Experts talk about how to beat the Kavanaugh nomination

By Candace Goldman

On August 2, 2018, Indivisible East Bay took part in a community meeting in Berkeley to discuss Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, and actions we can take to prevent his approval by the Senate. IEB co-sponsored the meeting with the California Civil Rights Coalition, Equal Justice Society, The Center for Independent Living, and People For the American Way.

The evening was emceed by Eva Paterson, a long-time civil rights advocate, and speakers included Leslie Proll with the NAACP, Amy Everitt of NARAL Pro-Choice California, Raymundo Jacquez III from Centro Legal de la Raza, Noreen Farrell of Equal Rights Advocates, Dan Roth with the American Constitution Society, and IEB’s own Linh Nguyen, who co-leads our Judiciary Team.  Linh did a masterful job of informing the gathering about what IEB and the Judiciary Team have been doing. She really engaged the audience and was an inspiring example of what we can do when we band together to take action.  Great job, Linh – and thank you!

The speakers addressed the dangers a Kavanaugh confirmation would represent – and they are legion – and also the actions we can take to defeat his nomination.  Everyone’s rights and interests are at risk with this potential swing position on the Supreme Court – from women’s health to labor protections, from shredding Executive accountability to continuing environmental destruction to endangering the lives of immigrants.  Each speaker emphasized that it is NOT a foregone conclusion that Kavanaugh will be approved, but we need to keep a laser beam on the nomination and ramp up the pressure to defeat him.

What you can do:

  • Tell Senators Feinstein and Harris that you want them to vote NO on Kavanaugh in the Judiciary Committee; and that if the nomination gets out of committee and to the full Senate, you want them to vote NO and hold all other Democrats and swing voters to do the same
    • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
    • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Call all the people you know in the states whose senators are on the Judiciary Committee and urge them to tell their senators to vote NO on Kavanaugh in committee and, if necessary, in the full Senate
  • Ask all your friends to contact their senators – especially swing votes like Senator Murkowski of Alaska and Senator Collins of Maine – and tell them to vote NO if the nomination reaches the full Senate.
  • Read our articles here, here, here, here, and here (wow, we’ve been busy!) for more info, suggested call scripts, and actions you need to take.
  • Make your voice heard: Unite for Justice has called for nationwide rallies to oppose Kavanaugh on Sunday, August 26. Find an event near you at this link, or attend NARAL Pro-Choice California’s event from 1-3 PM, San Francisco Civic Center.
  • Educate yourself: the IEB All Members Meeting will also be held on August 26 from 1-3 PM at Sports Basement, Berkeley. Linh will present an updated version of the Kavanaugh presentation she made at the August 2 meeting. Please join us if you can – it’s important to educate ourselves about this unacceptable nominee who would serve for life (and he’s only 53 years old!) if confirmed. We need to keep the pressure intense to stop this dangerous nomination.

 

IEB Delivers Message to Sen. Murkowski from Alaska’s Indivisibles: Vote No on Kavanaugh

When we heard that the difficult to pin down Senator Lisa Murkowski was slated to be the guest speaker at the August 2018 Tahoe Summit, which several Indivisible East Bay members planned to attend, we reached out to Indivisibles in Alaska to see if there was a message we could bring to the senator on their behalf.

Sen. Murkowski is one of the most likely swing votes on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. She regularly breaks with Republicans to vote to fund Planned Parenthood (though she has yet to break with them in support of a judicial nominee) and she has demonstrated willingness to stand up to Republican pressure on ACA repeal.

Twenty-nine of her constituents gave us a letter asking her to vote NO on Kavanaugh, saying,

Here in Alaska, we are terrified that under a Kavanaugh Supreme Court, hundreds of thousands of us would lose access to safe, effective health care and autonomy over our bodies. We fear that the brave men and women who take on tough and dangerous work to bring prosperity to their families and our state will lose their protections. And we worry that if the federal government, under this president, or a future president, takes action that harms Alaska and we take it to court, this Supreme Court will automatically decide against working Alaskans.

After almost being denied access to the event by some Nevada State troopers, we successfully delivered the letter to Sen. Murkowski as she was entering the event, and told her that Alaskans are counting on her. She was very polite and friendly and thanked us for giving it to her, though her staff was kind of rushing her past us. She said she was headed to Alaska tonight to have some meetings about Kavanaugh, but she did not say who those meetings were with – we hope they are with her constituents, a majority of whom believe the Senate should not confirm a Supreme Court Justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Alaska Grassroots Alliance is collecting additional signatories to the letter we delivered here. Please share their petition with anyone you know in Alaska!

Photograph by Linh Nguyen

At Netroots Nation with Thousands of Other Progressives: Feeling our Grassroots Power

By Nancy Latham

Netroots Visual Recording, by Nancy Latham
Visual recording

At the beginning of August, I traveled to New Orleans with thousands of other activists to attend the 2018 annual Netroots Nation conference. Each day we chose from approximately a gajillion panels and trainings. At the panels we learned about how to build diverse coalitions, what it means to bring race and class narratives together, why we’ve been thinking about GOTV (Get Out the Vote) in the wrong way – and so much more. The trainings covered everything anyone would want to know about organizing and building power, from attracting volunteers to planning protests to messaging (and way more that I have forgotten).

Netroots, photo by Nancy Latham
Hidden Figures: How Women of Color are Making History in the Midterms, a panel discussion featuring women of color who are leading the way to progressive victories in key states

After drinking from a firehose of knowledge during the day, we flocked each night to the massive hall with its stage draped in lush curtains to hear keynote speeches by Democratic Party luminaries like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker, and rising stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cynthia Nixon, and Chokwe Lumumba. (Fun fact: I learned there that the cool people call Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “AOC.”) The crowd was thrilled that no one there was heeding any centrist hand-wringing about moving too far to the Left. As speaker after speaker exhorted us to be bold in centering racial justice and economic justice and – for God’s sake – to stop apologizing for our party’s foundational principles, each was met with thundering applause.

Echoing the GOTV trainings that warned us about progressive voters who stay home when they are uninspired by Democrats’ lack of boldness, AOC reminded us that “swing voters don’t vote for the person who is moderate enough, the person who is most timid, the person who backs down from their starting point – the swing voter votes for authenticity.” And Bill de Blasio shouted to a cheering crowd: “This is an extraordinary moment. … We have to see ourselves as authors of an emerging majority. … Progressives: it’s our time!”

It sure feels like it’s our time. Since the dark days right after the 2016 election, we have been organizing our hearts out, building our power – and it’s working. People who just a year ago might have been nervous to lead with social justice messages are now proudly proclaiming those values. “Let’s speak truth,” Kamala Harris said. “That if it wasn’t clear before Charlottesville, it is clear now – racism is real in this country, and we need to deal with that. Sexism is real in this country; let’s deal with it. Anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia are real in this country; let’s deal with it.” These sentiments flowed throughout every speech – because the activists have demanded it. And we have told elected officials and those seeking office that we would work for them – we would mobilize to get out the vote and we would have their backs on the issues. They know they need us, so they are listening to us.

It was so refreshing to have racial justice front and center. While some of the coverage of the conference suggested that the message was “screw the white working class Trump voters – we’re done with them,” that was not what I heard at all. Rather, we are fighting for everyone devastated by decades of stagnating median wages and skyrocketing inequality. As AOC says, we “fight for social economic, and racial justice for all working class Americans.” We have to be honest and forthright about that – we can be true to our values, inspire our base, and do the right thing for everyone no matter who they voted for, all at the same time. As we return to our principles of equity and justice, Obama-Trump voters may come home to the Democratic Party.

And even among our progressive brethren, we were pushed to do better. On the last night, the Black Ass Caucus took the stage, claimed space, and challenged Netroots leadership and everyone in the audience to see the ways in which people of color were still being marginalized. While the protest stretched many in the audience outside their comfort zones (me included), we were grateful to be called out: asked to live up to our principles more authentically. To see the whole protest, go here – and I encourage you to watch it a few times.

Ultimately, what is very clear is that it is not only morally wrong, but strategically unsound, to moderate our focus on the issues that will galvanize our base: people of color, young people, and white progressives. As the math shows, if we stick with our base and inspire them, we don’t need to worry about scaring off voters who will vote only for centrists. And as grassroots organizers, we need to keep doing what we’re doing: mobilizing, proudly proclaiming and reaffirming our progressive values, holding elected officials accountable, and owning our power.

Nancy Latham is on IEB’s Governing 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

Call to Action at IEB All Members Meeting

Get out of your chair and do something! Now!

That’s the essential message of the July 29, 2018 Indivisible East Bay All Members Meeting.

Midterm elections are now less than 100 days away! And these aren’t just any old midterms. They will determine whether Trump’s abuses of power can continue to go unchecked — without any restraint from a spineless GOP-controlled Congress — or whether Democrats can take back at least one house and begin to apply some checks and balance to stop the crazy.

Not sure what you can do? No problem. Representatives from several groups stood before the IEB attendees to pitch for support and activism from our members.

Adena Ishii, President of League of Woman Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, started the ball rolling by reminding us that there is still much get-out-the-vote work to be done right here in our own backyard — where voter turnout among registered voters remains less than 40% for midterm elections! And that’s just registered voters; many potential voters still need to be registered.

Amy Golden from Swing Left East Bay asked volunteers to help with phone-banking and canvassing in critical California swing districts CD-10 and CD-21. See their events calendar and sign up!

Vivian Leal and Laynette Evans, visiting from Indivisible Northern Nevada, appealed for our help in the US Senate race targeting Senator Dean Heller, one of the most vulnerable Republican Senators. Opportunities include phone-banking in August and canvassing starting in September. There’s a Virtual Phone Bank on Sunday, Aug. 5; to volunteer for other opportunities sign up here

IEB’s powerhouse Linh Nguyen, who among her other hats co-leads the Judiciary and Senator Feinstein and Harris teams, spoke about issues that members are concerned about and working on:

  • Border separation: About 700 refugee children have not been reunited with their parents, and the administration does not have plans to reunify many of those. Of those children the administration says are “ineligible” for reunification, 431 have parents who are no longer in the U.S.  The administration did not get information regarding where the parents who were deported currently are, so there is no way to reunite the families.
  • SCOTUS: GOP Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Chuck Grassley has requested documents from only half of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s tenure in the White House.
  • Healthcare repeal 2.0: The House portion of Budget Resolution would make possible ACA repeal with ONLY 51 votes (again)! We are keeping an eye on this to see whether the Senate passes the same.

In a follow-up to the July 15 Indivisible webinar Fair and Secure Elections: What’s at Stake and How to Take Action, Melanie and Ion, co-leads of the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team, explained the importance of taking action to secure our elections even as we participate in get out the vote efforts, canvassing, and other electoral work. Melanie and Ion, part of the Indivisible Safeguard Our Elections Working Group that  presented the webinar, explained that our election infrastructure is in terrible shape, struggling with vulnerable and hackable voting machines that too often provide no way to monitor their accuracy. The Voter Rights and Election Integrity team is seeking volunteers to help work on these issues. You can watch the recorded webinar at this link and if you have questions or would like to help, send the team an email.

IEB July 26 All Members Meeting

After the inspiring speakers the crowd was eager to hear about our upcoming events, which include:

  • August 12, 10 AM-noon: Indivisible We Write! IEB August postcard party, Sports Basement, Berkeley. Info & RSVP (free).
  • August 25, 2-4 PM: IEB Ale & Mail! No-host mingle & postcarding at Hop Yard Alehouse in Pleasanton. Info & RSVP.
  • August 26, 1-3 PM: IEB August All Members Meeting, Community room at Sports Basement, Berkeley. Info & RSVP. All welcome!

Finally, we broke into smaller groups. IEB Governance Committee member and Volunteer Coordinator Andrea led a packed breakout to introduce new members to the many ways they can work with Indivisible East Bay. IEB is always looking for volunteers who want to help organize events, research actions, and contribute to the newsletter. Email Andrea for more details. (And don’t forget the weekly action items in the newsletter!)

At another breakout several members sat down to take immediate direct action, writing 50 postcards in just a few minutes! We penned fifteen to our Members of Congress, asking them to support the PAVE Act to protect election security, and to oppose the asinine military parade. And twenty-four postcards are on their way to Democratic voters in New York, in support of Alessandra Biaggi, running for state senate. Want to learn more about postcard-ivism? Email Heidi.

Next month’s All Members Meeting will be at the Sports Basement in Berkeley on August 26, 1-3 PM. See you there!

Photographs by Andrea Lum and Heidi Rand

July meeting with Sen. Feinstein’s State Director

By Janna Layton and Catya de Neergaard

On July 25, 2018, a group of Indivisible East Bay members held our regular meeting with Senator Feinstein’s state director, Sean Elsbernd. As usual, the talk ranged over a wide variety of subjects, and Sean gave detailed answers to a large number of questions.

IMMIGRATION

Family Separation, Reunification, and Detention

Sen. Feinstein’s Staffers’ Visit to the El Centro Detention Center:

  • Sean reports that two of Feinstein’s staff visited the El Centro detention center last week, where they witnessed horrible conditions:
    • One cell was over capacity by about 30 people
    • The only food item available for any meal is a bean and cheese burrito
    • Separated children did not even have mats
  • Both children and adults are held in El Centro
  • Staffers were not allowed to bring mobile phones or speak to detainees
  • Feinstein was deeply troubled by her staffers’ report, and contacted Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
  • Feinstein’s reaction to the visit was covered in this article by the San Diego Union Tribune.

Other Detention Centers:

  • Feinstein has not visited any detention centers and is not likely to. The detention centers are more likely to prepare ahead of time for a visit from Feinstein than they are for her staffers.
  • Staffers will visit all centers in CA to determine if what they saw at the El Centro facility is typical or a one-off. Feinstein wants this information before Judiciary Committee hearing.
  • Staff are going to the Yuba City detention center next week, but will have similar restrictions as in the El Centro center.
  • Several detention centers have cancelled their contracts with ICE.
    • It is important to note that detainees in those centers are not released, but transferred to different centers.

Other Issues:

  • In the 48 hours before our meeting, it was announced that hundreds of parents have been deported without their children.
    • The ACLU suspects many of these parents might not have gotten asylum hearings.
  • Senator Harris’s REUNITE Act – a Feinstein staffer wrote the bulk of this act, so Feinstein will likely eventually support it. 
    • However, Feinstein has been working on another, similar act that has the support of all Democratic senators, which she believes has a better chance of passing.
    • Sean is unsure if Senator Cruz is still talking with Feinstein re: her act, but if he is, it is only because of local resistance groups in Texas putting pressure on him.

Asylum Seekers

  • This has not been focused on as much because there are so many issues to be highlighted, and the public can only take so much.
  • The fact that Attorney General Sessions does not attend oversight hearings as he should has been has been overlooked.
  • Even some GOP moderates like Senator Rubio have disagreed on the Trump administration’s treatment of asylum-seekers from Central America

ICE

Appropriations Bill:

  • Feinstein voted against the bill in the Appropriations Committee
  • This might get brought up again in September
  • There is slim chance of a government shutdown. Senator McConnell and Congressman Ryan know how bad that would look. However, Trump might not care.

Splitting ICE:

  • Feinstein has not discussed this with Sean.
  • If done, it would likely be done by Sessions rather than legislature.
    • If Sessions does this, it might be because part of the group that wants to break off from ICE is a union that supported Trump.

Other:

  • Sean will follow up with Feinstein re: letter to Grassley

 

SOCIAL SAFETY NET

Health Care

  • Senator Feinstein spoke with Peter Lee in the Covered CA administration.  It is expected that Covered CA rates will go up sharply next year. This will give Senator Feinstein a platform for a strong message to wrap the ACA mess around the Republicans. Hurt in the pocketbook is going to wake people up to the message that Republicans broke healthcare. They need to fix it.
  • We have asked Feinstein frequently and continue to ask her to consider supporting the single payer system. Sean usually replies that such a bill, for example, the ‘Medicare for All Bill’ introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, doesn’t currently have any hope of passing, so it is a low priority.

Housing/Homelessness

  • Senator Harris introduced The Rent Relief Act in the Senate on July 19, 2018.  There is already a similar bill in the House. Senator Feinstein joined Senator Harris in the introduction and will continue to touch base with Senator Harris about this bill. This bill is a big CA issue. 
  • IEB strongly supports the Rent Relief Act’s goal of giving low-income residents more federal support to pay for housing. Indivisible can to help this bill along by getting more co-sponsors.
  • Senator Feinstein is working on a new plan for cities and counties to apply for a new federal grant program to address homelessness. There would be strict quality controls, for example, for low income housing. She is calling it her ‘first day’ bill because she plans to introduce it the first day of the new Congress (provided, of course, that she wins the election).
  • Possible housing solutions:
    • Senator Feinstein has visited or had her staff visit various ‘tiny homes’ and other solutions to homelessness.  
    • She has a binder listing the name and description of the shelters and other facilities for the homeless across the state.  She sees the scope and quality of solutions across the state.
    • There is no one size fits all solution for homelessness and the housing crisis.
  • One potential source of funding is the VA. The VA and various veterans’ assistance programs have pots of money.  Housing homeless veterans with the money could be considered a front end solution to prevent the medical catastrophes that come with homelessness.
  • The federal government and each county have surplus property that could be used to build low income housing.  There is a federal law to transfer surplus property. The feds have just transferred a big lot between 7th and 9th streets to the City of San Francisco for $1.

 

NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Helsinki/Russia

  • There was a hearing that day in the Senate Formulations Committee with Secretary of State Pompeo testifying.
    • Feinstein is not on that committee, but she is anxious to talk to colleagues about how it went.
  • Feinstein does not think Russia will be an issue that sways Republicans, but trade. Last summer, Feinstein held a forum with farmers in the Central Valley. They said if trade issues continue until Labor Day, that will hurt their businesses. They invest their money into resources at the beginning of the year, so this is a big issue for them.
  • Efforts are being made by Intelligence to get info on what was said at the Summit, but it is unlikely that transcripts will be made public. Such transcripts have not been public for previous administrations.

Iran

  • Sean noted a Washington Post article that reported anonymous White House staffers have said Trump’s tweet was a distraction from North Korea.
  • Feinstein does not give his tweet much credence.
  • The Iran Deal is important to her, as she worked on it.
  • It is unlikely the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act will go to the Senate floor or be amended to something.
  • Sean will talk with Feinstein re: Senator Merkley’s 2001 AUMF replacement

Election Security

  • Feinstein has been focusing on California’s election security with CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla, not nationally, because she is pragmatic about what she can accomplish.
  • Sean will check with her re: Wyden’s act.
  • It is important for local groups to reach out to their Board of Supervisors regarding election security.

Security Clearances

  • Feinstein thinks this is a distraction technique and not a big issue.
  • Some former officials have said they don’t need it anyway, and temporary clearances can be gained if needed.

Whistleblowers

  • Sean stated that Feinstein has always protected whistleblowers.

 

ENVIRONMENT

EPA Fuel Economy Waiver for CA

  • Feinstein is very aggressive on this, because she passed the laws that let CA do this.
  • She has lobbied extensively, including reaching out to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
  • Advocacy groups need to elevate this issue.
    • One choice would be for consumers to demand car manufacturers continue to meet high fuel efficiency standards even if standards change.

Puerto Rico

  • We talked about the disaster in Puerto Rico in the context of the growing effects of climate change all over the country and asked if Feinstein would co-sponsor the Rebuilding Resilient Energy System Act to allow Puerto Rico and other disaster-affected areas (like our own state) to be rebuilt with greener and more resilient infrastructure; Sean said he would look up the bill and convey our request to the Senator.
  • Nationwide, Indivisible can help by writing lots more letters on the situation in Puerto Rico to their MOCs. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida would be a good person to lobby because he has 10 to 20K new Puerto Rican voters in his state.
  • Senator Feinstein will continue to advocate for Puerto Rico, but the Kavanaugh  nomination is her priority.
  • We thanked the Senator for co-sponsoring the Washington DC statehood bill and asked if Feinstein would introduce a Senate version of the Puerto Rico Admissions Act; Sean said she would not, because it isn’t going to happen in 2018.

 

JUDICIARY

Judicial Nominations

Supreme Court:

  • According to Sean, Senator Feinstein does not consider the proposal to request and view documents regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh a “sinking ship.”
  • The Senator’s negotiations have been focused on these documents. They are important because they get Kavanaugh on the record and give insight on his positions. Some valuable documents have been found already.
  • Half a million dollars have been given each to Senators Feinstein and Grassley from the Rules Committee to research this. Feinstein is using the money to hire staff to research and comb through documents.
  • The GOP is trying avoid the Democrats pointing out the hypocrisy of their treatment of this SCOTUS nominee versus their treatment of Obama’s nominees
    • Schumer has video of Grassley demanding all papers on Kagan.
    • This tactic won’t change McConnell’s mind, but might affect Republican senators who are on the fence.

Court of Appeals:

  • The Senator’s focus has been on Kavanaugh, and Sean does not have a statement from her on Eric Murphy, nominated to the Sixth Circuit, or Ryan Nelson, nominated to the Ninth Circuit.

 

TALK TO YOUR GOVERNMENT

Town Hall

  • We want Sen. Feinstein to commit to hold a town hall after the election; Sean said that she would think about that after the election.

Join the meetings!

  • Indivisible East Bay meets with Sen. Feinstein’s key staff every month. 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!

 

Photograph by Catya de Neergaard 

July IEB Postcard Party & Snack Potluck

Please join us at Indivisible East Bay’s postcard party & snack potluck July 15, anytime between 11 AM and 3 PM at Sports Basement, Berkeley. RSVP here – not required, but it’ll help us know what supplies to bring for you.

All are warmly welcome — from the postcard-curious to committed carders — for a combo of direct resistance activism, friendly chat, and noshing! Feel free to bring snacks to share if you want, but we’d prefer if you bring a friend (or 5) and/or your family (children welcome).

We’ll provide supplies, explain everything, and have newbies up and writing in a few minutes. Our postcard parties have been huge successes, with IEB members & friends stepping up to write 100s of cards! We’re upping our game and offering several options:

  • Postcards to Voters: this fantastic resource provides an ideal way for blue state activists to write directly to Democrats in other districts & states to urge them to vote. We’ll provide addresses and scripts – currently P2V is writing to get out the vote for Danny O’Connor, the Democratic candidate running in the August 7 special election for Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. 
  • Postcards for truth and justice in support of Andrew Janz, running for Congress against Putin’s puppet Devin Nunes in California District 22.
  • Postcards to U.S. Senators: we’ll have sample scripts so you can write postcards to your Senators to vote against Trump’s unfit judicial nominees. Want to write these postcards at home? See our Judiciary team’s awesome page for expert info on the nominees plus scripts!
  • New! We’re hosting Scott from Vote Forward, an exciting project using letters (instead of postcards) mailed to targeted voters in selected campaigns. For people who want to learn about this option, Scott will bring letters & envelopes for you to write, and he’ll answer questions. He’d appreciate donations to cover letter postage, or you can bring your own first-class letter stamps.

More deets:

  • You can bring your own postcards or we’ll have lots there for you to use – some designed and donated by IEB’s super postcard party guru Michael, and others donated by IEB angels
  • Bring postcard stamps (.35 each for cards a max of 6″ x 4.25″) if you have, 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 and markers, fun GOTV washi tape, and other supplies
  • Already a verified P2V writer? Bring your own addresses if you want!

Learn more about activist postcard-ing at our article The Pen (plus .35 stamp) Is Mightier Than Yelling At Your TV

We’re set to be in the upstairs mezzanine at Sports Basement (take stairs or elevator up), but if there’s a last minute change of room check for Indivisible East Bay or IEB postcard party on the chalk board at the entrance.

Have other questions? Want to let us know about your own postcarding events? Email us or contact @heidirand on Slack.  

Families Belong Together Rally 6/14/18

On June 14, more than 200 people from all corners of the Bay Area streamed to El Cerrito to protest the administration’s inhumane policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border.

Families Belong Together 061418
DE-FUND ICE

Filling all corners of the large intersection, we chanted, sang, and cheered for the clenched fists raised in solidarity and supportive honks from the constant stream of cars.

Families Belong Together

Organizers provided background information and ways to take further action, and got more than 150 signatures on a petition to deliver to our Members of Congress, asking them to go to the border and find out the facts.

Families Belong Together 061418
More demonstrations are planned.  Nationwide, find and/or organize a event. If you’re in the Bay Area, check that list (events are added frequently) and follow the Indivisible East Bay and El Cerrito Shows Up facebook pages. Also, see our articles for actions you can take, including how to pressure our Members of Congress and other ways to help.

Photographs by Heidi Rand

IEB goes to Washington

Indivisible East Bay usually meets with our Washington representatives when they visit the Bay Area. But from June 4-6, 2018, IEB members traveled to Washington, D.C. for a succession of get-togethers with California’s Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris as well as several of their key staffers. It was an opportunity for face-to-face interactions at a high-level — and IEB made the most of it.

Senator Feinstein visit to DC

One highlight of the trip was a constituent breakfast with Senator Feinstein. For her opening remarks, Feinstein mainly spoke about her recently-introduced legislation to prevent the separation of asylum-seeking families, as well as her plans to address the problems of homelessness and climate change. Since it was the morning after the primary, she thanked those who voted for her and said she hoped to win over the rest.

During the Q&A that followed, we noted that the Senator is a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and asked what we could do to help fix the broken process for the confirmation of judges, and especially to protect the federal judiciary from the too-often extremist nominees put forward by Republicans. Her answer was simple but will be difficult to accomplish: Take back the Senate.

Senator Kamala Harris in DC

We also heard Senators Harris and Cory Booker (D-NJ) speak at a rally jointly organized by the NAACP and Demand Justice (a new organization focusing on judicial nominations). IEB’s Judiciary team recently started working with Demand Justice to attempt to block the nomination of Thomas Farr to a lifetime judgeship on the district court in North Carolina. Farr has a decades-long history of involvement in voter suppression of North Carolina’s African-American population.

Finally, we had several days of meetings with six members of Feinstein’s and Harris’s staffs. At each meeting, we raised our concerns on specific issues, listened to their replies, and offered our responses. Here are the highlights:

Senator Feinstein Chief of Staff Steve Haro and Appropriations Legislative Aide Josh Esquivel

Our highest level meeting was with Senator Feinstein’s chief of staff Steve Haro and Josh Esquivel, her appropriations legislative aide.

The opening topic was nuclear bombs, notably the House’s recently passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a provision for $65 million to develop a new “low-yield” nuclear weapon to be launched from submarines. Feinstein is on record as strongly opposing this and other efforts to expand the nuclear stockpile and plans to offer an amendment to remove such provisions from the Senate bill. However, Josh would not promise that Feinstein would vote NO on the full NDAA if, despite her efforts, the nuclear authorizations remain in the bill.

We next discussed aspects of the Homeland Security Authorization Bill, which currently has bipartisan support in the Senate. We asked about the increased budget authority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) included in the bill. In our view, both of these agencies have abused their power and defied Congressional oversight; we thus asked that Senator Feinstein vote against additional funding for those agencies. Steve and Josh both expressed some surprise that funding for these agencies was included in the bill; they were under the impression that the bill was mostly about other aspects of the Department, such as disaster preparedness and election security.

We also requested a status update regarding funding for Puerto Rico’s hurricane relief. Josh told us that there is still “plenty of money” left from the last relief funding bill Congress passed. Why then, we asked, does the situation in Puerto Rico remain so dire? He replied that the administration is not doing a good job using the available money to get resources to the people who need it.

We told him that we would like to see Congressional staff get raises. Legislative branch funding is very skimpy and one of the reasons for this is that Congressional Republicans have, since the 1990’s, cut funds for the legislative branch in an apparent bid to increase lobbyists’ relative power and influence. We would like to see that trend reversed in upcoming federal budgets.

Lastly, we discussed sexual harassment and staff well-being policies in Congressional offices. On the subject of harassment, Steve said that the Senator has a very strict, zero-tolerance policy. Staffers are asked to report any incidents directly to him or the Senator. In either case, a report immediately triggers an investigation, headed by Steve. If any harassment is determined to have occurred, the consequences are very serious and even a first offense can result in termination.

Feinstein judicial nominations counsel Gabe Kader

In our meeting with Gabe Kader, one of Feinstein’s Judiciary Committee counsels, we returned to the subject of nominations to the federal bench. Gabe was very interested to hear about our work in this area, especially about which issues in the nominees’ backgrounds resonated most with our members and friends: reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, conflicts of interest, etc.

While we affirmed our support for Feinstein’s goal of Democrats taking back the Senate — as the ultimate solution here — we told him that, in the interim, Feinstein should use her leadership to convince all Congressional Democrats to stand together in opposing unqualified and ultra-conservative nominees put forward by the GOP.

Gabe replied that the Senator is concerned that pushing back too hard could give Senator Grassley and the rest of the Republicans an excuse to abandon the vetting and bipartisan process entirely. We questioned how much that would differ from what the GOP is already doing.

Feinstein immigration counsel Olga Medina

Our last meeting with a Feinstein staffer was with Olga Medina, an immigration counsel. We went over the details of Senator Feinstein’s new legislation to prevent the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border. Her Keep Families Together Act would prohibit agencies from separating children from their parents unless a state court, an “official from the State or county child welfare agency with expertise in child trauma and  development,” or the Chief Patrol Agent or the Area Port Director “in their official and undelegated capacity” determines that a separation is in the best interests of the child.  It also explicitly states that families can’t be separated as a deterrent. A variety of other provisions (such as keeping siblings together) are designed to protect families in those rare cases when a separation does occur.

Senator Harris legislative science fellow Ike Irby

We had two meetings with representatives of Senator Harris. The first was with legislative science fellow Ike Irby. The focus was on the hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico and how we can learn from our failures there. Ike told us that the Senator is working on legislation to put standards in place for how states and territories calculate death rates from natural disasters. We also discussed climate change, both specifically in terms of rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure and, more generally, about federal carbon pricing. It sounded as if Senator Harris, similar to many of our local representatives, isn’t quite ready to put her weight behind any particular carbon pricing plan, but is generally supportive and waiting to see which way the wind blows.

Harris Legislative Aide Elizabeth Hira

Our meeting with Elizabeth Hira, one of Senator Harris’ staffers, focused on the judiciary and criminal justice. As in our meeting with Gabe Kader, Elizabeth was very interested to hear which issues in the judicial nominees’ backgrounds most resonated with the resistance.

We also discussed criminal justice bills that Senator Harris supports, most notably the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. We expressed concerns that these bills don’t sufficiently guard against the possibility that the software used for determining recidivism risk and thus sentencing could unintentionally perpetuate racial biases. As such, we want to see provisions to properly review such software and to allow people to appeal decisions made by software. We suggested a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “algorithmic bias”, with expert testimony from researchers in the field, and Elizabeth asked us to write up a short proposal for such a hearing, indicating she would follow up on this matter.

Top photo: IEB members with Emma Mehrabi, Legislative Director for Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13).

Memos:

IEB Meets With State Asm. Thurmond’s Staff

On May 29, Indivisible East Bay members Nick, Amelia, Ted, Melanie, and Mark met with Molly Curley O’Brien from State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond’s (AD15) office in downtown Oakland. IEB’s first-ever meeting with Thurmond’s staff was a positive experience.

We had sent Molly a memo beforehand listing the topics and state bills we wanted to talk about and to find out Thurmond’s positions. But first we asked a general question — why the Democrats didn’t use their super-majority advantage last year to push through more progressive legislation. Molly explained that negotiating between moderates and more progressive members was often tricky, with the worry that moderates would flip support to the GOP and doom more progressive legislation; this unfortunate dynamic illustrates why it’s so important for Indivisible groups to take an active role in holding Democrats accountable at the state level and electing progressives wherever possible.

Schools and Students

We began by discussing Thurmond’s support for AB-1502 (Free or Reduced Lunch Direct Certification) and AB-1871 (Charter schools: free and reduced price meals). These bills would provide crucial meals to low-income and poor students in both public and charter schools, and reflect Thurmond’s ongoing work to support students in California’s education system. We thanked him for these positions, which align with our progressive values; Molly was happy to hear our thanks, and it set a good tone for the rest of the meeting.

Stating that Thurmond believes our schools need more resources, Molly mentioned that he would like to tax private prisons to provide resources for public schools, especially for LGBTQ students. She also noted that Thurmond wants to find a solution for the lack of affordable housing for teachers.

After Molly mentioned that Thurmond’s priority focus on education is “his bread and butter,” we asked her to make sure that he remembers to support small school districts and their teachers’ associations, not just larger ones in major metro area. 

Criminal Justice and Policing

We turned to the topic of criminal justice and policing, particularly AB-3131. Introduced by Assembly members Gloria and Chiu, AB-3131 is co-sponsored by Indivisible CA: State Strong, the ACLU, the Anti Police-Terror Project, and others. It  would provide for civilian oversight of local police forces’ efforts to purchase excess military equipment, which is a newly allowed practice under the Trump administration. Molly said that the principles of this bill align with Thurmond’s values, and gave us hope that he would vote Aye on it in a floor vote.

Voting Rights and Election Infrastructure

We wrapped up the meeting with a discussion of voting rights and election infrastructure, including AB-3115 (Jails: Voter Education), AB-2165 (Election Day holiday), AB-2188 (Social Media DISCLOSE Act), and AB-2125 (Risk-Limiting Audits). The IEB expert on these issues, Melanie (the lead for our Voter Rights and Election Integrity team), began by describing the problems we’ve had trying to help with voter education and registration in jails, to illustrate why passing AB-3115 is so important.

We also talked about unintended negative effects of the Voters Choice Act, recent closures of neighborhood precincts, and the need to keep polling locations open and improve – rather than restrict – access to the polls. Melanie asked whether Thurmond could help move AB-2165 out of submission so it could get a floor vote this week in the Assembly, so Election Day would be declared a holiday, showing our commitment to voter engagement and civic participation.

On AB-2188, we explained that a technical ruling had exempted social media from last year’s DISCLOSE Act, which requires political ad transparency, and urged Thurmond to support AB-2188  to help prevent a repeat in future elections of undue influence by Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and others.

Finally, Melanie tackled a complex subject — Risk-Limiting Audits (RLA). She highlighted the importance of AB-2125, the RLA legislation currently moving through the Assembly, especially in light of AB-840, enacted last fall, which weakened our 1% manual vote tally by exempting late-arriving and provisional ballots. To impress on Molly the critical need for AB-2125 to be amended before it goes to the Senate, Melanie mentioned the UC Berkeley statistics expert who invented risk-limiting audits (Philip Stark), and explained that Stark’s and other election security experts’ proposals don’t line up with current language in the bill. She asked how Thurmond might help, including whether he could let it be known he’s aware that corrections are needed, and to push for a timely amendment. Melanie clarified that although California should begin using risk-limiting audits, AB-2125 must be amended to follow best practices, and we want to see a bill we can support before it goes to the Senate.

We asked for Thurmond to familiarize himself with these bills and others, and Molly seemed confident he would be eager to do so. She noted that protecting democratic practices is important at all levels of government, and promised to discuss our issues with the Chief of Staff at their next meeting.

We ended the jam-packed half hour meeting on a positive note with a photograph. We hope to have another meeting with Thurmond’s staff, perhaps after his campaign for California Superintendent of Public Instruction is over.

Photo by Nick Travaglini

Feinstein’s State Director responds to concerns about Alzheimer’s care

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s state director, Sean Elsbernd, is no stranger to Indivisible East Bay. Far from it: he regularly meets with small groups of IEB members to listen and respond as we go over our priorities for action. And he doesn’t stop there: he also generously makes time to meet with the public at events that we periodically organize. One of the best parts of these public meetings is that we get to hear questions (and Sean’s answers!) from people outside our typical cadre of members — which often brings new issues to the conversation.

For example, at our latest public meeting on May 24 at the IBEW Union Hall in Dublin, we were joined by a group asking Sen. Feinstein to co-sponsor the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act — a bipartisan bill to fund Alzheimer’s care, education, and study. The parents of a daughter with early-onset Alzheimer’s described their struggle and told Sean that the bill could have helped them personally by putting in place infrastructure that could have helped them identify their daughter’s disease sooner and pursue more effective treatment.

Both Sean and IEB were very moved by their story. Sean said that he would take the bill to the senator and get a response “right away.” IEB plans to research it, and will likely ask all of our members of Congress to show their support (Rep. Swalwell already has). While this topic is a little outside our usual focus, it certainly fits within our goal of “health care for all.”

The other main topic covered at the meeting was communication. We went over the best ways to reach the senator — noting that emails, calls, faxes, and letters are all currently weighted equally in her call sheet reports. We also discussed the senator’s much-expanded Twitter presence. We voiced our appreciation that she uses the platform to speak out about the issues, but one member suggested that she include more calls to action.

Finally, we talked about recommended news sources. Sean recommended subscribing to TheWashington Post’s Daily 202 e-newsletter for a briefing on the top political stories (including Twitter highlights) and to the very impressive The Rough & Tumble website for a daily roundup of California political news. Sen. Feinstein subscribes to The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and San Francisco Chronicle. Her staff also regularly provides her with packets of relevant articles from numerous other papers. Sean claimed that the first things she reads each day are the Letters to the Editor. A word to the wise: Write letters to your local paper expressing your political views; you never know who might wind up reading them or what effect they might ultimately have!