Tax the Rich!

By Nancy Latham

Of the many reasons you’re an activist, chances are that this country’s lack of economic justice is on the list. We have an economy that works extremely well for those at the very top, works well for the top 10%, and really fails the bottom 90%. There are several ways to look at it, and they’re all appalling. There’s income inequality: in 2017, the average income for the bottom 90% was $35,628, while the average for the top 1% was almost $1.4 million. Wealth inequality is if anything more shocking: in 2016, three men – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett – had more wealth than the bottom 50% of the entire population. And the top 5% owned two-thirds of the wealth in the United States. And there’s the real world: in 2016, the Federal Reserve found in a survey that about half of Americans would not have $400 to pay for an emergency like a car breaking down or an unexpected medical bill.

And there are so many more outrageous statistics about our economy. Does this make you angry? Meet the Tax March Organization. Tax March is an advocacy nonprofit that sprang up in 2017 with the grassroots Tax Day March that demanded that Trump release his tax returns; they also spearheaded the Not One Penny coalition that fought against the tax scam bill that Republicans shoved through Congress later that year.

Now, Tax March is launching a new campaign to Tax the Rich! On April 13 and 14, 2019, Tax March brought together 75 activists from all over the country to learn more about our wildly unfair tax code, and how – together – we can fight back. Taxing the rich will reduce inequality and help us pay for programs that support the common good, such as the Green New Deal, affordable college, universal health coverage, universal childcare, and more.

Activists Gathered for the Tax the Rich Training, photo by Nancy Latham
Activists gathered for the Tax the Rich training, photo by Nancy Latham

Just as importantly, taxing the rich is good for democracy. Highly concentrated wealth puts power in the hands of the few, distorting our political system as policy-makers respond to the rich donor class rather than to ordinary Americans. And in fact, we saw this in action with the tax scam itself: although the so-called reform legislation was deeply unpopular, it passed anyway. Was it just a coincidence that rich donors made it really clear they wanted the bill, even issuing threats like “Get it done or don’t ever call me again”? You decide …

Our Tax Code is Bad for Democracy
Our Tax Code is Bad for Democracy

At the Tax March training we learned about digital organizing, media strategies, shifting the public narrative, educating voters, and answering tough questions. I came back more fired up than ever to start unrigging the economy! And now, I’m inviting you to join. There will be regular calls with grassroots activists as we push the tax debate to the center of the political stage. If you are interested, reach out to me at nancylatham63@gmail.com, or if you’re on the IEB Slack platform, you can direct message me at @nancylatham and join the #economic_justice channel.

Taxing the rich is fair, and it is right. See you on the front lines, fighting for economic justice.

Nancy Latham is on IEB’s Governance Committee, and is a passionate member of the Resistance. 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.

Photos by Nancy Latham

We the People

Two houses. Three days. Eight candidates. Sixteen Indivisible group leaders. 416,818 paths to a Democratic victory in 2020.

Our allies at Indivisible National in D.C. are part of a coalition including the Communication Workers of America, Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) Action, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Sierra Club, SEIU, and 32BJ SEIU. Together these groups aim to bring grassroots organizers and activists to the table to help choose our next Democratic presidential nominee. 

To that end, Indivisible National reached out to sixteen group leaders from Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, and, of course, California. We were invited to spend three days together in D.C., living in two multistory rental houses and attending workshops and candidate forums. The theme of the event was democracy expansion — free and fair elections and pro-democracy reforms of all three branches of government.

Day one was described as activist training, but was really a call to arms from Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, plus some group discussions at our tables with members of other coalition partners. Rev. Dr. Barber invited us to join the Poor People’s Campaign. Then he spoke about the history of democracy expansion, from the Declaration of Independence to the Reconstruction Amendments to the Voting Rights Act, and also about the Supreme Court’s continued history of reversing democracy expansion. He challenged us not just to fight for the presidency, but to strive for what Coretta Scott King, in her moving Solidarity Day Address, called “not right vs. left, but violence vs. non-violence” — and to fight even for our right to self-government.

Day two: Rev. Dr. Barber was a hard act for the eight presidential candidates to follow during the seven hour forum at the historic (and very gilded) Warner Theater. The candidates took the stage one at a time to give a short pitch and answer audience questions (including questions from several Indivisible representatives) about voting rights, the filibuster, judicial reform, campaign finance reform, etc.

You can watch a recap and nearly the whole thing; here are a few highlights that stuck out to me:

  • Seeing our own Leah, representing this young but mighty organization we built together, take the stage with powerhouses like Planned Parenthood, NAACP, SEIU, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
  • Julian Castro’s story of how he quit his job as a lawyer and put his financial future at risk in order to avoid conflicts of interest on the San Antonio City Council.
  • Cory Booker saying we don’t need to eliminate the filibuster if we just elect a supermajority of Democrats instead, and almost inspiring us with his oratory to believe it.
  • Elizabeth Warren declaring that we must amend the Constitution to give everyone the right to vote, and the right to have their vote counted.
  • Beto O’Rourke introducing his plan to require each member of his cabinet to hold monthly town halls and hear directly from constituents like us.
  • Amy Klobuchar boasting about the fundraising record she holds: most money raised from ex-boyfriends.
  • Bernie Sanders getting BY FAR the loudest cheers — and no line for the restroom during his speech (nothing against Bernie, just being practical).
  • Jay Inslee living up to his reputation by bringing literally every question back to climate change.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand bringing up the rules change the Republicans were just then getting ready to go nuclear on to turn the Senate into a rubber stamp for judges. 
  • Hearing the inspiring personal stories of the questioners who are starting unions, teaching children, standing up to injustice, and protecting their communities all over the country.

Over dinner, Indivisible group leaders and staff discussed our impressions of the candidates. There was some general agreement: people were particularly impressed with Warren and surprised at how funny Klobuchar is in person. But it was most interesting to hear how experiences differed: some thought Booker was showboating while others were moved to tears, and some found Inslee charming while to others he came across as insincere.

Despite a lot of jokes about reality TV and “confessional videos” we didn’t really spend enough time at the shared houses to get in any drama or much bonding — we all went straight to bed (as far as I know!) and were up and out early for our final day at Indivisible Headquarters.

Day three: After loading up on some decadent breakfast tacos, we got started with a presentation from Indivisible National’s political data manager Olivia Robinson on Indivisible’s tactics for winning elections: expand and protect voting, build a coalition, and motivate core voters. She also talked about how various demographic groups sort into the categories of base voters, swayable voters, and opposed voters; and about the many (up to 416,818!) possible combinations of states we could use to win. You can find a lot more detail in her presentation, but the main takeaway was: don’t believe anyone who tries to tell us that there is only one path to victory or only one kind of “electable” candidate.

Next we heard from associate political director Lucy Solomon about Indivisible’s experience working with local groups to nationally endorse Congressional candidates, using as examples the campaigns of Ayanna Pressley in MA, Andrew Gillum in FL, and Harley Rouda here in CA. As it happened, several of the group leaders involved in those endorsements were in attendance. It was especially interesting to hear the story of how the Indivisible endorsement put Gillum on the map, as well as the division it caused within Indivisible groups throughout the state. Since for various reasons Indivisible East Bay never really considered getting involved in any statewide races, it was fascinating to hear the inside story of how our highest hopes and worst fears around endorsements both played out in the same race.

Then policy director Angel Padilla spoke about some of the legislative priorities Indivisible National is pushing in Congress right now. Though it is unlikely to be signed into law until 2021 at earliest, we talked about building support for H.R.1 – For the People Act of 2019 — and just how far Congressional Democrats, and we ourselves as activists, would be willing to go to force this democracy expansion bill through. Angel’s presentation is here if you scroll down to the bottom.

The final item on our agenda was a media training from consultants who shared tips about everything from how to craft and stay on message to what to wear. A webinar version of the training will be available soon.

In summary: We learned a lot. At this point all the candidates and their talking points have started to run together in my mind; but I expect that over the next 11 months, as I work with others at Indivisible East Bay to figure out how we want to engage in the primary in a way that makes both the candidates and our group better, I’ll benefit from having heard them answer the questions of that room full of grassroots leaders about the fundamentals of our democracy.

That said, I think the most lasting effect from this trip for me is the in-person connections I made with people from across the country whom I would never have met if not for this movement. It was delightful to meet the D.C. union organizer knocking on doors and working on a series of nursery rhymes about the evils of the GOP. It was inspirational to meet the Texan who got kicked out of a Ted Cruz event — and he followed her out to keep arguing! Heartening to meet the Floridian whose events our volunteers had texted to recruit volunteers for — when I told her I was from Indivisible East Bay she remembered that immediately and told me how much it meant to her that we had reached out. I tried to tell her that giving us concrete tasks we could do in swing states was as much a favor to us as our texting was to them, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

These are the moments that make me believe that we are building more than a winning coalition — another blue wave — more even than a movement. We are building an inclusive and expansive community of people who care for one another and work for one another — and that’s how we’ll build a better world.

 

Meeting with Feinstein staff March 2019

Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Feinstein’s state director Jim Lazarus and returning field representative Caitlin Meyer on March 14 in the senator’s San Francisco office. You can see our detailed pre-meeting memo here.

Our smaller-than-average delegation covered a lot of topics:

Climate Change: We told Jim that beyond the in-person interaction the senator had with young students in her office, we are disappointed that Sen. Feinstein — who we used to see leading on protecting our environment and addressing climate change — was dismissing this exciting new movement of energized youth activists by calling their ideas unrealistic. We asked her to support the Green New Deal resolution. We suggested that she doesn’t need to agree with every detail of their approach in order to celebrate their contributions and build up momentum to see how far this movement can take us toward our shared goal of a sustainable future. Jim said that he thought this perceived conflict was really mostly a communication issue and would be resolved as we move toward actual climate legislation. For example, the senator is currently working on carbon pricing legislation, which is not part of the current Green New Deal proposal but could complement it as part of the final legislation.

Immigration: We followed up on our repeated request that Sen. Feinstein visit the southern border and immigration detention facilities throughout the state — she says she wants to, but still has not — and we asked her to prioritize getting more funding in place for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghan allies. There is a current backlog of 16,700 SIV-eligible individuals, including family members, and 4,400 applications are currently pending. In FY 2018, only 1,649 visas were issued, down from 4,120 in FY 2017.

Public banking: We asked the Senator to support public banking in California. Jim said it was an area that he hadn’t had many discussions with her about, but that he knew she supported local, accessible banking options like credit unions. He also expressed skepticism that public banking was the solution to the cannabis industry’s banking problems.

Census: We were glad to hear that Sen. Feinstein and her office have been very much on top of getting ready to make sure her constituents are all counted in the census. Caitlin told us that the office has been in touch with the Alameda County Complete Count Committee. We have a lot of hard to count populations here in the East Bay, such as immigrants and unhoused people.

And more: We also asked the Senator to:

  • work to fund desperately needed food stamps in Puerto Rico — she finally did the right thing on this after pressure from Sen. Schumer
  • cosponsor the EACH Woman Act (reproductive rights)
  • cosponsor The American Family Act (child allowance)—she hasn’t yet
  • hold a Town Hall—she seems as unlikely as ever to do so.

 

Coffee and Conversation with Rep. Lee

By Rosemary Jordan

Members of Indivisible East Bay and Alameda4Impeachment (A4I) attended the April 7, 2019 Coffee and Conversation event with Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13) at Paulista Restaurant in Oakland.

We passed out copies of the Open Letter to Representative Lee that A4I’s leadership had published in the previous week’s Alameda Sun newspaper. During Q&A, Lee responded to one of our member’s questions by committing to meet with us to discuss the topics raised in our letter, including next steps to launch an impeachment investigation. Addressing something Lee said about the likelihood of Senate approval, another member pointed out that a roll call of GOP Senators in the face of overwhelming evidence of misconduct could be very helpful to Democrats. He also stressed that in any case, if we don’t hold this President accountable, we will be putting our democracy in jeopardy forever.

At the event a lively group of Oaklanders, including teachers, students, and Poor People’s Campaign representatives asked great questions about climate change, education funding, the escalation of tensions in Venezuela – and more. Representative Lee affirmed her commitment to peace and justice, with specific references to Black women’s health, the Green New Deal, reparations, and reduced defense spending.

Photo of Rep. Barbara Lee at Coffee & Conversation by Rosemary Jordan

Rosemary Jordan is Co-Founder of Alameda4Impeachment, a registered Indivisible group and a partner in the Citizens Impeachment Coalition, which includes representatives of cities, towns and counties nationwide (including four in the East Bay) that have passed local Impeachment resolutions. Rosemary also serves on the Steering Committee of All Rise Alameda and is co-leader of the End The Tampon Tax In California campaign. She has over 20 years of professional experience in healthcare and aging.

 

IEB Members Gear up to Engage in the Democratic Primary

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By Nancy Latham

It’s a ways yet before the Democratic presidential primaries start, but the candidates — and possible candidates — are talking about serious ideas. Whatever you may think of the various individuals, it’s exciting to see their bold proposals, like Medicare for All (Bernie Sanders), a wealth tax and universal childcare (Elizabeth Warren), baby bonds to close the wealth gap (Cory Booker), and spending $315 billion over the next 10 years to dramatically increase teacher salaries (Kamala Harris).

The way we see it, candidates are responding to an activist base that’s pushing for policies that truly measure up to the nation’s challenges. And Indivisible East Bay and other Indivisible groups across the country are part of that activist base. For two years we’ve been building our people power; now, as the primaries get closer, we’re determined to use that power to influence the policy debate.

Indivisible National is developing its strategy for engaging in the primary, and as step one they sent a survey to Indivisible groups nationwide on a variety of topics concerning policy issues and campaigns. We want National to know what our members think, which means we want to hear from you!

To gather input from IEB members, we began by focusing on three key questions from the survey at our March All Members Meeting:

  1. What issues are most important to us as we consider whom to support in the primary?
  2. In what ways does our group want to engage campaigns during the primary?
  3. What are our initial thoughts about the possibility that Indivisible National might endorse a candidate?

To tackle these questions, Governance Committee members facilitated small group discussions of 5-6 people each. The questions sparked lively conversation that lasted over an hour (and involved the liberal use of sticky notes and dot-voting). Here are the results of the three discussions:

QUESTION 1: What issues are most important to us as we consider whom to support in the primary?

Issues on the Indivisible National List (ordered by how the groups prioritized them):

Highest Priority:

  • Environment
  • Democracy (voting rights, election security, campaign finance reform, ethics in government)
  • Healthcare
  • Judicial nominations

Important:

  • Civil Rights (racial justice, LGBTQ rights, gender equity, criminal justice)
  • Gun violence prevention
  • Immigration
  • Abortion Access
  • Financial regulation
  • Tax policy
  • College affordability
  • Foreign policy and national security

Back Burner:

  • Transportation and infrastructure

Additional Issues Suggested in Small Groups:

  • Constitutional process and reform
  • Green New Deal, including transportation, infrastructure, environmental issues
  • Climate change
  • More resources for people being detained at our borders: better beds, meals, shelter
  • Post-secondary school and job opportunity support for all (not just four-year college)
  • Wealth disparity
  • Housing
  • Online/data privacy

QUESTION 2: In what ways does our group want to engage campaigns during the primary?

Engagement Options from Indivisible National (ordered by number of votes across the three small groups):

  • Ensuring the grassroots are invited to debates (11)
  • Issue forums and large grassroots mobilizations (9)
  • Channels of communication from national and local Indivisibles to candidates (8)
  • Organizing for key statewide Democratic conventions (5)
  • Candidates joining indivisible national activist calls (4) (All three groups pointed out that this is a specific example of “channels of communication”)
  • Training programs for the primary process (3)
  • Organizing Indivisible planning spaces or events to power map our opportunities (2)
  • Bird-dogging (2)

Additional Ideas for Engagement Suggested in Small Groups:

  • Candidate questionnaires
  • White papers developed by local groups
  • IEB media contact
  • IEB partners with campaigns

QUESTION 3: What are our initial thoughts about the possibility that Indivisible National might endorse a candidate?

To address this topic, we asked people to vote on two simple poll questions.

Poll Question 1: How should Indivisible National approach the question of endorsements in the presidential primary? (Ordered by number of votes)

  • Wait a few months to collect more data and see how things unfold before making any plans (12)
  • Take endorsements completely off the table (2)
  • Start work now on a thoughtful and careful process intended to end in an endorsement, but only if sufficient unity is found (1)

Poll Question 2: It’s still early. But at this stage, what do you think is the best path forward for endorsement?

1 = I think Indivisible National should definitely NOT endorse (2)

2 = I’m leaning against endorsement (9)

3 = I can’t decide whether they should endorse or not (2)

4 = I’m leaning toward endorsement (1)

5 = I think Indivisible National should definitely endorse (1)

Average Rating = 2.3 (which roughly equates to “leaning against”)

We want to hear from you, too! If you couldn’t make it to the All Member Meeting, it’s not too late to share your input! Here’s a link to a survey with the questions that we addressed at the March meeting. All responses submitted by the deadline of April 10 will be aggregated (along with the results of the AMM discussions) and shared as part of IEB’s survey response to Indivisible National.

And this is not the last chance we’ll have to consider how we flex our activist muscle to push for progressive policy! It’s still 19 months until the election. Stay tuned for more lively debate, and even livelier action.

 

Nancy Latham is on IEB’s Governance Committee, and is a passionate member of the Resistance. 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.

Training Ambassadors for Schools & Communities Act

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By Toni Henle

The 2020 election isn’t only about getting Greed-Personified-in-Chief out of the White House. Also on the ballot in November 2020: the Schools and Communities First Act (SCF) a ballot initiative that would reclaim $11 billion every year for schools and local communities by a closing a California corporate property tax loophole that benefits wealthy corporations and investors.

Indivisible East Bay members have worked on SCF since the process of qualifying the initiative for the ballot; you can read our earlier articles here and here. From now until November 2020, the campaign shifts to the public outreach, education and mobilization phases, and on March 30 a crowd of 100 enthusiastic supporters packed a training on the ins and outs of this grassroots citizen effort to close the corporate property tax loophole.

What is Schools and Communities First?

A little background: in 1978, California voters approved Proposition 13, which froze property taxes of both homeowners and corporations at 1975 levels. Few other states in the country have frozen commercial property tax rates. Most states reassess commercial property every one to five years. Under Prop 13, property is reassessed only when it’s sold, and taxes are adjusted based on fair market value. Prop 13 has allowed enormous corporations – like Disney, Chevron, WalMart and Shell – to pay taxes at 1975 rates. Chevron alone is saving over $100 million a year by benefiting from Prop 13’s corporate loophole. On the other hand, new businesses pay taxes at today’s rates, putting them at an obvious disadvantage. Before Prop 13, residential property accounted for 55 percent of the property tax and commercial property constituted 45 percent. Now the residential share is 72 percent of the tax burden while the commercial share is only 28 percent, according to an Evolve-CA fact sheet. One result is that California has slid from the top 10 states nationally in per-pupil funding to the bottom 10.

The Schools and Communities First initiative is on the ballot to correct this unfair situation. SCF would close the corporate tax loophole, so that large businesses (with property worth over $2 million) would be regularly assessed. The additional tax revenue, estimated at over 11 billion per year, would be distributed according to the current formula, about half to schools (K-12 and community colleges) and the other half to local bodies like cities, counties, and special districts, such as fire districts and water districts, that receive state tax revenues. Homeowners’ and renters’ taxes would be unaffected (although we anticipate a massive and misleading campaign by the corporations that benefit from Prop 13 that will imply otherwise!)

The excellent March 30 training, developed by Evolve-California, the League of Women Voters, Bay Rising, and other core sponsors of the initiative, covered the history, the facts, and the arguments for (and against) the initiative. Crucially, the training required attendees to develop the arguments that we’d present to different groups about why we support the initiative. We practiced our pitches in small groups, getting feedback from one another to help refine our messages. We also wrote our own plans for which groups we planned to speak to, and when. 

The SCF campaign needs all of us! Evolve will lead the grassroots organizing effort for this initiative in the Bay Area; the best way to get involved in this historic campaign is to sign up to volunteer at Evolve’s website, you’ll get updates on future trainings and organizing opportunities in our area.

 

Toni Henle is retired after a career in policy work at non-profits focused on workforce development. She is a member of the IEB Governance Committee, co-lead of Outreach to Organizations and a member of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

Photographs by Toni Henle

March 2019 Meeting with Alameda4Impeachment & Rep. Lee Staff

By Rosemary Jordan

On March 14, 2019, members of Alameda4Impeachment, including Indivisible East Bay members, met with Representative Barbara Lee’s congressional aide Jain Thapa to discuss Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent comments about impeachment in the context of the growing list of potentially impeachable offenses.

We opened the 45-minute meeting by thanking Rep. Lee for her strong support to impeach the President, including but not limited to her cosponsoring H.Res. 621 in the last Congress. Mr. Thapa confirmed that Rep. Lee continues to unequivocally support impeachment.

We discussed a range of topics related to the scope of the Special Counsel probe vs. the potential scope of an impeachment inquiry, and we supplied articles to Mr. Thapa explaining that the risks of further delays to a professionally-led inquiry should be of primary concern to all House members.

Among the other topics we covered:

  • Hearing Procedure: we discussed that the House Oversight & Judiciary hearings to date have been hamstrung by the five-minute interval questioning approach and by the absence of professional counsel. We shared with Mr. Thapa that professionally facilitated hearings would improve the public’s understanding of the facts. We urged him to share with Rep. Lee that her leadership role offers her a opportunity to shape committee procedures.
  • Risks of Corruption on Public Safety & Global Reputation: we reviewed the tragedy of the Ethiopian Air crash and explored how cronyism between the President and the Boeing CEO has the world community so concerned that they sent the black boxes to France for analysis, rather than to the U.S.
  • Concerns About the Peaceful Transition of Power: we discussed our fears that an optimistic outlook on 2020 is overblown – just as Trump’s chances in 2016 were misunderstood. We further shared our increasing concerns that the President will not accept the 2020 election results if they’re unfavorable to him. Given the ongoing and unaddressed attacks on our democracy (through social media manipulation and other tactics) and possible intrusions into our election systems, we shared our sense of urgency to investigate claims that our President is actively abetting these intrusions.

We closed by sharing two requests with Mr. Thapa:

  1. That Rep. Lee write a letter to Rep. Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, asking him to immediately begin a formal inquiry, with public hearings, on the issue of impeachment. The hearings would focus on whether evidence exists to support impeachment, and if so, making a record of such evidence and, if warranted, drafting articles of impeachment.

    2.  We requested an in-person meeting with Rep. Lee in the East Bay during the current Congressional recess to discuss our first request, and also to get her views on the current status of and prospects for impeaching the President.

Rosemary Jordan is Co-Founder of Alameda4Impeachment, a registered Indivisible group and a partner in the Citizens Impeachment Coalition, which includes representatives of cities, towns and counties nationwide (including four in the East Bay) that have passed local Impeachment resolutions. Rosemary also serves on the Steering Committee of All Rise Alameda and is co-leader of the End The Tampon Tax In California campaign. She has over 20 years of professional experience in healthcare and aging.

March 2019 meeting with Sen. Nancy Skinner

State Senator Nancy Skinner and her aide Margaret Hanlon-Gradie met with six Indivisible East Bay members, including the founder of California StateStrong, on March 1, 2019, to talk about important bills in the current legislative session. The half-hour meeting was wide-ranging, including discussions of bills that Indivisible East Bay is prioritizing and bills that Sen. Skinner herself is introducing. Read our pre-meeting memo to Sen. Skinner here.

Police Use of force

Two bills this session deal with the issue of police use of force. We asked Sen. Skinner, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, to support AB 392. Her support will be critical to the outcome of this bill – and to the defeat of SB 230, a competing, weaker bill supported by law enforcement agencies. In line with recommendations from policing and legal experts, including the California Attorney General, AB 392 updates California law so that police can use deadly force only when necessary to prevent death or serious injury, and requires them to use tactics to de-escalate a situation or use alternatives to deadly force when reasonable. Changing to this standard will mean that officers will be trained to use deadly force less often and will be held accountable when they shoot and kill unnecessarily. Read our article and action item on AB 392 and SB 230 here.

As Committee Chair, Skinner said she cannot signal anything now, but she noted that neither the Public Safety Committee membership nor the chair has changed since last year when they approved AB 931, a bill very similar to AB 392 that ultimately did not receive a vote in the CA Senate. Skinner urged us to make sure Indivisible groups up and down the state are clear on AB 392 and SB 230 and flood their legislators with communications about them. Also, it’s important to work to gain the support of groups and institutions that have personal and moral influence with legislators, particularly the faith community, including the Catholic, Jewish, and African-American congregations.

Criminal Justice Reform

IEB asked Sen. Skinner to support AB 32, which would abolish for-profit prisons. Sen. Skinner supports ending for-profit prisons and Skinner’s budget subcommittee will hold hearings on why we still have prisoners in Mississippi, but in her opinion this is the least of the issues since California only has two privately owned prisons, which are staffed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and which operate under CDCR rules. The main issue in her opinion is that we have way too many people in prison despite sentencing reforms. Skinner suggests the focus should be on bills from last year that didn’t make it through the legislature that would have eliminated various sentence enhancements. She also suggested focusing on Assemblymember Bonta’s AB 1793, which became law last fall; this deals, among other things, with resentencing for marijuana-related offenses whose legal status changed under Proposition 64.

Importantly, Sen. Skinner will also carry a parole reform bill to increase the chance of parole by changing the criteria for the parole board’s “risk assessment.”  Now, only 18 percent of people who come before the parole board are released. The current criteria mostly have nothing to do with the prisoner’s behavior, are not under the prisoner’s control, and are stacked against black and brown people—e.g., family history of incarceration. Senator Skinner urged as many Indivisible groups as possible to email and call their legislators to pass these bills.

Sen. Skinner beat IEB to the punch discussing Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 6, which if approved by voters in 2020 will amend the California Constitution to restore voting rights to Californians on parole. IEB will be working with the community co-sponsors of ACA 6, including our community partner Open Gate, which supports people leaving prison and pursuing their education. Sen. Skinner told us she is a strong supporter of restoring rights to people returning to the community after incarceration. To our request that she co-sponsor ACA 6 when it comes to the Senate, she responded that voting rights are “very important.”

Anti-Poverty

We thanked Sen. Skinner for introducing SB 18, the Keep Californians Housed Act, co-authored by two other East Bay representatives, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks. Among other things, this bill establishes a Homelessness Prevention and Legal Aid Fund in the State Treasury.

IEB asked Sen. Skinner to fund the CalFood Program at $24.5 million, to enable food banks to meet emergency needs. We asked her to support the following bills:

  • AB 1022 (Wicks), a top priority of our community partner the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB), addresses the need to end hunger for adults (Able-Bodied Adults without Children) who are harmed by the federal 3-month time limit to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Senator Skinner said this bill should not be a problem, depending on the appropriations amount.
  • SB 285, co-sponsored by the ACCFB, would ensure all eligible Californians have access to CalFresh/SNAP by phone, online, and in-person through dignified means and within an integrated safety net that supports health and well-being. Senator Skinner said she is a strong supporter of making sure everyone who qualifies for SNAP gets it, and she has carried bills to this end in the past.  She thinks this will pass.
  • SB 499, Hunger-Free Schools, and AB 842, Hunger-Free Preschool and Child Care, would increase K-12 schools’ capacity to provide healthy school meals, and are spin-offs of legislation that Senator Skinner carried, so she is a strong supporter.

Finance

We asked for Sen. Skinner’s support of the public banking charter bill sponsored by the California Public Banking Alliance. This will create a new type of charter/license specifically tailored to public banks, which are defined as banks wholly owned by public entities (cities, counties, school or water districts, or combinations thereof). She replied that she is a strong supporter of work around public banks.  She will have to see the language before saying she will co-author.

Senator Skinner is carrying a corporate income tax bill, intended to make corporations share some of the huge savings they reaped from the Trump tax overhaul. Corporate income taxes used to supply about 30% of the state’s general fund; that is now down to less than 9%. Under Sen. Skinner’s bill, the higher the ratio between the corporation’s top officer’s pay and the median employee pay, the higher the tax rate.

We look forward to working with Senator Skinner in the current session.

Join the meetings! Indivisible East Bay meets with the staff of our Members of Congress frequently. Be part of our team! It’s a fascinating way to find out more about the things you care about. Meetings are announced in the IEB weekly newsletter; subscribe to the newsletter for this and more!

Repeal the Hyde Amendment for EACH Woman

In 1973, abortion was legalized throughout the US in Roe v. Wade. A short three years later, low-income women all over the country effectively had that right put out of reach by the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal Medicaid funding for almost all abortion services. The Hyde Amendment has been an impenetrable fortress in Congress year after year. But this might be the year it finally falls – thanks in large part to Members of Congress from the East Bay.

The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Woman Act would in effect overturn the Hyde Amendment. In the House, H.R. 771 is sponsored by Representative Barbara Lee, who first introduced it in 2015. Our other East Bay Representatives, Eric Swalwell and Mark DeSaulnier, have signed on as cosponsors. The bill was introduced in the Senate on March 12, 2019 as S. 758, with Senator Kamala Harris as an original sponsor. Senator Feinstein is not yet a cosponsor – however, she has a long history of being pro-choice. (IEB is talking to Sen. Feinstein’s staff about her position on the legislation and we’ll update this article as soon as we have any news.)

As the fact sheet about the EACH Woman Act says:

1. First, it sets up the federal government as a standard-bearer, ensuring that every woman who receives care or insurance through the federal government will have coverage for abortion services. The EACH Woman Act restores abortion coverage to those:

  • enrolled in a government health insurance plan (i.e., Medicaid, Medicare), including those who live in the District of Columbia;
  • enrolled in a government-managed health insurance program (i.e., FEHBP, TRICARE) due to an employment relationship; or
  • receiving health care from a government provider or program (i.e., Indian Health Services, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Veterans Administration).

2. Second, it prohibits political interference with decisions by private health insurance companies to offer coverage for abortion care. Federal, state and local legislators will not be able to interfere with the private insurance market, including the insurance marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act, to prevent insurance companies from providing abortion coverage.

Said Senator Harris:

No woman should ever be denied her fundamental reproductive rights. The Hyde amendment disproportionately targets the most vulnerable populations. I’m proud to co-sponsor the EACH Woman Act, protecting reproductive rights and increasing access to critical health care for all women.

And Rep. Lee:

No woman should be denied the full spectrum of reproductive health care because of her zip code or income level – yet that is the reality for too many low-income women and women of color. The EACH Woman Act ensures that every woman is empowered to make critical decisions about her own pregnancy – and has coverage for all pregnancy-related health care, including abortion – regardless of her financial situation. I am proud to reintroduce this bill with the support of my colleagues and the trailblazing women leading the fight for reproductive justice around the country.

This push for pro-choice, pro-woman legislation is good news indeed. And the timing couldn’t be better, coming hard on the heels of the decision of the Sixth Circuit in Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio v. Hodges that the state can cut funding to Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions. That decision was handed down by six judges, four of whom were appointed by the Current Occupant. Boys and girls, in case you haven’t figured it out by now – this is why voting matters.

What you can do:

You better believe that the anti-choice forces will be screaming about the EACH Woman Act, and will have their members screaming at all the cosponsors. Our MoCs need to hear from us that they’re doing the right thing. Thank them and tell them that part of the reason you support them is that they are pro-choice – and you want them to be proactive about it!

What to say:

For Senator Harris:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for sponsoring S. 758, the EACH Woman Act. We need this legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment. I support you because you’re pro-choice and I want you to keep being a leader to improve reproductive rights and make things better for women in California and throughout the U.S.

For Senator Feinstein:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want Senator Feinstein to cosponsor S. 758, the EACH Woman Act. We need this legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment. I support Sen. Feinstein because she’s pro-choice and she’s been a strong advocate for women’s rights and reproductive rights. I hope she will sign on to S. 758 very soon.

For Representative Lee:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for sponsoring H.R. 771, the EACH Woman Act. We need this legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment. I support you because you’re pro-choice and I want you to keep being a leader to improve reproductive rights and make things better for women in California and throughout the U.S.

For Reps. Swalwell and DeSaulnier:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Thank you for cosponsoring H.R. 771, the EACH Woman Act. We need this legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment. I support you because you’re pro-choice and I want you to be a leader to improve reproductive rights and make things better for women in California and throughout the U.S.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 981-9369 • 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

February AMM in Dublin

By Ward Kanowsky

Indivisible East Bay’s most recent All Members’ Meeting was held on February 24 in Dublin, the first time IEB has held the meeting in CA-15.

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The meeting included a fascinating and engaging slate of guest speakers from throughout the district, and attendees had the chance to follow up with them during the smaller breakout group sessions:

  • Arushi Avachat, a junior at Foothill High School in Pleasanton and a co-president of Students for Social Change, talked about the power of youth activism in the fight for social justice. Following the Parkland school shootings in early 2018, Arushi and others student activists planned a district-wide walkout in local schools for common sense gun control. ​​The Parkland shootings also inspired the creation of the local chapter of SSC, a national organization with chapters based in high schools; the chapter continues to expand its cause by partnering with Women’s March Empower Coalition and focusing on other important social issues such as voter registration and LGBTQ+ rights.
  • Kyoko Takayama from Tri-Valley Grassroots Organizing (TV-GO) talked about the ins and outs of community organizing. TV-GO is a coalition of progressive groups in the Tri-Valley area of CA-15, including Moms Demand Action, Organizing for Action, Swing Left, Indivisible, and others, working together and independently on important legislative issues and campaigns. Kyoko highlighted an example of organizations working effectively together that resulted in a key win: TV-GO partnered with Tracy-GO and helped to get Josh Harder elected in nearby CA-10 in the recent 2018 midterm elections.
  • Newly elected Hayward city council member Aisha Wahab spoke about her experiences in running for public office, including some of the biased, anti-Muslim sentiment she encountered along the way; during her campaign she was asked if she accepted contributions from ISIS and her car was broken into. Aisha endured and her dedication, as well as an outstanding resume proving her qualifications, resulted in her being the first Afghan American elected to public office in the United States.

IEB member Ion discussed the recent conference held in Santa Monica by California Indivisible chapters, and IEB Governance Committee member Elizabeth gave a compelling presentation about the importance of 2019 elections in the state of Virginia. Read Elizabeth’s article here.

Finally, it wouldn’t be an All Members Meeting without an action item: many of us wrote postcards in support of Nasreen Johnson, who is running for Fresno’s county board of supervisors. If Nasreen is elected, the board will have a Democratic majority.

Several members from neighboring chapter Livermore Indivisible joined us – thank you all for coming out and for your active participation! We encourage participation from interested individuals and groups from anywhere in the East Bay at all our events!

Ward Kanowsky is co-lead, with LeAnn Kanowsky, of the Indivisible East Bay CA-15 Team.

Photographs by Heidi Rand