Briefing memo for meeting with Sen. Harris, Nov. 2018

On November 30, 2018, a delegation from Indivisible East Bay visited with Senator Kamala Harris’s staffers Julie Chavez Rodrigues and Daniel Chen. As we do before all our visits with our Senators, we prepared a briefing letter on all the issues we wanted to discuss, including extensive background research. This meeting concerned the following topics:

  • Asylum seekers
  • ICE/CBP abuses and DHS appropriations
  • Comprehensive immigration reform
  • Climate change, including carbon pricing
  • Poverty reduction
  • Abuses of the intelligence agencies
  • Cabinet order
  • Digital privacy
  • Criminal justice reform and the First Step Act
  • Judicial nominations
  • Campaign finance reform
  • New blue house
  • Town hall

You can read the entire memo here.

 

Swalwell final 2018 Town Hall

By Ward Kanowsky

Close to 450 attendees braved the wind and rain to join Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15) on December 1 at Dublin High School for his last town hall of 2018.  Swalwell gave an overview of HR 1, the new Congress’ first major piece of legislation in 2019, touching on key issues of voting rights and dark money and also pledging to expand investigations so that the Oval Office is not used by the current occupant as an “opportunity to cash in.” On the issue of immigration, Swalwell said that despite threats of a government shutdown, he would never vote to fund the wall; rather, we need to focus on the “root cause” of the immigration crisis and work with other countries to help them address the poverty and violence within their own borders.

Rep. Swalwell Town Hall, photo by LeAnn Kanowsky
Rep. Swalwell Town Hall, photo by LeAnn Kanowsky

Some of the other issues discussed during Swalwell’s opening comments and during Q&A included:

  • Trump’s tax returns: “We will see them.” The House Ways and Means Committee could request the returns right now without a vote, but Swalwell thinks it will likely still go through the courts. Every President since Nixon has released their tax returns, and “we need to do an MRI” on Trump’s financial interests.
  • Impeachment: “The best thing for democracy is for Trump to be impeached,” but we need an impeachable case. “We don’t want to make a martyr out of him.”
  • Climate change: “The window is closing fast” to get something done. Since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord (and the U.S. can’t get back into the Paris agreement until we have a new President), the best opportunity to get something done would be through an infrastructure bill that includes provisions for energy alternatives. This is an area where Trump might agree.
  • Guns: In addition to background checks, Swalwell supports banning or buying back all assault weapons. He told a personal story from when he was a prosecutor about a victim of an assault weapon who was shot in the leg, but still died because the bullet was fired at such a high velocity.
  • Yemen: Swalwell said that he supports House Concurrent Resolution 138, which directs the President to remove United States armed forces from the Republic of Yemen.

Photograph (top) © Rep. Swalwell’s office

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

 

Rep. DeSaulnier’s Congressional Update Town Hall

By Ted Lam

Indivisible East Bay CA-11 team co-leads Kristen and Ted, and IEB member Tom, met with Congressperson Mark DeSaulnier and his D.C. Chief of Staff Betsy Marr before his Congressional Update Town Hall in Richmond on October 23. We updated DeSaulnier on CA-11 team members’ recent work helping elect Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton, our involvement in pushing Sheriff Livingston to cancel the ICE contract, and our various Get Out The Vote actions in CA-21, Northern Nevada, and Arizona. DeSaulnier was impressed and immensely grateful, and Marr encouraged us to keep at it. DeSaulnier shared his unvarnished summary of the “goings-on” in D.C. with us, and we had a great back-and-forth on that. 

Looking to the future, we asked about DeSaulnier’s priorities after the elections, and what he’d recommend for our post-midterm grassroots efforts. To our specific question about whether the Democrats would re-establish the Office of Technology Assessment that was killed by Newt Gingrich in the Clinton era, DeSaulnier agreed that it should be a priority. Wrapping up, DeSaulnier offered to meet with the CA-11 team after the midterms to check in and dive deeper into our post-election ideas. We will hold him to that!

About 70 people attended the 90-minute Town Hall. There was an underlying tone of optimism in the Representative’s presentation about the midterms. One of his post-election priorities is to work on overturning Citizens United, banning stock buybacks, strengthening anti-trust enforcement, and updating the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act (WARN). The WARN Act of 1988 is a US labor law that protects employees, their families, and communities by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees.

IEB and CA-11 team member Janis Hashe asked two questions on what can be done about coal rail shipments through Richmond, and whether the interstate commerce clause can be utilized to help. DeSaulnier’s response was supportive, and he gave some suggestions. Obviously fascinated with the second question, he said he’d give it further thought.

Janis Hashe & friend at Rep DeSaulnier Richmond Town Hall, photo by Ted Lam
Janis Hashe & friend at Rep. DeSaulnier Richmond Town Hall, photo by Ted Lam

It was satisfying to hear our Member of Congress espouse progressive values and be so responsive to his community. 

Missed the Town Hall? Watch the video here.

Photo of Representative DeSaulnier © Mark DeSaulnier

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

Swalwell’s Swell Town Hall

On August 11, 2018, Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15) spoke to an enthusiastic audience at his “How Can I Help? A Campaign Town Hall & Midterm Election Kickoff.” The purpose was to get the audience geared up for the upcoming midterms, particularly upcoming House races. To facilitate engagement in these efforts, Rep. Swalwell is opening an office in Dublin where people can take action to help with Democratic races. The space will have areas for phone and text banking and also for writing postcards. On the weekends, the office will serve as a coordination point for events out in the field, such as canvassing. Located at the IBEW Local 595 (6250 Village Pkwy, Dublin), the space is scheduled to open on September 4. Rep. Swalwell encouraged the audience to use this space to work toward getting the candidate(s) of their choice elected.  He recommended that everyone pick one or two candidates that they really want to help get elected, as it’s easier to focus on a small number, and you’ll feel more accomplished if your candidates win!

During the Q&A period, someone asked about election security and whether our ballots were going to be secure. Rep. Swalwell said that although election security is very important, the concerns should not be sensationalized, as it may cause some folks to sit out the election because they will think their votes won’t matter. Instead, he said, we should focus on getting everyone out to vote rather than worry about hacking.

An audience member also asked Rep. Swalwell if he’d be willing to co-sign House Joint Resolution 48, which would overturn Citizens United. Both Representative DeSaulnier and Lee have co-signed it already, and Swalwell said he is supportive and will look into co-signing.

Overall, it was a motivating gathering full of people eager to help take back Congress.  All CA-15 residents should consider joining Rep. Swalwell’s office on this fight!

Excited to join Indivisible East Bay’s CA-15 team? Email us to get started!

Photograph by Janine Costanzo

 

Town Hall on Securing Our Elections

By Ted Landau

For Representative Mark DeSaulnier’s 61st Town Hall since taking office, he focused on a single critical and timely issue: Securing Our Elections. Free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy. Unfortunately, as evidenced by Russian interference with the 2016 election, the integrity of our voting process has never been under greater threat. The purpose of the Town Hall, held in Walnut Creek on August 13, 2018, was to consider what we should do about this — for the 2018 midterms and beyond.

The Town Hall began with a brief slide show presentation followed by opening statements by Rep. DeSaulnier and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Next, three election experts, Dr. David Jefferson, Professor Philip Stark and Mark Kumleben, joined the panel discussion. Taking questions from the jam-packed audience of about 300, they delivered both good and bad news.

Let’s start with the bad news: Here in California, attempts to “break in” to our election hardware continue unabated. Efforts to employ social media as a means to disrupt our elections also remain ongoing. We need to be more vigilant than ever if we expect to safeguard our election process. And unfortunately, with Trump at the helm and his GOP enablers downplaying Russian interference and blocking the Democrats’ attempt to increase election security funding, we can’t depend on much help from the federal government.

The good news: DeSaulnier continues to work to get Washington to act. He is currently the co-sponsor of at least 5 bills to improve election security (such as the aptly named Election Security Act, H.R. 5011). While none of these bills has made it to the GOP-controlled floor as yet, this is a start. If you live in CA-11, DeSaulnier’s district, thank him and urge him to keep pushing! Meanwhile, Secretary of State Padilla claimed that no one has yet succeeded in “hacking” California voting equipment. To help keep things that way, the state has allocated over $134 million dollars to upgrade our voting machines and to provide additional election protections. One caution came from Professor Stark, who pointed out that just because you’ve found no evidence of hacking, that doesn’t guarantee none has taken place; hackers may have succeeded in preventing your ability to detect them.

So what should we be doing? The panelists agreed on several key recommendations:

  • Paper ballots are essential. Electronic voting, online voting, whatever: they’re all bad. Only paper ballots allow us to reliably track, audit and verify the authenticity and accuracy of the vote. Accept no substitute. Further, no voting machines should be connected to the Internet; it’s too much of a risk. California has gotten the message: it keeps its machines offline and uses only paper ballots unless people with disabilities need an accessible voting machine. As for the rest of the country, while the Constitution prohibits most federal regulation of the electoral process, it allows for the federal government to require states to use paper ballots. We should demand that they do so!
  • Beware of bots. As discussed primarily by Mr. Kumleben, bots are mini-programs designed to imitate humans on social media. We can’t outlaw them but we should be aware of them. They can create an illusion of consensus or popularity that can unduly influence people’s perceptions and thus how they vote. Always be skeptical of what you read and view online — especially from unfamiliar sources! We should also demand that politicians reveal not only where their campaign money comes from but where it goes. If they’re spending money on bots, the voters should know!
  • Gerrymandering and voter suppression are rooted in white supremacy; their goal is to inhibit minorities from voting or having their vote matter. That was the strong assertion made by the Secretary of State to open this topic, which drew applause from the audience. The ideal goal should be for every eligible person to vote — and to do so within fairly-drawn districts. Again, California has led the way here with its recent bipartisan redistricting. All states should move in this direction.
  • Make the move to open source: non-proprietary software that anyone can see, explore and even modify. As elucidated by Dr. Jefferson and Professor Stark, most voting machines in use today run on proprietary software, owned entirely by the same companies that manufacture voting machine hardware. Even though election officials “purchase” voting equipment, they are prohibited from viewing or modifying the machine’s software source code. This leads to a quasi-monopoly that costs the government dearly. If voting machines were instead truly owned by the public and ran on open source software, it could reduce election costs by a factor of five, leading many experts to urge that we should push for a move to open source. While it is not a panacea for security concerns, and while it’s controversial (because, among other things, it is open to modification), open source makes the process much more transparent and accountable. Yet again, California is ahead of the curve. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles counties are planning to transition to open source. Other districts are expected to follow.

Several additional points of interest were raised by the panel:

  • You may not be aware of this, but a significant change is coming to the voting process in California, perhaps as early as 2020 in Contra Costa County, as a result of the Voter’s Choice Act. Most significantly, the law provides a new voting option, intended to facilitate in-person voting: No longer will you be restricted to vote only on election day at just one specified polling location. Instead, for the 11 days prior to an election, you will be able to vote at any of numerous “vote centers” located throughout the county. If you currently use a mail-in ballot, you already can come close to achieving this flexibility. You don’t have to mail your ballot in, risking problems with postal delivery or interference en route. You can drop it off at a city hall or, on election day, at a polling location.
  • Here is a truly cool tip revealed by Secretary of State Padilla: Did you know you can check the status of your vote after an election — and even get a history of your previous votes? To do so, start here.
  • Professor Stark explained the benefits of “risk-limiting” audits. These are partial audits that, combined with statistical analyses, determine when a full audit of a vote is needed. This allows the county to save time and money that would otherwise be wasted on full audits when they have little or no chance of changing the results. Expect to see the implementation of these audits here in California.

Are you interested in working with the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team? Send us an email or join the voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.

Ted Landau is a retired professor of psychology. He has also spent several decades as a tech journalist/author — writing primarily about Apple products. He has been politically active in the East Bay since moving here in 2004.

Kicking off August ’18 with local political events

With midterm election day barreling toward us, local political groups (including Indivisible East Bay, of course) and elected officials are stepping up their efforts to make sure we cross the November 6 finish line as victors. The first weekend in August – we’ve hit the less-than 100 days out, folks – saw many IEBers participating in a wide variety of events. Didn’t make any of them? Here’s a quick roundup. Oh, and don’t miss any more, check out the upcoming events listings in our weekly newsletter and our Midterm Election Work webpage!

Paint Congress Blue, Art + Action Festival

On Sunday August 5, crowds of people from the Bay Area and beyond met in Oakland to Paint Congress Blue. The free block party featured art, activism and a visit from an infamous barnyard fowl. 

IEB, together with Indivisible Berkeley, Sister District, Swing Left, Working America, and more, helped organize the event. Each group had a table to provide opportunities for the public to get educated and get involved. IEB’s table had supplies for writing GOTV (Get Out The Vote) postcards to voters in swing districts. By the end of the evening, IEB volunteers and members of the public had written over 170 postcards to voters in California Congressional Districts 1 and 21!

Don’t miss these upcoming IEB postcarding and social events:

  • August 12, 10 AM-noon: Indivisible We Write! IEB August postcard party, Sports Basement, Berkeley. Info & RSVP.
  • August 25, 2-4 PM: IEB Ale & Mail! No-host mingle & postcarding at Hop Yard Alehouse in Pleasanton. Info & RSVP.
Paint Congress Blue, photo by Wesley Chang
IEB table at Paint Congress Blue, photo by Wesley Chang

At the main stage, speakers from each organization described their methodology and goals. Kristen Law (co-lead of the IEB CA-11 Team) spoke about the work of Indivisible East Bay, highlighting the successes of our Judiciary Team and efforts to hold our members of Congress accountable.

Kristen Law speaking at Paint Congress Blue, photo by Wesley Chang
IEB member Kristen Law speaking at Paint Congress Blue, photo by Wesley Chang

Between speeches local musical groups entertained the crowd, and Project Bandaloop, an aerial dance team, also performed. A number of art galleries in the district were open for tours.

The Trump Chicken overseeing the festivities.
Trump Chicken oversaw Paint Congress Blue festivities

Lest we forget, the guest of honor was the Trump Chicken, a 13-foot tall inflatable chicken that bears a striking resemblance to, well, you-know-who! Attendees could have their photos taken while giving the Chicken a piece of their mind. By any measure, Paint Congress Blue was a huge success, and a good time was had by all; well, except for maybe the Chicken.

Phone Banking for Northern Nevada

Want to help GOTV (Get Out the Vote) beyond our deep blue Bay Area? Here’s one way: Northern Nevada. That was the message delivered by two members of Issue Voters of Northern Nevada at IEB’s July All Members Meeting. The group is focused on contacting unaffiliated voters in Washoe County to ask what issues matter most to them. The number of these voters has grown dramatically in recent years — to the point that they will likely be the deciding factor in the November election.

Five IEB members who were fired up by this appeal packed their mobile phones and laptops — and headed off to Oakland for an afternoon of phone banking. They spent three hours calling voters, using national Indivisible’s virtual phone bank system. As is common with phone banking, most calls wound up with no one picking up, but the good news is that those who did answer were usually willing to talk and share their thoughts.

According to Toni Henle, one of the “IEB five,” the group made about 200 calls and “each of us had four or five good conversations (and a couple of not-so-good ones); we found it helps that others are around to share the good and bad!”

Can you help turn out the Nevada vote? We’ve scheduled two phone banks on Sundays August 19 & 26 from 3-6 PM at our hostess’ house in north Oakland. To join us, email vivian@mendezleal.com. And there are several other phone- and text-banking opportunities listed in our newsletter and this webpage.

Phone banking to Nevada
Phone banking to Nevada

Starting in September, there’ll also be opportunities to drive to Reno to canvass voters identified as “persuadable” for Democratic Senate candidate Jacky Rosen,  running against Dean Heller, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Republicans.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: Immigration town hall

Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) has been to our southern border, witnessing first-hand what Trump’s Zero Tolerance immigration policy means. DeSaulnier’s message to constituents attending his immigration town hall in Concord on August 4, was that the policy is something we, as Americans, should have zero tolerance for.

In a slide-show presentation that focused on immigration, DeSaulnier walked through the damage being done — including the fact that at least 500 children may now be permanently orphaned because they were separated from parents who were subsequently deported. 

DeSaulnier described his trip to the border crossing at Brownsville Texas. Upon arrival, he met with a federal judge who confided that the immigrants here were not “bad people.” In most cases, they were legally seeking asylum. DeSaulnier attended the adjudication of 70 individuals, the majority of whom came from Central America, immigrants who had traveled thousands of miles and paid as much as $20,000 to “coyotes” to gain transport to the border.

DeSaulnier also met with several families who had recently been re-united. A young boy told him how, after being separated from his family, an immigration official had told him: “Your parents don’t ever want to see you again.”

Finally, DeSaulnier was able to tour a facility for new arrivals, the place where immigrants are housed in fence-enclosed “cages” (as you may have seen in television reports). Several immigration officials related how uncomfortable this all made them. One lamented that he had sought the job after 9-11, to be one of the “good guys” helping his country; he now felt he had become one of the “bad guys.”

An obviously emotional DeSaulnier stressed to the town hall audience that “this has to stop. It is not acceptable.” What the Trump administration is doing at the border is not only ethically wrong, it is illegal!  He described efforts to get legislation passed that addresses the issue. The frustrating problem is that GOP Speaker of the House has absolute control over which bills can be brought to the floor for a vote. Even though DeSaulnier is supporting at least two bills that would pass if voted on, Speaker Ryan has refused to let them reach the floor.

The meeting concluded with a Q&A where members largely voiced support for the work DeSaulnier is doing. At one point, he gave a shout-out to Indivisible — complimenting us for pressuring him to “tell us what you are doing about it.” Watch the recorded Town Hall here.

Rep. Eric Swalwell: baseball and town hall

For Eric Swalwell, Representative for the CA-15 Congressional district, last weekend was a combination of fun and business.

Fun was an Oakland A’s pre-game tailgate party at the Coliseum, which he hosted. After wrapping that up, it was on to the game itself, where Rep. Swalwell threw out the ceremonial first pitch!

The business part was a town hall meeting at Hayward High School on Saturday August 4. Swalwell answered questions on a wide range of issues, including health care, immigration, climate change, the rights of veterans and, of course, the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. His final words touched on FDR’s four freedoms: the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — with a new freedom added by Swalwell to provide hope in today’s troubled times: the freedom to dream.

Congressman Eric Swalwell, photo by Josh Richmond
Rep. Eric Swalwell, photo by Josh Richmond

Many constituents were interested in getting involved in the efforts to counter the Trump administration’s actions. That’s when IEB’s CA-15 team co-leads Ward and LeAnn Kanowsky stepped up to the plate. They and other members passed out flyers recommending IEB as a great resource for those wanting to be more involved.

Congressman Eric Swalwell, photo by Josh Richmond
Rep. Eric Swalwell and IEB CA-15 team co-lead Ward Kanowsky, photo by Josh Richmond

And IEB activism elsewhere too!

Several other intrepid IEB members took their activism on the road over the weekend as well! IEB superstars Amelia Cass and Linh Nguyen attended the Tahoe Summit, delivering a letter to keynote speaker Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski from 29 of her constituents asking her to vote NO on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And Nancy Latham traveled to New Orleans to join with thousands of other activists at the Netroots Nation conference. Read her inspiring first-hand account.

Paint Congress Blue photographs by Wesley Chang, see more of Wesley’s PCB photos here.

Ted Landau, Alice Towey, Toni Henle and Ward Kanowsky contributed to this report.

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).

Sen. Harris office visit 050518

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.