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

 

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!

 

 

Keep Calm and Postcard On

How to follow up your Cinco de Mayo Saturday? Come to Indivisible East Bay’s second postcard party on Sunday, May 6, from noon to 2 PM. Our first postcard party in March was a huge success, with 50 IEB members & friends coming together to write 300 postcards:

  • 60 for Emily Antul (local MA race) – won on 4/4/18!
  • 62 for Rebecca Dallet (WI Supreme Court) – won on 4/4/18!
  • 164 for Dr. Hiral Tipirneni (US Congress AZ) – election is 4/24/18

This is what a pile o’ 300 postcards looks like:

Postcard party

Perfect for blue state activists, postcards are a fun and effective way to help get the message out to faraway red districts and states. Postcard resisters meet in cafes and living rooms, around tables full of snacks and a rainbow assortment of pens and markers that make even the most artsy-challenged among us grin.

All are welcome — from the postcard-curious to committed carders. Bring a friend, and make some new ones there! We’ll explain everything and have newbies up and writing in a few minutes. We provide addresses and samples of what to write for each campaign — most from Postcards to Voters, and we can also give you the lowdown on other options.

  • You can bring your own postcards (if there’s an image or text it should be content-neutral) or we’ll have some there for you to use – designed and donated by IEB’s super postcard party organizer Michael.
  • If you have postcard stamps (.35 ea for cards a max of 6″ x 4.25″) please bring them, or we’ll have stamps for you (not donated, so we’ll just ask you to reimburse us for the cost).
  • We’ll also have pens, markers, stickers, washi tape, and most importantly – snacks and friendly chat as we write to resist!

Already a verified postcard writer? Bring your own addresses if you want. Like to learn more about activist postcard-ing? See our article “The Pen (plus .35 stamp) Is Mightier Than Yelling At Your TV.” 

The El Cerrito Royale is a short walk from El Cerrito Del Norte BART station and is wheelchair accessible. Free parking.

Postcard parties
Postcard parties, photo by Heidi Rand

Want to get started writing on your own? Go to Postcards to Voters or the P2V Facebook page: volunteers in every state have collectively written over half a million postcards to voters in dozens of key, close elections. After you sign up you have to get verified: follow the directions to write your first postcard, take a photo and send it to be checked. Get started using one of these options:

  • Click here to fill out a volunteer form, or
  • Send an email to join@TonyTheDemocrat.org or
  • Text HELLO to ABBY The Address Bot at 1-484-ASK-ABBY (1-484-275-2229)

Once you’re verified, request the number of addresses you’d like:

  • Click here, or
  • Send an email to postcards@TonyTheDemocrat.org, including the number of addresses you want, or
  • Text ABBY The Address Bot at 1-484-ASK-ABBY (1-484-275-2229), or
  • New! Use Facebook Messenger to send a direct message to Abby the Address Bot (it’s free for Postcards to Voters, whereas they pay for texting). You must provide a texting phone number even if you’re using the FB Messenger feature because Abby is a texting robot. Click here for more info about Abby.

Or you can use another great group to write about specific issues. At Postcards for America and its main Facebook group and state sub-groups — ours is Postcards for America / California — people write postcards to their own federal and state elected officials, or other targeted parties, on issues that concern them. Search the master issues list at Postcarder Calls to Action,

Read our original article for more complete info about postcard activism.

Interested? Want to let us know about your own postcard parties? Email us or contact @heidirand on Slack.  

Racial Justice Task Force Forums

Racial justice community forums

The Contra Costa County Racial Justice Task Force was created by the Board of Supervisors in April 2016, and given a mandate to:

  • Research and identify consensus measures within the County to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system;
  • Plan and oversee implementation of the measures once identified; and
  • Report back to the Board of Supervisors on progress made toward reducing racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

The Task Force has developed draft recommendations for the County to reduce racial disparities in the justice system, and it will host three community Forums in May 2018 to present the recommendations and solicit community input and feedback before it takes them to Board of Supervisors in June 2018.

  • Monday, May 7, 6-8 PM: Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church 55 Eckley Ln, Walnut Creek
  • Tuesday, May 8, 6-8 PM: Delta Bay Church of Christ 13 Sunset Dr, Antioch
  • Wednesday, May 9, 6-8 PM: Catholic Charities, West County Service Center, 217 Harbour Way Richmond

You can also provide input to the Task Force online at this link. Click here to see a list of the Task Force’s 17 members, and meeting locations and agendas for each monthly meeting, held the first Wednesday of every month at 1 PM.

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

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.

 

Meeting With Senator Feinstein’s Staff in Oakland

In recent months, with a helping hand from Indivisible East Bay, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staff has reached out to local communities, providing an opportunity for citizens to participate in freewheeling Q&A discussions. The most recent meeting was March 9, when IEB, in partnership with the Unity Council, met Feinstein’s Field Representative Abby Ellis at the Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center in Oakland. Taking a break between lunch and bingo, many of the Center’s seniors stopped by for the meeting. The remainder of the 50 or so participants included a combination of neighbors, loyal Indivisible members and Unity Council staff.

As many of the attendees asked their questions in Spanish, we were most appreciative that the staff was willing and able to act as informal interpreters, translating between English and Spanish as needed.

A major focus of the discussion were immigration issues, with DACA at the top of the list. Many spoke of their fear and uncertainty surrounding the future of DACA and what it what may mean for their friends and relatives. For example, one woman was concerned that her daughter might not be permitted to stay to graduate from college this May, nor pursue her long-term dream of becoming an FBI agent. One man summed up the overall feeling in the room by stating, in Spanish, “The children are our future” — at which point everyone cheered.

In reply, Abby assured everyone that the Senator remains strongly committed to a clean DREAM Act. She promised to pass along their personal stories and indicated that some of them might be used in floor speeches that Feinstein gives on this matter.

Many of the remaining questions concerned federal funding for health care and other programs critical to the Senior Center and surrounding community. Abby assured the audience that the Senator is doing everything she can to protect existing support programs as the Congress continues to fight over the budget. She added that, if the Democrats had the majority, Feinstein would be pushing to expand funding.

Several in the audience expressed skepticism about current Democratic efforts. They spoke of frustration that immigration issues were not effectively resolved when Obama was President and Democrats controlled Congress. They noted ironically that the Trump administration’s current attacks might be serving to spur Democratic action and give these issues a higher priority than they had previously. Others in the room were more supportive of past Democratic efforts, countering that they had at least attempted to pass legislation under Obama.

Abby replied that Sen. Feinstein had been in favor of the comprehensive immigration reform bills at the time. Further, the Senator has continued to push for pieces of that bill as independent legislation, such as the DREAM Act and the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017 (which would provide legal status to more farmworkers).

At this point, as the meeting was nearing its conclusion, the same gentleman who had been cheered previously spoke up again — to more cheers — stating that the most important lesson from all this was that every citizen in the room must vote.

Our next East Bay event with Feinstein staff will be at the Concord Public Library on Tuesday April 17 at 1:45 pm. RSVP here.

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