Watching the Electors

When voter suppression tactics prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote, election outcomes fail to represent the true will of the people. – Election Watch program overview

2016 was the first presidential election after the Supreme Court gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder (2013). Free to alter voting laws and practices with no oversight or system of ensuring that their revisions weren’t discriminatory, many localities snuck through changes that went unnoticed and unchallenged. These changes, including strict voter ID requirements, closing down polling places, purging voters, and cutting back early voting and voter registration, disproportionately impacted people of color and young or low-income people, and severely curtailed voters’ access to the ballot.  Election WatchElection Watch, a non-partisan voting rights program, has the ambitious goal of mobilizing trained lawyer volunteers in every county or county-equivalent in the country (count them: 3,144!) to monitor and defend voting rights year-round. The new program, run by the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation (L4GG) in partnership with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Voting Rights Institute, will “monitor, report on, … and address problematic decisions made by local election boards across the country on a year-round basis.”

Election Watch will train volunteer lawyers on the ground to monitor local election boards all year and detect rights violations. With this early alert system flagging potential issues as they happen, EW can proactively address problems before damage has been done (i.e., before an election). A national steering committee of experts, including representatives of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the American Constitution Society Voting Rights Institute, will review the reports, and EW will prioritize and determine next steps for each.

As Trump and the GOP cheat to pack the federal courts with more and more far-right wing judges, it’s clearer than ever that we the people have to educate ourselves about voting issues, and step up to watch over the officials who run the elections in our states, towns, and counties.

How to help:

  • Are you a lawyer, law student, or legal professional interested in volunteering with Election Watch? If so, email me for more information, learn more at the Election Watch program overview, or fill out the signup form.
  • Know any legal eagles, including in other parts of the country, who might be a good fit for Election Watch? Send them the program overview or my email address.
  • Donations to support the program are welcome.
  • Non-lawyers are invaluable in this fight! Learn all you can about your state and local election officials and bodies, and help monitor them.

By Heidi Rand

 

In Counting There is Strength

Many of us were shocked by the results of the 2016 election, and months later still grapple with an ever-growing pile of reasons that added up to the Democrats’ devastating losses. But most of the 100+ experts and activists at the October 7-8 Take Back the Vote Conference were not surprised; to them the results were the predictable outcome of problems they’ve been warning about and working on for years.

Take Back the Vote conference
Photo © Heidi Rand

Hard truth time: no matter how many voter registration and get out the vote drives we run, no matter how many hours we spend canvassing and phone or text-banking, our efforts will amount to a hill of uncounted ballots if we don’t restore the soundness of our election infrastructure.  

The non-partisan conference “to advance the conduct of American elections – how votes are collected, counted and cast,” featured 25 speakers, a Who’s Who of nationally recognized election integrity experts and activists, computer scientists, professors, lawyers, journalists and election officials as well as federal, state and local legislators. They presented findings, shared and debated ideas, and answered tough questions. To see their bios, click the “speakers” link on the NVRTF website, and view or download the Conference program at the “schedule” link.

The audience, ranging from seasoned activists to new volunteers, passionately discussed necessary next steps and strategies to restore publicly verified democracy in the United States. The issues are complex, many have no easy answers, and reasonable minds differ about best practices. In coming weeks we’ll follow up this conference report with in-depth looks at issues covered, including:

  • propaganda and political communication
  • internet voting and cybersecurity risks
  • open source election software
  • election suppression
  • auditing options; including risk limiting, hand-count, two-tier, and digital ballot audits

Despite differing opinions on issues, had we taken a vote at the conference it likely would’ve been unanimous that our country is careening down the path of having our democracy stolen from us, and that protecting our elections from internal and external attacks will take ALL of us becoming educated, engaged, and involved in the process.

What can you do? Get involved! A good start – watch videos of the conference at the “videos” tab of the Voting Rights facebook page. Next, work with IEB’s voting issues team – no experience necessary, we’ll get you up to speed! Email us for info.

And to learn Everything You Wanted to Know About Voting But Were Afraid to Ask, check out these websites:

boss tweed cartoon vote with caption small

 

Two State Directors in Two Days

It was quite a week at the beginning of October 2017 – we met back to back with the state directors for Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

We didn’t plan on having our first meeting with Sen. Harris’ state director, Julie Rodriguez, the evening before our umpteenth meeting with Sen. Feinstein’s state director, Sean Elsbernd. (Julie is based in LA, so we normally meet with with Daniel Chen, the head of the senator’s SF Office. But Julie has agreed to another meeting the next time she’s in  town.)

But two in a row worked out well, since there are a lot of things we wanted to impress on both senators: from reminding them of the urgency of passing the DREAM Act, to expressing disappointment that they both voted in favor of a huge national defense authorization bill last week, to some specific asks on long-term help for Puerto Rico as part of a hurricane relief package.

We heard a few more details about Sen. Feinstein’s hesitations around endorsing Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All — mainly about implementation and some remaining fuzzy details on the funding side. But Sean tells us that it’s the feedback from us that has moved her from off the cuff comments about “complete government takeover of health care” to asking her staff to take a close look at Sen. Sanders’ bill.

We also heard a few more details about Sen. Harris’ next steps in her push for Medicare for All. Julie says she will take the lead from Sen. Sanders, but that with a minority in Congress, the important thing to focus on is building grassroots support for single payer health care.

We shared our concerns about oversight of the Homeland Security Department, specifically ICE, and learned about some of the individual cases involving detention centers that each of our senators’ constituent services departments have worked on. In fact, Sean told us, a couple of years ago when ICE detention facilities were overcrowded due to the Central American refugee crisis (including many unaccompanied children), Sen. Feinstein had her staff visit every facility in California to compile a report and recommend changes to President Obama.

We spoke with Sean at length about Trump’s judicial nominations being fast-tracked through the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Sen. Feinstein is the lead Democrat. He told us she’s fighting hard to preserve the “blue slip” process, which gives every senator a say about judges appointed to the federal courts within their state. We asked Sen. Harris to make a statement in support of the senators who have withheld blue slips on dangerous federal court nominees in Oregon and Minnesota.

Help the OtO Team Find Partners

The mission of IEB’s Outreach to Organizations (OtO) team is to build partnerships with and support effective community groups. Two great examples of organizations that have been working in the trenches for years and that OtO has been working with: the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which among other things fights to save SNAP (food stamps) funding, and Oakland Rising, which organizes in Oakland around immigration,  criminal justice reform, and many other issues.

We invite anyone interested in strengthening IEB’s connections to activist community groups to join the OtO team! With more liaisons we can inform IEB members about terrific grassroots organizations fighting for justice and equality and against the Trump agenda; and we can increase our support and mobilize IEBers to take action on state or local policies, and to get involved in issues that the most vulnerable populations in our community face.

You can help! Are you a member of – or do you know about – a grassroots group that’s mobilizing its community around progressive issues or values? We’d love to hear from you! Please contact @tonihenle on Slack or email Toni  at ieb.outreach@gmail.com with your ideas and input.

ACCFB
IEB at AFFCB event to educate community about the farm bill and SNAP

My Dream Was to Go Straight to University – Part 2

DACA poster
Photograph by Ann Daniels

Last week we published the first part of an Indivisible East Bay member’s interview with Lara, a DACA recipient. Our last question was whether her parents felt they made the right decision in moving to the United States. Lara ended her response with: “When DACA passed and I was able to go back to school, that alleviated a lot of their guilt and they felt glad I finally had a real chance. But now with what Trump’s done, they regret it all over again and feel guilt all over again for putting me in this situation. I keep telling them, you cannot blame yourself for this.” We continue with Part 2:

How are your siblings handling it?

I think they’re used to me being the strong one. They don’t really ask how I’m doing. Out of my 4 siblings, only one asked me how I was doing after the news. They’re used to me not depending on them.  I’ve been so independent for so many years, they assume that I’m okay. They know I don’t allow myself to sit in the pity pool too long. But I know deep down inside, this time around they really are concerned because this administration is not playing; they are really on a mission to make peoples’ lives extremely complicated. Even though they haven’t expressed it, I know that they really are concerned for me this time.  I know them and this is their way of not discouraging me.

I think they’re more worried about how I might respond one day, with the wrong person. Not so much if I’m going to get deported, but, for example,  if I’m at an event representing Dreamers and someone says something that pushes me over the edge.

Are your siblings politically active?

No, they leave it to me. And it’s so unfair. I tell them, how is it the undocumented one is at the forefront of things? Their answer is “Because we don’t have to. We were born into this privilege.” They haven’t had to fight for anything, so they’re not really concerned.

So…they don’t have to fight for you?

Exactly! And so I said, what about me? “Eh, you’re good at fighting for yourself.” So I envy the families that are there for each other because my siblings live in their own world, chasing their own dreams. I’ve always been so independent, vocal, and active, I guess they’ve never cared to involve themselves because of that. Maybe they see how worked up and exhausted I get, and there’s no off button sometimes, maybe that turns them off. They see how consuming it can be.

But, it’s also because they’re just selfish and immature. I haven’t been home in over 10 years, so they haven’t been there to see me break down. I did it so they wouldn’t have to see how much I suffered. I didn’t want them to see me cry, so I purposefully moved out so they wouldn’t have to see how much I suffered. Maybe that was the wrong thing to do.

You found out about your status when you were in high school. After that, did you see you and your siblings differently?

We were so poor growing up and my dad worked two to three jobs for years. We don’t get Medicaid, food stamps, financial help of any kind, so you depend on your community, neighbors, church. We lived in a two bedroom apartment. Four of us in one room, my parents in the other, until we finally moved to our first house. It was a bad ugly house and my dad and his uncles fixed it up. My siblings all grew up in a house, but I remember living like sardines and dealing with cockroaches.

I’m happy they were able to have their own bed. I’m glad they didn’t have to deal with the cheap Payless shoes and getting bullied for having the same cheap clothes or backpack, and all the things growing up poor entails. But from the very beginning, I always knew we were going to have a very different life.

When I got older after high school, when I saw how hard it was going to be to even find a job, I said I have to get out of here because I don’t want them to see me like this. I was bitter and angry and I resented the situation. I didn’t want to infect them with my bitterness. I had always been the strong, positive, happy, bossy big sister and wanted them to keep that image of me and not the angry, resentful, bitter one. So I moved out. But when I have tried to share what it was like living on my own without them, I feel they don’t want to accept it  and instead, play it down.

When you see that people aren’t willing to hear your story for what it is or want to hear what you have to say, then you stop sharing. But, my parents know everything. I shared everything with them, especially the bad experiences with managers and customers who called me every terrible discriminatory name. That’s a bond that my siblings may resent a little bit because my parents understand my pain. I’m grateful that at least I have always had my parents patience, compassion and understanding.

What are your parents going to do?

For now, I think they are going to move to a smaller property. They came for the American dream and they want to leave us an inheritance. They worked very hard and want to leave us houses and properties just like White Americans. They came to break that stereotype and leave a legacy for their children. They won’t let this discourage them. They taught me to be strong. Like most people, they wanted to be more successful and prosperous than their parents. You always want to be more successful than the previous generation. They’re leaving the bar really high for us.

What do they think their lives would have been like if they stayed in Mexico?

I don’t know. My dad probably would have finished being an engineer. But there’s no way they would have been able to give us an education or the safety to do the things we’ve wanted, be involved in the things we’ve been involved in–music, dance, sports, etc. Most of our family is still there. I probably would have grown up knowing my grandparents — I’ve seen them a handful of times, but I don’t know either side. I have no relationship with them or my uncles, aunts, cousins.

How do you think your lives are different than your relatives in Mexico?

It’s black and white. I see pictures of the homes they live  in — dirt floors or cement floors. The quality of the houses, the sizes of the room, the clothes they wear, the diet they have — it’s what’s affordable. My parents are seen as more prosperous in comparison.

If we know anyone who is traveling there for the holidays, we always send stuff. Mostly clothes, shoes, school materials — binder paper, pencils, crayons, everything. Money every month to my grandparents to help. My grandparents were blue collar workers and farmers, so there’s little to no pension or retirement. Now that they’re older, we help take care of them and pay their bills. We send what we can. Had we stayed there … I don’t know. I don’t think my siblings would have been able to explore and experiment in the arts, music, and sports the way they have here. I wouldn’t have found a purpose or reason to become socially active at the capacity I have done. It’s safer here — over there, it can mean death a lot of the time if you get too loud or political. Here, at least I know I can be socially active and it won’t cost me my life. I don’t think I would be the person I am. I’d probably be like my cousins — at least we’re here together, at we have food, clothes, a bed. But being part of this country and raised with the idea that you can do better if you sacrifice more and work harder, I can never imagine myself being satisfied with just making it. You always hear about the American dream and reaching for new heights — I wouldn’t have this personality, I think. I wouldn’t be such a fighter, such a life hustler.

You don’t hear about the equivalent in Mexico, “The Mexican Dream.”

There isn’t. I guess the Mexican dream is, you have a little house you can leave for your kid, that you probably built yourself with your parents, siblings and cousins. But here, it’s so different. I’m so proud of my parents for the American dream they’ve accomplished. They have left such an amazing legacy and high standards for us. They came with a baby and a bag of clothes and they’ve accomplished so much, even with their limited legal status. They instilled a work ethic, and stressed that discipline and sacrifice is essential for anything you want. To be willing to always pay that price — so essential for any goal. That’s the Mexican Dream.

When they left, did they know people here?

Yes. They stayed with my mom’s sister for a few months until they had enough money to rent a room. When my mom got pregnant with my brother, we moved to a one bedroom apartment.

Was it common for other aunts and uncles to come to the US?

Yes, but only In the 80s. Just a few of us lived here. My parents are the only homeowners in our entire family. It required extra hard work, extra discipline that many families weren’t willing to do. My parents had a dream, so they agreed on what we were going to have to live without and were willing to do whatever it took. It’s interesting to see that now they’re the only ones among those who came over in the 80’s who are considered “successful”.  But so much of what Trump is doing against my community, it’s bringing back a lot of the same anxiety. We’re going to make it. We’ll figure it out as a family the way we always do.

How has your husband been handling it?

He is awesome. Fortunately my husband is a citizen. If both of us were undocumented, it would be double the stress and double the what-ifs. He’s very much like me — very optimistic, positive and he’s also a life hustler. Always finds a way to survive. We’ll find a way and we have faith that God will provide for us as a unit, to help my case and my situation. My husband lets me go through the motions and isn’t judgmental. He doesn’t pretend to understand what I’m feeling, because he’s never experienced my life. HIs patience with me is ridiculous and he’s the most empathetic person I know. He never claims to understand the struggle of being undocumented, though he’s learning what it’s like to be married to a strong undocumented woman!

When you socialize or when he talks to people, I guess he doesn’t talk about your status.

When he thinks of me, he thinks of me the person, so it doesn’t really come up. But folks invited us, for example, on a cruise and I had to explain to them why I couldn’t. We are very honest people and honesty gives opportunities for growth and knowledge. I see it as a way to share my story and help people be grateful for their privilege. There are privileges I have as an undocumented person that I take for granted all the time,  like being able-bodied. I don’t mind sharing my story when appropriate. It doesn’t come up as much now, as a couple. In my 20s, I could never order a beer or a glass of wine when I was out with my friends or on a date,  but now I have an ID. I never told anyone why until my late 20’s.

Being married has changed a lot about how (politically) active I am. It’s also made it easier to see the priorities. Maybe I should leave all of the rallying and protesting to the younger generation. I feel confident that I served my time. I did that already, in the early years.  It’s their turn to take the torch and keep fighting the good fight.

 

A huge thank you to Lara for sharing her story–this is not the last we’ll hear from her, to be sure. We’d love to hear your comments – you can leave them at this post, or email them to info@indivisibleeb.org

 

Congress: Renew CHIP Funding

Poor overworked GOP Congress, so busy trying to steal our health care and criminalizing 20-week abortions that it couldn’t find one little minute to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program.CHIP funding mapCHIP, a federal-state partnership, provides federal funds to cover low-cost health insurance for nearly 9 million uninsured children from low to modest-income families. If Congress doesn’t act, states will have to make tough decisions about their CHIP programs.

Please call your MoCs today! What to say:

My name is _____, I’m a constituent from [zip code]. Please support a bipartisan reauthorization of the CHIP program, and pass a clean reauthorization bill without policy riders that could delay the bill’s passage.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email)
(415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Sen. Kamala Harris (email)
(415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (email): (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
Rep. Barbara Lee (email): (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
Rep. Eric Swalwell (email): (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Volunteer for ACILEP Rapid Response Training

ACILEPLearn how to verify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity and be a legal observer to protect our communities from ICE! The Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership (ACILEP) invites you to join its team of volunteer responders to resist ICE raids and deportations. Rehearse critical and creative tactics for effective action. No legal experience or knowledge is necessary.

Please sign up for one of the volunteer trainings:

  • When:  Tuesday October 3, 6-9 PM
  • Where: SEIU-USWW; 3411 East 12th Street, Suite 200, Oakland, CA (at Fruitvale BART)

—- OR —-

  • When:  Saturday October 7, 10 AM – 1 PM
  • Where:  EDEN CHURCH21455 Birch St., Oliver Hall, Hayward, CA 94541 (on-site parking available)
  • The workshop will be held in Oliver Hall, on the north side of the church campus. A free community lunch for all workshop participants will be served at 1 pm in Oliver Hall.

Please REGISTER for either training by filling out this form.  Questions? Email acilepgroup@gmail.com If you can’t volunteer please spread the word.

ACILEP, a network of several immigrant rights organizations, provides rapid response and legal services for families targeted by ICE activity. It is a partnership of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Causa Justa Just Cause, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Oakland Community Organizations, Street Level Health, the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay, Centro Legal de la Raza, and the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office Theater of the Oppressed Assistance from Starr King School for the Ministry.

 

My Dream Was to Go Straight to University

Many of us likely know people who are DACA recipients, but they may not feel safe enough to tell anyone other than close friends and family about their status.

Meet Lara. Lara’s parents, hoping for a better life, brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was one year old. Lara is a DACA recipient. An Indivisible East Bay member interviewed her a couple of days after Trump announced his decision to terminate DACA. This is Part One of Lara’s story.

DACA poster
Photograph by Ann Daniels

How are you feeling?

I’m okay. Trump’s made it very clear that his interest is not about the people—it’s about whatever makes political sense to him. I wasn’t surprised. He said, “Don’t worry Dreamers, you don’t have anything to worry about”–I had hopes that when he said we didn’t have a lot to worry about, that we actually didn’t have a lot to worry about, but I should have known.

I’m okay now. I’ve cried it out, screamed it out, spoken with a lot of other DACAmented folks and Dreamer students and, it’s disappointing and discouraging, but we’ve been here before. We’re just going to have to find a way to survive and keep going. I’m in a good place. It helps when people who are outside of your DACAmented community offer hope and are supportive.

Did you go to any of the protests?

I didn’t, and one of the reasons why I don’t do those anymore is because if anything happens, not of my doing but if something were to go bad, if alt-right people show up, if there’s a confrontation and the police show up, I know what’s going to happen to me. I can’t afford to risk deportation. If I was still working in a restaurant, still renting a room in a poor neighborhood, or wasn’t married, then maybe. But now I have a great apartment, an awesome job, and am married, so I have much more to lose. I think of those things and can’t risk losing them over a protest. Not to talk down to those who chose to participate and are in my same situation, but that is a risk I no longer choose to take.

Do things feel worse now?

Yes. Because before when we would protest and rally, there weren’t people waiting to physically fight  us and there weren’t SWAT police with guns pointed at us. There weren’t agents from ICE waiting to round us up, the way they are now. We always knew it could happen but now there’s a militarized cop presence. We didn’t have to worry about  crazy white guys showing up with swastikas. The concerns were always there in the back of our minds, but they weren’t in our face the way they are now. It’s not worth me risking my job, my actual  life, putting my husband in that position, stressing my parents out, over a movement that is always going to be there. I just can’t afford to be the one getting arrested any more.

Are you careful about how you reveal your status?

Most people who are close to me know because I’ve been so vocal these last few years. So, I’m not afraid of people seeing my Facebook posts or my views being seen or heard by the public. All the information I share is never my personal, private info. It’s more about information and resources  to assist others. I’m very careful about what I do post and am selective about who I accept on my FB page.

When you graduated from High School, what did you think your future was going to be?

My dream was to go straight to a university and not waste time with community college, and become a lawyer. But discovering my status brought all that to a complete stop.  It’s the story of most of us. Every single dreamer I know, we all have the same story. We didn’t know until the end of high school when we tried to apply for drivers’ permits. Otherwise, when do you ever ask your parents for your social security number? Until you need your driver’s license. When I was told that there is no social security number, that I can’t have a way of acquiring a license and I can’t go to university because I don’t qualify for financial aid and I don’t qualify for scholarships, that was just like wait, what do you mean? But I’ve been here in the US  my entire life. I asked them: “Can’t I just apply to become a citizen?” My parents explained that no, because you’re Mexican–the laws are different.

I had known people who had come here from other countries who had become legalized quickly, but saw over the years how much harder it was for people from Mexico. It was devastating. So I decided, I’m just going to graduate now. I’d always been ahead in my classes, so as a junior I was already taking the 4th year of English. I took economics and government over the summer and graduated a year early so I could get a head start on community college. Since I knew it might take me longer than most people to go through community college, I started earlier and finished in two years at Delta College in Stockton. But even with that, I learned that nobody wanted to hire me with just an AA and especially without a social security number. I decided I had to go to a university and get a degree, but I also needed to work, so I started working a full time job and a part time job. I enrolled at De Anza College and got a paralegal degree. I thought to myself, if I can’t be a lawyer, at least let me be a paralegal and get my foot in the door. And no one would hire me because I didn’t have a social security number. The attorneys would all say: “You know you seem like a great girl with lots of enthusiasm, but I can’t hire you.”

Just attorney after attorney–it was devastating.

“Just give me a chance, pay me cash, you can pay me a lot less than the other paralegals,”I would say.

But they all said “No, it’s too risky, how can I as an attorney hire you under the table?”

One attorney finally gave me a chance–she gave me an internship and was also the attorney who did my initial DACA application. so it wasn’t until 2012 that I got a real chance. I was her intern and we did a lot of DACA cases and family law. I thought I wanted to do family law, but working with her, I realized I could never be an attorney.  It was a good experience because it made me realize law wasn’t what I should be doing in life.  It also made me see that many people needed  help finding resources. A lot of these small cases were due to the lack of information.

So even though I started at Delta College, then years later went back to attend De Anza, I couldn’t get a real job so I kept all the other jobs–waitressing, being a nanny, cleaning houses. When DACA passed, I said okay, this is my chance to go back to school. When I do get my degree, I’ll have a chance to have a real job. Through AB 540, I could pay resident fees but it was hard to get scholarships. Thankfully, the California Dream Act had just passed, so I was able to apply for financial aid for the first time. [Ed note: Under California law AB 540, certain non-resident students are exempt from paying non-resident supplemental tuition. A student granted an AB 540 exemption is charged in-state tuition and fees].The lawyer convinced me to go back to school. By the time I’m done, I’ll be able to work and that’s what happened.

When your parents told you about your status, were you upset?

Oh yes, I was furious! All my plans went out the window completely. Not just the driver’s license, but everything. I was mad at them for a long time.  Not having legal status affected so many little things. I remember when my friends turned 18 and wanted to go dancing or celebrate at a club, I couldn’t go because I didn’t have a California ID. In my 20s I never went to a bar or club that wasn’t Hispanic-related or a smaller venue where they would accept my Mexican consulate ID. I never joined my friends anywhere because I didn’t have the “proper” ID. Forget about going out to  dance with friends, a Vegas trip or a vacation somewhere. Every time someone wanted to go out and celebrate, I would have to call the place and ask if they accepted the Mexican ID. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself and have them embarrass me again, which had happened before. Not all places accept it even though it’s a government issued ID. It’s where my understanding of racial discrimination first started.

To go from the kind of work you were doing — under the table, unprotected — to working in a professional capacity, what did that mean to you?

I served as a waitress for 11 years — from when I was 20 to 31. I worked at multiple restaurants: Denny’s, Applebee’s, mom and pop restaurants, catering jobs. And of course, those jobs are honorable, but they’re hard, physically straining jobs. Long hours and for years I worked at two or more restaurants, back to back. Especially if (customers) know you’re undocumented, they can get away with more exploitation than with citizen employees. Last year was the first year I’d spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day with my family. I had worked every single holiday before last year, for over 10 years. Places like Denny’s never close. I never got to spend any of the holidays with my family, I always had to work.

Was that common to others or just undocumented folks?

Just to the undocumented folks. As long as you could get the hours on the clock…it was just so complicated. They could go back and change the hours that you worked. It was really hard to endure and especially because the people who come in, they think you’re just an object that is there to serve. You’re there to serve them, to the deepest definition of what it is to serve, and they always use you as a punching bag to let out their frustration.

It was really hard at the end when I was going to grad school because I would serve these people who would speak at me as though I were this ignorant, uneducated “thing” that was just there to bring them their extra ranch or diet no ice, when in reality I was busting my butt to work full-time there and be in grad school full-time. I wanted to say “You have no idea how hard I’m working and how hard I’m trying to make it.” But you can’t say that, right? You can’t say you’re not the ignorant person they think you are and they treat you as. I had to quit because I couldn’t take  it anymore. I was so burned out. People don’t say “please and thank you” and it’s common for folks to not use manners with servers. I knew I was going to get fired if I didn’t quit, that I was going to snap, so I just quit at the end. But it’s really hard, especially on the holidays when all  you want is to be with your family so bad. The pay is only minimum wage. You work for so many hours at minimum wage and tips.

Have you been back to Mexico?

No. I was born there and went back for one Christmas when I was 5 before things got hard at the border, and that was it. I never went back.  

Being a young adult, it really sucked at first, driving without a license which meant that I would have to have a cheap car that I could afford to lose, because if they pull you over, they could impound your car. It was really common before DACA to have a cheap car and be ready to get the next one. Most places won’t give car insurance if you don’t have a social security number. You’d get ticketed for driving without a license and your car would be impounded, and then you’d be stuck. You still have to go to work, pick up your kids. It was really frustrating to know I couldn’t have a nice car. Just the constant fear — when a cop would pull up behind you — trying to look as “normal” as you can. But it’s hard when you can’t have a decent looking car, right? Because you make yourself stand out more by having a cheap-looking car. It’s like a never-ending circle of bad circumstances.

Do your parents feel like they made the right decision?

They have always carried guilt because of me. They wish they had come before I was born. They have always felt so bad for putting me in this situation. But they had no way of knowing — they were 20 years old when they came here, searching for the American dream. They could have never foreseen all this. It’s better here than there. At least here, you can have a decent place to live and food to eat, kids can have a decent education. Just the safety reasons alone make it worth coming over here. People don’t understand how bad it is in Mexico. It’s not just like they show you on TV–it’s actually a lot worse. They carried guilt for years and years and I probably didn’t make it any easier when I was a teen. Once I started seeing that those were the cards I was dealt, and that I had to make them work, I decided because I was the oldest of 5, I didn’t want my parents to worry about me. I never asked them for financial help, ever. I didn’t care if I had to have two jobs, I never wanted them to have to worry about me. They hated that I worked graveyard and they never saw me on holidays, but they were proud I was doing what I needed to do to survive. I wasn’t just feeling bad for myself. I just did what I had to do.

When DACA passed and I was able to go back to school, that alleviated a lot of their guilt and they felt glad I finally had a real chance. But now with what Trump’s done, they regret it all over again and feel guilt all over again for putting me in this situation. I keep telling them, you cannot blame yourself for this.

We’ll post Part 2 of Lara’s story next week. We’d love to hear your comments – you can leave them at this post, or email them to info@indivisibleeb.org

 

Help Preserve All Votes

Voting is the bedrock of our democracy: if it can be broken, every other right we rely on can be taken away. Many IEB’ers are doing critical work registering voters and canvassing in swing districts. To make sure those hard-won votes are counted, we must improve the security of our elections.

Expert Jim Soper explains that “the foundation of election security is based on paper ballots and random hand counts of the ballots.” On August 24, the authors of California AB 840, originally intended to ensure a thorough vote audit, inserted last-minute amendments that exempt millions of vote by mail ballots from the manual tally.

Under the amended bill, approved by the California Assembly on September 15, 2017, no provisional ballots and only ballots counted before midnight on Election Day will be eligible for audit. Why does that matter? In 2016, about 4 million California ballots were still uncounted after Election Day.

What can you do?

First, please call Governor Brown’s office TODAY, and urge him to veto the bill.

  • Office number: (916) 445-2841 
  • What to say: My name is ____. I live at [zip code]. I’m opposed to AB 840 because it exempts millions of vote by mail ballots from the election audits. Please protect the election audits. I urge Governor Brown to veto the bill. Thank you.

Next? Sign up for the Second Annual Take Back the Vote National Conference. Over 30 nationally recognized election integrity leaders will convene in Berkeley to discuss the current crises in our elections. Among the speakers or guests are computer scientists, professors, lawyers, journalists and election officials as well as federal, state and local legislators. They’ll present their findings, answer questions, and organize a national effort to restore publicly verified democracy in the United States.

  • When: October 7 and 8, 2017; 10 AM – 6 PM both days
  • Where: South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street, corner of Ashby Avenue
  • More info and register here. Early bird discount: $40 for 2 days. No one turned away for lack of funds
  • Can’t make it? If you can afford, please donate. Volunteers and speakers are tireless but unpaid, and contributing their time.

Take Back the Vote

There’s more! ACLU’s People Power is launching a 50-state voting rights campaign. Kickoff events to campaign for voting rights tailored to each state are planned for October 1st. Find an event or sign up to host one! You’ve got more than 20 to choose from in the Bay Area.ACLU People Power voting launchFinally, want to work with IEB to organize around voting and election issues? Email us.

Glad to See You in September

All Members Meeting September 17With apologies to Walt Whitman: “We are large, we contain multitudes.” Indivisible East Bay sprawls across three congressional districts, two counties, and more than a dozen cities. Despite logistical struggles (“where should we meet!?”) IEB’s breadth is a strength – from west-most tip, Richmond, out to East County, our membership boasts a wide diversity of population, experience, talents, and views.

IEB is also a coalition group; many of us are in hyper-local Indivisibles, and we share with our “home teams” the ideas, info, actions and more that we gather from IEB’s awesome resources (the website, newsletter, teams and Slack channels). And that in turn expands our reach far beyond the people who have signed up as IEB’ers.

But distance and horrendous traffic dictates that most of IEB’s plotting, organizing and nuts and bolts work goes on via email or the online chat platform Slack.

Once a month, though, we get to see one another and welcome new people to the fold at our All Members Meeting. The September 17 AMM at the Oakland Library was a jam-packed two hours of catching up and meeting newbies, hearing reports on critical issues, and participating in breakouts. We started with a brief discussion about the August 27 Berkeley Rally Against Hate and what occurred afterward. Research Team lead Anne described her experience at the Rally; several people shared their views of the day and issues raised, including Antifa and how we can get more accurate information out to the public when the media at times seems interested only in focusing on incidents of violence.

AMM Linh

Speaking for the hard-working Judiciary Team, Linh raised the alarm that the GOP Congress is careening toward packing the federal courts with far right-wing lifetime tenure judges. She explained the blue slip process, alerted us to GOP attempts to split the Ninth Circuit, and spoke a bit about how IEB is organizing to resist. Have experience with or interest in judiciary issues? Email linh@indivisibleeb.org or contact her on Slack: @linh.

CA-15 team co-lead Ward spoke about the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB), an extraordinary institution where he is a long-time volunteer. Ward hopes that many of us can attend the Food Bank’s event “How the Farm Bill Affects Hunger – and What You Can Do About It.” The Farm Bill, which funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California and better known as food stamps, is under attack – learn what you can do to defend it! The event will be held at the ACCFB Community Engagement Center on September 27 from 5:30 to 7 PM. More information and registration here.

AMM breakout session

IEB Governance Committee member Jiggy, also a member of Indivisible SF, told us about CA StateStrong, her ambitious new project that applies Indivisible Guide tenets and grassroots activism to Sacramento and our state and local representatives. She later led a popular breakout session to let people know what CA StateStrong is working on and to give an update on what happened in the legislature last week. If you’re interested, please subscribe to the CA StateStrong newsletter. Want to get more involved with the project? Fill out this form. On twitter? Follow @CAStateStrong and RT to help spread the word.  

At the other breakouts:

  • Anne, Evan and Linh led a session for people excited to research and find more ways for members to use public comment periods to slow the administration’s rollback of protections in federal regulations.
  • Seven “veterans” attended the Outreach to Organizations (OtO) breakout and gave the team updates on the organizations they’re liaising with, including the Alameda County Community Food Bank, Anti Police Terror Project, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, and Oakland Rising. The team added 350BayArea/350EastBay as a priority organization, and two people are currently exploring new organizations. If you have a relationship with an activist community organization that pursues policy changes at the federal, state or local level, OtO would love to hear from you (email Toni at ieb.outreach@gmail.com).
  • Lynn and Heidi talked to several members about volunteering for IEB teams and projects. If you want to know how to volunteer with specific committees or teams email the volunteers team lead Andrea at andrea@indivisibleeb.org or ping her on Slack: @andrea. We were glad there’s much interest in helping out with the IEB newsletter, and we can always use more! For info, contact lead newsletter wrangler Ann on Slack: @anngdan
  • The CA-13 Team lead met with members who were interested in joining the team and in supporting our efforts to bring important questions and concerns to Congresswoman Lee and her staff.
  • Ward and LeAnn, who recently stepped up as the new CA-15 (Congressman Swalwell) team co-leads, met up with a fellow CA-15’er. They also got valuable advice from Kristen, valiant CA-11 (Congressman DeSaulnier) team lead.

With doom and gloom filling the news, from threats to our healthcare to the real risk of nuclear annihilation, it was inspiring and motivating to spend the afternoon with scores of people who share common goals to resist those threats and who are fighting together, indivisibly, for progressive values.