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

Count Every Person

Call us nerdy, but we’ve been worried for some time about the impact of the administration’s apparent plan to under-fund the 2020 United States Census, since that count will be critical in drawing political districts, allotting congressional representatives, and distributing billions in federal funds. Turns out our concerns were justified, and then some.

The Department of Justice has asked the Department of Commerce to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. Many experts, including former census directors, believe that including a question about whether residents are citizens will discourage non-citizens from completing the census, resulting in reduced response rates and inaccurate answers. The likely result: states with large immigrant populations like ours would be under-counted and thus underrepresented in Congress and short-changed in getting state and federal funding for health care, education, infrastructure, and more.

California, which would be greatly impacted if non-citizens were leery of filling out the census forms, is leading the fight. CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra is on the case – literally. Calling the move “an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes,” Becerra filed a lawsuit in the name of the State of California, which 14 other AGs quickly joined on behalf of their states. Experts believe that a citizenship question could intimidate people into not participating in the census. But the U.S. Constitution requires the census to count the entire population every ten years, including citizens and non-citizens alike; non-citizens’ non-participation as a result of a citizenship question could “translate into several million people not being counted.” Such an undercounting of the state’s population could reduce everything from Congressional representation to funding for necessary services, all of which depend on the 10-year Census count. Is it just coincidence that the Administration wants to add a question that could diminish Congressional representation from states with high immigrant populations? Hmmm …

And the Senate is taking up its own attack with S. 2580: “A bill to amend title 13, United States Code, to make clear that each decennial census, as required for the apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States, shall tabulate the total number of persons in each State, and to provide that no information regarding United States citizenship or immigration status may be elicited in any such census.” (emphasis supplied). Senator Kamala Harris is one of the bill’s original sponsors.

What you can do: 

Thank Attorney General Becerra for filing the lawsuit, and for his strong public opposition to a citizenship question. Email: attorneygeneral@doj.ca.gov

Thank Sen. Harris for her sponsorship of S. 2580; thank our other Members of Congress for speaking out in opposition to the citizenship question and urge them to support legislation to prohibit a citizenship question.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Call the Department of Commerce, Office of Public Affairs (202-482-4883) and say:

I’m calling to urge you not to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Adding it will skew the census count by discouraging immigrants from participating, and that will block many states from being fully represented and receiving sufficient federal funding. Please tell Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that it is unconstitutional not to count everyone, everywhere.

Contact Your Representatives!

Contact Your Members of Congress (Senators and Representatives:

Sen. Kamala Harris (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553; 333 Bush Street, Suite 3225, San Francisco CA 94104

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841; 1 Post Street, Suite 2450, San Francisco CA 94104

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (email): (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095; 440 Civic Center Plaza, 2nd Floor, Richmond, CA 94804

Rep. Barbara Lee (email): (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661; 1301 Clay Street #1000N, Oakland CA 94612

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

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Contact Your State Representatives and Governor:

Assembly and Senate: http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/

Governor Edmund G. Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 445-2841

CADEM 2018

By Nancy Latham

At the California Democratic Convention in San Diego (February 23-25), I was thrilled to be around thousands of other activists and political junkies. While there was divisiveness, mostly there was inspiration. Here is what stood out:

CADEM

  • California’s open primary system can threaten the blue wave. After months of impressive point swings toward Democrats in elections since November 2016, I had blithely assumed that we would flip the House – it would simply take hard work, and we have the hard-working activist base we need. I had not dwelled on the implications of our open primary system, in which the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party. But early on day one I was buttonholed by an Indivisible member from SoCal worried that there are so many Democrats running in Congressional District 45, they are likely to emerge from the primary with two Republican candidates. Multiple districts face the problem of too many Democratic hopefuls jeopardizing the chances of any Democrats advancing to the general election in November, and there’s no clear solution.  
  • The labor movement rocks! I went to a labor panel, the labor caucus, union booths, and a union rally on Janus v. AFSCME. I was inspired to hear Dolores Huerta speak at the labor caucus, and the crowd went wild for her. Many labor speakers reminded us that unions are not simply about negotiating about conditions and pay with a particular employer. Fundamentally, the labor movement is on the forefront of advocating for the general welfare of working families. It is our largest and most important bulwark against the special interests of big business and the hyper-rich. And labor shows up to protest mass incarceration, gun violence, discrimination against LGBTQ communities. Every union member who spoke addressed the audience as “brothers and sisters.” It is so simple, and yet I felt it viscerally every time – union members belong to a big family fighting for social justice for all.

CADEM

  • We have so many fabulous women in the party! There were many wonderful speakers who were men (Jon Lovett showed up!), but it was truly intoxicating to hear from women – three who stood out to me at a General Session were Assemblymember Shirley Weber, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Senator Kamala Harris. Senator Harris reminded us of our values:

We know why we’re here – we are here to fight for the future of our children, we are here to fight for the future of our democracy. We need to think of 2018 as the most important year of our lives. Let’s remember what our dear Dolores Huerta says. Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person is a potential activist, every minute is a chance to change the world. … For us Democrats, the challenge for us in 2018 is to remind Americans of how much more we have in common than what separate us…. And there is so much we have in common. … Let’s remember our common story, our American story. 

CADEM

  • It was amazing to bond with the San Diego Indivisibles. Through the California Indivisible Slack, I connected with Tama, who leads an Indivisible group for Congressional District 52. It was so wonderful to get to know her, and on Saturday night another SD Indivisible hosted a party to say hi to Indivisibles who had come to the Convention from across the state. They all welcomed me into their extended family right off the bat! The weekend reminded me that this movement goes beyond our political action – it also speaks to our deep human need to build community. More than anything, it is our new social bonds, and the willingness of all of us to have one another’s back, that gives me hope.  

CADEM Nancy Latham Picture 4 - SD Indivisibles

Nancy Latham is passionate about advocating for an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. In her day job, she works with non-profits, foundations, and government agencies that support greater equity and justice through initiatives in youth development, education, housing, and community development.