Sunday, May 29, 2011



Bisexual Forum Targets Invisibility and Bigotry

Bi’s the Largest, Least Understood Group in So-Called “LGBT Community”

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

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

PHOTOS:


Top, L to R: Dr. Regina Reinhardt, Parker Jaques, Genevieve Thiel

Bottom, L to R: Zander Keig, Hillary Cadam, David Doane

LISTEN TO THIS EVENT!

Radio edit with intro and outro by Mark Gabrish Conlan: http://zengersmag.posterous.com/bisexual-forum-may-12-2011

Complete, unedited meeting: https://rapidshare.com/files/3202379964/Bisexual_Forum___the_Center__5_12_11.mp3

The Bisexual Forum of San Diego has existed since 1982, when Dr. Regina Reinhardt and the late Dr. Fritz Klein founded it, but neither its longevity or the hosting of its meetings at the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center has guaranteed it understanding or status. After a participant in a meeting at the Center made a slighting comment about Bisexuals, the Forum’s co-chairs, Jennifer Restle and Daniel Watman, asked for permission to do a public workshop at the Center to dispel many of the common myths about bisexuality and allow Bisexuals to present their experiences directly. It took months to negotiate the details, but the workshop finally took place May 12 with Dr. Reinhardt, Restle and five other speakers addressing about 70 people in a small but well-filled room at the Center.

Restle started dispelling myths about bisexuality almost from the moment she opened her mouth, when she cited a recent report from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and said that, of the four groups referenced by the acronym “LGBT” — Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexuals and Transgender people — Bisexuals are actually the largest. The report, available online at http://calcasa.org/education/14520/, quotes a survey in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine that indicated that 3.1 percent of Americans identify themselves as Bisexuals, versus 2.5 who identify as Gay or Lesbian. Though more men in the survey identified as Gay (4.2 percent) than Bi (2.6 percent), women were far more likely to identify as Bi (3.6 percent) than Lesbian (0.9 percent). Among adolescents in the survey, 4.9 percent identified as Bi versus only 1.0 percent as Gay or Lesbian, and women were far more likely than men to identify themselves as Bisexual (8.4 percent of women, 1.5 percent of men) or to acknowledge a sexual orientation that included same-gender partners (8.6 percent of women, 3.3 percent of men).

Other points Restle cited from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission report were that Bisexuals have a greater risk of health-related issues than either heterosexuals or homosexuals; that Bisexual women in relationships with non-Bisexual partners are at more risk of domestic violence than any other women; and that Bisexuals are at greater risk of suicide than either heterosexuals or homosexuals. What’s more, the report also said that — contrary to the stereotype many Gays and Lesbians have that bisexuality is merely a way station to a firm Gay or Lesbian identity (referred to in the joke, “Bi now, Gay later”) — a study of sexual-minority (Lesbian, Bisexual or “unlabeled”) women over 10 years found that “more women adopted Bisexual/unlabeled identities than relinquished them.”

Many Bisexual people describe two coming-out experiences: they start out with the same expectation of heterosexuality as everyone else, then come to grips with their same-sex attractions and self-identify as Gay or Lesbian, and finally realize that they’re attracted to people of both their own and the opposite gender and they can only be honest with and about themselves if they acknowledge that. Genevieve Thiel, a panelist at the May 12 workshop, told a typical story: “I came out at 19 and dated women [exclusively] for 16 years, but I had a subtle awareness that I was attracted to men as well. It was probably about 10 years ago that I began my shift in understanding my sexuality.”

According to Thiel, what propelled her out of a Lesbian identity was meeting Transgender people and finding herself attracted to them. (She also joked that she got a crush on movie star Johnny Depp, whom she says she likes “for his manly man hotness,” even though Depp played the cross-dressing film director Ed Wood and has projected an androgynous image in many of his films.) “As I started to meet more Trans men, I realized I was attracted to them, and later to men in general,” Teal said. “I did not identify as ‘Bisexual.’ I took up the label ‘Queer’ and would stand up when other people around me made biphobic comments. In January 2007 I got out of a recent relationship. It was time for New Year’s and my resolution was to identify certain patterns in my life and change them.”

The main pattern she wanted to change was her dating women exclusively. “I realized maybe dating women had just become a habit,” she said. “I went to a New Year’s party and made the announcement. The men cheered and the women were concerned. Later a Lesbian friend of mine said I was ‘going through a phase,’ and one woman said, ‘What are you doing, going straight?’ Two years ago, I felt I was keeping myself in the closet if I let people believe I was just attracted to women, so I took on the term ‘Bi’ for myself. Recently I came across the term ‘fluid.’ To the woman who asked me if I was going straight, I said, ‘I’m going Genevieve.’ I’m being me, and I’m just me.”

“I certainly haven’t met another Bisexual like me,” said David Doane. “I’m 74 years old and I came out in 2005. I tried passing as straight for almost 50 years. I started having sex with boys in high school. I knew very well I was attracted to males and scared of girls. It wasn’t until graduate school that something happened to me that allowed me to ask a girl out. I was married in the mid-1960’s, and that was the time when the psychological wisdom was that if you had a good marriage, all your homosexual tendencies were ‘cured.’ I lived like a lot of guys, only a lot of the people I looked at were guys. After I was divorced, it took me another 10 years to look at myself and say, ‘I’m Bi.’ That was the most liberating thing in my life.”

Other people on the panel came from unusual backgrounds that led them to avoid both the social shame facing people who acknowledge same-gender attractions and the feeling they had to choose between a heterosexual and a Gay or Lesbian identity. “My best friend’s father was one of the first people who left his wife and came out, so I grew up not knowing any better,” said Hillary Cadam. “I didn’t know my sexuality at the time. I was young and developed late. I went to college, chose women’s studies as a major and had my first Lesbian relationship. However, after leaving that community I fell back into the straight-identified community and went back to dating men, because that’s what I knew and it wasn’t a challenge. I’m currently married — platonically — to a straight man, and I’ve got involved in the LGBT community but didn’t feel at home here. I’ve heard young women saying, ‘I hate Bisexuals. They always go back to men. I’m not altogether comfortable with the ‘Bisexual’ label. I like ‘pansexual’ and maybe I’ll embrace ‘fluid’ one day.”

One of the problems facing Bisexuals is the lack of comfortable language to describe alternatives to being straight, Gay or Lesbian. (Some writers use the term “monosexual” as the opposite to “Bisexual.”) The San Francisco report argued that many Bisexuals don’t like the fact that the term contains the word “sexual” (which was also one reason why most exclusively same-sex attracted people long ago abandoned the term “homosexual” in favor of “Gay” or “Lesbian”) and therefore it’s not a word they feel comfortable using, especially around children. Restle rattled off a list of alternatives to “Bisexual” some people in the Bi community use — “fluid, Queer, omnisexual, pansexual” — and added that some Bi’s don’t like to label their sexuality at all. Many Bisexuals make statements like, “I fall in love with a person, not a gender.” Restle also said that younger people in the community are less likely to want to label their sexuality at all. “We don’t have any language to cover Bisexual issues, but the good news is we don’t care,” Restle said.

Parker Jaques, a “currently unemployed child-care provider” and the youngest member of the panel, had a background that, like Hillary’s, at once protected him against anti-Queer prejudices and led him to reject conventional labels for himself. He said his mother is also Bisexual, and “when I point her out to friends, I say, ‘See that man over there? That’s my mom!’” He said he “came into the world so un-repressed I didn’t know what the word ‘Gay’ meant until I was eight or nine, and I had no idea that ‘Gay’ was considered abnormal.” He also raised the Bisexual version of the tree-in-the-forest question — whether you can still call yourself Bisexual if you stay with one person throughout your life — and said yes, you still count as Bisexual if you’re attracted to both genders whether or not you act on that attraction.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘Bisexual community,’” Parker said. “You’re a different person in different environments. To me, it’s not about the physical attraction as such — you rub it, it works — but about the traits you love. I’ve been accused of being straight because I date more women than men. If I take a woman to a movie I’m probably paying for her ticket. In a Gay relationship there aren’t any social expectations. … I like being visible, but it’s a very different pigeonhole. When I came out as Bisexual in high school, the girls treated me as their Gay best friend.”

Zander Keig, female-to-male Transgender person as well as Bisexual, said, “I spent the first 39 years of my life as a female and I was involved in Lesbian relationships for 19 years. My first relationship was with a boy and I asked him out, Sadie Hawkins-style. But then I went down the wrong path, became a juvenile delinquent and was put into an all-girls’ center from 13 to 15. I was developing my sexuality in the company of girls, so I became involved with girls, and when I got out, I didn’t know how to be around boys. But it never left me that I was attracted to males. Then I got involved in the Lesbian separatist movement in L.A., and even being friendly to males was frowned upon.”

While he says he doesn’t “identify as a Lesbian anymore” — not too surprisingly, since he has a moustache and full beard, along with thinning scalp hair, and presents as a short, stocky man — Zander said he’s “still in a relationship with the woman I was with before I transitioned. We’re legally married, but people perceive us as ‘straight’ and me as a straight white man. I had a lot of empathy for men, but as I began the transition process I started noticing men. I wondered if I wanted to be like them or I was attracted to them.” He added that “the word ‘Bi’ is foreign to me and negates gender-Queerness,” and that Bisexual and Transgender people “have a lot in common” — including being the victims of prejudice from Gay and Lesbian people.

One of the sources of that prejudice, as Zander pointed out, is that the very existence of Bisexual and Transgender people challenges the notion many Gays and Lesbians have that their sexual orientation was fixed at birth and nothing could change it. “When I was in the Lesbian community, I was a separatist feminist and any attraction to men was to be suppressed,” he said. “When I transitioned, I asked myself, ‘If I could change that about me, what else can I change?’ I know a lot of Trans people who question a lot about themselves. It can be confusing to other people — and to me — but what’s wrong with being confused? I’m just living it out.” Zander said one of his best friends in the Lesbian separatist community transitioned five years before he did, and is now a man who dates men. He also said his wife “was understanding, accepting and encouraging me to go out with men. I’m not doing that any longer, but I still can.”

“Most of my friends are Gay men and Lesbians,” said Cadam. “My friends tend to be in the same circle. I was at a bonfire with some cool Lesbians and donned my rainbow attire, and one woman said, ‘You want to be Gay so bad.’ I didn’t say anything, but in the past I would have said something like, ‘I’ll have intimate relationships with men and I’m not a ‘Lesbian,’ I’m not fighting the ‘cause.’ I just want to be me.”

“One of the myths about Bisexuals is that ‘they cannot be faithful,’” said Dr. Reinhardt, whose presentation focused mostly on her co-founding the Journal of Bisexuality with the late Dr. Klein and educating academics about Bisexual issues. “A lot of people have more than one partner,” she explained. “We can have meaningful relationships. We can be in love with one person.”

As far as the notion that people are “born that way” — that their sexual orientations and gender identities are fixed at birth and can’t change thereafter — Bailey, a Bisexual Forum member, said, “We’re not all born with blue eyes. It doesn’t make sense to me that we’re all born with this one thing.” Restle added that some children who hate the taste of broccoli grow up to be adults who love it.

Doane mentioned the so-called “Klein grid,” a scale created by the late Dr. Klein to help people measure where they fit on the continuum of possible sexual orientations. In the 1940’s, as part of his pioneering research on human sexuality, Dr. Alfred Kinsey developed a straight-line scale in which zero was completely heterosexual and six was completely homosexual, with points in between to indicate attractions to both same-gender and opposite-gender partners. Dr. Klein turned Kinsey’s flat line into a series of 21 boxes, available online at http://kleingridonline.com/, which asks you to rate your attractions, behaviors, fantasies, emotional preferences, social preferences, lifestyle preferences and self-identification over time: in your past (up to a year ago), present (last 12 months) and ideal (what you would like).

“There is a lot of space there,” Doane said of the Klein grid. “A lot of people have more tendencies towards being Bisexual than actually are. The 2’s may play at being straight, and the 6’s may claim to be Gay not to rock the boat, but there are probably a lot more people who are in some sense ‘Bi’ than will admit it.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bin Laden: Justice or Revenge?

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN, Editor

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

For the past decade, the name “Osama bin Laden” has had an odd place in American folklore. As the alleged mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, Washington’s Pentagon and wherever the fourth plane was supposed to hit — either the White House, the Capitol or (more likely, I suspect) a nuclear power plant where it could have really done long-term damage — bin Laden inspired fear and hatred in a large number of American people. He also instantly became a touchstone for a massive propaganda campaign led by the George W. Bush administration and the Right-wing media that inflated 9/11 from a criminal act of mass murder into an act of war — ironically, giving bin Laden a dignity and standing he didn’t deserve — and used him to undermine civil liberties and pursue an authoritarian agenda that flagrantly violated our own Constitution.

At the same time, bin Laden faded so completely from popular view — especially when the second President Bush decided to use the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to finish his daddy’s unfinished business with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9/11, had no weapons of mass destruction and posed utterly no threat to the U.S. or its people — that U.S. Leftists derisively referred to him as “Osama bin Forgotten.” He was easy enough to forget, especially when the U.S. media decided to stop airing his occasional videotaped communiqués on the ground that they could be sending messages to his alleged minions in this country. He was especially easy to forget as the so-called “war on terror” morphed into two massive ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and as the man himself slipped across the Afghan border into Pakistan, where he was finally found in late April after a nine-month surveillance of a known bin Laden courier.

So when I heard that a team of Navy SEAL’s had stormed the comfortable house in Abbotabad, Pakistan where bin Laden was living in — despite the common image from friend and foe alike that had had him roughing it in caves all these years — my reaction was neither sadness nor glee. It was more like reading the obituary of a long-forgotten movie star whom you hadn’t heard of for years and were startled to find out was still alive until just a few days earlier. I turned on the TV for more information and learned at quarter to 8 p.m. on May 1 — quarter to 11 East Coast time — that President Obama was going to give a speech from the White House explaining what had happened and how. So I waited. And waited. And waited, since with his usual excess of caution that exasperates his friends while giving his foes just one more item to savage him about, Obama was carefully crafting his statement and didn’t give it until over an hour after his staff had initially promised it.

What appalled me more than anything else when Obama finally did speak was his calm, matter-of-fact statement that “justice has been done.” I couldn’t help but flash back to the second President Bush using virtually the same words in 2003 when U.S. commandos killed Saddam Hussein’s sons, Qusay and Uday, and my reaction was the same as it had been then: “That’s not justice, that’s revenge.” Then it occurred to me that in this country we have so conflated justice with revenge that most Americans simply can no longer tell the difference. Justice for Osama bin Laden would have been capturing him alive and putting him on trial — in a civilian court, not one of the rump “military tribunals” Bush II created and Obama has now endorsed — for the mass murders of nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001; just as justice for Saddam Hussein would have been trying him at the International Criminal Court for his atrocities against his own people, not a mock trial by his political and sectarian enemies and a sordid “execution” leaked to the world by an anonymous attendee who came with a video-equipped cell phone.

But then even in our own criminal justice system we so conflate justice with revenge that the principal justification for clinging to the barbaric practice of capital punishment (which an overwhelming majority of Americans still support — indeed, it’s an indication of how we take our “victories” where we can find them that death-penalty abolitionists hail that polls showing support for capital punishment have dropped from five-sixths of Americans to “only” two-thirds) has dramatically shifted. It used to be about deterrence — killing people who killed people to discourage other people from killing people. Then it was justified on the mad-dog concept that even if executing a murderer didn’t deter anyone else from killing, it would at least make sure that that person didn’t kill again.

Now, the principal justification for the death penalty is “closure” — the sick idea that the family members, loved ones and friends the murder victim left behind won’t be able to move on with their lives until the state kills the killer of their partner, relative or friend with the same cold-blooded calculation and deliberation of the killer him/herself. It’s as if we accept the idea that there should be bloody retribution and revenge — that there should be “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life” — and that the state better kill murderers because otherwise those the victim left behind would do it themselves. We usually hear this “closure” nonsense in ordinary criminal justice proceedings — but we heard it again on May Day night, as TV stations around America trotted out relatives of 9/11 victims to repeat their sad stories and say that the death of bin Laden had brought them that precious “closure,” that release that had eluded them for the nearly 10 years since the attack.

We heard other things, too. We heard people gathering around Ground Zero in New York City — which, as an example of the can’t-do spirit of modern America, is still the empty hole in the ground it’s been ever since the last remnants of the World Trade Center were carted away — and once again uttering the fascistic chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” that had been heard right after the attacks. And we’ve heard the Right-wing media of talk radio and Fox News attempting to “spin” bin Laden’s death to make sure President Obama doesn’t get a burst of popularity from it, and also saying that the information used to find bin Laden came from torture — oops, I meant “enhanced interrogation” — and that silly, prissy Obama with his excess of scruples has closed off that route to further information and thereby endangered all our lives. (Obama was actually located and brought down by putting his known associates under surveillance, a classic police tactic, not information obtained through torture.) If nothing else, bin Laden’s death has confirmed that Obama remains the most hated President at least since Franklin Roosevelt, and that his ideological enemies are so dedicated that if Obama went on TV and told us the sun was hot, they’d feel compelled to say, “Of course it’s not! It’s really cold!”

I’ll give Obama points for one aspect of the bin Laden operation: rather than order the house bombed from the air, he chose the riskier tactic of a commando raid that would take out bin Laden without blowing innocent civilians to smithereens. Perhaps he learned his lesson from the bombing raid in Libya a few days before, which was supposed to take out dictator Muammar al-Quaddafi but instead killed one of his sons and several of his grandchildren — just as in 1987 President Reagan had ordered the bombing of another Quaddafi residence and killed, not Quaddafi, but his daughter. But Obama loses points with me now that it’s come out that, contrary to the initial reports, the U.S. never had any intention of capturing bin Laden alive under any circumstances. They went there to assassinate, not arrest. It’s understandable in one way; after the firestorm of criticism over the administration’s plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who allegedly ran the 9/11 operation, in a civilian court, and their embarrassing back-tracking, one can forgive Obama for not wanting to bring even more grief on himself by taking bin Laden alive and then having the embarrassing problem of what to do with him.

At the same time it’s an indication of just how totally the Right, with its agenda of meanness, brutality and revenge, has come to dominate American politics that Obama couldn’t risk the political firestorm that would have resulted from capturing bin Laden alive. Instead his body was dumped at sea, allegedly because no country would take him and because the U.S. didn’t want his burial place to become a shrine to would-be terrorists — and with its typically wretched attempts to be even-handed, the Obama administration just pissed off both sides. Right-wingers are slamming Obama because bin Laden got some sort of Muslim funeral on board ship before his body was tossed into the ocean, while practicing Muslims worldwide see the dumping of bin Laden’s body as an insult. What’s more, the administration is refusing to release the photos of bin Laden’s corpse — just as the Bush administration shipped home the U.S.’s own war dead in the dead of night so Americans would be able to cling to their neat video-game idea of what war is like and not have to deal with its real-life cost.

There seems to be common agreement that the death of Osama bin Laden won’t make Americans any safer. Part of that is fear-mongering; the powers that be in this country don’t want to take the risk that Americans might actually emerge from the zone of fear that’s been created since 9/11 to encourage them to yield their civil liberties and right to dissent. Part of that is real enough; Osama bin Laden had long since become irrelevant to the struggle of Muslim extremists against the U.S. and the Western world in general. Al-Qaeda has long since organized along the lines of the U.S. Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which are little more than Web sites inviting people to post photos and videos of actions carried out in the name of those groups’ stated principles. [This is not meant to imply a moral equivalency between al-Qaeda and ALF/ELF, who are saboteurs rather than terrorists; they destroy property but make sure to avoid taking lives.] The new al-Qaeda hasn’t been able to pull off anything on the scale of 9/11, thank goodness — and some of the attempts of terrorist wanna-bes have been almost laughably inept (shoe bombs? Underwear bombs?) — but they still serve to keep the U.S. public afraid, and a scared public is one susceptible to the lure of a radical Right that promises “security” and offers a wide range of “enemies,” both foreign and domestic, who can be used as convenient scapegoats for everything that ails our country.

Activist San Diego Screens Medical Cannabis Film

Locally Produced Documentary Exposes Lies About Marijuana

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.

Copyright © 2011 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

A local medical marijuana dispensary official has spent $15,000 and about 1,500 hours of his time making a movie aimed at answering once and for all the many misconceptions about marijuana — or cannabis, the term preferred by many marijuana activists — and defending its use as medi-cine.

His film, Medical Cannabis and Its Impact on Human Health, had its local premiere Saturday, April 30 at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest in a showing sponsored by Activist San Diego.

Executive producer James Schmachtenberger, of the San Diego Herbal Alternatives dispensary at 5830 Oberlin Dr., Suite 304, and a local crew are distributing the film as a professional quality DVD. He can be reached at (858) 450-4372.

The aim of the film was to counteract the claims of dumb politicians and so-called “prevention experts” who pounce on all uses of cannabis as evil — and make wildly false claims to do so.

“Our approach was to talk to the experts … traveling up and down the state for interviews with the professionals,” explained Schmachtenberger.

“We released it only two months ago, and it has gone viral, seen in 62 countries,” he reported. It can be found at www.marijuanamovie.org, and took about seven full days of shooting.

This documentary “can be a little bit dry,” Schmachtenberger conceded. “It’s really not entertaining.”

This DVD makes a special effort to dig deep into the history of the use of medical marijuana. Evidence exists that it was used by a doctor in China in about 2637 B.C. His medical bag has been discovered, and traces of marijuana were found in it.

Reports on the use of medical marijuana were found in a medical journal in India in 1700 B.C. (“India Medica”).

Cannabis Medical Uses

This new DVD goes into great detail explaining the wide range of uses of medical marijuana:

PAIN RELIEF: Marijuana is well known for its ability to get relief from pain, and decrease a pa-tient’s dependence of opiates; according to the medical experts interviewed on the DVD. Doctors treating patients with very severe, breakthrough pain will use marijuana to reduce the dependence on opiates.

MIGRAINE HEADACHES: English doctors commonly used medical marijuana for the treatment of devastating, migraine headaches.

MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS: Specialists in medicine have long known that medical marijuana reduces the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

DEPRESSION: Psychiatrists discovered long ago that medical marijuana was extremely effec-tive I the treatment of depression and bi-polar disorders.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY: Osteo-arthritis doctors have widely recognized the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis.

The list is long of the painful conditions for which treatment with marijuana is successful, ac-cording to the Cannaboid Research Society.

Ways of Consumption

The two major types of medical marijuana are Cannabis sativa and C. indica, the former providing more energy than the indica.

Many people, including those who have been smoking for years, may not know the wide variety of methods of consuming medical marijuana that’s available, from the usual smoking to edibles (e.g., brownies).

Historically over thousands of years, the most common method of consumption has been to smoke it. An intense high can click in within seconds, but it doesn’t last that long before you have to take another hit.

For centuries, many different types of pipes and joints (cigarettes) have been used for smoking cannabis and its derivatives, including hashish.

England’s 19th century Queen Victoria, who lived to be 81, was a major user of medical mari-juana. It was found in the famous “Smith’s Cough Drops” in this country after the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937.

Another novel way of consuming marijuana is of the patient to drink it, like Kool-Aid or a soda. It takes as long as 30 minutes to take effect.

One of the more popular alternatives to smoking (w/ less irritation to the lungs) is to eat it, as with 4” square brownies. Brownies, however, usually contain the indica variety.

Also, experimenters in Great Britain have developed vaporization devices that can heat marijuana and release its beneficial chemicals without the potential side effects of burning it and inhaling the smoke.

More information on this unusual DVD is available at www.marijuanamovie.org

Photo caption:

Executive producer James Schmachtenberger of the San Diego Herbal Alternatives dispensary appeared in Hillcrest recently for a screening of a new DVD: Medical Cannabis and its Impact on Human Health. Photo by Leo E. Laurence.

Oceanside, Hillcrest to Host Fundraisers May 20

Goal Is to Raise Money for a North County Queer Center

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

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

PHOTO: Max Disposti (right) with his husband, Robert Waters. (© 2011 by Xena Warrior.)

Max Disposti has a dream. He’s been dreaming since he moved from his native Italy to the U.S. in 1998 and came from the relative Queer haven of San Francisco to San Diego’s North County in 2002. It was love that brought him here; he met his husband, Robert Waters, in 2001, and since Waters had family in southern California the two decided to relocate. He’s also been active in various community causes — “not only in the LGBT [Queer] community but also other social-justice issues” — since he still lived in Italy, and his issue agenda, “social justice, immigration reform, opposing the death penalty, helping the homeless and people less fortunate,” is not one usually associated with the conservative stereotype of North County.

Though he realized early on that “North County is very different from San Francisco, and the complexion of the community has to be different,” Disposti sought to bridge the gap between North County’s perceptions and Queer reality. “I wanted our community to become more visible,” he said. “I grew up in cities myself, and sometimes people in cities stereotype suburbs as more conservative. North County is more conservative, but it’s not because of the people.”

Disposti joined a city commission in Oceanside, where he and Waters live, and then started going to supermarkets and talking to people about Queer life and Queer issues. “We’ve never had any problems,” he said. “The fact that we haven’t had much visibility has given an impression of a lack of presence in the community. People in San Diego perceive that nothing is happening in North County. People who live here know the Gay and progressive leaders who are doing things.”

It was to bring the community groups together and to increase the visibility of Queers and Queer activism in North County that Disposti and others formed the North County LGBT Coalition in 2007. The campaign was kicked into high gear by the Proposition 8 campaign —and in particular the high public presence of the Yes on 8 forces in North County. “People realized there was a need for leadership” to take on the radical Right and to create a safe climate for North County Queers — especially young people still struggling with their sexuality — Disposti noted.

“I truly believe that we need to be represented everywhere, and to educate people that our families are just like everyone else’s,” he said. “We have been very successful in bringing the different [community] groups together. Last week we had a public event and put together a panel of representatives of eight supportive churches, and drew 50 to 60 people” — itself a challenge to a stereotype that showed the religious community is not monolithically opposed to Queers and Queer rights.

And now Disposti is working on making his biggest dream of all come true: the establishment of an LGBT Community Center in Oceanside to represent North County. He points out that the Center in San Diego is now one of the largest and best-respected organizations not only in the Queer community but the overall social-service community as well — but it wasn’t always that way. They had to build slowly, and so will the North County group. Nonetheless, he expects to find a location for his Center by the end of this year.

To make that happen, the North County LGBT Coalition is hosting a major fundraiser Friday, May 20, 6 to 9 p.m. at the Oceanside Museum of Art, 704 Pier View Way in Oceanside. Tickets are $30 with additional donation levels available at $100 (“friend of the coalition”), $500 (co-host) and $1,000 (sponsor). The event is themed around Harvey Milk Day and will feature Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew and a rising Queer activist in his own right, as the keynote speaker. There will be a hors d’oeuvre table, a silent auction, a screening of documentary footage about Queer youth and programs to reach out to them, entertainment and a no-host bar. Tickets are available by phone at (760) 672-1848 or at the Coalition’s Web site, www.northcountycoalition.org

And for those who can’t make it up to Oceanside, the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) is making their own Harvey Milk Day celebration a fundraiser for the North County LGBT Center. Their event takes place the same day — Friday, May 20 — from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Bamboo Lounge, 1475 University Ave (between Herbert and Normal Streets) in Hillcrest. The event will feature a video on the Equality 9, the S.A.M.E. members who were arrested last August in an act of civil disobedience at the San Diego County Administrative Center, as well as a presentation (either live or on film) about the North County Center project. There will be no cover charge, but a portion of all food and drink sales at the Bamboo Lounge that night will go to the North County LGBT Coalition to help fund the Center.

Disposti said that the North County LGBT Center “is not a new idea. We just needed to get ready. We needed to create an organization that was legally ready and had its own culture. We are a 501 ( c) (3) [nonprofit charitable corporation] and now we think it’s important for us, after doing community events, to start a Center. We’ve already raised $8,000. Once you establish a place with an office, all we need is a safe space where young people can go — and where their parents can come to have their questions answered.”

Long-term, Disposti added, “the challenge is not so much financial as to convince our elected officials that this is needed and that we’re creating a space where everyone feels safe to go. The money is one aspect. If you have the will, you can raise the money.” He also stressed that the Center will be an all-volunteer organization, and the only costs will be for rent and operating expenses.

Disposti said that once the Center has a track record, it will have a relatively easy time getting its programs funded because “this is an underserved community. So grants will actually be easier to apply for than we think. We were already able to access $3,000 for HIV prevention in the communities of color. That was easy to get because no one else is doing that except the Vista Community Clinic, and we’re working together with them.”

The biggest challenge operating the Center, he said, “will be running the operation and making sure our allies understand the need for a space. It’s beneficial for a lot of youth struggling with their sexuality and their spirituality. It’s also beneficial for people who grow up thinking their sexuality is against ‘natural law.’ As long as the Boy Scouts discriminate and the local churches demean our people, we will need a Center. It’s not a place to hide; it’s a place to organize and create a community.”








San Diego Queers Split Over City Redistricting

Official Group Endorses Pulling City Heights Out of District 3


news analysis by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

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

PHOTOS, top to bottom: The San Diego Redistricting Commission; Linda Perine; Nicole Murray-Ramirez; Jody Carey; Dennis Wood; Dave McCulloch; Latino Redistricting Committee map; Asian and Pacific American Coalition map

The city of San Diego, like every other state and local government in the U.S. that elects its legislature by districts, is currently faced with having to draw new district boundaries. This happens every 10 years in response to new population data from the U.S. Census and is controlled by a wide variety of factors. Among them are the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which encourages the creation of so-called “minority-majority” and “minority-influenced” districts in which people of color and other historically underserved communities can elect representatives; the U.S. Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” ruling of 1964 that says all districts in a political jurisdiction must be equal in population; and the city’s own charter, which since the 1990’s has taken the power to draw City Council districts from the Council itself and given it to an independent commission, appointed by retired Superior Court judges, who are specifically forbidden from taking the interests of political parties and incumbent Councilmembers into account.

In 1991, the last time the San Diego City Council was allowed to redistrict itself, the Queer community won a major victory: instead of being split between two districts, Hillcrest and North Park were united into the new District 3. The results from bringing the city’s two neighborhoods with the largest Queer populations were dramatic: in the next City Council election Christine Kehoe became the first openly Queer elected official anywhere in San Diego County. Queers have held the District 3 seat ever since; when Kehoe was forced to leave office due to term limits, her staff member, Toni Atkins, replaced her. When Atkins was “termed out,” Todd Gloria replaced her and became the second openly Gay man elected to the Council as well as the first openly Queer person of color to hold elective office in San Diego County.

When the first Redistricting Commission convened in 2001, the Queer community’s major priority was to keep District 3 essentially the same as it was, stretching from Hillcrest in the west through North Park, Normal Heights, Kensington, Talmadge and parts of the polyglot ethnic neighborhood of City Heights. That’s not how it’s working out this time, however. The Commission held one of its “pre-map” public input hearings in City Heights Monday, May 2 and took public input that revealed a startling split within the Queer community. The quasi-official Queer presence came from the LGBT Redistricting Task Force, headed by Linda Perine, which has been meeting regularly at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center in San Diego and has endorsed a radical reshaping of District 3 that would move its boundaries west and south into Mission Hills, Bankers’ Hill, South Park and other gentrifying neighborhoods with large Queer presences.

The LGBT Redistricting Task Force has more or less joined the Latino Redistricting Committee (LRC) in demanding a second majority-minority district for Latinos, who constitute about one-third of San Diego’s population. The LRC’s new district would be built around City Heights and move eastward to the La Mesa border, while also shifting south to encompass Golden Hill. (At the same time some Queer advocates want Golden Hill for the new District 3.) So many speakers at the May 2 hearing repeated the LRC’s script that it became familiar: create a second Latino-majority district including City Heights; unite the “historic” centers of San Diego’s Queer population; increase the African-American population of District 4 from 18.8 to 20.6 percent, thereby making it an even stronger African-American-influenced district than it is now (it’s been represented by African-Americans for decades); support the creation of an Asian-Pacific Islander-influenced district north of Interstate 8; and oppose the rival map being promoted by the Asian and Pacific American Coalition (APAC), which allegedly would dilute Latino voting strength south of I-8.

At the same time, the LRC’s plan and the LGBT Redistricting Task Force’s essential endorsement of it came under fire from Queer residents of Azalea Park, a community within City Heights that since the 1990’s has marketed itself heavily to Queers unable to afford to stay in the rapidly gentrifying areas of Hillcrest and North Park. “I support an Asian district but I’m uneasy about dividing districts based on race and culture,” said Azalea Park resident Catherine Eaton. “LGBT representation has strengthened our communities. We have been richly represented in Azalea Park, with support from Kehoe, Atkins and Gloria, that shifted a neighborhood from crime-infested to a refuge for lower-income LGBT’s. … We bought in Azalea Park largely because we were represented by an LGBT Councilmember.”

Dennis Wood and Jody Carey, a Gay couple who own a home in Azalea Park, also pleaded with the Commission to keep their community as part of District 3. Carey suggested that by removing communities of color from the Queer-influenced district and replacing them with largely white areas, the LGBT Redistricting Task Force was taking “so-called ‘undesirables’” out of District 3.

“For us to be moved out of District 3 would be really devastating,” Wood added. “We’ve built connections that make the district work for all of us. We are all City Heights and want to remain part of District 3.”

“We are interested in the outcome for all communities of interest,” said Robert Gleason, LGBT Redistricting Task Force member, chief financial officer and general counsel for Evans Hotels and a major donor to Queer community organizations and causes. “But there is still work to be done, including the Proposition 8 vote and the existence of national organizations whose avowed purpose is to deprive us of our rights. This City Council district provided us with fair representation for the first time. It’s all-important to keep the core of our community together.”

Though he’s both Queer and Latino, veteran community activist Nicole Murray-Ramirez called for keeping the current District 3 “largely intact” instead of peeling off City Heights for a new majority-Latino district. “City Heights has long made it clear it wants multiple representation on the City Council,” Murray-Ramirez said. (City Heights is now split between three districts, and in 2001 its representatives persuaded a skeptical redistricting commission to keep it that way on the ground that this gave it more voices on the Council.) Pointing out that the LRC’s District 3 would be 70 percent white, he praised the current District 3 — and the Queer person of color who represents it now — for “continuing to link the LGBT community and the communities of color. I do an Easter egg hunt each year and 90 percent of the participants are people of color. Our current Councilmember is the first Native American and Filipino representative on the Council.”

Dave McCulloch of the Hillcrest Town Council couldn’t have disagreed more with Murray-Ramirez’ desire to keep District 3 substantially the same as it is. “We’d like to see District 3 go further west into Mission Hills, Park West, Golden Hill and Old Town,” he said. “When I take a stroll from Hillcrest through Mission Hills and Balboa Park, it’s like I never left. They all have parks, parking limitations and tangible and intangible connections. All these communities represent the history of San Diego, yet [now] they’re lumped in with Pacific Beach. … [The current] District 3 unfairly represents the neighborhoods attached to it. We want Mission Hills, Bankers’ Hill, Golden Hill and Old Town united with Hillcrest and North Park.”

Among the complications in the current redistricting is that, due to an initiative passed in 2010 to make the city’s strong-mayor form of government permanent, the City Council is being increased from eight to nine members. Therefore, the Commission can’t just tweak the boundaries of the current districts to equalize their populations. They have to carve out a new Council district somewhere, and both Latino and Asian community representatives are clamoring for a new district to represent them. On paper, at least, District 3 wouldn’t have to change much — according to Councilmember Gloria, it’s only 4,160 people over the magic number of 144,624 that is one-ninth of the city’s population — but other considerations, including the Voting Rights Act and its mandate to maximize the chances of communities of color to elect their own to office, may make it impossible for the Redistricting Commission to keep the current District 3 even if they wanted to.

Yet another complicating factor is Councilmember Gloria himself. Though the City Charter specifically forbids the Redistricting Commission from taking into account either political party registration or the interests of incumbents — the Commission was formed in the first place largely out of public revulsion at some of the gerrymandering done by previous Councilmembers, including the infamous “Filner finger” created in 1991 so he could continue to represent District 8 without moving out of his Seventh Avenue condo near Balboa Park — the LRC’s plan would present Gloria, a City Heights resident, with a Hobson’s choice. Either he’d have to move into the new District 3 and run for re-election in a 70 percent white Queer-influenced district, or he’d have to run as a non-Latino, non-Spanish-speaking Queer person of color in a Latino-majority district deliberately structured to be less friendly to Queers than his current one.

And make no mistake about it: as the members of the LGBT Redistricting Committee made clear in their organized presentation at the end of the May 2 meeting, that was one of their motivations for wanting City Heights out of District 3. Since sexual orientation, unlike race or ethnicity, is not officially measured by the U.S. Census, Queer redistricting activists have to look for surrogate markers to figure out where large numbers of Queer people live. Historically they’ve used the locations of Gay bars and other Queer-oriented businesses, including membership in the Greater San Diego Business Association (GSDBA), the organization of Queer and Queer-friendly business owners in San Diego. This year they’ve added an additional marker: the vote percentages on Proposition 8, the statewide ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriage passed in California in 2008.

“Proposition 8 passed in San Diego County by 52 to 48 percent,” said Perine — about the same margin it won by statewide. (That in itself is a political victory for the local Queer community, since usually anti-Queer ballot measures have done much better in San Diego County than they have statewide.) According to her and former San Diego Democratic Club president Craig Roberts, who presented a neighborhood-by-neighborhood tally of the Proposition 8 results, the neighborhoods the LGBT Redistricting Task Force wants to unite in the new District 3 defeated Proposition 8 with 60 to 80 percent of the vote — while City Heights split evenly, with 49.7 percent of its voters opposing Proposition 8.

It hasn’t been easy to find out just what the various community groups lobbying the Redistricting Commission have in mind. Both the LRC and APAC Web sites contain maps showing the new districts they want the Commission to create, but neither site has a map of how they would want to apportion the whole city. The Commission intends to wrap up its “pre-map” public hearings on May 11 and complete the redistricting process by mid-September, when the San Diego City Clerk and the County Registrar of Voters need the new districts in hand to run the 2012 Council election.

FOLLOW-UP: McCulloch Denies Racist, Classist Intent in Redistricting

Dave McCulloch, board member at large of the Hillcrest Town Council, gave a presentation at that group’s May 10 general meeting about a similar — but not identical — plan for a new City Council District 3. His version differs from the Latino Redistricting Committee’s draft map only in eliminating downtown from District 3 and taking all of Golden Hill, which under the LRC map would remain divided between two council districts the way it is now.

Asked by this reporter whether his map could be seen as racist or classist — since it changes District 3 from the most ethnically diverse in San Diego to a 70 percent white district, and replaces City Heights with more upscale neighborhoods like Mission Hills and Bankers’ Hill — McCulloch denied that that was his intent. “To me, the underlying issue is not race or ethnicity,” he said. “It’s fair and equal representation. By putting City Heights in its own council district, you’re better representing it.” But he didn’t address the class issue at all, and he didn’t concede that his plan could be viewed as an attempt to exclude people of color from an upscale district even if that wasn’t his intention.

He also made the same argument for his plan as he’d made at the Redistricting Commission: that Hillcrest, Mission Hills and Banker’s Hill are all among the older neighborhoods of San Diego and if you walk through them, you’ll see they have more in common with each other than they do in City Heights. McCulloch asked the Hillcrest Town Council to endorse his map, even though he admitted that it has a major flaw: it’s 5 percent under the population target of 144,624 people per district. He acknowledged that at least some of downtown would probably have to be placed in District 3 for his district to be within what’s legally considered “equal” in population. He won his endorsement, but by a surprisingly tepid vote: 15 for and seven against, in a group that usually makes its decisions unanimously or nearly so.

Open Letter from Mark Gabrish Conlan to San Diego LGBT Weekly and Gay San Diego:

Dear Editors:

RE: “Task Force Presents Its Ideal LGBT-Friendly Council District,” San Diego LGBT Weekly, May 5, 2011; and “Task Force Proposes New District 3 Map at Commission Hearing,” Gay San Diego, May 5, 2011: It’s unfortunate that San Diego’s two largest Queer community newspapers chose to report the San Diego City Council Redistricting Commission public hearing in City Heights on May 2 as if they were P.R. people for the self-styled “LGBT Redistricting Task Force” and ignored the dissent within the Queer community regarding both the Task Force’s map and a similar one presented by Dave McCulloch of the Hillcrest Town Council at their group’s meeting May 10.

Both reporters, Jonathan Young of San Diego LGBT Weekly and Manny Cruz of Gay San Diego, utterly ignored the dissenting voices within the Queer community, including the residents of the City Heights community of Azalea Park. Since this neighborhood began marketing itself to Queer families looking to buy homes about 15 years ago, it has become a haven for Queers that want to live in a Queer-friendly neighborhood but can no longer afford the prices in Hillcrest and North Park now that they’ve been driven up by gentrification. Now they’re being told that not only can they not afford to live in the historically Queer neighborhoods of San Diego, they’re told that they can no longer be represented by a Queer City Councilmember either.

What’s more, revamping District 3 along the lines suggested by the LGBT Task Force and McCulloch’s map (which is similar but not identical — it includes all of Golden Hill and eliminates downtown) would change it from San Diego’s most racially, ethnically and culturally diverse district into one that will be 70 percent white. I didn’t support Todd Gloria when he ran for election, but one good thing he’s done for our community is that by the very example of being a Queer person of color in elective office (the first one in San Diego County), he’s shown up at multiracial events like last December’s Human Rights Festival in City Heights and offered living proof that “LGBT” is not, as a lot of straight people of color think, a subset of “white.”

What the LGBT Task Force and McCulloch maps would do is re-create the “Queer-influenced” District 3 as an enclave of upscale white Queers. The Queers of Azalea Park are basically being told they can no longer be represented by a Queer Councilmember because they’re not rich enough, their neighbors are too ethnically diverse and too many of their neighbors voted for Proposition 8. I asked Dave McCulloch during the last Hillcrest Town Council meeting if he wasn’t worried about the proposed District 3 revamp being seen as racist and classist, and he insisted that wasn’t his intention. I’m willing to believe him, but whether that was his intention — or that of the LGBT Task Force — that will be the effect.

Ironically, experience in other cities — notably the Castro in San Francisco — has shown that Queers, perpetrators of the first round of gentrification of older neighborhoods like the Castro, Hillcrest and North Park, tend to be victims in the second. If this pattern holds true in San Diego, and if the Redistricting Commission’s final map includes a District 3 along McCulloch’s and the Task Force’s lines, we can expect the new District 3’s Queer population to shrink over time as more and more Queer individuals, couples and families find they can no longer afford to live in these upscale white neighborhoods. For that reason, as well as the atrocious appearance of racism and classism in the recommended District 3, I hope the Commission rejects these recommendations and chooses instead to keep District 3 substantially the way it is now.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Gabrish Conlan

DOUG WHITE:

National Leaders Council Fellow Promotes May 18 Fundraiser

interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

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

You may never have heard of the New Leaders Council (NLC), but you’re probably going to hear plenty from the people who’ve been part of it. NLC is a nationwide nonprofit corporation which provides emerging young progressive leaders with exciting opportunities, including political entrepreneurship (and if you’re wondering just what that is, that’s all the more reason for you to go to their events!), mentoring, networking and professional advancement opportunities to equip them to be civic leaders in elective office, in their communities and in their workplaces.

Doug White is a politically and professionally aggressive young man who gets to call himself a “Fellow” of the NLC because he attended their training last year. This year he’s helping host a fundraiser for NLC Wednesday, May 18, 6 to 8 p.m. at URBN Coal-Fired Pizza, 3085 University Avenue in North Park. For a mere $20 — a low-ball price for any political fundraiser these days — you’ll get to help support the 2012 San Diego NLC Fellowship Class.

You’ll also get to see the San Diego chapter of NLC give a Community Collaboration Award to Community HousingWorks, a nonprofit whose slogan is “Helping People Live in San Diego.” Community HousingWorks is a San Diego non-profit that helps people and neighborhoods move up in the world by providing a full range of housing options combined with training and support. They build and own beautiful affordable apartments; provide unique first-time homebuyer loans; and provide support and training that strengthens communities and helps families build a wealthier future. For more information visit their Web site at http://www.chworks.org

“We’re shooting to have about 300 people there,” White said of the May 18 event. “It’s going to be a great time because there’s going to be a lot of young professional folks that are Fellows, but also stakeholders and representatives from all sorts of community groups and organizations and corporations from the San Diego region. This could be an evening filled with stimulating conversation and a good show. I really would welcome everyone to join, particularly those who care about the progressive cause.”

As for White himself, in addition to his involvement with NLC he’s also the recently elected (about two months ago) youth caucus chair of the San Diego Democratic Club. And if his skill, shown in the interview below, in staying “on message” despite every edgy and sometimes confrontational question this reporter could throw at him is indicative of the quality of the NLC’s training, then it’s a worthwhile organization and should be considered by any progressive young person interested in a political or community-service career. NLC’s Web site is www.newleaderscouncil.org

Zenger’s: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself — your history, your background, how you got into politics?

Doug White: I’ve been in San Diego just about two years. I grew up in southern California and then went east for undergraduate and graduate school work, and bounced around the Eastern seaboard before returning to San Diego two years ago to accept a job as public affairs manager for an alternative energy nonprofit here in San Diego called California Center for Sustainable Energy.

I’ve always really been passionate about environmental issues, equality issues, energy issues. I cut my teeth on that with my first job out of school, which was with the Gray Davis administration. I was working in the Washington, D.C. office of the governor’s staff. That was a short-lived experience, because I was one of the lucky 300 or so who were summarily terminated by the Terminator in the recall election. So I bided my time in Washington, D.C. and did a short stint with the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) in their Office of Government Relations before moving up to New Jersey and attending grad school at NYU in public policy and public administration.

I jumped back into politics working for the Speaker of the General Assembly of New Jersey, and that’s where I got involved with telecommunications and utilities, managing that committee as well as two other committees, military/veterans’ affairs and agriculture/natural resources.

I left the California Center for Sustainable Energy last year because they were having some difficult financial times. I landed on my feet with Cricket Communications, where I am now government affairs manager. That encompasses tracking and monitoring legislation across 50 states, and liaising with local and statewide elected officials and regulators on issues that may affect the company.

Zenger’s: I think being public-affairs director for a cell-phone company probably puts you at the same popularity level as a used-car salesman. People are going to read that and wonder, “Is he the guy who persuades the legislators to let them put all that fine print in the contract, so the phone ends up costing three to five to 10 times as much as they told me it would?”

White: I won’t get too sales-y on you, but Cricket is an unlimited, no-contract cell-phone provider. A lot of folks who have an iPhone will readily recognize that costs $110, $120/month, whereas Cricket, with comparable products — BlackBerry Android phones — are only $55/month. So half the price, the same functionality, and a great product without being locked into a one- or a two- or any kind of a long-term contract. And everything’s unlimited: unlimited voice, unlimited text, unlimited data for the most part.

Zenger’s: How did you get involved in the San Diego Democratic Club?

White: I owe all the thanks in the world to Craig Roberts, who’s a fellow board member of the club. He knew I was pretty activated to get into politics. He and I met through the Toni Atkins [for Assembly] campaign this past spring, where I was a volunteer helping out and traipsing around the L.A. Convention Center for the Democratic [state] convention, and again this year, this past weekend in Sacramento for the state convention where I was a delegate.

Craig was also a party delegate for the 76th Assembly District, so we got to know each other from there. I learned about his activities with the club, and I know Toni’s long-term commitment and involvement in the club. That really got me excited about getting involved with a community that’s activated on issues I care about, and when they say something they mean it, and they get it done.

Zenger’s: Someone who’s been around long enough to have worked for the Gray Davis administration is, shall we say, unusually old to be the youth caucus chair of the San Diego Democratic Club. I was wondering how that happened.

White: The Gray Davis stint was actually my first job out of college. It was definitely an interesting foray into politics.

Zenger’s: What exactly is the New Leaders Council?

White: The New Leaders Council (NLC) is a progressive political entrepreneurship program. It’s a six-month seminar-based institute where they take the next generation of progressive leaders and equip them not only with the framework but the tools and the networking capabilities to make a difference in the progressive community, and to grow that community. That’s particularly important here in San Diego, in this region, where the chapter is only in its second year.

NLC started with one chapter in San Francisco five years ago, and it’s grown to 15 chapters nationwide. Everyone who goes through this process is a Fellow, so there are now hundreds of Fellows who create a nationwide network of progressives who are pushing the envelope politically and in their communities with different stakeholders to move the ball forward in a progressive manner.

At the Institute we learn about policy, platform development, communications, grass-roots advocacy, organizing, and issues-based learning. We bring in speakers from the equality, labor, and environmental communities. But it’s a non-partisan institute, so we do get alternative viewpoints from folks who are on the other side. It’s equally valuable to understand those viewpoints and where they come from.

Zenger’s: My immediate reaction is that the people on the other side have plenty of this infrastructure of their own, and they don’t let us in. Why should we let them in?

White: That’s interesting. We need to develop our infrastructure, and that’s the niche that NLC is serving. We talk a lot about the progressive community being a big tent, the Democratic Party being a big tent, and we need to have everyone be on the same page. We need to gather all these seemingly disparate entities together to move the entire agenda forward, and move it forward in a progressive way. NLC is attempting to do that at the grass-roots level, getting front-line elected officials and civic leaders into positions where they can effect a positive contribution.

Zenger’s: In addition to being involved in the San Diego Democratic Club, I also work with organizations like Activist San Diego, where the membership is distinctly to the Left of the Democratic party and has a great deal of suspicion as to the validity of electoral activism at all. One common complaint that I hear is the Democrats are really no different from the Republicans; they talk a good game, but when they get in office they do basically the same things. Every issue on which Obama has let down the progressive community, from the Employee Free Choice Act to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA] to the failure to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act [DoMA], gets cited as, “See? See? There’s no point in working with the Democratic Party.” How would you respond to that?

White: I don’t see that same point. NLC is a non-partisan nonprofit, but the ideals and the aspirations they have are progressive. We believe in equality, in environmental protection, in energy self-sufficiency and sustainability. That kind of leaves truly Democratic, Left-of-center issues, but it’s nonpartisan. The first class last year, there was a self-avowed Republican who was a leader of a local group called Republicans for Choice. She was a member of Planned Parenthood. So we’re attempting to peel back the onion and understanding where you have allies and where you can reach across and gather a larger support network to further your goals and to further those causes we believe in.

From an Assembly District 76 delegate perspective, and coming from the state Democratic party convention in Sacramento this weekend [April 29-May 1], it was a victory lap of sorts. California was the only state in the country that [the Democratic party] picked up seats in the state legislature in 2010. In California, all the constitutional officers are Democrats. In California, the Republicans tried to buy the Senate office and they tried to buy the Governor’s office, and neither attempt was successful. And I think those are great things that the Democratic party, both locally and statewide, can hold on to.

Zenger’s: But so what? The Republicans are still running the state. They’re still controlling the state budget. They’ve successfully blocked any election to extend the emergency taxes that were put on two years ago. And it looks at this point like they’re going to force Governor Brown and the Democrats in the legislature to accept a draconian budget that will slash social services and slash education. So even though the Democrats have won the election, the Republicans seem to be winning the war, and it looks like Jerry Brown is going to be forced from a position of practicality to do many of the things [Wisconsin governor] Scott Walker has done by conviction.

White: We were there at the convention, and nobody would walk away from there saying that people are not hurting right now. Our unemployment rate is still incredibly high — at least the third highest in the country, if I’m not mistaken — and people need jobs. People need access to social services. People need to have that safety net in place, and it’s terrible that we have that tyranny of the minority, where we need two [Republican] votes in each house to get things done.

One of the speakers over the weekend was Speaker [John] Pérez, and he promised us delegates that they would not have an all-cuts budget. Like much of everyone else, not only here but statewide, I’m waiting with bated breath to see how this all shakes out.

Zenger’s: Well, he can promise that they won’t have an all-cuts budget, like I can promise that I can walk on the surface of Mission Bay. But the one may be as impossible as the other. So what does it matter to elect Democrats if Republicans win when they win, and Republicans win when they lose?

White: Well, you have to start somewhere, right? The San Diego County Democratic Party, under Jess Durfee’s leadership, really has brought it back in terms of the percentage of registered Democrats from a huge deficit to neck-and-neck with registered Republicans. That’s a partisan gain, and then on the other side you have the NLC, an institute that’s trying to put together an infrastructure, a framework for how you get that next generation of leaders to step into these positions, to run an effective and successful political campaign so they can begin to institute these progressive ideals at a local level, and not have to rely all the time so heavily on state elected officials’ leadership. Because the tides of the electorate could change, and if we have strong locals and they grow up to be strong statewides, then all the better.

Zenger’s: I was at the San Diego City Council redistricting hearing last night [May 2], and one of the comments made there is that both Democrats and Republicans are losing shares of the electorate. More people are registering decline-to-state, not affiliating with either of the major parties — or, for that matter, with any of the minor ones. How does that complicate the task of building these kinds of coalitions and winning elections?

White: I think it comes back to articulating your message and understanding and providing what people need and want. Folks are really upset about education. Folks are really upset about social services being cut, about education being cut, too many kids in the classroom. These are stalwart Democratic ideas and protections. Folks are going to fight for that, and they rightly should. So getting your communication out about why that’s important, and tapping into the emotional element that’s going to reach people, needs to happen more and needs to be more effective.

Zenger’s: The same polls show that voters are strongly against new taxes. This has been a contradiction for decades now in American political discourse. It’s one reason we have such a huge federal budget deficit. People want all these things from government, but at the same time they don’t want to pay for them. I like to think of it as people who wouldn’t dream in a million years of stealing a food item from a grocery store, but nonetheless expect all these government services without being willing to pay for them. How do you address that?

White: Speaking for myself here, when I hear the word “taxes,” I think “services.” It’s unsustainable to think that governing bodies can continue to provide a level of services they have historically provided without increased revenues. There are more people living here, there’s more of a burden on the system, and you need to have the ability to provide the services people want most, which means they have to pay for it. Taxes equal services.

If you think about the larger statewide picture, where our tax revenue base is not at all as stable as it could be, it’s because the vast majority of the state’s income comes from the income tax. That is a pretty volatile variable that more or less comes and goes with the tide of the national economy. Right now we’re in a down time, and individuals’ incomes, particularly at the top, are down. That’s vastly affecting the intake by the state. And there’s a trickle-down effect as to how that affects the counties, cities and local government.

Zenger’s: Maybe you hear the word “taxes” and think of “services.” What’s it going to take — and it seems like your experience is relevant to answering this ¬— to get more voters to think of taxes equaling services, rather than thinking of taxes as this horrible burden the government imposes on them and that they don’t see anything back from it?

White: There’s certainly not a panacea for this. It starts by having a conversation and explaining what folks get for their money, that it’s an investment in your community. If they start to think in terms of that, and you frame it that way, I think people will understand or come to grips with, “Hey, I want to invest in my community. Therefore, I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to have a tax extension.” At the same time, we live in a [world of] elected representation. We vote folks in who are supposed to be conceivably making these tough choices. If you don’t like the choices they are making, then don’t vote for them.

Zenger’s: Indeed, that’s one of the most frequent complaints about California government. Because of the initiative process, and because of the extent to which we have used it and the extent to which moneyed interests have been able to play it, we’re not delegating this power to elected representatives. We’re taking a lot of it for ourselves, and passing things that may seem good on paper but don’t work very well, especially in connection with all the other initiatives that we’ve passed. So how do you get elected representatives the power they need to make the tough decisions without having them constantly second-guessed by voters, often voters who’ve been manipulated by very expensive campaigns from special interests?

White: I agree. We should ask the Republican State Assemblymembers and State Senators why they don’t want to allow a vote of the people to see if we can extend the taxes for another five or six years. They’re conceivably elected to go there and make decisions. By not allowing that process to take place, they’re denying their elective citizenry their representation.

Zenger’s: Well, one of the responses the Republicans would say is, “I’m not denying anything. The people who elected me, the people in my district, don’t want higher taxes and don’t want it on the ballot.”

White: In every district, there’s going to be folks on both sides of it, and they represent both viewpoints — or they should be representing both viewpoints.

Zenger’s: What’s your outlook for the 2012 election, both nationally and here in San Diego?

White: Well, from a 76th Assembly District delegate perspective, we have to feel good about our gains. There’s a push right now for something called Dem 2012, and folks are already in campaign mode. They’re already thinking about the next fight, and trying to grow the pie for all Californians and how we can do that through greater representation in both the houses [of the state legislature].

Zenger’s: And how about San Diego? Do you think we’ll have a strong Democratic candidate for Mayor?

White: I hope so. I hope any Democrat that throws their hat in the ring is going to be a strong Democrat. I know that the coalition of groups that are interested in seeing that happen will end up rallying around whoever that individual ends up being.

Zenger’s: That was something one of the people pointed out at the last San Diego Democratic Club meeting [April 28]: that while some of the potential Democratic candidates have been rather removed from the city, [Right-wing Gay City Councilmember] Carl DeMaio has been taking himself to all these community planning groups, all these business improvement districts, building a real local base of support, and obviously doing all this stuff outside his district in preparation for a mayoral bid. Isn’t this a case where the Republican is doing the grass-roots work, and the Democrat is hoping for name recognition and big money?

White: My experience with him, which is very small, is that I’ve been told Councilmember DeMaio is a very tenacious campaigner. There’s a lesson from that to be learned by everyone.

Diversionary’s Dooley: Good but Not What It Could Have Been

by Mark Gabrish Conlan

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

I first heard of Dr. Thomas A. Dooley in Robert Scheer’s powerful 1965 pamphlet, How the United States Got Involved in Viet Nam, in which he was treated as a figure of derision. Until then I’d only vaguely been aware of the name — not surprisingly because, though he’d had a shooting-star sort of fame in the 1950’s (indeed, a lot of people — including at least one playgoer at Diversionary Theatre May 16 — had thought the Kingston Trio’s hit song “Tom Dooley” was about him, which it wasn’t; it was actually an adaptation of a Black folk song from the 1890’s, “Tom Dula,” about a lynching victim, but the song’s popularity and the real-life Dooley’s celebrity no doubt had a synergistic effect on each other), he died on January 18, 1961. Scheer had described him as a member of the so-called “Viet Nam Lobby,” along with Lt. Col. Edward Lansdale of the CIA and International Rescue Committee (IRC) founder Dr. Leo Cherne and behind-the-scenes participation by powerful officials in the U.S. Catholic Church, notably Cardinal Francis Spellman, who in the mid-1950’s promoted U.S. aid to South Viet Nam and hailed its Catholic president, Ngo Dinh Diem, as a model reformer and an exemplar of the so-called “Third Way” for the Third World, neither imperialist nor Communist. (Diem turned out to be a typically corrupt Third World caudillo dictator, famous for installing his family members in power, plundering the national treasury, and also giving economic and social preferences to Catholics in a 90 percent Buddhist country.)

As the Viet Nam war receded in my consciousness, so did Dooley — until I read Randy Shilts’ final (and posthumously published) book Conduct Unbecoming, about the history of the ban on Queer people serving in the U.S. military. Relying on the research of journalist Barbara Shaw, Shilts painted a picture of Dooley as a Gay man done in by the U.S. military and its prejudices, thrown out of his position as a U.S. Navy lieutenant in 1956 just as his first book, Deliver Us from Evil, was hitting the best-seller lists and catapulting him to nationwide fame, and given a less-than-honorable discharge which he was literally using the last few weeks of his life (he was diagnosed with cancer in 1959 and died from it less than two years later) to get upgraded to honorable. (The upgrade finally came through just days before he died.) Between those two sources, it occurred to me that Tom Dooley’s life was the stuff of which great drama could be made, if only because it was so full of contradictions: the good little Roman Catholic boy from St. Louis, Missouri; the high-living playboy who nearly washed out of medical school because of his love of upper-class parties; the Navy doctor who threw himself into helping refugees from (North) Viet Nam and who later aspired to do in Laos what Albert Schweitzer had done in Africa; and the great man stricken in his prime by an insidious and tragic disease.

“Naval officer, CIA operative, celebrity, humanitarian, son, playboy, a hero for his time,” the Diversionary Theatre program for the world premiere of William de Canzio’s play Dooley describes him — and President John F. Kennedy (a close personal friend and fellow member of the Viet Nam Lobby) cited Dooley as his inspiration for founding the Peace Corps. There is a great play — and, potentially, an even greater movie — in Dooley’s life, and de Canzio has come up with a sometimes brilliant, sometimes frustrating script that misses as often as it hits. It begins with a sequence showing an actor (Shaun Tuazon) in traditional Southeast Asian theatrical garb — headdress, skirt, heavy bracelets and other jewelry, and little or nothing above the waist — introducing himself as Thanatos, the ancient Greek spirit of death, and brings on two other similarly clad characters described in the program as “Dancing Gods” (Nicholas Strassburg and Jacinto Delgado) before Dooley himself (Robert Borzych) makes his entrance. What’s most frustrating about the play is that it doesn’t need Thanatos or the “Dancing Gods,” who are fun to watch when they do their acrobatics but just take the focus away from where it should be — on Dooley and the contradictions in his life. He’s shown with an overbearing mother, Agnes (Terrill Miller) — who periodically appears to comment on the action (since the real Dooley was usually as far away from St. Louis as he could get, he and his mother are almost never shown together in real time; when both Borzych and Miller are on stage at once, they’re communicating only by letter or phone) — and a Navy command structure he’s too much of a free spirit to fit in comfortably.

As punishment for one too many drinking and screwing bouts in Tokyo, he’s assigned to the U.S.S. Montague for what’s supposed to be a rescue mission in the relatively politically stable Philippines — only just about this time the battle of Dien Bien Phu happens, the French lose the (first) Viet Nam war, the Geneva Accords are signed (the U.S. refuses to sign the final document, more or less agrees to abide by its terms, then organizes a rump “alliance,” the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, to ensure that no other Southeast Asian country is allowed to be taken over, or half-taken over, by a Communist regime) and the Montague is diverted to the North Viet Namese city of Haiphong to process and transport the refugees who want to flee the Communist government and resettle in South Viet Nam. (In the U.S. media at the time this was hailed as the “Flight to Freedom,” and much was made of the fact that one million Viet Namese choose to cross from North to South, while only 100,000 went from South to North. Scheer’s book argued that the North Viet Namese actually wanted their supporters to remain in the south to organize for the elections that were scheduled for 1956 to determine which side would get to govern a reunified Viet Nam — elections almost everyone agreed the North would have won — and which were repeatedly postponed and, in 1959, cancelled altogether; while the people who fled the North for the South were mostly either ones who had worked for the French when they ran Viet Nam as a colony or Roman Catholics fearful of religious persecution under the Communists and attracted to the presence of a Catholic leader in the South.)

Dooley threw himself into the humanitarian work of helping the refugees and Col. Lansdale (the model for the title characters of the novels The Ugly American and The Quiet American) adopted him as a symbol of anti-Communist heroism and international cooperation between the U.S. and a non-Communist “Third Way” government. Through Lansdale’s connections, Dooley’s book Deliver Us from Evil was published and he became a national hero — which de Canzio depicts mostly through the character of Iris (Allison Riley), a rather too broadly characterized grande dame of the New York literary and media scene who worries frantically that he good friend “Clare” (Boothe Luce, whom we never see as an onstage character) will grab her new media star for Time magazine — even while the Navy was mounting an intense investigation of him, including talking an admiral’s son, Jamie (Noah Longton), whom Dooley had a previous affair with, into seducing him again with tape recorders going to capture irrefutable evidence against him.

Historical sources agree that Dooley was Gay but disagree about how aggressive he was about it — he’s been described as everything from a self-hating closet case repressed by his Roman Catholic upbringing and only having furtive, clandestine sexual encounters to a full-flown party boy who regularly sought out underground Gay scenes in Asia, Washington, D.C. and Hollywood. De Canzio gives Dooley a semi-serious Asian boyfriend, Khai (played by Shaun Tuazon, who also appears as “Thanatos”), and portrays both Jamie’s seduction and betrayal of Dooley with real pathos — even though Dooley’s biographers disagree on whether he actually had an affair with an admiral’s son and the assumption in de Canzio’s script that he did turns Dooley a little too closely parallel to the story of Oscar Wilde (and to that of Tchaikovsky, come to think of it) for my taste.

Modern-day Queer playwrights tend to avoid self-hating characters even when dealing with the history of real-life Queers who hated themselves — Paul Rudnick’s Valhalla turned the self-hating Roman Catholic King Ludwig II of Bavaria (who, according to his diaries, financed Wagner because he was convinced the aggressively heterosexual Wagner’s music would turn him straight) into a flaming party boy openly oohing and aahing over the soldiers in the military parades he reviewed as king — and de Canzio is no exception; he gives Dooley some choice lines about why he’s being bounced out of the Navy for sex acts while the person he had sex with gets a promotion for ratting him out (an interesting permutation of the U.S. military’s penchant for identifying one party to a Gay encounter as the seducer and the other party as the victim, which occurs over and over again in proceedings aimed at discharging Gay or supposedly Gay servicepeople), and he gives Lansdale a speech about how stupid the Navy is, especially by comparison to the CIA, which tolerated Gay members as long as they got the job done. (Actually, they didn’t; since one of the theories why Queers were supposedly unsuitable for military service was their vulnerability to blackmail by the nation’s enemies, the CIA would have been about the last place in government to tolerate Queers in the ranks.)

A more tortured, self-conflicted Dooley would have been an even more interesting character than the one de Canzio has given us — and though he hints at it, de Canzio could have made more of Dooley’s gradual turning away from the Cold War certainties of Deliver Us from Evil (there are some wickedly funny lines about the supposed indivisibility of democracy and capitalism, and the U.S.’s obligation not only to wipe out Communism but impose a pax Americana on the world) to a more progressive politics that stressed the need for other countries to find their own paths to good governance that might or might not look like our system. Also, it seems odd that de Canzio has Dooley tell us he was held prisoner for 10 months by the Viet Minh (the Communist movement led by Ho Chi Minh) but doesn’t include a scene actually showing this.

Dooley has the strong production “finish” one expects from Diversionary — Matt Scott’s set is a simple series of slatted panels and doorways that open and close with the unnatural speed of the automatic doors on Star Trek (which were also worked by unseen stagehands); Michelle Caron’s lighting design is surprisingly muted (a sign in the lobby warned that the play used strobe lights, but if so they were used so subtly they were virtually unnoticeable and there was no attempt to use them to suggest being under fire); Blair Robert Nelson, credited with original score and sound design, has come up with an interesting, eclectic and sometimes apropos collection of songs from Dooley’s era (though the use of something as light as Louis Armstrong’s “Jeepers Creepers” as outro music is a mistake); director Cynthia Stokes does the best she can with the jarring dancing-gods scenes (which seem to exist only because de Canzio wanted to establish a sense of “Asianicity”) and stages the rest simply and eloquently; and the cast is stunning.

Robert Borzych actually looks like the real Dooley (at least judging by the photo on the Wikipedia page for Dooley) and he acts the part de Canzio created with power and authority — he could have been even better in a deeper, richer, more eloquent version of Dooley’s life — and the other standouts in the cast are Tuazon as Khai and Reed Willard in a dual role as one of Dooley’s Navy drinking buddies and one of his inquisitors. Dooley is a frustrating play because it’s good as it stands but one keeps asking oneself, “What if … ” — specifically, what if de Canzio had put greater trust in the reality of Dooley’s story instead of throwing in the superfluous Vietnamoiserie scenes and giving him too much of the sensibility of a modern-day crusader against military homophobia instead of the tortured, conflicted man he really was.

Dooley is playing through Sunday, May 29 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard in University Heights. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays. For tickets and other information, please call (619) 220-0097 or visit http://www.diversionary.org/

Saturday, May 07, 2011
















San Diego Hosts Three May Day Rallies

Speakers Seek to Build Connections Between Progressive Communities


by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

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

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Marching to the Federal Building; at the Federal Building (2 photos); May 1 Coalition; Carlos Pelayo; Martin Eder; Michael Anderson; Jeffrey; at the Civic Center (4 photos); Christian Ramirez and Lisa Maldonado; Lara Moreno; Greg Robinson

San Diego’s progressive community and labor movement had a hard time getting it together for May Day. After attempts to pull together a single powerful march and rally failed, various organizations — including labor, Latino groups like the nationalist Union del Barrio and socialist parties — put together a series of events. The Union del Barrio action began with a march from Chicano Park to downtown, while labor and the general Left assembled for a rally in Balboa Park between the Centro Cultural de la Raza and World Beat Center and marched to the Federal Building downtown, where they held another rally, following which they converged on the San Diego Community Concourse to meet the Union del Barrio march as it came in for their own rally.

The speakers at the Federal Building and the Community Concourse — which they had to share with the audience for the San Diego Opera’s final performance of Gounod’s Faust (a number of opera-goers muttered hostile comments about the May Day demonstrators) and food concession booths for a martial-arts convention in Golden Hall — tried to bring together various progressive issues. At times the rallies sounded like “The Left’s Greatest Hits” compilations, as the speakers attempted to link assaults on workers’ rights to bargain collectively, the record numbers of immigrants deported by President Obama’s administration, the continuation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and the new war Obama started in Libya), cutbacks in education funding and tuition increases at public colleges, marriage equality for same-sex couples and other progressive issues into a unified struggle.

Labor leader Carlos Pelayo told the audience at the Federal Building that San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, who’s pushing an initiative to abolish defined-benefit pensions for new city workers and put them all on 401(k) plans, will leave them with “nothing” on which to retire because San Diego’s workers don’t get Social Security benefits either. “We see a service economy and outsourcing of city jobs at sub-union wages,” Pelayo said. He also mentioned that the workers at the major chain grocery stores in San Diego — Vons, Ralph’s and Albertson’s — recently voted to authorize a strike, and said “we need to be there when the grocery workers go out” so they don’t lose the strike as badly as they did in 2003.

Pelayo also criticized the Obama administration for giving “a lot of lip service” to supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would have made it easier for U.S. workers to organize unions. He also said many unions are themselves acting hypocritically by fighting their own staffs’ organizing efforts. “We need to start moving forward,” he said. “We’ve talked about immigrant workers bringing May Day to this country” — ironic because the first proclamation of May Day as a workers’ holiday came from an American, Terence V. Powderly of the Knights of Labor, in 1886 — “and we are not bringing union history into the classroom even though most teachers are union members.”

José Medina of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) pointed out that his group and other Queer organizations have supported labor boycotts in San Diego, including one against hotel owner Doug Manchester — who’s not only anti-union but also contributed a six-figure sum to get Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, on the ballot. Medina also pointed to Queer support of labor boycotts against Fiesta del Rey in Old Town and Channel 10 news, and later at the Community Concourse he held a “Boycott Channel 10” sign in front of a Channel 10 camera to prevent them from being able to film the event. “On September 22, 2010, when a Gay health care convention occurred at the [Manchester-owned] Westin Hotel, S.A.M.E. picketed with such fury the convention organizers met the next day and promised never to break that boycott again,” Medina said.

“The world is in crisis,” said Martin Eder, founder and director of Activist San Diego but speaking on this occasion for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO). “The social movements are our only salvation. The Left needs to present a vision of what the world should be. Che Guevara said that all true revolutionaries are motivated by the power of love. We’re out here through a great love of the people, and if we listen carefully we will hear people on May Day declaring themselves for peace, justice, freedom and a new society with no exploitation. More than anything, as a San Diego community it’s up to us to build a united front against the oppressor, and to show how moneyed capitalism has stolen all the good things of the world from us, and brainwashed us to accept it.”

Michael Anderson, a founder of S.A.M.E. who with his partner Brian Baumgardner kicked off the Equality 9 demonstration last August when they went to the County Administrative Center and asked for a marriage license — instead, they and seven other S.A.M.E. members were arrested — spoke on behalf of a far more famous political prisoner, alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning. According to Anderson, not only is Manning facing 22 charges — some of which carry the death penalty — but he’s being held in solitary confinement. What’s more, President Obama has publicly declared that Manning “broke the law” — which, Anderson argued, makes it impossible for him to get a fair trial because he’s subject to military justice, and the officers who will try his case will inevitably be swayed by their commander-in-chief’s declaration that he’s guilty.

According to Anderson, Manning is really on trial for having exposed the “criminal” nature of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of WikiLeaks’ most famous posts was video of U.S. troops in Iraq shooting down innocent civilians from a helicopter, which later became the basis of a short film called Collateral Murder. WikiLeaks also published U.S. war plans for Afghanistan and, Anderson said, exposed “the policy of [creating] civilian casualties” through indiscriminate drone attacks. “Obama says Manning ‘broke the law,’” Anderson stated. “Where is the law for unarmed civilians shot down from Apache helicopters? Where is the law for the people who ordered the attacks? Where is the law for Obama and the U.S. government?” Anderson called on the government to drop all charges against Manning and release him immediately.

One of the most unexpectedly powerful speakers at the Federal Building was a man who identified himself only as Jeffrey from the recently formed group US Uncut. It’s an offshoot of a successful campaign in Great Britain, UK Uncut, that targets corporations who use legal loopholes to pay little or no taxes. It was inspired in Britain by the sweeping cutbacks in education and social services being made by David Cameron’s Conservative government, and it points out that virtually all the cuts could be restored if the companies they targeted were paying their fair share of taxes. American activists have been inspired to do similar actions against companies like General Electric (a major defense contractor and, until recently, the owners of NBC and Universal) that pay no federal taxes.

Though Jeffrey said he wasn’t used to public speaking and was nervous about doing so, he was actually quite eloquent. He pointed to his admiration for the original Star Trek TV show — which was visible in the yellow Star Trek jersey he was wearing — and said he remembered growing up on that show and in particular taking to heart its Prime Directive “to mind our own business” and not to interfere in the affairs of other countries — or other planets. He also quoted a line of the character of Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner: “In every revolution there’s one man with a vision” — and proceeded to outline a vision of America vastly different from the Tea Party’s call for a return to the 19th century and its understanding of the Constitution.

“Our vision is not of America as it was, and it’s certainly not what it is today, but what it still could be,” Jeffrey said, “a nation that by allowing us to pursue our best destiny fulfills its promise and becomes America’ best destiny. America’s best destiny is as a nation that remembers the preamble to the Constitution, particularly ‘to promote the general welfare.’ It is a vision that says there will be work that allows for me to care for my family and raise my children. There will be an opportunity to start and maintain my own business, if I choose. There will be schools and teachers that help me and my children to be smarter and wiser every day we want to learn. There is a commitment that the basic health of everyone is never superseded by the privilege of profit. There is protection from the greed of evil men who value profit over equality and social justice, and it will be enforced.”

Abel Macias, a teacher at Mesa College in the San Diego Community College District, talked about how budget cuts have forced the cancellation of summer classes, not only putting him out of work until the fall but also inconveniencing students who want to get ahead ¬— all while the U.S. spends trillions of dollars making war on Afghanistan and Iraq. “It may seem distant because your house is not being bombed,” he said, “but we are being attacked in the U.S. every day. We should be spending that money in this country. They shouldn’t be sending our brothers and sisters to die in that criminal war.” Macias also said that — despite the allegation the Right often makes against the Left of engaging in “class warfare” — that there really is a class war in the U.S., and “to the ruling class you’re just a part of the machinery.”

The event at the Community Concourse was co-M.C.’d by former San Diego City Council candidate Christian Ramirez and Lisa Maldonado, program coordinator of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. It featured a coordinated campaign to get the San Diego City Council to pass a resolution supporting the right of public workers to organize unions and bargain collectively — something the Councilmembers, including Democrats elected with union support, have so far been unwilling to do — and also to stop the city from impounding vehicles owned by undocumented immigrants.

“Working families did not create this budget crisis,” said student activist Lara Moreno. “Wall Street created this crisis. Education is our right, and we will fight for our access to a four-year institution. Our responsibility is to keep the university doors open to our children. Workers, students and people of faith are standing together. We are workers; we are one.”

“The workers are owed a big kiss from the elite,” said Greg Robinson, political director for local 131 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). “We are systematically under attack. But there’s a solution. It’s called solidarity. The union movement is rediscovering that. I come from a working-class family and the dad said the thing you have to watch out for is the attitude of, ‘Fuck you, Jack, I’ve got mine.’ That is the mentality of all too many of us. In Wisconsin they pitted police officers and firefighters against teachers and social workers. We pit people with health care against people without it. We pit documented workers against undocumented workers. That has to stop.”

“Here we are, having to push back in the same fight our fathers and grandfathers fought,” said Frank Petaro, city carpenter and member of local 127 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). “Public employees have become the scapegoats for the city’s problems. We’ve had no increase in health benefits for 10 years, no wage increases for five years, and we have employees who qualify for food stamps. While the city builds Petco Park, the new library and a bridge to Harbor Drive, they take it out on the lowest-paid workers. Twenty years ago, the city workers gave up Social Security to have health care for life, and now they say they won’t pay for it. We can no longer stand as individuals. Together, we must stand for workers.”