Wednesday, March 29, 2017

High Drama in Screenland: Culver City Becomes a Sanctuary City!

I had known for a while that the Culver City Council would be debating whether or not to become a Sanctuary City on Monday, March 27. I had read the meeting notes of the previous meeting when the matter had been discussed and noticed the meeting had ended after midnight. I didn’t know if I could face a five-hour meeting on a Monday night, but I had to acknowledge many of my neighbors were facing much harder things. This was an important issue, and I needed to show my support. I had never attended a city council meeting before, but I have to say that the meeting was way more exciting and enlightening than a night of TV.

I had been following announcements on Indivisible Culver City’s facebook page, and there were rumors than many Pro-Trump protesters from other parts of Southern California would be coming to the meeting to disrupt it. One rumor said that a busload would be coming! In the end, it turned out to be about ten people, all of whom wore Trump hats and shirts and most of whom were outspoken (a few appeared to be long-suffering spouses, who signed up to comment and then ceded their time to their obsessive spouse).  Meanwhile many more supporters of the motion showed up, and representatives of Indivisible Culver City handed out talking points for anyone who might wish to fill out a comment card to address the council, and they also handed out “thumbs up / thumb down” and “Sanctuary NOW!” signs that we could hold up during the meeting.

The meeting began at 7:00 PM with some general announcements. The mayor spoke about the success of the Ciclavia event held in Culver City that previous weekend. This is a quarterly event where certain streets in LA are closed to cars and bikes rule for the day. Over 100,000 people attended this event! I have to say that as I was out that Sunday on our electric trike, I loved the vibe and seeing all the smiling faces. I was struck by the diversity of the crowd in terms of ethnicities and ages.  It was a wonderful community event and tons of fun.

The Council opened the floor for comments on non-agenda items. Four of the Trump fans had filled out comment cards to speak and all four got reprimanded for mentioning the Sanctuary City resolution, which was to be discussed later in the evening. They didn't understand why they were being reprimanded and cried out that their free speech was being violated. One rambled on about how videoconferencing should be available for these meetings, because she drove a long way from the Valley. Another spoke in praise of Trump with nothing specific to Culver City. They didn’t identify themselves as Culver City residents. Other Trump supporters stood on the perimeter of the room, filming and livestreaming the meeting. They walked around and filmed everyone and tried to have an intimidating presence.  

After comments and voting happened on a few other agenda items, we got to the Sanctuary City issue. The clerk informed the council that more than 70 people had filled out comment cards! The mayor said it was typical to be able to count attendance on one hand at these meetings, but this time there were at least 150 people in the room and possibly more people in an overflow room that I didn’t see. We started hearing comments around 8:30 PM, and each person was allowed to speak for up to two minutes.

There were about ten Trump fans who spoke in opposition and at least 50 people who spoke in favor of the measure. The opposition comments centered on fear of undocumented immigrants raping and murdering Americans. “America First!” was the oft-repeated chant. One protester wore a T-shirt with the photo of someone who had been killed by an undocumented drunk driver. I guess we should have all worn T-shirts with photos of people killed by US citizens driving drunk. In response to those who lamented about the separation of families due to deportation, they spoke of the ultimate separation of families due to murder.

The Council had several options they were considering - and all were symbolic gestures ranging from Option One just stating “Culver City is a Sanctuary City” with no elaboration to Option Four which had a detailed list of what it means as defined by the ACLU and the Culver City Action Network (CCAN).  There was amazing diversity displayed by the Culver City residents who spoke up, and I found myself thinking back to the diversity I had seen the day before at Ciclavia.

A twelve-year-old boy said “I was born a Democrat,” and he couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want the city to be a welcoming place.  Several high school students spoke. The Herreras, a Mexican-American family, put together a powerpoint presentation and four family members took turns using their allotted two minutes to go through the presentation. They spoke about their sadness at having to go to Mexico to visit their grandfather because he had been deported (see slide below). Teenage son Dante broke down in tears while testifying, saying he was so disturbed by the Trump supporters in the room and their hateful rhetoric and that he had never encountered it in this city before. His mother approached to comfort him, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation when he finished talking about his family’s struggles.

I’m sure the looming presence of the outspoken handful of Trump fans was disturbing and eye-opening for many in the room as we do live in a blue bubble in LA. As far as I could tell, only two of the ten Trump supporters lived within twenty miles of Culver City.  Meanwhile almost all the other speakers identified themselves as residents and many were parents of children in the Culver City school system. It’s also worth noting that Culver City High School was recently named the fourth most diverse high school in the nation.

Former mayor Gary Silbiger spoke about his experience as an immigration lawyer. Two law professors from UCLA spoke, and one revealed that the threat by Trump and Sessions to remove federal funds from Sanctuary Cities would most likely be contestable in court. Many residents spoke about their own family immigration history and fears for neighbors. We heard from teachers who said they didn’t care if the kids in their class had papers or not. We heard from social workers, veterans, business people, and ministers. Almost everyone voiced support for Option Four.

At 10:00 PM, we took a break. Right before that, the Council asked that several Trump fans be removed from the room. They had been warned about interjecting comments while others were speaking, but had kept doing it. There were officers in the room all night to keep the peace. As they were being escorted out, one of the more aggressive Trump fans revealed he had a taser on him but it wasn’t used. For some unknown reason, they let these guys back in the room after the break. A Muslim resident spoke and as soon as he mentioned he was Muslim, the taser guy yelled out “Jihad!”  At that point, Vice Mayor Cooper asked the officer to remove him, and he was not allowed back in - thankfully!

As we approached midnight, many people had left but about 50 people remained. Some names were called for people who had signed up to speak but hadn’t been able to stick around. Finally, the comments were done, and the Council took some time to ask questions and debate. The Police Chief and City Attorney were present to answer questions. The Council reworded aspects of Option Four, and then Meghan Sahli-Wells made a motion to approve the reworded Option Four. Vice Mayor Cooper made a motion for Option One, feeling that the detailed language was unnecessary as our Police were currently abiding by these guidelines and would continue to do so, but his motion was voted down. Mayor Clarke objected to the provision in Option Four to provide $20,000 of city funds for immigration legal defense, and the others accepted his position and this provision was stricken from the record. It had become clear the residents wanted the strongly worded option, and the motion for Option Four passed by a margin of 3-1, with Vice Mayor Cooper dissenting (and Goran Eriksson absent). At 12:40 AM, Culver City became a Sanctuary City!

It was a night of high drama and mood swings. At times, I felt so angry and wanted to engage the Trump fans but I refrained as I knew it would be as fruitless as their presence at the meeting had proved with regard to the outcome. At other times, I felt moved to tears by people’s stories and by the activism of the kids. Overall, I came away feeling very inspired to be a part of “Democracy in Action,” happy that the city is reflecting the values of its residents, and thankful to the City Council for their great patience in sitting through the long comment period and their thoughtful and courageous decision.  Special kudos to Meghan Sahli-Wells who was working on her birthday and proved very thoughtful in breaking down the language of the motion and coming up with language everyone could support. I’m Culver City proud!

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Notes from the "Show Up, Dive In, Stay At It" Panel Discussion

Tonight I attended an inspiring panel discussion about activism in Los Angeles, presented by the Hammer Museum. The event location was changed from the Hammer Museum courtyard to Royce Hall at UCLA due to 2000 RSVPs on the Facebook event. I would estimate around 1500 attended, which was a really impressive turnout for a Monday night without any celebrity panelists when it potentially could have rained (rain rendering most Angelenos immobile ;).   

This was the lineup... 

Jessica Yellin, former chief White House correspondent, CNN 

Devon Carbado - UCLA Law Professor 
Susan Dunlap - President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles 
Lorri L. Jean - CEO, Los Angeles LGBT Center 
Angelica Salas - Executive Director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) 
Hector Villagra - Executive Director, ACLU of Southern California 

Villagra spoke about the ACLU's work in the courts regarding Trump's executive order / Muslim ban (he said we should not be calling it "travel restriction" and we should call out the media when they do that). Although Trump said only about 100 people were impacted, Villagra said they were aware of 721 people detained at airports on the first day alone, along with 60,000 visas that were revoked.  When asked if he thought the court order would be overturned, Villagra said he didn't think so and he pointed out that Trump has talked about a muslim ban on the record many times - on TV and radio - and that anything he said would be admissible as evidence of his true intentions. Villagra also mentioned that Mayor Garcetti has not officially declared LA to be a sanctuary city and has so far declined requests to meet with Villagra and Salas on the issue - meanwhile Garcetti has allegedly met with Trump three times. There's an ACLU app and a website about volunteering.  

Salas said her group has been busy dealing with a shocked and terrified community and the impact of Trump's three swift executive orders on immigration.  She spoke of the importance of SB54 needing to be passed - a bill that would make California a Sanctuary State.  When asked about Trump's threats to pull federal funds from California if this bills passes, she said that he undervalues the weight of California being the most populous state and the rest of the country's dependence on tax money from California. She said 50% of Californians are immigrants or the children of immigrants. CHIRLA is now offering free legal services and encouraging people to apply for citizenship. They need volunteers to help at their citizenship clinics, as they are getting many inquiries.   

Carbado was an excellent speaker and often critical of progressives. He spoke about how progressives fail to engage on a host of racial issues that were pre-Trump. He wants us to talk about voter suppression, not voter fraud. Since the 2013 repeal of part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, certain states that have special conditions where they needed to pre-clear changes in their voting machines with the Department of Justice no longer have to do so, and voter suppression has occurred in 8 of those 15 states. He talked about state bills that are being discussed that will limit our right to protest, including a North Dakota bill that says it's OK to hit a protestor with your car if the protestor is in the road! In speaking about the Supreme Court, he said the Right has Roe Vs Wade as a galvanizing issue, but the Left really has nothing. The Right has more positive-sounding terms like "Pro Life", "Border Security", and "Right to Work" which seem easier to get behind. We need to figure out an issue and organize around it. He pointed out problems with Goresuch's judicial philosophy but said he didn't think any other Trump nominee would be better, referring to the list as "a parade of horribles." Carbado downplayed the idea of social media being useless since most of us are in "bubbles" - "Preaching to the choir isn't a bad thing. The choir doesn't get together to practice enough. Some members are off key."  

Jean talked about a March 2 orientation meeting happening at the LGBT center and the "100 Days and Me" action plan outlined on their website, where they will be communicating actions related to LGBT causes as well as other issues. Jean said social media is a definite tool to use, but we also need to get off our phones and couches and be active. When we hear a lie, we need to call it out as a lie. As for going beyond social media, she talked about the "coming out" movement among LGBT folks and how we can learn from it - personal, face to face conversations can forge connections and greater understanding.   

Dunlap stated that 30% of all Planned Parenthood visits take place in California. With proposed defunding of Medicare, that's 1.5 million patient visits lost for low income women seeking health screenings. She told a story about a woman who flew from Florida to get an abortion in California because she was worried about people in her town finding out. She encouraged the audience to approach people with empathy and gentleness and look for common ground. She lamented that Washington democratic leadership doesn't seem to be coming up with a plan to mobilize all those who want to be involved, so we'll need to forge our path, and there are many ways to contribute. 

All the speakers felt they had not seen so many people who want to be engaged and active ever before. They recommended reading The Indivisible Guide to find ways to get active.  

Many questions from the audience were taken. I didn't stay for all of them because as usual at these kinds of events, people were using their thirty seconds to sound off on their pet issues or plug their websites/foundations/charities.  

Watch the full video of the panel discussion. 

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Writers Resist - Defiance, Remembrance and Inspiration in Venice

Today I went to the Writers Resist event at Beyond Baroque in Venice. It was a packed house, raising funds for the ACLU. I believe they could only fit about 100 people in the room, so they used a patio as overflow space and pumped the audio feed out there. It’s too bad they didn’t have a bigger venue for this incredible gathering of writers, but then again it was nice that the event had an intimate feeling.

Writers Resist events took place all over the country today in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and in response to the impending inauguration. Nobody used the President Elect’s name today but he hung like a specter over the proceedings. The event was three hours long and 27 writers were given five minutes each to read their own work or work of other writers that suited the theme.

Some writers read from Dr. King’s work. Viet Thanh Nguyen (below) read from the speech “Beyond Vietnam”. David Ulin - after saying he was angry we all had to be there, that things had come to this point - read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

Some writers used their timeslots to pay tribute to other writers. Carol Muske-Dukes read from “Of Courage and Resistance”, a speech given by Susan Sontag. Ishmael Beah read “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes. Dana Goodyear read Ann Sexton’s poem “Snow”. Naomi Hirahara read from Michi Weglyn’s book “Years of Infamy” about Japanese internment camps. Mona Simpson read Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”. Amy Wilentz revisited The Gettysburg Address. Safiya Sinclair (below), Lynne Thompson and Vanessa Villarreal gave stirring readings of June Jordan poems, including “In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.”.

Some of my favorite readings were from those who shared their personal stories about the election. Aimee Bender read an essay about an election night party she tried to host that turned out to not be much of a party. They had to throw the jug of cocktails down the drain. She tried to give leftover pizza to a neighbor, but the neighbor said he had lost his appetite.  It reminded me of my own dark night of the soul on election night in the fun capital of the world Vegas, after a week of canvassing for Hillary (I wrote about it in this essay). Meme Kelly shared a letter she wrote to her sons after the election to help them grieve and encourage them to carry on. Michelle Latiolais read a fantastic piece about her sister excitedly telling her last week’s news about Russian interference. Michelle knew it wouldn’t derail anything. “You can’t blackmail someone who has no shame,” she wrote. Douglas Manuel talked about drinking “Nasty Woman” cocktails in anticipation of an election night celebration that didn’t come, and then read a Jean Valentine poem called “I Came to You”.

Some shared original work. Douglas Kearney wrested everyone’s attention with a dramatic interpretive riff on the theme of “We Shall Overcome.” Ron Carlson read a hilarious poem about being annoyed by someone in front of him texting in his car who had ignored the light changing to green. Victoria Chang read her thought-provoking poem [Today my daughter wants to be a waitress when she grows up she doesn’t]”. Amy Gerstler read her poem “Giraffes”, and Vandana Khanna shared her poem “Dot Head”.

I was also somewhat relieved to hear that all these successful writers who I know have better self-discipline and work habits than me were also having trouble writing since the election. But this is the kind of event that reminded me how important it is that we try, and if we can’t manage to write right now, at least we can read some important classic works, like the ones I've linked here.

David St. John (above), one of the organizers of this amazing event, closed the gathering by remembering a conversation between his mentor Adrienne Rich and Philip Levine. I may not be remembering the exact quotes, but this is the gist...

Levine: There’s still work to be done.

Rich: There’s always going to be work to be done.

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