June 5 Primary – Vote Now, Vote Then, Just Vote!

California’s June 5 Primary Election is fast approaching, with plenty of important races and initiatives on the ballot. Use your precious right to vote!

Early voting has started in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. You can vote early in person, or by filling out a ballot and dropping it off at a designated site.

Did you forget to register to vote, or did you move and forget to re-register? Little-known fact: you can still register and vote conditionally at your county elections office, or at certain other locations right up through Election Day on Tuesday June 5.

Did you know that some elections can – and will – be decided at the primary? In races such as for District Attorney, if a candidate receives a majority of the votes, they win and there will not be a runoff in November. Just another reason it’s important to vote in this (and every!) election.

 Learn more:

Send this info to your family and friends in states other than California:

  • Vote.org offers lots of information, and it’s easy to remember (note that it requires you to provide an email address)
  • Indivisible has partnered with TurboVote to help you sign up to get election reminders, register to vote, apply for your absentee ballot, and more
  • The National Association of Secretaries of States’ website helps eligible voters figure out how and where to vote

The atrocity at the border; what we can demand our Members of Congress do

A lot of us are rightly horrified and appalled by what’s happening at the border and are asking what can be done about it in addition to voting out Republicans in November. It turns out this is a good time for a few possible actions in both chambers — although because of membership, seniority, and timing of legislative activities, the Senate might be better for short-term action. These are not the only things to do. Direct action in the streets to bring attention to the issue is also critical (as well as campaigning against horrible Republicans) but these steps are in line with what Indivisible was founded to do: influence our current members of Congress.

Some relevant info about Congress and its relationship with these agencies:

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) both need to be authorized by Congress for certain activities and need to have their annual funding appropriated via the annual budget process.
  • Both agencies fall under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and are in discretionary funding categories (their funding needs to be appropriated every year and is thus subject to Congressional review).
  • Because Congress can authorize activities and conduct oversight, you can ask both for oversight over current activities, and for changes to what these agencies are authorized to do in the future.
  • The DHS (including its sub-agencies such as ICE) has not been reauthorized since it was created in 2003; there is an authorization bill ready for Senate Floor debate (it already passed the House), so please call both of your senators to ask them to offer amendments curtailing ICE authority and cutting back its budget authority in future years.
  • There is a DHS appropriations bill “mark up” hearing scheduled for the third week in June, which means senators and staffers are busily working on the funding bill NOW. Please call your senators and tell them to cut ICE’s funding for the Fiscal Year 2019.  To cut ICE’s funding, ask both Senators Feinstein and Harris, but put special emphasis on Feinstein since she is on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • To get oversight on current horrible things that ICE and CBP do, contact Harris and Feinstein’s offices. Both of them are on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight authority over border and immigration laws. Sen. Harris is on the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), which has authority over ICE & CBP personnel and policy issues. Ask her for more oversight hearings like this one last month.
  • The House can also conduct more oversight. The House Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over DOJ and Immigration laws. If you live in CA-15, please contact Rep. Eric Swalwell about Jeff Session’s zero-tolerance policy on border crossing criminalization.

TL;DR! To sum up: These cruel policies are in place because of guidance from the White House, and are implemented through a memo by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and are being carried out by ICE and CBP. Congress has a lot of power over what these agencies can do and how much resources they have to do it.

Calling your MoCs frequently on this issue is the best way to let them know how important this is to you. You can send post cards too!

What to say:

To Senator Harris and Senator Feinstein:

My name is _________ and my zip code is ______. I am a member of Indivisible East Bay. I am horrified by what our immigration officials are doing to children and families at our border. I ask Senator _________ to cut ICE’s funding and authority in FY 2019 and future years, and to use her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to exercise maximum oversight over ICE and CBP. 

You can add, for Senator Harris:

I want Senator Harris to use her position on the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee to exercise more oversight of ICE & CBP personnel and policy, and to demand more oversight hearings.

You can add, for Senator Feinstein:

I want Senator Feinstein to use her position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to do everything possible to cut ICE’s funding for the Fiscal Year 2019.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841; 1 Post Street, Suite 2450, San Francisco CA 94104
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553; 333 Bush Street, Suite 3225, San Francisco CA 94104

To Rep. Swalwell (if you are a constituent):

My name is _________ and my zip code is ______. I am a member of Indivisible East Bay. I am horrified by what our immigration officials are doing to children and families at our border. I ask Rep. Swalwell to use his position on the House Judiciary Committee to take action against Jeff Session’s policies on border crossing criminalization that are brutalizing children and treating human beings like animals.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065; 3615 Castro Valley Blvd., Castro Valley CA 94546

 

Hunger Action Day 2018

Hunger Action Day, the California Hunger Action Coalition’s 22nd annual statewide lobby day, took place on May 16, 2018 at the State Capitol in Sacramento. Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee members Nick Travaglini and Ward Kanowsky took a bus to the event with almost 60 other advocates from the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB), one of IEB’s partner organizations, to join over 300 more advocates from across the state.

Hunger Action Day provides an opportunity to be an anti-hunger policy advocate, talk to legislators about ending hunger, and meet fellow advocates from across California. This year’s theme was FOOD IS A HUMAN RIGHT, with some sobering statistics to underscore it:

  • California has the highest poverty rate in the U.S. when accounting for the cost of living: 20% overall, including one in four children
  • Reflecting that 20% figure, ACCFB serves one in five Alameda County residents
  • One in eight Californians experiences food insecurity – does not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food

Nick and Ward joined teams that met with staff of East Bay state representatives Assemblymember Tony Thurmond and Senator Steve Glazer, among many other legislators, to discuss the coalition’s priority anti-hunger policy issues. Team members, who often bring their children to the meetings, are encouraged to share personal stories to show how existing policies – or the lack thereof – affect them and their families. These real life mini-histories take up the bulk of the meetings, and for good reason, since they can have the greatest impact because of their immediacy and emotion.

The top “ask” for all teams – what we all asked the elected officials and their staffs to prioritize – related to lifting seniors and people with disabilities out of poverty. Many in these vulnerable groups rely heavily or solely on monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to get by and are forced to make impossible choices between food, medicine and housing. As a result, many are homeless or at risk of being without housing because they are living at 90% of the federal poverty level. AB 3200 (Kalra) would restore monthly payments to individuals and married couples to 100% of the federal poverty level, and would also reinstate the annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) that was repealed in 2009.

Related to this priority of helping people who receive SSI combat hunger: the dismaying fact that California is the only state where people who receive SSI aren’t eligible for SNAP (CalFresh) benefits – better known as food stamps – due to a program known as Cashout. A movement to end Cashout was discussed with legislative staff by the teams, and ACCFB informed us that the very next day after Hunger Action Daythe Senate Budget Subcommittee voted to end Cashout. The Assembly Budget Subcommittee is expected to follow the Senate Subcommittee with the same actions this week. If both houses pass this measure, people on SSI will be able to get CalFresh benefits. The bottom line is that our voices matter!

If you want to get involved in IEB’s work to end hunger in California, contact Ward.

 

 

Vote ‘No Confidence’ to Oppose Contra Costa Sheriff Livingston

Indivisible East Bay and the IEB CA-11 Team are urging voters to write in “No Confidence” in the June 5, 2018 primary race for Contra Costa County Sheriff. We join the “no confidence” movement against the incumbent, Sheriff David Livingston, who is running unopposed because progressive organizations were unable to locate someone qualified to run against him (California law requires that the candidate be in law enforcement).

Why spend time mobilizing a write-in campaign opposing Livingston when he’s sure to be re-elected? Groups working on immigration and racial, social and criminal justice issues — including Together We Will Contra Costa, the Contra Costa Racial Justice Coalition and El Cerrito Progressives — are using the write-in effort to educate people about the sheriff’s shameful history. The California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance is also actively mobilizing against Livingston and several other horrendous California sheriff candidates.

By spreading the word, organizers hope that more people won’t automatically vote for Livingston just because he’s the only candidate. A vote count that’s significantly lower than in his prior two elections can serve to alert him, and the county, that many disapprove of his actions. Groups are also using the campaign to build support for a recall election.

Learn more about Livingston in our prior articles. To give you a taste, here are some high[low]lights. Livingston:

If you’re registered to vote in Contra Costa County, on your June 5 primary election ballot, below the box for David Livingston for Sheriff where it says ‘Write-in’ — fill in the bubble to the left and write ‘NO CONFIDENCE’ on the line. 

Sheriff Livingston no confidence write-in vote

What else can you do?

  • May 23 and 30, 6-7:30 PM: talk to voters and pass out “No Confidence in CoCo Sheriff Livingston’ flyers with IEB and CA-11 Team members, and others, at El Cerrito Off the Grid. Info here.
  • The Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance asks people to call the Sheriff’s office at (925) 335-1500 to push them to stop publicizing the names and release dates of people getting out of jail.
  • The Contra Costa Racial Justice Coalition’s Sheriff Work Group suggests contacting California Attorney General Becerra about his investigation of the West County Detention Facility and other California jails with ICE contracts. Here’s background information, contact numbers, and a sample script for telephone calls or letters.
  • Sign California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance’s petition demanding that Sheriff Livingston stop violating SB 54 (the California sanctuary law) by publicly releasing the private information of immigrant inmates, including their release dates, and by allowing deputies to arrest, detain, or investigate people for violations of civil or criminal immigration laws.
  • If you’re an Alameda County resident – or know any – check out Indivisible Berkeley’s similar effort targeting the Alameda County Sheriff: “Vote No Confidence in Sheriff Ahern.”

Know Your Sheriff scorecard, graphic by California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance
Ballot photo © Heidi Rand

 

Register and Vote as if your life depends on it

Are you eligible to vote? Don’t squander that precious right — make sure you’re registered, and make sure your registration is accurate! The deadline to register for California’s June 5, 2018 primary is May 21, 2018.

Go through these questions right now to make sure your voice is heard and counted:

  • Are you eligible to vote, but not registered? Pick up a paper application, fill it out and put it in the mail – no postage required! You can find a paper application at lots of places, including:
    • county elections offices
    • the DMV
    • government offices
    • post offices
    • public libraries
  • Do you want to register online? If so, you’ll need:
    • your California driver license or I.D. card number,
    • the last four digits of your social security number, and
    • your date of birth.

    Your info will be provided to CA Department of Motor Vehicles to retrieve a copy of your DMV signature. Don’t have one of those I.D.s, or have other questions? See more at the CA Secretary of State’s Election Division FAQ or contact them at 800-345-VOTE (8683) or by email.

  • Is your registration accurate? Have you checked? Many voter registrations have errors – check yours.
  • Do you need to re-register? Check here, and if you need to, please re-register. These are some (not all) of the reasons you must re-register to vote:
    • you moved since you last registered
    • you legally changed your name since you last registered
    • you want to change your political party
  • Do you know any 16- or 17-year olds? They may be eligible to pre-register if they’ll be 18 by the time of the election. Check their eligibility and help them pre-register (either online or using the paper form) so they can vote once they turn 18.
  • Do you have a criminal record, or have you been incarcerated? You may still be able to vote! In California, you can vote if you’re not currently in state or federal prison, or on parole for the conviction of a felony.  Once you’re done with parole your right to vote is restored, but you must re-register.
  • Finally: ask everyone you know the above questions, and help them out if they need it.

Important dates and other info:

  • Register to vote by Monday, May 21, 2018
  • Statewide Direct Primary Election Day is June 5, 2018

Early Voting and other ways to vote:

  • Alameda County: the website tells you about early voting, voting by mail, dropping off your ballot, and more
  • Contra Costa County: early voting sites will be open Tuesday, May 29 through Friday, June 1 from 11 am to 7 pm, and Saturday, June 2 from 8 am to 5 pm

Learn more, and help register and pre-register voters!

Send this info to your family and friends in states other than California:

  • Vote.org offers lots of information, and it’s easy to remember (note that it requires you to provide an email address)
  • Indivisible has partnered with TurboVote to help you sign up to get election reminders, register to vote, apply for your absentee ballot, and more
  • The National Association of Secretaries of States’ website helps eligible voters figure out how and where to vote

Who’s Behind That Curtain? Support AB 2188, Reveal Online Ad Funders

By the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights and Election Integrity team

Updated May 26, 2018

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling eight years ago undermined our democracy by allowing those with unlimited money to use it to drown out the voices of the rest of us. While we would like to see Citizens United overturned, we should not wait for the Supreme Court to act – and we don’t have to. Here’s a good start: AB 2188, the Social Media DISCLOSE Act, currently pending in the California legislature, would lift the veil that lets big spenders influence politics while hiding their identities from us. (DISCLOSE is an acronym for Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections.)

The Social Media DISCLOSE Act isn’t the first piece of legislation to tackle this problem. As a 2017 California Clean Money Campaign (CCMC) press release explained, AB 249, the California DISCLOSE Act, requires television, radio, and print ads about ballot measures, and independent expenditures about candidates, to clearly list their top three funders. While AB 249 also has provisions relating to electronic media ads, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) did not believe that it required social media platforms to comply. AB 2188 closes that loophole, requiring online social media platforms to disclose information regarding the funders of political advertisements and to keep a database of the political ads they run. AB 2188 specifically requires online platforms to display “Who funded this ad?” on each political ad, linking to the page of the paying committee.

The amounts of money involved in political races have always been high; they have now become stratospheric. According to Southern California Law Review, an estimated $1.4 billion was spent on online political advertising nationally in 2016 – nearly an eightfold increase from 2012! And if you think you’re seeing a lot of political ads on Facebook, you’re right – about 40% of that astonishing sum was spent there and on other social media ads. Virtually none of those ads disclosed who paid for them, so you never knew that $100,000 of those Facebook ads were bought by Russian entities. The federal Honest Ads Act, sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar and co-sponsored by Senator John McCain, was introduced in response to this threat, but – surprise! – it’s stuck in Congress.

A federal bill would be ideal, as would a Congress that would see it to conclusion. Things being less than ideal, a state like California should be able to stand up and defend itself from the influence of dark money, Super PACs and a handful of people who believe they have more right to be heard than everyone else in the country put together. In fact, AB 2188 is better than the federal bill in at least one way — it requires the web pages of the committees paying for online ads to clearly list the top three true funders – that way, individuals can’t hide behind nice-sounding committee names.

Updated May 26, 2018: AB 2188 awaits a critical vote on the floor of  the Assembly. Please call your Assemblymember before the end of May. What to say:

My name is ______, and my zip code is _____. I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay and a constituent of Assemblymember ______, I’m calling in support of AB 2188, the Social Media DISCLOSE ActPolitical ads on social media like Facebook should be required to disclose who pays for them.  We should never again have to wonder who is trying to influence our vote. I urge ______ to vote yes on AB 2188.

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.

Graphic © California Clean Money Action Fund

 

The top 6 things revealed at our May Sen. Feinstein staff meeting

A smaller-than-usual but dedicated band of Indivisible East Bay members met with Sean Elsbernd, Senator Feinstein’s State Director, on May 7, 2018, for the latest in our periodic meetings. Sean, gracious as ever, responded to our questions covering a wide range of topics.

The refugee caravan

Despite media hoopla that warned of a recent caravan of thousands of people heading north across the border, Sean told us that the group turned out to be only 287 people, almost all from Central America and with legitimate claims to refugee status. The good news is that they have now all entered the U.S.

Rather than fuel anti-immigration flames by unnecessarily turning such incidents into a controversy, Feinstein would rather focus on addressing the “credible dangers” that lead these people to seek asylum in the first place — as well as to make sure that they’re treated fairly when they arrive at our border. Sean said that the Senator is especially concerned about ensuring that detainees get proper legal representation.

Climate change

The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act (S. 2352), a greenhouse gas emissions cap and dividend bill, currently has no sponsors in the Senate. We wondered why Feinstein was not actively supporting this. Sean’s answer: because the bill has zero chance of reaching the floor. No one wants to sponsor a bill that is a certain loser.

Homelessness

Senator Feinstein believes the ultimate answer to the problems of homelessness will require multiple approaches. Government funds alone will not be sufficient; it will also require philanthropic private money. Sean cited the Monarch School as one example of how this can work.

FISA Reauthorization bill

Senator Feinstein sponsored an amendment to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Reauthorization bill that would have “required probable cause warrants” for domestic surveillance on American citizens. The amendment did not pass, yet she voted the bill out of committee. Why? Sean told us last November that this was because “she felt that there was a better chance of the amendment passing in a floor vote.”

Yet, when the bill came up for a vote on the floor — still without the amendment — she again voted in favor of passage. In this case, her vote prevented a filibuster that would have defeated the bill. Why didn’t she vote no? Sean replied that the amendment had no chance of passage. In the end, Feinstein decided that it was better to retain at least some protections, as included in the bill, than to have the bill fail and be left with nothing at all.

Puerto Rico disaster recovery

Puerto Rico remains in crisis mode following the disastrous hurricanes last year. It is critical that FEMA continue to provide emergency housing vouchers for the thousands still displaced. Many homes are still without power; the electrical infrastructure requires major rebuilding. Yet we hear almost nothing from Congress about any of this. Why? Sean offered a simple explanation: There is almost no public pressure on this matter, so it gets a lower priority. If we want this to change, he urges us to write or call our Congresspeople and let them know.

Judicial nominations

Everyone at the table agreed that Mitch McConnell views his greatest legacy as the appointments of conservative judges to the federal courts. The Senate continues to work to accomplish this. One way for Democrats to resist is via “blue slips” — a long standing Senate tradition. We want to make sure this procedure remains in force. Currently, it can be used to block Ryan Bounds, nominee for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who lacks blue slips from both his Oregon senators. Sean confirmed that preserving blue slips is a “high priority” for Feinstein.

Two Bills to Improve Voter Participation in CA

By the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights and Election Integrity team

Updated May 26, 2018

Our democracy is fundamental to who we are as a nation, and our right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. Two bills pending in the California legislature offer different paths to reach a common goal: facilitating and increasing voter participation in communities with low voter turnout — workers, students, and the incarcerated.

Election Day Holiday – AB 2165

AB 2165 – Election Day Holiday, was introduced by two Bay Area assembly members, Rob Bonta (Oakland) and Evan Low (San Jose). In April the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee voted to submit a letter supporting AB 2165 to the California Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization. The bill passed that committee and is now in the Appropriations Committee.

California state law lets workers take two hours off without losing pay to cast a ballot, so why make Election Day a holiday? The bill expands the current law, making it easier for students and school and state employees to vote, for schools to serve as easily accessible polling places, and for students to serve as poll workers.

This is far from being a solution in search of a problem: in 2014 California voters turned out in historically low numbers — only 42% of those registered participated in the general election and a dismal 25% participated in the primary. Nationally, turnout for the 2014 election was below 37%. According to the Pew Research Center, work and school conflicts were the most common reason that eligible voters did not vote in 2014: 35% of respondents said scheduling conflicts with work or school kept them from getting to the polls. Overall voter turnout in the US rarely breaks 60%; we rank 120th out of 169 countries for average turnout. Countries that outperform the US have different methods to elect officials, but many have one thing in common: they have Election Day off.

All Californians should have unfettered access to the polls and should be able to cast their vote in a neighborhood precinct on Election Day. We must do everything possible to make it easier for people in all communities to vote, including removing barriers that prevent those who want to vote from doing so. Assembly member Low hopes that making Election Day a legal holiday will help low-income communities participate in elections.

An Election Day holiday would expand access to voter participation and draw attention to often-overlooked midterm elections. It would commit the state to civic engagement and education by making clear that not only is voting a right and a responsibility, it’s one we take seriously enough to set aside our work obligations so we can all carry it out. It should not be “at the discretion of an employer” whether someone has time to vote, nor should anyone be concerned about their standing at their job, or of lost income because they vote.

We can help make Election Day a holiday and a celebration of our voting rights in California. AB 2165 is now awaiting fiscal analysis in the Appropriations Committee, which must act on the bill by May 24 in order for it to pass. California Senate and Assembly committees represent all Californians, and the Appropriations committee needs to hear from us in order for the bill to pass.

We can help make Election Day a holiday and a celebration of our voting rights in California. Though AB 2165 has successfully passed every Assembly committee hearing thus far, it is now being held in committee under submission.

We need to really turn up the heat so please call your Assemblymember right away! What to say:

My name is ______, and my zip code is _____. I’m a constituent, and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask Assemblymember ______ to throw [his/her] support behind AB 2165, which is being held under submission. Neighborhood polling places are crucial to maintaining access for the elderly, single parents, for those without transportation or time to vote. An Election Day holiday will help all around by increasing polling locations, numbers of poll workers, overall excitement and participation in voting. Election Day should be a public celebration! AB 2165 will make explicit that the State of California upholds the foundation of our democracy. I urge your support and ask for your help in moving this bill forward.

Also, please spread the word to anyone you know in districts AD 18 (Bonta, Oakland), AD 20 (Quirk, Hayward), who are on the Appropriations Committee where AB 2165 is being held, and anyone in the San Diego area which is Appropriations Committee Chair Fletcher’s district.

 

Jails: Voter Education Program – AB 3115

AB 3115 – Jails: Voter Education Program addresses a need many don’t even know exists. While working people and students grapple with finding time to get to the polls, at least they’re usually aware they are eligible to vote. Many Californians with criminal convictions don’t know that they have that right, or don’t know how to exercise it. In fact, only felons serving their sentences and those on parole are barred from voting, but detainees, including those charged with misdemeanors and those awaiting trial, often think they can’t vote. Some jail officials also believe, incorrectly, that detainees can’t vote. And logistics often make it difficult or impossible for prisoners to register and/or vote. Many formerly incarcerated people are also unclear about their rights.

No eligible voter should be kept from exercising their right to vote for lack of understanding or access. California enacted AB 2466 in 2016 to clarify who can and cannot vote, but confusion persists, particularly when it comes to prisoners. AB 3115 would require county jails to allow at least one outside organization to provide voter education to prisoners to help them understand and exercise their rights. If passed, the bill would help remove the obstacles volunteers encounter coordinating with authorities and gaining access to prisoners.

Studies show that access to voting is strongly linked to lower recidivism. Access to voting has also been shown to re-ignite a sense of participation and citizenship that many people with criminal convictions feel they’ve lost. When people feel more connected to their community, they’re more likely to become contributing, productive citizens when they re-enter their communities. This means that improving prisoner education and access to voting will improve public safety. Because we in Indivisible East Bay know that by educating disenfranchised communities we can increase voting access to tens of thousands inside California jails who have historically been denied their right to register or cast a ballot, the IEB Governance Committee submitted a letter in support of this bill to the Assembly Public Safety Committee on April 9.

Updated May 26, 2018: 

Voter education is just as important as voter registration! AB 3115 awaits a critical vote on the floor of  the Assembly. Please call your Assemblymember before the end of May. What to say:

My name is ______, and my zip code is _____. I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay and a constituent of Assemblymember ______, I’m calling in support of AB 3115, which requires county jails to allow an outside group to provide voter education and help those eligible with registration. Voting is our fundamental right as Americans. If a person is eligible to vote, whether confined to jail or not, this right must be honored, not suppressed. I urge ______ to help by supporting AB 3115.

 

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.

 

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

 

Gina Haspel Should Not Run the CIA

On April 26, the Senate voted to confirm Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, despite his record as an Islamophobe who has sought to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, his support for the NSA collecting Americans’ communications data, his past support of torture as an “interrogation technique,” and his lies about the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in our elections. In an April 17 press release titled “Pompeo Not Qualified to Serve as Secretary of State,” Senator Feinstein detailed these reasons, and more, why Mike Pompeo would not be “capable of proudly representing all of America in the pursuit of peace.” We could not agree more.

Now the Senate has before it the Current Occupant’s nomination of Gina Haspel to succeed Pompeo as CIA Chief. Haspel’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for May 9, 2018. 

Haspel has no business running the CIA:

  • Gina Haspel’s CIA career includes documented connections with torture, including connections with the torture of terrorism suspects in a secret prison and destroying evidence of the torture.
  • Haspel was denied a CIA promotion in 2013 because of her history with torture, in part thanks to Sen. Feinstein.
  • Feinstein recently said that Haspel has been a good CIA deputy director, but on March 14, 2018, said that Haspel “was involved in one of the darkest chapters in American history. Senators who will vote on her nomination MUST know the exact role she played in the CIA’s torture program.”
  • The details of Haspel’s involvement with torture are still classified by the CIA while the agency continues to push out glowing internal memos about her.
  • With Pompeo’s confirmation as Secretary of State, Haspel is now the CIA’s Acting Director, and has classification/declassification authority over records of her own culpability for torture and cover-up of torture.

What you can do:

Please tell Senator Feinstein and Senator Harris that since they stand against torture, they must stand against putting people who condone torture at the head of the CIA—they must vote NO on Gina Haspel.

Hi, My name is _______, I’m a constituent from [zip code] and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to oppose Gina Haspel’s nomination as head of the CIA. Gina Haspel carried out torture and destroyed the evidence. The CIA is refusing to disclose the extent of her involvement with torture. She is not qualified to lead the CIA. I want the Senator to oppose Haspel’s nomination and to speak out publicly against Haspel as head of the CIA. Thank you.

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

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