Twenty sixteen marks our President Obama’s last year in office. I feel rather sad as it seems like his historical and amazing tenure as our first Chief Executive of color flew by so fast. But I also feel wistful as I remember that historic night in 2008, sitting inside a Los Angeles-area restaurant/nightclub with my friends and about 100-plus other people watching the election returns. As Barack Obama’s photo flashed on the television screen with the words, “44th President of the United States,” the crowd erupted in cheers and jubilation. The crowd kept screaming as the newly-elected President and his family stepped onto the stage and waved to adoring fans. It was indeed an incredible night.
Fast forward through nearly eight years filled with incredible achievements on the economy, healthcare reform and foreign policy, but also much social unrest and ugly racial tension. For this November’s Presidential election, I have as much trepidation as I did on Election Night 2008. I must confess that back then, I wasn’t sure America was going to actually elect a black President up until the very moment Pennsylvania was called for Mr. Obama. I feared very much the specter of another reactionary GOP presidency in the form of John McCain, along with his fundamentalist lightweight running mate, Sarah Palin. But those two are practically progressives when it comes to what the Republicans are offering up as presidential candidates today.
People are now openly talking about the “F-word” - fascism - as possibly taking root in America. But, thanks to the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, people are also talking more about “democratic socialism” and democratic socialist policies like universal health care, free college for all, a living wage and paid family leave. Sanders would be the “first” openly socialist President if he wins. And people are also talking about the possibility of having the first female Chief Executive in Hillary Clinton. A woman as the most powerful leader in the world would have a tremendous cultural effect in how the contributions of women to our society are perceived.
All these tantalizing “firsts” are great, but I want to caution my fellow Democrats and progressive friends into putting too much expectation onto the one person they hope wins the Presidency. I saw this with President Obama: supporters who had unrealistically high expectations of how much he could achieve in office, and who were disappointed when he couldn’t deliver everything they wanted. I see these same unrealistic expectations among my fellow Democrats and progressives today. I think it is the unique culture of American individualism, as well as the fact that the United States elects its executive and legislature separately (as opposed to most parliamentary governments), that drives this desire to put all of one’s hopes for fundamental change onto one person. I think it’s why Congressional, “off-year” elections - which are just as important - don’t get the same attention as they should. The President, at the nation’s founding, was envisioned as an “elected king” - a national figurehead. But, to get back to Civics 101, the President is by law a co-equal partner with the Congress and the Supreme Court. The President can’t do much without Congress’ cooperation and the Supreme Court’s blessing. I think too often many people forget that. And so, they think that the President can change everything. They think that the President affects their lives the most (when in truth, it’s their local City Council that does). So whether our new President in November is Hillary, Bernie or even Martin O’Malley - and we do hope it’s one of those three - please cut him or her a bit of slack. Because a Democratic President also needs a progressive Democratic Congress to make the kinds of policies we liberals want to see to make America a kinder, gentler place to live.
I hope everyone is having a wonderful and festive holiday season. As we take the time to celebrate our community’s bounty with our family and friends, I’m troubled by the spate of incidents across the country that show a contempt and wanton disregard for the spirit of empathy for our fellow human beings. A dark undercurrent in American society is rearing its ugly head. In this hotly contested political season, overt bigotry and attacks on marginalized groups seem to be growing.
Last month, a majority vote in the House of Representatives to ban Syrian refugees from seeking safety in the United States was a particular low point in today's America. What was especially disappointing about that vote was that 47 Democrats joined the House Republican majority in passing a ban. Turning away people in desperate need is not a value the Democratic Party stands for. Fear of "the Other" is certainly not what our party stands for. It's unlikely the bill will pass the Senate, but fortunately, President Obama has vowed to veto it if it does.
Yet another low point continues to come in the form of Donald Trump's ongoing campaign to try to win the GOP nomination for the Presidency by mocking and denigrating just about every group on the planet except for his fellow white, wealthy, straight, able-bodied and male peers. His bigoted barbs - from suggesting protesters should be met with physical violence to calling Mexican immigrants ―rapists‖ to suggesting that mosques be surveilled and that the names of Syrian refugees be put in a database - sound like they come from a different era. However, what's more frightening is how the mainstream media has for too long given him and other right- wing extremists the benefit of neutrality. When political debates become a matter of "both sides do it," blatant lies are called "controversy," and extremism is mainstreamed, our society becomes debased and lives are endangered.
Where is all this going? Just last month, five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot and injured at a vigil for a young black man who was killed by police in Chicago. Three people were killed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. And in Irving, Texas, open carry fetishists were reportedly intimidating Muslim worshippers at a mosque. Are we about to see a new level of political violence in America against people who don't fit the mold of "straight, white, rich and Christian?" Are too many of us going to sit back and look the other way until it's too late?
Democracy in California just took a huge leap forward. In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed our state’s new "Motor Voter Program," a law that could put millions of unregistered Californians onto the voter rolls. Co-authored by Democratic Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez, Luis Alejo and Kevin McCarty, and championed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the "California Motor Voter Program" requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to electronically enroll residents with a driver’s license or state identification card once they have been identified as eligible to vote. Eligible Californians have the choice to opt out of being registered during a specific period of time. California joins Oregon as the second state in the nation to adopt a "motor voter" program.
Unlike Oregon’s law, however, California’s "motor voter" program is not a true automatic voter registration system, since residents still must confirm to the DMV eligibility and they have the option to opt out. And neither state’s program is true universal automatic voter registration, where the government registers every citizen at birth and the right to vote is activated at 18 (no having to interact with a specific agency) - something other advanced democracies already do. Still, with ―motor voter‖ and our already-in-place online registration system, California is streamlining the way we vote by minimizing the need for filling out a paper form and saving money (and trees!) at the same time.
Gov. Brown also recently signed into law bills expanding same-day registration to the days leading up to Election Day, requiring most municipalities to align their local elections to coincide with state and federal elections in even-numbered years, and allowing legal permanent residents who are 16 and 17 years of age to serve as poll workers. All of these reforms aim to increase voter turnout, thereby strengthening democracy in California. And the more people participate in the political process, the more equitably resources are shared and all our rights are better protected.
Unfortunately, in other states dominated by Republican legislatures, voting rights are being quickly rolled back through restrictive voter identification laws, cut backs to early voting, and curtailing voter registration efforts. This is anti-democratic behavior. But then, that’s the point: to keep disfavored groups (the poor, people of color) from accessing the benefits of citizenship. Decades ago, California was a right-wing state — birthplace of the anti-tax movement, aggressive, ―tough on crime‖ measures, and anti- immigrant sentiment. But demographic changes have rendered those attitudes far less popular. We’re undoing the damage done by the reactionaries in the past. With millions more Californians soon to be added to the voter rolls, the changes could be even more dramatic.
Culver City Democratic Club – 62 Years
General Membership Meeting – Veterans Auditorium Rotunda
Wednesday, October 14, 2015