Tag Archives: grassroots

Occupy Los Angeles – The Beginning Is Near

Yesterday, after nearly three hours of debate, the LA City Council approved a resolution formally endorsing the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

The resolution was introduced last week by councilmembers Richard Alarcon and Bill Rosendahl. It seeks to address “the City’s position to support the First Amendment Rights carried out by ‘Occupy Los Angeles,'” according to the L.A. City Council Agenda.

The recommendation supports the continuation of peaceful protests and advises the city departments to bring the already-approved Responsible Banking measure up for a final vote before the council by the end of October.

The council members saidthe Responsible Banking measure will alleviate some of the concerns of the downtown demonstrators. The measure demands accountability and results from banks supported by taxpayer dollars.

The responsible banking ordinance will score banks based on the number of home loan modifications accommodated, the number and location of its branches and how they contribute to affordable housing.

See more by clicking “There’s more.”

The Responsible Banking Ordinance is in direct response to the story of Rose Gudiel, a 35-year-old state government employee, who refused to leave her foreclosed home in La Puente..

Gudiel set off a massive protest and media frenzy when people got wind of the foreclosure of her home, which Guidel has shared with her disabled mother and other relatives for ten years. A coalition of activists kept a round-the clock vigil outside the Bel-Air mansion of the president of OneWest Bank that had initiated foreclosure proceedings. From there, they moved to the sidewalk outside Fannie Mae’s office in Pasadena, after discovering the government-sponsored lender had taken over Gudiel’s loan. Another group surrounded Gudiel’s house, pledging to risk arrest if sheriff deputies tried to evict the family, including her wheelchair-bound mother.

Police arrested Gudiel and five others when they refused to leave. In the end, Gudiel prevailed, bank executives relented and she remains in her house.

I shot the video above in downtown Los Angeles on October 8th and 9th, 2011. OccupyLA had already been camped out at Los Angeles City Hall for two weeks, hundreds of tents surrounded the building.

For a “leaderless” movement, the activists are incredibly organized. Already they have a media tent, kitchen tent, first aide center and a lender library. Monetary donations are meticulously recorded and receipts given back to the donors. Their A/V systems are solar powered. Crews of organizers patrol the grounds, cleaning up refuse, recycling cans and bottles. They hope to have a weekly newspaper up and running in the next few days.

I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but I was excited by what I saw. Thousands of people rallied or visited the tent city while I was there. Conversations were numerous, anger was tangible, and hope was still very much alive.

If we’re lucky, what we are witnessing is the rebirth of the American Dream in a new generation. The road will be long, the going hard. They will need our help, and we must not fail them.

Click on these links to find out what you can do to help.

On the web:




On Twitter:

hashtag: #ows



The Real Story On The Lakoff Initiative

(There’s an Act Blue page soliciting funds to take a poll on the Lakoff Initiative)

You may have seen me live-tweeting the events last night at SEIU Local 721 in LA, where Professor George Lakoff and the folks behind CA Majority Rule met with around 200 activists, union members, elected officials, legislative candidates, representatives from Speaker Bass’ office, and more, to talk about the just-released proposed November 2010 initiative on majority rule.  If you read through both the live tweets and Dante Atkins’ notes on the meeting, I think you get a picture of a potential split inside the California Democratic Party, one that could have major implications for all elections next year.

It should be noted that CDP Vice-Chair Eric Bauman was there to offer support.  He gave a typical stump speech and said very plainly that “the reason you’re here tonight is the solution” to the problems that grip the state, problems he laid out very carefully and completely.  He was honest in saying that any Democrat who opposes this kind of measure will be told that “vertebra are available for installation… I think the chiropractor’s lobby can help us with that.”  He made clear that we don’t have a spending problem, “we have a common sense problem,” and he pushed everyone in the room to work toward a real solution.

But Professor Lakoff’s speech seemed to capture the dynamic between the grassroots and the establishment much better.  Lakoff opened by talking about the origins of the initiative that he filed yesterday:

I got into this last spring when Lonnie Hancock invited me to speak to a group of State Senators.  And I said, what’s the problem, you’re the majority!  And they said they don’t have any power.  And they explained the whole 2/3rds rule, and how the leadership has to work with them because we want to lose as little as possible.

And I asked, why aren’t you in every assembly district explaining this problem?  It’s about schools, healthcare, everything, and there’s no answer.  I went back and said that there’s something really wrong.  Its name is democracy […] Which is more Democratic?  Majority rule, or minority rule?  You knew the answer from the 3rd grade on.  Even Republicans know the answer but they don’t like to.  We know there will be a blowback if we try to change things, but the hardest blowback is coming from our side.  The reason that Loni Hancock invited me was that there was a  poll done by a progressive organization, and it asked the wrong question.

This is my business.  Studying language and the framing behind language.  If someone presented you with the poll question: would you rather have more taxes and higher services, or fewer taxes and less services.  Obviously, it went with the latter.  And the legislature concluded that they shouldn’t put anything about taxes on the 2010 ballot.  Why do they think that?  Because they think that polls are objective, and that language just floats out there.  They’re wrong.  Language is not neutral.  There’s a truth here that that language hides.  It’s the truth that we don’t have Democracy in this state.  We have minority rule.

In response, because nobody else would do so, Lakoff’s initiative reads: “All Legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by majority vote.”  It’s tweetable and it’s fairly simple to understand.  It’s framed as a democratic action to return the state to democratic rule.  And it appeals very much to those interested in preserving democracy.

Which is the consensus opinion inside the Democratic Party.  We know this because, back in July, the state party passed a resolution calling for majority rule for budget and revenue.  And it didn’t pass with contentious debate – it passed unanimously.  One of the very few people to speak out against it was the Party Chair, John Burton.  But the rank and file supported it utterly.

It was something of a reversal for Burton, who when he was trying to get the votes of those rank and file supported a majority vote position.  Now he’s seen some polls and decided to take half a bite out of the apple.  Lakoff described his exceedingly short meeting with Burton last night.

Burton wouldn’t talk to me for more than a minute.  He just said that he saw the polls, and it said 55% on budget and nothing on taxes.  How many of you were at the state convention?  You voted on a resolution about this.  How did that resolution come before you?  The resolutions committee.  And that was the point.  We got the resolutions committee to do it and got a standing ovation.  The rank and file Democrats know it’s the right thing to do and they have to tell their leaders.  So how do you change this?  You have to have a poll, but you have to have pressure.  The major donors have to call Burton and say, if you want any money from me, you get behind this.  And he has to hear that from donor after donor and organization after organization.  We have to win in our own party first.  I think John Burton is a good person, same with Bass and Steinberg.  It’s the good people that we have to win over first.

Later, a woman from AFSCME asserted that Willie Pelote was willing to give $1 million dollars to a majority vote campaign until Burton called him and told him to forget it.

You can argue about what the most effective approach is to deal with California’s budget dysfunction.  We’ve been doing that all week.  You could say that leaders must prepare the ground by tying things Californians want to revenue, and tell the story of Republicans thwarting the popular will.  You can say that we need to throw out the Constitution and move straight to a convention.  But what becomes incredibly clear is that there is a groundswell of support inside the party for a simple move to restore democracy to the state, and if the establishment in Sacramento rejects that, in particular John Burton, the subsequent outrage will have a major impact on grassroots support for all Democratic candidates next year.  There’s just no question about this.  The grassroots already feels disrespected and abused by the leadership.  They got Hillary Crosby into a statewide officer position based on just this kind of frustration.  They feel that one of the richest economies in the world is run like a third-world country, and they know that they will never change that when procedural rules force Democrats into a defensive crouch, where they see their role as losing as little as possible.  This split will grow and branch out into statewide officer races, legislative races, etc.  The grassroots workhorses won’t be very inclined to work so hard for a Party that disrespects them and fails to act in their stated interests.  Not to mention the fact that everyone knows that, while we wait another Friedman Unit until the electorate figures out the problem on their own, people will suffer from budget cuts, people will go bankrupt, and people will die.

The CA Majority Rule team has a multi-pronged strategy.  One, they are raising money for this poll, to try and prove that a properly framed set of questions will elicit the desired results.  Two, they will put Speaker’s Bureaus together in every district in California with people who can talk about majority rule and restoring democracy, complete with real-world examples of the fruit of the state’s dysfunction.  Three, they will seek to pass endorsements of the one-line majority rule initiative in every Democratic club and county committee in California.  There’s an executive board meeting coming up in November where this will probably come to a crescendo, too.

The real story of the Lakoff initiative is a story about rank and file Democrats wanting their leaders to follow their will.  You can argue about tactics or strategy or approach, but that’s what it boils down to.  And the party leadership had better take heed.

Real Grassroots Progressive Action On Repairing California

It’s taken the proposed destruction of practically the entire social safety net in California for progressives both inside and outside the political system to fight back.  I’m actually more heartened by the work done outside it.  I expect Lenny Goldberg to come up with a great alternative budget calling for tax fairness, and end to corporate welfare and a government for all the people instead of the rich.  I expect Jean Ross to do the same, as well as AFSCME.  They’re all good proposals, but this is what they are paid to do.  What I don’t expect, and what I haven’t seen, is a citizen’s movement to rival the institutional  and advocacy machinery.  The Fix the California Budget Facebook page is really one of the first such grassroots pushes I’ve seen in recent memory.

Californians deserve real solutions to the budget deficit. Responding to our economic crisis with an all-cuts budget will only make the state’s problems worse. Deep cuts to vital programs undermine our economic recovery and President Obama’s investment in economic stimulus, disproportionately harm the most vulnerable Californians, and go against our core values.

More than 70 percent of voters sat out the May 19 special election because it is the Governor and Legislature’s job to fix the budget. Polls show the defeat of the initiatives was neither an endorsement of an all-cuts approach nor a rejection of raising revenues.

Under Governor Schwarzenegger, we have suffered $23 billion in spending cuts in the current budget year alone. Additional drastic cuts will irrevocably change the state we love. Californians support and deserve a state that provides for the common good and the needs of our residents, and we need to pursue realistic revenue solutions that will protect our shared priorities. Cuts are not the only option!

Our state needs courageous leadership. We will support those who stand against an all-cuts budget, speak out for fair ways of raising revenue, and work to deliver a budget that invests in our future and protects all the people of our state. True leaders get their strength from the people they represent. We pledge to be that strength, and mobilize to support a sensible budget solution.

The specific action items are to call your lawmaker and provide that counter-weight to the internal pressure to support the all-cuts approach.  They reference the majority-vote fee increase as a legitimate option that must be put before the Governor in place of the worst cuts.  County Democratic Chairs and local activists are actually driving the pressure from below, rather than having solutions imposed upon them.

This represents an opportunity.  It doesn’t mean we win this fight – we’re going to lose more than we win at first.  And in a way, this is the corporate “reform” community’s worst nightmare – the Bay Area Council and California Forward would rather drive the reform process themselves and keep it within their own particular boundaries.  But we can build a movement of a newly-roused core group of activists committed to setting California on the right path by restoring democracy, eliminating the conservative veto and reforming the broken system.  This is a first step.

SEIU Money Drops Into No on 1A

The SEIU donated $500,000 to the No on 1A campaign, the first truly major expenditure by any group against the ballot measures on May 19.  The No on 1A campaign now hold about $1 million in their bank account.  While this is dwarfed by the money dumped into the Yes campaign by, among other groups, the CTA, billionaires like Jerry Perenchio, and Chevron, given the attitudes of the electorate even a little money on the No side could be enough to stop the onslaught and tip these measures.  Politicos understand this fairly well:

“It just got a lot harder,” said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and a former Republican strategist.

“The biggest advantage the proponents have had all along is the lack of a well-funded opposition,” Schnur said. “Historically, you don’t need to outspend ballot measures to beat them, and in a low-turnout election this is a decent amount of money.” […]

“Right now there’s a tremendous tendency to reject anything out of Sacramento,” said Republican strategist Dave Gilliard.

Good for the SacBee, by the way, for pointing out that Prop. 1A “has a long-term impact and would not directly alter the budget until 2011.”

I’ve been speaking at a lot of grassroots Democratic groups against these measures, purely on the public policy merits, and the overriding sentiment I’m seeing out there lines up with what Dave Gilliard says there.  The disconnect between the establishment and the grassroots is truly striking.  People don’t feel like their concerns have been met, either this year or for the last thirty, really.  They see another layer of budget dysfunction forced upon the voters that fails to get at the structural problems.  And now, they’re starting to see their voices manifested with action, as well as the mother’s milk of California politics, money.

The Tension Behind Bay Area Reporter’s Story on Grassroots Growing Pains

Today, Seth Hemmelgarn of the Bay Area Reporter (BAR) ran a story titled “Growing pains seen in grassroots work” which describes some of the tension in the marriage equality movement as the power begins to shift from the old guard leadership to the new generation of powerful grassroots leaders heading the charge for change.

Specifically, the story focuses on Robin McGehee, the head organizer for the large event “Meet in the Middle 4 Equality” or known as MITM. (Disclosure: Unite the Fight is the official blog covering the event.) The tension described in the story rose when Robin was informed by local community member Sandy O'Neill of Visalia, CA, that Geoff Kors, President of Equality California (EQCA), had mentioned to her at the Dinah Shore fundraising event in Palm Springs that they were supporting buses to transport people to Fresno for MITM. In fact, no monetary support from EQCA for the event had been given.

“I went [to the Dinah Shore fundraiser] to tell Geoff and Kate [Kendall, Exec. Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)] how excited I was to see MITM on their websites, especially after their absence in the valley during the No on 8 Campaign,” Sandy told Unite the Fight.

She says Kate sat with her and her wife at their table talking about the movement and MITM and that then she had a chance to talk to Kors. When she brought MITM up to Kors, Sandy quoted him as saying, “Yeah, we're providing the buses for that.”

Kors told Unite the Fight, “I don't recall having this conversation. There was no such commitment.”

“Reason it sticks in my mind is I just read about those buses coming from other cities on the MITM website. 'How are we going to pay for that?' I thought. I assumed it would be the community paying for that,” says Sandy. “When Geoff said they were providing the buses, I thought, 'Oh, that's how.'” Sandy then emailed Robin congratulating her on the support from EQCA. This was what took Robin by surprise.

Robin told Unite the Fight that Equality California first contacted Robin last month after having been asked what they knew about MITM. Not knowing much about the event up to this point, EQCA reached out. Says Robin, “They did contact me last month and asked how they could help. We gave them several options, one being financial support if possible. We mentioned that grassroots groups, such as Courage Campaign and White Knot, had donated money for operating costs and that if they knew someone willing to give, that would be great because most of the cost was going on my credit card.”

Currently, MITM is costing $19,000 and growing.

Robin is known for direct responses and cutting to the heart of the matter. So when asked by Bay Area Reporter Seth Hemmelgarn if EQCA was financially contributing to this large scale event, Robin said no. In an attempt to explain that the financial support might still be coming, Robin explained that she was told by a local community member, Sandy, who attended the above mentioned fundraiser, that EQCA had stated they would be supporting the event with buses. But, as the lead organizer of the event, she had no details to that account.

Frustrations with EQCA and the No on 8 Campaign in the Central Valley stem from the lack of support that they felt during the campaign period. When many central valley activists contacted the campaign asking for support in the solidly red territory of the state, they barely got yard signs.

“When the No on 8 campaign took over, they moved the [EQCA] staff out of the valley,” Kors said. “That was a mistake.”

Robin and the valley area have been very vocal about their feeling of abandonment. “I did tell EQCA about my personal frustrations with how the valley was treated.” And that's not all she's communicated. Robin, who attended the February 26 San Francisco town hall, took the little time left at the town hall to make her position clear by reading the MITM mission statement. An excerpt:

“It would be neglectful not to mention our LGBT brothers and sisters who have not relocated to LGBT friendly places like the bay or LA areas feel like we live in a Third World gay ghetto that somewhat in an after-thought was sent limited rations of resources and supplies as the helicopter jetted back to the safe Mecca of San Francisco and we were left to fend for ourselves. Many might see this statement with the purpose to place blame or shame on any one person or organization, but as a people of faith and courage, we have to believe that all those involved in the fight to secure marriage rights for our community did what they felt was best at the time.”


While reading this at the town hall, Robin says the EQCA panelists and leaders “went to the back of the room to hobnob with the local dignitaries and basically ignored me, Kip Williams [organizer of One Struggle, One Fight] and other leaders talking about next steps. When they asked emerging leaders to speak, it was disingenuous.”

Robin repeated the adjective “disingenuous” to EQCA themselves after they called her frustrated over the Bay Area Reporter article. She heard from their communication director and the director of their public education arm. Robin quoted them as saying, “We never promised anything.” But Robin didn't back down and countered, “I know that you haven't promised anything, but you are stating, publicly, a different message.”

Finally, Kors called. “I never said anything about buses [at the Dinah Shore event],” Robin says Kors told her. “Maybe Kate [Kendall of NCLR] did at an NCLR event.” He asked her why she told Seth he shouldn't be running our next campaign and Robin stated, “You're a good fundraiser and have made fantastic legislative connections, but not a campaigner. You're not in touch with the community.” She even went on to say, “You're disingenuous. You're treating me like I'm naive.”

About an hour after calling Robin, Kors emailed her asking her for the MITM budget and which grassroots groups had donated and how much. Robin gave the budget but refused to say who had given what. “It should not matter who gave what – either you believe in and support the event or you don't – this is not a competition,” she told Unite the Fight. Robin claims that EQCA has stated that they may be able to give $1000, but because MITM is not a non-profit organization or a 501(C)3 and the donation would not be tax deductible, they are still deciding what they are going to do. They offered to receive donations through their “Let California Ring” website, but Robin declined, honestly stating, “If they were answering my questions about the dishonesty that has plagued this entire conversation, we as a community, may be willing to let them serve as our fiscal agent. But right now – we'll have to operate without their donation and fundraise forever to pay off the debt. For grassroots organizers, it should not be this hard.”

Robin also heard from Kate Kendall of NCLR who clarified that she had mentioned at the Dinah Shore event that there were in fact buses available for people to use but that she would never raise money claiming it was for one purpose and then using it for another. “I never said that's what they were doing,” Robin told Unite the Fight was her response. “But someone claimed they were supporting us with buses. Someone is lying.”

“Look, I don't care what happens for me after MITM. I was a nobody before this and can return to being a nobody afterward,” said Robin. “If I have to take forever to pay off my credit card for this, I will. But I just think it's time for them to be honest.”

Many feel change is coming. Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA, who was an outspoken critic recently said, “Overall, I'm feeling very encouraged” by the efforts of EQCA and other groups.

“We feel like there has been a willingness … to think outside the box and do things in a new way, and I think that we are on the right track,” said McKay. Marc Solomon, who helped MassEquality in Massachusetts win marriage equality there, joined EQCA April 1 as its marriage director. The BAR quoted him at the recent San Francisco town hall, “Our plans for the Central Valley will be led and guided by the people doing the work in the Central Valley … We realize we need to do a lot better there.”

Kors told Unite the Fight they were hiring staff today “to do regional work. They will be [in the Central Valley] for the long term.”

Kors said he found the BAR article, “surprising and confusing,” having spoken to people mentioned in the article for some time and offering support, without hearing of any problems. “I hope we all can focus on unifying the community to fight against an emboldened enemy.”

Robin does regret she let the BAR “bait her” with Seth's questions and does in fact have a desire to have good working relationship with the EQCA and NCLR. “Different stories are floating around out there. I didn't make this happen, though. I try to make every decision I make come from honesty and the heart. All in all, I have to answer to me, my family, my community.”

As many leaders and grassroots organizers have told this blog, it's time we move on and work together, heading in one direction. Growing pains will exist. Miscommunications will abound. Feelings will be hurt. But we all have to keep our eye on our shared ultimate goal – FULL EQUALITY FOR ALL.

LACDP Doesn’t Bow To Fear

The Los Angeles County Democratic Party held their endorsement meeting for the May 19 special election yesterday.  The Yes side brought out all the big guns to talk up Prop. 1A: four State Senators, including President Pro Tem Steinberg, Attorney General candidate Ted Lieu, State Superintendent for Public Instruction candidate Gloria Romero and Lieutenant Governor candidate Dean Florez.  The No side had two union members from the SEIU and the California Faculty Association and a 2008 Assembly candidate. (UPDATE: It was Carol Liu, not Ted Lieu.)

And the LACDP went neutral.

It’s quite remarkable to see practically the entire establishment of the Democratic Party selling fear and so few people buying.  My fear is that they will chalk up their failure to the typical right-wing anti-tax bias, when the real indictment here is a failure to lead, to articulate an actual solution instead of the same nonsense that does nothing to effect structural reform.  The first ads for 1A and 1B only have one unequivocally true statement in them – that the budget is “A total mess, and we all know it.”  And yet the prescription for solving the mess is nothing more than making people afraid of some amorphously bigger mess, while neglecting the clear disaster that would arrive with the passage of a spending cap.

This is not about an aversion to two years’ worth of sales taxes.  It’s about an aversion to more demonstrably awful solutions to layer onto an already dysfunctional system.  Maybe instead of dictating to their constituents, the leadership in Sacramento could bother to listen to them.

Top-Down Grassroots Leaders Decide Unilaterally To Make Budget Reform More Impossible

Since it’s Don’t Curse Week here in LA County, I will be forced to be brief.  Last night a group of grassroots activists, including remnants of the Obama organizers in California, various progressive advocacy groups, and Democratic Club leaders, discussed a potential citizen-led ballot initiative to reform the California budget process.  Nobody disputes that something drastic must be done to permanently end the conservative veto and restore democracy to the process.  If you ask 100 activists what needs to be done you will get 105 answers.  Arriving at the conclusion that offers the best opportunity for success, both in being adopted as a reform by the voters and as a practical matter for the legislature, ought to be opened to a vigorous debate and a deliberative process.

That is the direct opposite of what happened yesterday, when a group of self-appointed leaders tried to dictate the form in which the reform will take, and sought to invite the remainder of the group to join their already-decided-upon course of action.  So the fight to restore democracy has begun with an undemocratic edict, from the grassroots no less, that is based in the same kind of mushy, don’t-make-waves approach that has devastated the state for decades upon decades.  If it sounds topsy-turvy, you’re not alone.

In short, the self-appointed leadership has decided to put up a website to “eliminate the two-thirds rule” and “restore majority rule” to the budget process.  This is a very tightly controlled statement based on, essentially, the fiction that eliminating the two-thirds rule is what these folks are seeking to do.  They are not.  As you may know, there is a 2/3 rule for passing a budget, and a 2/3 rule for any changes in the tax code that involve increasing revenue.  To the layman, this might seem like two discrete parts, but that’s really not true.  A budget includes taxes, spending, and a few other priorities.  Changing one without the other does actually nothing to overcome the conservative veto.  And yet this is what the self-appointed grassroots leadership’s proposal would do, only covering the repeal of 2/3 for passing a budget and not for taxation.

This is really the final blow in what was a long slide away from progressive leadership at the grassroots level.  I’ve heard a lot of justifications and rationales for not including fully half of the equation of settling a budget in the process of reforming the budget, most of them so twisted with pretzel logic as to be indecipherable.  Some say that there’s no way tax changes could pass in the current environment, so we should strive to make whatever progress we can.  That’s the kind of tissue-soft, gutless, out-of-touch-with-where-America-is-right-now statement that has made California a political basket case.  Those who bow down to the keepers of the tax revolt are usually the same people that are saying a spending cap that includes tax increases is destined to pass, or the same people saying a constitutional convention will take care of the tax problem even though it, too, is subject to a vote of the people.  It doesn’t make any sense.  There’s an argument that the polling shows any tax issues are a loser.  That’s just not true.  The latest PPIC poll shows very little difference between repealing two-thirds for the budget and for taxes – within the margin of error.

The other argument is that California lawmakers, given a majority vote on the budget, will have powerful leverage to bend the Yacht Party to their will on tax issues, or go directly to the people with tax solutions.  These are the same people who spend every day of their lives lamenting the terrible negotiating skills of Democrats in the legislature, and laughing at those who claim the Yacht Party is surely just a little bit more pressure away from folding.

I’ve made my position on this well-known, and I’ll repeat it here.

Changing the (repeal of 2/3 for the) budget but not taxes is TOM MCCLINTOCK’S view of things.  It makes Democrats own a budget that can only be modified with expenditure cuts.  In the event of a deficit, Democrats would have to either cave and cut services or hold out with the exact same dynamic that we saw this year.  And it will not allow the legislature to tackle the structural revenue gap that comes from a tax system too closely tied to boom-and-bust budget cycles.  This is perverse consultant-class thinking that is dangerously outdated, constantly compromising, and believes in political reality as static rather than lifting a finger to change that reality.  Thinking that March 2004 and June 2010 are the same is just ridiculous, and thinking that no argument can be made to the public, after the longest and most self-evidently absurd budget process in decades, that the system is fundamentally broken and has to be changed to allow the majority to do their job, is in many ways why we’re in this position to begin with.

And this is where the self-appointed grassroots leadership will take us.  This was carried out through perhaps a deliberative internal process (“Several hours!” we were told), but with no input from the broader grassroots.  The website set up has no ability for public comment, no discussion of why the position was taken, and, most crucially, no explanation that “restoring majority rule” as conceived by the proposed ballot initiative does not restore majority rule.  You can call that a lot of things, but the most accurate would be “a lie.”  It is a lie to suggest that this proposal would repeal 2/3.  It does not.  And it is being carried out in a top-down process that reminds one of the worst aspects of the Sacramento consultocracy rather than progressive leadership in the grassroots.

The working theory is that everything is on the table and this effort is initially to gauge support in the process.  That it is being done through misleading means really doesn’t inspire confidence in how open the process will be.  They can go down that road, and I actually support signing on to the site as a show of support.  But caveat emptor.  And if you do sign, maybe contact the leaders and ask them why they aren’t being truthful about their intentions or transparent about the decision-making process.

Budget Hell – Grassroots Reinforcements

You don’t have to constantly refresh or check your RSS feeds for the next couple days – budget talks have been called off for Christmas.  There is a meeeting between the Big Three tentatively scheduled for Friday.

In my view, just that we’re talking about a Big Three instead of a Big Five is progress, suggesting that the Gov will go along with the work-around budget if he can save face on a few “stimulus” items (like, you know, taking people’s overtime and meal breaks away.  They can eat while working!).  The Governor never appeared in a movie about schizophrenia, but that’s how he’s been acting the past few days, holding press events at key sites where infrastructure improvements are being shuttered (a levee in Sacramento, the 405 Freeway in Karen Bass’ district in LA) blasting the legislature, while at the same time claiming that progress is being made toward a budget solution.

During a press conference along Interstate 405 in Los Angeles, the Republican governor said he and Democratic leaders made “some great progress” Sunday and that it may only take two more meetings of the same sort to reach a compromise this week. Schwarzenegger had been calling for a solution by Christmas, though he acknowledged Monday that a legislative vote would not take place until next week at the earliest.

“It could easily be that before Christmas Eve or Christmas Day that we have an agreement, that the legislators can be brought back between Christmas and New Year’s to vote on it,” Schwarzenegger said.

(UPDATE: Kevin Yamamura reports that the negotiations have come down to three issues: “rollback of environmental review for construction projects, greater use of private investment and contractors, and deeper spending cuts, including those affecting the state work force.”  These have almost no impact on the budget as a whole – you’re talking about cutting two state worker holidays – and are designed only to reward private business interests.  Arnold has always been in the pocket of the Chamber of Commerce.)

You’ll notice that none of these press events are being held in front of any state employee offices.  That’s because, in general terms, people don’t look kindly on mass layoffs and cutbacks right before Christmas.  It gives them the impression that the person making those layoffs is kind of a Scrooge.  Of course, the immediate halt to all public works projects, at a time when we should be encouraging stimulus projects of this type, also have an impact on jobs.  Not only does every contractor working on those projects get fired, but vendors get stiffed for work that they’ve already completed, leaving the state open to lawsuits.  The Governor should kind of be ashamed to stand in front of any backdrop with cancelled projects behind him, considering his epic mismanagement is partly to blame.  This is particularly true when considering that the voter-approved infrastructure work is vital to public safety and the state would undoubtedly be liable in the event of catastrophe.

Communities nationwide have repaired fewer than half of the 122 levees identified by the government almost two years ago as too poorly maintained to be reliable in major floods, according to Army Corps of Engineers data.

State and local governments were given a year to fix levees cited by the corps for “unacceptable” maintenance deficiencies in a February 2007 review that was part of a post-Hurricane Katrina crackdown. Only 45 have had necessary repairs, according to data provided in response to a USA TODAY request. The remaining unrepaired levees are spread across 18 states and Puerto Rico – most in California and Washington.

The Governor is cleverly casting this as a problem of “the legislature” hoping nobody will notice that he performed the veto, he blocked the very plan that could get these projects restarted.

Fortunately, grassroots Californians are noticing, and you can see the contours of a coalition forming, perhaps resembling the 2005 special election coalition only with more staying power.  Groups like Courage Campaign and the local blogosphere have the reach to engaged communities starving for information.  The California Budget Project provides the statistical heft.  Labor and environmental groups have the ear of the legislature.  And there’s a new member of the coalition – former Obama organizers in California who are moving with unusual speed to support a sane budget solution and slam the Governor for his intransigence.  At Schwarzenegger’s 405 Freeway presser, you can hear a small band of protesters in the background noise.  That was organized by Obama volunteers through their new Facebook-like application, CommunityOrganize.com.  Pam Coukos distributed a letter-writing tool urging a budget solution.  California for Obama has done the same in an email blast, asking it to be distributed to the various volunteer teams.  And there is already talk about veterans of the Obama movement running for state and local office.

This is pretty new and early.  But you can see how this network of committed organizers can gradually become a state political force, especially if the coalitions are built and networks made between the groups mentioned above.  I have long said that what is missing in California is a popular grassroots movement that can go around the media filter and whip up support for progressive values through direct action.  It is said that California is too big for such a movement to catch fire, but in political terms, we all know that the state is very small, and a committed movement can make an outsized difference.  This won’t happen overnight, but we’re moving in the right direction.  Now we just need a gubernatorial candidate to ride the grassroots wave…

Fired Up at Sunday’s Bay Area Change Is Coming Meeting

Crossposted at www.communityorganize.com.

Yesterday 150 former Obama campaign volunteers and staff, and other organizers from around the Bay met in San Francisco to reflect on the successes of the campaign and to strategize about how to support community organizing in the Bay Area and across California. Participants came from San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Marin, Contra Costa County, San Joaquin County, Tri-Valley, Fremont, Palo Alto and Santa Clara. Most had worked for the Obama campaign, including traveling to other states and organizing hugely successful phonebanks.

We spent the afternoon working on our vision of community organizing, and thinking about the incredible potential of this group working together on a local, regional and statewide level.

Here’s some feedback shared at the meetings and in the small groups:

On the successes of the campaign: “Respect, Empower, Include.” “No drama Obama.” “Empowerment and access given to us.” “The campaign came to CA to organize, not just for $.”

On what we have learned: “Learned about own capacity for leadership.”

What’s a community organizer? Someone who listens, who doesn’t give up, who “empowers people for a common cause” and who can “be a bit of a hardass” when needed. Community organizing is “Getting the resources that are needed but that we don’t yet have.” It means “passion” and “commitment” and “clear goals.”

We shared a host of critical issues facing our nation, state and community that concern us, like health care for all, dealing with the California budget crisis, getting out of Iraq, marriage equality, education, and supporting union organizing.

And we collected seven bags of donated food for the San Francisco food bank, and lots of surveys with written feedback about the campaign and future organizing.

We will be sending out the results of all of this feedback to participants in the next few days, and plan to get together again soon after the New Year.

In the meantime, former Obama campaign organizers are rolling out a new website, www.communityorganize.com, to link volunteers across the state who want to continue working together.


I feel like I’m back at the scene of the crime. Nearly 4 months to the day, we were back where it all started at LA Trade Tech in downtown Los Angeles, where we attended our first Camp Obama and learned how to change the world.

Myself, my co-RFO Mike Bonin, team members Marc Saltzberg, Mary Jack, Warren Bowman, Dave Dayen, Jan Popiden, Julie Priess, Julie Soller and over 400 other Camp Obama graduates, campaign alumni, community organizers, and would-be community organizers have gathered here on a cold, rainy Saturday morning all hoping to have the same question answered.

Now what?

The simple answer is that Change Is Coming To California. And that Change is Us.  

The post-election Obama organization (what we jokingly refer to Obama 2.0), like the Obama administration, is in transition. A lot of very smart people at Obama 2.0 are trying to figure out the best way for us to utilize our talents and to keep our spirit of community activism alive and growing.

They’ve come up with a four important goals:

Organize To Support Legislation:  To turn Obama’s promise of change into reality, we will need to support the administration’s agenda by lobbying our local officials, and by reaching out to our neighbors and educating our communities – just like we did in the election.

Electoral Organizing: Grow the next generation of elected officials. Identify and support progressive candidates running for state and local offices.

Promote Two-Way Communication Between The Administration And The Grassroots: We will become our own lobbyists! Research the issues facing your community on a local, state, and federal level. Know your elected official’s contact information and backgrounds.

Civic Engagement: We will make our communities better places by working with existing community groups and service organizations (or even creating our own!) to bring about change in our states, our cities, our schools and our neighborhood.

Fortunately for us, the Obama organizers in California aren’t waiting for  Obama 2.0 to give us marching orders. They’ve already come up with the organizing tools that will enable us to organize ourselves right now!


SIGN UP WITH COMMUNITY ORGANIZE ( http://communityorganize.ning…. ) A  new network of California activists made up of Obama campaign alumni and other community organizers from all over the state, this site it will be an important tool for communication and outreach.

JOIN YOUR CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT GROUP ( http://communityorganize.ning…. )



With all our work on the national campaign, it was easy to forget the problems we have right here at home. California faces a budget deficit of over 40 Billion dollars, and our state Democratic Party leadership just isn’t responding to our community needs. This will be our first opportunity to achieve our goal of Electoral Organizing. What better way to bring Change to California than from the inside?

How to Run for a Delegate Seat in the California Democratic Party

If you are interested in bringing Change to the California Democratic Party (CDP) see the information below on how to run for a delegate position in your assembly district. Elections will be the weekend of Jan. 10 and 11th.

From www.cadem.org:

“California Democrats who were all integral to our historic 2008 campaign victories are invited to help select delegates for the California Democratic Party’s Convention, which will be held April 24-26, 2009 in Sacramento. The California Democratic Party is convening delegate election meetings in each of the state’s 80 Assembly Districts on January 10 or 11, 2009. These 12 people will represent their Assembly District for both the 2009 and 2010 State Conventions. They will elect one person to represent the AD on the State Party’s Executive Board.

To learn more, go to: http://www.cadem.org/site/c.jr…

To view the time and location for your AD Election Meeting, go to: http://www.cadem.org/site/c.jr…

To file online to run for Assembly District Delegate, go to: http://www.cadem.org/site/c.jr…

If you decide to run as delegate,  please let the folks at Community Organize know! We can help you! Send us an email with your name and your Assembly District to: [email protected]