The Activist

Issue #236, 11-18-2017

In this issue:
700 say NO to Rocketship charter!
Appalling conditions for female ICE detainees in Richmond jail
Progressives win big!
Honoring Will Simms, promoting inclusion
ACLU considering taking on Tom Butt
11/21: CCC Racial Justice Taskforce forum
Repealing the Costa-Hawkins Act
Increased funding for adult education: a social justice issue
A conversation with Porschea Brown
Rising to the occasion: An editorial

700 say NO to Rocketship charter!

Rocketship.pngIt was an amazing turnout at the WCCUSD Board meeting this past Wednesday as 700 people showed up to oppose Rocketship’s charter application for San Pablo. Rocketship is a charter management company founded by tech multi-millionaire John Danner, which employs uncredentialed teachers who run computer labs where young children spend up to 80 to 100 minutes daily.

Parents, students and educators from all schools in San Pablo showed up to oppose the charter, while “Rocketship San Pablo”  did not have a single parent from the San Pablo community present. (Rocketship bused in bus families from Antioch to advocate for them.) And according to families from San Pablo schools, Rocketship obtained signatures by standing in front of the Montanas Supermarket misleadingly urging families to sign a petition to “support our schools.”

According to the United Teachers of Richmond, Rocketship has a pattern of promising that they will not take over existing school facilities, claiming they seek private investment instead – a promise they repeated during their presentation. However, Rocketship has ended up asking the district to give them a facility for their last five charters. With this track record, parents are worried about which San Pablo school may have to close if the Rocketship charter is approved.

It seems like Rocketship may be trying to purposely move the deadline of the vote to December so that they can apply in the County. Teachers, parents, and community members have vowed to stop this application, even if it means taking the fight to the state.

Thank you to Board members Cuevas, Kronenberg, and Phillips for challenging Rocketship during their discussion and for standing up for our students!

[Photo: Pamela Gilbert-Snyder]

Appalling conditions for female ICE detainees in Richmond jail

ICE_detainees.pngRecent news stories (broken by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Otis Taylor) about appalling conditions for female ICE detainees have prompted strong calls for investigations of the West County Detention Center in Richmond. The jail receives $6 million per year from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run a federal detention center to house people suspected of immigration violations.

Taylor detailed accounts of women being locked up and made to wait up to 23 hours for bathroom access, and forced to defecate in plastic bags. The report also described other problems, such as lack of health services, and being punished for speaking Spanish. Several elected officials have called for investigations, including Nancy Skinner who requested that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra look into the allegations.

On November 4, members of the public rallied in front of the jail to protest the conditions. Former Richmond Mayor and current Lt. Governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin, went further, noting that “Citizens and elected officials of Richmond, myself included, have demanded repeatedly that you [Sheriff Livingston] cease and desist participating in ICE abuses and that you terminate your contract with ICE. You have ignored these requests and by doing so, have violated the dignity and principles of our City and County.”

Progressives win big!

nation.jpgNo doubt you’ve heard and been buoyed by the amazing and inspiring news last week of how progressives won elections across the country. Here’s an excerpt of a great article by Collier Meyerson in The Nation.

Democrats won major races, and Republicans are running scared. But there's an even more important lesson to be learned from this latest round of victories.

… Candidates of color, women, and LGBTQ+ identifying candidates backed by Our Revolution won big last night. Pending final results in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the organization told The Nation in an e-mail that nine women, four Latinx candidates, four black Americans, and two openly LGBTQ+ candidates have won.

Of the four LGBTQ+ candidates who were endorsed by Our Revolution, one who stands out is Andrea Jenkins, who won a Minneapolis City Council seat and became the first openly trans black woman elected to such a position in the country. Jenkins worked for 25 years as a policy aide to the City Council; during that time, her website says, she helped revitalize a neighborhood that had been marked by crime and blight. "Transgender people have been here forever, and black transgender people have been here forever," Jenkins told The Washington Post last night. "I'm really proud to have achieved that status, and I look forward to more trans people joining me in elected office, and all other kinds of leadership roles in our society."

Seven Latinx candidates ran with support from Our Revolution, and Elizabeth Guzman became the first in Virginia to be elected to the state's General Assembly, Our Revolution said.

Another winner last night was Wilfred Mbah, who won an alderman seat in Somerville, Massachusetts. Originally from Cameroon, he is the recipient of a visa through the diversity-lottery program that Trump announced he wanted to dismantle in the wake of last week's attack in New York City.

Meyerson concludes: “Democrats won big last night, but there’s an even more important lesson to learn here: Progressive Democrats won big last night.”

Honoring Will Simms, fostering inclusion

candle.jpgIt has been one year since Will Sims, an African American man, was murdered across the street from the El Sobrante library.  The community’s response was strong: There is no place for hate in our town.

Not In Our Town, El Sobrante will host a special evening of music and sharing to bring our diverse community together on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 6 pm in the meeting room at the El Sobrante Library on 4191 Appian Way, El Sobrante.

This evening will be dedicated to Will Sims. There will be stories and original music by local artists and a chance engage in dialogue to share ideas to ensure everyone in our town is safe. There will also be a dedication of a rose to Will in the library rose garden as we recommit our community to standing together for inclusion for all our citizens.

ACLU considering taking on Tom Butt

Butt.jpgIn case you missed it, a recent Richmond Confidential article covered Tom Butt’s recent attack on Eli Moore and Claudia Jimenez, two RPA members; and the ACLU’s plans to consider getting involved.

Opponents and supporters criticize Richmond mayor for ‘doxxing’ his political adversaries, call Tom Butt’s weekly email newsletter a ‘smear campaign’

Opponents – and even supporters – of Tom Butt say Richmond’s mayor is guilty of what one critic described as a “flagrant abuse of power” and a council member called “highly inappropriate” actions.

Emails between the mayor and residents, obtained by Richmond Confidential, indicate that many in the community were alarmed when the mayor used his regular “e-forum” to doxx political adversaries, sharing their home addresses and accusing them of violating Richmond’s rent control ordinance.

Butt rejects claims that he overstepped his bounds and has steadfastly defended his actions. But the drama could move outside City Hall, as the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is reportedly looking into the controversy.

It all began earlier this fall, when Richmond Confidential quoted resident Eli Moore in an October 3 article about a new ferry service coming to the city. Butt, a major proponent of the ferry, took issue with Moore’s assessment that, while the ferry will greatly improve access to San Francisco, many residents will not benefit equally from the service.

A day after the story’s publication, in his weekly email dispatch known as the “Tom Butt E-Forum,” the mayor responded to the article by accusing Moore of “embracing the dark side.”

To read on, click here

[Cartoon: Abner Hague, via Richmond Confidential]

Tue, 11/21, 6pm: CCC Racial Justice Task Force forum

One of the most significant achievements of the Contra Costa Racial Justice Coalition is the creation of an official CCC Racial Justice Taskforce to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system.  The 17-member Taskforce, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in April 2016, has been formed and is conducting a series of fora to meet and hear from residents.

The Taskforce is focused on:

1. Researching and identifying consensus measures within the County to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system;

2. Planning and overseeing implementation of the measures once identified; and

3. Reporting back to the Board of Supervisors on progress made toward reducing racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

Please come out and share your views! The last forum will be held on:

Tuesday, November 21, 6-8pm
Delta Bay Church of Christ
913 Sunset Drive, Antioch


Repealing the Costa-Hawkins Act

On Monday, a group of organizations, including Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, filed paperwork to get the ball rolling on a 2018 statewide ballot initiative to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, a 1995 law that limits California’s cities and counties from implementing rent control on newer properties.

In the words of Richmond City councilmember and Assembly candidate Jovanka Beckles, “This leaves millions of California tenants at the mercy of real estate speculators. By repealing Costa Hawkins, we can make sure low income families, students, educators and seniors with fixed incomes have the renter protections they deserve."

Jovanka_Hawkins.jpgThe next step is for the Attorney General to give the proposed initiative a title, summary and financial analysis. From there, organizers will have to collect enough valid signatures to place it on the November 2018 ballot.

There have also been attempts to introduce legislation repealing Costa-Hawkins, including a bill introduced this past February by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), but he pulled it in the face of strong opposition from the real estate industry, and landlord/apartment lobby.

Increased funding for adult schools: a social justice issue

adult_ed.jpgAdult schools are the primary provider of English as a Second Language instruction to California’s large immigrant population. They offer a second chance at an elementary and high school education for adults who were unable to finish school as children, and provide educational opportunities for adults with disabilities. These students all tend to face more than the usual barriers as they pursue their educational goals. 

But California’s adult schools have been hobbled by chronic underfunding since the Great Recession of 2008. Funding fell by about half from 2008 to 2013, and has been frozen ever since (even as funding for other branches of education has recovered).

The state also now mandates that adult schools and community colleges divide the work of educating adults. The community colleges, which are much better funded than the adult schools, generally educate the higher level students, the ones who are closest to being able to complete college level work. But it leaves the adult schools with the neediest and hardest to serve adults, and too little money to adequately serve them. 

The state is currently in the process of creating next year’s budget; now is the time to ask the governor and state legislature to restore adult school funding.

-          Kristin Pursley

A conversation with Porschea Brown

ACCE1.pngWho is the RPA? It’s made up of volunteers with passion, progressive values, and who love Richmond. In this series, we get to know the new faces on the RPA Steering Committee. This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Porschea Brown. In her day job, she works as a financial coach and social worker with Rubicon programs, a nationally recognized non-profit that helps people break the cycle of poverty.

Please tell us about your involvement in the RPA and in progressive causes.

In 2014 I had the pleasure of meeting Melvin Willis and Juan Reardon out in the community and they introduced me to Richmond Progressive Alliance. During this time my grandmother like many home owners in the city had issues with Bank of America regarding their home loans and Melvin introduced us to a program called NACA (Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America). Juan also introduced me to Jovanka Beckles and BMOER (Black Mobilization Organization Education Richmond.) Over the years, I have been a supporter of BMOER, RPA and I have supported a few members at the polls in addition to many of the campaigns and initiatives. I am responsible for leading a restorative healing circle, a women's empowerment group and for overseeing a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program where we returned over $700,000 in federal and state refunds back to the community.

What are your ideas about how change and progress occur?

My idea of change and progress begins with an awareness of self and systems. Change and progress requires a desire to want to experience something new. When new ideas begin to surface for me I have to set a goal(s), create a plan, followed by action.

What are you interested in bringing to the RPA?

It is my understanding that RPA is seeking to include more African American women and men. I would like to bring that diversity to RPA and collectively build an alliance with other promising young women and men of color, create mentorship opportunities, and opportunities for upward social mobility.

What would you like the RPA to accomplish?  What is your vision of where the RPA is headed?

I would like to see RPA tackle race relations issues and develop county-wide activities for our youth and young adults. I would also like to see RPA develop a social enterprise that the residents can benefit from.

Rising to the Occasion

 “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.”

-          Abraham Lincoln

For those of you who read Mayor Tom Butt’s e-forum, you no doubt have noticed how bitter he has become towards the Richmond Progressive Alliance.

His latest tactics – leaking private emails, sharing peoples’ home addresses, contacting their employers – are as low-down dirty as any corporate-funded political attack ad we’ve seen in this city … and we’ve seen plenty. To have it come from a sitting mayor is unseemly at best (can you ever imagine Gayle McLaughlin ever doing this?), and an abuse of power at worst. (How many private citizens have to worry about their Mayor spending hours digging up dirt on them and publicizing it?)

And to have it come from Mayor Butt, who has generally been above these kinds of smear tactics and decried them in the past, is just plain disappointing. The night after the 2016 elections, when we were all reeling from a vicious and degrading political season, the RPA and RPA-endorsed electeds released a statement saying,

At times, the members of the Council will surely disagree with each other about the best ways to solve Richmond’s many challenges. Our city will be well-served when decisions are debated with rigor, passion, and civility. Given the extreme challenges from the outcome of the presidential election, our national government may be wracked by division and malice, but in Richmond, let our Council demonstrate how dissent and decency can co-exist.

To Mayor Butt particularly:

We look forward to working with Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmember Jael Myrick in a spirit of constructive collaboration. There is common ground in many areas and it is land worth cultivating. Let us all bring our best selves to the table and rise to this occasion.

The statement was written in hopes that political discourse in Richmond could show that “dissent and decency can co-exist.” But Mayor Butt’s malice towards the RPA isn’t coming from radically different policy views (e.g. both Butt and the RPA agree about the importance of ensuring affordable housing, but disagree on the strategies), but rather a threat to his power. Butt is the most entrenched part of Richmond’s political establishment. He’s held power for 22 years, and doesn’t intend to let go in 2018. Now he is faced with young, diverse and dynamic new leaders.

A group of leaders who are rooted in the movements for clean energy and the rights of low income and working folks. Who are not backed by corporate money but hundreds of volunteers who believe in them and their vision. Who represent the future and all our hopes and dreams for it.

Many of us are inspired by this future and joyfully moved to action. Others are threatened and lash out.

-          Michelle Chan

Inspired by this future? Please consider supporting the RPA today and cultivating our next generation of progressive leaders.