IEB shows up big time for January 3 Day of Action

Whose House? Our House!

If they ever turn the story of the 2018 midterm elections into a movie, the culmination of the film will certainly be January 3, 2019. After the stunning Democratic victory in November — a Blue Wave that resulted in a gain of 40 seats and control of the House — a colorful, diverse and significantly more progressive Democratic party strode triumphantly into the Capitol building for the start of the new 116th Congress.

Not coincidentally, it was also the day that Indivisible had declared as a National Day of Action, an opportunity for local Indivisible groups across the country to meet with their local members of Congress or one of their staff to thank them for their past work when appropriate, and to challenge them to push for a progressive agenda going forward.

The National Day of Action was a huge success; Indivisible National counted 168 events in 31 states, its biggest single day of action yet, and the events made national news and lit up social media. As you would expect, Indivisible East Bay made its presence known here in the Bay Area, organizing and/or participating in three separate events.

CA-11 (Mark DeSaulnier)

More than two dozen people showed up for a noon gathering outside Representative Mark DeSaulnier‘s Richmond office. Every attendee was given one of our spectacular new Blue Wave commemorative t-shirts — paid for by a fundraiser we conducted prior to the event.

IEB members Ted, Heidi, Toni, George and Ted strike a pose
IEB members Ted, Heidi, Toni, George and Ted strike a pose

 

IEB's new Blue Wave Commemorative t-shirts make their public debut!
IEB’s new Blue Wave Commemorative t-shirts make their public debut!

The mild and sunny weather perfectly matched the festive mood of the participants. DeSaulnier was in Washington, of course, but a member of his staff graciously agreed to join us.

As DeSaulnier reliably supports most of IEB’s progressive positions, we didn’t spend much time on persuasion. Rather, we focused on thanks and encouragement. CA-11 team co-lead Ted Lam made an opening statement thanking DeSaulnier for his past work and for making himself so accessible to his constituents. Ted also noted that we had supported his re-election and put in hundreds — if not thousands — of hours to help elect him and other progressives to Congress.

Next up, IEB outreach team co-lead Toni presented DeSaulnier’s staff with a “Back to Congress” backpack, covered with buttons in support of proposed legislation including H.R. 1 and the Green New Deal, and packed with items such as an “Erase Corruption” eraser, a “Restore the Rule of Law” ruler and two of the Blue Wave t-shirts.

Our "Back to Congress" backpack
Our “Back to Congress” backpack

Most notably, the backpack included a letter outlining IEB’s priorities for the 116th Congress. Top of list: H.R. 1, the Democrats’ democracy reform bill which encompassing (1) voter empowerment and access, (2) limiting money in politics, and (3) strengthening ethics and reducing corruption in Congress. The letter cited IEB’s  high expectations for DeSaulnier and urged him not to compromise on the values of H.R. 1. We also offered to meet with him and/or his staff on a regular basis to work to accomplish these goals.

DeSaulnier’s staffer offered thanks on the representative’s behalf, and our event concluded with IEB member George’s light-hearted theatrical reading of our backpack letter, followed by our final thank-yous.

CA-13 (Barbara Lee)

California’s 13th Congressional District, represented by Barbara Lee, benefits from coverage by multiple Indivisible groups, including two of the region’s largest: our own Indivisible East Bay, and Indivisible Berkeley. These groups joined forces with Indivisible Euclid and Indivisible Alameda for Impeachment for a 5 PM event held outside Lee’s office at the Dellums Federal Building in Oakland.

IEB and other Indivisible groups outside Rep. Lee's Oakland office
IEB and other Indivisible groups outside Rep. Lee’s Oakland office

The centerpiece of the gathering was a series of speeches by Indivisible members highlighting their participation in building the Blue Wave — especially via the canvassing done by IB in CA-10 and by IEB in CA-21. The speakers also expressed their hopes for what the 116th Congress will accomplish, focusing on (as with CA-11’s message) H.R. 1 and the Green New Deal.

Following the speeches, Congressional Aide Chrissy Anecito joined the group and read a statement from Lee’s office.

CA-15 (Eric Swalwell)

Meeting at the Castro Valley District office of Eric Swalwell, IEB members presented District Director Mallory De Lauro with a backpack to welcome the Representative back to the new blue Congress. As with CA-11, the backpack contained appropriately labelled school items. A message urged Swalwell to stand firm on all parts of H.R. 1 and to not provide funding for an immoral border wall.

IEB members Ward and Andrea meet with Swalwell District Director Mallory (on left)
IEB members Ward and Andrea meet with Swalwell District Director Mallory (on left)

Ted Lam, Nick Travaglini and Ward Kanowsky contributed to this report. CA-11 photos courtesy of Mary Martin DeShaw.

Hugs, not tear gas!

Outraged by the administration’s inhumane and illegal treatment of refugees seeking asylum at our southern border, the East Bay turned out in force on Saturday, December 1, 2018 at several hastily-planned protests called by the national group Families Belong Together.  

Governance Committee member and CA-11 team lead Ted Lam reports on the noon rally in El Cerrito:

Thirty people, including families with children, gathered at a busy intersection at El Cerrito Plaza at the Stop the Tears protest organized by El Cerrito Progressives’ Sherry Drobner. People held signs – including forming a human billboard spelling out STOP T-H-E-T-E-A-R-S – and enthusiastically chanted “Let them Pass, No Tear Gas” and “Refugees families under attack, This is illegal, Stand up and fight back!”

Stop the Tears protest in El Cerrito, photo by Ted Lam
Stop the Tears protest in El Cerrito, photo by Ted Lam

The pedestrians and motorists streaming by were very supportive, with many honking  in approval. The one-hour event passed too quickly but we felt good at speaking out loud and clear against the administration’s inhumane actions. 

Governance Committee member and volunteer team lead Andrea Lum reports on the San Leandro protest, which she organized with GC member and IEB treasurer Gina Clinton:

Stop the Tears protest in San Leandro
Stop the Tears protest in San Leandro

The day started off rainy and stormy but ended in cheers, honks and waves at our small but mighty protest on the corner of Memorial Park in San Leandro, As the sun came out, our trio was joined by a mother and son, and another person outraged by the tear gassing of families at the border. Seven people on a rainy Saturday – we call that a win!

Didn’t make it to a protest? There’s still much you can do to help fight. See our article with information, a call script, and contact info to make sure that your elected representatives speak out and do all they can.

 

 

 

IEB goes to Washington

Indivisible East Bay usually meets with our Washington representatives when they visit the Bay Area. But from June 4-6, 2018, IEB members traveled to Washington, D.C. for a succession of get-togethers with California’s Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris as well as several of their key staffers. It was an opportunity for face-to-face interactions at a high-level — and IEB made the most of it.

Senator Feinstein visit to DC

One highlight of the trip was a constituent breakfast with Senator Feinstein. For her opening remarks, Feinstein mainly spoke about her recently-introduced legislation to prevent the separation of asylum-seeking families, as well as her plans to address the problems of homelessness and climate change. Since it was the morning after the primary, she thanked those who voted for her and said she hoped to win over the rest.

During the Q&A that followed, we noted that the Senator is a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and asked what we could do to help fix the broken process for the confirmation of judges, and especially to protect the federal judiciary from the too-often extremist nominees put forward by Republicans. Her answer was simple but will be difficult to accomplish: Take back the Senate.

Senator Kamala Harris in DC

We also heard Senators Harris and Cory Booker (D-NJ) speak at a rally jointly organized by the NAACP and Demand Justice (a new organization focusing on judicial nominations). IEB’s Judiciary team recently started working with Demand Justice to attempt to block the nomination of Thomas Farr to a lifetime judgeship on the district court in North Carolina. Farr has a decades-long history of involvement in voter suppression of North Carolina’s African-American population.

Finally, we had several days of meetings with six members of Feinstein’s and Harris’s staffs. At each meeting, we raised our concerns on specific issues, listened to their replies, and offered our responses. Here are the highlights:

Senator Feinstein Chief of Staff Steve Haro and Appropriations Legislative Aide Josh Esquivel

Our highest level meeting was with Senator Feinstein’s chief of staff Steve Haro and Josh Esquivel, her appropriations legislative aide.

The opening topic was nuclear bombs, notably the House’s recently passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a provision for $65 million to develop a new “low-yield” nuclear weapon to be launched from submarines. Feinstein is on record as strongly opposing this and other efforts to expand the nuclear stockpile and plans to offer an amendment to remove such provisions from the Senate bill. However, Josh would not promise that Feinstein would vote NO on the full NDAA if, despite her efforts, the nuclear authorizations remain in the bill.

We next discussed aspects of the Homeland Security Authorization Bill, which currently has bipartisan support in the Senate. We asked about the increased budget authority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) included in the bill. In our view, both of these agencies have abused their power and defied Congressional oversight; we thus asked that Senator Feinstein vote against additional funding for those agencies. Steve and Josh both expressed some surprise that funding for these agencies was included in the bill; they were under the impression that the bill was mostly about other aspects of the Department, such as disaster preparedness and election security.

We also requested a status update regarding funding for Puerto Rico’s hurricane relief. Josh told us that there is still “plenty of money” left from the last relief funding bill Congress passed. Why then, we asked, does the situation in Puerto Rico remain so dire? He replied that the administration is not doing a good job using the available money to get resources to the people who need it.

We told him that we would like to see Congressional staff get raises. Legislative branch funding is very skimpy and one of the reasons for this is that Congressional Republicans have, since the 1990’s, cut funds for the legislative branch in an apparent bid to increase lobbyists’ relative power and influence. We would like to see that trend reversed in upcoming federal budgets.

Lastly, we discussed sexual harassment and staff well-being policies in Congressional offices. On the subject of harassment, Steve said that the Senator has a very strict, zero-tolerance policy. Staffers are asked to report any incidents directly to him or the Senator. In either case, a report immediately triggers an investigation, headed by Steve. If any harassment is determined to have occurred, the consequences are very serious and even a first offense can result in termination.

Feinstein judicial nominations counsel Gabe Kader

In our meeting with Gabe Kader, one of Feinstein’s Judiciary Committee counsels, we returned to the subject of nominations to the federal bench. Gabe was very interested to hear about our work in this area, especially about which issues in the nominees’ backgrounds resonated most with our members and friends: reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, conflicts of interest, etc.

While we affirmed our support for Feinstein’s goal of Democrats taking back the Senate — as the ultimate solution here — we told him that, in the interim, Feinstein should use her leadership to convince all Congressional Democrats to stand together in opposing unqualified and ultra-conservative nominees put forward by the GOP.

Gabe replied that the Senator is concerned that pushing back too hard could give Senator Grassley and the rest of the Republicans an excuse to abandon the vetting and bipartisan process entirely. We questioned how much that would differ from what the GOP is already doing.

Feinstein immigration counsel Olga Medina

Our last meeting with a Feinstein staffer was with Olga Medina, an immigration counsel. We went over the details of Senator Feinstein’s new legislation to prevent the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border. Her Keep Families Together Act would prohibit agencies from separating children from their parents unless a state court, an “official from the State or county child welfare agency with expertise in child trauma and  development,” or the Chief Patrol Agent or the Area Port Director “in their official and undelegated capacity” determines that a separation is in the best interests of the child.  It also explicitly states that families can’t be separated as a deterrent. A variety of other provisions (such as keeping siblings together) are designed to protect families in those rare cases when a separation does occur.

Senator Harris legislative science fellow Ike Irby

We had two meetings with representatives of Senator Harris. The first was with legislative science fellow Ike Irby. The focus was on the hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico and how we can learn from our failures there. Ike told us that the Senator is working on legislation to put standards in place for how states and territories calculate death rates from natural disasters. We also discussed climate change, both specifically in terms of rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure and, more generally, about federal carbon pricing. It sounded as if Senator Harris, similar to many of our local representatives, isn’t quite ready to put her weight behind any particular carbon pricing plan, but is generally supportive and waiting to see which way the wind blows.

Harris Legislative Aide Elizabeth Hira

Our meeting with Elizabeth Hira, one of Senator Harris’ staffers, focused on the judiciary and criminal justice. As in our meeting with Gabe Kader, Elizabeth was very interested to hear which issues in the judicial nominees’ backgrounds most resonated with the resistance.

We also discussed criminal justice bills that Senator Harris supports, most notably the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. We expressed concerns that these bills don’t sufficiently guard against the possibility that the software used for determining recidivism risk and thus sentencing could unintentionally perpetuate racial biases. As such, we want to see provisions to properly review such software and to allow people to appeal decisions made by software. We suggested a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “algorithmic bias”, with expert testimony from researchers in the field, and Elizabeth asked us to write up a short proposal for such a hearing, indicating she would follow up on this matter.

Top photo: IEB members with Emma Mehrabi, Legislative Director for Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13).

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