2020 March 18


Voting Matters

All told there might have been 600 community college students and members of the public who came in waves through the 4-hour September 25 Teach-In on “The Power Of Your Vote.” At times this discussion of the importance of getting active around the 2020 election almost filled the 277-seat Laney College Forum auditorium.

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They heard powerful stories told by their peers, their teachers and community activists about the never-ending struggles by oppressed and exploited groups throughout the entire history of America for social and economic justice — long-past struggles like those that legally freed the slaves, more recent struggles like the battles for civil rights, current struggles that touch them personally, like the travesties happening around immigration, the tragedies of homeless students and teachers, the outrages of people priced out of needed health care, the apocalyptic extinction possibilities of climate change and never-ending struggles like safeguarding democracy by demanding that all citizens enjoy the right to vote.

Some stories were real tearjerkers – undocumented immigrants willing to risk everything they had ever known for a chance at a better life, Students wanting an education so much that they couch surf or sleep in their cars in order to attend school. Students struggling to rebound from horrible encounters with the U.S. system of mass incarceration. Students who have seen so much violence in their young lives that they couldn’t imagine a life without it. In this year of danger and discontent there was so much to talk about.

In Oakland the problem is gentrification with rapid and high rent increases, wrote student Kah’lea McClendon. “My parents are not lazy. Both of my parents have jobs, none of them are addicts, and none of them are bad people; but we still were homeless for three years.” The camera focused on Emma Denice Milligan, sitting in intense pain in her power wheelchair, stumbling with her speech impediment, bringing her story of how Dr. Ronald J. Robinson kicked her out of Summit Hospital after two weeks of failing to find the cause of her pain with the statement to her and her uncle, “She’s a drain on hospital resources.”

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voting matters 2_640x426

Why voting matters was the focus of the Teach-In, planned by a Teach-In Committee of students, teachers, administrators and community volunteers in conjunction with the college chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign. In a country as diverse as ours, with an economic system as exploitive as ours, and a political system as broken and captured by money as ours, why the hell would voting matter? To provoke discussion about that question, the planners used a combination of personal stories, newspaper articles, videos and small-group discussions that tried to merge the lessons of history – some ugly and others inspirational – with the optimism of the millennial generation and the demand for change being increasingly expressed by the growing number of once optimistic people now being pushed out of the economy by gentrification, robotization, and the fascist system of harsh controls being pushed by our two-party system. Among the videos shown was 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg’s “How Dare You!” speech to the United Nations. Last year she was sitting in protest outside the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm, handing out flyers that read “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.”

“It’s a city within a city, temporary homes made permanent residence, located in Emeryville, California,” said student Jalana Spencer. “We call it Tent City . . . People live in squalor. Garbage is everywhere, welcoming rodents and things that feed. Portable toilets are overflowing leaving a pungent stench in the air. Dirty faces without names, it is an eyesore. Tented communities are popping up everywhere, blocking roads, trashing streets and making an unsafe environment for everyone around. Many people living in these communities are in need of medical care and financial assistance. There are many circumstances leading to how they ended up in their situation and we as a community should be more aware and understanding.”

Ethel Long-Scott, one of the founders of the Teach-in Committee and MC of the first two-hour session, kicked it off with a short welcoming speech.

“Many of us have watched the Presidential debates,” she said.  “The 2020 election, which we are seeing take shape right now, promises to be the most momentous in our history since the 1860 election brought us Abraham Lincoln as president and ushered in the U.S. Civil War.

“Back then the political system let the slave-owning south control the country by relying on the legal fiction that a slave owner had 3/5 of a vote for every slave he owned. Today, our political system gives corporations — through their influence in both major political parties — a deadly hold over our government, relying on the legal fiction that corporations are people and have more rights than humans do.

“Major splits are developing within the Democratic Party about how to proceed in the 2020 campaign. One strategy is to defeat Trump by compromising with corporations and supporting corporate-funded so-called middle of the road candidates like Biden. Another strategy is to confront the corporations and build on the working class mobilization unleashed by the Sanders campaign in 2016.

“Meanwhile in the neighborhoods more folk are organizing into strands of a movement, and working to pull those strands together. They are struggling to gain control over what people really need, led by a vision of a better society and a safer world.  The bottom line is that there can’t be political democracy without economic democracy. Whoever controls your bread and butter controls you. People are waking up to the fact that they need to fight to be in control of the things they need to survive.  We need political power, and voting our needs is key to generating a social movement aimed at securing the political power we need.

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voting matters 3_640x426
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“Why is this happening?” Long-Scott asked.

“Because more and more of us are falling into a new class, a class of people no longer needed by a market-based, profit-based corporate economy that’s replacing more and more human workers with robots and artificial intelligence.  Because corporations no longer employ us, they are driven to use fascism (corporate sponsored terror and dictatorship of government) to control us.

“What we the people need is … a plan, and a narrative. We also have no choice; we have to unite to succeed and survive, unite under the banner of our shared real needs.  United, we are the social force for a new economy that serves the needs of all people and the planet.  That’s why our vote matters today.”

Or as a discussion paper noted, “In this election year and in the coming years, your vote will have great power if we can channel our political energy toward a common goal; transforming our society so that all people have full access to all the resources of society to fulfill our basic needs of decent and dignified life on a healing planet.”

Dr. Kimberly King, the Laney psychology professor and Umoja (unity) program director who MC’d the second 2-hour session, said afterward she was getting “lots of excited responses from students . . . who attended. Several Umoja students were thrilled by the speakers and the perspective of coming together as poor people across colors to fight for what we need and deserve.”

An elerly woman pushes another elderly woman, wearing a mask, in a wheelchair | Getty Images

California calls for all seniors to stay home, closure of bars and wineries



An elerly woman pushes another elderly woman, wearing a mask, in a wheelchair | Getty Images

An elderly woman pushes another elderly woman, wearing a mask, in a wheelchair | Getty Images

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom called Sunday for all senior citizens and residents with chronic conditions to isolate themselves at home, as well as for all bars, wineries and brewpubs to close, launching the state’s most sweeping effort yet to slow the spread of coronavirus.

No other state has imposed such restrictions on residents age 65 and older. Newsom said his orders do not come with enforcement but that he expects residents and counties to follow his protocols. California has 5.3 million residents over the age of 65.

“This will be socialized in real time,” Newsom said. “I have all the confidence in the world.”

The governor’s announcement came a day after large crowds continued to enjoy nightlife in cities across the nation despite public warnings to avoid social activities. The weekend before St. Patrick’s Day drew green-clad revelers to many bars and pubs, and the city of Sacramento went so far Friday as to encourage people to dine out by eliminating nighttime parking fees.

Absent further action, the revelry was expected to continue Tuesday on the actual St. Patrick’s Day, which traditionally sees bars open in the morning to packed crowds across the nation.

“We believe this is a non-essential function in our state,” Newsom said of alcohol-focused establishments. Newsom himself has long owned a wine business.

Unlike a handful of other governors Sunday, Newsom did not call for restaurants to close, but to halve their capacities and create the recommended six feet of distance between patrons.

California now has 335 positive coronavirus tests, a 14 percent increase from Saturday, Newsom said. A sixth person has died, though additional details were not immediately available.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called Sunday morning for a “dramatic diminution” in activity at bars and restaurants across the nation. He told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that Americans should prepare to “hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Sunday ordered the closure of all bars and restaurants through the end of March, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was taking similar action. A few cities in New Jersey on Saturday imposed curfews and banned in-person dining.

As positive tests multiply in California and around the nation, elected officials and health officers have scrambled to impose a cascade of restrictions on public life. On Thursday, Newsom’s office issued a directive urging people to avoid large gatherings and new rules opening access to state benefits and opportunities for telework.

He subsequently released an order ensuring shuttered schools could still receive funding, but stopped short of demanding statewide closure of schools, as governors elsewhere have done. The vast majority of schools in California will be closed this week, including those in 24 of the state’s 25 largest districts. Newsom said 85 percent of students in public schools will not have class this week.

Meanwhile, local governments on the front lines of trying to contain the virus have enacted further-reaching limits on public events — Santa Clara County and San Francisco have banned those larger than 100 attendees and sharply limited groups greater than 35. San Francisco went so far as to order bars with capacity limits higher than 100 to close for several weeks.

The economic damage could be sustained and wide-ranging. Businesses are bracing for potentially catastrophic losses of customers as workers who cannot do their jobs remotely confront the possibility of extended stretches without pay.

In an attempt to buoy the ever-popular restaurants and bars in the capital city, the Sacramento City Council provided an economic relief package for small businesses and waived parking fees at night and on weekends. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Saturday afternoon tweeted, “Please safely patronize our local businesses during this difficult time,” a post he has since removed. That drew dozens of people to criticize the mayor for risking public health by encouraging residents to visit restaurants and bars.

After Newsom’s announcement, Steinberg said in a statement that “We must all fully embrace the direction the governor articulated today. This will require us all to make real sacrifices, but they are necessary to slow the progress of this pandemic. … I feel for our small businesses, restaurants and working people who will face economic hardship as a result.”

Widespread homelessness was already a paramount concern for California leaders before the virus began to spread, and the sprawling encampments that dot many large cities now loom as a potential source of transmission. Newsom said the state was working to get Californians out of encampments and into shelter, including trailers and motels assembled by the state, and he predicted that officials would be able to move residents experiencing homelessness without wielding “police state” powers.

“I think there’s a lot of mythology about resistance,” said Newsom, adding that “I just don’t buy that someone prefers to live in an encampment.”

Along similar lines, Newsom said his office would on Monday release guidelines about evictions. Policymakers across California are calling for a moratorium on evictions as residents face down the prospect of missed paychecks.

The governor also attempted to allay fears about the economic wreckage, saying that healthy budget concerns help to ensure that “we’ve never been in better position to weather a recession.”

Nolan D. McCaskill contributed to this report.


Vote Like Your Life Depends on It

By Amara Kassam and Larissa Campaña.  Members of the Laney Chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign that sponsored this event. 

On February 25th the Laney College Teach-In on “The Power Of Your Vote” sought to inform an audience of around 250 students of serious threats to our democracy. We featured key speakers such as Moms 4 Housing, O.P.E.N. and other advocates for housing, education and voters rights. We began our Teach-In with a reminder that the foundation of American capitalism was built on and by black slave laborers. As Ethel Long-Scott, activist and leader at the Laney chapter of the Poor People’s campaign stated, “As the billionaire class accumulates more and more wealth, more working people fall into insecurity, poverty, and homelessness.” As the concerns against capitalism start to spark national interest in the American public, we must ask why the only appropriate time for democratic socialist policy seems to be when big banks and big money need bailouts, and not everyday working people. Looking forward to the 2020 elections, we must be wary of the disinformation that will plague our fair election process. A common strategy for illiberal leaders globally is not to shut down voices of dissent, but to drown them out entirely. This is called censorship through noise, and with the constant flurry of meaningless headlines meant to distract from the drastic violations of human rights. While hundreds of thousands of people go unhoused, and big corporations sit on hundreds of thousands of square feet of empty housing, our media is turned to clickbait headlines about the president’s tweets. Our Teach-In aimed to do more than just inform people about the problems facing our democracy, it was aimed to empower a younger generation of students to have their voices heard through their votes. Disinformation is used to suppress our votes and control political dissent. The best way to combat these threats to our democracy is with protest, education, and with our votes. 

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