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Madame Secretary: Hon. Shirley N. Weber Reflects on Voting Rights, First Year in Office

Shirley Weber, California’s 31st Secretary of State (SOS),introduced AB 3121, a bill that set up a committee called the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans. The group is charged with examining California’s involvement in slavery – and how California should compensate the descendants of enslaved Black Americans.

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Shirley Weber California’s 31st Secretary of State
Shirley Weber California’s 31st Secretary of State

By Tanu Henry | California Black Media

In December 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Shirley Weber California’s 31st Secretary of State (SOS), the state’s chief election official.

The first African American to serve in the role – and the fifth Black person to become a constitutional officer in California – Weber took office on Jan. 29, 2021.

Weber has been a central and influential figure in California politics for years. She was an Assemblymember representing the 79th District in San Diego County and chaired the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC).

In the Legislature, she introduced groundbreaking bills, including one of the strictest laws governing police use of deadly force in the country. It will protect Californians on “both sides of the badge,” she said, celebrating that legislation, which was supported by the California Police Chiefs Association.

Weber introduced AB 3121, a bill that set up a committee called the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans. The group is charged with examining California’s involvement in slavery – and how California should compensate the descendants of enslaved Black Americans.

As SOS, Weber is responsible for conducting elections in all 58 counties, managing the operations of the State Archives, and keeping a registry of businesses and nonprofits statewide.

“We passed legislation that gives everybody a vote-by-mail ballot, and we’ve seen that it works” says Weber, sharing details about a major electoral policy change she has implemented as SOS. “We have to make sure that every eligible Californian not only gets the right to vote, but that they are registered to vote and that they show up.”

On January 24, California Black Media interviewed Weber at her Sacramento office.

CBM: As an Assemblymember, you introduced groundbreaking legislation. What has the transition been like, moving from actively creating policy to settling into the administrative role of Secretary of State?

SOS: It’s been interesting, to go from being a legislator where you share the responsibility of representing all Californians with 80 others in the Assembly and another 40 in the Senate.

There, I wasn’t responsible for all registered voters and the protection of those who work at the polls and those who work to register voters.

Over here, you have an administrative role, and we support legislation like the Voting Rights Act.

It’s been somewhat difficult to let go of my District. Fortunately, my daughter is the Assemblymember there now.

CBM: The U.S. Senate did not pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Why is that significant and why are voting rights so important in America right now?

SOS: When Gov. Newsom asked me to be Secretary of State, the first thing that popped in my mind was voting rights. This wasn’t a position that I had lobbied for. We had made some tremendous changes in the Assembly and passed some groundbreaking legislation.

Speaking to a reporter last December 22nd, I said, ‘This is a critical time because our nation is in peril.’ And he goes, ‘what do you mean?’ I said, ‘Our democracy is in crisis.’ He didn’t understand. When January 6 hit (the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol), people understood.

I recognize this is a difficult and unique time for people in the nation, extremely difficult for African Americans, because most of us who have parents or we ourselves have lived through this struggle for voting rights.

My family understood the power of voting. My parents came out of Arkansas where they never got a chance to vote. My dad was an adult with six kids before he actually got a chance to register to vote in California.

CBM: What can ordinary Californians who care about expanding and protecting voting rights do?

SOS: We need to pay attention. We must fight laws that make it difficult for people to vote. Even though we don’t have that legislation coming out of our Legislature, we have people putting initiatives on the ballot.

California has expanded voting rights so much that people want to limit it. There’s only one group that can’t vote in this state: those who are physically in prison. Everyone else who meets the eligibility requirements in California can vote. And that frightens some people.

CBM: Do you see that movement to counteract the expansion of voting rights here in California or from other states?

SOS: It is coming from within and without. We have to be careful of the deceptive methods used. Take the campaign against bail reform. It had been signed into law. And a group of bail bondsmen took a whole bunch of money, manipulated African Americans and put their faces on television. It confused voters and wiped out this whole effort we had been working on for five or six years.

CBM: Do you think other Secretaries of State across the country will emulate California’s efforts to expand voting rights?

SOS: We are seeing that, especially in states with Democratic leadership. But in other places, we see also them fighting the Voting Rights Act.

Secretaries of State are a unique breed. Many are appointed by governors. Across the nation, people on the Far Right are organizing to get candidates to run for Secretary of State, where before it was seen more as an administrative job with a few other responsibilities. Now, it is seen as a highly political job, especially given the legislation that’s coming out in some places that would empower Legislatures to overturn votes.

CBM: You’ve been in this job for a year. Do you feel like you’ve accomplished your goals?

SOS: I didn’t take this position because I needed to be a constitutional officer, or one day become governor. The question for me was: ‘What does the Secretary of State have to offer in these critical times?’ And obviously it is the defense of our democracy. I was coming in with the idea that we are going to expand our voting base. We have done that.

We’ve also expanded the California Voter Choice Act counties. Half of our counties are Voter Choice Act counties, which gives us additional resources to go into those counties. They are now outvoting the rest of the counties.

Statewide, 88% of eligible Californians are registered right now to vote. My goal is to get it to 100 %.

Is California implementing additional safeguards to make sure irregularities are minimal?

Yes, we are. We have a system that verifies votes. We test every machine in California before every election. We make it possible for people to observe the process. They can’t come and start counting themselves. But they can observe. We do all this with transparency.

CBM: How does it feel to look at that long wall of portraits of past Secretaries of State, and know that your legacy will be enshrined in California history?

SOS: I’m very grateful. When I was sworn in, somebody says you’re the first African American after some 170 years. How does that feel? I said, well – what took so long?

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Activism

Oakland Post: Week of June 12-18, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of June 12-18, 2024

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Art

Mayor Breed, Actor Morris Chestnut Attend S.F.’s Indie Night Film Festival

On June 1, the acclaimed Los Angeles-based Indie Night Film Festival arrived at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco. San Francisco native Dave Brown, Founder and CEO of the Indie Night Film Festival, has a vision for the film industry that is squarely focused on promoting the many talented producers, actors, and designers contributing to this billion-dollar industry. The festival has been running for 12 years and it’s only up from here, he says.

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(Left to Right) Dave Brown, CEO, Indie Night Festival, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and actor Morris Chestnut. Photo by Y’Anad Burrell
(Left to Right) Dave Brown, CEO, Indie Night Festival, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and actor Morris Chestnut. Photo by Y’Anad Burrell

By Y’Anad Burrell

On June 1, the acclaimed Los Angeles-based Indie Night Film Festival arrived at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco.

San Francisco native Dave Brown, Founder and CEO of the Indie Night Film Festival, has a vision for the film industry that is squarely focused on promoting the many talented producers, actors, and designers contributing to this billion-dollar industry.  The festival has been running for 12 years and it’s only up from here, he says.

A weekly celebration of cinematic artistry designed to elevate emerging talent while providing a platform for networking and collaboration, entrepreneur Dave Brown created Indie Night to bridge gaps within the filmmaking community by fostering connections between like-minded individuals worldwide. The Indie Film Festival currently has over 450 film submissions worldwide, and its cinematic vault only continues to grow.

The festival showcased over 10 short films and trailers, and featured Faces of the “City: Fighting for the Soul of America,” produced by veteran actor Tisha Campbell.  This film is about the vibrancy and legacy of San Francisco. The festival also previewed “When It Reigns,” a trailer by Oakland’s burgeoning filmmaker Jamaica René.

Indie films have not just challenged traditional cinematic norms; they’ve shattered them. These films offer unique storytelling perspectives and push creative boundaries in truly inspiring ways. With their smaller budgets and independent spirit, they often tackle unconventional subjects and portray diverse characters, providing a refreshing alternative to mainstream cinema. As a result, indie films have resonated with audiences seeking an escape from formulaic blockbusters and are increasingly celebrated for their authenticity and originality.

Organizers say the mission of Indie Night is to elevate the craft of independent artists and creators. It also provides a venue for them to showcase their work, network, and exchange information with new and established creatives. It creates a community that values and supports independent art.

For more about the Indie Night Film Festival, visit www.indienightfilmfestival.com.

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Bay Area

Sen. Wiener, Mayor Breed Announce Bill to Shut Down Fencing of Stolen Goods

On June 3, San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed joined State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to announce a bill aiming to combat fencing, the sale of stolen goods. Authored by Wiener and sponsored by Breed, Senate Bill (SB) 925 would allow San Francisco to create permitting requirements to regulate the sale of items commonly obtained through retail theft and impose criminal penalties for those who engage in this practice.

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By Oakland Post Staff

On June 3, San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed joined State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to announce a bill aiming to combat fencing, the sale of stolen goods.

Authored by Wiener and sponsored by Breed, Senate Bill (SB) 925 would allow San Francisco to create permitting requirements to regulate the sale of items commonly obtained through retail theft and impose criminal penalties for those who engage in this practice.

“The sale of stolen items in San Francisco has created unsafe street conditions and health and safety hazards that have negatively impacted residents, businesses, City workers, and legitimate street vendors,” states a statement released by the mayor’s office.

San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) Chief Bill Scott praised the effort.

“I want to thank Mayor Breed and Senator Wiener for identifying new ways to combat the illegal fencing of stolen goods. This will help our hard-working officers continue to make progress in cracking down on retail theft,” said Scott.

Under the legislation, San Francisco can require vendors to obtain a permit to be able to sell items deemed as frequently stolen by asking for documentation that the merchandise was obtained legitimately, such as showing proof of purchase.

The legislation also establishes that those in violation would receive an infraction for the first two offenses and an infraction or a misdemeanor and up to six months in county jail for the third offense.

Under this bill, people can still:

  • Sell goods with a permit
  • Sell prepared food with a permit
  • Sell goods on the list of frequently stolen items with a permit and proof of purchase.

“In San Francisco we are working hard to make our streets safer and more welcoming for all. SB 925 would greatly help us get a handle on the sale of stolen goods, all while taking a narrow approach that specifically targets bad actors,” said Breed.

Wiener says the cultural richness of San Francisco and the livelihoods of legitimate street vendors are threatened when bad actors are allowed to openly sell stolen goods on the city’s streets.

“With this bill we’re taking a balanced approach that respects the critical role street vending plays in our community while holding fencing operations accountable for the disruption they cause. It’s critical that everyone feel safe on our streets, including street vendors and neighborhood residents,” said Wiener.

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