IEB Meets with Senator Harris’ Staff, May 2018

Sen. Harris office visit 050518

By Myra S. Mitzman

On May 3, 2018, Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Kamala Harris’ State Director, Julie Rodriguez, and Bay Area District Director, June Williams, in downtown Oakland.  

We opened with a serious discussion surrounding ICE tactics of detaining pregnant women and separating children from their parents. Julie stressed that, in light of misinformation about the recently-arrived “caravan,” it is important to humanize the narrative—something we can do to help. Please email Senator Harris if you have a story concerning someone adversely affected by these harsh ICE policies.

The dialogue turned to national security, in particular Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel (torture, anyone?). We pointed out that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA Rendition, Detention and Interrogation, about the treatment of detainees during the so-called “War on Terror” rightly belongs to the Senate, not the CIA, and perhaps could be publicly released by any member of the Senate Intelligence Committee – which includes both Senator Harris and Senator Feinstein. Also on the national security agenda: Syria, where there is seemingly no long-term strategy, and where, according to Julie, the U.S.’s “muscular diplomacy” (i.e., ability to engage in effective negotiation) has dwindled.

On the topic of Social Security, IEB members and staff alike took umbrage at the characterization of this program as an “entitlement” when so many of us have paid into it for decades. Ironically, one of the best things we could do to shore up Social Security is to pass comprehensive immigration reform, so more young immigrants will be able to pay into the system—and earn more money, and create more jobs, growing an economy that can take care of the aging population. And let’s not forget how the Trump tax scam was always intended to dry up funding for social safety net programs.

Over the course of the next 60 minutes, we covered climate change (see S.2352, the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2018, currently in need of co-sponsors); Puerto Rico (debt restructuring/renewable energy?); Trump’s latest judicial appointments (see snippet of Senator Harris grilling Wendy Vitter); defense spending (don’t count on a Harris “No” vote on increases); election security (demand paper ballots!); and sexual harassment in Congress (Harris’s staff undergoes regular harassment training, but she appears to be in the minority in doing this).

We also got into drug policy, including Senator Schumer’s proposed national Democratic platform for marijuana decriminalization. Julie pointed out that, with Democrats holding so few Washington “power levers,” one way to effect change is through the appropriations process. If Congress doesn’t approve appropriations, the Department of Justice can’t implement its regressive drug enforcement policies. For now, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment is still good law (the DOJ isn’t supposed to spend money enforcing federal drug laws in states that have legalized medical cannabis). But as we know, true drug reform requires reforming sentencing laws, eliminating cash bail (promising, but not if the algorithm used to determine flight risk, etc. is inherently biased), and decriminalizing marijuana (including a nationwide “equity agenda” similar to Oakland’s).

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A few more notable moments:

  • Julie saying that, for Senator Harris, the conversation always needs to be, “How do we improve people’s lives?” It’s her “litmus test” whenever evaluating an issue or proposal. Amen.
  • Quote of the day: “The Senator’s ability to be fearless is because you all are.” Awwww. See the Senator’s interview on the Stephen Colbert show, where she was perhaps a bit measured, but watch and judge for yourselves.
  • Reminding Julie that, despite Mitch McConnell’s bluster, any Senator can introduce the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which would protect Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia 

Last but not least, we’re pushing for another town hall. June Williams said she’s been pressing the Senator on this. Historically, town halls were held only by House representatives. Fun fact: Before the 2016 election, Senators Feinstein and Boxer had not held a town hall in 24 years—last year’s Feinstein April town hall in San Francisco was her first ever! But in these troubled times, people’s demands have changed, and town halls are an important way to have our voices heard. Please call our senators and reps and demand more town halls this year—then show up (and speak up!) if and when they happen.

Myra Mitzman is an Oakland real estate/business attorney and sideline women’s fiction author (under the pseudonym Sheryl Sorrentino).

Photos by Maria Bernstein

 

Senator Harris Town Hall in Sacramento

IEB members who made the trek to Senator Kamala Harris’ Sacramento town hall on April 5 were rewarded with a lively session covering a broad range of issues. Members of the packed audience challenged Harris with questions that were sometimes supportive but more often critical, and overall she deftly replied to the queries.

On holding law enforcement to account

Senator Harris entered to a standing ovation. In her opening remarks, she spoke first about Stephon Clark, the local man killed in his grandmother’s backyard by police who allegedly mistook his cell phone for a weapon. Of note, Clark’s grandmother was in the audience.

The Senator used the Clark incident as a segue to a more general discussion of the history of police violence, dating back to the civil rights protests of the 1950’s and 60’s. She then spoke about how, as California’s attorney general, she had worked to address issues of police bias and accountability. In contrast, she noted that the current U.S. Department of Justice is “led by someone who wants to take us back” to a darker time.

Although Harris helped institute police bias training in California, it clearly hasn’t solved the problem. Acknowledging this lack of success, she spoke strongly about the “profound responsibility” of law enforcement “to give all members of the community dignity.”

The police shooting context lent a somber tone to Harris’ remarks around the adage: “as goes California, so goes the nation.” But she found hope in our response to that shooting and to the other injustices we face, many of them coming directly from Washington, D.C. The main theme throughout the discussion was “fighting for the best of who we are as a country.”

Immigration, the courts, and the power of resistance

When asked what she would say to the DREAMers who watched Congress fail to act to protect them, she told them to “keep on leading.” The DREAMers, she said, “believe that if they are seen and if their stories are heard, it will matter. They believe in our democracy.”

In response to the question of an organizer who has been leading protests outside Representative Tom McClintock’s district office regarding what to do about “counter-protesters trying to stir up trouble,” Harris said:

Speaking truth often invites people who don’t like to hear that truth to try and suppress you, and we can never be suppressed… And take a look around this room right now and hold on to the belief that you have a lot people supporting you even if you don’t see them at that moment… There are more of us.

Appropriately for a recent addition to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Harris spoke several times about the vital role the courts play in our government. Asked about the outsized influence of money in politics, specifically Citizens United v. FEC, she discussed the issue and then also pointed out the importance of several other Supreme Court decisions — including ones on collective bargaining, Brown vs. Board of Education, and the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act.

Asked about DACA, Harris spoke of the importance of lower federal courts as a defense against the extreme positions of this administration. So far, these courts have successfully prevented the administration from rescinding DACA protections.

Toward the end of the town hall a heckler interrupted to criticize Harris for her leadership in the Democratic effort to attach the DREAM Act to a must-pass government spending bill. The heckler asserted that doing so prioritized one group of people over another. The Senator rejected this characterization, saying that the attachment was needed because “the approach this administration has taken is not just, it is not fair, it is not about giving people due process or equal opportunities.”

Senator Harris Town Hall April 2018

Areas for improvement

Overall, IEB members found several of the Senator’s answers incomplete, unclear or unsatisfactory. We plan to follow-up with her on these and other matters:

  • Harris talked about “reevaluating” Social Security and other expensive government programs. While she acknowledged we had to keep “our promises,” IEB would like to get more specifics as to her intentions here and to provide our suggestions for how to raise revenue.
  • We’d also like to discuss Harris’ remarks about “smart” allocation of national security resources. For example, she co-sponsored S.1414 – the SHIPS Act, which mandated that the Navy build up its fleet to an arbitrary 355 ships, a number that forward-thinking military experts have questioned. More generally, she has voted for bills that, in our view, astronomically increase military spending. We’d like to get more clarity on her national security priorities.
  • Near the end of the Town Hall the president of the California Urban Partnership (C.U.P.) asked Sen. Harris what will be done to ensure that the marijuana industry successfully transitions to a legal business — and not become “another cotton or sugar or tobacco where [Black people] work for free, where we do all of the jail time, but reap none of the benefits.” Sen. Harris agreed work was needed here and promised to follow up — but did not offer any specifics. We at IEB plan also want to follow up here — both with Sen. Harris and the C.U.P.

The Senator asked the audience to continue to find common ground and to build coalitions to fight for our values. She urged us to march and shout and speak up and organize. Finally, she said “thank you” for all the work we’ve done so far — and the town hall was adjourned.

Photographs © photographybyrex.com

A Conversation on Race

By Ted Lam

Bay Area Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Barbara Lee (CA-13) hosted “A Conversation on Race” at Contra Costa College in San Pablo on February 3. Nearly 450 people spent their Saturday afternoon listening to, and engaging with, a distinguished panel of experts featuring UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Oscar Dubón Jr. and UCB Professors Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Ula Y. Taylor, and john a. powell. While a timely kickoff to Black History month, it was also a sad reminder of how far we have to go to realize the goals of racial equality. 

Representative Lee pointed out ways that the current administration has created problems, rather than solutions, in our country’s ongoing discussion about race, from the theme of “Make America Great Again” – which really means “Make America White Again” – to institutional obstacles to racial equality like the current criminal justice system.

Professor Taylor spoke movingly about seeing the many homeless “tent cities” in the Bay Area, linking them to a display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. that commemorated the tents in which the first freed slaves were housed by Union soldiers at the end of the Civil War. Taylor proclaimed that “tent cities are the epitome of racism.”

Professor Bedolla struck a chord when she reminded us NOT to use the term “identity politics” because it minimizes the deep structural history and inequalities that we have to come to grips with if we’re going to change the status of different groups in American society. 

The difficulty of moving forward, cautioned Professor powell, lies in the history of legalized slavery in America. He noted that in recent years most African Americans’ “wealth”, such as it was, resided in the equity on their homes. However, since the Great Recession, that equity has massively decreased and not recovered appreciably due to predatory lending practices targeted at the African American community. Professor powell sardonically noted that some of the evils of the Administration’s tax scam may unexpectedly bypass African Americans: “The recent GOP tax bill will take more wealth from others – not black people, because we don’t have a lot – and distribute it to top.”

Congresswoman Lee shared some illuminating and inspiring stories from her own history. Lee recalled being told she could not try out to be a cheerleader at San Fernando High because she was African American. In true form, Lee refused to accept this; she brought in the NAACP to help her get the school board policy changed so all cheerleaders could try out in front of, and be chosen by, the student body – and Barbara Lee became a cheerleader! The audience cheered wildly — although we could imagine the many hard moments Lee must have endured that she omitted from the story, in the end she prevailed — and as a reminder, this photo of her, triumphant in her cheerleader uniform, hangs above the door of her DC office.

Barbara Lee cheerleader

During the question and answer period, several attendees spoke up about their experiences with race in their communities and asked the panel for advice or how to deal with issues related to race. Some stories were very personal and touched on a part of the American experience that is rarely aired in public. The large, engaged audience appreciated the opportunity to tell their stories to each other, their elected representatives, and the panelists.

Did you miss the event? Watch the video here. And stay tuned for more events, Reps DeSaulnier and Lee plan to make this a series.

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

I’m a B-Lee-ver! Town Hall and Meeting with Barbara Lee

On January 13, Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13) held a teach-in about the GOP tax scam. She brought together tax and health care experts along with several local officials to explain both what’s in the tax bill, what they plan to do about it, what we can do to mitigate the damage the bill does to California, and how we can prevent Republicans from using the budget deficit they created as an excuse to cut government programs we rely on.

In addition to these presentations, about half of the two-hour event was devoted to questions from the crowd of intrepid individuals who showed up at 10 AM on a sunny Saturday to discuss tax policy. Rep. Lee also presented Congressional Record Statements to two local graduate students, Kathy Shield and Vetri Velan, whose advocacy and tax calculator helped keep provisions that harmed students (and by extension education and the future of our country) out of the final bill.

After the event, four IEB members managed to grab a quick meeting with Rep. Lee on the way to the parking lot – we packed quite a lot into our five or so minutes. We thanked her for her tireless anti-war work, her vote against expansion of warrantless surveillance, and her commitment to protect the DREAMers and CHIP. We told her that we looked forward to working with her to do more to protect children and immigrants.

Rep. Lee was open to blocking the counterproductive move of the U.S. Israeli embassy to Jerusalem using the powers of her appropriations subcommittee, but asked us to coordinate with the constituents of other members of that subcommittee to help get it done. When we asked what some of her other top priorities are that we can help with, Rep. Lee mentioned the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that would decriminalize cannabis at a federal level, give incentives to states to change laws that disproportionately affect people of color and those with low income, and create a community reinvestment fund and an opportunity to expunge previous convictions.

Rep. Lee also asked us to make it a priority to address the role that racism plays in so many of the problems facing our country, from poverty to health care to immigration to the justice system. We thank Rep. Lee for that reminder and for the work she does every day on our behalf, and we look forward to speaking with her again soon—hopefully for a real meeting, with chairs and everything.

 

A Year of IEB

The news cycle in the first few weeks of 2018 has been especially unforgiving. With the White House imploding under the weight of its own gossip while the Congressional GOP relaxes and plots its next moves, the fresh start promised by the New Year feels anything but.

Despite all of that, 2017 also saw IEB come into being, and we persisted through the year: on the streets, on the phone, sending texts, meeting Members of Congress, packing town halls… we kept the government on notice, and all it takes to see the size of our impact is a quick glance down the administration’s list of unfulfilled promises. If you hadn’t come out, if you hadn’t texted or written postcards or donated money, everything on that list would be part of our reality now.

With 2018 off to a start defined by the worst excesses of its predecessor, we thought it would be a good idea to look back and really take stock of what we did and how we did it in 2017, a year that rewrote the rulebook on our understanding of the American republic. The list below lays it out: We were there when it counted, and we made our voices heard.

Holding Power to Account

We spent a lot of time meeting and cultivating close relationships with our Members of Congress, and we wrote it all down.

Raising Our Voices

In 2017, IEB and its members were unafraid to raise their voices about the issues facing the country today. From phone banks to postcard campaigns to donation drives to knitting patterns, we used tools from every corner of our arsenal to keep the Trump administration on its toes.

Shining a Light

Information is power – so we made it our business to read, learn, and share our knowledge.

Building Our Community

The progress IEB makes in 2018 will rely on the relationships between and among its members. That’s why it’s so important that we meet, and keep meeting, and so wonderful when we do: we are building a community founded on political spirit that will outlast the current darkness and teach all of us lessons in how to be the best Americans we can.

Congressman DeSaulnier Holds Tax Town Hall

By Catherine de Neergaard

Congressman Mark DeSaulnier’s (CA-11) January 13 Tax Town Hall was standing room only, with more than 400 people packed into the El Cerrito Community Center and spilling out the doors. Many elected officials were there, including Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who introduced DeSaulnier.

In fine form, DeSaulnier focused on why the Republican Tax Scam Bill is such a disaster for everyone except the very wealthiest (the so-called 1%) and why it is so important to take back the House and Senate in 2018 and reverse the tax scam. In DeSaulnier’s view, getting out the vote is key to winning in November, which in turn is crucial to recover democracy and economic equality.

DeSaulnier issued a rallying cry: “American citizens have to fight now for their democracy,” and said he’d like to see Contra Costa County come alive with activism, words that resounded with the members of Indivisible and several other local progressive groups. He closed with a story about the advice Frederick Douglass in the 19th century gave a young man asking how to live. Douglass replied, “Agitate, agitate, agitate.” Amen to that!

DeSaulnier’s presentation well reflected Indivisible’s agenda, values, and policy goals. Unlike Senators Feinstein and Harris, he voted NO on the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act adding $100 BILLION to the already bloated $600 BILLION-plus military budget. Continuing his tradition of blending activism with proselytizing policy wonkery, DeSaulnier opened the Town Hall by recommending that people read “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer and “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America” by Nancy MacLean to really understand what is going on in America now. He also recommended Thomas Piketty’s much-lauded book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” to, among other things, understand why the ‘trickle down effect’ (the theory behind the Reagan era tax cuts for the rich and the current tax scam bill) doesn’t work.

DeSaulnier’s town hall was one of many across the country given by House Democrats. In California, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) held her “GOP Tax Scam Teach-In” at Laney College; House Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) and Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-5) presented their teach-in together in San Francisco. You can watch it here.

If you missed it, the Facebook video broadcast of DeSaulnier’s Town Hall is well worth watching, and his excellent Power Point program should be available soon on his website.

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

Photograph by George McRae

Overflow Crowd Packs DeSaulnier Town Hall

Along with a standing room only crowd of over 200 people, CA-11 Team members Kristen, Ted, Colleen, and Elizabeth attended Representative Mark DeSaulnier’s 90-minute Town Hall at Miramonte High School in Orinda on November 20, 2017. Overflow attendees listened in the School’s library.

DeSaulnier highlighted many of the negative aspects of the House and Senate tax bills, and gave the sobering historical perspective that whereas in 1986 it it took 11 months to pass tax reform, the current GOP plan is to rush the bills through in two months. He also mentioned the mind-blowing amount that the bill will add to the national debt over 10 years: $1.5 trillion.

Pointing out that CA-11 is the twenty-third most impacted of all 435 congressional districts in terms of housing costs, DeSaulnier added that 45% of CA-11 residents use the local and state deductions that save them an average of $20,000 a year. If some version of the tax bill is passed, the deductions could be severely impacted or eliminated completely. In addition, DeSaulnier pointed out that 44% of CA-11 residents use student deductions, also on the GOP chopping block.

Of special interest to Indivisible members and other activists using the tactic of engaging our Members of Congress, DeSaulnier said he previously didn’t believe that making calls to Senators and Congresspeople worked — until he saw for himself that it does! He urged CA-11 residents and people in all congressional districts to call their Members of Congress, because it does make a difference.

As he does at each Town Hall, DeSaulnier reminded the crowd that as citizens we need to be engaged and to stay engaged. California District CA-11 is truly fortunate to have Mark DeSaulnier represent us in Congress.

If you couldn’t attend the Town Hall, watch the archive video. You can also subscribe to his newsletter, and here’s his contact info, let him know your opinions:

  • Email
  • Richmond Office phone: (510) 620-1000
  • Walnut Creek Office phone: (925) 933-2660
  • Washington DC Office phone: (202) 225-2095

Photograph © Rep Mark DeSaulnier

Rep Mark DeSaulnier Town Hall, October 2017

Representative Mark DeSaulnier held his 50th Town Hall on October 16, 2017. The meeting, held in Walnut Creek before a standing room-only crowd, was also live-streamed on DeSaulnier’s Facebook page. California’s District 11 representative was his typical self: a policy wonk, solid on his facts and figures, willing to work with the audience without backing away even from those who were angry with him.Rep Mark DeSaulnier 50th Town HallDeSaulnier gave an overview and talked about the fires up north and environmental concerns. He spoke quite a bit about opioid addiction issues and the recent 60 Minutes/Washington Post report on Congress’s role in preventing the DEA from prosecuting drug companies suspected of a major role in this disaster.

DeSaulnier also talked about how we in California have managed to be great in terms of innovation, growth, and embracing new technology and environmental protection. Some of his main points: China and other countries are now embracing much of what we’ve been doing — including plans to stop producing internal combustion engines — but the U.S. as a whole is becoming an outlier by failing to look to the future. California will continue to be a leader; but in the Bay Area we have to address issues of affordable housing and transportation and their roles in our ability to attract the best people to come here and stay.

Other issues included:

  • Fielding a tough question on immigration, DeSaulnier responded that immigrants contribute more economically than they “take” from the government. An audience member didn’t like that answer, so he asked staff to set up a one-on-one for him and the audience member to review each other’s facts.
  • DeSaulnier said that he does not support term limits: he feels that term limits get rid of both good and bad people and overall reduce the strength of your “bench.” It’s better, he said, if elections are transparent and everyone votes.
  • There was a question on BART and its service. DeSaulnier reiterated his support for labor, and sweated out the recent bond measure to upgrade BART infrastructure.
  • Someone asked about the recent Muslim ban, and DeSaulnier said that Congress is looking at studies on how other countries have dealt with religious intolerance. He mentioned that our founding fathers came to this country to escape religious intolerance, and said that the views of Steve Bannon and his ilk are not a part of our country.
  • To a question about the planned Republican tax cuts, DeSaulnier stated strong opposition, especially the FY18 budget passed by the House. He favors a more progressive tax system.
  • He is concerned about election protection and Russian interference and hacking in our elections. He reflected that if 63 million people had voted in 2016 the result could have been different – although, he said, you respect the votes of the other side.

Couldn’t make it to the Town Hall? You can see DeSaulnier’s PowerPoint presentation here.

It’s Not a Town Hall Like You Promised

Whatever Senator Feinstein says, her speaking engagement on August 29 was not a town hall. In fact, public participation was actively discouraged at every turn, and as a result, constituents like us who would have prefered to participate in the evening’s policy discussion are instead forced to focus on the ways we have been shut out.

The event was not, as far as we could tell, promoted outside of the Commonwealth Club network—certainly the senator did not inform her constituents of this chance to meet with her in person (for a fee). As a result, the vast majority of the audience was Club members. “Hardly,” as one reporter put it on Twitter, “a cross section of San Francisco” let alone California.

After several requests, a form was provided to suggest questions online. It was shared only by the Commonwealth Club on the event’s Facebook page and with a few Indivisibles who had been asking for it (to the best of our knowledge). Her staff told us the senator would share this link with as many constituents as possible. She did not.

The day of the event, we arrived early, along with some friends who were not able to get tickets, to protest the fact that our senator was holding a sham town hall. Security (politely) asked us to take  several steps away from the building in order to hold our signs and distribute our fliers on “the public sidewalk.” And if we drifted across that line we were (politely) scolded. There was no obvious reason for these restraints other than to suppress our participation.

Those of us privileged enough to have obtained tickets attempted to bring in our red and green agree/disagree cards in order to politely and non-disruptively express our opinions during our representative’s remarks. Event staff (quite rudely this time) confiscated them, apparently fearing that allowing the audience to participate in this way would be pandemonium.

Instead we were invited to “express ourselves” in writing on little question cards. The moderator chose a few of these to read (or paraphrase), but for all we know, the rest may have gone directly into the trash. Such an action would certainly have been in line with the tone of the evening which was that we should sit down, shut up, and be grateful to be allowed to listen in on a conversation between elites.

In April, at her real town hall, one of Sen. Feinstein’s constituents expressed appreciation for an event at which many different voices were heard and then asked his senator to “continue to meet with us like this.” Last night barely counted as a meeting and it certainly wasn’t “like this” or “with us.” She failed to meet her commitment, and If she doesn’t rectify that at her next recess, she will have let down not only her most engaged constituents, but the entire state. And if she doesn’t answer to the people who elected her, she will have let down democracy itself.

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

Call your senator today and say:

If Senator Feinstein intends to fulfill the duty she was elected to do, she must engage directly with the people of California—hear their concerns and answer their questions—at an open town hall, as she promised in April she would do. Her August event was not a town hall. I demand that she hold one in September.

On Keeping Promises

On April 17, 2017 at  the first town hall of her career, Senator Dianne Feinstein made a promise:

Audience Member: I would like to know whether you will commit to continuing to meet with us like this, and specifically on your next recess can we do a meeting on a Saturday when people can come? [cheers]

Senator Feinstein: I don’t know whether it will be my next recess…but I will commit to doing one on the weekend during the summer. [louder cheers]

Now she is claiming that an exclusive ($40-$65 per ticket*), tightly restricted (no direct interaction with the audience or follow-ups from anyone but the moderator) event organized by the Commonwealth Club of California is a better way to reach more constituents than a free and open town hall where she faces her constituents directly.

We are sure it will be a lovely event. But it is NOT the promised town hall.

If you disagree with the senator’s decision, please come protest outside the event. If you can’t make it in person, call the office and tell Sen. Feinstein that her constituents expect her to fulfill her commitments.

Date: Tuesday August 29, 2017
Time: 5pm
Location: Outside the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (email): SF Office: (415) 393-0707

*The money goes to the nonprofit organizing the event, not to Sen. Feinstein or her campaign, but it is still a huge barrier to entry for many people.

Note: Also please submit questions for the senator at this link. Perhaps the moderator will chose to read one.