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!

Stopping the Line 3 Pipeline

by Amanda 

In April, I went to MN to help stop the Line 3 pipeline being built by the Canadian company Enbridge. The pipeline would bring tar sands from Alberta Canada to the Great Lakes port in Superior WI.  There has been a pipeline for about 50 years, part of which is supposed to be “replaced”. In fact, it has a whole new route in MN which allows Enbridge to abandon and not clean up the old corroding pipeline and put in a larger pipe which will pump even more oil and use even more energy. This is despite the fact that there have been numerous Enbridge pipeline spills of crude oil including the biggest inland oil spill in US history which occurred in Grand Rapids, MN. The pipeline construction causes irreparable harm to sensitive ecosystems and creates enormous risks of spills and contamination. Tar sands is the dirtiest form of fossil fuels that exists. To mine it, the forests and land of Alberta are transformed to a moonscape. The sticky oily sand is diluted with water to pump it and spills are impossible to clean up. Unlike the horrible and inadequately cleaned spills from crude oil, there is no known technology on how to clean up tar sands spills. The proposed pipeline route crosses rivers 22 times, cuts through more than 200 bodies of water and 800 wetlands. It would also cross and potentially contaminate the treaty protected wild rice lakes of the Anishinabe; wild rice is subsistence as well as having tremendous cultural and spiritual importance.  The pipeline cuts across multiple Sovereign Indigenous nations in further violation of treaty rights. The Mississippi river basin drains about 40% of the continental US, a lot of our water to get polluted. And, the Great Lakes have about 20% of the freshwater on the planet. How can we allow this type of pollution of all of our water, all of our future generations’ water, and the water of all the innocent and beautiful nonhuman beings? And, if the spills and water damage weren’t enough, the pipeline is estimated to create greenhouse gases equivalent to 50 coal fired plants.

Knowing of the horrors associated with the pipeline, I decided to go to MN to “throw my body on the gears of the machine” doing so much to damage future life on this planet. (Not that I had the illusion my one body would save the world, but still felt I had to try to do something.) What I didn’t know was how incredibly beautiful the land would be. I fell in love with the forests, frogs, rivers, and birds. There were bald eagles, deer, bear, beaver, porcupines and more. Some days I would walk by the river watching the spring flowers poking up out of the snow and sob at how all of this could be sacrificed for greed and the dying gasps of the fossil fuel industry. How can this become a sacrifice zone for more billionaire’s wealth?  How can we allow our entire planet to be sacrificed so that our coming generations will not be able to survive?

photo of Stop Line 3 protest march

In Minnesota I went to two very moving gatherings for MMIW, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, children, 2-Spirit people. Every person I talked to knew multiple people who were murdered or missing: children, sisters, mothers, cousins, friends. I heard stories and saw photos of the missing ones. At one gathering a teepee was painted and erected; relatives of the murdered and missing dipped their hand in paint and made an imprint on the teepee. People then wrote the names and dates of the loss of their loved ones. Survivors who got away told their stories as well. The role of the pipeline “man camps” have exacerbated this problem as well as increasing domestic violence. The Enbridge contract with the state of Minnesota stipulated a fund to help cover such “associated costs.” Indigenous women have had to form their own teams to go out and look for women who are missing as police ignore the reports.

I was so sad to have to return home but I needed to be near my 90 year old mother who lives in the northern CA area which is burning down with climate chaos. Last year I helped her evacuate to my home in Oakland twice. I also knew that the West Berkeley Shellmound, sacred site of the Ohlone people of the East Bay, had lost an appeal to developers who want to put a mega building on top of it. Having been part of the struggle to save the site for many years, I wanted to come home to organize and check in with our team. And I had been helping to plan an event for the Nakba on May 15, commemorating the forced removal and massacres of Palestinians in 1948. We had no way of knowing the new terrible catastrophe the Israelis would create in Palestine to give the event new urgency and bringing 10,000 people out into the streets. I was honored to support the Palestinian community in creating a beautiful street mural.

After less than a week home, I was still sad and in tears about the next phase of the struggle in MN. I wanted to go back. In MN, there are 22 pipeline river crossings. Enbridge is going to attempt to drill starting mid-June. (Enbridge had to wait for the river to unfreeze and the mud to dry up to start work.) There are massive drills used to go under rivers. Only 5 such drills exist in the entire US. The rest of the pipeline has mostly been laid, marked by massive swaths of clear cuts. There have been numerous legal challenges to the pipeline. The Biden administration has been asked, begged and demanded to stop the pipeline. Right now, it is only the people who are willing to slow or stop the drilling that are going to stop the pipeline. If Enbridge cannot complete the crossings before the winter freeze, we will have more time for all the other strategies to work. I think of the Indigenous people of Turtle Island who continue to struggle and survive despite centuries of genocide, attacks, theft, and destruction of their land, culture, and way of life. I think of the Palestinians resisting against all the might of the Israeli terror. Each of us can take a stand against insurmountable odds on the off chance we might make a difference.

I talked with my folks and decided I could go back to MN for another month. There is a national call out by the Indigenous organizers inviting folks to come to MN and help Stop Line3. If you come, you must be willing to work under Indigenous leadership, mainly Indigenous women. You can get more information and give $ directly to the organizing at Honor the Earth or Stopline3.org

White supremacy rears its head on our trip

I traveled to MN with 13 other people in a multiracial group that was organized by a “progressive” nonprofit working on racism and reparative justice. Sadly, and not surprisingly, the representatives of the group who traveled with us were not able to live up to the goals of the organization. When BIPOC folks challenged the way decisions were being made and the way they were being treated, the group started to unravel. There were numerous meetings before and during the trip. We had divided into a BIPOC group and white-identified groups to try to process separately and then come back together. Things worsened with the stresses of travel and the first couple of days in camp. We regrouped in a space generously provided by allies in Duluth and met intensively together and in our separate groups.

I threw myself into talking with the other white people. I talked about my ongoing struggles to deal with my own internalized white supremacy and patriarchy. I took responsibility for repeatedly making mistakes and inadvertently harming BIPOC folks during my life and organizing and how I try daily to decolonize, apologize for my errors, and work to repair relationships that have suffered. I vulnerably talked of the personal harms of sexual abuse and violence that I have experienced, which I rarely speak of, to try and help the cis men understand the layers of oppression many BIPOC women and other marginalized people deal with.  To no avail. One white man in particular could not see his role in white supremacy and patriarchy. His white fragility kicked in big time, and 4 of the 6 white folks left earlier than expected WITH the van that was rented to bring all of us to camp. This decision was made individually, communicated indirectly, with no accountability to the group process that was trying to come up with a collective resolution.

Those of us who were left regrouped, having become tight in the struggle. We rented a vehicle on a credit card and went back to camp where we were warmly welcomed. We were told it was sadly not the first time the camp had witnessed such dynamics. As white people, we must be willing to listen to BIPOC folks and take their leadership. We white people are so used to our privilege. Being in charge and making decisions can seem so natural and familiar.

 La luta continua!

The Case of the Disappearing Ethnic Studies

By Carla

            During the August 2020 Instructional Quality Committee (IQC) meeting of the California Department of Education (CDE), Superintendent of Education Tony Thurmond affirmed that Arab American Studies is an integral part of Ethnic Studies and would be included within the Asian American rubric for California’s Model Ethnic Studies Curriculum (ESMC). Thurmond’s proclamation came after months of organizing against attacks by right-wing Zionist organizations that advocated making Jewish studies a component of the model curriculum and for the inclusion of a definition of anti-Semitism that would disallow any criticism of Israel or the lessons on the history of the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Support for Arab American Studies and an Ethnic Studies centering the experiences of people of color was expressed by tens of thousands of people both through public comments and petitions. Supporters and the Coalition demanded that Thurmond’s promise be articulated in the newest revision of the ESMC.   However, an early November release of the curriculum only further weakened the guiding principles of Ethnic Studies and relegated Arab American Studies to an appendix, called the “interethnic bridge building appendix.” None of the original, carefully worked out and empowering curriculum designed by ethnic studies specialists and K-12 Ethnic Studies teachers were included in the revision.  (The revision and CDE information about the status of the ESMC can be found at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/modelcurriculumprojects.asp ).

             The IQC met over two days. Oral public comments were made during the first day. The demands of the Save Arab American Studies Coalition, after much outreach and organizing, were represented by several speakers who addressed the need for Arab American Studies and the guiding principles of Ethnic Studies.  The principles are essential to distinguish an anti-racist, decolonizing and liberatory Ethnic Studies from a multi-culturalism, “all lives matter” program currently proposed by the CDE for California’s predominately student of color population.  Youth, such as Hedaia, appealed to the IQC members: 

“I am a Palestinian Arab Student. Do you know how it feels to be called a terrorist by your teacher and classmates?  It’s dehumanizing. As much as I tried to assimilate at my high school, I was always a scary Arab with a hard name to pronounce. This is how I grew up, facing Islamophobic and Arab slurs.”

A curriculum that enables students to develop tools to critically analyze anti-racist and decolonizing thinking and strategies for creating systemic changes in the world, would also enable all California students to make connections among colonial and anti-racist struggles. Hedaia, along with many others who spoke about the positive impact that a liberatory Ethnic Studies had in their lives, reminded the IQC that “By removing Arab American studies from the central curriculum, you are removing the existence of people who have contributed to this society and need to be represented in a positive light.” IQC committee members, and those listening to the public comments heard that “Representation matters,” so that having an inclusive curriculum is not sufficient. An Ethnic Studies curriculum must examine how people are represented, as we were reminded by many of the speakers who had graduated from university level Ethnic Studies programs. 

            Supporters of a principled and communities of color-centered Ethnic Studies curriculum outnumbered the detractors during the public comment period. Yet, several points stood out in the opposing view: they wanted, and did get, a watered down curriculum that couldn’t really be called Ethnic Studies any longer, they were staunchly pro-capitalist and wanted to replace “capitalism” in the curriculum to “systems of oppression,” and they wanted a definition of anti-Semitism that would vehemently disallow any criticism of Israel and discussions about Palestinians.  

            The political power of the Zionist lobby was demonstrated by the recent appointment of Anita Friedman to the IQC, who is also on the national board of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Commission), the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States. The fact that she has no expertise in Ethnic Studies, did not prevent her appointment to consider the ESMC. In addition, the CDE is using the Simon Wiesenthal Center, another Zionist organization, to develop curriculum for the ESMC, a curriculum that is intended to be representative of communities of color. Pro-Israel and Zionist groups have used their influence to destroy the intent of Ethnic Studies, and are moving the education of our youth further to the right and deeper into a white and Euro-centered curriculum, that Ethnic Studies was intended to counteract.

Where do we go from here?

            The struggle for Ethnic Studies is never over. The Save Arab American Studies Coalition (savearabamericanstudies.org) is continuing the struggle as the IQC finishes its final work before passing the curriculum on to the State Board of Education, where it will be revised again. Currently, the coalition is asking all educators to sign on to a petition for educators to speak out. This petition is linked to the savearabamericanstudies.org, TAKE ACTION, or at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScgFSkcoRjIMjQC9WAESyYCX4yNkfawPtT7f1RoyENOra_l3A/viewform. The coalition is also asking organizations to write a letter to the CDE by January 20th as part of their anti-racist work. The demands of the Coalition, summarized here, are to re-empower experts in the field of Ethnic Studies to work on the revisions for the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum to ensure an Ethnic Studies based on principles that distinguish Ethnic Studies from multiculturalism and inclusion. Secondly, Arab American studies must be an integral part of Ethnic Studies, not a footnote or afterthought, and Palestine must be part of Arab American Studies. Finally, the State Board of Education must approve an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum that is anti-racist and decolonial, examining systemic and structural racism and colonialism as well as strategies for liberation. The voices and experiences of communities of color must be central to Ethnic Studies and to the conversations about what should be included in Ethnic Studies. Remember to visit savearabamericanstudies.org for updates, actions, or to join in the struggle. 

Defund the Police: a not-so-brief history

by Kate

In January 2020, I got a notification that a domain name I own was going to expire in early March. The domain name was “DefundOPD.org”.

The OPD in question is Oakland Police Department, and I’d bought the name in 2017 for the newly formed Defund OPD campaign we had started in the wake of a far-ranging police scandal involving sexual abuse and cover-up. A coalition assembled by the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) created Defund as one of several responses to the scandal, including the formation of an independent community review agency, which was established in 2017, though not with the composition the community demanded.

After a lot of discussion about what demand to make and how to frame it, we created the slogan “Defund OPD/Invest in Community” and the call to cut the police budget by 50% and invest those funds in housing, physical and mental health care, job creation, promoting racial justice, and basically taking care of the people who live in our city. The Defund language was born of the revelation that OPD eats up nearly half (46%) of Oakland’s general fund (the general fund, which is most of the budget, is allocated by the City Council, as opposed to restricted funds for pensions and other fixed expenses). Oakland spends a far higher share on police than many other cities (Los Angeles PD, at that time, got about 24% of the city’s general fund), and cops, who made up about 15% of the city’s work force, received 35% of total employee compensation paid by Oakland – more than the departments of Race and Equity, Economic & Workforce Development, Parks, Recreation & Youth Development, Libraries, Housing & Community Development, Transportation and Human Services COMBINED.

And only 8% of police officers even lived in Oakland at that time, so all that money was leaving the city.

The demand for a 50% reduction was based on the understanding that even among the people most impacted by police violence, there would not be support for eliminating police without proven alternatives to respond to threats and violence. Cutting the department’s budget in half was a modest demand to bring it more into line with what other California cities were spending. In 2017-19, Defund worked with ReFund Oakland, a coalition of social justice nonprofits, to make this demand during City Council budget hearings. We organized people to speak at council members’ town hall meetings, packed council meetings, held rallies, and supported a spectacular action by an independent Black organizing collective which shut down the meeting where the council would have voted not to cut the OPD budget.

Hundreds of people showed up at council meetings and waited long into the morning to speak in favor of cutting police spending and investing in Oakland’s highly neglected housing, transportation and health care infrastructure. No one from the police union (POA) ever bothered to show up to speak, and neither did any of the supposedly cop-loving citizens council members claimed to be listening to. Even when council member Lynette Gibson-McElhaney, sent out an urgent email for people to come and support her regressive budget proposal, no one did. But the conservative majority on the council, who subsequently and duplicitously named themselves the “Equity Caucus,” and Oakland’s faux-progressive mayor, Libby Schaaf, felt no need to even pretend to be listening to the people.

We won a few small victories – the city cancelled one planned cop academy, resulting in about 20 new officers not being hired immediately, ordered an audit of how police spend their time, and tried to rein in overtime, which consistently overruns the budget by millions of dollars (nearly $15 million in 2018). But the police budget continued to grow. OPD, which has been under federal oversight for seventeen years because of a previous corruption-and-brutality scandal, continued failing to meet the requirements set by the monitor.

At the time that I got that email from the domain host, Defund OPD had been dormant for a couple of years. But I renewed it.

Then George Floyd was murdered in cold blood, captured on video. As in every city across the country, people in Oakland and San Francisco left quarantine and poured into the streets. When I headed out for my first protest in months, I grabbed an old sign that said “Defund Police – Invest in Community.” I thought I’d get a few quizzical looks, as I had three years ago. When I got there, I saw that there were a few other signs with the Defund slogan, and I didn’t know any of the people carrying them. At first I counted them. Then I lost count.

Within a week of that horrific murder, with the body count mounting (Sean Monterrosa, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks), the Defund demand was resounding across the country. Defund OPD had been the first to use it, as far as we know, but I have no idea whether other groups got it from us or if it simply made sense. But as a Politico blogger wrote, “hours after the first videos of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer went viral online, those three words became the rallying cry of a movement that had suddenly won America’s undivided attention.” By mid-June, the New York Times, Vox, the Atlantic, Harpers, CNN, NPR, MTV, and Samantha Bee had all run “Defund the Police” explainers (Samantha Bee even gave Defund OPD a shout out). The more liberal ones attempted to soothe fears by assuring their readers or listeners that we didn’t actually mean it, while Fox and its ilk stirred nightmare scenarios of nonstop mayhem. By July 1, a number of cities had actually committed to defunding. Minneapolis, where George Floyd lost his life, was the first, announcing on June 7 that a veto-proof majority on the City Council had pledged to dismantle the police department. A few weeks later, a majority of the city council in Seattle, where a police-free autonomous zone was still alive on Capitol Hill, pledged to support 50% defunding. In New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco, mayors tried to get ahead of the demand by adding some police cuts to their proposed budgets, many of which were in the final stages of their approval process. While far short of what activists were demanding, The Guardian reported that these cuts added up to $1.4 billion, pretty good for a few weeks of protest.

Memes started to show up on social media: “Two weeks of rioting accomplished what ten years of voting couldn’t.” Well, sort of.

Didn’t come out of nowhere

When nine members of Minneapolis’s City Council agreed to dismantle the city’s police department, it looked to most of the world as a sudden, nearly spontaneous response to two weeks of intense protest and the shocking video of the George Floyd murder. In fact, a group called MPD150 formed in 2016, to evaluate the first 150 years of the city’s police department, which was founded in 1867. A “participatory, horizontally-organized effort by local organizers, researchers, artists and activists,” the group looked at the history of the department since its founding in 1867. They issued a comprehensive report and developed an art exhibit calling for termination of the department’s contract, and presenting “alternatives, transitional steps and action plan” for police abolition. One year later, a group of mostly queer young Black activists formed the Black Visions Collective, “an organization dedicated to Black liberation and to … building the resources we need to integrate healing justice into all that we do.”

photo of billboard in Texas

Several of the most supportive council members had been recently elected, with support from groups like Black Visions, including two of the first openly trans Black elected officials in the country, and a woman whose parents were both undocumented immigrants. Despite that, some of the council members needed to be prodded to commit. Jeremiah Ellison, an artist who ran for council after becoming nationally known as an activist during the protests of Jamar Clark’s murder by police, said he came home after spending a night trying to protect small businesses during the protests and found a pile of gravestones on his lawn. “I did not appreciate it,” he told the New York Times. “And I got in touch and realized they wanted me to make a pledge.”

In Oakland, the Black Organizing Project formed in October 2011, in response to the Oakland school district police killing of 20-year-old Raheim Brown. OUSD police shot Brown while he was sitting in a car with his girlfriend on the way to the prom. In 2019, BOP created and distributed a glossy twelve-page People’s Plan for Police-Free Schools. OUSD was the only school district in the state with its own police force, though other schools contract with city police for “resource officers.” In March 2020, the school board rejected a proposal to scale back the number of officers in schools, by a 3-4 vote. In the new climate created by the uprising, BOP introduced the “George Floyd Resolution,” to eliminate the schools’ police. It passed unanimously. Part of the resolution called on “the Superintendent to identify funds to support Black students and all students of color such as school-based case managers, social workers, psychologists, restorative justice practitioners, academic mentors and advisors.” BOP was appointed to the committee formed to realize those services.

In mid-July, Berkeley became the first city in the country to take traffic enforcement out of the hands of police, creating a new Department of Transportation to handle it, along with analyzing traffic patterns to see what’s causing collisions and other problems. Data had shown that Black residents, who make up 8% of Berkeley’s population, experienced over 36% of traffic stops in a four-year period, and over half in the last few months. At least 66% of all contact between police and civilians begin with traffic stops.

By the time the reconstituted Defund OPD had our first Zoom meeting, the Oakland city council was about to vote on its 2021 budget amendments. Oakland has a two-year budget cycle, so major budget revisions can’t normally be made in intervening years like this one. But of course, these are not normal times. Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, the only real progressive on the council, who was recruited by Eastlake United for Justice after an erstwhile progressive sold out the community on affordable housing and police funding, introduced a proposal to strip $25 million from the department. APTP quickly organized a series of delegations to council members homes to demand that they support the cuts, while some youth, fresh off their victory on the school police, pulled together a massive march to the mayor’s house. Bas’s proposal failed, and the council passed a $14.6 million cut, mainly accomplished by shuffling money around. It did, however, delay a police academy and freeze hiring for vacant positions. In the mayor’s original budget, released before the protests, every union was being told they had to accept COVID-caused cuts except for the police.

Nearly unnoticed in the furor over the budget proposals, the council did form a task force to “reconstruct public safety in Oakland — with the goal of reducing the police department budget by 50% over the next two years.” It took a minute for Defund to recognize this for the huge victory that it is. While we don’t expect them to do it without a lot more fights, it’s much better to hold them accountable to what they have said they want to do than to make them do what we want them to do. Cooptation is the sincerest form of repression, but it’s also better than any of the others (see Repression Roundup, page ___).

Polling in mid-June found that 57% of Democrats, 60% of Black people and 40% of people under fifty supported defunding police. In shades of Obamacare/Affordable Care Act debates, numbers went up when they were asked whether they supported shifting funds from policing to social services, without using the word “defund.” Republicans and white people overwhelmingly oppose it.

Teachers unions in Los Angeles and Chicago – two of the country’s largest education unions – voted to remove police from schools (the Chicago school board voted not to) and Seattle’s Labor Council voted to kick out the police union when it declined to state that “Black Lives Matter.”

Backlash, frontlash and whiplash

Police leadership and unions and mayors, who pretty much without exception get big contributions from police unions and govern accordingly, were caught off guard by this sudden shift in the terms of discussion. By August, they had regrouped and were hitting back hard. The president of the Oakland Police Association got an op-ed in a newspaper that had turned down one from APTP; he warned that violent crime was already skyrocketing without one dollar actually being lost from policing. In fact, when you zoomed away from the few month period he focused on, a local investigative reporter found that the spike was brief and not unusual.

Some Seattle council members backed away from supporting the 50% cut right away and passed a much smaller cut of about 14%; mayor Jenny Durkan vetoed it anyway, saying they should have talked to the police chief about it. The chief, a Black woman named Carmen Best, resigned in protest of the cuts, which included a small cut to her salary and larger cuts to twelve members of her command staff. In Buffalo, an entire SWAT team resigned from the team (but not from the force) to protest discipline of two officers who were captured on video beating a 75-year-old white protester.

After Austin, Texas’s city council voted in August to cut $150 million from the police, about a 30% cut, the governor announced a plan to freeze property tax revenue for cities, like Austin, that plan to cut police budgets. It’s unclear if he can do that. The attorney general said the state might take over the Austin police department, while the Texas Municipal Police Association put up billboards along the highway near Austin that read, “Warning! Austin defunded police. Enter at your own risk!”

New York republikkkan congressman tom reed has introduced the “’Defund Cities that Defund the Police Act” to cut federal funds to cities that defund, with bipartisan support.

What cops actually do

Though police chiefs and cop union leaders across the country have warned of the dire consequences of cutting even one officer position from the budget, study after study shows that there’s very little correlation between crime and police staffing. Staffing levels vary massively, with the national average at about 16 officers per 10,000 residents. New York has 42 per 10K, while Washington, DC has 56. (The New York police department employs 50,000 people, of whom 35,000 are sworn officers; that’s like if everyone in Pacifica were a New York police officer!) Oakland has 17.5, while San Francisco, just across the Bay, has 25. Oakland’s mayor insists that is why Oakland’s department needs so much overtime, but what do they actually do with it?

A national survey by New York Times reporters found that 4% of police time is spent responding to violent crimes. Data released by the Oakland police department in response to the city council’s audit revealed that one of the most common types of call cops are responding to are “Ambulance – no officer needed.” So when mayors say, as Tampa’s did recently, that we “are asking the police to do too much. … Officers are asked to be the mental health experts, they’re asked to be the teachers, they’re asked to be the counselors,” it’s important to realize that the only people actually asking them to do that are their own leaders, who are trying to claim as much money and power as possible by insisting that cops respond to every 911 call.

According to the Brookings Institute, “Data show that 9 out of 10 calls for service are for nonviolent encounters,” while “Approximately 38% of murders, 66% of rapes, 70% of robberies, and 47% of aggravated assaults go uncleared every year.” As the author pointed out, those might be good stats for baseball players but if most of us were producing that kind of results at our jobs, we’d be fired.

Defunding is about acknowledging that our current approach to “safety” means some people – especially Black and Brown people, but also queer and trans people, disabled people, houseless people, addicted people, must be very unsafe in order to make white people, tourists and property owners feel safe. We can commit to a new vision, in which everyone can actually be safe. As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez said when asked what a country with defunded police departments would look like, “The good news is that it actually doesn’t take a ton of imagination.

It looks like a suburb. Affluent white communities already live in a world where they choose to fund youth, health, housing etc more than they fund police. These communities have lower crime rates not because they have more police, but because they have more resources to support healthy society in a way that reduces crime.”

We can do it.

California Education Department Agrees: Arab American is Part of Ethnic Studies

by Carla

Consideration of the revised Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) at the August 13th Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) resulted in an historic announcement by Superintendent of Education, Tony Thurmond, that Arab American Studies is a “part of ethnic studies.”  The Curriculum is still being considered by the IQC and will go through its second round of revisions in the coming year. Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, commented,  “We are hopeful that if the California Department of Education centers ethnic studies experts in the revision process, California and the rest of the country will be resourced with a robust, relevant and transformative curriculum.”

The original curriculum, drafted by an advisory committee of Ethnic Studies educators, was sent for revisions based on public comments that criticized it as “anti-Semitic” because of the inclusion of Arab American Studies and Palestine.  The Coalition to Save Ethnic Studies consisting of educators and community organizations, including Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT!) formed to ensure that the original intent of centering communities of color and the inclusion of Arab American as well as Pacific Islander and Central American studies were seen as integral to the establishment of an Ethnic Studies program in 7-12 public schools.  Members of the Coalition were also advocating for a stronger Native American component of the curriculum.  The historic strike fifty years ago for Ethnic Studies at the Cal State University system by the Black Student union (BSU) and the Third World Liberation Front (TWLG) served as a paradigm for the 7-12 curriculum.

graphic of ethnic studies demonstration

The TURATH (Teaching Understanding & Representing Arabs Throughout History) 2020 report, conducted by the Arab Youth Organization, demonstrated the need for strong educational programs to teach Arab and Arab American histories and cultures in California public schools.   The necessity of a decolonizing anti-racist Ethnic Studies Curriculum is supported by student experiences.  One student reported, “As an Arab student I have felt discriminated against multiple times.  In seventh grade we learned about Islam.  There were many occasions where students would drop pencils and yell ‘there’s a bomb’.”  The student added that educators did not intervene to stop the harassment.  The TURATH report also discovered that 66% of students interviewed learned about Arabs and Muslims from the TV and internet.  The students’ experiences of harassment and ignorance, coupled with the misinformation of commercial media, point out the necessity of a required Ethnic Studies class that provides the tools to critique and transform systemic racism and colonialism, and to be a component of an education of liberation. 

One of the purposes of the Coalition was to create an inclusive Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, with Arab American Studies and Palestine lessons as part of the curriculum.  The Coalition was also established to work in conjunction with some of the original authors of the model curriculum in order to mount a campaign against right wing Zionist attacks.   The revised curriculum supported by the Zionist gutted the intent of Ethnic Studies by failing to weave in the principles of Ethnic Studies into lessons, and by excluding Arab Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Central Americans from the lessons.  The Coalition also worked to counter the claims that equated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. 

The success of the Coalition’s campaign was clear during the public comments section of the August 13th IQC meeting where speakers demanded that the IQC reconvene the original authors of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, that the principles of Ethnic Studies as a distinct discipline be restored, and that the curriculum be inclusive of Arab Americans and other communities of color. 

The struggle still continues as the IQC decides the next steps in the revision process.  The coalition wants to ensure that Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum centers the voices of communities of color and will continue to work in coalition with all impacted communities.  For more information about the on-going campaign check out the website:  savearabamericanstudies.org

Zionists Attack Ethnic Studies in California

This summer, the California Department of Education (CDE) posted for public comment a draft model curriculum on ethnic studies. Within weeks, it was attacked by the Wall Street Journal for being anti-capitalist and was attacked by some Jewish organizations as antisemitic.

Bay area groups including Stand with Us, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Community Federation, attacked the curriculum. All of these groups have a long history of using the charge of antisemitism to promote Zionism and attack Palestinian and progressive activists. The state legislature’s Jewish caucus, of which scott weiner is a member, demanded the curriculum be changed, and was supported by the legislative LGBT caucus, also including weiner.

Before the public comment period closed on August 15, the president and vice president of the state board of education had said they would revise it. Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of schools, urged that it be pulled back and redone.  

The public comment process was all on-line. After public comments were summarized, with over 18,000 comments that echoed the zionist talking points, an app, Act.IL, which according to Electronic Intifada is funded by the Israeli government, took credit for generating those comments and forcing withdrawal of the curriculum. The CDE did nothing to verify whether the comments it received and counted came from people in California, or even from an actual person.

A law passed in 2016 (AB 2016) required the CDE to develop a model curriculum which could be used by school districts to develop their own programs. An advisory committee, consisting of educators with experience in ethnic studies, met and reviewed the proposed draft curriculum before passing it to the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) to be posted for comment.

The published draft was more than 300 pages, and included model classes and information on general themes and specific ethnic groups. It is centered around communities of color, specifically “Black/African American Studies, Chicano/a Studies, Native American Studies, and Asian American Studies.” It explains why these larger core groups should be more specifically identified and addressed, and in the context of Asian American studies, it provides a model curriculum on Arab Americans. Within that module, the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel is mentioned as a possible topic for discussion.  

Consistent with how the term “ethnic studies” has been used in California for 50 years, the curriculum does not specifically address white ethnic groups such as Irish, Italian, or European or Eastern European Jews. The Jewish organizations that opposed the curriculum complained this was an exclusion of Jews, and that the mention of BDS was antisemitic for targeting Israel. The Education Code currently requires curriculum for grades 7-12 to include discussion of the Nazi Holocaust, slavery, and the Armenian genocide.  

The IQC is establishing a process for revising the model curriculum. In the meantime, a bill in the California legislature that would have mandated ethnic studies has been put on hold. Coalitions to support a strong ethnic studies curriculum have been formed in northern and southern California.

Rabab Abdulhadi, a Palestinian ethnic studies professor at SF State, and the only full-time professor in Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies, who herself has been under constant fire by Zionists, is supporting the fight for the model curriculum. Unfortunately, the SF State Ethnic Studies Department has declined to join with 22 other CSU ethnic studies departments in a petition supporting the curriculum.

Book Review: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

by Ralowe

it was amazing

from #blacklivesmatter to black liberation is keeanga-yamahtta taylor’s impressive tour de force re: how race and class thought together adds up to a massive threat to the established order: got x and king killed. but no, it’s a lot more scandalous and exciting than that! grounded solidly in nothing less than the tea of history, from lee atwater and the southern strategy implemented into nixon’s ostensibly colorblind neoliberal cuts on the social infrastructure blacks desperately need (serving as a blueprint for ford, reagan, carter, ad nauseum…) on up to al sharpton’s middle class respectability manifesting as constant condemnatory attacks on ferguson street resistance characterized as “thugs”, taylor shows and proves how essential the analytical force where race and class intersects is to any true advance. also, i believe this book should be read alongside saidiya hartman’s scenes of subjection due to both holding such precise and provocative articulations of the harrowing plight of black folks trapped in america. the indisputable fact that the whole system gotta burn is given quite compellingly in accounts of black elected official’s vocal anti-black contempt baked into the job description, in stoplights rigged so cops can write traffic tickets on black motorists, in criminalizing truancy so black minors get funneled into special legal proceedings without defense counsel. elephant in the room: aside from a harmless sentence on page 30 from hal draper there is nothing related to the international socialist organization in taylor’s book, published 2016. the iso officially dissolved early this year, taylor was a member. reading this was like our initial black queer moonlight screening, waiting for something bad to inevitably happen. if i was being proselytized to i didn’t know it. haven’t read any iso materials to compare. unlike other texts orbiting BLM organizing there was no project managerial tone; one better, taylor holds the feet of the professionalization of activism to the fire. i did wonder if taylor’s critique of nonprofits was a retention of the tactics the iso would use to draw the unsuspecting into their cult. whatever the cause, this book is a perfect storm of radical anti-establishment history propelling black mobilization. in another stunning moment, when considering demands as ways to hold police accountable, taylor dodges the conventional strategies: the whole book has been a critique of assimilation, of co-optation, of top-down. for taylor, demands “to rein in the police state” (page 181) provide an intersectional structure towards coalescing street rebellion, rather than a supplication for institutional outcome. taylor shows it works. inspiring, BLM’s apparent anti-institutional movement. a driving concern is whether black political life in the wake of BLM can maintain this mobilized understanding of race and class as expansive reciprocating analytical entities to further a better world. this, in the tradition of assata shakur and angela davis, is what taylor brilliantly writes here.

To Peach or Not to Peach?

by Kate

In 1974 I was a freshman in high school. My friends and I would frequently rush home from school to watch the Watergate hearings on television. It was our first close-up introduction to the institutions of our government and it was fascinating. We were engaged by the drama and the revelations – shredded documents! 17 minutes of blank tape! We especially enjoyed the speeches of Congressional luminaries like Sam Rayburn, Daniel Inoye, and especially Barbara Jordan (D-TX), the first African American woman elected to Congress from a southern state and unbeknownst to us at that time, one of the first lesbians to hold national office. (Nancy Earl, a white school psychologist, was her domestic partner for approximately 30 years.)

photo of Barbara Jordan and Nancy Earl

Jordan, also a “freshman,” having taken office in 1973, made a national name for herself with a stirring speech demanding the impeachment of Richard Nixon. A civil rights attorney, Jordan stated, “My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.”

Many years, many wars, much shredded proof of presidential and other governmental crimes later, it is hard to muster that kind of faith in the sanctity of our constitution. Increasingly we are aware of the ways in which it was flawed from the beginning. As cynicism has increasingly become the defining affect of our age, many leftists have looked down with condescending self-righteousness on anyone who suggests that the u.s. constitution has ever done anything but put a gloss on white supremacy and imperialism.

Except that it has.

In its day, the constitution has established the right of Chinese immigrant and African American kids to go to public schools, of criminal defendants to representation, of women (or “pregnant people”) to abortions and of workers to organize. It’s even been used to protect rivers and the various creatures who live near them from toxic waste, under the Commerce Clause in Article I. A highly imperfect tool, the constitution is still one of the best defenses we have against unbridled fascism.

That’s why donald kkk trump, whose goal is unbridled fascism, is determined to relegate the constitution to the dustbin of history, so that korporate korruption and greed can reign unfettered. The defining ethos of the trump era is disdain for any institutions that regulate the power of the rich and white supremacists. His team wastes no energy crafting actual legal theories to defend their illegal actions, because their goal is to prove that they are not subject to any laws. The only law they need to worry about is the one that says if enough of the right people support you, and enough of the wrong people step aside, by choice or by force, you win.

That’s also why impeachment is important, even for – or maybe especially for – those who hold no illusions about the moral purity of the men who wrote the constitution.

Emoluments, collusion and other words we don’t understand

trump was no sooner sworn into office than people on my facebook feed began clamoring for impeachment. It struck me then as a fantasy – the next incarnation of the myth of the Hamilton electors (the theory that electors from states that swung from obama to trump might balk and vote for “the candidate who won the popular vote”). The arguments for impeachment in those earliest days centered on “emoluments,” and there’s a reason that no one knows what that word means. It actually means, a “salary, fee or profit from employment or office,” and the so-called Emoluments Clause refers to “The Title of Nobility Clause,” in Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

So basically, Russia can’t make trump a czar unless congress agrees. But that’s okay – ask Van Jones how becoming a czar works out.

Allegations of trump’s violation of the clause have to do with some real estate deals in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia, having foreign dignitaries stay at his empty new hotel in Washington, DC and play golf at Mar-a-Lago, and introducing Ivanka to leaders of foreign countries where she wants to sell stuff.

No one cares. No one voted for trump because they thought he was honest. He stood on the debate stage and bragged that cheating on his taxes and getting away with it makes him smart.

The idea of “collusion” with Russia, a suggestion that trump is some kind of Manchurian candidate of vladimir putin, seemed perhaps more likely to catch on with his supporters. The accusation was that trump had made a deal with putin to lift sanctions on Russian oil and financial interests in exchange for dirt on hillary clinton and the democrats, and maybe even for hacking emails and election equipment. It wasn’t that far-fetched since he had, in July 2016, called on Russia to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Collusion was going to be nearly impossible to prove, because, as New Yorker columnist Masha Gessen observed, it required proof that trump made a promise and intended to keep it, which “would be highly uncharacteristic for Donald Trump.”

That notwithstanding, I thought it was possible that older, Cold War voters might be concerned about the possibility of a Russian spy in office, but they proved to understand modern history better than the Left does. trump’s base apparently realizes that Russia is no longer Communist and putin is not a working-class hero but a nationalist oligarch much like trump, and gave a big shrug to the “Russiagate” clamor of the liberal media.

The trump base is no doubt clued in partly by putin’s extreme anti-gay and anti-woman agenda, locking up Pussy Riot, outlawing gay pride marches, while that doesn’t give pause to parts of the Left, which has continued to rail against “a new McCarthyism” and “red-baiting.”.

“In one sense, today’s witch-hunt is not the same as that of the 1940s and 1950s, in that there is no Soviet Union or socialist camp as it existed. But in recent years, Russia has recovered from its disastrous decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” says an article in Liberation News. “Russia under Putin has taken back control of much its resources and has rebuilt the military….Russia’s alliance with Syria has been a key factor in thwarting regime change by U.S. imperialism and its alliance of reactionary governments, including France, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan.”

Admittedly, when you seem to be on the same side as the fbi director, that’s cause for pause. But we aren’t, and we don’t have to be. Nixon’s threat to fire attorney general Eliot Richardson (who resigned instead) set the stage for his impeachment; Richardson was no friend to the Left, but that didn’t stop people from thinking he should be impeached.

Left skepticism of Russiagate was further fueled by the focus on Wikileaks and Julian Assange, whose misogyny some leftists dismiss as either manufactured (despite it being out there in film form for all to see – just search for “hornet’s nest of radical feminism”) or irrelevant. A subpoena issued for Assange supporter Randy Credico, a frequent guest of Dennis Bernstein on KPFA’s Flashpoints. But no, Russiagate is not a plot by the Pacifica radio national board to get Dennis off the air.

But now instead of Russia it’s Ukraine trump is making improper deals with, and the Communist left does not like Ukraine since 2004’s Orange Revolution (hmmm, is there a connection between the Orange Revolution and the Orange President?). Foreign Policy called the victory of the opposition in Ukraine, “a major new landmark in the postcommunist history of eastern Europe, a seismic shift Westward in the geopolitics of the region.” So perhaps the Left will be less hostile to the idea of a trump ouster.

What are high crimes and misdemeanors?

Impeachment is a process by which a legislature officially charges a public official with crimes. It exists in many countries. Recently, presidents Park Geun-Hye of South Korea and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil were impeached and removed from office. In the u.s. impeachment begins in the House of Representatives and if a majority votes to impeach, a trial is held in the Senate. Two presidents, nixon and andrew johnson, as well as a number of federal judges have been impeached. Currently, the house has launched an investigation to determine whether there are grounds for impeaching trump.

The constitutional clause specifying the grounds for impeachment is, according to constitutional scholars, “intentionally vague.” “Initially, the Framers considered defining impeachable offenses as just ‘treason or bribery’ (rather than the ultimate definition of ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’). They tacked on the additional phrase because George Mason worried that ‘treason or bribery’ was insufficient for removing a president who began to display dictatorial tendencies,” writes Slate’s Molly Olmstead.

In fact, Olmstead concludes, even “high crimes and misdemeanors,” may not be necessary. Some suggest, she says, that “offenses against public sensibilities” might be sufficient grounds for impeachment, citing the example of Chief Justice William Scroggs, who was impeached in England in 1688 “for, among other things, browbeating witnesses and public drunkenness.”

On the Scroggs Scale, trump surely scores a 10.

Eleven articles of impeachment were introduced against andrew johnson in 1868. The first nine had to do with firing Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War and installing as his replacement someone named Lorenzo Thomas, without “advice and consent” of the Senate as required. The tenth charged an “attempt to bring into disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt and reproach, the Congress of the United States, and the several branches thereof, to impair and destroy the regard and respect of all the good people of the United States for the Congress and the legislative power thereof” and the final one charges that he denied the authority of Congress to make legislation – this referring to his defiance of the Radical Republican-led Congress in implementing Reconstruction and establishing equality for African American citizens.

trump and his administration have made clear their contempt for Congress in overtly refusing to comply with subpoenas, in unprecedented long-term use of interim appointees in critical positions, thus denying the Senate’s authority to “advise and consent” to cabinet appointments, in saying to high school civics classes that the constitution says “I can do whatever I want,” and in taking money explicitly authorized for other purposes to build his border wall. House Oversight Committee chair Elijah Cummings was the subpoena-er-in-chief, signing subpoenas up until the hour of his death, according to committee member Ayanna Presley. Speculation about poisoning has been vigorous on Facebook, summoning the ghost of hillary clinton’s former law partner, Vince Foster.

M Is For MPeach (or M***F***)

When democrats reclaimed the House in 2016, newly elected congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and a former member of Democratic Socialists of America, famously told supporters, “We’re going to impeach the m***f***.”

While admiring her fighting spirit, I felt like calling for impeachment was both a waste of time and a political mistake. It seemed like an effort to sidestep the real problem, namely, that tens of millions of u.s. citizens, especially but not entirely white (28% of Latinos, 26% of Asians, 8% of African Americans (13% of African American men)) voted for an openly racist pro-authoritarian with no relevant qualifications for or serious interest in the job.

Impeachment, I thought, would look like an end run around democracy, like a judge setting aside a jury’s verdict. Impeachment seemed likely to boost trump’s popularity, and for no reason since there is no way that 23 republikkkan senators would vote to oust him. Bill Clinton fairly narrowly survived impeachment in 1996 (the Senate vote was 50 for impeachment on obstruction of justice and 45 for perjury – two-thirds or 67 would have been required to convict) and emerged with much stronger approval ratings from the public. Most analysts consider the impeachment a big factor in republikkkans’ loss of the Senate in 2000; House speaker newt gingrich, the first republikkkan to hold that office in 40 years, was forced to resign from congress after revelations of an affair with a young staff member (for anyone who doesn’t remember, clinton’s crime was having an affair with an intern).

I don’t need any lectures about how both parties are the parties of imperialism. In two years, I want to be protesting Bernie or Elizabeth or even Joe.

Some also made the point that it would leave us with president pence, who could be more dangerous because he actually knows how government works, has been a highly destructive governor of Indiana, and is more ideologically driven. On the other side of that argument is that pence has none of trump’s charisma and marketing genius. The thrall that both media and members of the public are in to trump might be broken if he were removed from office, although of course he would continue his daily twitter storm and likely join the Fox News hate machine.

In recent months, public opinion has started to swing, as trump’s behavior gets more erratic, his punitive detention policies for immigrants are exposed (even as I write, there have been a rash of suicides in detention centers and rumors are circulating of a planned mass suicide at the private prison in Otero, New Mexico), and at least hundreds are being killed in Syria while he rambles about letting the “kids in the lot” fight it out. According to the latest Pew poll, 57% of the public now favor impeachment, although a smaller percentage (but still a majority) want him removed from office.

I think it’s a credible theory that he wants to be impeached, because he obviously does not like the job, and that’s why he’s doing things he knows will piss off his staunchest supporters among republikkkans. There’s also a fair amount of evidence that he’s just bananas and says whatever the hell pops into his mind at any moment. Regardless, he hates being president but he loves campaigning. The deeper we get into campaign season, the better his mood will be, the more he will start to connect with voters and the more popular he’ll be. Most people in the u.s. have short attention spans and even shorter memories and will forget how he’s screwed them over and only remember how good his snark makes them feel. Impeachment is a narrative he doesn’t control and may throw him off balance and keep him from hitting a stride.

Presidents can’t do much good by themselves, but they can do plenty of harm, and this one has done more harm faster than most. The more criminal conduct this administration gets away with, the more overtly they flout both laws and any pretense of being one country for all its people.

IMPEACH THE M*****F!

Attacks on Dr. Rahab Abdulhadi Continue

Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, the director of SF State’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies program has been targeted yet again by Zionists, this time at UCLA, where she spoke as a guest lecturer in an anthropology course. Rabab had been invited by Dr. Kyeyoung Park to speak on “Islamophobia and the Attacks against Palestine Organizing and Scholarship.”

The question and answer period after Rabab’s talk was interrupted by two students who shouted over her. Although Rabab remained calm, and said she respected the students and their differing views, complaints were filed with school’s office of civil rights, which announced it is investigating Dr. Park and Dr. Abdulhadi. Several organizations have written statements supporting the two professors, including California Scholars for Academic Freedom, the UCLA Anthropology Graduate Student Association, and the LA office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Meanwhile, federal Judge William Orrick, who had dismissed the lawfare suit against Rabab and SF State initially filed in 2017 and refiled last year, in May declined to issue financial sanctions against lawfare. The suit had alleged that Rabab and the ethnic studies association had discriminated against the Hillel organization in the organization of a “know your rights” fair in 2017, as well as a protest of a speech of the Jerusalem mayor. Orrick found the suit without merit and had given specific instructions on what would be necessary to refile it. Instead, lawfare refiled it with essentially the same information, and Judge Orrick against dismissed it.

Last year, lawfare filed a new suit on the same issues in state court against SF State under the California Civil Rights Act. This suit does not name Rabab.

Rabab filed a civil rights suit in federal court last year, against SF State alleging that administrators had denied her resources, failed to adequately protect her from Islamophobia on campus including posters appearing to target her and other Palestinians on campus, and “subjected her to excessive and unwarranted scrutiny and requirements not endured by white male professors, U.S. born, and/or non-Muslim professors.”

Last month SF State also refused to authorize a Palestine Travel Abroad trip hosted by An-Najah National University, in Nablus, Palestine. The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is among the individuals and groups that have sent a letter to SF State protesting cancellation of this trip.

QUIT!’s Statement at May 15 Rally

On behalf of Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism or QUIT!, it is hard to find words to express our horror at what is happening in Gaza, and in the rest of Palestine. We are here to support the Palestinians who are resisting, and being murdered, and in support of the right of return for all Palestinians.

Genocide is the basis of the establishment of the state of Israel. Although the early Zionists falsely claimed that Palestine was a “land without people for people without a land,” the Zionists have been constantly working to create a Palestine without Palestinians. This entire ethnic cleansing campaign could not exist without the decades of military, financial and political support from the US.

Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and other queer identified people have been supporting Palestinian struggles since the beginning of LGBTQ liberation 50 years ago. We are inspired by the over 100 years of Palestinian resistance to European/US colonialism. We have long been part of the anti-zionist movement, including BDS campaigns. Although the Israeli government at times pretends to recognize some rights for Jewish Israeli queers, we are not fooled by Israel’s attempts to pinkwash their abominable actions, including their actions against Palestinian queers.

Too often, the world looks away from both the daily grind of exile, deprivation, torture, and incarceration of Palestinians, as well as the periodic mass murders. As queers, our solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is informed by the times our suffering has also often been made invisible to the world, as hundreds of thousands of people died, still die of AIDS, and as we are attacked and killed, outlawed and imprisoned. We understand that for queer Palestinians, the conditions of ethnic cleansing, exile and exclusion create yet additional barriers to existence.

So we are here as part of the world community, and the world’s queer communities, that say absolutely NO to Zionism and other forms of racism. We have been here, we will be here, until every Palestinian, is able to live in Palestine, or any other place they choose, in freedom.  Free, Free Palestine.