’s staff. Previously, he has had been Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S. Department Commerce under President Obama.

Because Mr. Haro remained in Washington, the Indivisible group arranged for a video conference at WeWork in the Oakland Civic Center. Unfortunately, there was an Internet outage at the Center that day. So, we instead opted for an audio-only call. Not an optimal solution, but it sufficed to get the job done.

Once we were connected, and introductions were given, we proceeded to work our way through a list of agreed-upon topics.

DACA:

We thanked Senator Feinstein for holding out for a clean DREAM ACT for the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA).

Haro said that Senator Feinstein was disappointed not to get a “Clean Dream” rider on the Continuing Resolution for funding. Mr. Haro related at considerable length the inside drama and difficulties of getting the twelve Republican votes needed to pass a compromise bipartisan Immigration (DACA) Bill. The Democrats conceded much just to get the bill to the floor. Unfortunately, after the GOP leadership lobbied against it, even the most bipartisan immigration deal the Senate considered only got eight Republican votes and the bill failed.

Regarding the brief shutdown of the government that resulted from the immigration policies dispute, Mr. Haro gave us some new insight into how the senator thought it went down. In spite of strong reservations about the negative effects of a government shutdown, the senator voted against both the continuing resolution (CR) that would have kept it open and the CR that opened it back up. And she thought that Democrats didn’t allow enough time for it to work.

GUN SAFETY:

We thanked the Senator for her outspoken support of stricter gun control, including her bills banning bump stocks and all assault weapons.

Haro noted that Feinstein introduced a bill, together with Senator Flake, to increase the legal age to buy weapons to 21. But Democrats cannot get a single Senate Republican to co-sponsor a bill banning bumpstocks.

The key question for all such bills remains: How do we get to 60 votes in the Senate to support the bill? The answer, for now, is “We can’t.”

CLIMATE CHANGE:

Haro said that Senator Feinstein is working with colleagues to preserve current CAFE standards and prohibit waivers. The Senator also believes we must protect the jobs of scientists in government positions from politically-motivated firings—although it was not clear how she intends to accomplish this.

As to the Senator’s support for the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act and a timeline for a federal climate bill similar to California’s carbon auction model, Haro said he would have to “get back to us.”

We also asked Feinstein to support HJ 48, a constitutional amendment introduced in the House, to state that corporations are not people with the argument that corporate money drives harmful environmental policy.

FUNDING FOR THE 2020 CENSUS:

IEB remains concerned that continued underfunding of the 2020 census will prevent an orderly and fair redistricting of the House. Similarly, use of untried methodologies threaten to endanger an accurate count and leave out harder-to-reach people.

We asked: “What is Senator Feinstein’s plan to get more money for the census?” The answer was not encouraging. Haro said House Republicans hate census appropriations bills and fund them at the last minute. The Senate isn’t directly impacted by the census, so it is hard to get the Senators excited about this. Feinstein is pushing to prevent the census from asking about citizenship which, in her opinion, is as important as funding.

ELECTION SECURITY:

We asked: “What can Congress/Senate do in the absence of executive support to ensure fair elections?” and “What has the Senator done to advance the Secure Elections Act or similar legislation?”

Haro observed that when voter turnout is high, Democrats generally win. That’s why Democrats want people to vote and Republicans do not. He is concerned that a low voter turnout, encouraged by Republican voting restrictions, will negatively impact Democrats. Obviously, the GOP has no interest in taking on this issue.

Other than noting Feinstein’s support for paper ballots, his answers did not directly address our questions. He did say that he was unfamiliar with some of the specifics we raised and would look into them further.

NATIONAL SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WAR:

We thanked Senator Feinstein for her deep concerns about U.S. relations with North Korea. She is already a co-sponsor of S. 200 which restricts the first use of nuclear weapons. However, we asked that her concerns about U.S. involvement in the Middle East be stronger than they appear.

Feinstein supports repealing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). However, Haro expects no action on this matter any time soon. The issue has gone quiet, apparently because the GOP views any change as an attack against Trump. He told us that he personally feels some regret that Democrats didn’t work with President Obama on some of these issues regarding curtainling executive power; he might have been open to it, and it wouldn’t have had the appearance of a partisan attack.

JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS:

The Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee continues to nominate untried, inexperienced, and young conservative Republicans for lifetime judgeships. The “blue slip” process, whereby the senators of a state are consulted and partisan input is preserved, continues to be bypassed or ignored. In other words, the GOP is rapidly stacking the courts. We asked: “What can we and the Senator do to stop this travesty?”

Haro replied that, other than delaying tactics, there is little the Democrats can do. The key is to “Take back the Senate.” He specifically suggested we (Indivisible nationally) focus on helping vulnerable blue senators in states where Trump won in 2016 and trying to pick up seats in Nevada and Arizona.

WE WANT A TOWN HALL

For the past several meetings with Feinstein’s staff, we have asked about the Senator’s reluctance to hold town hall meetings where the public can ask questions. We did so again at this meeting.

Haro responded that town halls take a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources to produce.

 

Catherine de Neergaard is a gardener, artist, and environmental Activist working within a variety of organizations including Quaker Earthcare Witness, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Kensington Green, and, of course, Indivisible.

Photograph by Catherine de Neergaard

Environmental Justice: a meeting with AG Becerra’s office

By Elizabeth Douglas

On February 22, 2018, I joined folks from Bay Area Indivisible chapters (IEB, SF, and Berkeley), the Center for Biological Diversity, and 350.org to meet with members of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s staff. This was my first activity with IEB and my first time as a California resident – I’m a DC escapee – engaging face to face with my state policy makers. Below are some highlights and some personal reflections from this incredibly educational and uplifting experience.   

What We Learned from Becerra’s Staff

Assistant Secretary for Environmental Justice Arsenio Mataka and External Affairs Representative Betty Cao were welcoming, enthusiastic and appreciative of our groups’ efforts to show up and take action. It helps that Arsenio has been a lifelong environmental justice activist; he told us stories of his parents taking him to meetings where they would challenge the institutions that drove environmental policy decisions -some of the same institutions and agencies that he works for today.  His empathy for the issues that our consortium of environmental activists brought to the table was a common thread to his responses.

On the EPA and Superfund Enforcement:

We shared our concern that the EPA budget cuts and scaling back of the EPA Superfund enforcement could allow irregular compliance enforcement between states. Arsenio assured us that California is going to work hard to fight against cross-border pollution. Furthermore, he said that “compliance with state laws, where they are stricter than federal law, is a mandate. So states do have clout if the feds aren’t doing their job.”

On Investigating Exxon Mobil and the PCB Monsanto lawsuit:

Attorney General Becerra understands the severity of claims regarding Exxon’s efforts to defraud investors and the public, as well as the Oregon Attorney General’s actions against Monsanto for PCB pollution contaminating dozens of waterways and leaching into ground soil. Arsenio is also very aware of both issues. However, he said, the Attorney General has a policy not to comment on investigations – including whether or not they exist.

On Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

We had the pleasure of learning the story behind Attorney General Beccera’s thoughtful and impassioned NY Times Op-Ed regarding how California’s coastal economy would be affected by the Administration’s proposed offshore drilling 5 year plan. Arsenio believes there are significant hurdles for the plan to actually be implemented, but insisted that we must continue to comment and keep the pressure on from the comment period (ending March 9, 2018) to well into next year.

We discussed a host of other topics as well, from Clean Car Standards to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. Arsenio shared that these are of great concern to the Attorney General, and while he cited procedural or bureaucratic limitations to going into much depth at the moment he made it clear that this was to be an ongoing conversation.

What I Learned from my First Indivisible Action: A Personal Reflection

While I’m no stranger to activism, this was the first time I’ve done anything with Indivisible. Ever since Trump was elected I’ve wanted to take action, but wasn’t quite sure where the right fit was — this was my first time being a mother and a start-up employee as well as an activist. I didn’t want my son to feel like anything took precedence over him. But as I sat with him on my lap watching “An Inconvenient Sequel” last year, I realized my overwhelming sense of need for action stemmed from my desire to make the world better for him. He is my inspiration and I believe working towards solutions to improve our environment is a unifying, not divisive, force. I had never met any of the lovely people in the picture accompanying this article before the pre-brief for our meeting with the Attorney General, and had only been to a single IEB meeting in January, yet this group unhesitatingly welcomed me with open arms and gave me a seat at the table on an issue that is truly close to my heart. So to Indivisible and especially Indivisible East Bay, thank you for allowing me the opportunity for immediate action… and for welcoming my son into your meetings to eat your cake and resistance cookies! 

Your Action: Do Not Give Up Hope

I know acting on climate change issues can seem difficult at a time when we are dangling off the edge of a tipping point, unable to return to any sense of climate stability across the globe. Yet there are people in power, and people speaking truth to power, we can lean on. As of this writing, Attorney General Becerra’s office has filed at least 24 lawsuits — maybe more! — against the Trump administration, about a third on environmental issues. They understand that the effects of climate change disproportionately affect the poor, people of color, and women. To quote Arsenio, “pollution doesn’t know boundary lines,” and what happens in one city, state, or country affects us all.

Here are some suggested immediate actions from Attorney General Becerra’s office:

Elizabeth Douglas is a mom, runner, and activist from Alameda. She is also a Climate Reality Leader (Seattle 2017) with a strong interest in protecting our ocean and corals.

Photo credit Indivisible SF

Unlikely Allies

By Christina Tarr

March in California is a great time to get out to see the migratory birds who winter here. The Central Valley reserves are full of Snow and Ross’s geese, White-faced Ibis, and Sandhill Cranes. San Francisco Bay is full of ducks soon taking off for the arctic, where they will breed and raise ducklings. The most recent excitement is a beautiful Harlequin Duck currently visiting the San Leandro marina, far from his normal range up the coast. Harlequin ducks like rough water, and ours must have liked this weekend’s hail.

Conservation of migratory birds (ducks, in this case) and the wetlands that support them is an ideal area of overlap with those we may not think of as allies: hunters and organizations that support hunting. It might surprise you to know that some of these organizations have been fighting for decades to preserve and repair the environment, and there are ways we can support their advocacy work.

One way to aid conservation efforts that you may never have heard of is to buy a Duck Stamp. No, it isn’t for sending mail: a Duck Stamp allows you to legally hunt ducks. You don’t want to hunt? That’s ok, you might want to buy one anyway, because for just $25 you can participate in one of the most successful conservation efforts in history. As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service notes:

98 percent of the purchase price goes directly to help acquire and protect wetland habitat and purchase conservation easements for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Wetlands acquired with Duck Stamp dollars help purify water, aid in flood control, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities.

You can buy Duck Stamps at many sporting goods stores, national wildlife refuges, and on the USPS website

Does it seem unlikely that an organization of duck hunters would be an ally in bird conservation? The mission of Ducks Unlimited is habitat conservation, and on that issue they are a powerful ally. Read their info sheet on the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), a grant-based conservation program that has conserved more than 33.4 million acres since 1989; learn about the money the NAWCA has brought to California herePlease contact your Members of Congress and ask them to support the NAWCA now: 

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act conserves North America’s waterfowl, fish and wildlife resources while producing a variety of environmental and economic benefits. Every federal dollar provided by NAWCA must be matched by at least one dollar from non-federal sources. Because the program is so effective, NAWCA funds are usually doubled or tripled at the local level. More than $1 billion in federal grants has been allocated for NAWCA projects – a figure that has leveraged more than $4 billion in contributions from partners. Please support NAWCA funding by including it in your appropriations request for Fiscal Year 2019.

Theodore Roosevelt was a famous hunter, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has the mission “to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.” They’re our ally in opposing the Trump administration’s undermining of the Clean Water Act, and in opposing the proposed transfer of public lands to the states. Use this information, adapted from the TRCP, to write or call your federal and state senators and representatives and your governor: 

My name is _______, and my zip code is _______. I’m an environmentalist [birder, hiker, outdoor enthusiast, etc.], and I value public lands for recreational use. I request that you actively pledge your support for America’s public lands legacy and reject efforts to transfer federal public lands to individual states.

States are simply not equipped to support the enormous costs associated with managing public lands. State ownership would result in the fire sale of public lands to billionaires and foreign companies, where millions of acres would be closed to public access and an American birthright would be lost.

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

 

CADEM 2018

By Nancy Latham

At the California Democratic Convention in San Diego (February 23-25), I was thrilled to be around thousands of other activists and political junkies. While there was divisiveness, mostly there was inspiration. Here is what stood out:

CADEM

  • California’s open primary system can threaten the blue wave. After months of impressive point swings toward Democrats in elections since November 2016, I had blithely assumed that we would flip the House – it would simply take hard work, and we have the hard-working activist base we need. I had not dwelled on the implications of our open primary system, in which the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party. But early on day one I was buttonholed by an Indivisible member from SoCal worried that there are so many Democrats running in Congressional District 45, they are likely to emerge from the primary with two Republican candidates. Multiple districts face the problem of too many Democratic hopefuls jeopardizing the chances of any Democrats advancing to the general election in November, and there’s no clear solution.  
  • The labor movement rocks! I went to a labor panel, the labor caucus, union booths, and a union rally on Janus v. AFSCME. I was inspired to hear Dolores Huerta speak at the labor caucus, and the crowd went wild for her. Many labor speakers reminded us that unions are not simply about negotiating about conditions and pay with a particular employer. Fundamentally, the labor movement is on the forefront of advocating for the general welfare of working families. It is our largest and most important bulwark against the special interests of big business and the hyper-rich. And labor shows up to protest mass incarceration, gun violence, discrimination against LGBTQ communities. Every union member who spoke addressed the audience as “brothers and sisters.” It is so simple, and yet I felt it viscerally every time – union members belong to a big family fighting for social justice for all.

CADEM

  • We have so many fabulous women in the party! There were many wonderful speakers who were men (Jon Lovett showed up!), but it was truly intoxicating to hear from women – three who stood out to me at a General Session were Assemblymember Shirley Weber, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Senator Kamala Harris. Senator Harris reminded us of our values:

We know why we’re here – we are here to fight for the future of our children, we are here to fight for the future of our democracy. We need to think of 2018 as the most important year of our lives. Let’s remember what our dear Dolores Huerta says. Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person is a potential activist, every minute is a chance to change the world. … For us Democrats, the challenge for us in 2018 is to remind Americans of how much more we have in common than what separate us…. And there is so much we have in common. … Let’s remember our common story, our American story. 

CADEM

  • It was amazing to bond with the San Diego Indivisibles. Through the California Indivisible Slack, I connected with Tama, who leads an Indivisible group for Congressional District 52. It was so wonderful to get to know her, and on Saturday night another SD Indivisible hosted a party to say hi to Indivisibles who had come to the Convention from across the state. They all welcomed me into their extended family right off the bat! The weekend reminded me that this movement goes beyond our political action – it also speaks to our deep human need to build community. More than anything, it is our new social bonds, and the willingness of all of us to have one another’s back, that gives me hope.  

CADEM Nancy Latham Picture 4 - SD Indivisibles

Nancy Latham is passionate about advocating for an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. In her day job, she works with non-profits, foundations, and government agencies that support greater equity and justice through initiatives in youth development, education, housing, and community development.