Gweneth Dietrich/Rose May Dance

Gweneth Dietrich, known to many of her friends as Rose May Dance, was an activist for peace, social and environmental justice throughout her life. She made mutual aid, solidarity and protesting creative, fun and spiritual She was loved for her bawdy humor, breaking into song or poetry, extravagant dress and hats, community celebrations, psychic and magical acumen, and much more.

Rose grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and became involved in activism against the Vietnam war as a teenager. During her college years, she drove women to Canada, where they could obtain legal abortions. She moved to the Bay Area in 1975, and one of her first jobs was mapping toxic sites, which led to a lifetime of environmental justice work.

photo of Rose

She worked for twenty years in the Harm Reduction Movement, counseling active and recovering injection drug users. She trained and counseled the counselors and street outreach workers at the Urban Health Study in San Francisco in “how to reach the hard to reach.” She also used that environment as a crucible for developing methods to overcome burnout as well as to create healing ways for healers.

In 1988, Rose was one of the public health activists to found the San Francisco needle exchange, known as Prevention Point. The program, started as a direct action with no public support, revolutionized HIV/AIDS prevention services and became a model for the rest of the country. When consulted by friends who were planning to start the Seattle needle exchange a year later, Rose told them, “It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.”

In the early 1980s, Rose helped to found Reclaiming, an organization dedicated to feminist, earth-centered activism and spirituality. She co-developed hundreds of rituals over the years as well as many classes, songs, chants and liturgies. She taught magic and ritual activism all over the world.

She was a master hypnotist and certified hypnotherapist, working at Harborside Health Center, in Oakland. On her hypnotherapy website, she wrote, “The focus of my hypnotherapy practice is both practical and spiritual. For meaningful growth in our lives, we need both bread and roses — food for the true body and the body of down-to-earth matters, and food for the spirit and dreams.”

She was deeply committed to active nonviolence and was arrested dozens of times protesting militarism, racism and environmental destruction. One of her cousins wrote, “Gwennie normalized the act of protest for me from the time I was little. She protested as an act of faith. She protested at the beginning of each war the US participated in and I remember her modeling standing up to the system when she chained herself to the School of Americas to protest the teaching of war.”

She raised a queer kid with total openness and support, and opened her home to numerous other kids who needed a safe and loving place to be. She was an adoptive parent, and had a child from whom she was separated by adoption for many years. They later connected and she developed a close relationship. She had two granddaughters.

Gweneth/Rose died on New Year’s Eve, and we know she would have loved to know that every year, people will be partying on the day of her death. As someone who loved to wear pink, she would also be happy to have died on the same day as Betty White. She was no saint, and she could be infuriating, but she’s mourned by hundreds of close friends, students, mentees, initiates, colleagues and co-resisters who carry her in our hearts.

What is remembered lives.

Do Not Speak for Us

To Japanese Americans  who oppose using empty hotels as permanent housing for homeless people: Don’t rewrite our history to increase profits for the real estate industry.

By Toshio Meronek, housing activist and journalist, and Miya Sommers, Coordinator with Nikkei Resisters

On October 19, real estate developers and some Japantown residents slid a knife into plans for permanent, supportive housing for homeless people. Instead of converting the failed 131-room tourist Buchanan Hotel into long-term housing for people who need it, the city is backing off thanks to a misinformation campaign spread in part by other Japanese Americans.

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According to a statement that has been shared by many Japantown nonprofits, San Francisco’s Japantown is under attack by low-income San Franciscans. In a petition also promoted in the LA-based Japanese American paper Rafu Shimpo, they claim that potentially creating permanent housing for elders and disabled people who are homeless would lead to “irreparable harm on the SF Japantown neighborhood.” Despite its claims, the anti-homeless campaign will not preserve Japanese American culture in the city. And if the campaign is successful, more elders and people with disabilities on the street will be on the streets of Japantown.

We are Japanese Americans who are longtime residents of indigenous Ohlone-Lisjan and Ramaytush land (a.k.a. the Bay Area). We need other Japanese Americans and allies to understand the dangerous, anti-homeless misinformation campaign began in August that will increase suffering for the majority of San Franciscans. Ultimately, it’s a campaign that will make the rich richer, as it cynically misuses the recent attention around racist, anti-Asian violence, and also rewrites the history of racist Redevelopment policies of the 1960s, policies that not only threatened to level Japantown to the ground, but also bleached the Fillmore of many Black residents, and all but demolished the area called Manilatown, where Filipinx people were evicted to make way for today’s Financial District and its big banks.

If it accomplishes its goal, the anti-homeless campaign will benefit landlords and real estate developers most of all. If leaders in Japantown are truly concerned about the loss of Japanese American culture or small businesses, they are choosing the wrong target, and erasing the fact that there are Japanese American and/or hafu/hapa (half-Japanese) homeless people living here right now.

Thousands of luxury condo units sit empty, while construction continues on new condos that will be affordable to almost no one. Mayor London Breed continues to sweep homeless encampments, moving people with nowhere to go around the city, causing havoc and tragedy, rather than solving the problem of wealth-hoarding in a city that is also home to more billionaires per capita than any other. Breed’s anti-homeless policies make it impossible for people to gain stability, as tents and other possessions are taken away during a pandemic with no end in sight.

Not all Japanese American believe that poor people are the problem. Some of us actually understand that the real estate industry is the true predator and villain in this story. However, board members and some staff of Japantown nonprofits don’t agree, and they’re making it seem like there is only one voice in Japantown. The statements they’ve made co-opt the very real concern of anti-Asian violence, and the haunted histories of Japanese American World War II incarceration and Redevelopment, egregiously using these issue to stop supportive, permanent homeless housing in the neighborhood. They also erase Japanese Americans who are currently or formerly homeless–like Japanese American World War II incarceration survivors, who often left the camps after the war with nowhere to go, having been evicted from their homes by landlords and local sheriffs departments at the onset of internment. As descendants of incarceration survivors, we refuse to see our community’s trauma used to harm other communities.

Another actual threat to the community are the investors in Beverly Hills who own the Japan Center mall. In 2006, two Southern California-based companies purchased much of the mall. They signed a 15-year agreement, brokered by the city, stating that they would not attempt to convert the space into condos during that time. However, that agreement expires this year and has not yet been renewed. Even before COVID-19, Japan Center’s owners were slowly bleeding the place empty. The owners are not interested in preserving community:  Langdon Street Capital “seeks to acquire, manage, develop and finance value-add urban infill real estate through syndication of equity and joint venture partnerships,” and its partner 3D Investments “prides itself on providing attractive investment options for investors from all over the globe.” Langdon and 3D have refused to negotiate rents with small businesses, resulting in the nearly-dead mall that Japan Center is today. In 2007, Japan Center owners began working with architects to draw up plans for condos to replace the mall.

Because of the mall owner’s unwillingness to provide more than six months rent forgiveness for small businesses, we saw a number of these community shops shut down. So who is truly a threat to the culture of Japantown?

During the early days of the pandemic, the city only partially followed guidance from medical pros who advised that the spread of the virus and its stronger variants. The city set up contracts with companies like Urban Alchemy to turn empty parking lots into campsites, and hotels into temporary housing, promising to offer permanent housing to all. The resources spent on these public-private partnerships has resulted in placing few houseless people in permanent homes. Our community cannot rely on corporations like Urban Alchemy or the owners of Japan Center, either.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, San Francisco’s rents have stayed unaffordable–never dipping below $3,000. And since July, rents have actually gone up, despite a boom in building over the past decade. Corporate landlords are just getting bigger since the pandemic began, buying up buildings as quickly as they can while corporate media outlets run stories that push the false message that “mom-and-pop” landlords are victims of the pandemic. Sheriffs continue to evict San Franciscans in spite of the “eviction moratorium” that is set to end November 30.

We’ve seen time and again that real estate is a predatory industry quick to betray local communities—including Japanese Americans. Join the groups who are working to stop landlord consolidation and evictions, such as the Coalition on Homelessness, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Gay Shame, Housing Rights Committee, and Western Regional Advocacy Project. Likewise, 4DalyCity is battling the plan to turn over public school land to developers who promise to build a few “affordable” housing units while building hundreds of luxury condos; in Los Angeles this past February, a real estate developer called Pacifica Companies began a wave of evictions at senior care facilities that served Japanese and Japanese American elders. Organizers (through a coalition called Save Our Seniors) are battling Pacifica now to stop more evictions.

The state has budgeted $300 million to purchase buildings for permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness, and a few Japanese Americans are out here trying to send back the cash. The SF Homelessness and Supportive Housing department identified a few hotels such as Japantown’s Buchanan Hotel as solutions. The Buchanan was a failing tourist hotel owned by a British corporation, the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), and previously the Phoenix, Arizona-based Best Western Hotels & Resorts. At the beginning of the pandemic, IHG leased the building to the city as a shelter-in-place (SIP) hotel for homeless people to curb COVID-19’s spread. IHG has no plans to reopen the Buchanan, and it could easily renovated into a space that would mean hundreds of supportive housing units, and living-wage jobs for people who work there. We desperately need the rooms, because the city has already started to evict people from SIP hotels, acting like the pandemic is over. We also can’t depend on tourism returning and providing a source of living wages for people here, and until our unhoused neighbors have access to a permanent roof to sleep under, we aren’t interested in recreating the “Disneyfied” Japantowns designed by mid-1900s urban planners to appeal to tourists.

Corporate real estate investors like 3D and Langdon are buying up available housing units and leaving them empty, while some of these same landlords are getting ready to mass-evict tenants. If anti-homeless campaign leaders are interested in stopping violence, helping small businesses, and preserving local Japanese American culture, then demand that the city help homeless and low-income San Franciscans, Japanese American or not, by purchasing as many empty buildings as possible to give people somewhere to stabilize their lives. For example, the owners of the Majestic Hotel, a couple of blocks east of the Buchanan, are also ready to sell to the city. Before Redevelopment, the block where The Buchanan Hotel now stands was residential housing. Back then, the city used “eminent domain” policies to take Japanese American (and Black and Filipinx) homes. The city could also use eminent domain, only this time, use it to take back land from rich tax-evaders and use it to shelter the city’s most vulnerable residents.

By saying that permanent supportive housing will destroy the community rewrites the history of Japanese American activism and tenant organizing, twisting it to push a pro-real estate industry message. In the 1960s, the SF Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) was run by a notoriously cruel leader, Justin Herman, who called the land “too valuable to permit poor people to park on it,” and backed by groups like SPUR, he urged politicians to move the city’s population “closer to standard white Anglo-Saxon Protestant characteristics.” They succeeded in displacing hundreds of Japanese Americans, not to mention destroying Black community in the nearby Fillmore District, and almost completely leveling the Filipinx neighborhood once known as Manilatown. The City promised anyone displaced would be promised financial help to relocate, but failed to live up to that promise. It took grassroots tenant groups like the Committee Against Nihonmachi Evictions (CANE) to save Japantown from total demolition by the SFRA and a Japan-based investment company, Kintetsu Enterprises. CANE stepped in where the city failed, managing to rehouse some of the Japanese American residents who were made homeless through the city’s racist policies.

In the 1980s, Japanese Americans became the only ethnic group to receive significant universal financial reparations from the US government, after a 30-year campaign resulted in $20,000 in reparations for incarcerees. Those who say they want to preserve Japantown’s culture need to start with the people first, and we could learn a lot from the struggles of CANE did in the 1970s, movements like Save Our Seniors in LA, and the J-Town Action and Solidarity Network. (LA, San Francisco, Seattle organizers repped West Coast Japantowns on a September panel on displacement, and released its own statement demanding “the immediate commandeering of unoccupied hotel units and their conversion into free housing for all who lack housing.”) There’s also the work of indigenous Lisjan-Ohlone people who are currently working on projects like the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, to rematriate some of the Bay Area that was taken from native tribes that were killed and enslaved by European settlers during their brutal colonization of the West Coast.

Stable housing is a basic need, and permanent housing could be a form of reparations for people who are currently unhoused, and who have suffered, and continue to suffer because San Francisco’s government, and the real estate industry that funds local political campaigns, is very intentionally causing more suffering. We hope that other Japanese Americans will join us and already existing movements to end the silence around this. Speak out with us and our homeless friends, family, and neighbors.

Mad Mob Mobes in SF

by Tory

On November 12th Mad Mob had its first demonstration since the beginning of covid. The action called for the end of conservatorship, mental health treatment on demand, and took place as part of  a national day of support for Britney Spears, who was having her final hearing, challenging her 12 year conservatorship by her father. While the case of Britney Spears has educated the public on the draconian nature of conservatorship, which removes a person’s independent decision making, assigning instead a court-appointed guardian, most people who are conserved do not have the vast financial resources of Britney, a famous pop star. The vast majority of people conserved are people with psychiatric disabilities and no resources.  One of the slogans of the rally was  #ItsNotJustBritney.

The action was held at San Francisco General Hospital because the psychiatric emergency service there is often the beginning of the process of incarcerating people with psychiatric disabilities. Such incarceration can lead to long term conservatorship. There was an excellent turnout of about 60-70 people from Gay Shame, LAGAI, Mental Health First, Mental Health Association, Senior Disability Action and others.  There were fabulous signs such as MAD PRIDE and a big CONSERVATORSHIP IS TOXIC banner.

photo of demostrators

A number of people spoke about first-hand traumatic experiences of being held against their will during a mental health crisis and the utter lack of actual treatment they received. The point was made that the gun-happy police routinely kill people during a mental health crisis, underscoring the immediate need for peer led crisis intervention deescalation teams to respond to emergencies. People talked about San Francisco’s frequent practice of conserving people and sending them to board and care homes in distant counties in the central valley, far from friends and support systems. Complete lack of low income/public housing, adequate supportive housing and waiting lists for substance abuse programs and shelters exacerbates mental health crises leading to incarceration and conservatorship. Rebecca from Anti Police Terror Project spoke about the use of conservatorship by the federal government and thieving lawyers to steal Native American land under the guise of ”protecting” indigenous people.

Mad Mob is a mad led group, a part of the San Francisco nonprofit Senior Disability Action.  There are a range of political point of views which grow out of people’s lived experience with the current broken oppressive NON treatment system.  Many people are abolitionists wanting an end to all incarceration including conservatorship/guardianship.  Along with this people want treatment on demand.  Many people are part of peer run support projects and crisis response alternatives to the police.  Recent meetings have included the idea of supported decision making in the place of conservatorship. People are also discussing ways to create mutual aid as well as more direct action opposing conservatorship.  Mad Mob meetings on zoom are open and information can be found at sdaction.org.

This work, like all our activist work, calls for a complete transformation of the current system.

REVOLUTION NOW

Patricia Maginnis

photo

Patricia Maginnis died August 30. She was 93 and had lived a long life of fighting for every woman’s right to control her own body and her own destiny. Also known as Patricia, God The Mother, Pat was the quintessential sacrilegious anti-catholic.  She wanted more than reform, she wanted a whole system overhaul.  Pat was a laboratory technician and one of the founders of the Society for Humane Abortion (SHA) in 1962 in San Francisco. Lana Phelan and Rowena Gurner were the other members of the “Army of Three.”

The SHA sought to repeal abortion laws, endorse elective abortions, and offer women any resources it could in the meantime. These resources would come to include “the List,” an up-to-date directory of safe abortion specialists outside the country, classes on DIY abortions, and symposia where sympathetic doctors could confer with each other about the safest and best abortion techniques. More than that, the SHA was the very first American organization to advocate a pro-choice position that centered the woman, instead of the legal dilemmas of the physician—specifically, her right to privacy and choice. Rejecting the gatekeeping protocols, the committees and evaluations and red tape, the only question anyone should ask prior to approving an abortion was a simple one: whether the woman wanted it or not.

In her 20’s, Pat joined the Women’s Army Corps and was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina until she was spotted walking with a black soldier: The captain told her she was setting a bad example for other young white women and she was shipped off to Panama as punishment.

During those two years in Central America, she experienced a different kind of discrimination. She’d trained as a surgical technician, but she was assigned to the pediatrics and obstetrics wards. There, she was exposed to women suffering from botched abortions, women being forced to give birth, infants with terrible abnormalities. What she didn’t get in surgical experience, she got in perspective. “A general overview of the status of women,” Pat said in an interview with Slate in 2018. “And I wasn’t at all happy with it.”

In 1967, the DA of San Mateo County threatened to arrest anyone disseminating information about abortion so the “Army of Three” immediately scheduled classes on abortion rights. Pat and Rowena were arrested, convicted and sent to jail. Their conviction was overturned in 1973.

Alternative newspapers called her “the Che Guevara of abortion reformers.” Her ideas certainly went beyond the calls for incremental reform made by establishment groups like Planned Parenthood.

Once the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that women had a constitutional right to abortion, Pat rechanneled her activism to other issues, including gay rights and animal welfare. She also staged regular protests against the Catholic Church, criticizing its anti-abortion policies and demanding accountability in cases of sexual abuse by priests. Kate remembers seeing Pat, already in her 80’s, standing in front of the Cathedral of the Light in Oakland handing out pamphlets with her own funny and slightly lewd cartoons.

Tory says, “I remember doing abortion clinic defense in Oakland with Pat God The Mother Maginnis in the 1990’s.  One particular time I took a flying leap spectacularly breaking my wrist, in an effort to defend someone trying to access the clinic from an evil anti abortion fanatic.  Ever after that when I ran into Pat for many years, she always inquired after my wrist, fussing over me, treating me with revered respect for being a fallen soldier in the battle to save abortion.”

Barbara Hoke, an old friend of Pat said, “A precious friend and Feminist icon is gone. Patricia T Maginnis gave her all in the fight for women’s freedom, worked in the trenches protecting animals, fought racism and homophobia, lived a consistently righteous life with humor that brought the haters to their knees. The world is less friendly without you, Pat.”

graphic
cartoons by Patricia Maginnis

Alix Dobkin

“There are only two responses to freedom. One is trying to control everything. The other is to be creative and take risks.” Alix Dobkin, 1994

photo graphic of Alix Dobkin

 Alix Dobkin, a lesbian singer and songwriter died on May 19th from a brain aneurysm and stroke. She was 80 years old. 

Alix was born in 1940 into a radical Jewish family in Philadelphia. She was named after her uncle, Cecil Alexander Kunstlich, who had been executed by a firing squad while he was fighting against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. According to her ex-lover Liza Cowan, she “spent her early years listening to the music of Paul Robeson – who once visited her family – Pete and Peggy Seeger, Leadbelly, The Red Army Chorus, and her much- loved songs from Broadway musical theater. Alix’s parents were members of the American Communist Party until they quit in the 1950s [because there were too many FBI informants in the Party]. From them she gained a passion for civil rights and social justice.”

Alix graduated from the Tyler School of Fine Arts / Temple University, and after graduation performed in folk clubs in New York and Philadelphia. She met Sam Hood, who she married and in 1970 had a daughter, Adrian Hood. Later that year Alix got involved with the women’s movement. According to Liza, as Alix listened to a radio interview with Germaine Greer on WBAI, “she realized that this would be the cause of her lifetime. She joined a Consciousness Raising Group, separated from her husband, and struck out on her own. She picked up the guitar once more, and wrote a letter to the producer who had done the interview which had so inspired her, asking if she could perform on her program. The night they did the live on-air broadcast, Alix and the producer, Liza Cowan, fell in love, and soon moved in together, along with 11 month old baby Adrian. Alix was now a capital L Lesbian.”

Alix formed Lavender Jane with musician Kay Gardner. Because commercial record producers weren’t interested, they produced on their own label, the first known album of “lesbian music” Lavender Jane Loves Women in 1973. Their songs, such as View from Gay Head, had radical feminist, dyke-affirming lyrics such as:

Carol is tired of being nice
A sweet smile, a pretty face, submissive device
To pacify the people for they won’t defend
A woman who’s indifferent to men
She’s my friend, she’s a lesbian
And women’s anger Louise explains
A million second places in the master’s games
It’s real as a mountain, it’s strong as the sea
Besides, an angry woman is a beauty
She’s chosen to be a dyke like me
She’s a lesbian, lesbian
Lesbian in no man’s land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian

Alix produced several more albums and toured the US and many other countries.

According to Liza, “as the women’s movement changed, and as Alix aged, she continued to perform, but devoted much of her time as a steering committee member and co-director of Old Lesbians Organizing For Change (OLOC), an advocacy group. In 2009 Alyson Books published her memoir, My Red Blood, recounting her early years growing up as a Red Diaper Baby in a communist family, and the early days of her folk music career.” During the controversy about inclusion of transwomen in OLOC, Alix supported that OLOC was open to all who identify as lesbians.  

“Alix spent the last half of her life living in Woodstock, New York, raising her daughter along with former husband Sam, leaving only to tour. In her later years, she spent her days working for OLOC, performing rarely, and helping care for her three beloved grandchildren.” 

Chaya and I met Liza and Alix in the 1970s in Seattle. During that time, the identity of lesbian was very big – for many of us big enough to include people who are gender queer, male-identified or butch, as well as people who identified as women or femme or fem. Alix Dobkin was a part of that time – lesbian love, lesbian sex, lesbian revolution! Thanks Alix.

— deeg

Prisoners’ Submissions

pencil drawing from prisoner

graphic by Toni Love Valenzela #3144589, Lacy Facility, 51 City Dr. South, Orange, CA 92868

Making a Change

I read your newsletter every time it glides under my door and I read it again and again. It amazes me how out of touch this prison is when it comes to most of the things you all talk about.

Yes, I am a Lesbian. I was when on the streets as well as now. I have been the queen of many drag shows even though I am a woman. I have been dubbed by our Mother herself out of Modesto CA. I have been here for 18 years, doing a double life sentence. Although I love to read about our community, I’m afraid not a lot of the women nor trans are as educated as I wished them to be. The C.O.s still address them as ‘mam’ or ‘she’ even though it’s clear they are in transition. We have a small amount of what we call the “real deal” (-: A lot of these girls come in here looking for a quick fix for love [for the] rest of us this is a life style.

The ‘Finally a Change” and “Prison is Still Prison” articles brought tears to my eyes. It still blows me away how ignorant people still are after all this time. I haven’t been out for a while but when I see the TV and there is a Vera Wang wedding ring being advertised and you see 2 women or the Black girl with freckles or big white girls in clothing ads or the Asian girl on the make-up ads … even the ones where we are all united looks like a step forward. I mean, come on, that’s what United States means, right? Coming together. This next generation, man, everyone better watch out. It could go many ways. My heart and my soul are into making a change. If anyone can help me do that here in this prison, please write me. Oh and all you that are coming, welcome. Please look me up, I am in IAC. Hopefully we won’t be locked down for quarantine, I can show you around.

Darlene R Fouse #X17951, CA Institute for Women/WA-860L, 16756 Chino-Corona Rd. Corona CA 92880

Expose the Unjust Justice System

First off, I want to shoot a recognized shout out to my LGBT Family! You are the only family I have and I cherish that to the fullest extent. However, my intentions of writing this article is not based on sentiment. It’s all love though! Now down to business.  Our family here at Jefferson City C.C. in Missouri is facing oppression that we should not have to face. As well as the rest of the population that inhabits this prison. We are all being denied adequate Health Care.

The medical staff tell us we must fill out Health Services Request forms (HSRs) whenever we have a complaint. Well, there’s two major problems with that declaration. The first being they do not provide us with sufficient access to those forms that they insist we fill out. Secondly, when we are able to obtain one of these nearly extinct “proper medical forms” and we fill it out with our professed complaints and we turn them in, we do not receive any kind of notification or response that our request has been received let alone acknowledged. This is blatantly denying us all the right (as human beings) to access to adequate medical care. That is also a direct violation of our constitutional rights under the 8th Amendment: the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. We cannot obtain relief even when we seek it through the “proper channels” that they call protocol!

As I am a Transgender woman currently undergoing Hormone Replacement Therapy, this is a more personal issue. This does not change the fact that I am NOT the only one affected by this deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. Being placed on HRT puts me into a special medical category called “chronic care. Any person placed in “chronic care” is supposed to be monitored and assessed every 90 days by a medical team and on an ‘as needed’ basis. I am going to expose the fact that they have not followed that protocol either. This is the scariest part of all these evil wrong doings (at least from my point of view speaking specifically HRT). Estrogen has high risks especially when taking it in high doses. One of the risks is cancer. How do I know that these lumps that are forming in my breast aren’t cancer cells instead of growing buds, if I can’t get medical staff to assess me?

Due to the severity of the danger presented to the LGBT people of this prison as well as others, I am calling out in despair for action against these evil tormentors especially during a time of crisis such as the Corona Virus Pandemic!! Please anybody that is on the outside, and inside, that is willing to help, that would be greatly appreciated! This oppression needs to come to an end! Let’s expose this unjust so called ‘justice system’. Much love and respect from the United Homosexual Family here in Missouri and from Tequila AKA Seaneal. Ms Sease Beard #1251289, Jefferson City C.C./8-B-108, 8200 No More Victims Rd. Jefferson City MO 65101

It’s Gotten Out of Hand

We can’t even exist amongst anything without giving it a damn title. Today, more than ever before, critics are compelled to push labels onto other human beings as if we’re some canned food on the shelf. At one point, and of course currently in many places, I was exclusively identified as: Blacky, Africano, Negroid, Hood, Ghetto dweller, Thugg, Drug Dealer, Gangster, Gang banger, Pimp, Convicted felon turned Crime Novelist.

Each of those rather hard core attributes fit for some [that] Society will aim to keep in the most darkest place of misfortune – Prison. Would any names be softened if the target was of the LGBTQ+? Nope! To my discomfort, I’ve stood in pain while listening to my former circle call Trannies “fag” or “punk”. The pain came from wanting to safeguard my own secret from the verbal abuse. Yet I wish those Trannies could stand next to me now because while they were taking those jabs, not once did they consider to expose me. I’ve partied with them and they chose to let the experience stand as a lesson of what I’d face eventually.

In the 90’s era of hip hop, the rapper (Nore) called people like me Homo-Thuggz in his song ‘What-what’. Wendy Williams was a radio host at Hot-97 during that same time and used a game called “Guess the Gay rapper” to expose a rapper from Jersey City. But on the whole, we were all subjected to the tag of “on the down low”.

Wow! Can I please just be considered me? Why has that been so hard to understand? For so long, society has made it difficult even for myself to accept my own truth.

Crazy love to my entire LGBTQ+ Fam! I was amazed at all those who recognized my short comment in the previous issue. I just want to add, it’s not over. Keep that mask on! Stay safe! Robert A (the Boogie Mann) Thompson #AN7958, CTF/north RB#326, PO Box 705, Soledad CA 93960

drawing from prisoner

Survival: My Only Option

As a Trans-woman who is 110% out and proud, I get my fair share of hate coming my way. We as LGBTQIA+ have been hated on since the dawn of time. Where do you think that has led us? It has led us to be the highest group of people to commit suicide! LGBT+ people are twice as likely to commit suicide compared to the general population with Trans people being four times likely. I have tried to commit suicide on multiple occasions: OD-ing on pain pills, cutting my wrists and/or jumping off roofs. I did these suicide attempts because people were not accepting me as the woman I am, instead of the man I NEVER was. The main people that caused me pain were my parents and siblings once I told them I was Trans and they kicked me out of their life.

It has been 11 years since I spoke with my family but I’m proud to say I am doing good despite not having them in my life. In fact, I’m doing GREAT. The last time I tried committing suicide I was 24 years old. I’m 29 now so it’s been almost 5 years since that time. Since that time, I have come to realize in prison that survival is my only option. I have been sexually assaulted, physically assaulted and verbally assaulted dozens of times in the past 5 years that I’ve been here in prison but it has not changed me. There are going to be times when you feel like killing yourself over another person hating you for who you are and there may be times you got assaulted. I want you to know you CAN be a survivor like me. I am proof that just because you are hurt, does not mean it should take control of your life. I am living proof that you can survive as long as you put your mind to it! I may not have family support but I still have family in the LGBTQ+ Community. All you folks who think you are alone, you need to know you are loved by your brothers and sisters.

Having LAGAI, the Transgender Law Center, The TGI Justice Project, The Utah Pride Center, The Utah Equality Center, Black and Pink and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (just to name a few) has really helped me survive! Please take advantage of the many resources that are available to in our community. You are LOVED. You are important. And you CAN survive!

Feel free to write me any time and I will write back. Please only use lined/blank paper or postcards when you write me. Also: only blue or black ink. Utah state rules.

Daisy Mae Ross/David Torrey #228565, Utah S.P. PO Box 250, Draper UT 84020

Shorts from Inside

When was the last time someone was hurt by equality?  #erasehate.  AC, Cheshire CT

Since 2015 I’ve been struggling as a transwoman on all male units. For the past three and a half years I’ve struggled to not only gain recognition of my gender identity – but trying to obtain medical care as well. Through the encouragement I received from so many readers of UV, I kept trying. I’m so excited to announce that my efforts have not only helped change policy, but that on March 23 I had my first appointment (via zoom) with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sexual Health to begin medical transition. My legal transition was completed in 2017. To my brothers, sisters and other beautiful people I want to share the words that have, and still continue to, move me forward: “All we can do is try, if we make an attempt, then we didn’t fail. So far I haven’t failed and neither will you.” – Lisa Strawn. Kendra-Michelle Lovejoy, Moose Lake MN

I am a 30 year old trans-woman half white-half Filipino, serving 12 at an Arizona Men’s Prison! I’ve been on Hormone-therapy for 2 years, 5 months and am allowed to order women’s clothing (bras, panties), make-up and other items like curlers and barrettes. I am currently trying to legally change my name through my county’s Superior Court (Maricopa County). I’ve been denied two times for my sex-reassignment surgery because the AZ DOC said they weren’t going to pay for it! I get released in 2025 and am trying to prepare for my surgery as much as I can before release. I think about GASS and suicide everyday in here and have attempted both several times. God bless UV and hello to all my sisters!  Amy Rose Vehmeier, Florence AZ

It’s 2021 and runaway kids are still unable to get a proper education. In fact, runaways are part of the Ultra Violet Prism. I think it’s time for a change.  It’s 2021 and we should provide more resources for all youth. We as a people can do that. In and outside the LGBTQ Community, people are miseducated or not educated at all. (On so many levels.) Runaways have it even harder because the youth don’t have access to the things most people have. Prison, Death or Addiction is very likely to be in a runaway’s future. White Raven, Florence AZ

I especially enjoyed your March/April edition. I appreciate the way you present such colorful perspective, and the perseverance and grit that always fills your pages. I was moved to read about the legends you lost this year. The smiles they carried were incredibly telling. I’m smiling myself after a recent accomplishment and hoping you might share the moment with me. I was a guest speaker yesterday for a university law symposium. They booked me from Ad-Seg; I’ve never heard of anything like that. A lot of tears were shared … Cissy Lovey, Boise ID

Please support and promote #GONELONGENOUGH on all your social media. #GONELONGENOUGH stands for a number of criminal justice and prison reform issues, including: lowering sentences and abolishing mandatory minimums. We’ve made the first step. Without a second step, there’s no real progress being made. Let’s move together in criminal justice and prison reform. Make #GONELONGENOUGH that second step. Kelly Jones, betweenthebars.org/blogs/747

Hello out there. I want to express that I worked 7 long months to create a LGBTQ bookshelf on my unit. I’m a big reader and got tired of not seeing anything related to the LGBTQ [community] so I got to work. We are one in all LGBTQ prison communities and we need to stand together. Alexander Williams, Navasota TX

To all my trans family, I know it’s been a tough year dealing with COVID-19, but we made it. We as trans people have to stick together, we need each other, we lift each other up. It’s bad enuff we have to deal with CDCR and their BS, we don’t need the hate amongst us, between us. Because at the end of the day, who understands you? Your trans fam. C’mon y’all. Love one another! Punkin Pie, Mule Creek, CA

Hello UV and LAGAI! I just now received my very first UV issue and I am already hooked! I am a proud member and advocate of the LGBTQ community and have been openly gay since 2012. When I was arrested and sentenced to FCI Elkton where I currently am, I felt abandoned and shunned by those on the outside [that] I thought were my friends and family. But now since I have been down over 3 years I have found a stronger, closer family: all of you in the LGBTQ family! Because of you all I have become more comfortable and accepting of myself, and no hate or evil in this world is going to change that! I hope everyone is staying safe throughout this COVID crisis. Let us all stay strong and united and spread all the love we can in this world. Jamie AKA “Spark”, Lisbon OH

Hello to all you kings, queens and royals in between. I’m Dominic, a 25 year old transgender and currently incarcerated. I have 12 years left! Reading UV has had a big impact on me. I enjoy reading about out LGBTQ Community and of course the inside short stories from other people like myself. UV family, you give me hope that I will make it out of this horrible place. I’m so proud to be a subscriber. To all my LGBTQ Family across the world, remember we must stick together, together we can make a change. DH, Taber City NC

This is Ms Foxie B, founder of the Rainbow Coalition of Arkansas. This has been a great year so far even while the sky is fallin. Bowels of this prison, the walls rise twenty feet, blocking out the sun, creating a cement and steel tomb for the living whose life of hell is never done. No quiet or solitude yet always alone, trying to keep sanity in place. A hard task for any person who has to wear a mask to cover all emotion. Within the dark bowels of this prison, the animal instinct needed to survive exists in each prisoner’s heart and mind, as he continues his lone fight to stay alive. I just want you all to read and understand life. Girls, stay out of the SuperMax 18 month program.  It’s harsh time. Ms Malakhen Asar Maakheru, Grady AR

I am super excited to now be a part of an amazing newsletter I’ve heard so much about. I have to admit, after receiving my first ever newsletter, March 2021, some of the articles brought tears to my eyes. UltraViolet has put forth a tremendous platform for each one of us to be able to come together. I look forward to all of my future issues and hope to learn more. To all, keep up the great work and never stop fighting for what’s right! Stay beautiful. TV, Orange, CA

I’d like to give a shout out to all the great, hardworking staff of UV and all UV readers. Special shout out to Joe Rouse in MI, Tara Belcher in AL, Chantee Haywood in TX, Mia Rosal, Lindsey Heiman, Brianna Harding, Jodi Arias in AZ, Eva Contreas in CA. And any others I might’ve missed. You are all beautiful women worth fighting for. I’ve been locked up 16 years with 1 more to go. I promise to keep in touch with all you! Please have faith. Adrien Espinoza, Phoenix AZ

The Process for My Change

I have recently begun the process of getting the prison to recognize my trans-gender identity. The process is a little involved I’m sure you know. In New Hampshire it starts with a visit to Mental Health (MH) sick call. As I was a scared, confused person, working with a MH counselor was a good idea. The MH counselor meets with you four or five times over the course of a month or two. It’s a process designed to “weed out” the insincere or those who are not actually trans (their words, not mine).

After this rigorous screening, the MH counselor puts in an official request to the “GD Committee”. This committee is made up of relevant department heads and they decide if you are actually trans or not. If you are found to be transgender, you are given the MH diagnosis of Gender Dysmorphia. A mental disorder or illness. So, there are some things about this process that should alarm us. Like the fact that I need ‘authorization’ to be transgender! I just don’t understand the thinking. It’s demeaning, disgusting and degrading. I realize that in prison security is important and that the costs of treatment can be expensive. So, stop locking us up!! To tell someone that the essence of their being is wrong or invalid is just plain evil.

I guess out there [in the streets] you only need to state you are trans and that’s that. In here, it’s a punishable offense to wear make-up if you’re not an official trans-girl. I have a skirt that I made, that’s a huge no-no. A bra or feminine underwear? Absolutely not. I have been in for fifteen years now. I’m not a young and pretty girl any more (to be fair, I was never that pretty). I would never have opened myself up to the abuse and drama that every trans-girl gets from both prisoners and staff, if I was not a transgender. Being queer is invisible, wearing make-up is like wearing a target on my face. Survival is heavily dependent on staying under the radar. I have not yet been ‘approved’ to be transgender but I’m already getting the negative attention. I’m ok with that. I’m trying to learn to use it to my advantage. So far, not so well.

But the thing that really bothers me, and it should bother all of us, is that being trangender is a “disorder”. WTF? There is nothing wrong with me (not in that regard at least). This feels like some sort of concession to the morality Nazis who insist that if you’re not a straight heterosexual, you are an abomination, a sinning SOB destined for whatever Candyland Hell they believe in. If I am not hetero then I am not normal? If I am not born the biological gender of my soul then I have a mental disorder? Wouldn’t that be a physical disorder? Oh no! That is not possible because god doesn’t make mistakes. Oh alright, that makes it all make sense!!??

I am a Native two spirit. I am a Heathen who honors the God and Goddess, Odin and Freyja. Every aspect of who I am has been attacked and destroyed by the ‘dominant culture’. I am in the minority, I know, but I wish others would feel the rage I feel and fight back against the systemic disrespect and oppression leveled at us all. I mean no disrespect to those of you who are part of the ‘dominant culture’. It’s not the people of the culture I hate, it’s the culture of the people. And I do mean hate! For over a thousand years that culture has been killing my people, my religion and my identity with the assurance that they were doing good. If their beliefs could co-exist with other beliefs and not try to convert, save or fix everyone else, I’d be fine. Live and let live. But they can’t. They believe we are doomed and they want to save us. It’s a real tragedy, good people doing evil things believing it’s good.

I want to contribute to UV. I want to get into the fight, effect change, motivate others and shed light on the secret lies of our society. Especially the prisons and ‘criminal justice’ system.

Your ally, Amber AKA Gregory LaVallee #79373, PO Box 14, Concord NH 03301

Landlords, Nonprofit Directors, and Politicians Turned Low-Income Hotels into COVID-19 Hotspots

by Toshio Meronek

Reprinted from the Institute for Anarchist Studies’ special online issue “Pandemics from the Bottom Up.” Support their work: anarchiststudies.org/support-the-ias/

Low-income tenants in San Francisco are forced to fend for themselves as the for-profit landlords and executive directors for some of the city’s largest nonprofits use COVID-19 as an excuse to turn on their “Out of Office” messages. The disabled, elder residents who fill most of the city’s 19,000 subsidized Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units are used to neglect, but the surprise evaporation of the bare-minimum services that SRO management companies usually provide means tenants have to act or die trying. Their landlords stopped doing the bare minimum, like cleaning common areas and allowing food pantries like Meals on Wheels to deliver food.

Four disabled seniors at the Altamont, which is located half a block from the 16th Street BART station in the city’s Mission District, are asking for what might be the tiniest bailout in the US: free access to the coin-operated washing machines in their building, which would allow them to follow the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s guidelines that specifically lay out how to minimize the spread of COVID-19 at SROs.

The Altamont is operated by the nonprofit Mission Housing and its for-profit arm, Caritas Management. Shortly after San Francisco’s March 16 shelter-in-place order, residents noticed flyers taped to walls stating that due to COVID-19, Mission Housing would immediately close its Administrative and Resident Services offices until further notice, and food bank deliveries would cease. Two of the front desk clerks who police tenants, whether there’s a pandemic or not, also didn’t have answers as to why food deliveries were cut off even though they continued at non-Mission Housing SROs. 

Out of necessity, a longtime tenant named Kimberly James raised money for groceries, while the queer anti-gentrification group Gay Shame started a “quarter drive” so residents could use the coin-operated laundry machines without having to break the shelter-in-place order to hunt down a working change machine, or panhandling. The nearest laundromat with a coin exchange is half a mile away–not impossibly far, but a literal pain for people with mobility disabilities. 

James said that at first, she and her neighbors weren’t alarmed. After all, most of them have never met the executive director of Mission Housing, Sam Moss, whose position is controversial among low-income housing activists, given that Moss hails from the real estate industry and is a fixture at pro-development events, giving speeches to groups like YIMBY Neoliberal, a libertarian-leaning organization founded by a Google staffer and aspiring local politician, Steven Buss.

But when the food pantry services stopped coming in with no warning from Mission Housing, James didn’t have a choice but to figure out how she and her neighbors were going to eat. One of James’s longtime neighbors, who asked not to be named out of concern that they would become a target by Mission Housing and Caritas, said that even though they’ve lived at the Altamont for years, “It’s so funny, this disease is really bringing us together.” 

photo illustration

The resident is worried the techies still moving to the Mission will try to push SROs, which are funded in part government subsidies and one-third of each residents’ social security checks, and low-income people out of the neighborhood. 

“These mayonnaise-colored mother*******–no offense–” [The author of this article is Asian and white–and took no offense.] “The best they can come up with is to spend a million dollars to make us another app,” which was a reference to the nonprofit sf.citi, formed back in 2012 by tech investor Ron Conway. Conway’s big pitch got tons of play in the media: sf.citi would “disrupt” homelessness via a phone app that could connect people living on the street with local services.  (Conway’s app never materialized–though his organization helped to fund an app developed by the SFPD and the Department of Homeland Security, JusticeMobile, which arguably just further streamlined the criminalization of homelessness.) “I’ve got an Obamaphone. So, what do you want me to do with that?” 

As tenants at the Altamont worried about going hungry, Google employees who are now working from home fumed on social media about the perks they can’t access, such as the gourmet meals served up at Google’s headquarters (as one engineer lamented how “I now need to cook, do the dishes, etc.”–tasks he wasn’t prepared to take on, that were “previously handled by the office cafeteria”).

In an email, another Altamont resident wrote that “We need off-the-market, deeply affordable housing and SROs, which are being converted into luxury techie dorms like Sonder thanks to politicians like London Breed, Rafael Mandelman, and Scott Wiener.” Mutual aid projects such as the laundry-quarter fundraiser are important, they continued, but “we poor folks should not have to depend on charity.”

Still, the community organizing at the Altamont worked–to an extent. Mission Housing started allowing food deliveries back into its buildings at the end of March, seemingly responding to resident organizing and a lengthy back-and-forth between tenants and Mission Housing rep Marcia Contreras and the Mayor’s Office of Housing, which eventually sided with the resident and requested that Contreras and her team allow food bank deliveries to resume. However, Contreras refused to contact the third-party vendor that banks on the coin-operated laundry machines, or help distribute the money or laundry supplies collected to residents.

At other SROs, the situation is slightly better, but often worse. Weeks before the shelter-in-place order was issued on March 20, an SRO nonprofit in SF’s Chinatown, the Chinatown Community Development Corporation (CCDC), had already doubled janitorial hours throughout its system of over 3,000 SROs and apartments, and continues to update cleaning staff about best practices as healthcare experts learn more about how COVID-19 is spread. 

Matthias Mormino, Policy Director at CCDC, explained the importance of “vulnerability assessments” it was conducting, which identifies residents who will likely need help during and after the current outbreak. “We’re calling all our buildings and doing surveys,” to find out “if people need have a health problem.” CCDC’s resident advocates then “triage them and can be like, ‘Hey, these ten people are really vulnerable, so let’s make sure we talk to them as soon as and as much as we can.’” In particular, CCDC staff is available for phone and in-person meetings to help residents who are dealing with spiraling financial hardships to fill out the often-confusing and language-barriered forms that can help them get temporary financial aid. 

On the other end of the spectrum, there are places like 504 Valencia Street. Otherwise known as Casa Valencia, it’s an independently run nonprofit where management posted signs on March 16, to inform tenants that due to “the extraordinary circumstances we are all experiencing,” the next day they’d suspend janitorial services, and expected all residents to clean up after themselves. 

San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s administration announced weeks ago they’d suspend homeless tent sweeps while the city fails to offer the vast majority of people on the streets anywhere to “shelter-in-place.” Local law enforcement and the Department of Public Works continue to put tents and people’s belongings into dumpsters. And the mayor issued an eviction moratorium in early March that was soon circulated by the largest corporate media outlets around the country—which failed to ask for details. Eviction court proceedings continued as late as March 18, and physical evictions continued until at least a week later.]

Bay Area renters join others in the US who in an international rent strike movement to try to crack the real estate industry’s increasing stranglehold on the increasing numbers of people in the US who are on the edge of homelessness. At SROs, a rent strike is a tougher proposition, since SRO owners and operators are mostly paid directly by the government, which subtracts money from the social security checks of James and her neighbors.

In April, ten out of eleven of SF’s Board of Supervisor’s asked why SF’s mayor wasn’t following through on his mid-March promise to open up many of the city’s more than 30,000 empty hotel rooms to homeless people. Mayor Breed’s public relations strategists have successfully pushed the national media to push her image as a progressive hero. The mayor’s position means she’s able to ignore the Board, and people dying on the street, as she continues to align herself with her donors from the tech and real estate industries. 

photo of rent strike banner

Mission Housing’s inaction around the pandemic is giving us a naked view into how bad things can get when administrators of large nonprofits have little connection to the people they’re hired to help. And it also makes the direct action and perspective of people like Kimberly James, people who are working without the help of politicians, risking their lives and homes, as comforting than ever. “As you grow older,” she told me, “you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, and the other hand is for helping others.” Especially when the government and its contractors chase money and media attention while revealing how deeply they loathe poor people.

Resources

Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. “COVID-19 Housing Protection Legislation & Housing Justice Action.” COVID-19 Housing Protection Legislation and Housing Justice Action Map, antievictionmappingproject.github.io/covid-19-map.

Footnotes have been removed from this article. If you want to see the sources, go to https://anarchiststudies.org/landlords-nonprofit-directors-and-politicians-turned-low-income-hotels-into-covid-19-hotspots/

Check out Toshio’s essay about LAGAI, “How a Queer Liberation Collective has Stayed Radical for Almost 40 Years:” https://anarchiststudies.org/how-a-queer-liberation-collective-has-stayed-radical-for-almost-40-years-by-toshio-meronek/

Moms4Housing Shakes Up Movement For Housing Rights

by Stasha

Around 5 AM on January 14th, the Alameda Sheriff’s Department arrived to evict a group of black mothers — Misty Cross, Tolani King, Dominique Walker, Sameerah Karim — and their children from a house in West Oakland that they had been squatting for upwards of 50 days. Police arrived in alarming fashion: with an armored vehicle, fatigues, semi-automatic rifles, and a bomb-detecting robot. It’s incredible the kind of resources the state suddenly has at its disposal when it comes to mobilizing violence against black folks and the unhoused. This spectacle of force was unfortunately not an anomaly in an area where a hyperactive style of policing has become the primary state response to the neediness of the unhoused.

Moms 4 Housing, a collective of unhoused and marginally-housed women, along with the direct support of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), captured broad attention and support from a responsive network of people, including neighbors and local community organizers. The owner of the house, Wedgewood, a colonizer land speculation and eviction racket located in Southern California, acquired the property at a foreclosure auction and had been planning to flip it. The eviction came on the heels of a decision by the Alameda County Superior Court which denied the mothers’ claim of a right to possession and ordered that they vacate the property within five days.

Though they were ultimately removed from the property, the acquisition of the exact house itself was not intended to be the final goal and stopping point of the action. It’s worth noting that this is not ACCE’s first fight with Wedgewood or CEO Greg Geiser. In 2014, ACCE supported a couple in Los Angeles who had been evicted by Wedgewood and picketed outside of Geiser’s home. That said, the Moms pulled off an impressive demonstration of the kind of community power and energy that is active around housing justice in the Bay Area.

demonstration Moms4Housing

The tactic of this Moms’ action involved specifically targeting vacant houses being used as investment vehicles by “big banks and speculators,” according to the Moms website, rather than as lived-in homes for the growing numbers of people who need them. The messaging was straightforward: housing is a human right; vacancies outnumber the unhoused; the problem is distribution, not supply. The estimated number of unhoused residents in Oakland was just over 4000 in 2019, 70% of whom are black (in a city that is 25% black). The crisis in housing is a man-made, gross distortion in access to critically needed shelter and other basic resources for living.

As they navigated various court dates and the looming fear of eviction, the Moms were able to regularly mobilize hundreds of supporters to the house and to the court in Hayward, sometimes simultaneously. The night of the eviction, hundreds of supporters arrived to the house within minutes of a call for emergency support. Police waited until the crowd dwindled down to about 50 people, early in the morning, to carry out the eviction. The Alameda county sheriff department said the eviction cost “tens of thousands of dollars” – an amount which could house the mothers for the better part of a year if not longer. The moms, meanwhile, have relocated to a shelter. Politicians keep asking: just how much below the bare minimum do the poor deserve? This was a good way of telling them: we’ll just take the houses ourselves, thanks.

As the World Burns or Drowns, CalSTRS Won’t Divest from Fossil Fuels

by Carla

This year as we watched the Amazon, the “lungs of the earth”, burn, and as we witnessed more and greater climate catastrophes around the world, as the temperature increases result in ice melts and rising oceans and torrential storms that disproportionately affect peoples and nations which have not caused the problems they face, it would seem that a policy of divesting from the fossil fuels that cause climate change would be a reasonable course of action.  Yet, the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) still refuse to seriously consider the demands to divest from their current holdings in fossil fuels, and to work on a model of sustainable investing.

Adults working along with Fossil Free California, in conjunction with youth groups such as Youth vs. the Apocalypse, Earth Guardians and Warriors 4 Justice, have been trying to educate the CalSTRS (State Teachers Retirement System) Board about the need to divest immediately from fossil fuels.

In September 2019 students from youth groups traveled to Sacramento to make their third appeal to the STRS board to divest from fossil fuels.  The board unflinchingly dismissed their demands to simply investigate the possibility of divestment. The middle school students, who came from Oakland schools, had researched and prepared a script which they passed from one person to the next since they were limited to a minute per speaker.  After speaking, students brought up to the dais a stuffed animal, each representing an endangered species, and left them for everyone to view.  They were admonished by the Investment Committee’s board chair, Harry Keily, to not approach the board due to security concerns. 

Students, both middle school and university students, presented at the STRS board again in November, 2019.  Students disrupted the CalSTRS meeting, playing Greta Thunberg’s speech and unfurling banners.  One student did a performance dance to the speech, and was about to be forced out.  After a 2 hour postponement of the meeting, the meeting continued where students and teachers were allowed to address the board for one hour.

photo of demonstrators

The STRS board argues that it has to make decisions based on fiduciary concerns, representing all of California’s public school teachers.  The board claims that it would be irresponsible to even consider divestment at this point in time, and uses the argument that if STRS continues its investments in fossil fuels, STRS also has the ability to influence policy.  As of December, 2019 we have not seen any changes in the policies of the large fossil fuel companies that will have any impact on the pressing problems created by climate change. 

In January, the CalSTRS Investment Committee presented a report, in accordance with SB 964 (2018) which requires that CalSTRS and CalPERS report on the financial risk associated with their investment portfolios in climate related investments.  The report does not acknowledge the extreme danger that is faced as the world approaches the 2º C maximum temperature increases.  It does not acknowledge the crisis that we currently face.  On the other side, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, an ex-officio member of the investment committee, supports the divestment of CalSTRS from its fossil fuel funds.

CalSTRS is the second largest public pension plan in the country.   In September, shortly after the students addressed the STRS board, the University of California announced that it would be divesting both its endowment and pension funds from fossil fuel companies, including stocks and bonds. 

After a six year fight by UC Fossil Free the University of California system agreed to divest.  The argument the UC chancellors cited was that the investments in fossil fuels are fiscally unsound and represent a non-sustainable model of investment.  According to articles in the Nation magazine (Oct. 8, 2019, Williams, Emily and LeQuesne, Theo) the UC Board of Regents knew as early as 2013 that “fossil free funds have been outperforming” fossil fuel funds.  The activists at UC understand that divestment is the strongest way to put pressure on fossil fuel companies and to fight against the racist and classist impacts of fossil fuel companies’ policies.  The University of California’s (UC) announcement “declaring a climate emergency” came after the Climate Strikes around the world led by youth.  A political movement created the conditions for the response from Bachner (UC’s chief investment officer and treasurer) that UC needed to look at a new model for investment that is founded upon environmental sustainability, social responsibility and a fiduciary responsibility.  After years of activism, UC acknowledged that it can earn more money for its endowment and pension fund by supporting a sustainable economic model.

Similarly, New York City was pressured to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels in 2018. New York City has the fourth largest public pension fund in the country.   DIVEST NY, a coalition of local climate change organizations and public unions, led the fight for divestment that started in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy.  Labor played a large role in organizing for divestment under the name Labor 4 Sustainability.  The comptroller of New York City, Stringer, speaks about the fact that divestment from fossil fuel funds is not only ethical, but also fiscally sound.   Even the governor of New York, Cuomo, has come out in support of divestment of public funds from fossil fuel companies.  

Recent studies (done by Corporate Knights, a media and analysis firm) show that funds in the fossil fuel sector are actually underperforming, and therefore, a bad investment for the future of the retirees. Corporate Knights claims that if CalSTRS had divested from fossil fuels 10 years ago, the retirement fund would have gained $5.5 billion dollars.

Those people who have addressed the STRS board by speaking at meetings or sending emails have made clear that due to the climate disaster we don’t have the luxury of waiting to see if we can influence the policies of the fossil fuel industries and the banks that fund them.   Therefore, Fossil Free California is urging an immediate divestment of public pension funds from fossil fuel industries, and a reinvestment of these monies into clean energy, supporting a green new deal. The CalSTRS Investment Committee does not believe that divestment has the support of its stakeholders, public school educators and retired educators.  Fossil Free California, in response to the CalSTRS report that they will not be changing their investment model, is calling on educators, students and community members to address the investment committee’s board meeting on January 30, and to commit to on-going pressure on CalSTRS to create a sustainable investment model.   Information can be obtained at the Fossil Free website (https://fossilfreeca.org/).  The website also contains links to send emails to the CalSTRS and CalPERS board.  Both CalSTRS and CalPERS need to feel pressure from their stakeholders that they no longer will tolerate the intransigence of the Investment Committees in the face of growing dissent and mounting evidence against their views.