23 Oct

Figuring out How to Vote: California 2018 Midterm Elections Edition

I’ve started listening to Gaslit Nation, an excellent podcast by two journalists who are experts in authoritarianism. The hosts have been emphasizing the importance of voting in the midterm elections this year and have said this could really be our last chance to make the democratic process work before autocracy tightens its hold on the country. It got me thinking about how I could encourage others to vote and maybe make the process less intimidating.

This post is to explain how I researched what’s on the ballot for the 2018 midterms and how I came to my decisions. I am not at all trying to tell anyone how they should vote. You can vote like me if that is what you want to do, but what I really want is to show you how to figure out how to vote and my thought process.

I am not an expert in politics. I work as a technical writer and I have a master’s degree in library science. This means I work with language and know how to interpret complex information. It also means I know how to find information. I am providing my process, but feel free to contact me if you have other questions.

Voter-Nominated Offices

Governor

My vote: Gavin Newsom

Although my grandma told me that I better not vote for Gavin Newsom, I’m doing it anyway. The California General Election Official Voter Information Guide (which you should get in the mail, but you can find online) does not provide a statement from Newsom, which I think is kind of a dick move on his part. I looked up Newsom’s website to see what he says about the issues. His stances are all ones I agree with. So, while he can’t be bothered to put out a statement, and someone I know told me she met him and he wouldn’t stop ogling her chest, I guess I’m still voting for him.

The Republican candidate, John Cox, provides a statement that is coded to rile up the Republican base, mentioning a that politicians have “rigged the game” and talking about repealing taxes on gas, among other things. It also says that California has the “highest poverty rate in the country.” I thought this was probably a lie so I went to look it up—operating on the theory that a politician lying about something means they’re willing to lie about anything. I discovered it’s actually true, but only when adjusted for the cost of living. I’m glad it’s not a blatant lie, but I’m still not voting Republican.

Lieutenant Governor

My vote: Eleni Kounalakis

Both candidates, Eleni Kounalakis and Ed Hernandez are with the Democratic party and, based on their statements, neither of them sound like a bad choice. My highly un-rigorous method of breaking a tie when two candidates sound good to me is to choose a woman or person of color. In this case, Kounalakis is a woman and Hernandez is a person of color, so this metric is not very helpful. I checked each candidate’s website and looked at what they said about the issues. Although they were fairly similar, I liked that Kounalakis supports universal broadband internet (that is, wi-fi as infrastructure) and building more housing, among other things.

Secretary of State

My vote: Alex Padilla

The Secretary of State is an important job in these times because this person safeguards our elections. Considering that Russia meddles in our elections, both directly and through targeted propaganda, we need a Secretary of State that will protect them.

Is Alex Padilla a person who can do that? I don’t know, but I am pretty sure Mark Meuser, the Republican candidate is not. His statement talks about “bloated voter rolls” and says that we need to remove “those who have died, have moved, non-citizens, duplicate and fictitious registrations.” This is a dog whistle. Voter fraud is actually a very small problem. When candidates bring this up, they usually mean that only the right sort of people should be voting, you know, white people and not pesky black people and immigrants with opinions.

Controller

My vote: Betty Yee

The Controller “serves as the state’s account and bookkeeper of all public funds,” according to the voter information guide. State of California employees see the controller’s signature on all their paychecks.

Betty Yee is the democratic candidate and the incumbent in this position, and a woman. These are the main reasons I am voting for her. These candidates don’t publish statements about how to tackle various issues because it isn’t really part of their job. However, Yee is endorsed by tons of groups, including a lot of women’s groups, which I think is important. Roditis, the Republican candidate, has a site that is focused on things like defunding the high-speed rail and repealing the gas tax. In general, I support paying higher taxes that pay for services so I disagree with Roditis on these issues.

Treasurer

My vote: Fiona Ma

Based once again on my metric of voting for women of color, I’m choosing Fiona Ma. This is also based on not voting for Republicans. Ma’s statement says she supports “accessible and affordable healthcare” and wants to work to “alleviate student loan debt,” which are things I also support. Republican candidate Greg Conlon is an old white man. In general, I do not vote for old white men if there are other, qualified candidates. Old white men have been running this country for too long and I want to see more women have the opportunity to lead. Also, Conlon’s statement says that public employees have pensions that are too “generous.” The pension is the main perk of public sector employment (as anyone who has gotten a paycheck for a public job knows). Screw this guy.

Attorney General

My vote: Xavier Becerra

This one is simple. Becerra is the democratic incumbent (if I recall correctly, he took over after Kamala Harris was elected to the Senate). Becerra has gone to court against the Trump administration multiple times to defend against encroaching Trumpism.

Insurance Commissioner

My pick: Ricardo Lara

I am voting for Lara because, as a member of the state senate, he voted for a universal, single-payer healthcare system and in general his positions line up with things I support.

Board of Equalization Member: District 1

My vote: Tom Hallinan

This is an interesting one this year. The Democratic candidate, Tom Hallinan, is running for the Board of Equalization (BoE) on the platform that the BoE is no longer necessary and that he will try to shut it down. I had to do some research to figure out what the BoE actually does. Per its website:

“Established in 1879 by a constitutional amendment, the BOE was initially charged with responsibility for ensuring that county property tax assessment practices were equal and uniform throughout the state. Over the years, the legislature expanded the BOE’s subject matter to include many taxes and fees. In 2017 and 2018, the legislature created two new tax administration and appeals agencies, reassigning some of the BOE’s tax functions. As a result, the BOE has rededicated itself to focusing on its historical responsibility of property tax oversight and its constitutional responsibilities.”

That does sound a bit like the BoE is no longer relevant. Also, I don’t trust the Republican party at all. I’m voting for Hallinan.

United States Senator

My vote: Kevin De Leon

Again we have two Democratic candidates on the ballot. Diane Feinstein is the incumbent and a ranking member on a few Senate committees. However, I am voting for Kevin De Leon. I am hoping that De Leon will push back harder against Trump and autocracy and Republican foolishness more than Feinstein does. I think Feinstein and Democrats should be doing more not just to say no to Republicans but also in setting an agenda and giving us something to hope for. Democrats are doing the minimum to keep our rights from eroding too quickly. I’m hoping De Leon will do more than that.

United States Representative: District 17

My vote: Ami Bera

My options are Ami Bera (D), Andrew Grant (R) here in Elk Grove. Bera is the incumbent and I am certainly not voting to put any more Republicans in congress, so I’m voting for Bera. I think he is a good congressperson, but I would like to see him be more progressive. His website has a lot about protecting the Affordable Care Act, which is great. However, I don’t see anything about pushing for single-payer or universal healthcare. Conclusion: could be better, could be way worse.

State Senator: District 6

My vote: Richard Pan

The options for district 6 are Richard Pan (D) and Eric Frame (independent). I actually met Eric Frame at a Sacramento Labor-Community Coalition Meeting in August. He has a good sense of the class struggle we are facing and I thought him very genuine. However, I recently saw this article in which he says he is against mandatory vaccinations. It makes me wonder if he has any other unconventional beliefs that I should be concerned about.

Member of the State Assembly: District 9

My vote: Jim Cooper

The options for district 9 are Harry He (D) and the incumbent, Jim Cooper (D). Based on Jim Cooper’s website, he has been involved in a lot of legislation that supports labor and women. I wanted to see what Harry He had to say for himself, however, he did not provide a statement in the county voter guide and I couldn’t find a website for him. If you can’t even get a website online, how are you going to be an assembly member?

Judicial

For judicial candidates, you get the option to say yes or no. These are hard because you have to be really into law and politics to follow individual judges’ careers.  I mostly used ballotpedia and some explainers I found, like this one, which suggests who to approve based on whether a Republican or Democratic governor appointed them. I am not an expert at any of this, but especially not at judicial issues. I encourage everyone to research and listen to voices they trust.

Associate Justice, Supreme Court

Carol Corrigan:  No

According to Ballotpedia, Justice Corrigan has served on the California Supreme Court since 2005, when she was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger. Being appointed by a Republican governor suggests she is a more conservative judge. From what I can tell, she’s also a big Trump supporter.

Leondra Kruger: Yes

I don’t know much about Leondra Kruger other than that she was appointed by Governor Brown in 2014.

Associate Justice, Court of Appeal, Third District

Cole Blease: Yes

This judge is an old white man, but I think his resume sounds like he has the people’s best interests in mind:

“Justice Blease received his undergraduate (1952) and law degrees (1955) from the University of California at Berkeley where he later taught undergraduate courses in freedom of speech and the logic of argument. Before appointment to the bench he represented civil rights organizations and had a varied practice in public law. His clients included the California Teachers Association, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the County of Placer, the League to Save Lake Tahoe and public employee organizations.”

Louis Mauro: No

According to Ballotpedia, Mauro (also an old white man) was appointed by Schwarzenegger. When I searched Mauro online, I found a bunch of attack ads against Justice Blease, which did not seem very professional for someone who “serves on the Executive Committee of the Anthony M. Kennedy Inn of Court, working to promote ethics, civility and professionalism in the legal profession.” I am sure that Mauro didn’t personally create these images, but why is anyone creating propaganda about a judicial candidate? Who is backing that?

State Propositions

Propositions are tricky, but I find that if there’s general agreement from organizations that you agree with, you’re probably on the right track. I referred a lot to this voter guide that was circulating on facebook. It consolidates guides from organizations like the ACLU, Sierra Club, and Democratic and Republican parties. You can also refer to the California Voter Guide for analysis and arguments for and against each proposition. I like to read the arguments for and against because it shows what kind of logic people are using to justify their choices. It is usually pretty clear to see what kind of perspective the writer approaches the argument with.

A table showing how various organizations suggest citizens vote on the 12 California propositions.

2018 California Election Cheat Sheet

Proposition 1

My vote: Yes

This proposition helps fund housing programs for veterans. The funding for this proposition comes from the State selling bonds, which means they are not planning to increase taxes to provide more affordable housing.

Oh, the Republican Party is against it. What else do you need to know?

Proposition 2

My vote: Yes

Basically everyone supports this measure, which provides funding for existing housing programs for people with mental illness. It seems like the humane thing to vote for.

Proposition 3

My vote: Yes

I read the title of this one and immediately thought “yes” because our water infrastructure needs help, especially with the increasingly extreme weather events we are experiencing due to climate change. I did notice, however, that the Sierra Club does not support this proposition. I wanted to know why. Here’s what their voter guide says:

“The flaws in the bond will enable certain dams and other infrastructure we have opposed. It also directs to unspecified water projects a specific category of funds collected through the state’s cap-and-trade program that should be used to efficiently cut climate emissions.”

The League of Women Voters rejects this proposition for an entirely different reason, stating that it “shift[s] the cost for water from the end users to California taxpayers”

That said, I still think it’s a good idea to shore up our infrastructure for water. Two of the organizations I am inclined to side with are against this proposition for different reasons. For me, this does not override why I want to vote for it.

Proposition 4

My vote: Yes

Proposition 4 authorizes bonds to fundraise for children’s hospitals. I do find it a little questionable that public money is going to private institutions. I did some quick searching and it does seem that most children’s hospitals are private institutions, so maybe it is less weird than it sounds. In general, I want to see better healthcare so I am voting for this.

Proposition 5

My vote: No

From what I can tell, this proposal would benefit rich people who buy multiple properties. The State also estimates that it “probably would lose over $100 million in annual property tax revenue in the first few years, growing over time to about $1 billion per year.” Property taxes fund schools. The voter guide says one of the benefits is it “allows the purchase of a more expensive home.” This seems like a bad plan.

Proposition 6

My vote: No

The only group supporting this is the Republican Party. This proposition would repeal a tax passed by the State Legislature last year and reduce state revenue by over $5 billion. The tax we pay on gas goes directly to supporting roads and similar infrastructure. If you’re driving on roads, you should help pay for them.

Proposition 7

My vote: Yes

I thought this proposition was to end our bi-annual time change, but it’s actually giving the legislature the power to make changes to daylight saving time. I personally think daylight saving time is dumb and we should get rid of it. Plus, the time change results in increased traffic accidents and pedestrian deaths.

Proposition 8

My vote: Yes

The money tells the story of proposition 8. Dialysis companies are spending like crazy to prevent this from being passed because they know they will lose money if they are more heavily regulated. Regulate those bastards.

Who is funding against regulation for dialysis treatment? The dialysis companies.

Proposition 10

(note: I didn’t skip a number. There is no prop 9)

My vote: Yes

This proposition basically establishes rent control by repealing a state law that currently restricts rent control policies. This allows local governments to set rent control policies. We live in California. We see the rents. Is any more explanation required?

Proposition 11

My vote: No

This one confused me because I don’t understand why we would vote to make emergency employees work their breaks. I thought I was missing something. According to the Peace and Freedom Party’s Workers’ Vote Guide (I’m a registered Peace and Freedom Party member, by the way), it really is an attempt to “deny breaks to private ambulance workers.”

Proposition 12

My vote: Yes

The voter guide says this “establishes new minimum space requirements” for farm animals and “prohibits certain commercial sales” of certain animal food products. To me, this sounds humane. I am a carnivore, but I support treating animals better.

A teammate of mine is an animal rights advocate and expert on this subject, so I checked her page to see what she had to say on this subject. She shared this page, which suggests that the main groups opposed to the proposition are the farmers who would be impacted by the regulation. It sounds a lot like the dialysis companies opposing dialysis regulation.

 

Did this guide help you? Leave a comment with your thoughts or tips for others. You are welcome to share this all over the internet.

27 Sep

When Nothing Happens

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have never been the victim of sexual assault or abuse. That doesn’t mean I have always felt safe. There have been many times in my life that could have easily escalated into assault or worse. It is hard, in some ways, to talk about these close calls because, I think, well I wasn’t raped. It wasn’t that bad. That said, here’s the scariest story of a time that something bad almost happened.
 
When I was in ninth grade I lived in London for a year with my (now ex-)step-mom, step-sister, and my actual sister. It was the first and only year I had to wear a uniform for school and I was very naive about how walking around in a city in a school uniform makes girls a target for harassment.
 
The day that nothing happened, I was walking home after school and, a few feet from my house, a car pulled up to me. There was a man driving the car and two women passengers. The women, both adults, kept giggling. In retrospect, they might have been on drugs but I didn’t know how to identify that at the time. I had never seen any of these people before. The man invited me to get in the car with them.  I said no. I don’t remember what else the man said to me, only that was I was scared and upset, and I hurried to the door (but did not run, because running shows weakness). I fumbled with my keys and went into the empty house. I don’t remember if I cried but I remember holing up in my bedroom.
 
I remember being extremely shaken by this incident and I didn’t know how to tell anyone about it—in part because nothing “happened.” But something did happen. That non-event has stayed with me for 17 years. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I had gotten into that car. I didn’t know if the man was going to get out and overpower me. I am lucky that I got away and I was close to my house.
 
Even though nothing “happened,” this is one of many things in my life that has taught me that many men see women as objects. Actions like this, or like street harassment, serve to remind women that they are not meant to be in public, that they should not be alone or feel any power or agency in their own lives.
 
I have spent my morning watching Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford be cross-examined in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. I believe her. Republican senators brought in a professional prosecutor to interrogate the details of her story, as if she has anything to gain by making this up. No one wants to relieve the most painful parts of their life. To ask her to do so in front of the whole country and then to answer probing questions about any gaps in her story is cruel.
Dr. Blasey-Ford is a civic hero. She understands her place in the national conversation. She didn’t want to come forward. She didn’t want to do this. She has spent her life trying to forget about the time that Brett Kavanaugh almost “accidentally” killed her, as she stated in her testimony today. Yet, here she is, doing all of us the biggest favor by trying to keep another privileged rapist from joining the Supreme Court.
I wonder if, in some way, Dr. Blasey-Ford also thinks that “nothing” happened. She was terribly violated, but she wasn’t raped. Does she downplay her assault in her mind, despite the clear trauma it left her?
Even though “nothing” has happened to me, enough has happened that I, like most women, think through when and where to be outside alone. I look for exits in buildings. I avoid men who give me creepy “vibes.” These are the subtle accommodations women make for men’s incessant predatory behavior.
It’s strange, the imprint that nothing leaves on one’s life.
13 Feb

What to Expect When You’re Divesting

I said in my last post that I would write about divesting from Bank of America. I am here to deliver.

I had never really thought about where my money goes when I put it in the bank. Money is just in the bank, right? I guess I pictured a Scrooge McDuck-ian style vault, or something like you see in a heist movie. I’ve learned that’s not the case at all.

Scrooge McDuck jumping into a pile of gold coins

This is not what a bank is like.

I gradually became aware of the Dakota Access Pipeline issue via Facebook, which seems to be the popular method for obtaining information these days. At first my opinion was “That’s terrible, but it’s not like I can go protest in North Dakota in the middle of winter.” I started paying more attention to the issue and following the Injustice Boycott. I learned that there are actions that I can take other than going to North Dakota. I can divest from banks that fund the pipeline. I was also surprised to learn that Bank of America is invested in private prisons. This is not what my money is for.

Preparation

A week or so before I went to the No DAPL protest, I polled my Facebook network to ask if anyone had a credit union in Sacramento they liked and wanted to recommend. I got a lot of responses. Asking Facebook is, of course, not a replacement for actual research, but if you have well-informed friends I think it’s a good place to start. I got a number of responses including Golden 1 (which I was familiar with), SAFE, and Patel Co, among others. I also learned about the credit union co-op, which links credit unions together. This allows credit union members to use other credit unions’ ATMs. I would not have thought to look that up on my own.

I looked at the sites for a few of the credit unions my friends suggested and decided on Golden 1. For my banking, they seemed to have the best rates. There are also two branches near my apartment, so I knew it would be a convenient choice.

Before heading out, I paid my credit card off and moved all but $25 to my checking. I wrote down how much I had left in my account and put a check in my purse so I could give myself the money. I think there are other ways to do balance transfers, but that seemed the most straightforward to me.

Opening New Accounts

Fresh from the excitement of the protest, I went to Golden 1 on Saturday morning. My boyfriend came along, too. Although he wasn’t ready to switch banks, he wanted to learn more about the accounts they offer. We were also keen to find out more about getting a mortgage. We’re not ready to buy a house, but we are trying to figure out what we could reasonably afford in the near future.

I hadn’t been into a bank to do anything other than deposit or withdraw money in a long time. I went in, wrote my name down on their list for people who want to speak with someone, and waited for maybe 30 minutes. I suppose Saturday mornings are a busy time for the bank.

When my name came up, the bank employee invited us into his office. I told him I wanted to open checking and savings accounts and apply for a credit card (all replacements for accounts I had through Bank of America), and that we were interested in learning more about mortgages. Getting the accounts set up was fairly straighforward, but we were informed that we’d have to talk to a mortgage specialist over the phone and they’re all quite busy on Saturday. I asked that they call me back during the week (they never did call me back. We’re planning to go talk to someone at the bank soon).

To set up the accounts, I only needed to bring a photo ID and, of course, money. They have it set up so you can open a savings account with just one dollar. I had a lot of dollars. I wrote a check to myself (I wrote “Divestment #NoDAPL” in the check memo, just to feel good) and left about $50 in my old account, to cover any direct payments I might have forgotten about. The bank employee had me fill out a few forms and got my checking and savings accounts opened on the spot. I got a debit card that day, but was informed I might not be able to start using it for a few hours. One thing to be careful of if you are changing accounts and moving a large amount of money is that they will probably put a hold on the funds. I got a few thousand dollars within two or three days and the rest of my money dropped in after a week or so. Fortunately, this wasn’t an issue for me, but I recommend that anyone divesting plan accordingly.

I also wanted to open a line of credit to replace my Alaska Airlines Visa, which was managed by Bank of America. I found out that the airline miles I accrued as rewards stay with my mileage plan account, not with my credit card. Even though I was closing the card, I still kept the rewards. It seems like a petty concern, but I have a lot of miles saved up for a trip, so I was quite relieved. The bank employee had me fill out a few forms. I wasn’t able to find out right away how much I would get because a real person had to assess it. However, they figured it out quickly enough. I got a call two hours later to tell me how much credit I’d been approved for.

In total, I spent about an hour in the bank and probably another hour researching and preparing to switch accounts.

Closing Old Accounts

The main thing I wanted to ensure was the continuity of my paychecks. My paycheck is direct deposited into my bank account every other week. The people at Golden 1 said it could take two pay cycles to get my direct deposit set up and provided me with a form to do it. I came home and looked on my company’s employee site. I was able to update my direct deposit account online. I thought it might take two checks to start, but I got paid to my new credit union account the next Friday with no trouble at all.

After my paycheck came through, I went to Bank of America to finish closing my accounts. I run most of my bills through credit cards (and most of them through an account other than the one I was closing). If I depended on my Bank of America accounts, I would have waited a little longer before closing it all up. I only had about $8 left in my checking account.

I spoke to the employee there and told him I wanted to close my accounts. I said that Bank of America is invested in companies that fund private prisons and oil pipelines. He responded, “I can’t argue with that.”

I handed him my debit card, credit card, and ID. He seemed surprised that I wanted to close my credit card too. When I quit, I quit all the way. He had to make a phone call to close the credit account, but he was able to close up my checking and savings accounts through his computer. When he was finished, he took me up to a bank teller, who gave me my $8 and a receipt. This took about 15 minutes total.

Next Steps

It took two weeks to get my new credit card. After it arrived, I made a list of all the bills I pay and set about switching everything to my new accounts. It helped me to write it down, but I still found things I forgot as I worked through it. The good thing is that most places you send money to want to keep getting your money, so they will give you a warning when your card stops working. Now nearly all my bills are getting paid through my new Golden 1 credit card.

I still have an Amazon Visa card through Chase bank. Chase is worth divesting from, but it’s not as dire as divesting from Bank of America or Well’s Fargo. I have decided that, in the interest of maintaining my credit score, I’m going to stop using that credit card, but not close the account right away. Closing a lot of accounts at once can impact your credit score.

Overall, switching banks was fairly simple. I can understand that if you have a car loan or a mortgage, there is probably more involved than there was for me. That said, I think it is important for individual citizens to do what they can to spend money in a way that supports or defunds causes, as appropriate.

Corporations do respond to the pressure of people voting with their wallet. Just last week Nordstrom, among other retailers, announced it would stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s brand. Specific to divesting from DAPL, the City of Seattle and the City of Davis have both voted to remove their cities’ funds from Well’s Fargo. That’s major. Far from being hopeless, the cause is gaining momentum. Two cities have divested. Individuals are divesting. It might take longer than we like for us to stop this oil pipeline and others like it, but it will happen. I am choosing the radical stance of believing that our actions have an impact.

One More Thing

If you’re following the Injustice Boycott and you decide to divest (I hope you do), you can check out their instructions and fill out a survey saying you participated. This helps track the true impact that the boycott is having.

28 Jan

What Do We Want? Divestment

I had never gone to a protest before, until last Saturday. Things being what they are, I went to my second rally in the same week. Yesterday, I went to a “divestment block party” in downtown Sacramento.

I was hesitant to go protest in the middle of the work day. Ultimately, I decided that doing whatever I want in the middle of the day is my prerogative as someone who works from home. I arrived downtown early. Unnecessarily early, but I was nervous. I brought a backpack full of snacks and warm clothes, but I stupidly forgot my wallet. After debating about whether to go home to get it, I paid for parking using the car’s emergency stash of  quarters.

I walked around the block to the courtyard in front of the Well’s Fargo building, where the protest was scheduled to take place. I sat on a bench to wait, cold in the tower’s shade. Because I was so nervous about being early and didn’t see anyone else around, I texted the organizer to ask if people had met somewhere else, he told me they would arrive soon. Before the rest of the protesters showed up, a few cops on bicycles rolled in. Several Well’s Fargo employees came outside, joking that the protesters must have already come and gone.

A bike covered in knitting bearing a sign that says "Make America native again."

“If you’re not knitting bike cozies, you’re not paying attention,” one woman quipped to me.

People began to trickle in: two young women, another pair of women toting babies, a handful of professionally dressed people wearing neon green caps proclaiming them impartial legal observers, an old lady with a bicycle covered in knitting. I had never met the protest’s organizer before, but I sensed that the man with a bullhorn and a giant drum must be the guy. He said we would start soon, once the sound system arrived.

In the meantime, the police approached to let us know the rules. The protest organizer was not interested in speaking with the police, but a legal observer jumped in. I edged closer to find out what stance the cops were taking on the event. They told us we were not allowed to enter the bank or block the sidewalk. Because we didn’t have a permit, we were technically not allowed to be there but, the officer generously added, as long as we kept the noise level to a “dull roar,” they would let us stay.

The sound system—an amplifier in a wheelchair, with speakers perched on boards atop the armrests—arrived and the rally started in earnest. Another organizer started us in a round of chants. A woman handed out pieces of paper with lyrics.

Street by street, block by block, Sac stands with Standing Rock.

We got a good bit of a ruckus going, people started chanting louder, some were waving banners and signs with messages like “It’s easier to change banks than to clean water” and “Mni wiconi” (Lokotan for “Water is life.”). Once we were warmed up, an elder of the Lakota Sioux came to speak to us. He prayed in the Lakotan language, which was really interesting for me. He spoke to us about what is happening in Standing Rock, describing the actions there as domestic terrorism. As he talked, a women waved a type of incense around the group, in what I believe was a sort of blessing. Then, a woman of the local Miwok tribe spoke. She told us that native people here are also suffering. She said we need to focus on conserving water and that, after they are done attacking our water supply, the food supply would be next. She encouraged us all to use grey water systems and plant gardens. Then, she taught us a warrior song. Singing the song with the group felt powerful. I don’t know if it was the fact that we learned it from someone who has suffered, or because we were singing it together in a group, but it felt important.

Listening to native people speak about the oil pipeline affected me deeply. I admit that I have maintained a only surface level awareness of the DAPL protests in the last few months, but I had not looked too deeply into it. Maybe I knew that if I did, I would be horrified and I would need to act. You know what they say about ignorance. Hearing directly from native people about their connection to the land and how their lives are being destroyed was impactful. We learn so little about native peoples in school. What we do learn has a museum quality to it. This is what they believed, this is how they lived. But they live and they believe now.

After these speeches, they asked if anyone was ready to divest from Well’s Fargo. Two young women came forward and they were asked to kneel before the group. They bowed as if in prayer. We chanted and sang more. They asked if the women intending to divest wanted to say anything. One did. She held up documents from her new bank. She told us she feels she is a good person and she can’t stand by while her bank funds hate. She was on the verge of tears, and caught in something akin to religious zeal, she encouraged us all to leave our banks in search of banks that use their money to help people.

The women rose and the protesters walked them to the front door of the bank. A news camera sidled along the group. I stayed towards the edge, since my boyfriend begged me not to end up on the news during work hours (“It’s a long lunch,” I’d told him. “Still …” he demurred).

What do we want? Divestment!
When do we want it? Now!

The bank did not allow the women to enter. The police stood in front of the door. “They’re customers! Let them in” People shouted. Bank employees flitted about their fishbowl office. The young women held up their Well’s Fargo bank cards in front of the door. “We’re customers! We are your customers!” Soon a new chant swelled, “Let them in! Let them in!” People surged towards the door. The woman with the “It’s easier to change banks than to clean water” sign shouted at employees visible through the glass.

I saw three men wrench the bank door open from my spot at the back of the group. I had decided the best use of my person was to chant loudly, from the diaphragm, demanding justice. These men had decided their bodies were best used in a demonstration of force. I think at least one of them got arrested because I didn’t see any sign of the organizer after that, only another man toting the drum.

The door open, the bank employees yielded, welcoming the women inside. A cheer went up and a new chant began.

A people united will never be divided!
El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

The crowd pulled back from the door and reestablished itself in the center of the courtyard. The mood was ebullient. The woman with the microphone asked if anyone had something they would like to say. One native woman asked the elder who had spoken earlier to sing the Native American national anthem. Then the son of another elder took the microphone. He was angry, angry that his dad was in the hospital, angry that the government continued to deny natives their rights. I don’t blame him. If I were protesting an oil pipeline and the government did what they’re doing in Standing Rock, I’d be pretty fucking mad too.

The women emerged from Well’s Fargo after what seemed like an hour. One held her bank reciept aloft. The crowd cheered again. Then, we were directed to march across the street to Bank of America whose funds also go to the DAPL.

You can’t drink oil. Keep it in the soil!

Bank of America is my bank. I’ve had been considering switching banks, but hadn’t yet done more than research. When we reached the bank, they asked, “Who is ready to divest?” I raised my hand and so did one other woman. “Let’s get you inside!” she declared. It was then I remembered my forgotten wallet. “Actually, I don’t have my wallet today. I feel really dumb,” I admitted before the crowd. We sent the other woman in alone and I held her bullhorn for her in a silent apology for my uselessness. Unlike Well’s Fargo, Bank of America gave its customer no trouble, perhaps because we hadn’t been causing trouble at their door for the last two hours. She was in and out in five minutes, announcing “They take your money fast, but they give it back just as quick.”

A building with a long banner reading "Divest No DAPL" hanging from the roof

The DIVEST banner hanging from Well’s Fargo

The march continued. We moved to the sidewalk across from Well’s Fargo. When we approached, we saw that someone had unfurled a banner heralding the cause: “DIVEST No DAPL.” Then the marchers grew truly excited. “We have support on the inside!” they hollered.

I decided that was a good time for me to leave.

This was an interesting experience. I knew it wasn’t going to be anything like the Women’s March, which was huge and had no trouble with the police. I didn’t know what to expect but it was great to feel like I was accomplishing something. I would think that 50 or 75 or however many people showed up does not look like much to a bank like Well’s Fargo, but the people inside sure looked worried. Only three people closed bank accounts that day, but I wonder if anyone else was influenced to take their business elsewhere. Just participating in this processed pushed me from “This is something I’m seriously considering” to “This is something I need to do right now.”

In fact, I’ve already started divesting myself from Bank of America. I’ve been talking to other people about ditching their bank. My sister said she would look at moving her direct deposit to her credit union account. My boyfriend is thinking it over too. These are small changes. I’m one person with less than $10,000 in my accounts. I would like to believe that these small actions are adding up. I went to the protest thanks to a small action. I saw that a friend was interested in going on Facebook and I decided that I should go. That’s why I have decided to write about the experience. I will also write about my experience of getting a new bank account after that is finished.

It seems like so much is happening so quickly right now, but all these current events are the culmination of years of work by right-wing jerks to dismantle what I consider to be civilized society. Let’s all take some small actions and get out of our comfort zones. We’re going to need all the help we can get.

25 Jan

Blogging Through the Anger

I’m not an angry person. At least, I don’t think of myself that way. Some of my family members flare up with white-hot rage, a pyroclasticflow of madness. I’ve always been the even-tempered one, so it is unsual to find myself experiencing rage. I have raged at the news for days. When Trump was elected,  I spent some time being sad. Now that I’ve seen how much havoc a small band of oligarchs can wreak in 5 days, I feel fury.

There are many reasons to be mad. However, I can only be so mad at any particular moment. At least, until we unlock more dimensions. I’m sure my eighth-dimensional outrage will be a thing to behold. In the meantime, a tirade in three dimensions.

I saw today, on Facebook, this headline:

Lawmaker: Criminalizing Abortion Would Force Women to be ‘More Personally Responsible’

And I thought, “More personally responsible.” I don’t know if anger can stop time, but I am unable to confirm that time did not stop.

I ask myself: how could women be more personally responsible for childbirth? Actually, here’s what I wrote on Facebook. What I wrote without even reading the article:

Men are the ones who need to be “more responsible” for sex, are you fucking kidding me? Men can LEAVE. A woman is stuck with the responsibility for sex whether she chooses to keep it or not. This is a gods damned joke.

Where are the tragic stories of women deserting their partners? The children who never knew their mothers? The men rushing to the drug store to get Plan B because the condom broke. Oh, wait, those things don’t exist. Women are the primary party responsible for the consequences of sex. Women get pregnant. Women gestate for nine months. Women give birth. Women nurse infants. Women are the primary caregivers. It is woman who is personally responsible for the consequences of sex, not man.

The smug, woman-hating face of Texas State Representative Tony Tinderholt

State Representative Tony Tinderholt. Look at his smug, woman-hating face

Eventually, I read the article. The man making these comments (because obviously only a man would say something so unabashedly ignorant) is, in fact, a state representative in Texas (because obviously Texas). State Representative Tony Tinderholt believes, “that, if passed, the bill would reduce the number of pregnancies, ‘when they know that there’s repercussions .'”

I didn’t know that women were unaware of the reprecussions of sex. Women whose uterine linings shed themselves every month from, for some, as early as the age of 10. Women, one in five of whom are sexually assaulted. Women, who are raped by their own partners. Who could know more intimately of the repercussions of sex.

According to State Representative Tinderholt, it’s currently just too easy to get an abortion. It’s a “backup,” he says. Tony Tinderholt imagines women thinking to themselves, “Oh, I can just go get an abortion.” Sure, just go get an abortion. Walk down to the abortion store and put on my abortion hat and remove this zygote from my body. Truly a simple, painless, and stigma-free process in 2017 America. I do wonder if Tony Tinderholt has ever been with anyone to get an abortion? I bet he thinks he doesn’t know anyone who has had an abortion. I bet he’s wrong about that.

Here are some facts (regular, not “alternative”—or is the alternative to alternative facts “straight edge”? A lot of questions today.):

  • Women seeking abortion in Texas have to make at least two visits to a clinic. Super convenient for women with jobs. Or women without jobs. For no women, that is, is it convenient.
  • Women seeking abortion in Texas have to have an ultrasound at least 24 hours before getting an abortion. This is called the “Right to know” law and the medical practitioner is mandated to give out information about “medical risks.”
  • Women seeking abortion cannot have medication abortion. Even if that might be safer and easier for them.

The worst of all? Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

Opinions like those of Tony Tinderholt lead to misguided policies to “protect” women from themselves. These policies lead directly to higher mortality rates for women. Women are literally dying because of this smug asshole. Because of a man’s misguided opinion on what is best for women.

An image of women in red with red head scarves taken from the movie The Handmaid's Tale.

Coming soon to a real life near you.

Men like Tony need to admit that these policies are not to protect or help women. They are to control women and their movements. They are to prevent women from having control over their own bodies. That is unacceptable. Women need equal rights to men. We need them now.

A lot of douchebags have crawled out of their holes in the past week, largely in response to the Women’s March. Here are some honorable mentions of people who made me mad.

  • L.A. Times has put this more succinctly than I can, “An outspoken Nebraska state legislator who was fined for having cybersex using a state computer resigned Wednesday after causing further outrage by sending a tweet that implied participants at the Women’s March were too unattractive to be victims of sexual assault.” Right, because as all women know, only the pretty ones get the dubious honor of being sexually assaulted. Thanks, fella.
  • Some people are protesting at Planned Parenthood (what else is new) because they want it defunded (I’m not going to link this one). I’m going to give Planned Parenthood some extra money just for them! And I signed up to be a clinic defender. Fuck these people. The matriarchy is strong.
  • Another gem of a human being from Texas says, in regards to the Women’s March, “Just think about this. After just one day in office, Trump managed to achieve something that no one else has been able to do: he got a million fat women out walking.” Dude, walking was the least strenuous thing I did last week. I’m going to keep lifting weights until I’m strong enough to throw you through a window.
  • A man who owns a brewery in Sacramento, where I live, said in regards to the Women’s march that “the left just can’t accept loss.” He’s going to have a hard time accepting the loss of business to his brewery.

What I’m trying to say here today is that I’m fucking mad. I’m as mad as I’ve ever been I’m mad that these genuine buttholes feel emboldened by Trump’s election. I’m mad that women still don’t have equal rights, that there’s no equal rights amendment. I’m mad that in 2017 we still have men trying to legislate women’s bodies—not even just trying, succeeding. I’m mad that these assholes have come out of the woodwork.

But you know what I’m happy about? How motivated and strong women are. So many of us have awakened to the fact that it is incumbent upon us all to act. We must act up and we must act out and be loud and be all those stupid things that society tells you you can’t do. Today is the day. Tomorrow is the day too. The next four years are the day because, women, we got this. The matriarchy is strong and its roots are deep.

25 Mar

Welcome to Crazy Land

Book Review: Over the Cliff: How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane

Over the Cliff book cover

I know I am not the only person to ask themselves “Why are these people completly insane?” while watching the news (or, while watching the bits of Fox News crazy that The Daily Show cherry picks for our amusement). I know this because John Amato and David Neiwert wrote Over the Cliff. Surely, they started with the same “What the hell?” sentiment that so many non-conservatives—and probably quite a few fiscal conservatives have felt since this century began and George W. Bush took office. What happened? How did we get here? More importantly, how can we get out?

Over the Cliff was published in 2010, so while a few things have changed since it came out, the analysis and coverage of the events leading up to Obama’s election and his first year in office are on point. Amato and Neiwert are both internauts of the original liberal blogosphere (do we have a better word for this yet?), with Amato being the creator of the Crooks and Liars blog. They both seem to have a fair bit of news watching street cred and, hey, they lived this period—and more importantly they were paying attention (unlike me, finishing college and having an existential crisis).

The first thing that stood out to me from reading the coverage of the Obama campaign was just how racist it was. I remembered that it had been racist, but seeing the vitriol compiled in text was alarming. I’m used to racism operating in its normal, insidious way, but seeing flat out racism is, for me, really shocking. Of course, much of the blatantly racist quotes are stated in that crazy, nonsensical way that we have come to know and love from Republicans. For a fine example: “Obama wins, I’m gonna move to Alaska. Haven’t you heard that the United States is gonna be taken down from within? What better way to get taken down from within than having the President of the United States be the one that’s going to do it?” Irrefutable logic, truly.

As much as it is fun to giggle at the apparent stupidity of some of these people, Over the Cliff makes the point that when networks like Fox News prominently feature incendiary rhetoric, people who hold these same beliefs feel validated, like their beliefs are correct and right because someone on national television is sharing in the same sentiments. As such, the book takes aim at people like Glenn Beck, in particular, for giving a forum to this militant fringe crazy bullshit.

A lot of these right-wing extremists subscribe to the “lone wolf” ideology, which is a form of “leaderless resistance.” By operating alone, it is difficult to pin down some kind of hierarchy that could be targeted by law enforcement, but it also means that a quite often crimes or terrorist acts committed by extremists often aren’t connected with the ideology because they appear to be a one-off event by a crazy person. In fact, the “oh, that guy is just crazy!” defense seems to be a popular one. The book discussed a few instances where there was a shoot-out or someone reacted with what was an apparently disproportionate response for the situation, at least based on the way the news reported it. Whereas in many such cases, the perpetrator can be connected with extreme right wing ideology, either via activity on the Stormfront forums or similar sites. What’s really convenient about that for the people on TV fanning the flames of these people is that they can just say “He’s a crazy person! Not my fault!” and move on from the subject. Glenn Beck did this pretty often. Unfortunately, unless you’re paying extremely close attention (or you are in on the right-wing extremist secret handshakes) they do seem like unrelated crazy people flying off the handle, making things seem just insane, when they represent a pattern of violence based on an extreme ideology.

Another theme of the book is Fox News’ promotion of the Tea Party. It seems like they never would have gone anywhere if it hadn’t been for Fox promoting their events and really signing on with the message (anyone remember the Tea Party Express?). With the emergence of the Tea Party movement, the “Birther” issue and the “Obama is a socialist/Marxist/Hitler” rhetoric took on a life of their own in the insane signage that many of the participants carried. Again, Amato and Neiwert make it clear that this is really a function of racism. These people did not have a cogent message other than “Oh no, black man!” Thus, they equated Obama with all the worst political things they could think of and continually tried to cast doubt on his legitimacy. Racism all the way.

When the issue of passing some health care legislation came up in is when the Tea Party found its voice. The authors express that after the initial tax day protests and the 9/12 foolishness, the Tea Party was losing momentum and lacked any kind of focus, but unfortunately for the rest of us, the health care debates invigorated them. The Tea Party leadership actually distributed guidelines to people on how to be maximally disruptive during town hall events so that there could be no civil discourse. From a rational point of view, it is really hard to understand why you would want to shut down a discussion where people might be sharing actual information. Even after reading this book, I still don’t totally understand that, but it seems to be fueled by racism and the espousal of just really extreme beliefs. I’m sure there’s a certain element of mental instability as well, but I’ll go ahead and admit that’s mostly speculation.

It ends on a not very hopeful note, cautioning us against being dragged down by right-wing madness, but also giving a call to action to everyone else. I think now, a few years down the line, things are more optimistic in some ways, but the same in some others. First of all, Glenn Beck—the book’s villain—no longer has a show on Fox News. For this, we all rejoice. I think that Obama’s landslide re-election beat back some of the crazier sentiments that emerged during his first term. The people have spoken! We’ve now elected a black man to the presidency twice, any person of color who comes after Obama will not have it as bad as he did. He has made it possible for everyone else.  In news that is both hopeful and profoundly depressing, Mother Jones offered this article on the outcome of adopting many Tea Party policies in Florida. The state cut taxes, 4 million people are without health care, $3 billion was taken from education, and agencies that serve disabled people were hugely cut. While there is nothing hopeful about this news for Florida, I hope that everyone else in the country sees this and realizes that this is the “logical” extension of the policies of the Tea Party. Hopefully, over the next few election cycles, Florida digs its way out of this madness and the rest of us can let the Tea Party become a historical footnote.