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A Call to Action: Fight to Help the Homeless Get Off the Streets and Into Housing Now

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We are in a critical, yet transformative time in human history right now. As a result of COVID-19, the very systems we depend on are being stretched to capacity. Some have failed altogether.

There is a silver lining. Inequities in health care, food, public education, housing, political and penal systems have made us rely on each other in ways many of us have not done in the past. These times are testing the weak points on our collective networks and challenging us to rise to the occasion of the day.

In a popular biblical story, God told one of his faithful followers, Joshua, that he and his people should migrate to Canaan as a place of refuge from the wilderness. The scouts who went to check out the city found that it was barricaded and no one could get in or out. Wealthy aristocrats and people with means had misused the land’s resources and built a great wall to protect themselves from have-nots.

Some of Joshua’s friends were scared of this migration and some didn’t believe they truly deserved to live in such a place. But God reminded Joshua that he would care for his people and gave him instructions on how to get in. He was told to bring spiritual teachers with noisemakers and march around the walls of the fortified city once every day for six days.

On the seventh day, when the noisemakers blew the whistle, actually ram’s horns, the people would know to turn up. That action would bring down the walls of Jericho.

Even before the coronavirus highlighted the weaknesses and oppressive inequity of capitalism, vulnerable people knew of high walls. The fortified walls of racism, classism, ageism, sexism and ableism, are all fortified by a spirit of greed and toxic independence that must end so we all can thrive.

We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, must reimagine justice, insure tranquility, provide for the most marginalized, and promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity in reality and not rhetoric.

Therefore, on Saturday, April 11, the Oakland Black Housing Union along with faith leaders, allied communities and service providers will ride to call attention to the lack of urgency to get people OFF THE STREETS. The majority of Oakland’s homeless population are Black people, and on a good day, homelessness means a death sentence for many of them. An immediate migration is needed to get people into housing for the safety of all.

In a show of unity and love, we will practice social distancing in our vehicles and circle the walls of the hotels that have been commissioned to provide space to house the homeless during this pandemic. We will continue these actions until we see change. We are urging Governor Newsom, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, and local elected officials to move with the urgency this moment calls for.

We will ride around these hotels, sounding off that our electeds must do more to flatten the curve of COVID-19. If they don’t do their jobs, we will.

Carroll Fife is director of Carroll Fife, Director Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

Rev. Jeremy J. McCants is an associate minister at the historic Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland.

Activism

Three California Cities Push Plans to Increase Police Spending

The Police Commission has not moved on the proposed budget and the LAPD needs the City Council’s approval before it can go into effect. On the other hand, and separate from the $67 million requested by LAPD, Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed a $50 million increase in the police budget, much to the dismay of members of the Los Angeles Black Lives Matter organization.

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     It has been over 13 months since police in Kentucky killed Breonna Taylor, and just shy of a year since Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.

    These high-profile deaths of African Americans, along with many others, sparked global protests and resulted in politicians and activists on the political Left calling on their cities and. counties to defund their police departments. 

    More precisely, many of are pushing their elected officials to reallocate money in police budgets to more social service-oriented interventions in efforts to reduce the number of violent police encounters. 

    But some cities in California — Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles — are planning to do just the opposite. 

    From 2019 to 2020, Sacramento’s approved police budget saw an increase of over $7 million. This year, California’s capital city will spend a record $165.8 million on police, a $9.4 million increase.

    However, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg says, by mid-2022, at least $10 million will be directed away from the police department toward the Department of Community Response.

    “I’m not for ‘defunding,’” Steinberg told the Sacramento Bee. “There are some things that are part of running a city, like collective bargaining and binding arbitration, and genuine needs for the police department.”

   “I’m not going to get pinned to the argument that the measure of whether or not we are investing in the community in an aggressive way is whether or not we’re taking the money directly from the police department,” he continued.

     In San Diego, the city is planning to raise the police budget for the 11th year in a row.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria proposed a 3% increase for police spending next year, meaning that the police budget has ballooned by a total of 52% since 2008.

    The city is introducing that increase with a decrease in library hours in an effort to offset those costs.

 

     San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez says that she planned to cut the police budget, but former Mayor Kevin Faulconer would have vetoed that measure.

     Gloria has expressed interest in reducing police spending over time also, but activists insist that more needs to be done. 

     In Los Angeles, after two reports from the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners admonished the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for their mishandling of several protests over the past year, the LAPD has nevertheless announced that it wants a $67 million increase in its budget to contend with the costs of protest response reform alone.

    During various protests in the summer of 2020, police made over 3,000 arrests with little to no accommodations for those arrested.

    Police Chief Michel Moore admitted the protest response could have been handled better but asserted that most of his officers responded the way they did because of their training. 

    “While there were missteps and shortfalls in communication and command and control, especially from senior staff in the field, the vast majority of personnel performed admirably with their ongoing efforts to tirelessly serve the city, even in the face of antagonistic and violent crowds,” Moore wrote in a letter to the board of commissioners.

    This proposed budget increase will be going toward salaries and overtime for extended training, according to Deputy Chief Dominic Choi. 

     The Police Commission has not moved on to the proposed budget and the LAPD needs the City Council’s approval before it can go into effect. On the other hand, and separate from the $67 million requested by LAPD, Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed a $50 million increase in the police budget, much to the dismay of members of the Los Angeles Black Lives Matter organization.

    While a couple of these budget proposals are still being deliberated and wouldn’t fully go into effect until next year, they are far cries from defunding the police. 

     Despite a growing chorus of voices against it, more Golden State taxpayer money will likely go toward increased funding for “California’s finest.”

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Activism

ILWU leads May Day Protest down Market Street in San Francisco

“The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia,” continued Davis. “Labor united will never be defeated.”

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    As participants assembled in front of the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, a group of wearing blue jackets and white painters hats could be seen moving to the front of the group.  

   The group, workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, were on hand to lead the May Day march and rally from the Ferry Building down Market Street to San Francisco City Hall. 

   “This is the real Labor Day and this day is celebrated all over the world, said Trent Willis, the head of the ILWUs Local 10 longshoremen’s union.  In 1886, the first fight for workers was for the eight-hour work day. 

    May Day is the celebration of labor and working classes, promoted by the international labor movement and occurs every year on May Day, May 1. The ILWU in San Francisco has spearheaded for the day in the Bay Area and it has been leading the rally and march for the past 15 years.    

   Political activist and college professor Dr. Angela Davis, was a keynote speaker at the rally and she marched along Market Street in between ILWU members. Willis led the march of over 5,000 people with the ILWU, the Teamsters Union, teachersunions and other unions from San Francisco. Adjoining streetswere blocked off to allow the crowd walk freely

    As they walked, the ILWU drill team yelled out chants.  They stopped in front of the Flood Building, where Willis said he,along with others from the labor movement, stand in solidarity with the Chilean Dock Workers Union, who are in the middle of a contract negotiations with the Chilean government for higher wages and better working conditions.  

    The marchers continued to San Francisco City Hall, where Willis, Davis and other labor union officials, got on the back of a flatbed truck and spoke to the crowd.   

    “We need to fight systematic racism,continued Willlis. If you don’t stand up against systematic racism and systematic oppression, racism keeps us from talking to each other.”

   Willis said that when people arent talking to each other, the differences they have cannot be understood or resolved. He said talking is needed in order for people to get along and resolve situations, working conditions and move society forward.        

   Davis,looked out on at the crowd, saying that she was proud to be a part of the march and rally. 

    “There is no place I would rather be then to be standing up for the rights of workers, said Davis.  In solidarity with workers from all over the world.

    Davis said that workers need to stand up and fight so there will not be any more George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, Stephen Clarks, Oscar Grants and Sean Monterrosa. Monterrosa was the San  Francisco man who was killed by police in Vallejo last year. His family was on hand, holding a banner with his name.  

    “The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia, continued Davis. Labor united will never be defeated.

   Willis said he will make Davis an honorary member of the ILWU, which is an honor that has only been bestowed on Paul Robeson and Dr. Martin Luther King.  He said the struggle for workers continues across the world and within the United States, but it will be a push the ILWU will be vigilant in fighting for to improve working conditions for working people.    

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Activism

Democrats in Sacramento Take Steps to Make Voting Easier

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

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The electoral process is foundational to the durability of America’s democratic structure.

And as the battle for fairer voting laws rages on, politicians and activists on the political Right claim they are responding to allegations of widespread voter and election fraud. Those on the Left say they are rallying to fight a coordinated political offensive to restrict access to the polls and increasing reports of voter suppression.

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. 

But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

Invoking the violent history of voter suppression in the South that her parents endured, which sometimes involved murders — California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says it is a priority of hers to “ensure the right to vote.” 

“I tell people all the time that no number is good unless it’s 100% in terms of voter participation,” Weber told the Public Policy Institute of California. “Why didn’t 5 million go to the polls? We need to figure out where they are and what stopped them from going.”

In the California Legislature, an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 29, which passed earlier this year, was one bill in a broader legislative effort to secure the right to vote in vulnerable communities.

Before that amendment passed, California law dictated that a ballot would be mailed to all eligible voters for the November 3 statewide general election in 2020 as well as use a Secretary of State vote-by-mail tracking system to ensure votes are counted. 

SB 29, which the governor signed into law in February, extended those requirements to any election “proclaimed or conducted” prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

A record number of voters participated in California elections in 2020. Some political observers attribute that spike to the vote-by-mail system instituted last year.

“To maintain a healthy democracy in California, it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election,” the bill reads.

Senate Bill (SB) 583, introduced by California State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would require the Secretary of State to register or preregister eligible citizens to vote upon retrieving the necessary paperwork from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Citizens who do not wish to be registered can opt-out of the process altogether.

Newman stressed the importance of access and simplifying the voter registration process. 

“In our state there are an estimated 4.6 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote who have not yet registered,” Newman said. “Our obligation as the people’s elected representatives is to make the process simpler and more accessible for them.”

On April 27, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 583 with a 13 to 3 vote. The Appropriations Committee has set a hearing for May 10. 

Senate Bill (SB) 503, introduced by Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), proposes that if a signature shares enough characteristics with a previous signature from the same voter, then it would be recognized as official on voting paperwork.

Current law dictates that a signature has to match exactly for it to be considered valid.

Disability Rights California (DRC), a non-profit advocacy organization that advances and protects the rights of Californians living with disabilities, has come out in support of SB 503.

“Studies have shown that signature matches disproportionately impact voters with disabilities,” Eric Harris, director of public policy for the DRC wrote in a letter. 

“Voters with disabilities, including seniors, are more likely to vote by mail and would have to sign their name on their ballots,” Harris argued. “A voter’s signature changes over time and for people with disabilities, a signature can change nearly every other time one is written. Some people with disabilities might have conditions that make it difficult to sign your name the same way multiple times.”

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has tabled SB 503, placing the bill in what the Legislature calls a “suspense file,” where it awaits further action by lawmakers. 

At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting rights, the For The People Act of 2021 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The For The People Act, or H.R.1, proposes a three-pronged approach to expanding election access: Voting, campaign finance, and ethics.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, compared the current voting rights battle to that of the Civil Rights Movement in a press conference about H.R.1 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“If you look at some of those 1960s shots of the C.T. Vivians of the world, of the Joe Lowerys and so many others that helped lead Americans to those registration sites, you’ll see them actually literally being beaten to the ground,” Shelton said, referring to well-known Civil Rights Movement activists. 

The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, or S.4263, would amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore the powers it lost after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring states and local communities to first clear any changes to voting their local laws with the feds, was unlawful.  

“Well, we’ve become more sophisticated in our disenfranchisement,” Shelton continued. “We want to make sure that we stop that disenfranchisement all along the way and that’s why we’re convinced that a bill named for John Lewis and a bill that speaks for the people are bills that need to pass.”

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