All posts by ca.ericlee

Students, Gavin Newsom, and the 2010 CDP Convention

After the preparations had been made, the tally sheets from our phone calls completed, the carpools worked out, and the volunteers scheduled, I headed to Los Angeles with the hope that after the weekend was complete, there would be no question in the minds of the CDP delegates that Gavin Newsom has the grassroots support necessary to win the Lt. Governor’s race against whatever the GOP throws at us in November.

In the weeks prior to the convention, our team of students from all across the state had been talking to delegates, volunteers, and fellow young voters about Mayor Newsom’s candidacy and about his bold, new ideas that will be required to dig California out of our seemingly never ending state of economic misery.

The pitch was not hard to make. Young people are drawn to Newsom’s campaign. We see public higher education becoming unaffordable to more and more Californians. We fear that in five or ten years our state won’t be able to compete in an evolving global economy, and we worry that the living wage jobs that we will need in order to support our families will be harder and harder to find. While we are confident that our state will come to its senses when it comes to Gay Marriage and LGBT rights, we are concerned that the relentless beat of the status quo won’t provide the framework necessary to drastically change the way we look at issues like immigration, the environment, and budget & tax reform. We have watched the forces of regressiveness drag our state (and our futures) under the surface, and we are ready and eager to support Gavin Newsom, who has proven time and time again in San Francisco that tangible change is not only possible, but it is also necessary.

This is why over 100 enthusiastic volunteers showed up to the state Democratic Party convention this weekend in support of Gavin Newsom. If you were in LA, you may have seen us trailing the candidate as he greeted throngs of excited delegates in the hallways, waiting in the back of crowded caucus rooms to welcome him and hear him speak, or waving signs and holding coffees while passing out muffins on a street corner early on Saturday morning.

The high number of young people supporting Gavin Newsom’s campaign for LG is a testament to the appeal of his dynamic candidacy and engaging personality. Young voters are the bellwether of the coming decades of California Politics, and we are ready to not only vote for, but also work to produce real change. We came out in full force for President Obama, we overwhelmingly opposed Props 4 and 8, and we vented our fear and anger over cuts to higher education during protests up and down the state this past year.

Young people have proven over the last two years that we are ready to lead the next wave of progressive politics in this state. We look at Sacramento and see a broken system that needs fixing, quickly. Income inequality is on the rise, unemployment is approaching record highs, and an archaic budget and tax code protects the interests of the most conservative politicians in the state and stifles any hope of reform. At the same time, we turn to San Francisco and see a city with universal healthcare, universal pre-school, paid sick-leave, and the highest minimum wage in the nation, and we are given a reason to have hope for the future. Because of his track record, my generation feels that we share a vision for the future with Gavin Newsom.  Because of this, we are ready to ensure that he has the opportunity to prove himself on a statewide level. If you were at the convention last weekend, you may have caught a glimpse of that.

You can join Students for Gavin Newsom on Facebook:

The Day Democracy Died

Corporations are not people. They do not breathe, they do not eat, they do not think. They exist only on paper. They are contractual agreements in which people unite their efforts in order to do one thing and one thing only: make money.

Therefore, corporations should not have the same rights that people do. But as of today, that’s not how the Supreme Court of the United States sees things. Corporations are now essentially the fourth (or fifth) branch of government. Out of their endlessly deep pockets will come a barrage of TV ads, mailers, billboards, perhaps even canvassers, that will change the political system forever.

Since corporations exist only to make a profit, then they have no stake in community, in the general well-beings of society, or in the health and happiness of individual people. As long as people have enough money to consume and invest, the corporation will thrive. In America, the government has often imposed successful regulations to harness the power of corporations and protect consumers and investors from the runaway clout of the corporation. Politicians have run on platforms of community preservation, consumer protection, and ensuring smart and safe business regulations.

Now, those politicians will find it much more difficult to get elected. They will fade from the spotlight, and American government will become dominated by those that manage to garner the financial backing of the corporation.

It is a sad, real fact of life that elections are won with money, with very little respect to how authentic or ethical a candidate is. With corporations pouring money alongside candidates that they know will “stand up for business”, the corporation may very well become stronger than government itself. If each representative needs the support of the corporation in order to win re-election, one will be hard pressed to find a candidate that is strong enough (or financially stable enough) to stand up to the interests of the corporation.

Once again, corporations should not have rights. But shareholders should. Those that lead the corporation are indebted to the shareholders. Their salaries, bonuses, and benefits depend on how well they please and draw-in investors. Many of us citizens are investors, saving up for a child’s college fund or preparing for our retirement. CEOs and other corporate execs are supposed to report to us. When we buy and sell stocks, we take part in the process that fosters corporate greed. We may lament the fact that corporations are greedy and do whatever they can to make a profit regardless of the impact their actions have on peoples’ lives, but in reality, we buy into this process because it helps us pay the bills and might give us a shot at living a life in safety and security.

But now, we’ve lost control of the vanguard: government. Slowly, candidates and electeds that don’t support business will fall out of politics. Parties will tailor their platforms so that they are kept in the loop of corporate backing. It will be a concession that party leadership will feel it needs to make in order to have a chance at staying in power.

When this happens, the link between corporation and state will be sealed. The scary thing is that we the people will, at least superficially, be pleased. We will have lower consumer prices, more opportunities to invest, and perhaps even some degree of social mobility. But this will fade. Unionization, a process which tragically has been kicked out of the circle of influence to some degree, will become a thing of the past. Labor is no match for the fat checkbooks of the S&P 500. Jobs will continue to go overseas. Service sector jobs will be all that remain. Income inequality, which has already shot up steadily since the 70s and 80s, will continue to grow.

All the while, we will be content, because our cars will become cheaper, our clothes will become cheaper, and we will reap the benefits of the expanding entertainment world.

But, almost as Orwell said, if there is hope, it lies in the shareholders. The people need to recognize that they have a direct vested interest in protecting their rights as citizens, not just as consumers. Cheap consumer goods are nice, but what will they mean if we have no power to stand up to the machine of corporatism that will control wages, regulations, and government spending.

The outlook isn’t pretty after today. Elections will never work in the same way as they have before, and power has taken a giant swing towards the right. Let’s hope that people recognize that they are still the real vanguard of our democracy. As long as we are the backbone of public corporations, we have the right as human beings, to demand that corporations take a new approach.  

Where Have You Gone, Saul Alinksy?

       California needs a knight in shining armor to deliver it from the forces of budget shortfalls, program cuts, and sub-15% legislative approval ratings.

       At first, I thought our hope was Gavin Newsom, but his departure from the Governor’s race leaves a handful of candidates on both sides that seem inherently opposed to doing the one thing that could save this state: raising revenue.

      So, who is going to carry the baton? Where is our saving grace, and when will he/she hurry their butt up and save us from sinking further and further into debt and depression?

     One person who could posthumanly save the State of California is Saul Alinsky. Deemed by many as the “father of community organizing”, Alinsky helped organize the Back of the Yards area of Chicago introduced to the national stage by Sinclair’s “The Jungle”.

      Alinsky passed away in 1972 (in Carmel-By-The-Sea), but his revolutionary tactics for mobilizing the masses have time and time again generated the true catalyst for change: Friction. Given the current economic situation in this state, Lord knows we need something.


       According to PPIC, the average income for a family of four in the lowest 10% bracket dropped 24% to just above $11,000 between 1967 and 1994, while the income for a family of four in the top 10% rose 35% to over $110,000. This was the situation in 1994. I don’t have numbers for more recently, but one can only imagine.  

       In times like this, when the gap between rich and poor is widening at an increasingly alarming rate, it is imperative that we create some friction. We are now beyond the point of using words like “if” and “should”. Rather, we need to use democracy to our advantage to get rid of the anti-tax BS that, to use a strong but justified word, oppresses working Californians and limits their access to life, liberty, and slows their pursuit of happiness.

       The goal, then, needs to be to educate Californians that revenue supports the programs that provide and create more diffusible social classes, and hence, that make the California Dream a reality.

       We’re not asking for a miracle, we’re only asking that people who are hurt by program cuts recognize this and mobilize to protect their interests!

This is the struggle that encompasses almost all Californians. The middle class suburban family in the Bay Area relies on K-12 education just as much as the immigrant family from the Imperial Valley does. The elderly couple that lost their eligibility for Medicare is hurt just as badly as the state worker who is furloughed four days a month and on top of that has to pay 32% more to send their kid to a UC, CSU, or Community College. Why are these people given the bill while Chevron pays $0.00/year to drill oil from the earth and Bank of America is able to raise interest rates at their own whim? More importantly, why are Californians letting this happen when it so obviously against their best interests?

       So, what do you think, Saul Alinsky?


This, then, is our real job-the opportunity to work directly with our people. It is the breaking down of the feeling on the part of our people that they are social automatons with no stake in the future, rather than human beings in possession of all the responsibility, strength, and human dignity which constitute the heritage of free citizens of a democracy. This can be done only through the democratic organization of our people for democracy.

-Saul Alinsky, 1969.

       Sacramento has made it apparent that it isn’t going to make any real attempt at reforming itself. That said, we live in a democracy, and if we can make the point that change isn’t an option, it is a necessity, then maybe we’ll see some action from our electeds.

       So, it’s not Saul Alinsky we’re waiting for; we’re waiting for the People of California to wake up and take their state back. I’m ready.

A UC Student’s Perspective on the Fee Increase Fight.


   On November 19th, 52 UC Davis students were arrested after peacefully protesting the new 32% fee increases established by the UC Regents. As a second year undergraduate, I was hopeful that students were beginning to see the bigger picture: California is broken.

   Students, so far, have been forcing most of the blame on the UC Regents. While it is true that the 20 Regents who voted for the increase certainly deserve a heaving portion of the blame for borrowing tens of millions (from a non-CA bank, NY Merrill Trust) while forcing students into a cycle of debt in order to protect UC’s eerily superb bond rating, the only way for students to move towards enacting change is to recognize that UC’s woes are symptomatic of the larger disease that has infected the entire state.

   The UC student, to widen the umbrella for a movement that might have the capability of rallying support for reform, should understand that he or she risks turning people off by angling attacks towards the Regents and the Regents only. It is important to recognize that while it is a travesty that UC is becoming an unaffordable option for many California families, it is nearsighted to think that UC fees are anything more than a slice of the pie that is California’s broken political system. The state workers that have been furloughed, the elderly Californians that are losing their access to Medicare, the thousands of previously middle-class Californians that have had their homes foreclosed, and the over 12% of California that is unemployed might tell students that UC is not the only government program that is underfunded, mismanaged, and increasingly unavailable to the people who need it.


 To the single mother making $30,000 a year or the undocumented immigrant working in poor labor conditions for a less-than-legal salary, the plight of the students might seem distant and unimportant. The reality of the situation is that students are making valid points, but they are doing so in a way that turns off the millions of Californians that should be turned on by the students’ overarching message of reforming California.

   When the student recognizes that the immediate and long term problems caused by UC’s fee increases are tied together with the struggles of working families, immigrants, the elderly, homeowners, borrowers, the unemployed, water drinkers, and dozens of other California communities and interest groups, then, perhaps, we will see forward progress.

   The first point that needs to be made by students (that might catch on) is that the programs that made our state great in the 50s and 60s cannot continue to exist without proper funding.

   The message should be loud and clear: raising revenue does not mean higher taxes for everybody, it means looking at who and what gets taxed in this state, and what kind of people are hurt when programs lose funding. Here are three problems that have been generally accepted among the progressive community to be at the heart of the problem:

   Lack of an oil-severance tax in California. Who wins? Big Oil. Who loses? The People. AB 656 (Torrico) would use a 9.9% tax on Gross Product to generate up to $1 billion annually for programs like UC, CSU and CCC.

   2/3rds majority required to pass anything that raises revenue. Who wins? The CaGOP and Big Business. Who loses? Again, The People. Republicans who are indebted to special interest groups that represent Big Business are able to crush the programs that help make the California Dream a reality for many working Californians. AB 656 is expected to be an easy kill for the Republican minority, even though California is the only state in the union that does not have an oil severance tax (including Sarah’s AK and GWB’s TX).

   Proposition 13. Who wins? Big Business. Who Loses? The People. The remains of the Jarvis Taxpayer Revolution act as the most regressive and harmful tax policy in the state. With the veil of providing economic safety for elderly residents without a fixed income, the anti-tax era cursed California’s future with budget shortfalls and program cuts. It is apparent, now, that Californians can’t have our cake and eat it, too.

   So, students should be asking the question: Why is it that Chevron, Monsanto, and Walmart are allowed to raise revenue while the State of California isn’t? Why is it that CEOs are getting pay raises while the People are getting both pay cuts and program cuts?

   The students are right: the State of California has left them for dead, but they are not alone. Almost every Californian uses some sort of state-sponsored program, whether that be a UC, a public elementary school, a library, or the DMV. If you’re one of those people, and if you haven’t gotten a pay raise, then you should be ticked off, too.