Sunday, October 30, 2011

Queer Democrats Endorse Occupy San Diego

Also Support Death Penalty Repeal, Congressmember Filner for Mayor


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

 Bob Filner

Hud Collins

Marty Block

Dr. Shirley Weber

Sid Voorakkara

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democrats for Equality — holding their first meeting since changing their name from the San Diego Democratic Club — overwhelmingly endorsed Occupy San Diego and the Occupy movement generally on October 27. They passed a strongly worded resolution, which the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee had also approved, not only defending Occupy San Diego’s right to protest in the Civic Center Plaza but also approving the group’s goals. The club also endorsed the recently introduced SAFE California initiative, sponsored by California Taxpayers for Justice, that would abolish the state’s death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. And they endorsed the one major Democratic candidate for Mayor of San Diego in 2012, Congressmember Bob Filner.
“The overwhelming influence of corporate interests over public policy and institutions — exacerbated by greed, mismanagement, and corruption — has caused catastrophic levels of economic inequality, financial distress, environmental harm, climate crisis denial and other injustices felt by the majority of Americans,” read the pro-Occupy resolution passed by both the county party and San Diego Democrats for Equality. “Under the current conditions of corporate-owned media and corporate financing of political campaigns, political leaders and the media have failed to address and remedy these systemic problems. … The Occupy movement on Wall Street, in San Diego, and around the world is peaceably and authentically giving a voice to millions in the 99% of the population who have not been heard.”
The resolution states that the county party and the club both stand “in solidarity with the ‘Occupy’ protesters and their call for economic and social justice; … encourage the movement’s evolution toward increased political engagement and policy reforms; support the protesters’ constitutional rights to free speech and peaceful assembly; and call on the City of San Diego and other public agencies to protect their rights fully and grant them the opportunity to occupy public spaces without intimidation or duress.” Ironically, the club passed the resolution just a few hours before the San Diego Police Department raided Occupy San Diego’s encampments at the Civic Center Plaza and Children’s Park downtown in a failed effort to end the occupation.
While the county Democratic party’s endorsement of Occupy was unanimous, the club’s vote had one dissenter, Bob Leyh. “I can’t support this,” he said. “I know we’re a liberal club, but are we really so far out there that we would endorse this movement? I just can’t figure out what they’re all about, and I don’t even know what to endorse.” Leyh challenged the resolution’s description of Occupy as “peaceable,” saying there had been riots at Occupy events in Oakland and Rome. “They don’t speak for me,” he said. “If they want to be politically engaged, [they should] come and join clubs, get involved that way.” He also accused the Occupy demonstrators of forcing the food carts in Civic Center Plaza to close — a news report other members said was not true — and disrupting the City Council meeting on October 25, two days before the club’s meeting.
“Bob, I didn’t know you were in the top 1 percent,” joked longtime club activist Cindy Green. “They speak for me. I am in the lowest of the 99 percent. I’m a retired nurse. I live on Social Security and the little bitty pension that I get. I was one of them in the 1960’s. I’m proud of them, and I want this resolution to pass.”
“I’m actually offended that there’s even a question as to whether we’re going to endorse this,” said Tres Watson, executive director of Canvass for a Cause, the marriage equality organization that has provided volunteers and logistical support to Occupy San Diego. (Many people at the occupation site can be seen wearing Canvass for a Cause’s trademark “Legalize Gay” T-shirts.) “I’d respectfully suggest you actually speak to one of the protesters before you take the drivel that comes through the filter of the media,” Watson told Leyh. “It’s been so misrepresented, you can’t even believe the reports. We’re very active in giving the Occupy movement some political muscle, and training them to go door-to-door to talk to voters about the very issues we represent.”

Candidates Clash — Or Not

The San Diego Democrats for Equality also heard from five candidates for office at the October 27 meeting. One, Assemblymember Marty Block, sailed to an easy and unanimous endorsement for the State Senate seat Christine Kehoe, longtime club favorite and the first openly Queer elected official in San Diego County, is being forced out of due to term limits. The other speakers included two candidates for Mayor of San Diego, Congressmember Bob Filner and attorney Hud Collins; and two candidates for the 79th Assembly District, San Diego State University professor and former San Diego Unified School District board member Dr. Shirley Weber, and Sid Voorakkara, on leave as San Diego program officer for the California Endowment non-profit health foundation.
The club’s rules say they can only endorse a candidate if he or she fills out a questionnaire on various issues, mostly but not exclusively centered around Queer rights. Filner, Block, Weber and Voorakkara all scored 100 percent. Collins scored 83 percent, due to his opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples, his rejection of living-wage ordinances to workers on government contracts (“minimum wage yes, free market,” he wrote), his statement that he had once supported affirmative action programs but “no longer,” his refusal to support age-appropriate education in public schools about the contributions of Queer people and awareness of sexual orientation or gender identity, his opposition to allowing women in the military to serve in combat, his refusal to support universal health care and his saying he’d allow equal treatment for Queer people in adoption, parenting and child custody only “in some instances; best interests of the child.” A third Democratic candidate for Mayor, Steven Greenwald, filled out a questionnaire but didn’t show up at the meeting.
“We need a politician who is not a politician,” said Collins, who got to give the first opening statement. “We do not need a politician to be the Mayor. I have been down at the City Council every meeting for five years and I have not seen Filner or [Republican candidates] Bonnie Dumanis or Nathan Fletcher there. Unfortunately, I see Carl DeMaio every week. Not one of the ‘top four’ has an idea on how to get the city out of its financial mess. Not one of them has an idea on how to solve the pension crisis. Filner doesn’t have a plan on the pension issue, and the other three all favor [DeMaio’s initiative for] the 401(k) for new hires. As soon as it gets on the ballot, I will be in court to knock it off.”
“I’ve been a member of this club since it was founded,” said Filner. “I attended the first Freedom Banquet as a member of the board of the San Diego Unified School District. I was the only elected official to attend.” Filner recalled that at that event he had to run a gantlet of anti-Queer protesters — and now two of the four top-tier candidates for Mayor of San Diego, DeMaio and Dumanis, are Queer Republicans (though the predominantly Queer Log Cabin Republican Club rejected both of them and endorsed straight Republican Fletcher instead).
Filner, who’s been criticized for allegedly not having a plan to deal with the city’s $2.1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, said his plan is “to restructure the debt at a low rate of interest,” giving the city longer to pay it and thus creating less need for immediate cuts in city services. But he was stronger on attacking DeMaio’s pension solution that advancing his own. “We have to solve the pension crisis in a way that does not throw city workers under the bus,” he said, calling DeMaio’s initiative to end pensions for newly hired city workers and substitute 401(k) accounts “part of his effort to be the Scott Walker [Wisconsin’s anti-labor, anti-Queer governor] of the West.” According to Filner, the top priority of the next Mayor should be to generate new jobs for San Diegans, not bash city workers over their pensions.
“One of you [Filner] is too far to the Left to get elected in San Diego,” said Bob Leyh. “People want to hear real facts. Talk about what you’re going to do to fix the pensions.”
Filner challenged the idea that he’s too far Left to get elected, pointing out that he’s won 14 elections in San Diego County — two for the school board, two for City Council and 10 for Congress. He said his pension plan including putting a cap on the pensions for managerial positions in city government “because they’re the ones the horror stories are about,” and saying that renegotiating the city’s pension obligations at today’s low interest rates would be the equivalent of refinancing your home. “I want to free up hundreds of millions of dollars, with no new taxes,” Filner said. “I want to show that if you can solve the pension problem, maybe this will show people that government can work.”
“You have no pension idea,” Collins fired back. “You haven’t a clue.” Then Collins argued for a pension plan even more radical than the DeMaio initiative: “close the defined-benefit plan and go to a 401(k) for all employees, with hiring bonuses if you need them for police officers and firefighters.”
Asked why he thought women shouldn’t be allowed to serve in combat roles, Collins said, “I have been in two and one-half wars, and every time I’ve served with women in OCS and support units. I’m all for it. I’m old-fashioned and I do not want to see a woman in combat who might be captured and raped. I’d feel like I’d have to watch and protect her.”
“I don’t see any reason women should not be in combat,” Filner replied. “There’s only one reason: can they do the job? We went through this in 1948 with African-Americans” (when President Harry Truman integrated the military by executive order).
Former club president Gloria Johnson asked Filner about his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA), which defines marriage for federal benefit purposes as the union of one man and one woman and is being used by the military to deny spouses of Queer servicemembers access to on-base housing, health care, visitation and notification in case their partners are killed or wounded in battle. “I made a mistake,” Filner said. “I’ve never voted that way again. As much as I’d been involved with this club, I did not understand the depth of feeling [about marriage equality] until this vote came up.”
“I’ve been a civil rights attorney for a long time,” said Collins. “Thanks to a case I worked on, every person in this state who’s handicapped gets equal access. I believe in full equality, and I don’t care whether you’re Black, white, pink or blue. I’m old-fashioned, and it would be very hard for me to understand what it would be like to be in a same-sex marriage. If that were the rule of law, I would defend it.”
Filner had no trouble getting the endorsement, with 50 votes to one for no endorsement. At the end of the meeting, Bob Leyh assured the members that he had not been the one vote against endorsing Filner. “I’m still a liberal on some things,” he said.

Assembly Race: Club Can’t Decide

The club members present couldn’t decide between Sid Voorakkara and Dr. Shirley Weber for the 79th Assembly District seat, perhaps because they both scored 100 percent on the issues questionnaire and their answers to the questions from club members were also virtually identical. Their only difference was about a bill the legislature passed, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed, which would have banned sponsors of ballot initiatives from paying people to circulate them on a per-signature basis.
“I probably wouldn’t [support that bill] because this is how people get jobs,” Dr. Weber said. “I do have a problem with people giving out wrong information. There should be a law holding initiative sponsors accountable and having them train the individuals.”
“I think a lot of the paid signature gatherers are flown in from out of state, and rich people can bring them in,” said Voorakkara. “We should end the process of having endless ballot initiatives and have a convention on what to do with the state.”
Aside from that, there were very few issue differences between the two candidates. The debate on the endorsement was largely over style rather than substance. Voorakkara won support for being a member of the board of the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, but Dr. Weber was admired for standing firm for Queer rights despite the opposition of ministers and other leaders in the African-American community.
The club voted three times on the race. On the first ballot, Voorakkara got 23 votes to 10 for Dr. Weber and 20 for no endorsement. On the second — conducted by public hand votes rather than by paper ballots, and leaving out a substantial number of members who had come early, cast ballots and then left for another progressive event the same night — Voorakkara got 21 votes to 21 for no endorsement. A motion to rate both candidates acceptable — an option in the club rules when there is more than one candidate strongly supportive of Queer issues — got 24 votes in favor to 17 votes against but fell one vote short of the 60 percent supermajority the club requires for candidate endorsements and ratings.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Labor Rallies in Support of Occupy San Diego

Despite Pre-Dawn Police Raid, the Occupation Continues


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

 Defying the police on signmaking

 Faith Leaders for Peace
"I've been to Iraq … "

More signmaking



"Police, stop abusing power"

"We are the 99 percent"

"When injustice becomes law … "

“We had planned a solidarity sleepover for tonight, and we made the mistake of announcing on Twitter and Facebook that we were planning a solidarity sleepover for tonight,” said San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council CEO and secretary-treasurer Lorena Gonzalez at the Occupy San Diego (OSD) site in the Civic Center Plaza the night of Friday, October 28. “But the police chief, whom we’ve worked with successfully in the past, and the mayor, with whom we haven’t worked as successfully in the past, decided to try to drive us out of the park. Now, I believe in coincidence” — slyly suggesting that the police had raided OSD when they did to try to stop the labor support rally from happening without actually saying so — “but we are here anyway.”
October 28 was a key day in the three-week history of Occupy San Diego. At 2:45 a.m. — just 15 minutes before the 3 a.m. time psychologist Ivan Pavlov recommended to the Soviet secret police in the 1920’s as the most disorienting time for the victim of a political arrest — San Diego police officers raided both the main Occupy campground at the Civic Center plaza and the satellite encampment at Children’s Park across from the Convention Center the OSD people had planned to use as a backup. Over 40 people were arrested, and some were still in custody during the evening rally. An empty water-cooler bottle was passed around for people to donate to the bail fund.
The police also gathered up all the tents, canopies and other structures the occupiers had set up, and all the occupiers’ personal possessions, and simply threw them away instead of returning or formally confiscating them. As one occupier noted in a sign she carried to the evening rally, the police treated the occupiers the way they routinely treat homeless people when they break up their encampments. Though the police pretty much left the Civic Center occupiers alone that evening, they were there in force and they made sure OSD couldn’t leave the plaza to march through the Gaslamp Quarter after the rally, as they had planned.
Police exercised their authority in other seemingly arbitrary ways as well. At one point, when occupiers had laid cardboard on the surface on the plaza and were writing signs on it, an officer told an OSD activist that they would be allowed to make signs but only if they held the cardboard in their hands rather than laying it on the ground. Shortly after that, an officer confiscated a blanket whose owner had left it on the ground, and a woman with OSD quickly grabbed up other blankets that were lying there, distributed them to occupiers who planned to spend the night, and warned them to keep the blankets on their person instead of dropping them.
After the labor rally, which lasted about half an hour, OSD opened the mike and gave some of the people who’d been arrested that morning a chance to describe their experiences. “My face was bounced off the pavement by a law enforcement officer,” said Kevin. “You can arrest me, you can take my belongings, but you can’t arrest an idea. This is my country. We will not back down.”
“They kicked me when I was down,” Manny said. “They must have been Mexican cops from Tijuana,” he added facetiously. “I can’t imagine this happening in San Diego. We’ve had great revolutionary leaders: Che Guevara, Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, Cesar Chavez. I never trusted the cops in Mexico and now I don’t trust the cops in San Diego, either.”
“It’s very important that we respect the police, who are just following orders from the mayor on down, and have a political protest,” Gonzalez said at the start of her rally. “The media want to talk about confrontations, tents and sanitary conditions. We want to talk about the 99 percent and the economic crisis. They want you to believe the economic crisis was caused by the trash truck driver who’ll retire on $23,000 a year, and by your third-grade teachers and city workers. They don’t want to talk about the big banks who sold bad mortgages and are now throwing working people out of their homes.”
Along with Gonzalez, who MC’d, the speakers included local union leaders and ministers in various denominations. “People say there’s no clarity [to the Occupy movement], but everyone here has moral clarity,” said Rabbi Laurie Coskey, executive director of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. “We have come to offer words of support and remind you that we are all created, not 90 percent, not 99 percent, but 100 percent in the image of God.” She then brought on five other faith leaders, ranging from Unitarian-Universalists to Muslims, to offer prayers for the occupiers.
“I’m so glad other people feel my outrage here tonight,” said Bridget Browning of the hotel workers’ union. Like Gonzalez, Browning said she was particularly outraged at the Democrats on the San Diego City Council like Todd Gloria and David Alvarez, who, though elected with labor’s support, have routinely joined in unanimous votes to support projects like the latest bid to expand the Convention Center that will enrich San Diego’s already wealthy people and offer only minimum-wage jobs, if they hire anybody at all. “Do you think expanding the Convention Center is going to make your lives better?” Browning said. “I’m sick of walking precincts to get these people elected, and then, when they get in office, they vote with everyone who’s against our values.”
“I’m 15 years old and I am the 99 percent,” said Tierra Gonzalez, Lorena Gonzalez’s daughter. “Don’t blame my teacher, my counselor or my bus driver for the economic crisis. Blame Wall Street and the bankers that caused it.”
“I’m a city of San Diego garbage truck driver and proud of it,” said union leader Joan Raymond. “I am the 99 percent. I know police chief [William] Lansdowne and I’ve worked with him, but I’m disappointed. Workers in our union repair the police cars, and if it weren’t for them, the police wouldn’t be able to get to the scene of this protest” — which prompted some of the occupiers to yell, “Strike! Strike!”
Raymond said that, contrary to the corporate media propaganda that has blamed San Diego’s financial woes on the supposedly “generous” pensions given to city workers, she will retire on only $23,000 per year — and as a city worker she won’t get Social Security. (In the 1970’s city workers voted to take themselves off Social Security in exchange for a promise of guaranteed health care for life — which, needless to say, the city has reneged on since.) “So don’t lay the blame for the greatest recession since the 1930’s on your garbage truck drivers, nurses, mechanics and other workers trying to make a living. You don’t have to go to Wall Street to find your villains; just go to the 10th and 11th floors of City Hall” (where the mayor and city councilmembers have their offices).
“I just want to say it was a great honor working in your medical tent — until the police tore it down,” said Lisa Rusk of the California Nurses’ Association. “As nurses, we’ve seen too many people without health insurance delaying needed care until they just get sicker and sicker. Health care should be a right, not a privilege. Tax Wall Street and get us health care!”
After Rusk finished her brief remarks, a legal observer began reading the names of occupiers arrested in the morning who were still in custody — though she was wrong about one of them: no sooner had she read his name than he identified himself and announced he had been bailed out. Her reading was interrupted by a loud shout from the crowd as members of Critical Mass, a group of bicycle riders who stage actions challenging the dominance of cars on public streets, rode their bikes into the plaza and joined the rally.
After that a man who identified himself as “Chaplain Ron” called up any veterans in the audience to the impromptu stage on the Civic Center Plaza steps and asked them to lead the crowd in a singalong. They sang patriotic songs like “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” — surprising choices for a progressive rally but ones that put out the message that they weren’t going to let the Right monopolize the symbols of American patriotism — as well as a verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
“I’m a 20-year-old mother, college student and Girl Scout troop leader,” said Melissa. “I worked full-time until 2009, when I was laid off. I work in construction, and when I was laid off I lost my health care for myself and my daughter, I lost my savings and I lost my 401(k). Everyone should have reasonable access to health care.” Melissa was starting to talk about her daughter’s best friend, who was recently diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis — a disease “associated with lower family income, health coverage and parental education” — when she was interrupted by another occupier making an announcement that the police had arrived with tear gas.
There was a controversy over whether to announce that to the crowd at all. Some occupiers didn’t want to interrupt Melissa’s speech for a report that might panic the crowd. Eventually things calmed down and former Congressional candidate Ray Lutz, OSD’s media liaison, told occupiers to come to the San Diego City Council on Tuesday, November 1, 10 a.m., to demand that the Council pass a resolution endorsing the occupation and instructing the police and other city departments to leave the occupiers alone. The Los Angeles City Council has passed a similar resolution and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering one, but so far no San Diego City Councilmember has come forward and asked that it be put on the agenda.
After it became clear that the police were not going to allow the occupiers to march through the Gaslamp Quarter as originally planned, the occupiers changed plans and instead convened a General Assembly (GA) in the plaza to discuss future strategies, including how to deal with the police if they try to shut down the occupation again.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post attributed an obscene word to Tierra Gonzalez. She did not in fact use such a word. Zenger’s apologizes for the error.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Democracy Now! Co-Host Gonzalez Speaks in San Diego

Presents News for All the People, His Epic History of U.S. Media of Color


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Stopping in San Diego October 24 in the middle of a whirlwind tour — 14 cities in eight days, including two events in the L.A. area before he got to San Diego — Juan Gonzalez, co-host (with Amy Goodman) of the progressive radio/TV show Democracy Now!, spoke at the Church of the Brethren in City Heights to present his new book, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. Co-authored by Joseph Torres, who also appeared at the event, the book argues that there have actually been three sectors of the American media: the mainstream corporate media, the white alternative/rebel media, and media owned and controlled by people of color.
“I have been a professional journalist for over 35 years, and for 10 years before that I’d been a social activist in the anti-war, Puerto Rican liberation and labor movements,” Gonzalez said. “For 35 years I worked in the corporate or commercial media [he still does, as a columnist for the New York Daily News], which remains the primary way people are informed, but they are not the only way. Amy Goodman and I work with the rebel, alternative, community press that dates back to the founding of our country and is a totally separate strain. I have also had the opportunity to work in the third strain. In the 1980’s I edited Vocal Communidad in Philadelphia, about the Latino community. It still exists today, among six to seven Spanish-language papers in Philadelphia. I was also involved in the 1980’s with the founding of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and defended the right of African-Americans, Hispanics and Native people to own their own media.”
The story Gonzalez and Torres tell in their book is alternately exhilarating and depressing, celebrating the heroism of the pioneers of media ownership in the communities of color — and describing how their publications and radio outlets were suppressed, not only with economic power but often through physical violence. According to Gonzalez, the first newspaper in the U.S. owned by African-Americans, Freedom’s Journal, was founded in 1827 — and the words of its first editorial could stand as a mission statement for virtually all U.S. media outlets coming from the communities of color: “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. … From the press and the pulpit we have suffered much by being incorrectly represented.”
“There were 30 Black papers before the Civil War,” Gonzalez said. “In 1808 the first Spanish-language newspaper in the U.S. was founded in New York. The first Chinese-language paper was founded in 1854. The Native American press is to me the most astounding because until the 1820’s no Native American tribe in the U.S. had a written language. In the 1820’s the Cherokees developed a written version of their language and launched a literacy campaign, and in 1828 the Cherokees started the first Native paper. There were others in Shawnee in the Indian Territory” (modern-day Oklahoma).
According to Gonzalez, the media of color were attacked not only by the mainstream media outlets of their time but also by the white-owned “alternative” or “rebel” press, particularly papers owned or associated with organized labor and so-called “workingmen’s” movements. It’s not surprising when you realize how many unions and white workers’ movements historically blamed immigrants for their low pay and poor working conditions. The first labor party in U.S. history, the Workingmen’s Party in San Francisco in 1867, had at the top of its list of demands the exclusion of all Chinese from the U.S. Not until 2000 did the U.S. labor movement formally reverse itself, abandoning its historic anti-immigrant position when the AFL-CIO executive council passed a resolution calling, according to labor writer David Bacon, “for the repeal of employer sanctions, for a new amnesty for the undocumented, and for a broad new program to educate immigrant workers about their rights.”
Both the mainstream and the white alternative press “not only spread racist stereotypes,” Gonzalez said, “their editors and publishers often instigated, organized and fomented racial violence. We have decades of examples.” The most notorious one, Gonzalez said, was in 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, where despite the takeover of the state government by white supremacists, enough African-Americans still voted that the City Council had a Black majority. Then Josephus Daniels, editor/publisher of the News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, called on white supremacists from all over the state to invade Wilmington and forcibly drive the Blacks from office.
“Day and night we worked, for I rarely went home until two or three o’clock in the morning, getting the news and writing the editorials and conferring with the Democratic [Party] leaders,” Daniels later wrote in his autobiography. Their first target in Wilmington was the city’s only Black-owned paper, the Record, and its publisher, Alex Manley. On November 10, 1898, Daniels wrote, “the white supremacy people determined to expel Manley from the city, and to set fire to his building and burn it as a lasting evidence that no vestige of the Negro who had defamed white women of the State should be left. His building was gutted and burned but Manley escaped.” Then, Gonzalez said, the mob of nearly 2,000 white racists drove the elected Black City Councilmembers out of town and staged a series of gun battles in which at least 60 Wilmington Blacks were killed and white supremacists took control of the city.
After an in-depth description both of the Wilmington massacre and the prestigious career Josephus Daniels had later — he was appointed Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson and when his assistant secretary, Franklin D. Roosevelt, became President he picked Daniels as his ambassador to Mexico — Gonzalez cited other examples of “racial pogroms” against people of color begun or encouraged by white media.  Among these were “the Tucson Citizen and other Arizona papers with the Camp Grant massacre” (a slaughter of over 200 Apaches, and the kidnapping of Indian children, in the Arizona Territory on April 30, 1871), “the Rocky Mountain News and other newspapers in Colorado fomenting and supporting the Sand Creek massacre” (November 29, 1864, in which a 700-man white militia attacked, killed and mutilated between 70 and 163 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians), “the pogroms against Chinese-American communities and others in the West … the Omaha Bee helping to organize and instigate the lynching of Will Brown in a race riot in 1919. So the press was not merely spreading bias; it was an actor, organizer and instigator of racial hatred in the United States.”
Gonzalez cited more recent examples, too, including the framing of Mexican-American radio performer and spokesperson Pedro J. Gonzalez on a rape charge to get his program off the air in the 1930’s and the campaign waged by radio and TV stations in Mississippi to get whites to come out and block James Meredith from entering the University of Mississippi as its first African-American student in 1962. “This is part of the sordid history of American journalism that the media have yet to own up to and fully apologize for,” Gonzalez said. “We are all suffering the damage from this long history that you do not generally read about in the press, because the press were involved.”

The Myth of the “Free Market” in Media

The other main part of Gonzalez’ message was an attack on the myth that the American media system is the result of fair competition in a “free market.” According to Gonzalez, the real history of media in America is a series of technological changes, followed by debate at the highest levels of government about how those changes should be implemented. These, he explained, were a series of battles between commercial and corporate interests on one side and local communities, small businesses, educational institutions, labor organizations, people of color and independent individuals on the other. In every case but one, Gonzalez said, the battle ended with the U.S. government giving the corporations virtually everything they wanted, and the corporations using their control of government and the regulatory process to silence potentially competing voices.
The one exception, he explained, occurred at the very beginning of the American republic: in 1792, when the first U.S. Congress debated whether, and under what ground rules, to set up a United States Post Office. “America was a settler nation, and the settlements were scattered across the country, so George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others, decided that the government had to establish a postal system so the settlers could communicate with each other,” Gonzalez said. “Only 10 percent of what the postal system carried was mail; the other 90 percent was newspapers. The founders felt the government had a role to contribute to the free flow of information, so they set up second-class postal rates by which newspapers could be mailed below cost so they could be delivered easily and without censorship. For the first 60 to 70 years of the U.S., the Post Office was the largest government employer, and its main purpose was to deliver newspapers to the people.”
The second communications revolution took place in the 1840’s after Samuel Morse developed the first practical telegraph system. “Congress apportioned money to build the first telegraph line,” Gonzalez explained — $30,000 for a wire between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, 40 miles away — “and because it allowed information to be transmitted instantaneously, Morse wanted to sell his patents to the government. The business community wanted a private market, and Congress eventually sided with the business community. The U.S. was the only country where the government didn’t run the telegraph, so telegraph service became more expensive [than elsewhere] and centralized. Eventually it was dominated by the Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI) and the other wire services.” The result, Gonzalez argued, was a loss of diversity in American media, as publishers bought their stories from wire services and offered their readers a blander, more homogenized, pro-business perspective on the news.
The third dashed opportunity for a freer, more diverse media system in the U.S. came in the early 20th century with the invention of radio. According to Gonzalez, early radio was the Internet of its day; equipment was readily available and reasonably priced, start-up costs were low, “thousands of amateur radio operators got on the air, and there was a huge diversity of voices between 1910 and 1920.” Then the federal government stepped in on the side of would-be radio monopolists like David Sarnoff of NBC and William Paley of CBS. In 1927 Congress created the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) and put then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover in charge of it. In 1934, the Commission’s jurisdiction was expanded and its name changed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and “in the process of regulating the airwaves, they handed the best channels to business interests like NBC and CBS,” Gonzalez explained.
“Suddenly, racial minorities, educational broadcasters, labor and others went off the air,” Gonzalez said. “There were all kinds of stations pushed off the air when the government handed it over to giant networks and newspapers.” The invention of television and its emergence as a mass-market phenomenon in the late 1940’s did not threaten corporate control of the airwaves, Gonzalez explained, because “the same corporations that dominated radio incubated TV.”
The next development that did threaten the corporate media power, according to Gonzalez, was the emergence of cable TV in the 1960’s. “The same promises that were made in the early days of radio, and which are now being made about the Internet, were made for cable,” Gonzalez explained. “At the beginning there were hundreds of cable stations because in order to use the public rights of way for their cables, companies had to get the permission of local governments, and city councils had leverage to require public access, educational channels, programming for underserved communities, and affirmative action in hiring and vendors. Hundreds of commercial cable companies developed in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s.”
Then, as they had in the case of the telegraph and radio, the federal government stepped in and took the side of giant corporations over the interests of individuals and local communities, Gonzalez explained. “The government relaxed ownership rules and allowed cable companies to consolidate,” he said, “so now Time Warner and Comcast between them control 50 percent of all cable.”
According to Gonzalez — and his co-author, Joseph Torres, who’s active with the independent media lobby Free Press — government policy towards the Internet is following the same pro-corporate pattern as it did with the telegraph, radio and cable TV. One of the key demands of Free Press and other opponents of the corporate media is to retain so-called “net neutrality,” which requires Internet service providers (ISP’s) to treat all data equally. But the giant corporations which dominate the ISP market as well as the rest of the U.S. media — AT&T, Time Warner (owner of America Online), Verizon, Comcast — are fighting for a so-called “tiered Internet,” which would give them the right to push corporate Web sites over everyone else’s by charging less to access them and slowing down access to independent sites. The loss of “net neutrality” would also give ISP’s unlimited power to censor the Internet, totally or partially blocking access to sites they consider politically objectionable — which could make future attempts to organize Occupy Wall Street-style campaigns difficult or impossible.
According to Gonzalez, the consistent U.S. pattern of allowing giant corporations to control and ultimately monopolize each new media technology has given the U.S. people more media outlets than available in any other country — but also made them the least informed citizenry in the advanced world. “The American people are literally drowning in information,” he said. “We have 14,000 newspapers, 17,000 magazines, 12,000 radio stations and 1,200 TV channels, including dozens of all-news cable channels. We have tens of thousands of Internet sites. We have all this news and information — yet the American people remain misinformed and disinformed.
“When two-thirds of Americans believed, in the run-up to the Iraq war, that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, that means the media were doing a bad job,” Gonzalez continued. “When Americans are the only people in the developed world not aware of the threat of human-caused climate change, that’s an example of the structural problems with the U.S. media. When it took the young people of Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations to turn people’s attention to the source of our economic problems, that’s the fault of our media.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Mayoral Candidates That Didn’t Bark

Labor-Backed Forum October 19 Draws Only Two of the Top Four


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

 Bob Filner (center) from Labor Day rally, September 5, 2011

Nathan Fletcher (from Ballotpedia Web site)

Just as Sherlock Holmes famously solved one of his mysteries by realizing that a dog hadn’t barked in the nighttime when it should have, so the big news at the San Diego mayoral candidates’ forum at the Balboa Theatre downtown October 19 was the two of the top four candidates who didn’t show up. San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis ducked the event by saying she wasn’t going to attend any debates until after the filing deadline for the office in March 2012, and San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio said, in essence, that since he’s running against organized labor and its supposed power over city politics, he did not think he needed to speak at a labor-sponsored event.
And make no mistake about it: the October 19 forum was a labor-sponsored event. Though the official sponsor was a coalition called “A Better San Diego,” of the 47 organizations listed as part of the coalition, 14 were labor unions and another five were either associated with unions (like the labor-sponsored Center on Policy Initiatives) or dealt with workers’ rights. What’s more, the moderator of the debate was Lorena Gonzalez, CEO of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council. The two top-tier candidates who did show up were Democratic Congressmember Bob Filner and Republican Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher, who in the absence of fellow Republicans Dumanis and DeMaio was sometimes forced into the awkward position of having to defend his party’s policies.
The debate started with a question from retired San Diego State University professor Herb Shore about the initiative DeMaio and his supporters have qualified for the 2012 ballot, which would eliminate defined-benefit pensions for new city workers and set up 401(k) plans for them instead. Labor and other critics of the initiative have argued that, since city workers no longer receive Social Security — they voted themselves off it in the 1980’s in exchange for a promise of health coverage for life, which DeMaio’s initiative would renege on — it would leave them without any retirement coverage except for what they could get out of the stock market.
Though Fletcher tried to portray himself as a maverick Republican at times during the debate, on the DeMaio initiative he was in lock-step with his party’s position supporting it. “This will help lower annual benefit payments,” he said. But he also promised that, “as Mayor, I will interpret the initiative in a way that is fair to workers and that will include Social Security.”
“This is the biggest difference between me and the other three [major] candidates,” Filner said. “I oppose the DeMaio-Dumanis-Fletcher plan. It’s not only unfair, it throws our city workers under the bus and makes our workers dependent on the stock market.” Filner also zeroed in on one of the main criticisms being made of the initiative: while it might save the city money in the long run, it would do nothing to cover the city’s current $2.1 billion shortfall in pension funding because it wouldn’t apply to current retirees. According to Filner, putting city employees back on Social Security as an alternative to city pensions would “cost more money” because of the “transition costs” that would have to be paid under federal law.
The candidates also clashed over so-called “outsourcing” — turning city services over to private companies. A voter-passed initiative from 2006 set up a so-called “managed competition” system, in which city workers and private companies would supposedly be able to bid against each other to see who could provide services more cheaply. Supporters of “managed competition” have criticized the city for implementing the initiative too slowly, and in 2010 DeMaio tried — and failed — to get another initiative on the ballot that would have sped up the process.
Filner, not surprisingly, said he’s against outsourcing on principle. “We have to look at it very closely because the private proposals don’t include health or pension benefits,” he said. “Trying to contract out the Miramar landfill is ridiculous.” He cited DeMaio’s support of anti-labor Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whom he’s cited as a role model, and said the message of both Walker and DeMaio is “let’s break up the unions and privatize, because they say public service is evil.”
“It is!” said a heckler from the audience who was wearing a T-shirt reading, “Bloodbath.” He had first spoken up when one of the panel members asking questions had cited current Mayor Jerry Sanders’ support of marriage equality for same-sex couples, and kept up a barrage of comments through the rest of the debate.
Fletcher used up part of his time to defend his support of a public investment in a new stadium for the San Diego Chargers. When he finally got around to talking about outsourcing, he said, “I support managed competition because there are ways we can find additional savings. The city workers have won every competition [so far] by finding additional savings” — suggesting that he thinks public-sector workers need the threat of losing their jobs to the private sector to make their operations more cost-efficient.
On the stadium issue, Fletcher said, “The question should not be do you support building a ‘box’ for football that’s going to be used only eight times a year. It should be whether you support building a regional asset, not a sports and entertainment district but a sports and innovation district like the one in San Francisco. What do you do with the current Qualcomm Stadium site? You can build a stunning urban park there and an industrial training center at the current Sports Arena site.”
“I love the Chargers and football,” Filner said, “but when a billionaire [Chargers owner Alex Spanos] asks for city money, we should say, ‘What about you?’ The biggest sports teams have extorted millions of dollars in public money, and they ain’t going to be able to do that anymore in San Diego. Why don’t they give us a share of the profits, or a share of the team?”
“This is what you get in San Diego,” Fletcher replied. “You talk about a big idea, and someone twists it to make it about one family.”
Another issue on which the candidates clashed was over project labor agreements (PLA’s), which require private companies that bid on publicly funded developments to give preference to local workers and pay prevailing wages for unionized construction jobs. Conservatives have made ending such agreements a major priority, saying they make public projects cost more and don’t guarantee safe and efficient construction. Voters in San Diego County overwhelmingly passed a ban on PLA’s in November 2010, but a state law, SB 922, signed by governor Jerry Brown October 3, prevents California voters or local legislatures from banning PLA’s.
Though the person who asked the question — sheet metal worker Enrique Martinez — carefully avoided using the term “PLA,” it was obvious what he was asking about. Martinez had phrased the question by defending PLA’s as a way to save local jobs, but Fletcher said, “There are so many infrastructure projects we can get workers out on the street” without guaranteeing local hiring via a PLA. “San Diego has $1 billion in deferred maintenance. The city is sitting on $50 million in TransNet funding [a previously approved half-cent sales tax for transportation projects] that isn’t being spent because of bureaucracy. I would not support mandating local hiring. There’s enough work to put everyone in San Diego and the surrounding communities back to work.”
Filner disagreed. “Anything we can do to hire local workers, we should do,” he said. “And there isn’t enough work to go around. That’s why we have 10 percent unemployment. We never replaced the jobs in the defense industry we lost in the early 1990’s. General Dynamics had 60,000 employees and today our city’s biggest employer has 4,000.” Filner said he wants to see the Port of San Diego expanded into a “maritime center” to create more middle-class jobs, and he boasted that he had a 100 percent pro-labor voting record as a Congressmember while Fletcher’s rating on labor issues in his two years as an Assemblymember was 18 percent.
“Neither percentage is quite right,” Gonzalez said. “They’re close, but not quite right.”
The candidates did agree on a few things. Despite their differences about PLA’s, both said they want to create more middle-class jobs in San Diego. Both also want the Mayor’s office to take an active role in education but don’t want the actual control of all or some of the city schools mayors in Chicago and Los Angeles have won.
Fletcher boasted that he had worked with Democratic Assemblymember Gil Cedillo to end police impoundments of cars belonging to people without drivers’ licenses — many of whom are undocumented immigrants.
Both candidates were skeptical of seeking city tax increases. Voters have turned them down again and again, and Filner and Fletcher agreed that the reason is city government hasn’t proved to voters’ satisfaction that they can spend the money they already have efficiently and effectively, and until they do, voters won’t give them any more.
The candidates’ philosophical and historical differences came through most strongly in answer to a question about the Occupy San Diego protests and the national movement of which they are a part. “There’s a lot of frustration that’s bipartisan, and I can understand it,” Fletcher said. “[Governor] Jerry Brown and I came together on a bill for eliminating a tax loophole that only benefits large corporations that move jobs out of state, that would have brought in $1 billion, and people were shocked. We got it out of the Assembly, but it lost by a few votes in the State Senate.” Fletcher didn’t say that all the Senate Republicans closed ranks against it on the ground that closing tax loopholes constitutes a “tax increase,” thereby ensuring it fell short of the two-thirds vote in both houses needed to pass.
“I started my career in jail,” Filner said. “I was active in the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I was one of the first Freedom Riders, and when we went to the U.S. Supreme Court we changed history” by getting segregation on interstate buses declared unconstitutional. Filner also said he had personally visited the Occupy movement’s encampment in Washington, D.C. “and I came away energized at the chance that we can really change things in this nation. I look at that movement with great optimism.”
Both candidates were also asked how they would use the Mayor’s “bully pulpit” and what issue they would push more strongly, the way Mayor Sanders had done with marriage equality. This is the question that provoked the “Bloodbath” heckler to interrupt the debate, denounce Queers as “perverts” and ask Fletcher why he voted for SB 48, the bill that requires California’s public middle and high schools to teach the “role and contributions” of Queer people, people with disabilities and Pacific Islander-Americans.
As Mayor, “You are picking a direction for the city,” Fletcher answered. “The last decade has been rough. You’ve seen cutbacks and a city that can’t come together. I would hope that at the end of my tenure, I would be seen as someone who brought the city together. We spent a decade with business fighting labor fighting the environment. Imagine if we have another decade to work together for San Diego versus the neighboring regions.”
“One of my great heroes and mentors was Robert F. Kennedy,” Filner recalled, quoting Kennedy’s famous lines about how others saw the world as it was and asked why, while he saw the world as it could be and asked why not. “”Why not become a city that solves its pension problems without throwing the workers under the bus?” Filner said. “Why not be a city that actually solves homelessness? Why not have a city that celebrates its arts and culture? Why not have a city that has jobs for everyone? Why not have a city that has effective public transportation? Why not have a city with the kind of civility Nathan just talked about — and that’s something we should all aspire to? Why not have a city that does all that?”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

Adopted by the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street September 29, 2011. “Minor updates to some wording in the facts” on October 1, 2011.

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known:

• They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
• They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give executives enormous bonuses.
• They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
• They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
• They have profited off the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
• They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
• They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
• They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ health care and pay.
• They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
• They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
• They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
• They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
• They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products, endangering lives in the pursuit of profit.
• They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
• They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
• They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
• They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
• They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
• They purposely keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
• They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
• They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
• They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
• They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.
[These grievances are not all-inclusive.]

To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble, occupy public space, create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!

Beyond the Occupation


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?”
    Slogan of the Peasants’ Revolt, England, 1381

Until early September, when the members of what became Occupy Wall Street first hit the streets of New York’s financial district, staging marches from a campground on a private park whose owner had given them permission to be there, it looked like the whole concept of economic class as a political issue was as dead in U.S. politics as free silver. Earnest commentators filled the pages of liberal and progressive publications with sober articles documenting how the richest 1 percent of Americans had slowly increased their share of the nation’s wealth until they now control 50 percent of it all — and the nation yawned. Republicans instantly denounced any hint of a proposal to tax the rich as “class warfare,” motivated solely by envy on the part of social “losers” who could be rich themselves if they’d only worked harder, saved more, been more “worthy.” (Actually most rich people, now as in 1381, got that way by coming out of the right womb.) Democrats, anxious to appear on the side of the working people but scared shitless over anything that might stop the rich from contributing to their campaigns, basically ignored it altogether. And the rag-tag remnants of an American Left pretty much confined themselves to talking about it … to each other.
Then came Occupy Wall Street, a movement consciously patterned after the “Arab Spring” protests that brought down the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and all of a sudden the phrase, “We are the 99 percent,” became part of U.S. public consciousness. No longer is political debate in the U.S. trapped between a Democratic Party which once — because a mass Left pressured them to do it — gave us a minimum wage, Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and the legal recognition of labor unions, and is now killing all those advances with the death of a thousand cuts; and a Republican Party and a Tea Party which joyously and proudly want to get rid of the social safety net, the labor movement and any government taxation or regulation of corporations in one fell swoop. While it’s unclear what the future holds for the Occupy movement — whether they’ll remain as resourceful and intelligent as they’ve been so far in coping with police repression, media ridicule and their inability (so far) to affect the political process or whether they’ll repeat the mistakes made by previous attempts to revive the U.S. Left — they’ve opened the dark sky of American politics, economics and media propaganda with a simple message: a free society cannot remain so if its wealth, income and political power are brutally concentrated at the top of the economic scale.
Occupy protests have spread not only nationwide, but worldwide. The nations of Western Europe, which American progressives once looked to as models of social democracy, have become as repressive as the U.S. Their so-called “socialist” or “social democratic” parties are now no more radical than the U.S. Democratic Party, and the Right-wing regimes currently in power in all Europe’s major economic powers — Britain, Germany, France, Italy — as well as the nominal “socialists” currently running Europe’s worst economic basket case, Greece — offer nothing but “austerity,” code for slashing the size of government, making workers poorer and impoverishing their people for the sake of their bondholders. The determination of the upper classes not only to enrich themselves and impoverish their people but root out any discussion of social justice has gone so far that it’s creating a backlash. People — not enough people to make a difference politically, but enough to put the ideas of redistribution and the social responsibility of the well-to-do back on the table — are rising up, just as they did in England in 1381, in France in 1789, throughout Europe in 1848, in Russia in 1917 and in the Arab world earlier this year.
The Occupy movement is often criticized for not offering a specific list of demands. That’s taking one of the great strengths of the movement and calling it a weakness. Occupy is not a top-down hierarchy like the various Tea Parties, which though they have genuine, committed grass-roots support (which we ignore at our peril) have been designed largely by their wealthy funders and whose agendas and slogans have been supplied to their activists like recipes in a cookbook. Naomi Klein, a strong supporter of Occupy, got it right when she told MS-NBC that Occupy was “not a movement, but a moment” — a moment of awareness that there has got to be a better way to run an economy, a nation, a world, than to base all decisions on profit, greed and exploitation. Occupy shouldn’t be making demands yet because we’ve been told for so long that capitalism is the end of human history — that “there is no alternative,” as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher put it — that we have only the foggiest ideas of what a non-capitalist or post-capitalist economy and society should look like.
When Occupy Wall Street expanded and new Occupy movements started springing up across the country, including in San Diego, I worried that they would repeat some of the mistakes that have hamstrung previous attempts to revive the U.S. Left. They’re avoiding, or working their way away from, some of them — like the insane obsession with so-called “consensus decision-making” that has made many Left organizations not only unworkable but actively unpleasant and soul-draining. Occupy Wall Street began as a consensus organization but quickly worked away from that model and set up a so-called “super-committee” to plot direction and strategy — risking the alienation of some ultra-Leftists for whom any resort to representative democracy is a denial of their principles. It also seemed to have dawned on Occupy that the reflexive anti-Americanism of many U.S. Leftists has cut us off from the strategy used so effectively by the Tea Parties of linking their struggle to the American Revolution. At the end of September Occupy Wall Street issued a “Declaration” (published here in full above) consciously modeled on the U.S. Declaration of Independence, complete with bullet points listing the abuses uncontrolled corporations have loosed on the American people.
The biggest issue Occupy will need to address, and hasn’t yet, is its relationship to the electoral system. This has become a pitfall for generations of American Leftists, and Occupy confronts it at a dangerous juncture in U.S. politics comparable to the situation in Germany in the early 1930’s. The deepening economic crisis, the power of the corporate media in general and the Right-wing media of talk radio and Fox News in particular to shape the way many Americans perceive that crisis, and the failure of the Democrats’ half-measures to get us out of the slump have created the strong possibility of a total Republican takeover of the U.S. government — of which they already control half, the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court — in the November 2012 elections. If they win the presidency (quite likely, though by no means assured, since presidents running for re-election on a piss-poor economy usually lose) and take the Senate (virtually a mathematical certainty since the Democrats will be defending 23 seats and the Republicans only 10), the result will be a sweeping transformation of the U.S. into a Right-wing country — from the USA to TPA, Tea Party America — comparable to what Hitler and the Nazis wreaked on Germany in 1933.
In my analysis — and I know most Occupy participants would almost certainly disagree with me — it is absolutely crucial for America’s future that we unite, vote and campaign straight down the line for Democrats in 2012. We should do that without any illusions that the Democrats are our friends, but with the full awareness that the Republicans are such dastardly enemies, not only of the 99 percent but of the earth itself, that in the short term at least, we need to keep what Noam Chomsky calls “the reality-based wing of the ruling class” in power. We shouldn’t hang back from criticizing especially egregiously corporate-friendly Democrats and challenging them in primary elections. But we should give up any notion of not voting at all — or voting for alternative parties, which in the U.S.’s winner-take-all election system means the same thing — in the present emergency. Given that the Republicans are committed to wiping out all controls on corporate power, ending organized labor, privatizing virtually all government functions and getting rid of the welfare state, and their “drill, baby, drill” assault on the environment will virtually ensure the end of the earth’s ability to support the human species, we have to bite the bullet and accept that in the current crisis, any Democrat is better than any Republican.
In the medium term we can debate reforms we can demand from the political system, including a Constitutional amendment to end the idiotic fiction that corporations are “persons,” worldwide taxes on financial speculation, a return to the upper-bracket income tax rates of the 1950’s and 1960’s, an end to corporate subsidies and tax loopholes, restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act and other New Deal-era legislation that severed consumer banks from investment banks, reform of the labor laws to make it easy for workers to organize, and aggressive antitrust enforcement literally to cut the giant corporations down to size. In the long term we can work out the models by which humanity can grow beyond capitalism — and throughout this process we must do the work on ourselves to grow beyond our own individualistic, competitive urges and, in a saying of Gandhi’s that’s become an obnoxious cliché, “be the change that we wish to see in the world.”
Twelve years ago, in November 1999, a Leftist movement swept through the streets of a major American city — Seattle — with a simple demand: an end to unfair “free trade agreements” that enriched corporations and greased the skids on which they sent American jobs overseas. It was killed by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the wave of repression that followed. Occupy could likewise be killed by a Republican sweep of the November 2012 elections and the even more intense repression against it likely to follow. But if it can hold on, learn from its mistakes and build for the future, Occupy has a chance to break the corporate-capitalist stranglehold on America’s and the world’s imagination and begin the process of moving away from economies and societies based on greed, individualism, monopolism, imperialism and a capitalist system that rewards humanity’s worst traits and punishes its best.


Canvass for a Cause Organizer on Marriage Equality, Occupy San Diego

radio interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Sneak audio preview of an interview scheduled for publication in the December 2011 Zenger’s!



Welcome to Zenger’s on the air, the radio program based on Zenger’s Newsmagazine, a print publication of alternative lifestyles, media, politics, culture and health in San Diego since 1994. Today we’re presenting an interview with Nico D’Amico-Barbour, regional field organizer for the Queer rights and marriage equality group Canvass for a Cause. Founded in the wake of the defeat for marriage equality in California when Proposition 8, which banned legal recognition of same-sex marriages, was passed by voters in November 2008, Canvass for a Cause was started to get the marriage equality message out to residents not only in San Diego’s so-called “Gayborhoods” of Hillcrest, North Park and University Heights, but throughout the city. It was also designed to raise money so its members could not only spread the message of marriage equality but get paid for doing so. Nico started off as a canvasser and rose through the ranks, and is now helping not only to run the Canvass for a Cause in San Diego but to start a second chapter in Los Angeles.
Of course, Nico and I had a lot more to talk about than that. By chance, the day I interviewed him, October 13, was also the date the San Diego police announced their crackdown on the ongoing Occupy San Diego camp-out in the Civic Center Plaza. The police originally ordered everyone out of the plaza, then relented and allowed them to stay but only as long as they didn’t have tents. Nico so strongly supports Occupy San Diego that he’s been spending time at the occupation site and originally wanted us to do the interview there, though his duties with Canvass for a Cause made him reschedule for the Canvass headquarters at — ironically — an old Mormon church just south of 10th Street and Robinson in Hillcrest. While we were doing the interview, we were interrupted by a young man coming to apply for a job with Canvass for a Cause, a long-time staff member who needed Nico’s attention, and a phone call from a person Nico was letting go. They’re certainly a busy group, not only with the marriage equality canvass but also with a subsidiary organization called Gay Groups Give Back, which raises money for non-Queer causes like earthquake relief for Haiti.
Nico’s remarks went beyond his work with Canvass for a Cause. Stressing that he was speaking as an individual and not for the Canvass, he talked about Occupy San Diego — including what he thinks distinguishes it from the Right-wing Tea Party movement — and also gave his personal opinion about the decision of the statewide Queer lobbying organization Equality California not to seek an initiative to repeal Proposition 8 on the November 2012 ballot. Nico is clearly an up-and-coming leader in the equality movement and for progressive causes in general, and for that reason, and to preserve his comments on Occupy San Diego and other cutting-edge issues and get them before the public as soon as possible, we’re taking the unusual step of presenting this interview in audio form before it’s published in the print version of Zenger’s Newsmagazine. Accordingly, reproduction of this interview in text form, either on paper or online, is strictly prohibited without the express written permission of Mark Gabrish Conlan. Non-commercial reproduction of the actual audio is allowed and, indeed, encouraged.
To contact Canvass for a Cause, visit their headquarters at 3705 10th Avenue in Hillcrest, phone (619) 630-7750, e-mail them at, contact the Canvass for a Cause page on Facebook, or visit their Web site at That’s (619) 630-7750, e-mail, or on the Web.

Equality Nine Have Their Latest Day in Court Oct. 17

Prosecution Offers Plea after 2,500 People Demand Charges Be Dropped


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The “Equality Nine” — Michael Anderson, Brian Baumgardner, Sean Bohac, Felicity Bradley, Kelsey Hoffman, Mike Kennedy, Zakiya Khabir, Chuck Stemke, and Cecile Veillard, members of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) who were arrested August 19, 2010 while staging a demonstration for same-sex marriage rights at the San Diego County Clerk’s office — had their latest court hearing Monday, October 17 at the San Diego County Courthouse downtown.

At an earlier hearing in August, the judge in the case, Joan P. Weber, made a comment to the effect that the Nine “might not face jail time” even if they were convicted. On October 17, the prosecutor asked the judge to withdraw that statement. He also announced an offer that the city attorney is refusing to drop the charges, but is offering a plea bargain that would require any of the Nine who accepted it to plead guilty to violating California Penal Code section 415, which says that “any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise” can be punished by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $400.

The plea deal the prosecutor offered would involve a “waiver of time” — apparently meaning a suspended jail sentence — and would require them to do eight hours of community service unrelated to marriage equality. Once anyone who accepted the deal presented documentation that they performed the community service, they would be allowed to “withdraw the plea” and end the case with no criminal record against them. The prosecutor made the offer to the defendants as individuals and gave them until October 28 to decide. One member of the Nine, Felicity Bradley, has already taken the deal and done her eight hours of community service. Another, Mike Kennedy, plans to take the deal, according to his attorney.

Other members of the Equality Nine were more defiant. Michael Anderson, who with his partner Brian Baumgardner participated in the protest by attempting to enter the County Clerk’s office to request a marriage license, said he definitely would not plead out the case. If any of the Nine turn down the plea and insist on going to trial, the next scheduled hearing in the case will be on November 1 to set the trial date.

Judge Weber denied the defense motions to dismiss the case. She ruled that the First Amendment does not necessarily give you the legal right to block access to a public building, and she interpreted the law under which the Equality Nine are being charged, California Penal Code section 602.1 (b), as a “time, place and manner” restriction rather than an outright ban on speech. But the judge also said that if the protesters didn’t actually block access to the County Clerk’s office, Penal Code section 602.1 (c), which says, “Section (b) shall not apply to any person on the premises who is engaging in activities protected by the California Constitution or the Constitution of the United States,” would give them the right to be there to make their political point.

She said the factual issue in the case would be whether heterosexual couples were actually able to get married despite the defendants’ presence. “We will be making law here,” the judge said, adding that as far as she knows no one has ever been successfully prosecuted under this statute before.

“This case will be important,” said Equality Nine defendant Zakiya Khabir, “because Occupy San Diego is facing similar issues with police interference with a peaceful protest.” At the support rally S.A.M.E. held outside the courthouse before the hearing, another defendant, Cecile Veillard, also compared the Equality Nine to Occupy San Diego and said they were both fighting for the right to protest in public spaces.

“The Deputy City Attorney said in court today that we are being tried based on ‘blocking equal access to other members on the public attempting to conduct business,’” said Veillard after the court hearing. “First of all, this is a lie. Though we did sit in front of the doorways to the clerk’s office, not a single heterosexual couple was prevented access to the clerk’s office to obtain their marriage licenses that day. Secondly, the irony of the DCA’s statement should be obvious. Not only were we denied licenses for same-sex couples who had appointments that day, but we were in fact denied our rights to equal access to even enter the clerk’s office that day. A guard outside the door of the clerk’s office barred us from even entering the clerks’ office to speak with the desk clerk about honoring which had already been made [for] Tony and Tyler Dylan-Hyde and other same-sex couples that day. It is we who were denied equal access to conduct our business in the county clerk’s office on that day.”

The support rally before the hearing drew 40 people, many of whom came over from the Occupy San Diego action at the Civic Center Plaza to join in. A woman who did not identify herself, but was addressed by others present as “Jersey,” called Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in California the Equality Nine were protesting, “trickle-down homophobia.” She said that what Proposition 8 and other anti-Queer laws “trickled down” to included teen bullying and suicide.

S.A.M.E. has been circulating a petition asking San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to drop all charges against the Nine. On September 28, they staged a rally in the Civic Center Plaza — ironically, where the Occupy San Diego action started nine days later — following which they took petitions containing nearly 2,500 signatures to Goldsmith’s office and gave them to his assistant, Carmen Sandoval.