Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Economic Opportunity

Warning: A Dark Piece

Body Bag demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Northwest D.C
Body Bag demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Northwest D.C
Credit: Yilmaz Akin / Provided by Subminimal

Warning: this is a dark piece in a dark time.

As I think about what to write this morning, I recognize the need to express the shame, horror and fear of this moment. Almost 100,000 people dead from COVID-19. Millions of people have no way to pay for food or rent. Millions of elders are at risk of death or homelessness. Yet, we cling to the shreds of a dying democracy and a fantasy called “getting back to normal.”

The shame is that we as a nation seem oblivious to the tragedy of so many unnecessary deaths in our midst. Part of struggling to stay sane in this season means trying to maintain some sense of normal life for ourselves and our loved ones. I quote my sister often these days: “You have one job – get through the pandemic!”

Our efforts to maintain stability in the midst of obvious chaos make it appear that we are unaffected by the massive death toll. Yet, we are all affected in some way. Truly, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

It may be a relative or friend that you know has COVID-19. You may have a loved one who died from COVID-19 or a loved one you fear may die from COVID-19. We are all affected. But to the outside world, it looks like we are insistent on “getting back to normal.” It seems like we are willing to die for “business as usual.” It is only a facade created to make us all feel better while making us all look worse than we are.

Our National Hypocrisy

The New Jersey Veterans Home in Paramus on Wednesday, April 8, 2020
New Jersey Veterans Home, 4/8/20
Credit: Michael Karas / NorthJersey.com / USA Today Networks

The Memorial Day holiday highlights the hypocrisy of the moment. This is a holiday to commemorate those who died while serving in the military. Politicians preen themselves to acknowledge military service on this day. We are all taught to say “thank you” in the presence of veterans. Yet, last week, we learned that a COVID-19 experiment killed at least 26 veterans receiving care at VA medical centers. Others required ventilators to survive at higher rates than veterans who were not administered the death drug. These veterans died too, at the hands of the military.

Ironically, the experimental treatment imposed on these veterans by our government reminds us of the tragedy of the Tuskegee experiment. From 1940 to 1972, a government study left 399 Black men with untreated syphilis. The government did not tell the men they were being used as guinea pigs. Even when doctors recognized penicillin was an effective treatment in 1945, the “study” continued for another 27 years.

We Are All Expendable

What COVID-19 exposes in America is that we are all expendable. That includes veterans in hospitals, in prisons and without homes. At least 8-10% of those imprisoned in this country are military veterans. One 2012 study found the mortality risk for veterans released from prison is 12 times higher than the general population. No doubt the mortality rates for all returning citizens in the post-COVID-19 season will skyrocket. There is no protection from COVID-19 in prison. As clergy woman Melissa Cedillo notes, “The American prison system today is a new iteration of this long-standing white supremacist goal —  to control and dehumanize people of color, the impoverished, the marginalized.

Outside of prison, COVID-19 is killing Black people at three times the rate of white people. And as Dr. Fauci notes, this is not “news” and there is nothing we can do about it in this moment.

In fact, we are all expendable: veterans, nurses, health care workers, domestic workers, gig workers, low-wage workers, small business owners, homeless people, incarcerated people, Black people, Latinos and Native Americans, all of us. Indeed, in January 2019, according to Forbes magazine, 78% of all American workers were living “paycheck-to-paycheck.” That was last year, before the pandemic hit us. Now, for at least 40 million people, there is no paycheck. No health insurance. No savings, only student loans, enormous medical bills or credit card debt.

A Dark Piece

I warned you – this is a dark piece. This is bearing witness to the collapse of an economic system coming apart at the seams. A democracy that has succumbed to celebrity fascism. A failing education system erected on inequity based on race and social status. Suddenly, the rest of the world considers America “a shithole country.” As writer Marley K. points out:

“America is the rich nation where people can starve to death, children can sleep in cars and no one is bothered by it, where citizens get sick and can’t afford to get well, and where people who work all their lives can’t afford to grow old and die in peace.”

 U.S. Postal Service worker in Los Angeles, California
 U.S. Postal Service worker in Los Angeles, California
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

We face the closure of the Post office, a national institution since 1775 and a place of employment for Black people since the end of slavery. According to writer umair haque, we have actually become “too poor” to save ourselves. And we are still only at the beginning of the pandemic. With states rushing to “re-open” the economy, the death toll will only rise. We are simply not seeing the body bags that were widely displayed on television during the Vietnam War. But people are in fact dying: 100,000 people so far to be precise.

Who Will Make The Change?

We already have the answers. We already know what must be done. It starts with Medicare for All. We must have a guaranteed basic income for all. We must have a Green New Deal. It is up to us to destroy the “inherently unequal” school system that Thurgood Marshall challenged and start over. We must end mass incarceration and dismantle our criminal injustice system. This pandemic must result in a fundamental re-ordering of our priorities and how we pay for them. The question is who among us will be alive to make it happen.

Like I said: “You have one job – get through the pandemic!”

COVID-19 Alert: ILWU Protects Us

ILWU Local 10 President Trent Willis and his members fighting COVID-19
ILWU Local 10 President Trent Willis and his members

Oakland is in a crisis. This is a COVID-19 Alert! The ILWU (International Longshoreman & Workers Union) Local 10 has sounded the alarm again!

Last week, ILWU Locals 10 and 34 stopped the owners of the Grand Princess cruise ship from off-loading COVID-19 contaminated waste into Oakland. The ILWU is also insisting that the companies profiting off of their labor and our land at the Port of Oakland take necessary steps to protect the workers at the Port and our community. 

The longshoreman and port workers are on the front lines of our national transportation network. At the same time, they are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Most of them live in this community. If they are exposed to the coronavirus, they will carry the virus into the community. 

What Do They Want?

What the ILWU is asking is really simple:   

Disinfect their worksite: the equipment, work areas, terminal bathrooms, mechanic shops, tools, machines, turnstiles, gates and every place they work on the Port. 

Some of the companies that use our Port are refusing to properly disinfect the worksite. We know in the face of this highly contagious virus, employers as well employees have to take extra steps to stop the spread. But the workers are simply not equipped to disinfect the entire worksite. And it’s not their responsibility. The responsibility is on the employer. 

By taking a strident and firm stand against working in a contaminated environment and sounding the alarm on management, the ILWU protects us – the entire Bay Area – from a higher risk of infection with COVID-19.

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) represents the companies operating at the Port of Oakland. We need to contact PMA, Port officials and Assemblymember Rob Bonta to demand that the companies do their part to protect our community. 

Who You Going to Call?

Dan Kaney is the Northern California Area Managing Director for PMA. Call him at 510-891-4628 or e-mail: dkaney@pmanet.org.

Danny Wan is the Executive Director for the Port of Oakland. Call him at 510-627-1100 or e-mail: https://www.portofoakland.com/people/danny-wan.

John Driscoll is the Maritime Director for the Port of Oakland. Call him at 510-627-1243 or e-mail: https://www.portofoakland.com/people/john-c-driscoll-maritime-director. 

Amy Tharpe is the Director of Social Responsibility for the Port of Oakland. Call her at 510-627-1302 or e-mail: https://www.portofoakland.com/people/amy-tharpe-director-social-responsibility.

The Port is located in Hon. Rob Bonta‘s Assembly District (AD18). His District Director is Tonya Love. Call her at 510-286-1670 or e-mail: Tonya.love@asm.ca.gov.

COVID-19 Alert: the ILWU Protects Us!

It is still true that we know so little about the disease. What we do know is more people will get infected and too many will not survive if we force people to work in areas infected by the coronavirus without protection. 

This is a preventable public health crisis happening in our community right now. We may not be able to get out the house but we can still call or e-mail. Make the call asap. Send an e-mail. Let’s support the people who are working hard to protect us. 

Time to “Bern” America

Black American Soldiers In Vietnam (1971)

This coming Saturday April 27th, I will co-host a bilingual house party with Andrea Luna for people to learn more about Bernie Sanders campaign for President and sign-up to volunteer. After much soul-searching, I have decided and declare that I’m all in for Bernie Sanders.

“The Fierce Urgency of Now”

Killer Mike caught my attention when he asked the question on the Real – do you like and respect Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? His analysis is that Bernie’s agenda most closely matches the agenda of Rev. King.

In the years right before he died, Rev. King talked about the need to transform America. In his book “The Black Presidency” Michael Eric Dyson reports a conversation in 1966 where Rev. King told his advisors that “[t]here must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” We know that King was murdered as he was organizing the Poor Peoples March on Washington, and unifying people across race, religion and class with the goal of eradicating poverty in America. Rev. King did not live to see the March. He knew that his days were numbered. One of his most famous statements is “the time is always right to do what’s right.”

In America today, there is no time to wait. Certainly not for anyone who cares about Black people. In 1966, Rev. King declared that “Of all the inequalities that exist, the injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” According to a 2016 Kaiser report, Blacks have significantly higher death rates than Whites for diabetes, heart disease and cancer. HIV and AIDS diagnoses rates among Blacks between ages 13-64 are more than eight and ten times higher than that for Whites. The death rate for HIV is eight times higher for Blacks compared to Whites.

The Kaiser study also found that in 2014, 71% of Whites were insured privately and only 21% had Medicaid or public insurance. By comparison, 51% of Blacks had private insurance, and 37% had Medicaid or public insurance. We know that the substantial gains made under the Affordable Care Act are being wiped out by Trump.

In 2019, Black women are disproportionately suffering high and increasing infant and maternal mortality rates. In 2019, too many people in America of every race and gender have to choose between filling a prescription or buying food. The high cost of health insurance means that many people simply cannot afford health care. In fact, medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy.

Enter Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist. Bernie is undeniably the leader on national health care reform. The California Nurses Association and National Nurses United went to the mat for him in 2016 because of his position on health care reform. Every other candidate today is sailing in his wind and mimicking his commitment.

In 2009, the Democratic Party abandoned single-payer, and even as late as 2017, many House Democrats did not support Medicare for All.

Consistent Values & Commitment

Bernie Sanders has been consistent on health care reform, civil rights and opposition to war, some of the biggest issues we face today. He has a plan to address the epidemic of gun violence in this country, an issue that I care deeply about.

Bernie Sanders Arrest In Civil Rights Demonstration – Chicago (1963)

Bernie’s arrest during a 1963 civil rights protest of segregation in Chicago schools when he was a student at the University of Chicago resonates deeply with my personal history. At the University of Chicago, Bernie was a leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a major civil rights group and led protests over racial inequality.

As a Senator, Bernie voted against the Iraq War in 2002 and warned of “unintended consequences.”

As the conscience of the country, in 1967, Rev. King condemned the Vietnam War and warned about “the Casualties of the War in Vietnam.” As a result he was labeled “an enemy of the State” and ridiculed on all sides.

My True Confessions

One, I am not an original “Berniecrat” from the 2016 presidential campaign. Two reasons: (1) I was dealing with seismic shifts in my personal life in that season; and (2) an elderly White male senator from Vermont was not someone who caught my attention in time for me to do anything to help him.

Two, I knew Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate. I witnessed how she and Bill treated Lani Guinier and Marianne Wright Edelman. I witnessed Hillary’s complicity in the Monica Lewinsky episode – how they treated “that woman.” I watched the proliferation of criminal injustice laws and new unfair tax burdens imposed on victims of unlawful discrimination under the Clintons’ leadership. I watched how they ran against Sen. Obama. I heard Bill’s racist comments and Hillary’s disappearing-reappearing Southern drawl.

Three, I went “hard to the paint” to elect Barack Hussein Obama as the first Black president. In 2008, Hope Young and I went to ground zero – Dayton, Montgomery County Ohio – and walked, talked and worked to the point of exhaustion. Election night, as we eagerly watched the results coming in and started to party to Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, I confessed to my friends that my greatest joy in my commitment to Obama was not about him, but the fact that Michelle Obama – a Black woman – was going to be the First Lady. 

The Time Is Right Now

As we move forward in 2019, the time is now and there is a fierce urgency. My father often said “time waits for no man.” The California primary is less than a year away. Yes, I need Bernie to call out sexism and racism more, and to focus on equity in addressing the impacts of centuries of racial inequality. But, I appreciate his consistency and I hate hypocrisy.

At the end of the day, I agree with Killer Mike (and Nina Turner and Danny Glover): “we need the total antithesis of what we say we don’t like about Donald Trump.” We need more than simply “any functioning adult” to help us get out of the mess we are in. I believe that loyalty to the legacy of Rev. King requires all out support to elect Bernie Sanders in 2020.

Whether or not you are sure about what to do in this moment, I urge you to attend one of the many house parties taking place on Saturday, April 27th around the country. Go to map.berniesanders.com to find a house party near you! Don’t wait – get it done now. “The time is always right to do what’s right.”

A Luta Continua!

Trump’s Secret Assault

I’m sitting and waiting for the healthcare vote. I’ve watched nervously over the last few days as the forces of Trump gathered in secret.  It is clear they intend to deliver a savage blow to healthcare in America. As a result, it is clear that now, more than ever, we need single payer healthcare in California.

The Healthy California Act – SB562

SB562 is a Senate bill in the California State Legislature that proposes to provide free healthcare for all Californians. Single-payer health care is a system in which the government, rather than private insurers, pays for all healthcare costs. Healthy California is a campaign of over 4 million Californians committed to guaranteeing healthcare for the residents of our state.

 

In a 2003 study, Americans spent 7.2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GPD) on health care. By comparison, it found that citizens in Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Australia spent less than 2.6. Their healthcare costs were covered by their governments. A 2010 study found that Americans continue to spend way more on our healthcare than other similarly-situated countries.

Source: Wikipedia/Sugar Baby Love

Our failure to provide universal healthcare in America also hurts our financial status in the world. A comparison of our credit rating to other countries with universal healthcare makes it clear we need single payor healthcare.

Source: Huffington Post

SB562 is a Senate bill in the California State Legislature that proposes to provide healthcare for all Californians. On April 26, 2017, the California Legislature moved SB562 forward. It would provide full healthcare coverage for all Californians. The advances from Obamacare would be folded into the new system. It will eliminate “co-pays” “out-of-pocket costs” and “deductibles.” These are the private expenses that are driving all of us to the poorhouse. SB562 will lower prescription costs which really hurt people when they are sick and need help the most.

Reproductive Injustice

According to the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, the infant mortality rate is one of the most widely used measures for the overall health of a community. Leading causes of death among infants are birth defects, preterm delivery, low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and maternal complications during pregnancy. Infant mortality continues to be a major problem in the U.S. although the rate is dropping.

In Alameda County, 619 babies died prematurely between 2006-2012, compared to 56 in Marin.  Alameda County’s infant mortality rate is consistently higher for Black and multiracial women than women in other ethnic groups. It is 3 times higher for Black families as white families in Alameda County, and almost that high in Contra Costa County.

West Contra Costa County became a medical desert in 2014 with the closure of Doctor’s Medical Center. Residents of 8 cities, Hercules, Pinole, San Pablo, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, Albany, Richmond, Kensington and the surrounding incorporated areas have to travel to Berkeley or Oakland for emergency medical care. The current crisis in West County is the result of decades of racial injustice in healthcare and other social services in Contra Costa County.

Studies also show an increase in pregnancy mortality rates in recent years. Again, Black women are dying at significantly higher rates:

  • 40.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for black women
  • 16.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for women of other races
  • 12.1 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women

Reproductive Injustice is still pervasive in our healthcare system by race and gender.

The Urgency of Now!

These statistics make it clear that NOW is the time for universal healthcare.  That the fight for single-payer healthcare is a social, racial, gender and economic justice issue.  Having free access to quality healthcare is one of the pressing human rights fights of our time.  Indeed, lives are at stake and every day counts! I urge everyone to join and support the Campaign for a Healthy California!  #HealthyCA

Losing Our Fire Chief

Losing Our Fire Chief

I can feel my temper rising as I read the headline “Oakland fire chief to retire.” The SF Chronicle labels Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed as “embattled.” The Chronicle says the Ghost Ship warehouse fire “raised questions about “management and inspection procedures in the Fire Department.” Did these “questions” lead to Chief Reed’s resignation? I doubt it. I think it’s more likely that the people doing the questioning were the ones who propelled her retirement.

Credit: Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group

Chief Reed came to Oakland as our Fire Chief in 2012. Her hiring made history. Reed began her career in 1986 in San Jose as a firefighter. She rose through the ranks there, serving as a Captain, Battalion Chief, Deputy Chief and Assistant Chief. Chief Reed served in San Jose for 23 years before she came to Oakland as our Chief. I met her in 2014 when she was honored as one of the Powerful Women of the Bay.

 

Chief Reed is one of the field’s pioneers. She is applauded as a change agent in a traditionally chauvinist and racist profession. Black women just began to break through the doors of the fire service in the 1980s. Toni McIntosh is reportedly the first Black woman to become a full-time firefighter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1976. The first known Black woman to become a Fire Chief is Rosemary R. Cloud who became a Fire Chief in East Point, Georgia in 2002.

Questions In Oakland

It is no secret that the local firefighters union is opposed to Chief Reed’s leadership and wants her out. The “questions” that arose after the tragic Ghost Ship fire merely added fuel to an already challenging situation. Some think Chief Reed’s desire to crack the “old boys network” inside the department’s leadership was too timidly executed. Others believe the union should have been more supportive of her efforts to change the culture and priorities of the department. Many question if Chief Reed is unfairly blamed for management problems she inherited from previous administrations. Rumors even say that after the Ghost Ship fire, the Mayor ordered Chief Reed not to speak to the media.

While the Fire Department was hit with the heaviest cuts in 2009 – before Chief Reed arrived -— the mayor and city council have n0t attempted to rebuild it with the same zeal with which they’ve approached the police and other city agencies. For example, the Fire Prevention Bureau needs an assistant fire marshal to oversees its inspectors. The City Council froze funding for this position in October 2008. The Council did not restore funding for the position until 2014, according to budget records. The funding for a designated Fire Marshall was not approved until 2014.

Oakland Post editor, Paul Cobb, sounded the alarm last year that Chief Reed is being hung out to dry. “There are indications that Mayor Libby Schaaf and the city administration may be trying to set up the Fire Department and the fire chief” to take the blame for the Ghost Ship disaster, the Post said in its Dec. 8 edition. Her resignation leaves a big obvious hole in the leadership of our City. Chief Reed is the only Black woman to head up a major City department.

Women in Fire Service

I have a bit of experience dealing with the challenges faced by women in the fire service. My client, Donna Rayon-Terrell is the first female firefighter in the Contra Costa County Fire Department. As a Black woman starting in the fire service in 1989, she faced the challenges of sex and race. A native of Richmond, Donna is part of a powerhouse fire family. She and her brother, Marcus Rayon, attended the same fire academy in 1989. Her daughter Mandisa Banjoko followed in her footsteps and joined Contra Costa Fire. Donna and Mandisa are probably the only mother-daughter team to serve in a major fire department at the same time.

As a “pioneer” in Contra Costa, Donna was repeatedly subjected to mistreatment and intentional acts of harassment by her male co-workers. Numerous male firefighters did not want to work with her because she was a woman. Male co-workers and supervisors often subjected her to belittling comments. Her coworkers isolated her, preventing her from forming critical bonds with members of her firefighting team. This endangered her safety and theirs.  But Donna persisted as they tried to undermine her ability to be a successful firefighter. She overcame the racist and sexist culture to advance in her career. She held the rank of Captain when she retired in 2004.

Where Do We Go From Here?

How ironic that in Women’s History Month, we face the loss of a pioneering Black woman in Oakland. Black women are supposedly the hardest group to recruit into the fire service. Today, Contra Costa Fire has only 1 Black woman. The Richmond Fire Department has only 1 Black woman. While Oakland has a few more in its ranks, Chief Reed’s departure raises “questions” about what kind of opportunities other Black women will have in the future of this department. In my mind, those “questions” are just as important as any others.

 

Why Her? Why Now?

As we enter Women’s History Month 2017, we are in the midst of seeing history made. Delaine Eastin is running for California Governor. She is only the fourth woman in the history of California to run for Governor. Delaine is the only woman in the 2018 Governor’s race.

Delaine is a former California State Assemblymember (1986-1994), State Superintendent of Public Instruction (1995-2003), professor, and businesswoman.

She is the first and to date, the only woman ever elected as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Education In Crisis

For almost 40 years now, California’s entire education system has been in crisis. It continues to be in crisis. In 2004, a UCLA study of conditions 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education found that California has a HUGEracial opportunity gap” in our primary school system. 50 years after Brown, our schools were deeply segregated. More than 63% of white students attended a majority-white school, while most Black and Latino students attended either a Black-majority school (78%) or a Latino-majority school (81%).

The factors that hinder education most profoundly for Black, brown and low income students are:

  • overcrowded facilities in disrepair
  • inadequate and insufficient textbooks
  • shortage of qualified teachers
  • unstable teaching staff

Education in Transition

In 2004, the Legislature enacted a series of bills to address these problems in response to the Williams v. California lawsuit. Williams was filed on behalf of public school students denied equal educational opportunity based on the 4 factors above. A post-Williams report concluded in 2013 that “Williams is working.” The study found significant progress in most areas with the exception of the physical conditions of the schools.  75% of schools still had an issue that prevented it from being deemed completely clean, safe and functional. Moreover, the State consistently failed to fund the Williams’ Emergency Repair Program for conditions considered urgent threats to health and safety.

In 2014, however, California’s per pupil spending had dropped to 39th in the nation. Asian and white students continue to have much higher graduation rates than Black and Latino students. Our 4th and 8th grade students are in the bottom 10 states both in math and reading. Even with the Local Control Funding Formulas adopted in 2013, the amount of resources dedicated to and actually spent on students falls short of the mark. The racial opportunity gap persists today.  California educates almost 1/8 of American students, so our failure is very much a national failure.

Why Her? Why Now?

Delaine Eastin faces an uphill battle for California Governor. She is the only woman in the race in a State that has never elected a woman Governor. She’s the oldest person in the race and she needs money. A lot of it. Frontrunner Gavin Newsom, the playboy kid of California politics has $11 million in his war chest. Money is “the mother’s milk of politics.”  I call it “the microphone” for the message. You must have a microphone to get your message heard.

Some chide Delaine Eastin because education is her strong suit. I think the fact that education is her “signature issue” makes the case for her election now more compelling than less. Delaine led the successful 2016 campaign to pass Propositions 51, 55 and 58. These measures are critical to funding education in California.

Gavin Newsom’s signature issue appears to be ending gun violence. This is an issue near and dear to my heart. Every time someone is killed with a gun in Oakland, my heart burns, especially for a youngster who never saw it coming. The devastation to our community from gun violence cannot be overstated. But for every kid in California and America, education is a “game-changer.” I know that but for my education, I would not be here today.  Education creates a pathway for anyone who dares to walk on it. With an education, you can get out of a neighborhood where guns rule the day. An education allows you to create economic opportunities to walk away from careers that ultimately depend on violence. An education helps you to open doors for others to follow.

I’m With Her

So, I am helping to raise money for Delaine Eastin.  I agreed to co-host a fundraiser and to raise my voice to support her. If you can attend her event in Oakland on March 8th, International Women’s Day, please rsvp here. If you are not able to attend, please make a financial donation to her campaign. It’s going to be a long and expensive race to win. But there is a vintage joke that I love. It goes like this:

Whatever a woman does, she must do twice as well as a man to be considered half as good.  Luckily, this is not difficult!

It’s a joke! It will be difficult. But I’m also told that every time Delaine Eastin ran for office, most people counted her out. And then she won.

The Vote for DNC Chair

Credit: David Paul Morris, Bloomberg

This weekend in Atlanta, the Democratic National Party will elect a National Committee Chair.  The progressive favorite is Keith Ellison, a veteran Congressman from Minnesota. Keith Ellison is the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. He is also the first African-American Congressman elected from Minnesota. Keith is running to succeed Donna Brazile who served as the Interim DNC Chairperson.

Who Votes for the DNC Chair?

According to VOX News, there are 447 potential voters for the DNC Chairperson. They include state party chairs and vice-chairs, 112 slots evenly divided by sex. State party officials, allocated by population and Democratic vote fill 208 slots.  California has 20 slots in this category. Our representatives include Hon. Barbara Lee, Rep. Maxine Waters,  NAACP State Chairwoman Alice Huffman and Christine Pelosi. 48 slots go to various national Democratic groups. The outgoing DNC chair gets to appoint up to 75 slots. 8 slots go to Democratics living abroad, but they each only get to cast half a vote. The DNC roster appears to include fair representation of women who will get to participate and vote in this important decision.

Contested DNC Chair races are rare. In 1985, Nancy Pelosi ran for DNC Chair.  Pelosi reportedly urged the Party to “move to the center” and become “the party of capitalism.” Nancy Pelosi stamped down younger leadership in November 2016 when she held onto her position as the leader of the Democrats in Congress. It will be interesting to see if her daughter Christine will vote for Keith Ellison. The chair (and eight other leadership officers) are elected by a majority vote. Another impressive candidate for DNC Chair is Jehmu Greene of Texas.

Who Is Keith Ellison?

Keith Ellison was raised in Detroit Michigan by two professional parents.  Keith and three of his brothers became lawyers. Another brother became a doctor.  Keith is a former trial lawyer who started his career as a civil rights lawyer.  He also worked for a time as the Executive Director of the nonprofit Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis.  He says his grandfather’s work with the NAACP in Louisiana influenced him in his youth. In his first week as a member of Congress, Ellison voted with the new Democratic majority as part of the 100-Hour Plan to raise the minimum wage, for federal funding of stem cell research, and to allow Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices. He has a plan for his first 100 days as DNC Chair that focuses on organizing the massive opposition to the Trump administration.

Keith Ellison is probably the only candidate for DNC Chair that has an African-American Agenda as part of his platform.  This is especially relevant because the relationship between the party and the African-American community has become increasingly strained. In 2016, many Black leaders urged Blacks to “abandon” the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton’s reluctant discourse with Black Lives Matter activists was not enough to give her the victory.

In 2014, PowerPac+ issued its Fannie Lou Hamer Report. The report showed that of $518 million spent in 2010 and 2012, the Democratic Party spent a measley 1.7% of its money on minority owned political consulting firms. One difference between Keith and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, also running for DNC Chair, are their views on conflicts of interest within the party. Keith opposes conflicts by DNC members who also have contracts with the Committee. Perez is apparently not inclined to take on this issue.

Who Supports and Opposes Keith Ellison?

Keith Ellison is endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. John Lewis among others party leaders. Keith is opposed, not surprisingly, by Zionist Jewish leaders, including major Democratic donors like Haim Saban.

 

Credit: Wikipedia

Mr. Saban is Hillary Clinton’s biggest donor and reportedly has a net worth of $3.6 billion. He has also contributed between $5 million to $10 million to the Clinton Foundation. Mr. Saban is a leading member of the .01% of wealthy Americans. Saban says that his greatest concern is to protect Israel and he entered politics for that purpose. Regrettably, American politics has long been defined and divided by support for Israel (or not).  In my experience, there is a very thin line between folks who are “pro-Israel” and straight racist Zionists.

“Evidence” used to label Keith Ellison as “anti-Semitic” is his support of Stokely Carmichael‘s right to speak at the University of Minnesota in 1990 and his support of the 1995 Million Man March. As someone who hosted Stokely Carmichael at Yale in 1975, and a businesswoman who closed her business on the historic day of the Million Man March to support my brothers, I find this “evidence” completely ridiculous.

Why Does It Matter?

The DNC Chair position is historically a bureaucratic one. The DNC will set the rules for and administer the election primary process. And it’s the DNC that will help determine whether Democrats can in fact make gains in the 2018 midterm elections. But, the Chair does lead on Democrats’ decisions, organization and spending priorities. The Chair can be a prominent voice in the national dialogue on issues that matter to Americans.  In addition, the Chair provides direction and hopefully, inspiration to Democrats locally and nationally.

This election really matters, however, because it will either define or expose the Democratic party.  Most of all, it will show whether we are really a grassroots party, or the party of capitalism. Whether we want progressive, younger members to lead us, or to continue to be dominated by those who have power, money, control and conflicts of interest in the party. Today, progressive activists everywhere proclaim our opposition to the “Muslim ban” issued by the Trump administration. There is a question whether we will also see a “Muslim ban” inside the Democratic party this weekend.

The Year of the Warrior

It is the Year of the Warrior.  Art Douglas Blacksher is my client.

Doug is a warrior for justice. He’s fighting to make sure that what  happened to him does not happen to someone else. This is his story.

Unfortunately, Doug’s story is not unique. In September 2013, over 150 Black contractors marched in San Francisco to protest the exclusion of Black contractors from the construction of the 49er’s Levi Stadium. They protested the fact that a pre-qualified list of approved contractors for Levi Stadium started out with no Black contractors. Through their advocacy, the builder, Turner Construction, opened up the process. As much as they did, it is still estimated that Black firms received only 1.6% of the contract dollars out of $1.5 billion spent on Levi Stadium.

Suing Clark Construction

The Golden State Warriors are moving from Oakland to San Francisco. That in itself is saddening. To make matters worse, the Warriors’ new stadium, the Chase Center, is being built by Clark Construction in partnership with Mortenson Construction. Doug is suing Clark Construction because he believes Clark intentionally destroyed his business. Clark’s history suggests that it does not support equal economic opportunity for Black contractors.

In November 2016, Doug attended a meeting for subcontractors convened by Clark. Doug describes the meeting as “a deja vu nightmare.” Why? Because Clark made the same promises to interested San Francisco minority businesses (MBEs) that it made to Oakland MBE subcontractors. Based on his experience, Doug believes that Clark has no intention of fulfilling its promises to MBE subcontractors.

Clark claims that it has a 50% participation goal for “small business enterprises.”  We want to know if Clark’s list of pre-qualified subcontractors includes any Black, women or minority-owned businesses. We also want to know what efforts Clark made to recruit MBEs for the Chase Arena project.

Chase Arena Artist’s Rendition Courtesy: Mercury News

The Warriors and Chase plan to spend $1 billion on the project.  On February 14, 2017, the San Francisco NAACP voted to support Doug’s quest to ensure that Black contractors in San Francisco “get a piece” of the Warriors’ action.

 

A Shameful History of Racism

In 2009, Nina Totenberg retold the moving story of a Black contractor working in Birmingham Alabama in 1962.  One of Birmingham’s largest contractors reluctantly allowed the Black contractor to bid to install windows on two public schools.  The Black contractor won the bid and installed the windows perfectly.  “The night before the final inspection on the first school, every window in the school was smashed. The police promised to guard the second school to prevent a repeat. But again, all the windows were smashed. Pinkerton agents brought in by the insurance company eventually concluded the police were complicit.”

Racism in the construction industry is legendary. First of all, the construction industry relies more heavily on social networks than many other industries. It is a “buddy-buddy” network, that was built to exclude Black contractors. Consequently, the construction industry was one of the first targets of anti-discrimination advocates after the civil rights laws were passed in 1964. But it was not until the 1970s that economic opportunity for Black contractors began to be legally enforced. The earliest cases attacked unions firmly committed to excluding Black workers from construction jobs.

Racism In Construction Persists

Yet, race discrimination in the industry nationwide still persists. Hence, in 1998, a Colorado Department of Transportation study found that more than 99% of contracts in the state’s highway construction industry went to firms owned by white men. (Congressional Record, May 22, 1998; S5413.)

The persistent problem of racism in trade unions nationally is described in a 2011 labor union report. Indeed, in January 2008, then Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick reviewed trade unionists working on $500-million worth of public projects in Philadelphia in the preceding five years and concluded “these well paid union jobs … remain all-male, nearly all-white and the majority live in the suburbs.”

In 2012, it was reported that only one black-owned construction firm (Platt Construction) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin served as a prime contractor when the city awarded 125 prime contracts. One black-owned firm (Adkins Family Enterprises) served as a prime contractor in 2011, when Milwaukee awarded 100 prime contracts that year.

The Year of the Warrior

The National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC) founded in Oakland in 1969 remains relevant today. NAMC continues to advocate for fair and equal opportunity in the construction industry.  Furthermore, we expect that NAMC will soon join the NAACP and the San Francisco Black Chamber of Commerce in supporting Doug Blacksher’s war against racism. Ultimately, we also hope that the Warriors themselves, including Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and others, will not allow racism to put a stain on their house.

 

 

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