Tag Archives: Courage Campaign

Why I support Debra Bowen

I spend as much time as I can find building the Courage Campaign, a 750,000-member organization dedicated to building a progressive California and to bringing full equality to Americans nationwide. We focus on issues because elected officials can do only so much. And often they disappoint.

Our members determine the areas in which we act. Often times, we win; other times, we keep on fighting. In the course of my work as Chairman of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in California, in building Courage and with charitable organizations such as Liberty Hill Foundation, I have seen repeateldy that America wins when political leaders stand up for principles. It’s okay to bend a bit to get something done; but to compromise so completely as to void recognition as a “political necessity” leads to disaster. Too few of our leaders understand and/or live by such principles.

Over the past eight years, I have worked closely with Debra Bowen. Time and again, she has stuck to her principles and accomplished heroic deeds. While she was a state senator, we collaborated on initiative reform, a dry and perhaps procedural matter but one which put us in our current mess. Debra understood clearly that the people want and deserve a voice in government, but the initiative process, originally designed to thwart large corporate and moneyed interests, has been turned on its head. She tried to make changes even though it was tough sledding. There's no reform constituency. Debra would not get campaign money from insiders or oil companies for doing the people's business. She just did the work.

As Secretary of State, Debra operated under the principle that democracy thrives when people participate; it collapses when they do not. Therefore, Debra determined to build trust in our state’s voting regime. Palm Beach and butterfly ballots of 2000 or Ohio of 2004 may seem ancient history, but when Debra took office as Secretary of State, many did not trust the vote counting system. As a result, some felt that voting was not worth their while. Debra focused completely on rebuilding that trust by holding public meetings about electronic voting machines, engaging the skeptical public. She banned the use of certain types of machines much to the chagrin of some country registrars. But she showed people that they could trust the system, which improved the level of participation.

Debra is honest. She cares. She works for the people, not for herself or her self-interest. She listens, but she decides. And if she does not agree with you, she’ll tell you. When Debra goes to Congress, I’ll know that she’ll learn, think, consult her conscience and then stick to her principles. She'll never look to the consultant class to tell her how to vote. And she'll never put her political career ahead of her constitutional responsibility. If you want a member of Congress who cares only about her constituents and our country, Debra is the one. 

(My endorsement is my own and in no way reflects the views of the Courage Campaign which does not endorse candidates.)

Activists, Organizations, Protest Koch Purchase of Democracy

undefinedI work for the Courage Campaign as the California field manager, and helped to organize this rally.

Last weekend, more than 2,000 people took to the streets to expose the secret billionaires cabal hosted by the Koch brothers near Palm Springs, California. Charles and David Koch invited powerful multi-millionaire conservatives to join them for a weekend at a posh resort to strategize and finance their nefarious plan to squeeze working families, gut social programs, destroy our environment for their profit, and buy our elected officials. The Courage Campaign, joined by an outstanding coalition, were there to let them know they can't come to California to do their dirty work in secret.

The Courage Campaign coordinated a diverse coalition of organizations, bringing together activists – with a broad array of concerns about the Koch brothers – to counter the billionaires cabal. Our partners include Common Cause, CNA, AFSCME, HCAN, Greenpeace, California Student Sustainability Coalition, CREDO, MoveOn, COPEPINK, The Ruckus Society and The Other 98%. My role was to coordinate logistics for the coalition, which is a cohesive panoply of groups committed to hold billionaires accountable for the damage they have done (and stop them before they cause any further harm). This demonstration is the kickoff for national campaigns for corporate accountability and good government this year.

See the flip for more.

United by common values, our coalition developed a series of activities designed to expose the Koch brothers through raising awareness, engaging in analysis of the problems and solutions, and inspiring displays of people power through non-violent civil disobedience. The various aspects of the action were referred to as “Uncloaking the Kochs” (panel), “Koch-Busters” (rally), and “Quarantine the Kochs” (direct action). Each organization and individual brought unique skills to the table and we coordinated our efforts to create a multi-layered demonstration that has sparked public interest and earned considerable media attention.

Common Cause hosted a panel, “Uncloaking the Kochs,” in a nearby movie theater, and you can view that at Common Cause’s youtube page. Over 350 attendees attended the panel on the Koch brothers influence on our political process, including panelists including Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC-Irvine’s law school, Van Jones, Bob Edgar, and Lee Fang. The panel discussion and the rally was broadcast on ustream so many more participated from around the globe.

At the conclusion of the panel, Rick Jacobs led the attendees to the rally outside the Rancho Las Palmas resort. I spoke with a woman who was standing with me at the very front line of the protest outside the resort after the people had taken over the street and 25 had been arrested.

“I’ve lived here for my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like this before. I heard about Van Jones speaking on a panel this morning, so I just came for that [shows me signed copy of his book]. But then this nice man [Rick] announced there was a rally too, so I followed him out here. When I went outside, there were thousands of people in the street. This is very important to our democracy. I can tell you are one of the organizers because of that thing [points to the massive walkie-talkie strapped to my hip] and I just want thank you for doing this.”

I thanked her for being part of this.

You can watch the rally speakers  at Common Cause’s youtube page, where you can find some of these interesting videos.

Sarah Callahan introduced Jim Hightower who introduced Rick Jacobs. The crowd cheered as Rick pointed at the resort and declared, “we have a right to shine a light on legalized bribery and that’s what we’re going to do!”

You can see the video of Rick’s speech posted above. Rick introduced a local resident who spoke about how much pollution impacts his community.

Lyneva Motley, a Board member of ACCE introduced Estela Lopez, who lives nearby in Riverside County with her husband and three children. The bank foreclosed on her home in October and her family fears that they will be evicted. She is fighting for her home as the bank refused to accept their monthly payments.

“We work hard to afford our home. I am here today because I am sick an tired of the big banks taking advantage of everyday, hard-working working families. i am tired of hearing about banks getting bailed out, while we the people get kicked out – out of our homes.

I am tired of people like the Koch brothers and their friends who come here to plot and plan how to stop regulation of the banks, how to keep wages low, how to defund schools and community programs, and leave hard-working families in the dust. I am fighting back. I am fighting for my home, but I am also fighting for our community and our country.

As long as big banks and corporations (aided by people like the Koch brothers) get to do whatever they want, we are in trouble. We the people need to take our country back from big corporate interests!”

One of the speakers eloquently described his struggle with obtaining health insurance, and said that even though the “high-risk pool” for adults with pre-existing conditions created by President Obama’s health reform legislation wasn’t perfect (he described it as “a giveaway to insurance companies”), he’d be damned if he was going to let the Koch brothers and their billionaire cronies take away the only chance he has. I got chills because it’s true for all of us, not just people with preexisting conditions or asthma caused by dirty air or those who have lost their homes or who have been victimized in other ways.

We are all at risk when 2% of our population is allotted more of a voice than the rest of us and we must stand up together in unity against those who would seek to harm our health, our environment and our democracy to line their wallets. I’ll be damned if I’ll let them take our democracy, our economy and our lives for their profit.

Bob Edgar of Common Cause led the crowd in chants including “We are the leaders we have been waiting for” and reminded us we are the hope for our children before introducing a 13-year old who asked “the best question” during the morning’s panel, querying the Kochs about why they can’t use their money for good things that help people.

Then Bob introduced Joel Francis, a senior at Cal State-Los Angeles and a Marine Corps veteran. Joel has repeatedly invited Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch to a public debate regarding the Kochs’ funding of Prop 23 (which would have rolled back our clean energy law to protect polluters like the Kochs) and he stirred the crowd with his remarks about the interrelated problems (video) caused by the Koch brothers and their friends.

Jim Hightower deputized the crowd as members of the “People’s Center for Disease Control” and then Andrew Boyd and Jenny Binstock encouraged the crowd to move toward the entrance to the resort for a non-violent direct action to confront those meeting within the “faux adobe stylings” of the resort walls.

Earlier in the weekend, a GreenPeace airship flew over the venue to remind passers by of the dangerous and covert dealings going on in the resort.

We marched to the front entrance of the Rancho Las Palmas Resort where several dozen sherriff’s deputies in riot gear stood guard. Over 1000 people occupied Rancho Las Palmas Ave and Bob Hope drive (a busy intersection in Rancho Mirage) for at least an hour.


As I stood by the entrance to the resort surrounded by fellow activists, I saw people stepping into the driveway and marching right up to the police line.  The attendees of the billionaires caucus inside the resort began lining up on the roof to watch what was happening outside. Folks with binoculars could identify them, which might be why the Kochs are now claiming that there was another event going on inside the resort (separate from them) – a conference for federal judges. How convenient.

The people crossed the police line in the resort driveway and at least two dozen people in hazmat suits stood face to face with the Sherriffs department deputies in full riot gear.

Thousands of us stood in solidarity as the young activists faced off with the police. One by one, they were cuffed and taken behind the walls of the resort. I watched as they were peacefully detained. The crowd chanted, “Arrest the Kochs, not the people!”

After at least an hour of occupying the intersection, the police attempted to communicate that they wanted us to disperse, but there was a problem with their PA system and no one could hear the announcements. The Riverside County Sheriff’s helicopter (which had been flying over the event in slow circles) swooped down alarmingly close and blasted a garbled message that I learned later was an order for the crowd to disperse. The lawn sprinklers turned on and a few activists got soaked (including me) as the jets splashed onto the sidewalks (I thought you weren’t supposed to water your lawn in the middle of the day in the desert).

As the crowd ceded the intersection, we chanted “We’ll be back!” We waved to the multi-millionaires and their myriad security personnel who had convened on the roof and front porch of the resort to watch the action.

Last week I stood in the street with more than 2,000 activists to telling the Kochs and their billionaires caucus in no uncertain terms that we know what they are up to, and we will expose their deeds to hold them accountable for their actions. We will quarantine the poison they have injected into our democracy to stop the spread of policies that degrade people, denigrate the environment, strip us of our health and our rights.


photos of the event from the CA student sustainability coalition:


and even more photos from our coalition:


Equality on Trial: Judge Walker issues series of questions prior to Prop 8 trial closing arguments

( – promoted by Julia Rosen)

It’s election day in California and several other states.  With the exception of one statewide race, (AG) Democrats and progressives won’t be compelled to the polls.  Republicans will because of the battle of the billionaires (okay, one billionaire two multi-millionaires).  We can only hope that enough of us vote(d) to beat back two odious ballot measures put on by two big corporations.

But there was already big news today in California about “the trial of the century.”  Judge Vaughn Walker today issued a series of questions for the parties to the federal Prop. 8 trial that began in January and was put on by Ted Olson and David Boies and colleagues and defended by the oxymoronic “Protect Marriage” proponents of Prop. 8.  

The questions are stunning in their breadth, complexity and essence.  Here are just a few:

What empirical data, if any, supports a finding that legal recognition of same-sex marriage reduces discrimination against gays and lesbians?

What are the consequences of a permanent injunction against enforcement of Proposition 8? What remedies do plaintiffs propose?

If the evidence of the involvement of the LDS and Roman Catholic churches and evangelical ministers supports a finding that Proposition 8 was an attempt to enforce private morality, what is the import of that finding?

The court has reserved ruling on plaintiffs’ motion to exclude Mr Blankenhorn’s testimony. If the motion is granted, is there any other evidence to support a finding that Proposition 8 advances a legitimate governmental interest?

Why is legislating based on moral disapproval of homosexuality not tantamount to discrimination? See Doc #605 at 11 (“But sincerely held moral or religious views that require acceptance and love of gay people, while disapproving certain aspects of their conduct, are not tantamount to discrimination.”). What evidence in the record shows that a belief based in morality cannot also be discriminatory? If that moral point of view is not held and is disputed by a small but significant minority of the community, should not an effort to enact that moral point of view into a state constitution be deemed a violation of equal protection?

What does it mean to have a “choice” in one’s sexual orientation? See e g Tr 2032:17-22; PX 928 at 37

I am not a lawyer, but I can without doubt say that never before has homosexuality been on trial in America in this way.  The testimony in January, which I liveblogged, was breathtaking and so sweeping, that the defense (the folks who put Prop. 8 on the ballot) were left with only one argument: marriage has always been between a man and a woman so it should always be between a man and a woman.  And Professor Cott and other experts even destroyed that argument.  Even so, it’s a bit like saying that some people were always forced to live in a certain place so they should always be forced to live there.

We launched Testimony: Equality on Trial because this court case has already changed history.  As we can see from the Judge’s questions – read them and pick your own favorites–the entire scope of the debate has been encapsulated in this trial.  But the defense has worked at every juncture to stop you from seeing what happened and will happen in the courtroom.  We seek to make this your trial.  And soon, we’ll seek to hear your testimony.

For now, as voting for initiatives and candidates across the state and country winds to a close, we can see unfolding the true story of human rights in America.  

Watch the court. Whatever the ruling, this trial is history.

UPDATE:  You can join us for a Courage Campaign Conversation with Ted Olson Wednesday at 6::00PM PDT to learn more.

Courage Campaign press release: 2010 Prop. 8 repeal effort too soon

Via Joe My God, I find this press release issued today by the Courage Campaign:

LOS ANGELES, CA – The Courage Campaign today called for more research and time to change hearts and minds before returning to the ballot to restore marriage for gay and lesbian couples in California. At least one initiative to restore same-sex marriage is currently circulating that, if it qualifies, would appear on the November, 2010 ballot…

“For months, we have laid out the criteria for moving forward. Like the Obama Campaign, we understand that we need a combination of powerful and clear research that informs an expertly run campaign, an unstoppable movement that harnesses the new energy we have seen since the passage of Prop. 8 and the connections through personal stories and outreach in order to win at the ballot box,” said Rick Jacobs, the Courage Campaign founder and Chair. “We are taking the lessons learned from last year’s Prop. 8 campaign, the campaigns in Maine and other states to understand the fundamental work that must be done before moving forward in California. We also must come together as a community to create a broad coalition and governance structure, put in place a strong manager and secure the resources to win. Right now, the pieces are not all in place to do so confidently.”

I am understanding this to mean that the Courage Campaign is no longer on board with a 2010 campaign and will be shifting their resources to a 2012 effort (although the language is oddly vague– if any Courage Campaign people are reading this, any clarification would be appreciated greatly). At a minimum the clear message of this release is that Courage Campaign does not at this time support the specific 2010 ballot filing by Love Honor Cherish, which they reference in the first paragraph.

Courage Campaign is currently soliciting volunteers for their Prop. 8 repeal and “Equality Team” efforts here. EQCA is also soliciting volunteers to canvass for their 2012 repeal campaign here.

Camp Courage: Winning Back Marriage by Telling Painful Stories

This weekend’s Camp Courage in Sacramento was a good tonic for the loss in Maine and part of our collective path forward to restoring marriage equality to California.  The heart of Camp Courage is learning how to craft your “story-of-self” a personal, emotional version of who you are and why this issue matters so much to you.  The goal is to empower activists to use their personal narrative to bring about political change.  Stories-of-self can be used to recruit volunteers, to inspire a crowd or to change a persons’ vote one door at a time.

It isn’t easy to have people open up and share the most painful, scary, raw parts of their lives.  But those are the stories that are the ones that need to be told the most. The power of Camp Courage comes from people risking sharing their stories of pain thus forming community and strength.

Adam Bink over at Open Left quotes Harvey Milk’s famous “come out come out” speech and writes:

The same tactic Milk used for school employees everywhere must continue to be used in these communities. We have to encourage people in these towns to come out of the closet and say they want the right to marry. State Representative Mike Carey, who represents heavily Catholic downtown Lewiston and voted in favor of marriage equality in the legislature, pointed out to me that in these kinds of votes, the default vote is for fear, and it is a huge barrier to reach one’s conscience if they have no personal knowledge of the issue. For all the “gay marriage will be taught in schools” ads our opponents ran in Maine and will run in other states that tap that fear element, we have to counter with people who can give voters that kind of personal touch on the issue.

It isn’t just gay people that we need to come out and tell their stories, it is all of our wonderful straight allies.  No, there is no application to become a straight ally, just start telling everyone you know your personal story of why you support equality for all.

One of our amazing volunteers that helped put together Camp Courage Sacramento Chris Huack brought his parents to Camp.  He blogged about the experience at the Courage Campaign.  Here is Chris relaying the three reflections his dad had about Camp. (more on the flip)

1 – He had no idea the pain that LGBT people had felt over discrimination and losing initiatives like Proposition 8 and Question 1 until he saw people speaking about them openly and honestly at the Camp. See, I have always been a more stoic, let’s “focus on what we can do in the future” type of person, so for my Mom and Dad, they had never truly appreciated the pain this had inflicted on our community until they heard the stories of personal pain from others.

2 – My Dad shared with me his “Story of Self.” He had a gay cousin who had died of AIDS when my Dad was in his 20s. He had a lesbian sister who had come out to him and was now married with her wife. And he had me, his gay son, who was fighting for equality and who he hoped could one day get married in front of friends and family. LGBT issues had slowly intertwined their way thought his life and had always handled them decently (very supportive of me and his sister), but now realized his previous actions had been woefully inadequate and that he could no longer sit on the sidelines while people he cared about suffered and were discriminated against.

3 – He needed to get involved today. He wanted to sign up to canvass and to join California Faith for Equality, provided they had a means for him to contribute to meaningful action.

As stoic as I may be, I found myself fighting back tears as my Dad related this to me and my Mom agreed with him. Then at dinner, as my Dad related to other family members what he had learned and why it was so important for us to proactively work for change – I fully understood the importance of Camp Courage. Yes, it is a great experience for LGBT leaders and organizers. However, I missed an important opportunity in East LA, when I went to Camp but neglected to recruit my straight friends and family in LA to attend with me. This experience is not just a meaningful skills training for gay people – it is an opportunity to teach, empower and share ourselves and our struggle more fully with friends, straight allies and family. It is an opportunity to bring new faces and perspectives into the fight for equality.

One by one we are building an army to repeal Prop 8.  It is not easy, or fast, but it is absolutely critical to our success.  The best way we change hearts and minds is having everyone supportive of equality speaking from their hearts.  

We have to be vulnerable.  It is wrenching to know that as a gay person that the best path to earning the right to get married some day is if I share my most painful moments of my life with strangers in order to win their vote.  It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s what it takes and it is what I will continue to do.  Will you join me?

(full disclosure: I proudly work for the Courage Campaign)

LACDP Summit Lunch Liveblog: Coalition Building

Following is the liveblog of the LACDP Summit Lunch Panel on Coalition Building with:

  • Assemblymember De La Torre
  • Peggy Moore of OFA
  • Henry Vandermeir of the CDC
  • Arisha Michelle Hatch of the Courage Campaign
  • Dorothy Reik of PDA
  • Gary Vaughn of SEIU 721

This very interesting panel was moderated by Assemblymember John Perez.  

John Perez:  Great to be here, we’ve got a great panel of people who have been involved in coalition politics.  People use the term “coalition” in many different ways, some not so good, such as Bush’s “coalition of the willing”, some good such as when progressive groups come together.  Coalitions are a coming together of different groups for a shared interest.  They’ve identified that interest in themselves, and someone else.

First and foremost, you have to frame the issue around which people will coalesce.  Second, you need to have trust between the partners.  Third, there has to be a mechanism to mitigate when coalition partners have a dispute.  Last, there have to be ways to measure success, and ways to build on that success to move forward.

One example of a coalition coming together on a specific approach will be presented by Assemblymember Hector De La Torre.

Assemblymember De La Torre: AB1060 is a bill that requires that all alcohol sales at grocery stores be done where there is a human checkout person who will check all the codes.  Currently you can go to an automated stand with only one person monitoring 4 or 6 machines.  One person can’t monitor all of this, and it’s not just about minors.  It’s also illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is already drunk.  If you aren’t next to the person and able to check, you can’t tell.  Also, teenagers have figured out how to bypass the the freeze mechanism to get around the alcohol sales barrier.  No one is saying that the alcohol has to be locked away like cigarettes, just that a human has to be at the checkout.

Labor is with us on the bill, but it couldn’t be UFCW versus the grocery stores.  So we need to build a coalition.  Young people, parents’ groups, PTA, MADD, etc.  And it was hard, because there were other issues including Mike Feuer’s lock device bill.  It took a while but we were able to convince them that this was in their interest and necessary.  And in the end, UFCW never appeared publicly as the supporter of the bill, but rather PTAs and MADD and those other groups.  You have to figure out who the best spokesperson and the best face for the issue is.  It’s nice to be right, but winning is important.  You have to have the right face on it.  And AB1060 is still on the Senate Floor, so please sign in favor of it.

Question: These machines are anti-employee!  We need to boycott any stores that have them.

De la Torre: I get askede a lot about whether it’s a labor bill.  It’s not: it’s about how we conduct business in this state.  We the people get to decide how business is conducted in the state.

Perez: That was a great example of how to build a coalition.  In terms of format, we’re going to take 20-25 minutes to go through the panel.  Each panelist will take about 4-5 minutes to give their presentation, then I will moderate the Q&A.  First presenter is Peggy Moore.  Peggy is Political Director of OFA, has organized various campaigns for social justice in Oakland.

Peggy Moore: OFA serves as the President’s field team.  The election last year was exciting and folks got involved who had never been involved in a campaign before.  It was an historic movement, but getting into office was just the beginning of making the change.  OFA was created so that we can support the President on the ground.  Staff of 9 in California, but we’re in 48 states.  We have a phenomenal group of volunteers, and we were phonebanking our hearts out from one congressperson to another, depending on who we needed to give our love to.  Right now it’s all about supporting the healthcare agenda.  But pretty soon it’ll be energy, and immigration and other issues.  So we’re working with HCAN, labor, done press conferences, actions, phonebank, etc.  And when we move to education, we’ll be expanding our coalition building.

We are a part of the DNC.  OFA is a project of the DNC.  Our structure works where we have community organizers who create neighborhood teams.  We want to have people ready and waiting on the ground in an instant when we need to support the president.  We have 150 to 175 organizers ready on the ground.  We’re training people to be ready for action.  The issue is transferrable, doesn’t matter what it is.  We’re just trained to be on the ground and help people organize.  We’ve also been working with Learn to Win.

Perez: Thank you Peggy. Next up is Henry Vandermeir, serving in second term as Chairman of the CDC, and Political Director of the Orange County Democratic Party.

Henry Vandermeir: Obviously, one of the things from the party’s point of view from the coalition point of view is to get our own party working together.  With over 400 clubs across the state, getting them to cooperate is important.  Or if there is a speaker coming and you don’t have enough people in your club, invite people from other clubs to come.  Work together on it and help activate people and get a candidate elected.

It’s important to reach out to PDA, Wellstone and all the other groups out there.  We’re all working toward the same goals.  Not a single one of all these organizations has the resources to do what needs to be done in California all by themselves.  So we need to make them realize that in order to make things happen in this state, we need to cooperate.  Leave our egos at the door when you walk in, work together, quit worrying about “these are our people, these are our precint leaders”.  That’s what gets us into trouble.

There have been issues getting cooperation between clubs and OFA.  We need to reach out to them and make sure that we’re all working together.  It’s not rocket science, it’s all common sense.  That’s what we need to do at the club level.  We cannot reinvent the wheel, we don’t have the resources individually, we need to work together on all of this.

Perez: Next is Arisha Michelle Hatch, the Southern California field manager of the Courage Campaign.  She’s responsible for organizing volunteers on a county by county basis.

Hatch: We’re like MoveOn.org but for California.  We like to call ourselves the greenhouse for the grassroots, in that we have a lot of different members with a lot of different interests.  I work for the Equality Program, which was established after the passage of Prop 8.  We sent out a viral video ad called Don’t Divorce Us, which got a lot of new members.  While many of those are interested in marriage equality, most are interested in healthcare, and secondarily education.  I joined Courage because they were trying to emulate what Obama did during the election.  The Equality Program was founded because every 4 years, California does a great job exporting labor and talent to the battleground states to the detriment of California, so we’re out here to build a permanent progressive infrastructure in California.  In terms of Equality, it’s not just about marriage: it’s about making sure the playing field is level in all areas such as education and healthcare.

Perez: Next is Dorothy Reik, Vice Chair of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, delegate to the CDP from the 41st assembly.  Led a series of forums on single payer healthcare, Gaza, food safety, etc.  She comes to us through the peace movement, and her club has close ties to the Topanga Peace movement.

Reik: PDA was started by Tim Carpenter after the 2004 DNC convention.  The idea was to further our progressive agenda by working inside and outside the party.  That means working with groups that don’t traditionally work with the party.  We have six issues: healthcare for all.  We don’t support hte public option, and stick to that.  We’re upset about the removal of the Kucinich Amendment.  We want out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and want to end all wars.  We want economic and social justice, everyone should be treated equally.  And as far as right to marriage, we want everyone to be able to marry.  Clean and fair elections, which we don’t have in this country: we can’t have voting machines at the front end or the back end either.  Stop global warming, environmental issues we’re on the front lines working against the corporations who want to keep overheating our globe and world until our children don’t have a world to work in.  If you think oil wars are bad, wait until we get water wars.  And accountability, because Obama’s Attorney General won’t prosecute for torture.  We want Obama to address our issues, not Obama’s issues.  We want OFA to work with us, and take directions from us, because we believe Obama has been taking directions from the corporations.

We have conference calls where you can talk to Tim Carpenter.  I get jealous listening to OFA talking about paid staff.  Outside of Tim Carpenter who gets a stipend, almost all of our people are volunteers.

Perez: Final panelist is Jerry Vaughn.  Public Relations Director of SEIU 721, the largest public employee union in CA since 2005.  721 represents more than 80,000 public works from Santa Barbara to Orange County to the border.

Gary Vaughn: With such a large region like that, we have a diverse region that we represent.  Social workers, sanitation workers, RNs, attorneys.  We’ve worked with OFA on various issues and a number of other orgs.  Oftentimes, unfortunately, we are good at making use of other organizations, but we have a difficult time reciprocating.  We don’t have a permanent structure in the community, but rather come in to help win an election.  That’s where we can make improvements to build coalitions.  And we can work better with people on the other side of the ideological divide.

Question from Deana Igelsrud: I’m the e-board rep from the 47th district and co-chair of CA Majority Rule.  A lot of your volunteers were new to the process and excited about the election.  Many of the more seasoned veterans are more interested in the issues.  How do you build coalitions with new people and keep them engaged when it comes to issues?

Perez: Part of the difference is between building an electoral coaliton and a governing coalition.

Peggy: We all supported Barack, but many of us have issues with how he’s handling healthcare.  So we’ve had camps and trainings to invite people to participate.  We are organizing people around healthcare.  We’re online, calling structures we have in place.  And then when it comes to education and energy, those issues pop in too.  People will show up based on their passion.  Our job and focus is to teach people to organize effectively in their communities.

Perez: It seems like every election cycle, you see a peak of activism, but then some people drop off, and some stay involved.  So people who were involved in 2004 now see themselves as old hands.  How has that experience been, Peggy?

Reik: PDA truly is a movement.  We reach out not only to Democratic clubs to work with us, but we also reach out to other groups in the city and the state to groups like One Care Now, and the group standing against the Three Strikes Law.  So we try to reach people and bring them into the Party and into the progressive movement who may not have been politically involved before.  If someone came to me interested in food safety legislation, we did a forum for that to help teach people about that.

Thom O’Shaughnessy: How do we follow and deal with these three tenets: 1) learning how to agree to disagree, 2) how to marry orthodoxy with pragmatism, and 3) how to trade horses in a soft IOU for working on each other’s issues?

Gary Vaughn: We don’t have an answer to those dynamics.  When we have 30 asks of the legislature, given what we can accomplish, can we make 30 asks effectively?  Maybe we need to bullet down to 3 or 4.  Others would say no, we have to push all our issues.  But in other circumstances, we need to know what we have to walk away from the table having gotten.  Our first rule is, do no harm, especially since we have so many budget cuts.  And let’s look at who is doing the work.  And certainly, having wealthier Americans and Californians paying more is worth looking at.

Perez: There’s been a significant debate about gay marriage, given CA and ME.  One complaint is that the LGBT movement hasn’t been involved in coalition politics, that they ask for help but don’t necessarily provide it.  Arisha, what are the challenges in bringing people out of their comfort zone?

Arisha: Courage is well-situated to work on this issue.  Courage is multi-issue unlike some of the other organizations.  One of the things we’re trying to stress in our organizing work is trying to get people to show up, and stress the importance of showing up for community organizing work.  One of the things we’ve been trying to do is stress the importance of not being a one-issue movement.  Bringing people along in their feelings about marriage equality is important, but has to be paired with helping with the issues that matter to them.

Carolyn Fowler: These are not, or shouldn’t be competing organizations.  What is the best way for organizations to reach out to the clubs?

Henry Vandermeir: One of the things you need to do is find out who you’re actually going to talk to.  Know what your resources are.  Common sense would tell you we have all the contact information for all the clubs.  If we want OFA to contact them, well, why not just go to the source?  Make it easy.  It’s a two way situation though.  We don’t just need to contact the presidents.  They also need to contact us.

Peggy: We work closely with the CDP, and getting a list of all the clubs.  We’re going to be at the eboard meeting coming up next weekend.  Coming up and saying, this is who we are and how we work together.

Dorothy Reik: We do it the old-fashioned way, pick up the telephone and call up the club leaders in our area, see if they’ll cosponsor, or join our food safety or other forum.  We have organizing calls, ways to reach out to club presidents and other people, and would love to work with OFA and other groups.

Question: Republicans by and large stand together and are united in their ranks.  We have as Democrats got not to do that among ourselves.  If you don’t like something Obama is doing or whatever, that’s fine and do it in private.  But in a public forum, I find it very offensive to be attacking Obama and what he’s trying to accomplish.

Perez: I’ll take that as a comment.

Question: We have a challenge of people not voting for candidates or working for candidates, and focusing instead on issues.  They need to work for candidates as well.

Gary Vaughn: We do trade with candidates: we work on your campaign, and we’d like you to work with us on these issues.

Question: I’m very disappointed in Organizing for America.  And I love PDA.  You’ve had time to organize your people, and i’ve been to several OFA house parties.  But they don’t teach people how to organize.  They don’t have to join a Democratic club, but they are afraid to even visit a club.  You are spending money giving orders, call this person and say that, not teaching them how to think.  I would like to see Obama people not be afraid of us.

Perez: People take various tones, some more positive and some more critical.  I would ask us to be as productive and respectful in our discourse as possible.  Sometimes it’s hard not to feel the passion we feel about these issues.  There is concern with the difference between a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach, so speak to those issues.

Peggy Moore: I’m proud to work for OFA.  And I’m a president of an East Bay Democratic club.  I understand some of those frustrations that people might have.  But there is a focus we have.  We decided that the issue was healthcare, and this is how we’re going to organize around healthcare.  And there are some groups that think we should be approaching it in a certain way.  I’m not going to be on the street with Organizing for America, challenging the President.  That’s not going to roll.  Other organizations can do that, and they have every right to.  By pushing Single Payer, we may have gotten a public option, which wasn’t on the table before.  But we have a job and responsibility, and we have other issues to deal with as well.  We listen to people about how to do our job better.  We are training people to do the job, and we’ve been around less than a year.  And a lot of the people who voted for Obama and who need healthcare are not Democrats.  So it’s important that we continue to have these conversations.  I will come to a Democratic club and have a conversation with you, I’ll give you my card.  We may not always agree, and I’m OK with that.

Perez: It is a very difficult transition to go from being an activist to running an electoral campaign, and then move to how to govern.  Understanding that as a legislator, understanding that I had to choose often between a number of undesirable options, it’s very difficult.  But it is incredibly valid for us to be frustrated and to express that frustration, because we too came to the campaign with expectations and we want to see many of those expectations met.  So thank you for your openness and commitment to working with all the clubs, and you hear the frustration expressed, and after all these years in the wilderness we want to get as much as we can as quickly as we can.

Question: The point was to encourage Obama activists to get involved in the clubs.

Peggy Moore: We do encourage people to participate.  We have several members from the Obama campaign, that once the campaign was over, were looking for a place to go.  And some of the members have participated in the Democratic clubs.  And some of the clubs are better than others.  And when you get them in the door, we need to keep them in the door.

Eric Bauman: We need to be careful about putting fingers in people’s eyes.  There are Obama activists who don’t like the Party or our movement.  Just as there were Dean activists with the same perspective.  We need to be figuring out how to do this together.  The other side is together and working together.  We need to work together and stop poking fingers in each other’s eyes.

Question: I’m from the John Muir Democratic Club.  How do we raise consciousness of a particular Get Out of Afghanistan bill?

Henry Vandermeir: As far as getting resources, you need to figure out which organizations are going to be more receptive to what you’re working on.  As mentioned previously, some organizations are particularly focused on certain issues, so it has to be a targeted campaign.  Same thing goes for organizations, you have to figure out which organizations are going to be helpful and cooperative, and which will not.

Perez: Just take a last minute from each of you to talk about any takeaway messages in terms of investing in coalition politics.

Dorothy Reik: We need to work together, but we need to give our message to the powers that be to tell them what we think are the best policies.  We need to elect Democrats, but not just any Democrats.  We need to elect the Democrats who are in favor of what we believe in.   We have one of those, Marcy Winograd, running against Jane Harman.

Gary Vaughn: When we talk about coalitions, we have to try to make connections outside of our norm, including with moderates and conservatives.  Break through the partisanship.

Peggy Moore: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I need all of you, your mentorship, need you to keep us on track.  We’re working for a better America.  I want to personally invite you over to the opening of our new office at Centinela and Jefferson in Culver City on Thursday.

Arisha Michelle Hatch: I’m personally a baby of the Obama movement.  I challenge you as leaders and organizers to plug into the energy of the movement, and challenge you to question whether you’re creating an environment conducive to plugging in.

Henry Vandermier: Tolerance is a virtue.  If people agree with you 50%-75%, then consider yourself lucky.  Remember that when you go to work on coalitions.

Perez: I want to thank the panel, and bring back Eric Bauman.

Eric Bauman: Thanks to our moderator Assemblymember Perez.

Courageous Deputy Field Organizers Lead California

I’m at a beautiful retreat house on a hilltop in the mountains north of San Luis Obispo as thirty volunteers led by Courage Campaign’s brilliant field team learn the skills to be community organizers. The spirit and energy in the room outshine the magnificent California countryside.

Every four years, California exports labor and capital for presidential campaigns. I witnessed that firsthand as chair of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign here in California when, in 2003/4, we sent hundreds of people to Iowa, New Mexico and Arizona to fight in the early primaries. And we raised millions online from California to make Howard Dean the voice that forever changed the Democratic Party. But then what?

We did it again in 2008 with the Obama Campaign. California exported tens of millions of dollars (maybe hundreds of millions) for the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Thousands of Californians went to Nevada to turn that state blue, to Florida and Pennsylvania and even Montana. Some 60% (maybe more) of the telephone calls to voters were made from California so that volunteers in those other states could actually meet with the right voters.

But no one from Oakland went to Fresno. And no one from West LA went to San Bernardino. No phone calls were made to the Imperial Valley. No money was spent on building infrastructure or focusing progressive messages on the conservative parts of our state. And not one penny was spent bringing people together to figure out why our state is broken, much less how to fix it.

The folks in this room today are here to change that. These nearly three dozen volunteers applied for the position of Deputy Field Organizer. They are from all over the state. Born of the post-Prop. 8 wake up call, Cole from Humboldt, Erin from Glendale, Matthew from San Francisco, Sara Beth from San Diego and a couple of dozen more like them are here because they know that they are leaders who can change their own communities.

Sarah Callahan, the incredibly skilled and experienced Courage COO, is right now teaching the team how to create a stakeholder analysis, what to do with that analysis and how to organize around that understanding. Earlier in the day, everyone broke into teams to learn their own story of self and then how to teach the story of self for organizers.

Most people came to this energizing space because of marriage equality and LGBT rights, but all want to work to assure that we have universal health care, affordable education and good jobs. On my ride up here, I listened to NPR (of course). The news is not great. The wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq are sapping our nation’s resources. The financial system continues to reward the few at the top, while jobs remain far fewer than willing workers. Houses once at the heart of the California and American dreams stand empty because former owners can’t make ends meet.

In the meantime, the health insurance companies dump hundreds of millions of dollars of premium fees into ads designed to protect and enhance their profits by thwarting reform. Climate change, full equality for LGBT people, immigration and education reform are not even really on the agenda yet.

But there’s only room for optimism. The movement that put Obama into office is growing. It demands progress and it is organizing itself right here in Bradley, California and across our country. The leadership of the movement in many ways comes from the LGBT community. We’ll win marriage equality and full equality as we build a progressive state–and nation–for all of us.

Now that’s Courage.

(Cross-posted at Courage Campaign)

Say No to Manchester: Boycott Continues

Doug Manchester played a relatively unsung, but crucial role in qualifying Prop 8 for the ballot. His $125,000 donation came in at a critical time when the proponents were running out of cash during the signature gathering process.

It is conceivable that Prop 8 would not have made it on to the ballot, if it were not for Doug Manchester.  In response to that donation and the poor treatment of his workers a boycott of his hotels was established a year ago, and has now cost Manchester upwards of $7 million in canceled reservations.

He has hired gay heavyweight PR crisis man Howard Bragman to respond to the boycott.  Their genius idea was to offer up $100,000 in hotel credits and a $25,000 contribution to any 501c3 organization that supports civil unions.

It was a cynical attempt to try and buy-off and divide the LGBT and labor communities.  And it’s not working.  No way.  No how.

Today, the Courage Campaign, Equality California, UNITE HERE and Californians Against Hate have teamed up to launch the “Say No to Manchester” website, asking our members to sign a pledge to uphold the boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt and Grand del Mar Resort.

It’s a relatively unique campaign with labor and LGBT organizations coming together to support workers rights and equality.  These types of coalitions are crucial for building progressive power here in California.  Any repeal of Prop 8 will need support from our brothers and sisters in labor and they need our help on their organizing efforts for workers’ dignity and rights.

Boycotts don’t always work, but this one has been effective, though not perfect.  Unfortunately, the California Bar Association has refused to move their annual.  Jenny Pizer from Lambda Legal:

“The bar associations recognize that many of their members will not feel comfortable attending conference activities at the Manchester Hyatt given its owner’s extraordinary personal support of the campaign that made gay people and their families unequal under law, and undermined the basic rights of all minority groups in California,” she wrote.

Of course, Bragman tries to wedge labor and LGBTs.

Bragman added that the boycott was less about LGBT rights, and more about the hotel workers trying to unionize. “The union issues and the boycott and the GLBT issues are apples and oranges,” he said. “They are two separate issues. We frankly have a boycott that is being funded and designed by people who have motives other than the GLBT community in an effort to unionize the properties.”

Is it inconceivable to Bragman that LGBTs care about workers rights AND their own rights, not to mention the fact that shocker of all shockers, there are LGBT hotel workers?  Like I said earlier, we are unified and will not let Manchester divide us, try though they might.

Flip it for the email we sent out to our members today.

Dear Julia —

It’s time for unity in the face of those who seek to divide us.

Doug Manchester, owner of the second-largest Hyatt hotel in the country — and the man who donated $125,000 in crucial early seed money to the Prop 8 campaign — has launched a cynical public relations campaign to divide the marriage equality and labor movements.

That’s why the Courage Campaign and Equality California are teaming up to reject Manchester’s attempt to divide Californians. Will you join us?


Here’s the story:

Doug Manchester owns the Grand Hyatt hotel in San Diego. When he gave $125,000 in early seed money to the “Yes on 8” campaign — a critical infusion of urgent cash that paid for the signature-gathering to put Prop 8 on the ballot — Californians Against Hate teamed up with Cleve Jones and the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE to lead a boycott of Manchester’s hotels, subsequently joined by the Courage Campaign, Equality California and several other organizations concerned about equality and workers’ rights.

Launched in the summer of 2008, this highly successful boycott is believed to have cost Manchester’s Grand Hyatt more than $7 million in lost business. Despite the success of this growing boycott, Doug Manchester has refused to apologize, refused to meet with the organizations leading the boycott, and refused to improve conditions for hotel workers.

Instead, Manchester has tried to buy off LGBT organizations by offering $100,000 in “hotel credits” and $25,000 to any 501(c)3 organization that supports “civil unions” — a tax write-off for Manchester that dodges full support for marriage equality and could never be used to fund a repeal of Prop 8, the passage of which Manchester made possible.

No one has accepted.

Today, the Courage Campaign and Equality California are launching the new “Say No To Manchester” web site along with UNITE HERE and Californians Against Hate and asking our members to sign a pledge to join the Manchester boycott. Please click here to add your name today:


By signing this pledge, you will increase pressure on Doug Manchester to make a public apology for his $125,000 donation to Prop 8 and negotiate an honest, fair resolution with boycott organizers.

Thank you for joining the Courage Campaign, Equality California, UNITE HERE, and Californians Against Hate. Standing together in solidarity, this growing movement for equality and fairness will win.

Rick Jacobs

Chair, Courage Campaign

Can A Citizen Assembly Rewrite California’s Constitution?

The bleeding mess of California’s budget crisis begins with the state Constitution, last rewritten in 1879, and amended 512 times since then.

Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council wrote this op-ed, and inspired Repair California.

California’s government suffers from drastic dysfunction – our prisons overflow, our water system teeters on collapse, our once proud schools are criminally poor, our financing system is bankrupt, our democracy produces ideologically extreme legislators who can pass neither budget nor reforms, and we have no recourse in the system to right these wrongs. Drastic times call for drastic measures.

It is our duty to declare that our California government is not only broken, it has become destructive to our future. Therefore, are we not obligated to nullify our government and institute a new one?

Saturday I attended one townhall meeting to discuss process.

I encourage every thinking California to attend one of the six townhalls scheduled around the state including Orange County on August 24th by Repair California. It’s a fascinating group, started by a Northern California Business Council, but heavily influenced by some of the best progressive thinkers, including the Velasquez Institute, Common Cause, and a bevy of other good government organizations. The event I attended was hosted by the Courage Campaign, California’s 700,000 member progressive alliance.

Kicking off the session were endorsements of the idea of a Constitutional Convention by LA’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the City Controller Wendy Gruel, and the eloquent President of the City Council, Eric Garcetti. It’s not hard to recognize a problem when your state is the butt of jokes for late night talks, issuing IOU’s with an expat Austrian action hero attempting a radical shock doctrine final solution to the budget problems.

The well-intentioned progressive reforms to fix the problems of the last gilded age have been hijacked time and again until our Constitution is the roadkill of governing documents. Structurally, the requirements of a 2/3 vote in the legislature to approve either a budget or any revenue increase allow a minority to hold the state hostage. The initiative process, once envisioned as the citizen’s right to over-rule the government, has been cynically abused by the wealthiest special interests, including the apartment owners and business interests who hobbled the state with Proposition 13, which was sold to prevent seniors from being forced from their homes, but had dozens of pernicious consequences, including loss of local government control.

As Antonio Gonzalez of the Velasquez Institute noted, maybe the legislature will fix the problem. Maybe some combination of single-issue initiatives can get lucky. Maybe pigs will fly. I wouldn’t bet on any of these, so we might as well start doing the heavy lifting, figuring out the best way to call a Constitutional Convention, and how to choose delegates who will generate a new governance structure that will meet the approval of voters and allow our legislators to govern the state.

The Heart Of The Matter – Harnessing a Voter Revolt

These times are so uncertain

There’s a yearning undefined

And people filled with rage

At the heart of the matter, the essence of calling a convention, is the question of how to select the delegates.

It’s interesting to note that the 1879 California Con Con was inspired by a nativist revolt to deny rights to Chinese immigrants, and as one speaker at the townhall asked, “How do we trust Californians who passed Proposition 8 and Prop 187 and are now trying to take rights away from children born in this country whose parents aren’t citizens?”

And can we risk duplicating the gridlock in the legislature that is dominated by partisans whose true constituency is the 17% of the electorate who will allow them to win a party primary in a gerrymandered district?

Galloping to the rescue is the New America Foundation with a powerful, proven concept of a citizen assembly, randomly chosen with five delegates from each of California’s 80 assembly district, a 400 person sample large enough to be representative. The initiative that calls the convention can define an open process that adds webcasting, blogs, social networking, and hearings to build a consensus. Citizen delegates will earn a stipend so they can take a leave of absence from work, have a budget to hire the experts, and travel around the state in hearings and meetings in a reality show that will actually speak to our most profound realities.

But the truth is, average Californians are the only ones who can lead our state out of the quagmire of special interests and partisanship that currently is paralyzing it.  That’s because average Californians bring a special quality that too many incumbents and the political class in general do not have:  a pragmatic desire to solve the state’s problems, regardless of ideology, partisanship or career self-interest.

I spoke strongly in favor of this concept, with a deep, abiding faith in the wisdom of a cross-section of Californians working in common purpose. From a group this size, leaders will arise who will speak with eloquence and common sense. Most of all they’ll do what true leaders do best – listen to each other in an attempt to find common ground.

And as they return to their districts from an eight month process, they will be able to claim a legitimacy and trust that our legislature has lost, exactly what voters need to vote for change.

Another key concept that needs to be stressed is the fact that the Citizen’s Constitutional Convention will be limited to issues of governance, strictly enjoined by the initiative that calls the convention from wading into divisive social issues that are not involved in reforming the governance of the state.

And for those of you who clicked the links, here’s a bonus – the beautiful and gracious India Arie.