Recalls, Redistricting and Right-Wing Reconstruction

by Kate

Chicago and New York might be the gold standard when it comes to political corruption, but they’ve got nothing on San Francisco. Scratch the interlocking recall campaigns to unseat San Francisco’s district attorney, Chesa Boudin, and three members of the school board, and you’ll find a hornet’s nest of backscratching and backstabbing going back to the Ed Lee administration. Of course, we could go further back than that. We could go to the Willie Brown administration – remember Chris Daly? Remember the boxes of ballots found in the Bay after Brown creamed the insurgent Tom Ammiano in his reelection bid? But we won’t go there because things are confusing enough already.

In January 2012, Ross Mirikarimi, the elected sheriff of San Francisco, was charged with domestic violence after a neighbor secretly taped his wife, Eliana Lopez, telling her that Mirikarimi had violently grabbed her arm. Mayor Ed Lee demanded that Mirikarimi resign, and when he didn’t, suspended him and appointed a replacement. Lee was at that time in his first elected term. He had been appointed to replace Gavin Newsom (more on him later) who had become lieutenant governor of california. Lee was trying to put his political team together, and Mirikarimi was not an ally. As a city Supervisor, Mirikarimi had voted against the “Sit-Lie” law and other anti-homeless, anti-poor legislation favored by Lee and his friend, then-district attorney George Gascón (now rebranded as the “progressive prosecutor” of LA County). As sheriff, Mirikarimi wanted to focus on alternatives to incarceration and programs that would help combat recidivism and reduce the jail population. As a city supervisor, he had proposed an ordinance to provide reparations to residents who had been displaced by the demolition of the Fillmore, two-thirds of whom were African American.

Mirikarimi won a legal challenge to the suspension and in October the board of supervisors voted to let him keep his job. In early November, a series of attack ads targeted supervisor Christina Olague for her vote in support of Mirikarimi. Olague, the city’s first openly bisexual supervisor, was a long-time civil rights activist from a farmworker family, whom I first met when she was a student organizer opposing u.s. intervention in Central America in the 1980s. She went on to work with the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition and the queer youth organization, LYRIC. The late-formed committee to defeat Olague was funded by tech billionaire Ron Conway, a major supporter of Ed Lee, and led by a political strategist named Andrea Shorter. Shorter, who had previously been the director of Marriage for All and had worked for Larkin Street Youth Center, Equality California, served on the Commission on the Status of Women and recruited “domestic violence advocates” (don’t blame me – that’s what CBS called them) to attack Olague for her vote. Olague lost the seat to London Breed, who became a close ally of Lee’s and was appointed to succeed him as mayor when he died suddenly in 2017.

Shorter was then investigated by the Ethics Commission for failing to disclose information about her employers while she served on the Commission for the Status of Women. She was eventually fined $800. Who made the complaint? The articles don’t say, but SFGATE does mention that “The dustup comes after a period of fresh tension between the progressive and moderate factions of the local Democratic Party – including the unsuccessful effort to oust progressive Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and the defeat in November of progressive supervisor Olague. Shorter played an active role for the moderates in both and has been involved in exploring a recall of Mirkarimi…”

Andrea Shorter contemplating a recall. Put a pin in that.

Breed was reelected mayor in 2018, defeating the more progressive supervisor Jane Kim, with major support from – drumroll please – Ron Conway. According to investigative journalist Tim Redmond, Conway wrote emails “tell[ing] donors how to get around campaign finance rules to support Breed. He also urged them to give to SF YIMBY Action, the faux affordable housing organization that agitates for building building building on the theory that more luxury housing will “trickle down” to somehow create affordable housing in gentrifying cities. YIMBY is kind of neoliberalism in a bottle. Calling itself “a network of people who advocate for abundant, affordable housing and inclusive, sustainable communities across the United States,” it uses progressive language like “equity” and “climate crisis,” and accuses its opponents of being “privileged.” The YIMBYs’ best friend in Sacramento is gay former SF supervisor, now state senator, Scott Wiener.

Total Recall

This brings us to today, when London Breed and Scott Wiener are the highest profile supporters of a campaign to recall three of the seven members of the San Francisco school board. The other four board members would be facing recall too, except they hadn’t been in office long enough when the petition was filed – you get a six month grace period before you can be recalled. Call it a fighting chance. The recall was launched by a couple, Autumn Looijen and Silva Raj, and has gotten big funding from six local venture capitalists as well as, sadly, the Chinese American Democratic Club. The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Demo Club is also supporting the recall of two of the three members.

The ostensible reason for the recall is that the school board didn’t do enough to get students back into in-person learning fast enough. Some say the reason they didn’t was because they couldn’t do anything to improve the ventilation in buildings that have been in terrible shape for years, and the teacher’s union was legitimately refusing to go back until it was safe. That would make the recall part of the ongoing efforts to undermine teachers’ unions and privatize education. Like the YIMBYs, the recall promoters couch their arguments in terms of “equity,” saying on their website, “Our most disadvantaged kids fell farthest behind.” They are upset that the board spent a great deal of time deciding to rename 44 schools named for colonizers or other racist figures (including u.s. presidents). They harken back to the debate over how to deal with a mural at Washington (soon to be renamed London Breed High?) high school, that was painted in the 1930s by a white leftist artist in an attempt to depict the racist history of the school’s namesake. Some students wanted the mural removed, while some artists and activists felt that it should be put in more context. All of this is framed by the decision, in the middle of the pandemic and as other school districts were looking at similar issues, to open the elite Lowell High School to all students by lottery. Currently, Lowell (on the list to be renamed) is 57% Asian, 18% white, 11.5% Latinx, 10.8% mixed race and only 1.8% African American.

The SF recall is one of more than 200 aimed at California school board members since 2020, part of a nationwide avalanche of recall campaigns. (By contrast, in 2011 17 school board members were recalled nationwide.) Most of the recent recalls were opposing COVID safety measures (masks, vaccinations, closures) and any effort to redress or teach about racism. According to u.s. news and world report, “Recall efforts – nearly two-thirds of which were rooted in pandemic-related issues – were started this year in a wide swath of states…The Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas [in July] hosted a panel discussion entitled ‘Activism Applied: How to Save Your School Board.’ The panelists decried critical race theory, which one of the group, Chinese-born Virginia parent Xi Van Fleet, compared to the Maoist Cultural Revolution.… ‘We’re going to take our army of “Minute Moms,” and we’re going to go across the country and fight these battles,’ Ian Prior, founder of the group Fight for Schools, said.” According to someone who studies recall elections, a school board recall that makes it to the ballot is 75-80% likely to succeed. Polls so far show 69% of SF parents saying they’re in favor of the recall.

Chesa Boudin, whose father, David Gilbert, has just been released from prison after 40 years, had been district attorney of San Francisco for just over a year when the first of two recall petitions against him was filed. That effort was led by republikkkan former mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg, who was also promoting the recall of governor Gavin Newsom, allegedly because of draconian COVID measures and going to a party at the French Laundry. Greenberg’s campaign against Chesa received major funding from David Sacks, former COO of PayPal, who is now one of the largest donors so far to the school board recall. The first recall campaign fell just short of the required 51,000 signatures needed to proceed, but by then a second campaign was already underway. This one was organized by Mary Jung and – wait for it — Andrea Shorter, operating under a group called San Franciscans for Public Safety.

Mary Jung is also a member of the Commission on the Status of Women (oh, bourgeois feminism, what has happened to you?), and a former chair of the SF “Democratic Party.” And she’s a lobbyist for the real estate industry.

Shorter and Jung and Co. easily got all the signatures they needed to get the recall on ballot for February, and by August, had assembled a war chest of over $720,000, about half of it from trump-affiliated republikkkan sources. But some of the donors are prominent demokrats, who actually contributed significantly to defeat the Newsom recall. And incidentally, one of the groups that got money donated for the recall is the Edwin Lee Asian Pacific Democratic Club.

The first “Recall Chesa” TV ad was released a few weeks ago. It features six people, at least four of whom are BIPOC. Among them are Shorter and Jung. Shorter is identified as a spokesperson for “Safer SF Without Boudin.” Jung says that “Chesa’s failure has resulted in an increase in crime against Asian Americans.” Problem: neither of them is identified as working for the recall campaign. Shorter is, apparently, being paid $16,000 a month as a spokesperson for the campaign while Jung is its treasurer. Under federal campaign law, says the website 48hills, that’s supposed to be disclosed. Remember that $800 fine Andrea Shorter paid for failing to discloser her employers? Apparently it wasn’t a deterrent. Maybe Chesa should have imposed harsher penalties for corruption. Yes, I realize that was in 2013. Which is kinda the point.

Chesa has been held responsible for any uptick in crime in the city since he announced his candidacy. A month before the election in 2019, the SF Examiner reported that the SF Police Officers’ Association (POA) had spent about $638,000 on ads attacking Boudin. “The SFPOA is now the biggest outside spender in a race that has become the most expensive contest of its kind in San Francisco history, according to political consultant Jon Golinger.” Using his record as a public defender and his opposition to “gang enhancements,” increased sentences based on affiliations, the POA called him the “best choice for gang members and criminals.” No one was surprised when they started making huge noise about any crime that happened on his watch.

The Real Crime Is Capitalism

The Recall Chesa advocates say, predictably, that crime rates, especially violent crimes, have exploded under Boudin, that he’s given free reign to murderers and rapists by eliminating cash bail and undercharging. In fact, data found by reporters for that famously radical rag, the SF Chronicle and other news outlets indicates that overall crime has stayed about the same since 2019, ticking up in predictable ways, given the social upheaval caused by the pandemic. Homicides went up at the end of 2020 (as they did nationally) but have leveled out again. And in fact, the increase in homicides in San Francisco was significantly lower than those in New York, Atlanta, Seattle and Minneapolis – none of which have progressive prosecutors.

Burglaries in San Francisco are sky-high, especially auto and commercial burglaries, and no one knows exactly why, but it’s not because of Boudin: only about 13% of commercial burglaries and less than 2% of car burglaries are “solved” by the cops. He charges about 80% of the ones that come to him. Overall, 48hills and the Chronicle found that his office is charging as many or more cases as Nancy O’Malley, the decidedly-not-progressive D.A. in Alameda County (where Oakland and Berkeley are located) and roughly equal to his predecessor’s rate. Sexual assault prosecutions are up by 25% since he took office – what about that, Status of Women commissioners? The uproar over car break-ins is kind of hilarious to me, because ten years ago, when my car was broken into two days in a row in Oakland, I discovered that the OPD won’t even take a report on car break-ins – there’s an online form you can fill out for your insurance company.

Ultimately, it’s never been about crime, but about who “feels” safe or unsafe, and who we think has the right to be safe. And you don’t need me to tell you who that is. Ironically, one of the biggest successful recall campaigns prior to the last two years was in 1959, when a group called STOP organized to recall three segregationist members of the Little Rock, Arkansas school board, who had spearheaded a purge of 44 teachers who supported integration. That may have been the last time a recall went for the anti-racist side. These days, recall is the latest weapon in the arsenal of those who want to maintain white supremacy and patriarchy through minority rule.

The Loooooong Story

The New York Times recently ran a series of articles about right-wing moves to take over school boards, using Critical Race Theory to stoke fear and build furor among the trump-minded. While the Times called this a brand new tactic born of the pandemic, it’s actually a continuation of a strategy cooked up in the late 1970s by the Christian Right, based on the work of someone named R. J. Rushdoony, who “called for the establishment of a theocracy within the United States based on biblical law.” Enflamed by the Roe v. Wade decision establishing the right to abortion, and the increase in gay visibility after Stonewall, the Christian fundamentalists developed a theory they called, disturbingly, “Christian Reconstruction.” One of the top political tactics was taking over school boards, called by researcher Frederick Clarkson, “the stealth strategy.” Groups like the Christian Coalition and the Citizens for Excellence in Education gave workshops and funded candidates to take over local school boards in order to prevent sex education or positive teaching about homosexuality and to promote school prayer. The “stealth” part was that they didn’t talk about those issues in their campaigns, but rather were encouraged to “run on vague platforms, such as teaching ‘the basics’ and restoring student discipline.” They were extremely successful.

One part of the strategy was for school boards and other activists to attack textbook content guidelines as too left-wing (they weren’t). In 1979, Texas activists managed to persuade the State Board of Education to adopt guidelines which specified: “Textbooks shall present positive aspects of America and its heritage; they shall not contain material which serves to undermine authority; the amount of violent content should be limited; content shall not present lifestyles deviating from generally accepted standards of society.” The textbook companies didn’t want to, or felt they couldn’t afford to, produce one set of books for Texas and another for the rest of the country, so Texas activists got to control the books for all public school kids in the nation, and that’s been true since 1977.

Back to 2021, the newly formed 1776 Project PAC, a direct response to the groundbreaking historical work of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project, is “dedicated to electing school board members nationwide who want to reform our public education system by promoting patriotism and pride in American history.” When you go to its website, the first thing you see is a popup asking you to “Report a School Promoting Critical Race Theory.”

The right wing knows that they are not the majority. But they do have, or have access to, the majority of the money, and with that, they can buy opportunities to control elections. One of the ways they do that is by controlling the timing of elections, and recalls are a great way to do that. Both the San Francisco recalls will be special elections, and most of the ballots cast will be mail-ins. The lower the turnout, the more it favors the energized base. In San Francisco, recall petitions must be signed by at least “15% or 20%” of the registered voters in the city or district (depending if it’s a city-wide position or representing a specific district) – I couldn’t find anything explaining when it’s 15% and when it’s 20%, but at least it’s a significant percentage. In some states, the requirement is 15% of those who actually voted for the position in the last election. A low-turnout election thus begets an even lower-threshold recall.

photo of Kshama

Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant, the first socialist elected to a major city council in close to a century (and the first Seattle socialist elected to a city-wide position since Anna Louise Strong won a school board seat in 1916), seems to have narrowly survived a recall vote last week (as of this writing, she leads by just 200 votes out of a total of over 40,500). Assuming that she would be more likely to win if the recall were on the regular November ballot, Sawant made the unusual move of offering to gather recall signatures herself. The county said she could but that the petitions she and her supporters collected had to be turned over to the recall campaign for verification.

Recalls are just like redistricting, which is now being done in frenzied state houses all over the country, and the voter suppression legislation that has been enacted in 19 states in the last year. They’re like the January insurrection and the attempts to get the election decertified by congress. They’re also like the continued lawsuits against Rabab Abdulhadi and the Arab & Muslim Identities in Diaspora Studies program at San Francisco State – every time one gets throw out, they just file a new one. If you don’t like the outcome, you get a do-over. Keep people fighting all the time just to stay afloat.

pie chart of recall efforts

It’s all part of the drive for the few – the right, the rich, the white – to maintain power over the many. But it’s not a done deal. The Brennan Center for Justice points out that while the onslaught of anti-democratic (that’s a small “d”, in case you’re wondering) legislation is “unprecedented,” 25 states have passed laws expanding voting rights, through longer early voting periods, increased access to mail in ballots, language accessibility, improved disabled access and more. It’s as usual up to us to do the work. Fight for every vote. Don’t give up. If you believe that elections are a waste of time and we need a revolution, hurry up and make it already!

Blessed Be, the elections are over. Now What?

By Kate

Elections bring various things like clockwork, and one of them is debates among leftists about whether, why and how to participate in them. This year more than most, many leftists put considerable time into electoral campaigns. Some threw down with visionary candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Stacey Abrams, Rashida Tlaib and Cat Brooks. Others helped swing historically red districts to blue, sometimes by working on behalf of less than enthralling candidates like venture capitalist Josh Harder, in California’s Central Valley and Jacky Rosen in Nevada, one of two House democrats who voted for a permanent tax cut on rich people. Others ran for city councils, school boards, transit authorities or water boards.

Some leftists did not let themselves get distracted by the elections, just kept doing movement work. Others sat on the sidelines, predicting doom and criticizing those who chose electoral paths as dupes or false friends.

With the elections barely decided – a few of them yet to be called – the postmortems are flowing fast and furiously. Among the folks who committed to the fight, some are on much-needed vacations, some are picking up the neglected threads of their lives, some are rolling up their sleeves to help capitalize on a victory or near-victory. Among the anti-electoral set, some are breathing a sigh of relief and hitting the ground running on tenant assemblies, migrant justice coalitions, caravans to the border, socialist schools, climate sit-ins, mutual aid projects – something nearly every day of the week and four a day on weekends.

For some of us who had one foot in and one foot out of the electoral madness, this is a time for some sober reckoning about what is productive and what role we should play.

Elections are a very flawed tool for the left. We’re nearly always outspent, and our opponents control the media. That’s why California, where almost 50% of voters are renters and almost 60% of renters are paying 30% or more of their income for housing, rejected Proposition 10, which would have allowed cities to expand rent control to include properties built after 1995. The national Democratic machine threw its muscle behind millionaire Dianne Feinstein, even after the state party endorsed Kevin de Léon, a relative progressive from a working class immigrant family.

But blaming Democrats, or blaming people who participate in electoral politics, for the weakness of the Left, is backwards thinking. The reason left-wing candidates and initiatives don’t win elections is because the Left has not built political power. It’s not the other way around. If the Bernie Sanders campaign should have taught us anything, it’s that people who sit out elections are not waiting around for socialist candidates to emerge.

What Is To Be Done: December 2018 Lesbian Chorus Recording

The Left can do many things besides try to win policy victories. We can continue to stand aside, holding a militant pole, helping build protests, supporting strikes, encouraging deeper and more critical analysis, reminding people about wars and other things they prefer not to think about, rooting for or dismissing or cautioning against the Yellow Vests in France and waiting for the next big wave of actions to try to get in front of. If that’s what you want to do, more power to you. If what you believe in is fighting fascists in the street, you don’t want nearly-sixty-year-old women in your bunch and I don’t want to be in there with you. So Go With God.

Table graphic of Health Care for All statistics.

But for those who want to be effective on a policy level, here are a few things we need to do.

(1) Learn to read a map.

We like to quote big-picture statistics: 52% of white women voted for Trump, 70% of the country supports Medicare For All, people of color are the new majority. These are (1) not that accurate – it seems like the percentage of white women who voted for Trump is closer to 47%; “non-Hispanic whites” still make up 62% of the population; and (2) not that relevant, given the political system that we live under.

Take health care:  70% is a huge number, and it’s meaningful. But it becomes a lot less meaningful when you consider that the country does not get to vote on whether to adopt a single payer health care system (point of information: Medicare for All is just a much better name for single payer). Who does vote is Congress, and Congresspeople don’t represent the population that responds to opinion polls; they represent their districts or their states. Here’s another big number: 63% of the population lives in cities.  And here’s a small number: 3.5% is the amount of land that those 63% are crammed into.  Here’s another small number:  9.  Just under half of the country’s population lives in 9 states: California, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia and Florida.  It’s pretty likely that that much of the 30% who don’t support Medicare For All live in those 41 other states, and a huge majority may live in that 96.5% of the land that is not cities, which is vastly overrepresented in Congress. If you’re a Congressperson from some gerrymandered district in Nebraska, Arizona or Mississippi, it makes zero difference what 70% of people in California, New York and Florida want.

(2) Think globally, act strategically

We want everything for everyone now. But that strategy – which is not really a strategy – has for many years gotten us nothing for anyone. Here’s yet another number:  1 in 8 Americans live in California. If California gets single payer, a right to housing and a $20 minimum wage, that will mean more than 12% of Americans have them. Washington and Oregon may well beat us to it. Hawaii and Massachusetts could be close behind. And California is bluer than ever. Orange County, which gave us homophobe John Briggs and Proposition 13 author Howard Jarvis, is now blue and majority people of color.

California has big Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the legislature and a new governor who is not progressive but claims he is. We don’t have to believe that to use it.

Every group doesn’t need to do the same thing, but we should be pulling in the same direction. That means the universal health care people going to the climate justice people and the homeless action people and the no-more-prisons people and working out some agreement that we’ll show up for each other. Social justice nonprofits should (be pressured to) build into their budgets some time spent working on issues that aren’t their primary focus. Grassroots groups should do the same with the resources we can mobilize. In order to do that, we need some way to come together and work out some kind of timeline, so instead of three actions on the same day, we have one major mobilization every two weeks, or whatever, the way the various canvasses used to get together and divide up turf (maybe they still do).

New York and Illinois peeps, get it together. Folks in hopelessly red areas, make this California Winter. I have a guest bed you can sleep on (if you don’t mind a few rats, but we’re working on that).

We got this.

(3) Get out of our own way.

When I was living in Palestine, I went to the bus station in East Jerusalem one day to find a car going to Bethlehem, where I had a meeting. A guy was wandering around and he said, “I heard the checkpoint was closed.” Another woman nodded her head. I asked where they heard it. “Around,” the guy said. I thought, well, maybe it was but often there was a way in, especially for a foreigner. I poked around and finally found a car going that way. I got to the checkpoint. No delay. I went straight through. When I mentioned it to the guy I was meeting, Sami Awad from Holy Land Trust, he said, “That’s what happens when people are occupied for so long. You get so used to being beaten down, you take any excuse not to bother.”

I think parts of the left are infected with that low energy that comes from decades of losing. Some of us are afraid of getting our hopes up and being disappointed again. Some of us are afraid of looking foolish, by believing in some liberal who sells us out. And it’s all a good excuse not to do the f*** of a lot of work it’s going to take to get stuff done.

But here’s the thing: Being right is really nice. I should know, because I’m right almost all the time. But being right with good health care, safe drinking water and a livable minimum wage is much nicer. If someone wants to pledge the flag, I could maybe argue with them about imperialism after we’ve gotten a few wins under our belts together. Something tells me, they might be more willing to listen then. That doesn’t mean I am gonna stand up for the national anthem, but being unwilling to work with liberals has not gotten us revolution in the last four decades. I’m even willing to put up with some annoying nonprofit people.

I suspect some leftists secretly don’t want anything good to happen under Newsom because that might make it look like he’s a good guy. Don’t worry. He’s not. But not-good people have done good things before, or at least allowed themselves to be given credit for them. Need to hear that old saw about Nixon and the Clean Water Act again? George H.W. Bush was just lionized for being the guy who brought us the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he didn’t. He just saw that it was not politically wise to oppose it.

dancing on grave of GHW Bush graphic and text

We all know what gets things done: movements. When Ocasio-Cortez joined the Sunrise Movement sit-in in Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand a Green New Deal, she signaled her understanding that getting progressive candidates elected is only the beginning of a long process of social change. Don’t tell me Newsom will try to backtrack on his campaign pledge to support single payer. I don’t doubt it. But if the 84% of Democrats and 66% of independents who support single payer are out there demanding it – not passively on the internet but loudly in the streets and the halls of the Capitol of this in 46% Democratic and 23% independent state, Newsom won’t dare deny them. Don’t tell me Pelosi won’t allow it. Last I checked, the Speaker of the u.s. House of Representatives doesn’t run California. The potential blow dealt to the hanging-by-a-thread Affordable Care Act by the ending of the individual mandate can only strengthen support for universal health care. So let’s get busy.

4) If we don’t fight, we can’t win.

The happiest woman in the country right about now has to be Jane McAleavy. She’s a labor organizer and author of the 2017 book, No Shortcuts, which looks at unions and other working class organizing projects. Her main thesis is that mobilizations that don’t require participants to make a commitment by signing a union card, paying dues, joining an organizing committee or voting yes or no in an election, are basically worthless. For the record, I do not agree with her assessment of the value of protest and other types of actions. But recent events certainly give a lot of credence to her approach.

The victory by Marriott workers (see labor roundup, page __) proves that full-on strikes work, while the one-day quasi-strikes and corporate campaigns favored by “new labor” often don’t. (Though, I would point out that Fight for $15, which uses a mobilizing and lobbying approach that minimizes the sacrifices individual workers are asked to make, has won bigger raises for more workers than the Marriott strike did.) The November election results did more than just change control of Congress. It also provided clear and usable data on what works and doesn’t work in a wide variety of political contexts. It shows us where our strength is, where we need push just a little harder, and where we maybe can’t win right now. (Beloved Oakland, what’s your problem?)

It’s up to everyone whether to heed the messages in the bottles or continue spinning impossible fantasies or dire predictions. I personally want to see what we can accomplish if we agree to put our inner Eeyores to sleep.

It’s not always true what they say, that “When we fight, we win.” But this is always true: If we don’t fight, we can’t win.

See you in the streets.

California’s Death Penalty Initiatives

This year there are two death penalty initiatives on the ballot. Proposition 62 would abolish the death penalty, so that the highest penalty for murder would be life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). It would increase the percentage of wages earned by people serving LWOP that is diverted to “restitution to victims’ families” to 60 percent. It is supported by a broad coalition of civil rights, civil liberties, anti-death penalty, justice reform, queer, and religious groups, as well as a number of politicians and the state democratic party. Although it would abolish the death penalty, as we have said before in UV, LWOP is a human rights abuse in itself, and we should be working for prison abolition.

Meanwhile, people who like the death penalty have sponsored Proposition 66, which would “speed up” the death penalty by attempting to limit appeals and the ability to introduce new evidence, and would require more attorneys to handle death penalty appeals. It would require people sentenced to death to work and pay “restitution.” It is supported by district attorneys, law enforcement, the state republican party, the tea party, and “victims” groups.

If both propositions pass, the one that gets the most votes will control what happens where the two are in conflict. If 66 passes, the pro-death people hope that more people will be executed. If 62 passes, people currently sentenced to death will be commuted to LWOP. If neither passes, things will remain as they are.

LAGAI does NOT support LWOP and does NOT support prison slave labor. LAGAI does NOT think proposition 62 is good. However, we think it’s important that anyone who votes in California vote both YES ON 62 and NO ON 66, in order to prevent more executions.

I Hate Democracy

by Kate

The united states is a bad advertisement for democracy.

Campaigning takes place 24/7, 365 days a year, no breaks to actually attempt to accomplish anything. We are all constantly drawn into participating in a mass street theater piece called “Elections” where we pretend that we have a choice, that we don’t live in an oligarchy, and that we can make the changes we want to see in our society by picking a better person or group of people to run things.

Then we get pissed off and go off mumbling about how they are all the same and none of it makes any difference, vowing not to get sucked in again, but we do. We do because we desperately want things to be better, and because we want to be part of making them better.

photo of Trump with quotes

The current presidential election cycle has been the longest and the craziest, the most cynical and hope-filled, and threatens – virtually promises – to have the most horrific outcome yet. Donald KKtrump (one K short of the full Kerpow!), or Drumpf, as John Oliver informs us it should be spelled and pronounced, is marching us toward an authoritarianism dreamed but not realized by the reagans (‘night Nancy) and bushes and cheneys and roves, made possible by the ineffectual machinations of the klintons and obamas.

I had believed the cross-over between Bernie Sanders and KKtrump was a myth invented by a media too pathetic to see the difference between a self-promoting billionaire with a foul mouth and a rumpled public servant with high ideals. But friends who have been out there campaigning or just talking to people tell me that in fact, they have met more than a few potential voters who say they’re deciding between donald and bernie. These folks also tell me that everyone they know, wherever they fall on the ideological spectrum, gets their news from Fox. Tom R., now of Lowell, Mass., reports that even in liberal Massachusetts, every gym has Fox News going all the time. So people’s brains, already suffering a form over substance deficiency brought on by our “educational” system and popular culture, get further addled by being told over and over that (1) KKtrump is an “outsider” (donor class corporate and media mogul) (2) Bernie is an “outsider” (34 years in public office), hence, they are both the same so pick your horse or your poison.

At the same time, progressives allow themselves to be distracted by the pretense that (1) Sanders has a chance to be the nominee and/or win the election, (2) if Sanders were president he would deliver single-payer health care and a $15 minimum wage, and (3) anyone cares about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) or even knows what it is.

Race is not a side issue

We all need to stop pretending that KKtrump’s rise has anything to do with TPP or taxes or health care (yes, he once said he supported single payer but he sure doesn’t now). This election from the perspective of KKtrump supporters – I’m not talking about the casual crossover voters who might decide to vote for him over hillary or even over sanders, the people who make up their minds when they walk into the polling booth, I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of new voters he has galvanized – is all about race. Specifically it’s about smashing Black people, even though Mexican immigrants and Muslims have been scapegoated too. Remember that KKtrump spent much of the last eight years stirring people up over allegations that Obama’s birth certificate was a fraud and he was a closet Kenyan Muslim. KKtrump, of course, does not care one tiny bit about where Obama was born or if he’s a Muslim. He just loved the fact that he could use the subject – of which Fox news and many other media outlets never seemed to tire – to keep everyone talking about him.

But it doesn’t matter why KKtrump kept playing the birther card. For seven years, people in positions of power have been saying loudly and with serious media amplification, that Obama has no right to be president, and in fact isn’t a legitimate president. The republikkkans in kongress and their increasingly right-wing presidential kandidates have treated him with a disrespect and dismissal that would have been unthinkable in the days before reality TV. They insisted he had no right to propose a budget, no right to exercise a veto, no right to pass a health care bill, and now he has no right to nominate a successor to the late unlamented (but possibly laminated) justice scalia. Erstwhile presidential contender michele bachmann, for anyone who missed it, has suggested that Obama had scalia smothered with a pillow. No joke, look it up.

The republikan leadership hasn’t been doing this just to amuse themselves, but because they know it will energize their base. They have been making sure white voters – who still comprise three quarters of all voters – don’t get acclimated to the idea of a Black president, which could translate to Black personhood in other ways and cut into the dog-whistle politics the republikkkan party has gotten so good at over the last four decades.

In fact, every election since 1964, when LBJ signed the voting rights act and famously declared that the Democrats had lost the south for a generation (which ended up being quite the understatement), every election has been mainly about race and harnessing the resentment of less affluent white voters.

“No democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of the white vote since 1964,” observed Lincoln Mitchell after the 2014 midterm republikkkan sweep. “Strategically, the Republicans have adapted to this reality by largely ignoring African American voters while trying to attract a significant minority of Jewish, Latino and LGBT voters. For Democrats, however, the question is more complicated because the white support they get tends not to come from working class Democrats, but from liberals, Jews (who cast 66 percent of their votes for Democrats last month) and LGBT voters. In November, only 34 percent of whites without a college degree cast votes for Democrats, compared to 41 percent among those with college degrees.”

Worth noting that caitlin jenner is doing her part to help the republikkkans take the LGBT vote by endorsing ted cruz. As far as we know, the hyperevangelical candidate – who said in 2012 “when a mayor of a city chooses twice to march in a parade celebrating gay pride, that’s a statement – and it’s not a statement I agree with”-  has not responded.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, for all his admirable qualities, has displayed a pretty unfathomable failure to comprehend the centrality of race in u.s. political and social culture. Thirty years in Vermont, one of the whitest states anywhere (95% in 2013), has apparently kept him from seeing what the country actually looks like, although he has spent considerable time in Washington, D.C., which is not called Chocolate City for nothing. I noticed from Day 1 of his campaign that he did not seem at all concerned with either the “optics” or the implications of all-white rallies and backup singers at his rallies. And though he proved very teachable, bringing Black Lives Matter activists into his campaign at high levels, he has never woven the concept of racism as a problem in and of itself, which cannot be simply folded into or represented by class, into his rhetoric or his policy proposals. He talks pretty perfunctorily about mass incarceration and aggressive policing, more passionately about housing and higher wages and child care and especially health care – all of which genuinely are important to undoing the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow but do not obviate the need to address the racism in our culture directly in its own right.

At the same time, hillary klinton is leveraging relationships she and her husband have had for many years, wrapping herself in the mantle of Obama, which Sanders is also trying to do but can’t do as successfully because hey – klinton and Obama are really politically very close, and Sanders is, at the end of the day, a democratic socialist. He wanted single-payer and the $15 minimum wage. What I don’t think he ever actually wanted was to be president, or to run for president. He’s an ideologue (in the best sense of the word) and he saw the need for a progressive challenge to Democratic politics as usual and no one else was mounting it so he did. And at the beginning, I don’t think he took it seriously but to his surprise, others did. So it’s been a steep learning curve. But as one of my LAGAI comrades observed, he has a kind of 1940s world view.

Which, unfortunately, so do KKtrump and his supporters, and that’s why Europeans are very worried when they listen to his rhetoric and hear him talking about walls (Warsaw Ghetto, anyone?) and mass deportations (Romania, Poland, France, Belgium, Austria, Holland, Germany). Author Ayelet Waldman posted on her facebook timeline the day after Super Tuesday:

 “Over the past few weeks I’ve heard a number of left-leaning KKtrump supporters claim that he’s only faking his ugliest positions, that once elected he’ll support abortion, refrain from rounding up and deporting millions, refrain from putting all Muslims into camps. I’d like to draw your attention to a similar belief put forth by the New York Times in 1922. ‘Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.'”

And neither is gender

Donald KKtrump is tough and virile. He gets into a whose is bigger spat with rubio on national television, assuring us that his equipment is just fine, “I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee you,” causing republikkkan elites to mop their brows. 2012 standard-bearer mittens “47%” romney exhorted voters not to support KKtrump. It had about the effect you would expect – voters told romney where to get off and KKtrump made a homophobic comment about getting romney on his knees.

Even very mainstream commentators at the New York Times and Washington Post are using the word “misogyny.” Which could be good except that it isn’t. It’s all very well for Emma Gray, Women’s Editor at the Huffington Post, to write under the headline, “Donald Trump Is Giving America Permission To Hate Women,” “When misogyny is amplified at the highest levels of our political system, it becomes legitimized.” But let’s keep in mind that misogyny didn’t become legitimate with the KKtrump campaign. When Elliot Rodger justified his killing spree with a tirade against women, many of us recalled the massacre of women at a Montreal engineering college in 1989. Breanna Wu and Zoe Quinn were moving to avoid being killed by men who believed they had no right to develop video games three years ago.

Remember todd akin (“legitimate rape can’t make you pregnant”) and romney’s “binders full of women”? rush limbaugh and using contraception makes you a slut? For that matter, the word “slut” – which is always female and has no male equivalent. In April 2012, Krystal Ball wrote in that ultraleft-wing rag, US News & World Report, “the GOP “War on Women” is real and it has real-world consequences for the millions of women whose lives can and will be impacted by legislation that erodes more than a century’s worth of progress on women’s reproductive rights. There were over 1100 antichoice provisions introduced in 2011 and 900 antichoice provisions introduced so far in 2012.” The Whole Women’s Health decision now being debated in the supreme kkkourt is the latest episode in a 40-year war on women’s right to have sex without punishment.

graphic of clipping from newspaper

KKtrump’s overt misogyny, like his overt racism, is a more naked (pun intended) form of twenty-first century u.s. politics as usual. Hillary won’t save us. And sadly, neither will Bernie.

We need to save ourselves:

  • By not letting people pretend that elections, not just this one but the next and the next and the next, are about anything other than white supremacy and woman-hating.
  • By not letting race and gender be cast as sideline issues.
  • By building a broad and powerful movement for LGBT liberation, not narrow rights for individual groups of queer people.
  • By freeing political prisoners and creatively demanding an end to the incarceration state.
  • By believing that fascism can and does happen here, but not accepting that it will happen here.
  • By not lapsing into factionalism and targeting those with whom we have the most in common.
  • By taking every opportunity to support and defend Black liberation and Third World Resistance movements.
  • By cheering ourselves up by watching Samantha Bee’s great new show on TBS (if you don’t have cable, you can watch it online if you have internet).
  • By insisting that the u.s. pay reparations for slavery and all our various genocides.
  • By finding and participating in grassroots local politics wherever we are.
  • By being joyful in our struggle.
  • By believing in the promise of democracy, even here where it looks like a joke.

Dayenu.

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