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.

9/27/18 IEB & ISF Sen Feinstein office visit

Seventeen Indivisibles from IEB and Indivisible San Francisco met with Sean Elsbernd, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s state director, on September 27 at her San Francisco office. Our almost two-hour meeting was jam-packed with questions and “asks.”

First on the agenda: a detailed back and forth on how the homeless count in San Francisco is conducted. It was further emphasized that more resources were needed to help the homeless, from outreach to affordable housing. Sean seemed particularly concerned about the estimate that 2,400 kids may be homeless.

For those of you not placing the date, September 27 was the day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Of course, the hearings came up, and we stressed – as we have consistently done – that we are firmly against Kavanaugh being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. The group urged Senator Feinstein to continue what she’s doing and to look as well for other methods to stop his confirmation.

On a not-necessarily-unrelated note, the topic of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act came up. Sean thinks that Congress will just extend the Act, at least for the short term.

Sean told us that on the important issue of immigrant family separation, their office is not getting phone calls, and that it’s crucial for people to keep this issue alive by contacting the Senator. He did acknowledge that the Kavanaugh hearings have diverted attention – but we should look for any opportunity to revive the issue.

Sean said that the House is expected to head home for campaigning and won’t be back until after the midterms, so don’t expect any legislation to pass that needs both chambers to act on.

We also talked about protecting the Mueller Trump-Russia investigation, election security, digital privacy, environmental/public health, the war in Yemen, the Farm Bill, workers’ rights, the federal judiciary, tax policy, trade, criminal justice reform, and having a town hall. Sean’s comments on each of those topics were informative and indicated the Senator’s position. As an example, the Farm Bill is in conference and the final version will have to be acceptable to 60 Senators regardless of what the House passed. Another insight: White House Counsel Don McGahn’s imminent departure will force the Administration and Senate Republicans to start from scratch on judicial nominations and will give Senate Democrats a bit of breathing room.

As of November 7, Sean will be the chief of staff for San Francisco Mayor London Breed. As of now, Senator Feinstein has not selected his replacement but he’s hoping that will be resolved shortly. The general feeling from the Indivisible folks was that Sean will be missed.

Read our memo to the Senator.

 

July meeting with Sen. Feinstein’s State Director

By Janna Layton and Catya de Neergaard

On July 25, 2018, a group of Indivisible East Bay members held our regular meeting with Senator Feinstein’s state director, Sean Elsbernd. As usual, the talk ranged over a wide variety of subjects, and Sean gave detailed answers to a large number of questions.

IMMIGRATION

Family Separation, Reunification, and Detention

Sen. Feinstein’s Staffers’ Visit to the El Centro Detention Center:

  • Sean reports that two of Feinstein’s staff visited the El Centro detention center last week, where they witnessed horrible conditions:
    • One cell was over capacity by about 30 people
    • The only food item available for any meal is a bean and cheese burrito
    • Separated children did not even have mats
  • Both children and adults are held in El Centro
  • Staffers were not allowed to bring mobile phones or speak to detainees
  • Feinstein was deeply troubled by her staffers’ report, and contacted Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
  • Feinstein’s reaction to the visit was covered in this article by the San Diego Union Tribune.

Other Detention Centers:

  • Feinstein has not visited any detention centers and is not likely to. The detention centers are more likely to prepare ahead of time for a visit from Feinstein than they are for her staffers.
  • Staffers will visit all centers in CA to determine if what they saw at the El Centro facility is typical or a one-off. Feinstein wants this information before Judiciary Committee hearing.
  • Staff are going to the Yuba City detention center next week, but will have similar restrictions as in the El Centro center.
  • Several detention centers have cancelled their contracts with ICE.
    • It is important to note that detainees in those centers are not released, but transferred to different centers.

Other Issues:

  • In the 48 hours before our meeting, it was announced that hundreds of parents have been deported without their children.
    • The ACLU suspects many of these parents might not have gotten asylum hearings.
  • Senator Harris’s REUNITE Act – a Feinstein staffer wrote the bulk of this act, so Feinstein will likely eventually support it. 
    • However, Feinstein has been working on another, similar act that has the support of all Democratic senators, which she believes has a better chance of passing.
    • Sean is unsure if Senator Cruz is still talking with Feinstein re: her act, but if he is, it is only because of local resistance groups in Texas putting pressure on him.

Asylum Seekers

  • This has not been focused on as much because there are so many issues to be highlighted, and the public can only take so much.
  • The fact that Attorney General Sessions does not attend oversight hearings as he should has been has been overlooked.
  • Even some GOP moderates like Senator Rubio have disagreed on the Trump administration’s treatment of asylum-seekers from Central America

ICE

Appropriations Bill:

  • Feinstein voted against the bill in the Appropriations Committee
  • This might get brought up again in September
  • There is slim chance of a government shutdown. Senator McConnell and Congressman Ryan know how bad that would look. However, Trump might not care.

Splitting ICE:

  • Feinstein has not discussed this with Sean.
  • If done, it would likely be done by Sessions rather than legislature.
    • If Sessions does this, it might be because part of the group that wants to break off from ICE is a union that supported Trump.

Other:

  • Sean will follow up with Feinstein re: letter to Grassley

 

SOCIAL SAFETY NET

Health Care

  • Senator Feinstein spoke with Peter Lee in the Covered CA administration.  It is expected that Covered CA rates will go up sharply next year. This will give Senator Feinstein a platform for a strong message to wrap the ACA mess around the Republicans. Hurt in the pocketbook is going to wake people up to the message that Republicans broke healthcare. They need to fix it.
  • We have asked Feinstein frequently and continue to ask her to consider supporting the single payer system. Sean usually replies that such a bill, for example, the ‘Medicare for All Bill’ introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, doesn’t currently have any hope of passing, so it is a low priority.

Housing/Homelessness

  • Senator Harris introduced The Rent Relief Act in the Senate on July 19, 2018.  There is already a similar bill in the House. Senator Feinstein joined Senator Harris in the introduction and will continue to touch base with Senator Harris about this bill. This bill is a big CA issue. 
  • IEB strongly supports the Rent Relief Act’s goal of giving low-income residents more federal support to pay for housing. Indivisible can to help this bill along by getting more co-sponsors.
  • Senator Feinstein is working on a new plan for cities and counties to apply for a new federal grant program to address homelessness. There would be strict quality controls, for example, for low income housing. She is calling it her ‘first day’ bill because she plans to introduce it the first day of the new Congress (provided, of course, that she wins the election).
  • Possible housing solutions:
    • Senator Feinstein has visited or had her staff visit various ‘tiny homes’ and other solutions to homelessness.  
    • She has a binder listing the name and description of the shelters and other facilities for the homeless across the state.  She sees the scope and quality of solutions across the state.
    • There is no one size fits all solution for homelessness and the housing crisis.
  • One potential source of funding is the VA. The VA and various veterans’ assistance programs have pots of money.  Housing homeless veterans with the money could be considered a front end solution to prevent the medical catastrophes that come with homelessness.
  • The federal government and each county have surplus property that could be used to build low income housing.  There is a federal law to transfer surplus property. The feds have just transferred a big lot between 7th and 9th streets to the City of San Francisco for $1.

 

NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Helsinki/Russia

  • There was a hearing that day in the Senate Formulations Committee with Secretary of State Pompeo testifying.
    • Feinstein is not on that committee, but she is anxious to talk to colleagues about how it went.
  • Feinstein does not think Russia will be an issue that sways Republicans, but trade. Last summer, Feinstein held a forum with farmers in the Central Valley. They said if trade issues continue until Labor Day, that will hurt their businesses. They invest their money into resources at the beginning of the year, so this is a big issue for them.
  • Efforts are being made by Intelligence to get info on what was said at the Summit, but it is unlikely that transcripts will be made public. Such transcripts have not been public for previous administrations.

Iran

  • Sean noted a Washington Post article that reported anonymous White House staffers have said Trump’s tweet was a distraction from North Korea.
  • Feinstein does not give his tweet much credence.
  • The Iran Deal is important to her, as she worked on it.
  • It is unlikely the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act will go to the Senate floor or be amended to something.
  • Sean will talk with Feinstein re: Senator Merkley’s 2001 AUMF replacement

Election Security

  • Feinstein has been focusing on California’s election security with CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla, not nationally, because she is pragmatic about what she can accomplish.
  • Sean will check with her re: Wyden’s act.
  • It is important for local groups to reach out to their Board of Supervisors regarding election security.

Security Clearances

  • Feinstein thinks this is a distraction technique and not a big issue.
  • Some former officials have said they don’t need it anyway, and temporary clearances can be gained if needed.

Whistleblowers

  • Sean stated that Feinstein has always protected whistleblowers.

 

ENVIRONMENT

EPA Fuel Economy Waiver for CA

  • Feinstein is very aggressive on this, because she passed the laws that let CA do this.
  • She has lobbied extensively, including reaching out to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
  • Advocacy groups need to elevate this issue.
    • One choice would be for consumers to demand car manufacturers continue to meet high fuel efficiency standards even if standards change.

Puerto Rico

  • We talked about the disaster in Puerto Rico in the context of the growing effects of climate change all over the country and asked if Feinstein would co-sponsor the Rebuilding Resilient Energy System Act to allow Puerto Rico and other disaster-affected areas (like our own state) to be rebuilt with greener and more resilient infrastructure; Sean said he would look up the bill and convey our request to the Senator.
  • Nationwide, Indivisible can help by writing lots more letters on the situation in Puerto Rico to their MOCs. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida would be a good person to lobby because he has 10 to 20K new Puerto Rican voters in his state.
  • Senator Feinstein will continue to advocate for Puerto Rico, but the Kavanaugh  nomination is her priority.
  • We thanked the Senator for co-sponsoring the Washington DC statehood bill and asked if Feinstein would introduce a Senate version of the Puerto Rico Admissions Act; Sean said she would not, because it isn’t going to happen in 2018.

 

JUDICIARY

Judicial Nominations

Supreme Court:

  • According to Sean, Senator Feinstein does not consider the proposal to request and view documents regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh a “sinking ship.”
  • The Senator’s negotiations have been focused on these documents. They are important because they get Kavanaugh on the record and give insight on his positions. Some valuable documents have been found already.
  • Half a million dollars have been given each to Senators Feinstein and Grassley from the Rules Committee to research this. Feinstein is using the money to hire staff to research and comb through documents.
  • The GOP is trying avoid the Democrats pointing out the hypocrisy of their treatment of this SCOTUS nominee versus their treatment of Obama’s nominees
    • Schumer has video of Grassley demanding all papers on Kagan.
    • This tactic won’t change McConnell’s mind, but might affect Republican senators who are on the fence.

Court of Appeals:

  • The Senator’s focus has been on Kavanaugh, and Sean does not have a statement from her on Eric Murphy, nominated to the Sixth Circuit, or Ryan Nelson, nominated to the Ninth Circuit.

 

TALK TO YOUR GOVERNMENT

Town Hall

  • We want Sen. Feinstein to commit to hold a town hall after the election; Sean said that she would think about that after the election.

Join the meetings!

  • Indivisible East Bay meets with Sen. Feinstein’s key staff every month. Be part of our team! It’s a fascinating way to find out more about the things you care about. Meetings are announced in the IEB weekly newsletter; subscribe to the newsletter for this and more!

 

Photograph by Catya de Neergaard 

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

 

A Conversation with Steve Haro, Senator Feinstein’s Chief of Staff in DC

By Catherine de Neergaard

Things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes you have to improvise. Such was the case when Steve Haro, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Chief of Staff, met with Indivisible representatives on February 21, 2018.

As Chief of Staff, Mr Haro occupies the most prestigious position on Feinstein’s staff. Previously, he has had been Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S. Department Commerce under President Obama.

Because Mr. Haro remained in Washington, the Indivisible group arranged for a video conference at WeWork in the Oakland Civic Center. Unfortunately, there was an Internet outage at the Center that day. So, we instead opted for an audio-only call. Not an optimal solution, but it sufficed to get the job done.

Once we were connected, and introductions were given, we proceeded to work our way through a list of agreed-upon topics.

DACA:

We thanked Senator Feinstein for holding out for a clean DREAM ACT for the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA).

Haro said that Senator Feinstein was disappointed not to get a “Clean Dream” rider on the Continuing Resolution for funding. Mr. Haro related at considerable length the inside drama and difficulties of getting the twelve Republican votes needed to pass a compromise bipartisan Immigration (DACA) Bill. The Democrats conceded much just to get the bill to the floor. Unfortunately, after the GOP leadership lobbied against it, even the most bipartisan immigration deal the Senate considered only got eight Republican votes and the bill failed.

Regarding the brief shutdown of the government that resulted from the immigration policies dispute, Mr. Haro gave us some new insight into how the senator thought it went down. In spite of strong reservations about the negative effects of a government shutdown, the senator voted against both the continuing resolution (CR) that would have kept it open and the CR that opened it back up. And she thought that Democrats didn’t allow enough time for it to work.

GUN SAFETY:

We thanked the Senator for her outspoken support of stricter gun control, including her bills banning bump stocks and all assault weapons.

Haro noted that Feinstein introduced a bill, together with Senator Flake, to increase the legal age to buy weapons to 21. But Democrats cannot get a single Senate Republican to co-sponsor a bill banning bumpstocks.

The key question for all such bills remains: How do we get to 60 votes in the Senate to support the bill? The answer, for now, is “We can’t.”

CLIMATE CHANGE:

Haro said that Senator Feinstein is working with colleagues to preserve current CAFE standards and prohibit waivers. The Senator also believes we must protect the jobs of scientists in government positions from politically-motivated firings—although it was not clear how she intends to accomplish this.

As to the Senator’s support for the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act and a timeline for a federal climate bill similar to California’s carbon auction model, Haro said he would have to “get back to us.”

We also asked Feinstein to support HJ 48, a constitutional amendment introduced in the House, to state that corporations are not people with the argument that corporate money drives harmful environmental policy.

FUNDING FOR THE 2020 CENSUS:

IEB remains concerned that continued underfunding of the 2020 census will prevent an orderly and fair redistricting of the House. Similarly, use of untried methodologies threaten to endanger an accurate count and leave out harder-to-reach people.

We asked: “What is Senator Feinstein’s plan to get more money for the census?” The answer was not encouraging. Haro said House Republicans hate census appropriations bills and fund them at the last minute. The Senate isn’t directly impacted by the census, so it is hard to get the Senators excited about this. Feinstein is pushing to prevent the census from asking about citizenship which, in her opinion, is as important as funding.

ELECTION SECURITY:

We asked: “What can Congress/Senate do in the absence of executive support to ensure fair elections?” and “What has the Senator done to advance the Secure Elections Act or similar legislation?”

Haro observed that when voter turnout is high, Democrats generally win. That’s why Democrats want people to vote and Republicans do not. He is concerned that a low voter turnout, encouraged by Republican voting restrictions, will negatively impact Democrats. Obviously, the GOP has no interest in taking on this issue.

Other than noting Feinstein’s support for paper ballots, his answers did not directly address our questions. He did say that he was unfamiliar with some of the specifics we raised and would look into them further.

NATIONAL SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WAR:

We thanked Senator Feinstein for her deep concerns about U.S. relations with North Korea. She is already a co-sponsor of S. 200 which restricts the first use of nuclear weapons. However, we asked that her concerns about U.S. involvement in the Middle East be stronger than they appear.

Feinstein supports repealing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). However, Haro expects no action on this matter any time soon. The issue has gone quiet, apparently because the GOP views any change as an attack against Trump. He told us that he personally feels some regret that Democrats didn’t work with President Obama on some of these issues regarding curtainling executive power; he might have been open to it, and it wouldn’t have had the appearance of a partisan attack.

JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS:

The Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee continues to nominate untried, inexperienced, and young conservative Republicans for lifetime judgeships. The “blue slip” process, whereby the senators of a state are consulted and partisan input is preserved, continues to be bypassed or ignored. In other words, the GOP is rapidly stacking the courts. We asked: “What can we and the Senator do to stop this travesty?”

Haro replied that, other than delaying tactics, there is little the Democrats can do. The key is to “Take back the Senate.” He specifically suggested we (Indivisible nationally) focus on helping vulnerable blue senators in states where Trump won in 2016 and trying to pick up seats in Nevada and Arizona.

WE WANT A TOWN HALL

For the past several meetings with Feinstein’s staff, we have asked about the Senator’s reluctance to hold town hall meetings where the public can ask questions. We did so again at this meeting.

Haro responded that town halls take a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources to produce.

 

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

Photograph by Catherine de Neergaard

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.

 

Congressman DeSaulnier Holds Tax Town Hall

By Catherine de Neergaard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph by George McRae