A Progressive Alamedan

Various writings from a resident of Alameda regarding the political scene. The local perspective of local, state and national politics and a few other odds and ends of local concern. May not be particularly interesting to people outside of the Alameda area.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fixing the California Democratic Party, Starting Locally

Two years ago, George W. Bush had managed to win another term, and the Democratic Party was in the doldrums. Many progressive activists, including myself, started talking about ways to resurrect the Democratic Party, which had failed in so many levels.

At the national level, an uphill effort to get Howard Dean elected as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was going on. He was opposing the Clintonesque/centrist status quo, which clearly wasn't working. But power structures are not easy to change.

Around California, many of us were talking about how to help out the party from the bottom-up. One way, we found out with great difficulty, was to become delegates to the state party. The road to this was not easy to find; it was a bit of an insider's club that we were trying to infiltrate, in a sense. We discovered that arond the state, there are 12 delegates to be elected from each state Assembly District, elected in January of odd-numbered years with terms running for two years.

Back then, I did not belong to any political party, because at the time I felt, like so many others, that the Democratic Party did not really represent me. I had toyed with joining the Green Party for a couple of years but had never gotten around to changing my registration. But with this opportunity around the state and the nation to infuse the Democratic Party with some life-blood, I jumped at the chance, along with many activists I knew, to become a delegate representing our area. I joined the party, and figured out how to get myself on the ticket for the January election as a delegate.

Any registered Democrat can run for a delegate position, but it's a strange kind of election, because the people who vote are the people who know to attend the meeting at which the election is held. I had never heard of such a meeting; I'm sure very few people who read this have either! No wonder it felt like such an insider's club!

Fortunately, several other activists and I were able to be elected as delegates. Shortly thereafter, Howard Dean was elected as Chair of the DNC, which meant that there was certainly opportunity for change coming from the "top". But I didn't realize how much the potential for change from the bottom was, until I attended the California Democratic Convention in April of 2005. About one-third of the delegates were new, coming in from the trenches. I recognized dozens of activists whom I had encountered in the 2004 election cycle from around the state as new delegates. And we weren't just going to sit around and wear funny hats and listen to political speeches; a gigantic Progressive Caucus was formed that was poised for action.

Now that nearly two years has passed, I'm glad to see what we have accomplished nationally with Howard Dean at the head of the Democratic Party. The state party has not done so well. Yes, the party platform is definitely more progressive than it was thanks to our work as grassroots delegates, but look at the election outcome. Only Jerry McNerney was able to overcome an incumbent Republican; strong candidates like Charlie Brown, Francine Busby, and Bill Durston didn't do as well. Schwarzenegger wiped the floor with Phil Angelides. Most of California is a deep shade of "red", while around the country, states are much "bluer" than before. The leadership of the state party, firmly entrenched, did a terrible job. So we need to keep working on that.

I will be running for delegate representing the 16th Assembly district again. I think we can continue to make some progress, but we need to get more progressive delegates in place across the state. To anybody reading this in the area who is interested in making a difference, please contact me ("dan" followed by the current year at karelia dot com). Being a delegate is incredibly rewarding and interesting!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving: What will you do TOMORROW?

I hope all readers of this gigantic blog have an enjoyable Thanksgiving.

Let's talk about tomorrow, though, the day after Thanksgiving. Are you going to have a nice relaxing day, or will you be getting in your car, driving to the nearest mall (or one not so near), joining millions of Americans in a crazed, shopping frenzy?

You can mindlessly be a consumer on this biggest shopping day of the year, or you can celebrate Buy Nothing Day.

Why not say "no" to the shopping frenzy? Participate by not participating.

Because, after all, it's always Christmastime for Visa (view the music video here)...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

An Alameda Hero

Tonight I finally had the opportunity to meet Allen Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theatre. He's an Alameda Resident whom I consider a true hero for the messages he puts on part of the Grand Lake's Marquees. Usually confrontational, always political, they are a breath of First Amendment fresh air!

The Grand Lake Theatre is truly world-famous - Allen told me he has gotten letters and emails from all over the world. A newspaper in England regularly prints photos of the marquees!

Some examples:

See a slideshow of the photos at Flickr

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Week after the Election: Now what?

Exactly 7 days ago, I was at a huge victory party celebrating the win of congressman-elect Jerry McNerney (I love saying that!) and the recapture of the Congress after a hard day's (OK, autumn's) campaigning.

It feels pretty good that the Democrats captured the House and the Senate, and that many Democrats defeated Republicans in statewide and local races. And it would be really easy to rest on one's laurels until 2008.

But just because many democrats won doesn't mean things will actually get any better. Many of them are in office just for the power and don't really care about turning things around. Lieberman won in Connecticut, for instance, so it's not like it's a progressive victory across the board.

So this post is a brainstorm of where we have to go, at a local, regional, statewide, and national level.

Nationally, we have a democratic congress but that doesn't guarantee much will happen. I don't expect that much legislation will pass in the next two years because Bush will veto just about everything now. I'm sad that Democrats in power are so worried about looking nice that they won't try to impeach Bush even though his crimes tower over Clinton's problems. Where I do have some hope is that Representative Henry Waxman (D-West Hollywood) will open up some serious investigations of the Bush Administration. I would like to see him conduct some serious inquiries into the Iraq/Afghanistan invasions, 9/11 security failures and contradictions, torture, wiretapping, and so forth. Apparently he's been "sharpening his knives" for a while now; perhaps what he uncovers wlll enable an impeachment to begin. I also hope that our own congressional representative, Pete Stark, will show some initiative. His hands have been tied on almost all important issues for many years now, so it will be interesting to see if he can walk the talk now that the House has some power. I hope to attend his next town meeting when he's back in the neighborhood.

California may have a relatively democratic administration, and I'm glad that Debra Bowen will be running the elections; I just hope that her hands won't be tied in fixing the system. Of course, we still have Arnold at the helm, and I'm sure that now that campaign season is over, he'll go back to being his ugly self again. He has managed to veto a few really nice pieces of legislation that our state representatives had passed. We'll soon be saying goodbye to Wilma Chan as our assembly representative and hello to Sandré Swanson.

Narrowing in on the county level, readers may remember some issues I had with the whitewashed security report on the Sequoia voting systems that our county supervisors, including Alice Lai-Bitker, approved. I am still very frustrated that they have allowed this to happen. I just saw the HBO special "Hacking Democracy", and though the show focuses on Diebold machines, the problems and flaws are similar, and the whitewash report that is described in the show reminds me of the report that I read. I think I need to lend my tape to Ms. Lai-Bitker with hopes that she will better understand the issue. Though there is no vote in the pipeline, she is our supervisor and this issue will likely come up again.

Finally, at the city level, we held off the reactionary candidates, so we have a pretty good city council mix coming into office soon, with Lena Tam replacing Tony Daysog. Daysog, in recent years, hasn't been very effective at all, and DeHaan is really the only conservative on the council. I am hoping that citizens can bring forth some more attempts to connect Alameda with the rest of the world, as was successfully done with a Global Warming resolution and unsuccessfully with a resolution to bring home the national guard so they can protect Alameda instead of occupying a foreign country. I am hopeful that Frank Matarrese will be at the forefront on that. We also need to make sure that developments in Alameda are kept in check, and that they appropriately do as much as possible to reduce automobile dependency.

So ... enough napping, back to work!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Proposition 89: Now what?

Proposition 89 didn't pass; it's clear that it had a huge uphill battle in convincing voters that it's really in their best interest. The conventional power structures — corporations, some unions, and entrenched political parties — didn't want to see it happen.

But a door has been opened, and it won't close. See the linked article by Rose Ann DeMoro of the California Nurses Association for more details.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Moving Ahead in Alameda

Only a few Alamedans, like people who read and contribute to Lauren Do's and Don Roberts's blogs, have been knee-deep following the City Council/Mayoral race. Most Alamedans, I think, are nowhere near as involved and certainly not as polarized. They've gotten their slate advertisements in the mail and read their fluffy statements. They've gotten the literature from the other candidates as well. And they made their decision based only partly on that. But I think that the main factor that people have used for their decision is: "how are we doing?"

Alameda has been doing pretty well recently. Within just the last few years, we've seen remarkable improvements to Park Street, Webster Street, Southe Shore Centre. Plus our gorgeous new library just opened. You can't buy that kind of good will with any campaign budget. And this is naturally associated with the city's current leaders. Unlike the change that has swept the national elections, people here are happy with the incumbents and want that to continue.

Of course, that only accounts for Beverly Johnson and Frank Matarrese. I think that Lena Tam probably won for several reasons. One is that she appeared in many aspects along with Johnson and Matarrese. The three of them were endorsed by the Alameda Democratic Club as well as the dem party at the county level, so they were featured together on a lot of literature. Tam also ran a good campaign and supported the kinds of issues that many Alamedans support. And because the slate members were tied together for better or for worse, it made the choice easier for people who didn't want to support the slate. Of the remaining candidates, Lena Tam easily stood out. Ash Jones and Mike Rich just didn't have that big of a campaign to get them on the radar for people. (I'm guessing that Jones did better than Rich because he's just better known in the community. He certainly didn't have much of a campaign!)

There was certainly some negativity in this campaign. YouTube videos of Pat Bail's nasty sentiments and lampooning the slate's anti-everything stance. Personal attacks on those who have been outspoken in their distrust of the slate. And so forth. But now that the election is done, we need to move forward and get past that. I hope the negativity can come to an end.

I'll be happy to take a step toward building that bridge by stating some things I believe in, which might come as a surprise to slate supporters and opponents alike:

  • I haven't been particularly impressed with Mayor Johnson. She just isn't a strong leader. I only supported her at a minimal level because she was certainly a better choice than deHaan. I really wished that there had been a stronger third candidate.
  • The slate was against too much traffic. Well, so am I. In fact, I'm an activist in favor of bicycling, walking, and transit rather than the use of the automobile. I'm very concerned about how development on Alameda Point will affect traffic in and out of and around Alameda. (In fact, it's out of that concern that I want to see Measure A not apply to the Point, so that some intelligently planned neighborhoods can be built with facilities in walking distance so that people don't need to drive to Oakland or other parts of Alameda for their basic needs.)
  • The slate advocated open government. Well, so do I. (I'm especially glad to see Debra Bowen win as Secretary of State; she has produced some amazing legislation in California along those lines.) I don't think that Alamedans bought into the accusation that there was wrongdoing on the City Council since deHaan was there, and never filed any charges if he saw something illegal.
  • The slate was opposed to big-box, overdevelopment. Guess what, so am I! I don't like big chain stores. I don't like the sensation that almost every city I go to looks the same with their shopping centers and chain stores. I'm not particularly fond of a Target going into Alameda, especially a gigantic one. I was against the "megaplex" that the city council approved (though I would like to see the Alameda Theatre restored, just more tastefully). And if a Wal- Mart tries to come to town, I'll be first in line to oppose that.
  • The slate was in favor of measure A and protecting historic structures. Well, so am I — but just not for Alameda Point. I'm glad Measure A passed, but in 1973, Alameda did not have Alameda Point. There are no victorians that I know of on Alameda Point. There is, however, some great historic housing that will have to be torn down if measure A applies to the point. (Doesn't anybody find that particularly ironic?) Alameda point is, for the most part, a blank slate that can be built intelligently, and I don't feel that we should be building suburbia out there.
  • Many slate supporters have complained about the influence of Don Perata on local politics. I agree completely. I don't like it when powerful politicians throw their weight around and muddle in local affairs. It didn't happen just here, either; it happened in Oakland this year as well. However, just because I don't like what he does, I don't buy the conclusions that slate supporters came up with that made it sound as if the developers had the Johnson, Matarrese, and Tam (but not Daysog) in their pockets.

So there you have it. It's amazing how much I agree with the slate. But I didn't vote for them, and neither did a lot of Alamedans. But maybe we have more in common than we think if you strip away the conclusions that slaters have reached and just look at the underlying values.

Yesterday's Winners: Democrats, Corporations, Arnold

Well needless to say I'm pretty pleased with the results of yesterday's election. I spent the evening (late into the evening) at Jerry McNerney's victory party with many friends as we watched the results come in nationwide on TV, and in Jerry's race by watching Eden (stalwart staffer and EB4D leader) scribble numbers with a felt-tip marker on the back of campaign signs, taped to the wall. High-tech all the way! It was amazing to be in the center of a winning campaign and part of a nationwide sweep. Just amazing, especially considering two years ago, nobody would take on Richard Pombo until Jerry McNerney stepped in at the urging of his son. And now he's a congressman. Well, soon!

I'm of course pleased with the local Alameda results, in which the Democrats essentially trampled the Republican slate. It's a bit deeper than that of course; I hope to have a post later with more thoughts.

So yes, Dems won big across the nation and locally. But the other big winner, at the state level, if you think about it, is the corporations. They managed to stop a lot of really beneficial propositions from passing: 86, 87, and 89. It breaks my heart. I think that this is why we have a representative government; from feedback I got from people, most people just can't deal with the intracacies of these propositions. We the people are not lawmakers. We are clearly influenced by multi-million dollar ad campaigns financed by the corporations. We just don't have a fighting chance, so it really seems that only non-controversial ballot measures seem to pass these days. (It's really too bad about 83; it had backing of Dems and Republicans when it should have gotten some decent opposition once people realized that, like 90, it is deceptive.)

I especially regret the loss of proposition 89. I hope that it can come back to the state legislature in some other form and have another shot. Otherwise, the corporations are just going to keep winning. It's an incredibly uneven playing field.

While Democrats did well overall in governor's races, it saddens me that we have to put up with another four years of Arnold. Here in Alameda County, of course Phil Angelides won big. But there are a lot of "red" counties that just don't get it. Perhaps Arnold is unbeatable. Maybe a democrat stands a chance once his term expires. (It was great to see that most of the other state races went strongly Democrat; I'm elated that Debra Bowen will be our new Secretary of State, and also very pleased about John Garamendi being elected as Lt. Governor.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Two Heroes

At a recent Oakland house party for Debra Bowen, the hosts had printed out some of the Yin-Yang poster that I made to "fix the system." I was able to convince Debra Bowen and Loni Hancock (author of the clean-money assembly bill that eventually morphed in to Proposition 89) to pose with a sign!

Debra Bowen, Loni Hancock, Proposition 89

The last day before the election .... what will happen? I hope that my ... uh ... enthusiasm for certain candidates and issues will have some impact. Now let's get out the vote!

Friday, November 03, 2006

One last appeal to help Jerry McNerney take down Richard Pombo

Regular readers know that I've been helping with Jerry McNerney's campaign to boot Richard Pombo out of congress because we all live in Richard Pombo's District. I've donated to his campaign what I could from time to time, I've phone-banked, I've walked precincts, and I even had a party for Jerry McNerney at my house here in Alameda.

Now it appears that McNerney and Pombo are neck in neck in the polls, which means that the winner will be the one who has the best "Get Out The Vote" effort over the next few days, especially Tuesday.

This is a monumental opportunity for people here in the Bay Area to have a significant impact in our country's future. I'm asking you to take some time this weekend and the whole day on Tuesday to help get out the vote for Jerry (or some other equally wonderful candidate or cause like Debra Bowen or Proposition 89). You can travel to Pleasanton or Stockton and go door-to-door, or you can stay in the East Bay and do phone-banking from Oakland. You can sign up for everything here.

If you don't have time to help, maybe you can help a bit with a contribution to put Jerry over the top!

Let's rock the Congress!

Pictures from the Library Opening

Chipman drummers, Alameda Free Library
Those talented drummers from Chipman warm up the crowd.

alameda free library opening
Crowds gather in front of the library under a light drizzle.

alameda free library opening, bike racks
Yeay, the bike racks are being used right away!

military boy scouts at the alameda free library
Boy scouts raise the flag. I was astounded at how military the boy scouts are. I had no idea.

Bob Haun, Alameda Free Library
Bob Haun, project manager who built the library under budget and ahead of schedule, makes his remarks.

Frank Mataresse, Alameda Free Library
Councilmember Frank Mataresse, who had co-chaired the campaign to raise funds for the library, makes his remarks.

Mayor Johnson's turn at the podium, surrounded by dignitaries. See if you can spot: Wilma Chan, Don "Don" Perata, Sylvia Kahn, Don Roberts, and Pat Bail.

alameda free library opening crowds
The throngs storm the castle!

Oh, on the previous picture, I was kidding about the last two names!

Update: One more image I just thouught of adding: the webcam across the street. My script to save pictures for my library construction time-lapse movie was still going. So here's the view at 11 O'clock yesterday.

Webcam view of te opening of the Alameda Free Library