A Progressive Call to Action

Written by Chris Daly. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on September 09, 2009 with 41 Comments


San Francisco grassroots progressive activist Van Jones.
Photo by Luke Thomas

By Chris Daly

September 9, 2009

Late Saturday night, Van Jones resigned his position as Special Adviser to President Obama on green jobs. Van’s resignation came hours after the Obama administration offered no support for Jones under an escalating smear campaign waged by Fox’s Glenn Beck and financed by big oil through Americans for Prosperity.

But this is by no means the political eulogy for one of the few grassroots progressives in the Obama administration or the progressive movement that helped elect Obama. It is, however, a call to action.

I first met Van in 1993 when we organized to stop then Mayor Frank Jordan’s “Matrix” program. Matrix was Jordan’s new police program targeting homeless people for crimes like camping and sleeping in the park. Matrix was at the fore of a national trend of criminalization of poor people. In San Francisco, a youthful group of activists joined together with homeless people and their long-time advocates to challenge Matrix. Under the banner of Mobilization to Stop the Scapegoating (MASS), the coalition launched street-level organizing, public education, and direct action that included documenting police sweeps of homeless encampments and a civil disobedience “Sleep-in” at the Mayor’s Pacific Heights mansion.

Fresh off San Francisco street mobilizations organized by Roots Against War (RAW) the previous summer and now with a Yale Law degree, Van was a steady and strategic leader in the campaign against Matrix. With tireless organizing, we were able to shift public opinion away from Jordan’s crackdown on homeless people, and even forced then-candidate for Mayor, Willie Brown, to come out against Matrix. Just as important, Van had begun to help build the next generation of grassroots activists in the Bay Area.

Van’s subsequent community efforts with Bay Area PoliceWatch and the Ella Baker Center, along with his political organizing in STORM, formed a very powerful political program. Harnessing youthful activism to provide service and care to those most afflicted by the criminal justice system, while overtly challenging the system that created that inequality in the first place (including a sharp critique on race and class), became a model for community organizing in the region. No doubt borrowed and updated for the times from the Black Panther Party’s “feed the people” philosophy; this model of organizing did not overly romanticize 1960′s revolutionaries. It did righteously speak to many people’s disenfranchisement from mainstream politics and desire for greater meaning in our communities.

And the model proved successful. Not only did the ranks of deep-rooted activists and community organizers swell around Jones, but also there were significant people’s victories. Van helped win a modicum of justice for the family of Aaron Williams, who was killed in custody by SF Police Officer Marc Andaya. Through a campaign of heightened pressure on the Police Commission, Andaya was fired. Through Books not Bars, Van helped block the development of a “super jail” to lock up Oakland’s youth.

Like all great organizers, Van’s contributions to San Francisco have gone far beyond his own work. In addition to the continuing work of the Ella Baker Center, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) carries on this model of organizing. Also, several of the early organizers of the Mission Anti-displacement Coalition (MAC), myself included, were influenced by Jones’ organizing. In fact, after nearly 9-years in elected office, my early work with Van Jones continues to influence my political philosophy and has helped me contribute to San Francisco’s progressive movement.

Given this and the fact that I’ve been on the receiving end of a pretty nasty (albeit local) smear campaign, I have really felt personally for Van in the last few weeks. Not that Van hasn’t made mistakes, and I’m not talking about calling certain Republicans “assholes” or signing a petition that could have been lifted from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.

In the middle of this decade, as Van shifted his focus from criminal justice to the environmental movement, he also shifted philosophy. Certainly that is fine. I know that many of us who have worked with Van in the past have developed a level of solidarity where we would support him whatever direction he chose. However, in his shifting philosophy, Van also took up an apologetic tone about some of his previous work and affiliations. It’s not just that this poses a bit of a problem for those of us in the Bay Area who have built significant political success on this previous work. (I, for one, am a three-time elected official that doesn’t shy away from my history of fighting tooth and nail against police brutality or even the term “socialist.”) It’s that when we back down or apologize for our work and beliefs, our political opponents smell weakness.

As Glenn Beck and Americans for Prosperity fired up their sleaze machine, I think they felt like they had a target that they could take out. Much has already been written about the lack of defense of Van from the Obama administration and about progressives being late to counter Beck on Jones. This is clearly the case. But I think equally as damning has been progressives’ proclivity to deference under the guise of “coalition-building.” As the right becomes increasingly strident in their attacks, progressives need to be equally strident in our program.

We can’t afford to apologize for our beliefs. It’s time for us to ramp up our organizing. This includes both providing a vocal counter to the merchants of hate (visit Color of Change for more direction) and demanding bold and progressive action from President Obama. Van Jones’ own words ring truer now than ever, “Not only is Barack Obama not going to be able to save you- [we] are going to have to save Barack Obama.”

After Jones’ resignation, Ian Kim (a District 6 resident and all-around good guy) set up a Facebook page to support Van. In just 2 days, over 5000 people signed up highlighting the progressive energy out there. It’s time for progressives to harness that energy and direct it to win real reform on the national level, including healthcare reform with a robust public option.

Meanwhile, we have to get back to the grindstone locally. The Glenn Becks aren’t just targeting individual progressives on the national stage; they are moving their agenda on issues like the environment, healthcare, labor, gay rights, and the environment. Right now, San Francisco is at the forefront of the immigrant rights struggle. Last month, Supervisor David Campos, together with immigrant rights advocates, introduced a proposal to provide juveniles who are undocumented due process. This progressive proposal that represents the best of San Francisco values isn’t just opposed by Fox News pundits – it’s opposed by the “liberal” San Francisco Chronicle. And Democrat Gavin Newsom has already resorted to dirty tricks to defeat it. SF progressives should redouble our efforts on this issue and build the next generation of activists, as we engage nationally.

Chris Daly

Chris Daly

Chris Daly is the Political Director for SEIU Local 1021, a union of over 50,000 public sector and non-profit workers. He served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2001-2011 and owns and operates The Buck, a bar and grill on Market Street.

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  • Ruth R. Snave

    Chris Daly is right about the Republicans’ outrageous behavior toward Van Jones but wrong on two other points in his essay.

    As to Van Jones, the Republicans wanted to punish him because he had expressed criticisms in the past of their views and leaders. Their move was an attack not only on Jones but also on freedom of speech.

    Pres. Barack Obama should not have caved into this pressure, as Daly rightly notes. Obama should have stood up to the bullying Republicans, using the situation to educate the public about how witch hunts work. As it is, the Republicans will now just be more emboldened in their nastiness.

    As to homelessness, it is not a crime, but it is no excuse for committing crimes, either. When public addicts and alcoholics cause injury to others or damage to the environment, they should not be given a pass because they are homeless.

    Otherwise, the city is just flushing its poor and at-risk neighborhoods down the drain. If you doubt it, take a walk through the Tenderloin some day.

    As to illegal immigrants, the city should not harbor them from federal laws if they are suspected of committing felonies, as Supervisor David Campos wants.

    Three members of the Bologna family were murdered because of such harboring by the city. If Campos gets his way, we will see more cases like this.

    In sum:

    Stand up to the bullying Republicans, protect at-risk neighborhoods from abuse by public addicts and alcoholics, and be mindful of public safety in general.

  • http://www.fogcityjournal.com/profiles/profile_chris_daly.shtml Chris Daly

    Perhaps we should apologize for our use of corny acronyms.

  • http://www.fogcityjournal.com/profiles/profile_chris_daly.shtml Chris Daly

    Most of the comment and discussion seems to be happening on my FB page. Too bad Ruth isn’t my friend!

  • Ruth R. Snave

    In a post above, Chris Daly says:

    “Too bad Ruth isn’t my friend!”

    Ruth has sharp disagreements over policies with many, but wishes good fortune to all as individuals.

  • http://criticalcloud.blogspot.com el Greco

    “Too bad Ruth isn’t my friend!”

    Chris, that’s because you only confirm FB friends who don’t dare question you. We both know that.

  • http://www.fogcityjournal.com/profiles/profile_chris_daly.shtml Chris Daly

    Well George, while I am not Facebook friends with you or Arthur, I am friends with almost 1500 people there. Some of them even disagree with me on things!

    Why would anyone in their right minds want to be “friends” with someone who is openly hostile and malicious?

    With that said, I do believe in redemption. If you would like to do some deep self-reflection and self-improvement, I’ll be happy to Facebook friend you.

    Cheers!

  • jabber_jabber

    If I were a progressive I would be upset too, Bush gets his horse trainer through at FEMA and Bush also got a bunch of moonbat grads of Bob Jones through too.

    And poor Obama can’t get his 9/11 conspiracy Mumai is innocent goof through. He should have appointed guy to FEMA, a community activist can get in their I bet.

    Just isn’t fair is it?

  • SFYRPrez

    Chris, your thoughts on the illegal proposal by Supervisor David Campos are just wrong. And since you insist on having San Francisco break the law in terms of the sanctuary policy by “re-doubling” your efforts to pass Supervisor Campo’s Ordinance 091032, the citizens of San Francisco will re-double our efforts to stop you.

  • http://District5Diary Rob Anderson

    The Van Jones issue has nothing to do with freedom of speech or a witch hunt. Why would Obama want to have someone in his administration that not only signed the 9/11 petition but supports cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal? Jones seems to be a talented guy, but he’s too much a product of the radical left to serve in what is essentially a moderate Democratic administration. He should come home and run for supervisor in District 6.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Chris Daly asks:

    “Why would anyone in their right minds want to be ‘friends’ with someone who is openly hostile and malicious?”

    Which figure at City Hall do these words most aptly describe?

    Any guesses?

  • http://criticalcloud.blogspot.com el Greco

    “With that said, I do believe in redemption. If you would like to do some deep self-reflection and self-improvement, I’ll be happy to Facebook friend you.”

    Redemption? Ooooh, Chris has offered me redemption, if I will only repent and change my evil ways! How magnanimous of him!

    What a crock.

  • jabber_jabber

    SFYRPrez, — It’s interesting in that the majority of Americans if they knew of Daly and Beck would think them booth hard to take.

    Campos’ law will pass and there will be more lawsuits that we tax payers will have to foot the bill for, the progressives and their morality with others lives and money, in the end all this sanctuary business will be down the tubes because of this over reaching.

  • marc

    I happen to hold great affection for the 14th amendment, and Supervisor Campos’ legislation ensures that no statute law breaks the constitutional guarantees to due process under the law for all persons.

    -marc

  • Ruth R. Snave

    marc,

    I had trouble following your argument above about the 14th amendment.

    David Campos’ measure applies to illegal immigrants. Doesn’t the U.S. government have the right to deport anyone who is in this country illegally?

    Isn’t that so, regardless of the behavior of the illegal immigrant? Doesn’t the U.S. government have the right to insist that states and cities comply with this requirement?

    Does the 14th amendment give people from other countries the right to be here illegally? Where does the 14th amendment say that? Could you point that out?

    Thanks.

  • marc

    Arthur,

    No, the United States Government does not have the right to deport people who are here illegally. The government is authorized under the law to deport individuals who have been found by a court to be meet certain tests for deportation, such as being present in violation of the law or lying on an application or the like.

    Deportations can only take place after the person has been given due process, just like any punishment for violating the law can only take place after due process.

    The issue at hand with the Campos legislation is whether it is acceptable for San Francisco’s law enforcement authorities to short-circuit due process by referring suspected undocumented individuals to the federal government when those individuals have been arrested and charged with a crime.

    This presumes that the police do not need the due process or judicial review to ensure that those whom they arrest and charge are indeed guilty. There are good reasons why there are constitutional guarantees of habeas corpus and due process, to check a renegade executive.

    The constitution grants all individual rights aside from the franchise and right to seek office to “persons” “rather” than citizens, and even then imposes extra burdens on those who seek office.

    The constitution could probably be amended in this political climate so that only citizens enjoyed constitutional rights, but that would also require due process and cannot be wished into existence.

    I hope this helps.

    -marc

  • Ruth R. Snave

    marc,

    Thanks for taking the time to write the explanation above.

    Please note that the 14th amendment says:

    “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person with its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    First, illegal immigrants are not citizens of the United States.

    Second, deporting a person who is ALREADY ASSUMED to be here illegally is not a denial of either due process or the equal protection of the laws.

    David Campos’ measure is on behalf of people who are already assumed to be illegal immigrants. That’s what the phrase “undocumented immigrants” means – immigrants who lack documentation to establish citizenship. Such immigrants are here illegally.

    His measure has nothing to do with either U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.

    Regardless of whether an illegal immigrant is guilty of committing a felony or not, he or she can still be deported for being here illegally. That’s the law.

    You say:

    “No, the United States Government does not have the right to deport people who are here illegally.”

    Wrong. Both international law and U.S. law affirm the right of governments to deport non-citizens who have entered their borders illegally.

    As noted, Campos’ legislation is on behalf of people who are already assumed to have entered the U.S. illegally. The U.S. has the right to deport them.

    You say:

    “Deportations can only take place after the person has been given due process …”

    Again, please note: Campos’ legislation ASSUMES that the people are here illegally. Campos claims that the board of supes can trump federal law in the case of people who are assumed to be here illegally.

    You say:

    “The issue at hand with the Campos legislation is whether it is acceptable for San Francisco’s law enforcement authorities to short-circuit due process by referring suspected undocumented individuals to the federal government when those individuals have been arrested and charged with a crime.”

    Wrong. The U.S. government has the right to insist that ALL illegal immigrants be reported to it, regardless of whether they are suspected of committing felonies or not.

    You say:

    “The constitution grants all individual rights aside from the franchise and right to seek office to ‘persons’ ‘rather’ than citizens, and even then imposes extra burdens on those who seek office.”

    True. However, Campos’ legislation assumes that the people are already here illegally. It is on behalf of such people. That’s what makes it unique.

    The issue is whether the Board of Supes can trump the power of Congress in deporting people who are already assumed to be here illegally.

    Where does the Board of Supes get this power from?

  • marc

    First off, my claims all derive from my layperson’s knowledge of US Constitutional and statute law, not international law.

    “Second, deporting a person who is ALREADY ASSUMED to be here illegally is not a denial of either due process or the equal protection of the laws.”

    Wrong. Undocumented individuals cannot be deported without due process that ascertains the legitimacy of government claims on their status.

    The question at hand is whether San Francisco should refer individuals who the SFPD ASSUMES to be undocumented to federal authorities when those individuals are taken into custody under suspicion of a crime.

    I believe that San Franciscans agree that if someone is undocumented and unfairly charged with a crime they end up to have not committed, that event alone should not result in their deportation because San Franciscans appear too sophisticated to oppose to “illegal immigration” without knowing the circumstances.

    That is, it appears that San Franciscans are politically prepared to discern the question of “did you commit a crime?” from “what is your immigration status?”

    -marc

  • tami

    From the attack on Van Jones I learned that:
    • Republicans are very sensitive and do not like being called a%#holes.
    • I will try to remember to call them corporate-bought hypocrites as they can’t object to any truthful characterization.
    • Stay away from petitions-changed after signed, but even if it wasn’t- questioning the integrity and ethics of the most corrupt, murderous regime in recent US history.
    • That it is more important to deny justice to an innocent man, than to find and convict the real killer.
    • That to entertain the thought that any system other than capitalism may improve the lives of the masses is indeed an act of evil.
    Van Jones has been instrumental and inspirational in areas of police accountability, education over incarceration, etc.
    I hope he runs for Governor, like Julian Davis suggested!
    As for the immigration issue.
    I do NOT WANT THE BLOOD of juveniles on my conscience.
    I will quadruple my efforts to ensure that Campos’ legislation passes!
    The “illegal” immigrants came over on the Mayflower, remember! We are living on land stolen from the American Indian/Native American people.
    Mexicans did not cross the border, the border crossed them.
    I challenge any one of the bigots to show me one country where the undocumented folks originate from that has not been relentlessly exploited by the greed of the US corporations and the US government.
    N. American policies cause the miserable conditions in their native lands that compel them to come here.
    Trust me, they would not be coming here if centuries of pillaging had not occurred, robbing them of their valuable resources that transformed them from wealthy nations to impoverished nations.
    I speak Spanish, two of my children are from a Latino immigrant, trust me, immigrants LOVE their homelands and are only here because of US manufactured conditions of desperation in their homelands.
    As narrow minded bigots, none of you can credibly speak to the feelings, beliefs and cultural pride held by immigrants.
    I appreciate Marc’s intellectual and factual based arguments.
    He makes a well-reasoned and compelling argument.
    I’m the emo one as my daughter calls me,
    We are supposed to be a great nation, of IMMIGRANTS, we should welcome other people, with their rich cultures, beautiful languages and think in terms of expanding our horizons. But no, bigots are closed minded, superficial and boring people and want everyone else to be just like them.
    I do NOT condone criminal conduct but I condemn the so-called “criminal justice” system that is a profit based, punitive industry rather than a therapeutic, caring and restorative institution. Most people who commit crimes, including Edwin Ramos, have had hard lives, either filled with abuse, neglect, lack of education, mental illness, substance abuse; they deserve to be rehabilitated.
    I appreciate Daly’s stance and Campos has the moral authority to do what he is doing.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    marc,

    I see that some issues are still outstanding in this discussion. On the other hand, we do agree on some things.

    You say:

    “Undocumented individuals cannot be deported without due process that ascertains the legitimacy of government claims on their status.”

    Agreed!

    When local authorities come across immigrants who, they believe, are undocumented, the local authorities hand them over to federal authorities. These, in turn, hold hearings on the matter, including judicial proceedings if warranted.

    If the hearings determine that the supposedly undocumented immigrants are in fact documented, the immigrants are released. This is the due process of law.

    However, David Campos’ measure would forbid local authorities from making such referrals in a crucial circumstance – namely, if the undocumented immigrants are young and accused of a felony.

    This exception is both irrational and contrary to federal law.

    You say:

    “The question at hand is whether San Francisco should refer individuals who the SFPD ASSUMES to be undocumented to federal authorities when those individuals are taken into custody under suspicion of a crime.”

    The SFPD is required by both state and federal law to turn over to federal authorities any immigrants they suspect of being illegal.

    Federal authorities then hold hearings on the matter, as noted above, in accordance with the due process of law.

    Campos’ measure violates these state and federal laws. It will never stand up in court.

    You say:

    “I believe that San Franciscans agree that if someone is undocumented and unfairly charged with a crime they end up to have not committed, that event alone should not result in their deportation …”

    Could be. However, federal and state laws say that immigrants who are here illegally must leave the country, regardless of whether they are suspected of having committed felonies or not.

    I myself believe that local authorities should show some flexibility and humanitarianism in dealing with apparently illegal immigrants, even if we have to outmaneuver the Feds from time to time in an informal way.

    On the other hand, however, I do not believe in putting public safety at risk. If an illegal immigrant is suspected of committing a felony, I, for one, am no longer willing to have the locals violate federal and state laws on behalf of such a person.

    I believe the surviving members of the Bologna family would agree with me on this point.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Tami,

    I appreciate the vigor of the arguments you made above. I have some questions, however, about their logic.

    You say:

    “We are living on land stolen from the American Indian/Native American people.”

    Then why don’t you set a personal example of what you preach, turn your apartment over to an Indian family, and leave?

    You say:

    “Mexicans did not cross the border, the border crossed them.”

    True. Does that mean there should be no limits on immigration from Mexico as a result?

    You say:

    “N. American policies cause the miserable conditions in their native lands that compel them to come here.”

    What about the Mexican drug cartels that are muscling into gangs in the U.S., torturing and murdering people? Should we invite them in and let them do whatever they want?

    You say:

    “As narrow minded bigots, none of you can credibly speak to the feelings, beliefs and cultural pride held by immigrants.”

    So anyone who dares to disagree with any of your views is a narrow-minded bigot?

    Isn’t that a rather narrow-minded attitude?

    You say:

    “I appreciate Marc’s intellectual and factual based arguments.”

    So do I. However, there are some holes in his arguments, as noted in posts above.

    You say:

    “… we should welcome other people, with their rich cultures, beautiful languages and think in terms of expanding our horizons.”

    Agreed.

    But does that mean we should let everyone come here from everywhere with no restrictions at all?

    Wouldn’t that approach cause some problems, even for the people who are coming here?

    You say:

    “I condemn the so-called ‘criminal justice’ system that is a profit based, punitive industry rather than a therapeutic, caring and restorative institution.”

    Do you believe it is wrong for the D.A. to prosecute Edwin Ramos for the murder of three members of the Bologna family?

    You say:

    “Most people who commit crimes, including Edwin Ramos, have had hard lives…”

    Are you saying he should be given a pass for murdering three people because he had a hard life?

    Do you think the survivors of the Bologna family would agree with you? Haven’t they had a hard life, too?

    You say:

    “I appreciate Daly’s stance and Campos has the moral authority to do what he is doing.”

    Is it right for David Campos to violate his oath of office, which requires him to uphold the laws of the land?