Yael Chanoff

Lakeview sit-in supporters protest school board meeting


Supporters of a sit-in at Lakeview elementary school and others protesting cuts from the Oakland Board of Education protested at the board’s meeting June 27 and held a “People’s Board of Education Meeting” discussing their vision for Oakland schools.

Much of the protest focused on cuts to the district’s budget for special education students. The cuts came as the school board faces statewide cuts to public education, the end of a bout of federal stimulus money, and a last-minute budget shortfall.

After passionate public comment, the board reversed their their previous decision to approve $1.7 million in special ed staffing cuts.

The cuts would have eliminated some Program Specialist positions. $2 million in cuts in transportation for special ed students still stand.

This comes weeks after special ed teachers and parents were surprised to learn of proposed cuts to special ed to make up for a budget an accounting error that the board discovered just weeks before the budget deadline.

“The timing of these proposals, the lack of staff and community input and the ever-changing information about the relevant budget numbers make these proposals especially troubling,” Cintya Molina, chair of the Community Advisory Committee for special education and mother of a special-needs second grader, said as part of the meeting’s public comment period.

Special education funding advocates partnered with organizers at the Lakeview School sit-in to show up in force at the board meeting, demonstrating a coalition of Oakland parents and teachers opposed to the cuts to schools in the 2012/2013 budgets.

Lakeview is one of five elementary schools that the board voted to close last fall.

A sit-in protesting Lakeview’s closure began June 15. Parents and teachers have organized a free summer program, the Peoples School for Public Education, on the school grounds. Some parents and teachers also sleep in a handful of tents each night to assure that the sit-in continues.

The decision to engage in civil disobedience came after months of work on the part of a coalition of concerned parents and teachers under the banner Save Oakland Schools.

“I probably spent 20 hours a week meeting, talking, emailing, researching, sending it, forwarding, board meetings,” recalls Joel Velasquez, one of the main parent organizers of the sit-in. “This is something that has been ongoing.”

But at a town hall meeting towards the end of the school year when parents had grown desperate, Velasquez said, the plan for a sit-in began to materialize.

“There was a moment where we went around and introduced ourselves and talked about what we were going to do. And I got really emotional; it was a tough moment for me.  And I said you know what, I don’t know what everybody else is going to do. And I’m not telling you what to do. But this is what I’m going to do. On the last day of school, I’m not going to leave. And I hope that people join me,” said Velasquez.

The Peoples School for Public Education teaches an average of 20 kids per day.

Julia Fernandez, a high school math teacher who taught at Castlemont High last year, has enrolled her 2- and 4-year-olds in the camp, as well tabling outside the school and helping with organization.

She says her children are too young for elementary school, but she’s worried about providing an education for them when they reach school-age.

“The public schools are working worse and worse,” Fernandez said, “because we’re moving all these resources from them. I think that affects the school where my kids would go. It’s likely that it’s going to probably be closed or turned into a charter school.”

One of the school’s slated for closure, Lazear elementary, will instead be turned into a charter school.

“I really have a passion about teaching students to learn skills that they’re going to be able to use to be productive people for our community. And to see how that’s been taken away, its very upsetting to me. I want to put a lot of energy into fighting against it,” Fernandez said.

Protesters at Lakeview plan to continue the sit-in indefinitely.

The Feds are watching — badly



So, you’re a law enforcement officer in training for participation on a local Joint Terrorism Task Force. Or a student at the United States Military Academy at West Point, involved in the counterterrorism training program developed in partnership with the FBI. Or you’re an FBI agent training up to deal with terrorist threats.

Get ready for FBI training in dealing with Arab and Muslim populations.

Take note that “Western cultural values” include “rational, straight line thinking” and a tendency to “identify problems and solve them through logical decision-making process” — while “Arab cultural values” are “emotional based” and “facts are colored by emotion and subjectivity.”

Be advised that Arabs have “no concept of privacy” and “no concept of ‘constructive criticism'” and that in Arab culture it is “acceptable to interrupt conversations to convey information or make requests.”

“Westerners think, act, then feel,” an FBI powerpoint briefing notes, while “Arabs feel, act, then think.”

Those are some of the most dramatic examples of racial profiling and outright racist stereotyping revealed in thousands of pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Bay Guardian, the ACLU of Northern California and the Asian Law Caucus.

The documents show a pattern of cultural insensitivity, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, not only tolerated by promoted as official instructions by the FBI. The records also show a broad pattern of surveillance of people who have engaged in no criminal activity and aren’t even suspected of crimes, but have been targeted because of their race or religion.

Pieces of this story have come out over the past year as the ACLU has charged the FBI with racial profiling and Attorney General Eric Holder has insisted it’s not happening. And some of the documents — which are not always properly dated — may be a few years old.

But none of it is ancient history: All of the material has been used by the FBI in the past few years, under the Obama administration.

This is the first complete report with the full details on a pattern of behavior that is, at the very least, disturbing — and in some parts, reminiscent of the notorious (and widely discredited) COINTELPRO program that sought to undermine and disrupt political groups in the 1960s.

The information suggests that the federal government is using methods that are not only imprecise and xenophobic but utterly ineffective in protecting the American public.

“This is the worst way to pursue security,” Hatem Bazian, professor of Near East Studies at UC Berkeley, told us.


Dozens of documents attempt to describe “Arabs and Muslims” but other groups aren’t left out of the sweeping stereotyping and blatant racism and xenophobia that the FBI has used in its training guides. One training presentation is titled “The Chinese.” The materials give such tips as “informality is perceived as disrespectful.” The presentation warns “expect your gift (money) to be refused” but advises to give “a simple gift with significant meaning- tangerines or oranges (with stems/leaves.)” But “never give a clock as a gift! (death!)”

And if those in the training on “The Chinese” find themselves in “interactions with the opposite sex,” then “touching, too many compliments, may imply a romantic liaison is desired — be careful!”

The vast majority of the “cultural awareness” training materials imply that the authors believe that the law enforcement personnel receiving the training will never be female or interact with female members of the groups they describe. Some warn repeatedly to never ask Arabs how “females in their family” are doing in polite conversation.

A presentation on “Arab and Muslim culture” compares the western thought process with that of all Arabs. According to the FBI, westerners are “rational” thinkers; Arabs, on the other hand, are “emotion based.” A slideshow on cross-cultural interrogation techniques says, “It is characteristic of the Arabic mind to be swayed more by words than ideas and more by ideas than facts.”

Bazian said the FBI’s generalizations about the Arab intellect are “ideological constructs reflective of the orientalist discourse.”

“Many of these individuals have not done any primary sociological, psychological, or historical work in the Arab/Muslim world,” said Bazian, who works on UC Berkeley’s Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project. “What they basically do is take a text from a particular historical period and pick these points and put it as reflective of contemporary Muslim society. Most of these statements have no basis in any critical analysis. They’re not rooted in any type of research.”

Included in the FBI’s recommended reading list for counterterrorism agents-in-training is the “Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam,” in which “Islam expert Robert Spencer reveals Islam’s ongoing, unshakeable quest for global conquest and why the West today faces the same threat as the Crusaders did.”

It’s not exactly an academically sound piece of work, Bazian told us. Spencer and his cohorts are “political hacks,” the professor said. “They come from neo-con backgrounds. Even saying ‘extreme right wing’ is giving them credit; they’re way down below the cliff. They create this contrast between western society and the rest of the world based on a nostalgic idea of western society.”

Arab culture is often the target these days, but the rhetoric recalls that used during the Chinese Exclusionary Act era, and toward Latinos in the United States today, Bazian said.

“They pick on the weakest, most vulnerable people in western society at a particular time and lay blame on them,” he said.

The FBI’s xenophobic approach to interrogation training—which involves warning new agents that “If an Arab is scared, he will often lie to try to avoid trouble”—is not even productive, Bazian said.

“If you go to people with professional training in interrogation and investigation, they’ll say none of this gives them access to security. If anything, it creates a greater global misunderstanding.”


And the creation of misunderstanding doesn’t stop there. The FBI is also involved in an intelligence-gathering method known as racial mapping. Racial mapping involves local FBI offices tracking groups in their “domains” based on race and ethnicity.

In blog post, the ACLU writes, “Empirical data show that terrorists and criminals do not fit neat racial, ethnic, nation-origin or religious stereotypes, and using such flawed profiles is a recipe for failure.” In the Counterterrorism Textbook read by all trainees the FBI seems to agree, warning multiple times that there is no such thing as a typical terrorist and that making assumptions based on stereotypes is dangerous and unproductive.

Yet the FBI files we’ve acquired reveal that the bureau consistently does just that. Though the Department of Justice prohibited race from being “used to any degree” in law enforcement investigations in 2003, a convenient and potentially unconstitutional exception allows racial profiling in national security matters.

When the FBI created its Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide in 2008, it used that loophole to permit the mapping of racial and ethnic demographic information and to keep tabs on “behavioral characteristics reasonably associated with a particular criminal or terrorist element of an ethnic community,” the ACLU reported.

Communities in San Francisco have been the victims of this prejudicial loophole more than once. In 2009, the ACLU reported that the FBI justified mapping and investigating the Chinese American population in the city because “within this community there has been organized crime for generations.” Likewise, the bureau collected demographic data on the Russian population because of the “Russian criminal enterprises” known to exist in San Francisco.

The loophole, however, may not even apply to these investigations in the first place.

According to Michael German, a 16-year veteran of the FBI and senior analyst with the ACLU, these investigations don’t fit the national security description. “In intelligence notes on Chinese and Russian organized crime, those are not national security issues,” German told us. “Those are all clearly criminal investigations.”

German has brought attention to another troubling use of racial mapping — documents revealing that the FBI’s Atlanta bureau tracks Georgia’s African American population.

The stated reason is a threat of black separatist groups; the documents name the New Black Panther Party and the Black Hebrew Israelites as the black separatist groups that pose a threat.

German wrote about this problematic practice in a May 29 article on the website Firedoglake.

“The problem with these documents,” German told us, “is that it’s not black separatists or alleged black separatists who are being tracked — it’s the entire black community in Georgia.”

“Those individuals and those communities are being targeted only for their race,” German said. “Were it not for their race they wouldn’t be part of that assessment. There is no reason to do that, accept to treat that community differently than the way it treats other communities. It’s problematic from a constitutional standpoint.”

The New Black Panther Party was founded in Dallas and has mostly East Coast chapters. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate United States hate groups, “The group portrays itself as a militant, modern-day expression of the black power movement (it frequently engages in armed protests of alleged police brutality and the like), but principals of the original Black Panther Party of the 1960s and 1970s— a militant, but non-racist, left-wing organization — have rejected the new Panthers as a ‘black racist hate group’ and contested their hijacking of the Panther name and symbol.” The Black Hebrew Israelites is another fringe group, an apocalyptic group whose ideology holds that black Americans are God’s chosen people.

Both groups have written and spoken record of racist and violent rhetoric, but record of violent or criminal acts are hard to find.

“I’d say they’re a fairly small part of the radical right, and generally quite small. As far as we know, there is virtually no connection between these groups and criminal activity,” Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the SPLC, told the Guardian.

According to Potok, the center’s list of hate groups in operation in 2011 includes four organizations classified as black separatist, which, between them, have 140 chapters. Those chapters are counted as 140 of the list’s 1,018 groups.

“Most of the rest of the list are white supremacist groups,” Potok notes. “There are some exceptions — anti-gay groups and anti-Muslim groups.” After a quick count, Potok found 688 groups to be “straight-up white supremacist.”

The majority of these hate groups may be white supremacist — but the FBI is not involved in tracking white populations.

Last October, the FBI’s press office responded to the ACLU’s concerns with racial mapping. “These efforts are intended to address specific threats, not particular communities,” the agency’s statement reads.

“These domain management efforts seek to use existing, available government data to locate and better understand the communities that are potential victims of the threats. There must be an understanding of the communities we protect in order to focus our limited human and financial resources in the areas where those resources are most needed.”

With that defense, resources continue to pour into racial mapping efforts.

Black separatist organizations are not the only groups to be targeted for political beliefs. Groups such as “anarchist extremists” and “animal rights/environmental extremists” are also, according to the FBI, groups to watch out for.

A training presentation for the Bay Area’s Joint Terrorism Task Force includes a list of those groups: “animal rights/eco terrorism, anarchists, white separatists, black separatists, militia/sovereign citizens, and ‘lone offender’.”

How do you spot a potential “animal rights extremist”? According to the documents, “ideology and concepts” found among this group includes a “complete vegan lifestyle,” and activities include the promotion of “anti-capitalist literature.” In other words, your roommate is probably a terrorist.


Racial mapping is not the only FBI practice that targets people just for being members of groups “associated with crimes.” The FBI routinely gathers information on Muslims through deceptive “community outreach” programs.

Memoranda we’ve obtained reveal that FBI agents, operating under the guise of community outreach, attended various events hosted by local Muslim organizations in order to gather intelligence between 2007 and 2009.

When agents attended Ramadan Iftar dinners in San Francisco, they wrote down participants’ contact information and documented their conversations and opinions. At an alleged outreach event at CSU Chico, they recorded a conversation with a student about the Saudi Student Association’s activities and even took the student’s picture. That information was sent to the FBI in Washington, DC, the ACLU reported.

Writing down information on individuals’ First Amendment activities—in this case without any evidence that they were notified or asked—violates the federal Privacy Act, the ACLU says. Using access to community events to gather personal information undermines the FBI’s stated effort to form relationships with Muslim leaders and community members.

And covert surveillance can also have an immediate and hazardous impact on the unwitting subjects.

“It’s becoming more of a public discourse that these FBI background checks are affecting immigration status, the ability to send money back home, and generally creating an environment of fear,” said Miriam Zouvounis, membership coordinator with San Francisco’s Arab Resource and Organizing Center.

The organization has helped clients who have been detained for months because their names were mistakenly placed on a no-fly list, and others whose immigration processes have taken up to ten years because they were erroneously perceived as threatening, Zouvounis said.

“The process of information collecting on covert and overt levels is accelerating, and definitely a present reality in San Francisco. People don’t want to be civically engaged if that material’s being used against them,” she said.


“Extremism online is the most serious international terrorist threat in the world.” Or so says FBI training materials in a presentation entitled “Extremism online,” meant for those training to be online covert employees. The documents teach OCEs to scan through comment threads and enter chat rooms, searching for people whose speech may be “operational.”

This surveillance has led to investigations.

Some of the documents are individual files and summaries of individual files, and many note that the person (often someone who was convicted, so the name isn’t redacted in the documents) was “detected via the Internet.” Some examples: “Mohamad Osman Mohamud, detected via the Internet, discussing Jihad plans” and “Hosam Smadi, detected via the Internet: online chats.” Both men were 19 when they were convicted of crimes.

These men — and the many more who have not been accused of any criminal activity but are likely under surveillance or investigation by OCEs — could have been “detected via the Internet” in a variety of ways, according to German.

“It could be that the chats were open source, or that an informant was in the chat room, or a person participating simply turned them over to the FBI, none of which would require any legal process,” German explained.

“It could also be monitored under FISA [ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] or traditional criminal wiretaps, which would require court warrants (secret ones under FISA). Finally, the stored chat logs retained on third party servers could have been obtained with Patriot Act Section 215 orders, or what’s called a “D” order under the Stored Communications Act (if held for over 180 days),” German detailed in an email.

So what kind of speech are OCEs looking out for to peg potential terrorist threats? The Extremism Online presentation has a list of “major themes and language used in online extremist writings,” which includes Islam-related terms such as “Caliphate, Al-Ansar, Al-Rafidah, Mushrik, and Munafiq” as well as the Arabic words “Akhi, Uhkti, Ameen, Du’aa, Shari’ah, and Iman” (brother, sister, amen, prayer, Islamic law, and faith.) Other words the agents are told to look out for: “crusaders, hypocrites, dogs and pigs,” and any discussion of “occupation of Muslim lands.”

The FBI can really get into your business if agents confiscate your possessions. Personal computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices, according to the documents, are routinely checked out at Regional Computer Forensics Labs.

The nearest one to San Francisco is in Menlo Park, where employees brag of having investigated thousands of pieces of data.

Law enforcement routinely confiscates property after arrests, and if local cops are involved with the FBI through the Joint Terrorism Task Forces or other partnerships, they may very well send the belongings of those arrested to be checked out at a local RCFL. But there are other ways the FBI can obtain your electronics.

“Certainly the FBI has the authority to obtain computers and other devices with search warrants, either traditional search warrants where the individual is given notice or expedited warrants where the person isn’t aware,” German told the Guardian, noting that the second type of warrant is the preferred method, for obvious reasons, when the Feds plan to search a confiscated computer.

“The FBI also works with immigrations and customs enforcement, so laptops and other devices seized at the border the FBI can gain access to. There are myriad ways they can get them.”


A 2009 FBI memorandum on investigating suspected terrorists reveals that the Bureau encourages its agents to implement a “disruption strategy” that German wrote is “eerily reminiscent” of the COINTELPRO tactics used to stop political organizers in the1960s. “If the risk to public safety is too great, or if all significant intelligence has been collected, and/or the threat is otherwise resolved, investigators may, with substantive desk coordination and concurrence, implement a disruption strategy,” one memo reads. Investigators can conduct interviews, make arrests, or use any number of other undefined “tools” to “effectively disrupt subject’s [sic] activities.” Such disruption strategies have been used in the past to investigate and shut down First Amendment-protected activity, German said. The reintroduction of such tactics could open the door for a major breach of the subjects’ constitutional rights.


“After September 11th, 2001, the FBI realigned its mission and purpose to reflect the global and domestic threats that face the US,” begins an orientation packet for members of Joint Terrorism Task Forces. “FBI director Robert M. Meuller III defined the following as the top ten priorities (in order of importance) that confront the Bureau today,” Number one on the list: Protect the United States from terrorist attack.

Indeed, after 9/11, the FBI prioritized terrorism investigations, a shift from the previous focus on criminal investigations. Classified as national security threats, these investigations are not subject to the same type of privacy and anti-racial discrimination protections that other criminal investigations might be.

Terrorist threats, apparently, are to be found in mosques, in online conversations that involve criticism of US foreign policy, in entire populations of African Americans or Chinese Americans in given areas. In recent years, simply speaking Arabic online or being black makes a person a suspect and potential target of surveillance.

Look out America, especially members of that celebrated “melting pot.” The feds are watching.

Poverty Scholars Unite


This post has been updated. RYME orientation is July 3, not June 27.

July 3 will begin another session of Poor Magazine’s revolutionary youth media education program, or RYME.

Poor Magazine was founded in 1996 as a way to bring together poor people to produce media, teach and learn, and create community. From their space in the Mission, they have launched the printed Poor Magazine, Poor News Network TV and Poor Radio, published dozens of books at Poor Press, and hold programming throughout the year.

One such program is People Skool, sessions for and by the people. Poor rejects status indicators like degrees and job titles in favor of expertise based on experience. People are esteemed as Indigenous Scholars, Poverty Scholars, Youth Scholars, and Mama Scholars share their knowledge at People Skool.

The RYME session is “a multi-generational , mutli-lingual skool,” according to Tiny Gray-Garcia, Poor Magazine’s co-founder.

The program will “teach our children and families back their stolen indigenous languages through art and project based learning– this summer we will be teaching media, radio, music, art and journalism with a focus on eldership, indigenous herstories and histories ” Gray-Garcia said in an email.

Tuition for the program is based on ability to pay, and can range from $90 – 500. There are full scholarships and stipends provided for youth in poverty.

At tomorrow’s orientation, youth can learn about the program, which runs through July 31, and a “healthy homemade lunch” with “vegan and meat options provided” will be served, Gray-Garcia said.

Revolutionary Youth Media Education orientation/registration

July 3, 4pm, free

Poor Magazine

2940 16th St., #301, SF


Youth scholars from last summer’s RYME program conduct interviews outside City Hall

Students, parents, teachers march in support of Lakeview sit-in


More than 100 gathered outside Oakland City Hall for a rally and march June 23 to celebrate the sit-in at Lakeview Elementary School. The school is one of five that the Oakland School Board voted to close last fall, in a move that would save the city $2 million per year. 

The school’s unofficial reopening was initiated by Lakeview parents, and since has been organized and led by Lakeview parents and teachers. Organizers have also run a People’s School for Public Education, with more than 20 elementary-age children enrolled. Classes ran for the past week from 9am to 3pm and include music, art, gardening, social justice, and PE. A daily picket and rally was held to support the sit-in and the Peoples School at 5pm.

Organizers may extend the people’s school for another week.

The children and students involved in the effort led the march yesterday, which left from City Hall around 1pm. Protesters marched to the school, where they held a community barbecue.

At an Oct. 26 Oakland School Board meeting, the board voted to close Lakeview, along with four other elementary schools, at the end of the school year. The Save Oakland Schools campaign has been working to stop these closures. Lakeview officially shut its doors at the end of this school year, but with the ongoing sit-in, organizers hope to keep it open as long as possible.

The city plans to use the school’s building for administrative offices.

Speakers at the rally included parents and teachers of Oakland elementary school teachers. 

On the march, demonstrators chanted “Whose schools? Our schools!” and “Education is a right! For our children we will fight!” In reaction to police at the kid-led march, some chanted “their kids! They’re cute! Get those guns up off your suit!”

“The Lakeview sit-in demands a stop to all school closure, or the resignation of Tony Smith, superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. The Sit-In at Lakeview is held in solidarity with all parents and teachers struggling to demand quality public education across the country,” according to a press release.

The now week-long action is the result of collaboration between Occupy Oakland and its various offshoots and the parents and teachers of Lakeview, as parents and teachers lead the efforts.

Photo via Justin Beck

Free classes for all


Why should you need an expensive libereral arts education to ponder the question of realism, or pricey equipment to take a film making class? You don’t- the University of the Commons (UOTC) dove into its schedule of free, open to all classes a few weeks ago, and the effort is growing.

In a panel discussion at the summer session’s launch June 2, speakers placed the school in a radical context, mentioning other efforts such as D-Q University and Black Panther liberation schools like the Oakland Community School. 

The group’s mission statement says that the UOTC “aims to inspire participants to evolve more equitable and just societies and live more empowered and fulfilling lives.” The school isn’t accredited and students won’t get any formal acknowledgment of having taken classes there. 

It does, however, have some system-approved teachers. Dr. Barbara-Ann Lewis, who is teaching a class called Science Literacy to any and all who show up, is no newbie. She received her PhD in Soil Science from UC Berkeley in 1971, worked as a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory for seven years, and then taught environmental engineering at Northwestern for another 27. Since then she worked a stint as a violin-maker (“it’s good to have a trade,” she told me).

So what’s a pro like Lewis doing in a place like this? For her, its almost civic duty. “I want to teach the public,” she said. “The public votes, but has no idea about some of the real science behind the environmental issues.”

But in many of her university classes, “I had the standard students. They pay tuition, they come in, they don’t know too much about what’s going on in the world. They’ve lost their curiosity.”

She found students with that curiosity in her experience teaching with the Free University of San Francisco last year, Lewis says. “I had an 18-year-old and I had a 50-year-old in the class, lots of kinds of people, who all wanted to learn.”

Warren Lake of the San Francisco Free School, a similar effort that teaches free classes in the city, attended the launch in hopes of joining forces in some way with the UOTC. The Free School, Lake says, started with free yoga classes and has naturally offered movement, dance and other “right-brain pursuits,” compared to the UOTC’s heady academic offerings. Lake sees the Free School as “both a place to incubate teachers and for students to get together.” But when it comes to transferable skills and help along career paths, the picture is more complicated.

The Free School has been around for a few years now, and Lake says the accreditation issue is something he’s “thought about a lot.”

“There are different ways to show expertise,” said Lake. “Making a documentary or writing a book can often work as well as a college degree for showing you are interested of invested in something. There are different ways to market the experience.”

The University of the Commons is a great effort. But it brings up some questions. Who is it for? People who want an education but can’t afford one, now that the cost-free California community college system is a thing of the past? People who are already pretty well educated but always enjoy learning, not to mention generally fulfilling experiences? Students who want to supplement un-creative traditional schooling? People looking for friends and community who enjoy some learning on the side? Real change, liberation?

A Guardian article on a similar effort last year- the San Francisco Free University- pointed out that their effort was promising, admirable, and potentially very beneficial. It was also very white.

June 18, the pretty white- though, as members pointed out, also pretty female and queer- UOTC collective spent the majority of their meeting talking about “diversity and outreach.” They talked about teaching ethnic studies and women’s studies courses that are being cut out of public university curriculum. They talked about ideas for partnerships with organizations around the city that work with different groups, asking to see what kinds of free classes people there might want to participate in or teach. They talked about resources for classes in Mandarin and Spanish. They hope to plug in to existing efforts, and they hope to grow.

As of now, the classes range in the attendance. The students of Occupy U, a class discussing what worked and what didn’t in recent social justice efforts that focuses on Occupy, is about 11 mostly activist types, while From Mahler to the Music Video, a class tracing the history of music, has about 70 students that the instructor John Smalley says includes everyone from “professional musicians to homeless people.”

Next week will be the third week of classes, but you can still join in, although it might be a good idea to contact the instructor beforehand.

Science Literacy w/ Barbara-Ann Lewis

Tuesdays 5:30-7:30pm, Modern Times, 2919 24th St., SF

Responsive Cinema w/ Rand Crook

Tuesdays 7-9pm, the Emerald Tablet, 80 Fresno, SF

Intro to Western music: from Mahler to the music video w/ John Smalley

Saturdays 11am-1pm, Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room B, Main San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin, SF

History in digital culture w/ Molly Hankwitz

Sundays 6-8pm

Mutiny Radio Café, 2781 21st St

Occupy U w/ Stardust

Sundays 6-8pm, Modern Times, 2919 24th St., SF


OccuPride remembers



QUEER ISSUE “First of all, the parade wouldn’t have barricades, because that immediately creates an us versus them divide, and then you see the parade as just the groups and companies that can afford the fee, which is like $450. Anyone who wanted to march could march, regardless of what the sheriff or Fire Department says. There would be tents for connections to services that people desperately need. I’m not opposed to having companies there, but they shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of Pride. And there should be more about the history, because people don’t know it. In the Holocaust, anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 gays were worked to death in Dachau and other work camps. That’s where the pink triangle comes from. But people think Harvey Milk pulled it out of his ass or something.”

That’s what Scott Rossi, one of the organizers of San Francisco’s OccuPride march, told me when I asked him what his ideal SF Pride Parade would look like. The protest’s rallying cry is Community Not Commodity, and the group hopes to bring some rebellious spirit to the parade, which they say has become too watered down with corporate sponsors and assimiliation-lovin’ politics.

Some of the action’s organizers are from Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland, but the majority are a coalition of radical queer groups like HAVOQ, Pride at Work, Act Up, and QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism).

Honestly, it would be weird if there wasn’t a group with an anti-capitalist critique of the parade disrupting Pride this year. It’s been a tradition since 1992 when Act Up members joined the parade and staged intermittent Die-Ins, collapsing every seven minutes, the frequency that people were dying from AIDS that year.

Act Up and related groups staged similar demonstrations practically every year. A decade later, two Gay Shame protesters were arrested when they attempted to enter the parade. That year’s parade was sponsored by Budweiser, and Gay Shame had created a seven-foot-tall cardboard Budweiser can that read “Vomit Out Budweiser Pride and the Selling of Queer Identities,” and other props to confront “the consumerism, blind patriotism and assimilationist agenda of the Pride Parade.”

And radical queers show no sign of stopping. Veteran gay rights warrior Tommi Mecca was at basically all of these disruptions, and he won’t be missing out on this year’s events. Mecca was 21 when he helped organize the first Pride March in Philadelphia in 1972.

“Pride used to be a protest,” Mecca recalls. “It was very free. There were no barricades on the street, there were very few rules. We didn’t have contingents, people just gathered, and at some point there were speeches, usually by activists…I don’t know when it started getting corporate sponsors.”

But the glitz! The glamour! The music enhanced by electricity! Today, Pride is a giant, televised affair — this year, sponsored by Wells Fargo.

“Don’t people in Pride realize how much we’re being used by Wells Fargo?” Mecca said. “It just reeks.”

So if you go to the parade, smell the sweet smell of protesters promoting “pride not profit, a movement not a market, and community not commodity.” After all, if it wasn’t for queer radicals in the ’70s, there wouldn’t be a Pride at all.

Make it better now



Noted queer writer and speaker Dan Savage sent a hopeful message to LGBT youth with his 2010 YouTube video, “It Gets Better.” But many queer youth in the Bay Area say they aren’t willing to wait.

“If my adult self could talk to my 14 year old self and tell him anything, I would tell him to really believe the lyrics from “Somewhere,” from West Side Story. There really is a place for us. There really is a place for you. And that one day you will have friends that love and support you, you will find love, you will find a community. And that life gets better,” Savage said.

Savage and his partner Terry Miller’s message went viral. It inspired hundreds of similar videos and eventually led to the creation of the It Gets Better Project, headquartered in Los Angeles. The videos were a response to a tragic cluster of suicides by children bullied for seeming gay, a trend that was only unusual in that the media picked up on it. And for many teens across the country, the “It Gets Better” videos provided crucial hope and support.

But last week, I was talking to Stephanie, Lolo, Ose, and Mia Tu Mutch, four Bay Area teens, about what its like to be a queer youth today. We were talking at the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC), a center for queer youth in the heart of the Castro.

When I asked about the “It Gets Better” videos, they all had the same reaction: “Ugh. I don’t like those videos. I don’t like those at all.”

“Those videos are depressing,” Lolo said.

“Yeah. ‘Just wait ’til you’re an adult?'” Stephanie asked.

“Just wait ’til you’re an adult, and your problems will go away,” Mia said, shaking her head.

“And it’s celebrities, too,” Ose noted. “‘I got thousands of dollars, and it gets better!'”

The four of them are facilitators at LYRIC, leading weekly community-building workshops that deal with issues queer kids face. Between 17 and 21 years old, these youth are not waiting for it to get better. They’re doing it for themselves.



LYRIC definitely promotes pride and empowerment. Founded in 1988, LYRIC organizers worked to secure funding for a physical space a few years later. Since then, this purple house on Collingwood has functioned as a crucial center for Bay Area queer youth. It offers counseling, food, clothing, community building workshops that kids teach, and a safe place to hang out.

But LYRIC, like many nonprofits, has felt the impact of the severe government cuts to health and human services. As a result, its budget has suffered steady declines from approximately $1.2 million in 2008 to $954,000 this, year primarily due to shrinking government funding.

But LYRIC refuses to give up offering paid internships, a rarity in the nonprofit world.

“The City has made it clear that they no longer intend to invest significant funding into subsidized employment model programs — they want to serve greater numbers of youth at a much lower unit cost — even if we all understand that some of the most marginalized youth will no longer be getting the intensive level of support they need to make it to a successful adulthood” LYRIC’s Executive Director Jodi Schwartz told me, explaining that the organization is now growing support by more grassroots funding networks.

“We used to hire 60-70 young people per year, now it’s more like 20,” Schwartz says.

The organization still serves about 400 young people per year.

“I would guess we have 6,000 queer youth living in the city,” Schwartz said. “So we’re not reaching everyone. Not to say that all those 6,000 queer youth need a LYRIC, but they need community. We all need community.”

Youth from across the country come to San Francisco seeking that community. Often they have escaped intolerant, abusive, or dangerous situations in their families or hometowns. But when they arrive in this storied city, these youth are often disappointed.

“I was that kid who left a small town in Texas and who got to San Francisco as fast as I could,” Mia told me. “And I was like, you know, I’ll figure it out, I’ll find a job, and I’ll do this and that. And it was really hard.”

” I think that the difference is that there are more LGBT specific languages and policies, and organizations that are affirming. All of that is the best in the US, probably,” Mia said. “And there are all these cultural groups and all of that. But queerphobia and transphobia exist here just like it exists everywhere else.”

“So my big thing is how we have all these systems in place that make us a little more queer friendly,” she said. “But how do we actually get the public to stop hating people, to stop doing hate crimes, to stop bullying?”

Ose, who now lives in the Bayview, grew up closer to the city. But coming from a religious family in Modesto, he says, “I had heard things about the Castro itself. I always thought the Castro was the devil…I was a church boy.”

He remembers fear that someone he knew would recognize him in the forbidden neighborhood, that “my mom would find out and be like, what are you doing in the Castro? So I was scared to death my parents would find out I was coming to the Castro.”

That was two years ago. Now, Ose works in the Castro, and he was dressed in cut-off shorts and a slicked back Mohawk, long painted nails clicking on the table. “I’m hella gayed out,” he happily reports.

When Mia made it to San Francisco, she initially settled into the Tenderloin, rather than the gentrifying Castro.

“As a trans person, a lot of trans history is in the Tenderloin and there’s a lot of trans women who live in the Tenderloin and who work in the Tenderloin,” she explained. “So I feel more at home there. Even though it isn’t technically the gay neighborhood, it’s always been the queer ghetto and that’s where the low income and queer people of color live a lot.”

The Tenderloin is also the site of many of the services that queer youth use. Mia made some of her first local connections at Trans: Thrive, a program of the Asian Pacific Islander Center. And many of the kids at LYRIC, as well as the city’s other queer teens, benefit from Larkin Street Youth Services.

The homeless shelter oversees the only beds reserved for queer youth in the city, all 22 of them, a number Schwartz believes in inadequate. A report from Larkin Street in 2010 found that 30 percent of the homeless youth they serve identify as LGBTQQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning).

LYRIC is part of the Community Partnership for LGBTQQ Youth and the Dimensions Clinic Collaborative, which includes service organizations like the queer-specific health clinic Dimensions, the nearby LGBT Center, the Bay Area Young Positives HIV health and support nonprofit, and the city’s Department of Public Health. But LYRIC is one of only a few organizations that focuses on fun, informative community-building workshops.



Savage promised queer kids that, in the distant future, they would “have friends that love and support you, you will find love, you will find a community.” But LYRIC’s workshops, largely envisioned and run by the youth themselves, show kids that they don’t need to wait: they can create those supportive networks for themselves, in the here and now.

Another such community-building effort was on display at the LGBT Center on June 15: Youth Speaks’ queer poetry slam Queeriosity. The show, which was preceded by five weeks of free poetry workshops for and by queer youth, brought together young queer people from across the Bay Area, and one could feel the love and support in the air.

“Queeriosity is important because, in the poetry scene, we have so many people with so many different backgrounds,” Milani Pelley, one of the show’s hosts and a poet who works with youth in the workshops, told me. “A lot of times people who get identified in the LGBT category, they don’t have that space where they’re front and center and it’s a space for them. It’s very important that we celebrate everyone.”

Pelley, 24, has been working with Youth Speaks since she was 16. She said the message of the It Gets Better videos might be too simple.

“Thinking about being an adult versus a teenager, adults go through the same things,” she said. “The only difference is it’s not encouraged to speak out about it, you’re supposed to act like you have it together and it’s okay.”

Mia said youthful teasing and bullying are precursors to hate crimes: “Bullying and hate crimes are related because it’s all about people not accepting you, and then violently reacting to who are. So either throwing insults or beating you up.”

On April 29, Brandy Martell, an African American trans woman, was murdered in Oakland in a likely hate crime. CeCe McDonald’s recent case has also exhibited the dangers and injustice trans women of color face. The young Chicago woman defended herself against a bigoted attacker who she ended up killing, only to spend time in solitary confinement while awaiting trial, get convicted on manslaughter, and, last week, be placed in a men’s prison to serve her sentence.

I asked the four LYRIC teachers about the campaigns of national organizations like the Human Rights Committee — such as marriage equity or LGBT soldiers — and they all shook their heads.

“There’s a huge disconnect between the national platforms of the major gay organizations and the actual realities of queer youth,” Mia said. “Like they don’t even have queer youth in the majority of their meetings, but then they act like they’re the ones fighting for our rights, you know.”

For example, she said “marriage equality wouldn’t affect me at all. Yeah, it would be okay, it would be better if it was equal across the board. But when you have people dying because of hate crimes, and dying because of bullying, and dying because they don’t have a place to stay and they’re on the streets, it’s like, I just feel like those are a lot more pressing than getting a piece of paper from the government.”



Mia serves on the city’s Youth Commission, where she’s designing training programs for service providers to work with LGBT youth. Ose is working with Schwartz to create programming for LGBTQ youth who don’t want to take the common path of rejecting religion and spirituality as they come to terms with other parts of their identity.

“I go to church a lot,” Ose explained. “I grew up as a Christian. And I wanted to touch base on that because a lot of times, the youth that I come across, the majority of them are being silenced…I’m still going through some issues with my own church, especially with my pastor because just recently I’ve heard that he dislikes me over the fact of the way I dress, the way I act, my feminine gestures.”

Stephanie sighed and said, “I wish there were more LYRICS around the city. One in Bayview, one in every district. And Oakland too.”

“People who provide counseling, food, clothes, water if you need it,” Lola added. “A safe space to go to, a place where you can make friends, and make connections. There need to be more places like that specifically for queer youth.”

Even in San Francisco, harassment is a reality in youth programs and schools. In 2009, the SFUSD studied Youth Risk Behavior in San Francisco’s elementary through high school public schools, and found that more than 80 percent of students reported hearing anti-gay remarks at school, and more than 40 percent said they had never heard school staff stop others from making those remarks. The survey also found that students who identified as LGBT were significantly more likely than their peers to report skipping school out of concern for their safety.

Queer youth will never stop finding informal networks of support. But structured settings like LYRIC can be vital. At places like LYRIC, youth find the community, the love, and the friends that Savage promised would appear with time — before they turn 18.

“It’s easier to build relationships and to build community when its structured, when it has a little bit of structure like, hey, this is a queer specified setting, we’re going to talk to each other, we’re going to hang out, we’re gonna do this, and then you kind of build community off of that. And because it’s based on identity, you feel more comfortable to talk about that,” Mia explained. “You have to change your reality. And you have to be the one to change it for yourself. Because ain’t nobody gonna make it better for you.”

Bringing the heat


On June 13, more than 400 people, mainly from law enforcement and non-profits, gathered for a conference in downtown Oakland’s Marriott Hotel. Outside, a group of angry protesters gave impassioned speeches before trying to enter the hotel. The complex set of issues involved? The conference was organized to discuss tactics for arresting and charging child sex traffickers, but the protesters said that the conference would do nothing but further the state’s harmful impact on the lives of sex workers.

I wasn’t able to attend the conference itself; the Alameda County District Attorney’s office decided at the last minute that press would not be permitted inside. But from the conference’s description and a talk with Casey Bates, head of DA’s Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit (HEAT), it seemed that the conference was mostly focused on improving efforts to by law enforcement to find people underage people who are having sex for money and prosecute their “traffickers,” a designation not much different than “pimps.”

According to Bates, the HEAT unit has focused on people selling sex on the street and online, and most are from California or nearby states, although he hopes the efforts can expand to people who are trafficked in from other countries.

Under the law, anyone selling sex under 18 years of age is classified as a CSEC- commercially sexually exploited child.

As DA Nancy O’Malley emphasizes on the HEAT unit website, “We have been fighting to shatter the perception of children as prostitutes and criminals undeserving of protection.  These young people are victims of child abuse.”

The sex workers rights movement, organized by people in the sex industry who see their work as legitimate, has largely called for decriminalization of prostitution and other forms of sex work since the movement off in the 1960s, with new concerns in the 21st century. Many groups have argued that police increase the violence in the lives of prostitutes, harassing and arresting them while not taking violence against sex workers seriously. The much older anti-trafficking movement, (or, as it was called at the beginning of the 20th century, anti- “white slavery,”) has many proponents who disagree, saying all prostitution involves some form of coercion. The two movements have a long history of conflict, and on June 13, this dynamic was thrust into the public eye.

Policing the problem

This conference was described as “comprehensive event designed to enhance the capacity of law enforcement and practitioners to combat commercial sex trafficking of children (CSEC).” 

“Of course we support refuges, housing, and other services for these children,” said Rachel West, an organizer with US Prostitutes Collective. “Why aren’t the police focused on that instead of spending hours on the net looking for women, or going out on the street doing street sweeps?”

But US Prostitutes Collective, part of the International Prostitutes Collective, which has been campaigning for decriminalization of prostitution since 1975, didn’t organize last week’s protest. This time it was Occupy Patriarchy, an Occupy Oakland affiliated group.

Occupy Oakland has not been shy about calling out police behaviors, from infamous incidents like the tear gas-heavy offensive on the Occupy Oakland camp last fall to shootings of local teenagers. The HEAT Conference, which was organized by the DA’s office and played host to law enforcement from across the country, was no exception.

“Whose inside this conference?” said one demonstrator who spoke during a 20-minute speak-out in front of the hotel that afternoon. “61 official speakers are law enforcement agents, DA workers, or politicians with anti-sex worker reputations. 39 speakers are individuals or representatives of non-profits. The vast majority of these work directly with law enforcement or politicians to criminalize sex workers. Where is the voice of the sex workers?” 

“What we find disturbing as anti-capitalists and anti-authoritarians is these police who, to sex workers, are oppressing us,” Clarissa McFaye, one of the demonstrators, told me in an interview. “We know that police are a very violent, fearsome presence in the lives of all sex workers, and we feel the only way that we can abolish child trafficking and exploitative forms of labor, which is all labor in actuality, is to abolish the police state.”

“They think working to enforce criminalization isn’t going to help child victims of sexual slavery. We know they exist, but we don’t feel this is a solution. We don’t think enhancing the ability to arrest people is a solution,” said McFaye.

“We really appreciate a lot of the effort that some of the non profits are doing,” McFaye continued, “We want to talk to them and form a sense of camaraderie with them and tell them that we don’t need the cops. We don’t want them. They’re bad for us.” 

Sex workers rights groups have long spoken out about police treatment of prostitutes. Stories of police harassing sex workers, going through with sexual acts while undercover before making prostitution arrests, and demanding sex in exchange for letting an arrest slide are fairly common. As McFaye told me, “they’re condoning child trafficking because they make deals with pimps.”

“Not to mention that hella cops are tricks,” she added.

Pimps and traffickers, children and minors

The HEAT Unit’s website lists 237 charges and 160 convictions made by the unit between 2006 and 2011. The statistics include trafficking as defined by California Penal Code Section 236.1, California’s Human Trafficking Statute. But they also include charges and convictions for pimping and pandering, sexual assault, kidnapping, and burglary, and the website specifies that “these statistics do not differentiate between child and adult victims, though the majority of HEAT victims are minors.”

The anti-trafficking statute defines a human trafficker as “Any person who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to effect or maintain a felony violation of ” one of several anti-pimping, pandering, and solicitation Penal Code violations.

This includes Penal Code section 266 which defines a pimp as someone who, knowing another person has commercial sex, “lives or derives support or maintenance in whole or in part from the earnings or proceeds of the person’s prostitution.” 

But for Bates, “The way a pimp-prostitute relationship works is the pimp takes 100 percent of the cash.”

I brought up the pimp question with Cyd Nova, harm reduction services coordinator at San Francisco’s for sex workers-by sex workers health clinic, the St. James Infirmary.

“I know a lot of street-based sex workers who are totally independent,” said Nova. “Some do split their money with pimps or managers.”

Nova also said pimping’s legal definition can often have questionable consequences. “Legally that would be most peoples partners, children, friends.”

“I have met sex workers who have had their partners charged under pimping codes, which was not their relationship with that person,” Nova told me.

Many “pimping” relationships fall somewhere in between “peoples partners, children, and friends” and “the pimp takes 100 percent of the cash.” Sex workers, a criminalized class, often experience violence from both pimps and clients- but fear for their own consequenes if they report the crimes. I asked Bates his opinion on granting immunity from prostitution charges or a person who comes forward to report all too common violations committed against sex workers like rape, assault and theft.

“We do this all the time in the context of other types of crime that we work with. If it’s a murder, we may be willing to negotiate with our witness to determine whether or not is appropriate to give immunity for the person to testify against this other person, in exchange they won’t be prosecuted for the crime that they committed.”

But Nova said that striking that deal can be a major problem.

“One thing that is an issue for people forced into the industry is they are unable to receive services until they agree to testify against their trafficker. This doesn’t work for the majority of people, and it’s a major issue when you’re talking about services for trafficking victims,” he said.

At the St. James Infirmary, “We have people who have been in situations where they feel that they wanted to leave, but are not willing to bring criminal charges against the person,” he continued.

Nova also described a distinction between the terms “child” and “minor.”

“People have choices in how they use their bodies, and that includes youth. We are living in a world where sometimes people have to choose options that are not ideal,” he said. 

McFaye painted a similar picture, saying that “sex work is a form of work that all genders do sex work can make a lot more money than other options.”

“It allows me to do my political work as well as work a few times a week, instead of working at McDonalds. When I was 17 years old I tried to get a job, couldn’t find anything but shitty house cleaning jobs. Then some sex workers I knew showed me the ropes, and my life’s been a lot better ever since,” she said.

I described a similar situation, in which a minor chooses prostitution to make desperately needed money or escape an abusive situation, to Bates. “There are going to be people that make that claim,” he responded. “There’s no doubt about it. Part of the phenomenon is that a lot of people that are being abused, when they’re being abused, don’t even realize that they’re being abused. That’s a big issue,” said Bates. “People have made the claim, they did what they had to do in a difficult circumstance, and they don’t really see themselves as being a victim of crime. And what I’m suggesting is, that’s not uncommon, it’s part of the victimology actually.” 

He added, “I’m speaking specifically to people that are being trafficked. What you described doesn’t sound as much like a trafficking situation.”

But the law doesn’t allow for that kind of nuance. 

“That is a clear distinction that we want to draw. This is focused on commercial sexual exploitation of children,” Bates said. “When you become 18, you’re given a set of rights and you’re treated differently under the law.”


The HEAT Unit’s model is unique, and if the conference has its intended consequences, it may be replicated throughout the country.

For minors that the HEAT unit identifies as CSEC, “The goal is to try to stabilize them, to figure out what services they need, what situation they came from and figure out how we can get that child back on track,” Bates told me.

“Sometimes, that requires that we detain them for a period of time so we can figure out what services are necessary. That’s somewhat controversial, because some people say that’s not appropriate. We believe that it’s in the interest of these girls initially, to figure out what’s necessary. That to turn them back on the street means to turn your back on them, period.”

Many sex workers’ rights groups, however, argue for antoher solution entirely- decriminalization of prostitution. Part of the argument for decriminalization is that sex workers would feel more comfortable coming to police with reports that they are their colleagues had been victims of crimes like rape, assault or theft. 

As Nova said, “California is currently using anti-trafficking federal funds to target all sex workers. They say, if we arrest a bunch of sex workers, some of them are going to be trafficked. This has not proven to be very effective, whereas decriminalization would result in people, who are in coercive work situations, feeling more comfortable coming forward and asking for help.

“They need an evaluation of what kind of practices are going on and what results they’re turning out,” Nova said. “A study where they have conversations with people who have been arrested and detained and talk about what their life was like, what was detrimental and what was beneficial.”

For some of the more anarchist-leaning protesters, however, the police should play no role in the solution.

“What we think would help is if we as sex workers come together is if we come together and combat this exploitation,” McFaye told me.

I asked if there was anything the police could do.

“No,” said McFaye. “They can turn in their badges. That’s what they could do.” 

When the sex workers’ rights movement took off in the ’60s, they joined the debate that had been going on surrounding prostitution and policing for a century. The movement continues- and on Wednesday, a distinctly anti-capitalist side of it made noise. These groups may be piping up more, as the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act, which would increase funding and resources for policing sex traffickers, goes to the ballot this November.

Too dope to be free


But it is! No ticket price required, but you might want to show up early for the wildly popular Queeriosity. 

It’s Youth Speaks’ annual queer poetry slam. The mostly high school age poets who will lay their stunningly well-worded wisdom upon you will be having fun tomorrow night, but they are not messing around. 

Neither is Youth Speaks. The national San Francisco-based organization works with 30,000 Bay Area youth per year, from school assembly performances to free after school poetry workshops to slams. Veteran Youth Speaks poet Milani Pelley will be co-hosting this year’s Queeriostiy show. Although a raging fire prevented me from meeting up with Pelley in Berkeley today, she told me over the phone about life, art, politics, and the aweomeness that Queeriosity attendees can expect. 

Pelley wrote her first poem at age 12.

“Actually a young lady who also was with Youth Speaks, she got me into writing,” Pelley told me. “In the 7th grade we were kind of tom boys, we were hanging out on the basketball courts and she said hey, want to hear a poem?  And she was little, like five feet,” Pelley laughed. 

“And everyone stopped what they were doing and listened. And after that, I went home and wrote a poem.  Because I said, this is how you get people to listen to you? I want to try it!”

She never stopped. Pelley went to Youth Speaks workshops at age 15, and later served on their Youth Board. She now makes it as an artist, working for Youth Speaks as a Poet Mentor and making jewelry on the side.

Pelley said that poetry sustained her through difficult times. “Once I was able to write down everything that I was going through and work out my pain and sadness I was able to see the bigger picture and really find a solution of how I was going to heal” she told me.

“It was basically me being my own therapist. Because you know how they take notes on you? I was taking notes on myself.”

I asked if Pelley sees her poetry as political.

“I talk about race, or I talk about sexuality, I talk about police brutality. These are regular things in my life,” said Pelley. “But people think it’s political or controversial. And some people think I should be considered pro-woman. People think it’s political because it’s a feminist perspective but I think Its just women being powerful as they should be.”

For one example of the personal-is-political-is-ridiculously-awesome Queeriosity experience, here’s a take on SF Pride from Yosimar Reyes at the 2010 Queeriosity slam. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdZpRiOsdS8

If that doesn’t convince you, let Pelley: “I definitely think this is going to be an amazing show. It’s free, its way too dope to be free. Personally I think, they should be paying these youths because they’re very courageous, they’re very talented and what is going to be shown tomorrow shouldn’t be missed.”

15th Annual Queeriosity

Fri/15, 7pm

LGBT Center

1800 Market, SF






Solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, Audre Lourde Room, Women’s Building, 3548 18th St., SF; www.womensbuilding.org. 6:30pm, free. This panel discussion on the use of solitary confinement in the criminal justice system comes soon after a class action lawsuit challenging solitary confinement in California prisons. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed the lawsuit, Ruiz v. Brown, May 31 on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison. The plaintiffs have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement, generally spending at least 22 hours per day alone in windowless cells, and often denied letters, visits, any sunlight, or time spent outdoors. Many of the plaintiffs also participated in last year’s hunger strikes against inhumane conditions in prison, including solitary confinement. This lawsuit may be the crucial next step in their fight.


India to Ireland, Sports Basement, 1590 Bryant, SF; www.indiatoireland.org. A brother and sister who rode bicylces12,000 km from India to Ireland are back with photos and stories. See what they saw and hear the tales at this fundraiser for Room to Read. The international nonprofit works “to promote literacy and gender equality in education by establishing libraries, constructing classrooms, publishing local-language children’s books, training educators and supporting girls’ education.”


Art, culture and resistance, Redstone building, 2940 16th St., SF; www.norcalsocialism.org. 6pm, $5-10 suggested donation. What’s the music of today’s social justice movement? If it’s anyone, it’s The Coup, and frontman Boots Riley. Riley has written and performed powerful and revolutionary music for decades, from hip hop edutainment concerts that promoted efforts like the Women’s Economic Project Agenda and Copwatch to traveling guerilla hip hop concerts in protest of Prop 21 in 2000. Recently, he’s been organizing with Occupy Oakland. In July, he’ll be teaching a workshop at the Socialism 2012 conference in Chicago; the next month his book, Lyrics in Context, will be released. On Saturday he’ll discuss a tradition he helps to keep alive in Oakland: how art and resistance work together. Refreshments and mingling to follow.

Juneteenth festival, parade starts at African American Arts & Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., SF; www.sfjuneteenth.org. Parade at 11am, festival runs through June 17. Start summer off right with the biggest Juneteenth festival on the West Coast. Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery and celebrates African American heritage, and this year will mark the 62nd annual Juneteenth in the Fillmore District. The two-day festival kicks off with a parade, followed by a family-friendly weekend complete with a classic car and motorcycle show, basketball games, fashion show, petting zoo, pony rides, live entertainment, community info booths and health fair, and more.


African American veterans and the Civil Rights Movement, Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph, Oakl; www.marxistlibr.org. 10:30am-12:30pm, free. Despite growing up in a United States that still had Jim Crow laws, African Americans fought in wars throughout the 20th century. When many of them returned and joined in civil rights and black liberation movements, however, they risked their lives once again. Perhaps best known is Medgar Evers, civil rights leader and World War II soldier who was assassinated by a Ku Klux Klan member in 1963. This event will explore the many veterans who joined civil rights struggles, their reasons for doing so, and how, in many cases, experiences in military service prompted involvement in the struggle back home. It will also feature a screening of the documentary Negroes With Guns, which follows the life of Army and Marine Corps veteran Robert F. Williams, who later took up arms against violent racist groups like the KKK as part of his work with the Black Armed Guard.

Occupy Caravan takes off to the National Gathering


This looks familiar!

Jan. 17, we proposed Occupy Nation, an idea that those energized and organized by Occupy come together on July 4, 2012 for a national gathering to get some planning done. We also proposed that the journey across the US be a part of the action, and that people get together in vans for a freedom-ride inspired experience. Well, it’s happening- although, of course, it wasn’t all our idea. But they are using our cover art!

The Occupy Caravan is an ever-expanding crew of people getting together for a two-week journey across the US. There are two starting points, Los Angeles and San Francisco- and the San Francisco caravan is taking off June 11. The caravans will stop at Occupy sites along the way for protests, education and entertainment, before arriving in Philadelphia for the June 30 Occupy National Gathering.

The poster declares, “bring tents!” But according to an Occupy Caravan organizer known as Buddy, sleeping arrangements that won’t risk police meddling are planned at every stop.

“We have a bunch of secure and fun locations- there’s a slumber party at one, a march and then staying at a church at another, a supporter’s camp ground where we can park the RVs,” said Buddy.

“We’re not risking people getting arrested,” he said. “Everything is legal and nonviolent.”

In theory, anyone who wants to can show up, on foot or with a vehicle, and join the caravan. But if you want to secure a spot, according to Buddy, it’s best to sign up online beforehand.

“We’re getting 30 to 50 calls and emails a day about rides,” Buddy told me of the last chaotic week before the trip launches.

The National Gathering isn’t the only nationwide Occupy plan for this summer. It isn’t the only one in Philadelphia either. Or for the July 4 weekend. There’s also the 99 Percent Declaration, billed as a “Continental Congress 2.0”

It looks like these big get-togethers are part of the form Occupy will take this summer. What with a big and chaotic May Day, an even more tumultuous anti-Nato convergence in Chicago, and continuing home defenses, occupations of public spaces, and innumerable local actions across the country, the Occupy movement is in a very different state than it was in the winter when the Gathering and the Caravan were in their beginning planning stages.

“The movement has grown,” Buddy told me. “It’s less than a year old. It was an infant early on, and grew very quickly, but its getting stronger. We’re going back to the simply core message of economic equality and justice.”

After the National Gathering, the caravan will join the Occupy Guitarmy for its “99 Mile March” to New York. The Guitarmy is a travelling group of musicians that bills itself as “the world’s first open source band,” best known for its march on May 1 in New York City, led by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.

As we said in the Occupy America proposal: “The important thing is to let this genie out of the bottle, to move Occupy into the next level of politics, to use a convention, rally, and national event to reassert the power of the people to control our political and economic institutions — and to change or abolish them as we see fit.” One thing is clear: Occupy hasn’t given up yet.

A range of rage at Obama visit


Hundreds gathered in the financial district today as President Obama came through San Francisco for a brief visit, consisting of a high-priced fundraising lunch and no public events. A mostly silent crowd waited patiently to watch the president’s motorcade drive by this afternoon, first at 1 Market St and then at 456 California, before he went off to SFO. On the crowd’s sidelines, handfuls of dissenters from various groups held signs and spoke up with a diverse range of reasons for protesting the president.

On Market, the motorcade went past the Occupy SF campsite at 101 Market St, where a dozen protesters had gathered. Their signs and chants focused on the National Defense Authorization Act. Sections 1021 and 1022 of the act, which the president signed Dec. 31 2011, have been interpreted as allowing for indefinite detention of terrorism suspects in the United States without charge or trial.

National groups Code Pink and World Can’t Wait brought attention to what they called Obama’s war crimes. 

“Code Pink is asking Obama to kill the kill list,” said Nancy Mancias, an organizer with the womens’ peace organization, referring to a list of terror suspects targeted for US attacks that Obama personally oversees. “We want more transparency in the CIA drone program, and victim compensation to the families of those who have been killed in drone strikes.”

World Can’t Wait demonstrators emphasized that Guantanamo Bay detention facility is still open and housing almost 200 prisoners, despite President Obama signing an executive order to close it days after taking office.

For demonstrators from the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace, it’s imperative that the president stop oil drilling in the Arctic.

“There are a couple small permits they still need to get, but Shell is ready to drill in the Arctic in July,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. 

Sakashita said that drilling there could be dangerous for residents of the region, as well as polar bears, walruses and seals. 

“The conditions are terrible for drilling,” said Sakashita, citing low visibility and icy terrain. “If they can’t stop an oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, how will they stop it in the Arctic?” 

If these conditons do indeed lead to a disastrous oil spill, Greenpeace volunteers will be there first hand to witness it, as the group plans to send vessels of their own to monitor the operations.

Tea party protesters and Ron Paul supporters also came out to see the president. 

“It’s an issue of competence,” said Charles Cagnon, a protester who held a sign calling President Obama a “bad hire.”

“A president is our employee, not a king.”

But Cognan wasn’t too pleased with the competition either. 

“I was a Ron Paul kind of guy,” he said, “but I’ll take Romney. He’s level-headed and competent, and he likes arithmetic.”

“Obama doesn’t like arithmetic,” he continued, as evidenced, according to Cagnon, by the senate rejection of Obama’s budget May 16.

“Bush was terrible,” Cagnon added. “Romney is uninspiring.”

Cagnon and his group sported “Nobama” gear, Code Pink protesters came with signature pink clothing and signs, and a Greenpeace volunteer was dressed as “Frostpaw the polar bear.” Focused for the day on a common enemy of sorts, no conflicts arose between the divergent protest groups. For his part, Cagnon added that despite his right leanings, he loves KPFA radio, and that he believes the tea party has a distrust of government in common with Occupy.

“I’m just glad there’s people out there dissenting,” he said. “We need people like that.”

Wage theft task force approved


The Board of Supervisors June 5 voted unanimously to create a wage theft task force. The task force will make recommendations to city departments concerning the prevention and correction of wage theft in the city.

Wage theft refers to employers paying less than their employees are due, and can include not paying extra for overtime, not allowing breaks, confiscating tips, and paying less than minimum wage. A 2010 study of labor conditions in Chinatown restaurants conducted by the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) found that some 76 percent of employees did not receive overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours in a week, and roughly half were not being paid San Francisco’s minimum wage.

The industries where wage theft is prominent range from restaurants and retail to domestic work. 

Approval of the task force is a step forward for groups like CPA that have been working to combat wage theft for years. It builds on the wage theft prevention ordiance, passed last July. The ordinance doubled the fine for employers who retaliate against workers that seek recourse for wage theft, and enhanced the power of the cit’s Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement (OLSE).

The Progressive Workers Alliance- a coalition of CPA, Young Workers United, the Filipino Community Center and others- advocated for the task force and helped bring in dozens of supporters to the meeting. 

Workers who suspect that their employers have violated local labor laws often come to these groups for help. Between the OLSA and advocacy groups, the people following up with these claims see a widespread problem. According to Shaw San Liu of the CPA, there are “probably hundreds if not thousands coming forward every year, and there are many more who don’t.” 

“There have been experiments in coordinating with the City Attorney and with the health department to revoke food permits,” said Liu. 

She hopes “the task force will build off these successful examples and see how we can expand them to a more comprehensive strategy.”


After an adorable election, free drinks at El Rio


The mood was relaxed at El Rio tonight as the League of Young Voters held their post-elections party. There wasn’t much to today’s ballot- as the League put it in the intro to their Pissed Off Voter Guide, “Aw, what a cute little election!”

The League endorsed a yes vote on Propositions 28, 29 and B, and a no vote on Prop A, and it seems the results all went with these endorsements. 

Jeremy Pollock, a member of the steering committee of the League of Pissed Off Voters’ San Francisco chapter, said that he was especially pleased about Prop B’s passing. The measure will prioritize money for upkeep of Coit Tower and the surrounding Pioneer Park and limit private events in the iconic tower.

For Pollock, the fight over Prop B was like “David and Goliath,” especially when tens of thousands of dollars got poured into the anti-Prop B campaign at the last minute.

“It’s a statement against the privatization of Rec and Parks,” said Pollock.

Pollock was also pleased to see Wendy Aragon and Peter Laterbourn doing well in the DCCC assembly District 19 race.

But mostly, the attendants at the party were pleased to get a free drink for showing their “I voted” sticker. If you paid for a drink in San Francisco today, then you’re not a true lover of democracy.


Dream not deferred



On Monday, June 4, students at the Meadows-Livingstone School rehearsed for their annual end-of-the-year performance. It was bleak and rainy out, but the small, essentially one-room schoolhouse that houses the private elementary school was bursting with energy.

Twenty kids, first through sixth graders, were practicing: they sang Wade in the Water and a welcoming song in Swahili. During The Greatest Love of All, a seven-year old crooned her solo: “People need someone to look up to, I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs.” But then the kids broke out into the Neville Brothers’ Sister Rosa, (“Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark! You started our freedom movement!”) and then a rap about Malcolm X.

At this school, located at Potrero and 25th streets, those needs are fulfilled.

This end-of-the-year performance will showcase what the children have learned all year in an elementary school education built around lessons on African and African American history and culture. As Gail Meadows, the school’s founder and principal, puts it: “We have an Afro-centric school. We have a classical African Civilization class, and have books, videos, games, focused on African Americans. The kids learn African songs, they learn African American field songs.”

Meadows says is offers more than the cursory black history that is usually taught: “At most schools, you’ll learn about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, and that’s it.”

All of the children at Meadows-Livingstone are of African descent. “We’re not nationalists,” Meadows says. “The kids understand the world is of many colors, and you can’t live in this world by yourself.”

But spending some crucial elementary school time specifically for African Americans, Meadows believes, does wonders for her students’ abilities to navigate that world.

As Meadows tells it, she’s motivated partly because she didn’t get the same experience as a child. “I lived in a small campus town and went to an all-white school. My mother used to say that she had to undo everything that was done.”

Her education included books shaped by her parents to include black children (“They would search tirelessly for children’s books representing people of color, or they would just change the stories”) and distrust of television (“My father would say, why watch something that doesn’t validate you as a child?”). At her school, she recalls being in “a play that included a line, ‘Don’t drink coffee. It will make you black, and that’s bad.'”

For children in San Francisco today, Meadows says this feeling of belonging is as important as ever. “There’s an exodus of people of color out of San Francisco,” she says. “That means children of color are in classrooms with people who are not educated about African American culture. And they’re educated by a media that gives them a skewed view of who they are.”

This lack of education can often lead to racist bullying. a large reason why many students transfer to Meadows’ school.

“There are students that transfer into my school after having bad experiences, and they don’t know how to confront the person who said something offensive to them,” says Meadows. “In my school they learn to confront. An angry confrontation isn’t productive. It should be direct, they should be able to explain, here’s the real story about that stereotype.”

This education helps when kids leave the Meadows-Livingstone school for middle schools across the city.

“People ask them questions like, are you in a gang? Do you have a house? All these stereotypes they’ve read about, all of a sudden they’re right there,” Meadows says. “If you know who you are, you can live through that. Its easier.”

At a recent visit to the school, some students described their own experiences.

“Sometimes, when I was at my old school, they talked about blacks badly,” said one student. “They said they were stupid and dumb. And I still didn’t believe it, but now I learned about my heritage and I learned that we’re stronger and we have more spirit.”

Or, as he said, “Black power makes me feel strong.”

A 12-year-old who would be leaving the school soon told me a story of how the school influenced. “One of the kids in my neighborhood, he said, ‘We’re all niggers,'” he explained. “I said, ‘No we’re not. We’re regular black kids.'”

As another child put it, “Black power means that you have strength and nobody can push you around, like, like you’re just a little duck and everyone else is a coyote.”

From a long line of teachers, Meadows’ life work has been dedicated to educating and empowering young people. She taught her first class at age 10, before studying education at Kansas State University. She was teaching at Montessori schools when she decided to start her own.

Meadows-Livingstone school came out of a wave of alternative education informed by 1960s liberation movements. The Black Panther party, a part of the history that the children Meadows-Livingstone learn, had a 10-point platform laying out the ways that racism intersects with inequality in education, along with housing, treatment by the justice system, and other facets of society.

Point five says, “We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else.”

Meadows-Livingstone continues this part of the Panther legacy, and not just ideologically.

“At one point in our school we had maybe 15 kids whose relatives had been Panthers,” says Meadows.

“We have a grandfather who brings fruit every week,” she says, continuing the spirit of the Free Breakfast Program. “And he was a Panther.”

The children also learn about prominent Panthers. “They play a Panther tag game, and they would cry if they couldn’t be Angela Davis or Huey P. Newton,” she said.

On Fridays, the children read poetry. “They really like to recite poems written by African Americans, it gives them hope. They’re stuck on Langston Hughes, they like Gwendolyn Brooks too.”

The school costs $700 a month, but many of the students are subsidized by The Basic Fund, a private foundation.

Meadows also uses partnerships with city institutions to enhance the curriculum. The children spend time every week swimming at Garfield public pool on Treat Street, and playing tennis, and partnering with Acrosports for tumbling lessons. The swimming lessons hold a particularly strong symbolism, as generations of African Americans in Jim Crow states were denied opportunities to swim.

Tributes to Black historical figures decorate the school’s walls. Children’s art on “Black Inventors” and “Louis Armstrong, the king of jazz” are displayed, along with a large version of the iconic photograph of John Carlos and Tommie Smith doing the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics.

When asked about Malcolm X, 20 hands shot up to talk about a figure important to their studies.

As one child explained it: “Malcolm X, he said if somebody’s hits you or hurts your family, he’s not going to turn the other cheek. He’s going to fight back. He’s like, you hurt my family, I’ll hurt yours. Martin Luther King, he said if a white person hits you, don’t fight back, make peace.”

“That’s nonviolence” another chimed in.

When listing their personal heroes, many kids included King and Malcolm. “Muhammad Ali, Yele, and you, Gail!” one exclaimed, the middle hero referring to the school’s drumming and African Civilization teacher, Akinyele Sadiq.

In the summer, most of the students go off to Camp Winnarainbow, the hippie-circus camp that Meadows calls “almost like an extension of our school.” Many of the children have parents who attended the school, and when I ask if they’re excited to graduate, all the kids frown and one says, “I don’t want to leave!” Others are more calm at the question. The school provides a safe haven for bullied kids and a source of ethnic pride. One 12-year-old tells me that when he goes to middle school next year, he’ll make new friends but, “I won’t follow them if they do something bad.” He sighs when I ask if he will be sad to leave. “Yeah,” he says, “But we all have to move on.”

Chevron meets amid angry shareholders, liability, and environmental disasters


About 40 gathered outside Chevron’s San Francisco offices yesterday to mark its annual shareholder meeting. The demonstration was organized by OccupySF’s environmental justice working group, and used art and street theater to criticize Chevron’s involvement in hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas extraction process that may threaten parts of California’s water supply.

The afternoon protest came after a larger group showed up to Chevron’s world headquarters in San Ramon for the shareholder meeting that morning. According to Ginger Cassady of Rainforest Action Network (RAN), who helped organize the protest, it was a “big, colorful demonstration” with “over 100” in attendance.

Groups like the True Cost of Chevron and RAN’s Change Chevron campaign have been pressuring the company for years on a variety of issues. This year, workers and residents in areas where Chevron operates from Ecuador, Brazil, Angola and Nigeria travelled to San Ramon to voice their concerns. These ranged from oil-contaminated land in the Ecuadorian Amazon to an explosion on an oil rig off the shore of Nigeria in January. In that explosion, two workers were killed and more than 100 local people left the city for fear of contamination and other health risks caused by a fire that burned for months before going out on its own, despite Chevron’s efforts to contain the flames.

About 30 activists from around the world entered the meeting with proxy votes, according to Cassady. None interrupted the meeting, instead waiting their turn to speak. There were no arrests.

Some people with proxy votes, however, were not allowed access to the meeting. João Antonio de Moraes, national coordinator of Brazil’s United Federation of Oil Workers (FUP), was not allowed access, along with two representatives from United Steel Workers. Another worker, at the meeting to present in support of a resolution for worker safety, was initially blocked from entering but allowed access after a dispute, but had his presentation notes confiscated.

At the meeting, Chevron CEO John Watson announced “tremendous performance momentum” for the company, with “earnings of $26.9 billion” in the past year, according to a press release.

“Watson reinforced Chevron’s long-standing culture of safety and environmental stewardship, and resulting industry-leading performance,” the press release states. “He also highlighted Chevron’s commitment to partnerships that address health, education and economic development issues in the communities where the company operates, and Chevron’s global social investments of approximately $1 billion over the past six years.”

But Chevron is also suffering financially due to liability following oil spills, explosions, and contamination, a concern protest organizers say Watson failed to address. Representatives from Chevron did not return calls for comment.

The company recently settled with plaintiffs in Ecuador after an appeals court there ordered that they pay $18 billion in fines for spilling and deliberately dumping a total of 345 million gallons of crude oil in the Amazon rainforest of northeastern Ecuador.

Stockholders in attendance voted on eleven proposals, including seven submitted by shareholders, at the meeting. All of the votes went with the recommendation of the Board of Directors- including a proposal to reform the Board of Directors itself. That proposal asked that the Board of Directors find an independent Chair to head it up, as the current Chair is Chevron’s CEO, John Watson. The Board of Directors has the authority to incentivize and, if necessary, fire CEOs.

“We believe this presents a conflict of interest that can result in excessive management influence on the board of weaken the board’s management oversight,” read the proposal.

The proposal, along with several others, mentioned the Ecuador lawsuit, saying “we believe that independent board leadership is key at Chevron, given the questions raised about the oversight by the board of the CEO’s management and disclosure to shareholders of the financial and operational risks to the company from the $18 billion dollar judgment in the Ecuadorian courts in 2011.”

“With all these major legal liabilities that Chevron is facing a lot of people are concerned,” said Cassady.  “Chevron is profitable at the expense of worker safety, the environment, human rights and our economy.”

Other stockholder proposals dealt with safety, transparency, and the environmental impacts of Chevron’s international operations. A proposal asking Chevron to disclose money spent on lobbying received approximately 23 percent of votes, a proposal asking for a report on what the company has done to reduce the risk of accidents like the Niger Delta explosion received only eight percent of the vote, and a proposal that Chevron nominate a new board member with environmental expertise failed as well with 23 percent of votes cast.

Shareholders also voted on a proposal that Chevron release a report on the financial, environmental, and community impacts of hydraulic fracturing, the focus of the afternoon protest in San Francisco. The proposal received about 27 percent of the vote.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of extracting natural gas by injecting dense underground rock formations with a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals. It has been hailed as an environmentally friendly alternative to oil drilling, as natural gas burns cleaner than oil.

But protest movements have coalesced around fracking practices in the Appalachian mountains region and above the Marcellus Shale, as residents report toxic chemicals in their water supplies, endangering drinking water as well as water used for raising livestock and growing food.

The 2010 documentary Gasland included now notorious footage of residents near a Pennsylvania fracking operations whose tap water bursts into flames.

Fracking operations in California are less well known. The protest outside of Chevron’s San Francisco offices yesterday drew attention to this issue- and the extensive list of chemicals present in fracking solution.

“It’s happening in California, but it’s not really talked about” said Ellen Osuna. Osuna now lives in San Francisco, but moved from New York, where she says she worried about her water supply since it comes from aquifers near the Marcellus Shale.

The protest featured an 180-foot banner, painted by artist Ruthie Sakheim. The banner listed more than 70 chemicals found in fracking fluid, in alphabetical order.

“It’s not even halfway through the A’s” said Sakheim.

She also handed out bottles of water oil-colored water labeled “Frackelicious Frackwater Unsustainable Energy Drink.” The label listed some of the more toxic chemicals involved in the process under “ingredients” along with “no preservatives, no artificial flavors, 100 percent poison.”
According to a report released by the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce, fracking fluid contains 750 chemicals, which “ranged from generally harmless and common substances, such as salt and citric acid, to extremely toxic substances, such as benzene and lead” as well as many carcinogens, according to the report.

These chemicals, along with gas itself, can enter water supplies when the casing on wells cracks or when wastewater containers spill.

The Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005 specifically exempts hydraulic fracturing, a lack of regulation known as the Halliburton Loophole.

Fracking currently takes place in nine California counties, including Sacramento, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Monterey.  But the extent of hydraulic fracturing in California isn’t well known, and yesterday, the California Senate rejected SB1054, which would have required energy companies to notify landowners before using hydraulic fracturing on or near their land.

In between chants of  “ban fracking now!” Sakheim told me that she spent several months painting the banner, and plans to continue the project of listing the chemicals involved in fracking in artistic form.

“I have three kids,” said Sakheim. “I really worry about what will happen to them with these corporations having so much control to influence government.”

Reduce, re-use, replace



Greg Gaar knows the names, characteristics, and birds and butterflies attracted by every plant in the native plant nursery that he tends. Last week, he proudly toured me through the garden, pointing out plants like Yarrow ("great for bees and butterflies") and the beautiful flowers of the Crimson Columbine, of which Gaar believes there are "only two others left in San Francisco."

Gaar has been working at 780 Frederick St., where he now tends the garden, for decades. His mother went to high school on the same block, the old site of Polytechnic High. Before Gaar became the gardener, he ran the recycling center that Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) operates next to the garden. Now, the pioneering green operation he helped build may shut down.

At the center, people can recycle their bottles, cans, paper products, and even used vegetable oil, and make some cash along the way. Those who use the center say it's a green and dignified way to make some money.

But residents in the surrounding area have complained for years that the center is loud and attracts homeless people. They also say that, due to their proximity to the recycling center, the chance that their trash will get rifled through at night is greater than in other parts of the city.

Citing these concerns, the center's landlord, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (RPD), has spent the past few years trying to evict the HANC recycling center. The center got an eviction notice in December 2010. HANC's lawyer, Robert DeVries, successfully challenged the eviction. RPD sued for eviction again in June 2011, and that matter may finally come to a close June 6 when it will be heard by a three-judge panel in SF Superior Court.


RPD officials cite neighbor concerns, claims that the recycling center's services are outdated and obsolete, and the idea of planting a community garden in its place. In fact, the Planning Commission approved a community garden in the place of the recycling center last year.

Since then, HANC staff got to work building its own community garden. In just a year, they erected 50 beds from recycled wood, and according to Gaar, about 100 neighbors have plots that they currently tend.

As the recycling center's director, Ed Dunn, tells it, the infrastructure already in place at the recycling center made building the garden come naturally. HANC was able to fund it with income from the recycling operation, and plant it with seeds from the native plant nursery.

Dunn emphasizes that no city money was used to build the current community garden. The city had laid out a $250,000 budget for the garden after it was approved and designed in 2010.

A bundle of documents containing arguments against HANC, provided by RPD, includes details of the Golden Gate Park Master Plan, surveys indicating a great need for community gardens in San Francisco, and letters and statements from neighbors complaining about the recycling center.

A 2004 survey discussed in the documents found that community gardens are among the top "recreation facilities most important to respondent households." Community gardens came in fifth in importance, after walking and biking trails, pools, fitness facilities, and running and walking tracks. The documents include a detailed map of the "Golden Gate Park community garden preliminary plan," imagined at HANC's current site.

The map was drawn up in November 2010, the same month that a meeting of the Recreation and Parks Commission laid out the reasons that HANC had to go. Minutes from the meeting include the city's need for community gardens as well as some neighbors' disdain for the recycling center in that site. It argues that the needs of recyclers can be well met with other recycling centers in the city.

Seventeen other recycling centers operate in San Francisco. Most are located in neighborhoods on the city's edges, with a few in the Outer Sunset and Excelsior, although most are located in Bayview-Hunters Point.

But the commission doesn't seem concerned with potential nuisance to neighbors in directing more traffic to these other recycling centers, or with the difficulty poor recyclers have in getting out there. "The San Francisco Department of the Environment is confident that recyclers that use the facility will take their material to another existing site for proper handling," according to the meeting's minutes.

The commission is, however, concerned about a nuisance that the recycling center creates for Haight-Ashbury neighbors, according to the minutes. The notes cite "neighborhood noise, truck traffic, litter, and public safety concerns as negative impacts related to continuing operations at the site."


But is this really just another case of resentment against people who are poor and homeless?

HANC's Dunn argues that, in fact, much of the material that those who use the center bring in isn't taken from residential waste bins. Besides, it's not technically "HANC's CRV redemption program" that encourages recycling as a revenue source for the less fortunate. State law requires that consumers be able to redeem bottles and cans for cash.

The meeting minutes argue that the recycling center "enables illegal camping and illicit and unhealthy behavior in Golden Gate Parks' eastern end and in neighborhoods in close proximity to the site."

Supposed evidence for the position cites letters to the editor published in the San Francisco Chronicle, a frequent outlet for anger at the homeless. One concerned resident, Karen Growney, asserts that the center "provides no benefit to people living in Haight/Cole Valley."

HANC disputes this, saying that many neighbors use the center. They have beneficial relationships with many nearby businesses, including New Ganges restaurant just across the street. Its website, kezargardens.com, shows many smiling neighbors who use the center to recycle.

Notable among them is actor/activist Danny Glover, a Haight resident since 1957. In a video on the website, Glover — interviewed while in his car dropping off recycling at the center — says, "I would be dismayed and not happy if we close this wonderful recycling center down…It would be a tragedy, and a great loss to this city and this community."

In her letter, Growney also laments that her family "had to pay a considerable amount to build a wrought-iron, locked gate to keep people out of our trash." Another letter, written by neighborhood resident Curtis Lee, asks that the city "eliminate the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center," saying that, "It is a blight on the neighborhood and an attraction to rodents and homeless carts."

Of course, those carts come with people. HANC takes issue with the assertion that their services "enable" or "encourage" homelessness, as well as the assumption that the recycling center only serves the homeless.

Dunn says that many of the recycling center' clientele are elderly immigrants, often housed, who contribute to their family income with cash from recyclables. He also insists that "most of the people that use the recycling center don't camp in the park."

Homeless people certainly do use the center, but it's not clear whether its presence truly "enables illegal camping and illicit and unhealthy activity." Dunn finds it laughable to say that "the center creates homelessness." It's a lot of work to cart around recyclables all day, he says, and the dedicated recyclers are generally not the same people that ask tourists on Haight Street for spare change.


There is a great diversity in how homeless San Franciscans spend their days, and recycling is in many ways a specialized, committed way of life. In her 2010 ethnography of homeless San Franciscans, Hobos, Hustlers and Backsliders, Teresa Gowan focuses on the "recyclers," the segment of the homeless population who have made a habit of collecting bottles and cans as a way of getting by.

"The phenomenon that captured my interest was the steady stream of shopping carts loaded high with glass, cans, cardboard, and scrap metal rolling past my door," she wrote.

Some of her interview subjects show disdain for the recyclers, who work hard all day and don't get much cash out of it. Dealing drugs, stealing, or panhandling can be more lucrative and less backbreaking. One subject, a man named Del who, according to Gowan, mostly stayed in the Tenderloin, thought the "20, 25 bucks on a big load" that recyclers usually made was pathetic. "'And that's for heaving around a big old rattling buggy all day,' Del said pityingly. 'I can make 15 bucks inside'a two minutes.'"

But many of her interview subjects prefer to recycle anyway. Gowan describes another subject, Sam, as "a champion recycler, muscular and persistent, who often put in nine, ten hours on the trot." She quotes Sam saying, "Without this, I'd kill myself. Couple a days, I'd do myself in…. You get some guys, seems like they can deal with homelessness. I'm not one of them."

The book argues that "pro recyclers" included a "large core group who had created an intense web of meaning around their work as a kind of blue-collar trade."


Recycling for cash may not be a respected or taxed job "blue collar" job. But it's certainly green.

Since the center began operating in the 1970s, mainstream attitudes towards environmentalism and sustainability have shifted dramatically. The HANC recycling center was a product of the environmental movement, and helped usher in the widespread support for recycling.

Now, with curbside recycling fully functional in San Francisco, many call the recycling center's work obsolete. But HANC argues that the city needs all the help it can get if it is to reach its goal for zero waste in 2020. It also employs 10 people, and Dunn argues that it would be foolish of the city to eliminate those stable green jobs.

HANC has also helped move along the trend towards community gardens that RPD is now embracing so thoroughly that, ironically, it could lead to the recycling center's demise. HANC helped underwrite the Garden for the Environment project as well as the Victory Garden planted outside City Hall in 2008. Dunn says that the staff enjoyed the challenge of building the garden, and would be interested in helping the city by creating more gardens without city money.

Gaar says he's committed to continuing to work for a healthier planet, regardless of what happens to the center. He and the other HANC staff have come to see the eviction process as symbolic of a direction in which the city's heading, that also includes last year's Sit-Lie Ordinance: decisions designed to shuffle homeless people out of wealthy neighborhoods.
The arguments for the community garden, however, seem to indicate a strong desire for a greener city. It's not easy balancing environmental initiatives with NIMBY woes — especially when your backyard is Golden Gate Park.

State of debate


On May 24, a panel of three Jewish activists and authors from the Bay Area will discuss the historical figures and ancestors that inspire their work today. The event was originally scheduled to take place at the Jewish Community Library, operated by the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), which is largely supported by the Jewish Community Federation (JCF, or “the Federation”).

Leaders at the BJE canceled the event in January after discussions about its content with organizers of the panel, who then found another venue: Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. That seemed like a harmless turn of events that has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least not directly.

But with the current state of discourse in the Bay Area’s Jewish community, just beneath the surface are complex dynamics that raise issues of censorship, bonds forged by religion, whether certain criticisms of Israel should be off-limits, and a battle for the hearts of minds of Jews in the diaspora.

Anti-war activist Rae Abileah has found herself at the middle of this battle. She is on the panel to discuss her great uncle Joseph Abileah, an Israeli pacifist who was charged and tried in 1949 after he refused to join the army as part of Israel’s mandatory military service.

Abileah is a member of Code Pink who is outspoken about her opposition to the Israeli occupation in Palestine. The panel is meant to discuss decades-old work, not the current state of affairs domestically or in Israel, but Abileah’s inclusion made it too political for some.

In March, the panelists — which also include Julie Gilgoff and Elaine Elinson — and event organizer Diana Scott wrote an open letter to the Jewish Community Library saying, “We find it particularly troubling that an act of censorship has occurred at the Library — an institution that it supposed to be a symbol of open thought in learning in the Jewish Community.”

David Waksberg, the director of the BJE who was instrumental in the decision-making process, said it was nothing of the sort. “We had very honest, productive, and respectful discussions about why the program wasn’t for us,” he told me.

The letter concludes: “We seek to make clear that Federation policies, designed to foster the appearance of Jewish solidarity by shutting down the vital exchange of ideas in the Jewish community, are divisive and intolerable. They are also ultimately ineffective in suppressing dissent, and, paradoxically, undermine the values and mission of some of our most cherished Jewish institutions.”

“The Jewish Community Federation didn’t tell us whether or not to do this program,” Waksberg insists. “They didn’t pressure us one way or another.”

The open letter also discusses funding guidelines, adopted in 2010 by the Federation. The guidelines restrict funding for events that “endorse the BDS (boycott-divestment-sanctions) movement or positions that undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel.”



The guidelines have meaning beyond these specific circumstances. They represent a conflict in what counts as diversity of opinion, what counts as dissent, and the incredibly loaded concept of “delegitimizing Israel.”

The guidelines were a response to a controversial 2009 screening of Rachel, a documentary on the life of Rachel Corrie, a 24-year-old who was killed when she stood in front of a bulldozer on its way to level a Palestinian home. The film was screened at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival followed by speaker Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother. The film-going crowd yelled and booed, and the Federation threatened to quit funding the festival.

The next year was declared by some Jewish leaders to be the Year of Civil Discourse. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the self-described “central public affairs arm of the organized Bay Area Jewish Community,” organized a year of programming and discussion, with an aim to “elevate the level of discourse in the Jewish community when discussing Israel.” The J Weekly, the magazine of the Jewish Bay Area, reported that “[organizers] agree that the Year of Civil Discourse was a success,” though these organizers acknowledged their work was far from over.

Indeed, the controversies rage on. Two months before the Year of Civil Discourse officially ended Dec. 13, the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland canceled an exhibit, “A Child’s View from Gaza”, that would have showcased drawings by Palestinian children, after pressure from Jewish organizations.

The director of the JCRC, Doug Kahn, became a spokesperson against the exhibit, butting up against groups like the Middle East Children’s Alliance and Bend the Arc (formerly Progressive Jewish Alliance). In March, an event that would have featured author and journalist Peter Beinart lost support after the JCC of the East Bay learned that one of the event’s moderators was on the board of Bend the Arc. Add this panel to the mix, and the six months since the Year of Civil Discourse ended have proven how taboo topics like BDS and Israeli violence in Palestine remain volatile.

BDS in particular has emerged as an untouchable issue. The campaign is a result of a 2005 Palestinian call for boycott and divestment from Israeli companies, and economic sanctions on Israel. BDSmovement.net, which provides news and background information regarding BDS efforts, lists three goals to the protest: “Ending [Israel’s] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

The campaign has seen effects worldwide. Abileah has organized to promote BDS, in particular working to get Bay Area stores to stop carrying Ahava, skin-care products made in what she calls an illegal Israeli settlement in Palestine.

The BDS campaign is “a tried and true nonviolent tactic to get the Israeli government to uphold international law,” Abileah told me. “We decided to be in solidarity.”

But some Jewish leaders feel BDS goes too far.

“The term delegitimizing Israel refers to the intent to eliminate the Jewish and democratic State of Israel by portraying it as an illegitimate nation,” Kahn wrote in an email. “The boycott/divestment/sanctions movement’s leadership has made clear that this is their ultimate agenda and one of the movement’s explicit objectives would achieve that aim resulting in a dire threat to nearly half of the world’s Jewish population that lives in Israel.”

BDS is mentioned several times in the Federation funding guidelines, and stands out as the only specific example of what it means to “undermine the legitimacy of the state of Israel.”



But organizations like the Federation and the JCRC aren’t the only ones interested in the path that Israel-Palestine discourse among Bay Area Jews takes. The Reut Institute, a think tank based in Tel Aviv, “has been committed to responding to the assault on Israel’s legitimacy since 2008,” according to the introduction to its 2011 report: “San Francisco as a Delegitimization Hub.”

The report ranks San Francisco and London among the “few global hubs of delegitimization.” It also warns of the dangers of San Francisco in particular as top-delegitimizing city, noting “the role of the San Francisco Bay Area as a generator and driver of broader trends, or as a hub of social experiments…What won’t pass in San Francisco won’t pass anywhere else, and what happens in San Francisco doesn’t stay in San Francisco.'”

San Francisco gets this attention from Reut because of dissent within its Jewish community, which the institute calls globally unparalleled. “While in London delegitimization is being promoted primarily by groups that are not part of the Jewish community…an increasing number of Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area have become ‘agnostic’ towards Israel, and are fueling the delegitimization campaign.”

The report’s authors, Reut’s “national security team,” do not spend much time explaining what “delegitimizing Israel” means. When it does, BDS again stands out as one of the only concrete examples. According to the report, in the Bay Area “the number of individuals who are willing to stand up for Israel is declining while others have been fueling the delegitimization campaign, many times unintentionally, by engaging in acts of delegitimization — namely, actions or campaigns framed by their initiators as a reaction to a specific Israeli policy, which in practice aim to undermine Israel’s political and moral foundations. Examples include support for the BDS movement and the 2010 Gaza Flotilla,” a protest in which ships full of supporters and cargo tried to make it to Palestinian land in violation of an Israeli embargo.

The report labels those looking to delegitimize Israel “extremists.” It warns, however, that those questioning Israel’s policies, when rebuked by its “tradition defenders,” may be swayed into trusting the extremists. It therefore advocates a “broad tent approach,” advising that Jews in the Bay Area initiate a “community-wide deliberation” with an “aim to…drive a wedge between the extremists and those who principally support the legitimacy of Israel’s existence regardless of policy agreements.”

It’s important, according to the report, to make sure that supporters of BDS are seen as “extremists.” The “broad tent” is supposed to contain all Jews, with a diversity of opinions — except those supporting BDS and other acts of “delegitimization.” In light of this goal, the report praises the Federation’s funding guidelines and the Year of Civil Discourse.

“Through the funding guidelines drafted by a JCRC-JCF Working Group…the San Francisco Bay Area has set the standard nationally as the first American Jewish community to develop guidelines delineating red lines that go hand-in-hand with the broad tent approach,” Reut reports. “Additionally, we regard the Year of Civil Discourse…led by the JCRC, as important best practices that could be emulated in other places.”



The Bay Area’s left-leaning Jewish organizations may be influential, but under such a hot spotlight, they tread carefully. Congregation Sha’ar Zahav is one such organization. Last year, the synagogue surveyed its members to test opinions on Israel.

“In general, the survey shows that we have a liberal left-leaning congregation,” said Terry Fletcher, a member of Sha’ar Zahav who now heads a committee created to follow up on the survey results. “People tend to blame, shall we say, both sides of the conflict, both Israelis and Palestinians, somewhat equally.”

Fletcher’s committee has organized events and discussions in the wake of the survey since January. “One idea was that we would start with something non-controversial,” Fletcher told me. “But we couldn’t think of anything that everyone on the committee considers non-controversial.”

The programming has featured discussions on evolving relationships with Israel and questioned their nuances. But Fletcher says they haven’t been able to venture into BDS territory.

“I would love it if we could get to a place where we could actually address that,” Fletcher reflected. “And we would want to do it from a balanced perspective. But it’s such an emotional issue.”

There are practical concerns as well. According to Fletcher, the Federation gives a small amount of funding for scholarships for Sha’ar Zahav’s religious school. The money that funded Fletcher’s committee’s programming came from Sha’ar Zahav’s general fund, when there was enough of it. She says that the committee is now operating without a budget due to tight finances. Even so, if the committee’s programming were to breech the Federation’s funding guidelines, it might put the program in jeopardy.

“To me, that’s what’s so problematic about these guidelines,” Fletcher said. “The guidelines are saying, if you want money from us, we have restrictions on what your organization can do. Even though our programming is not funded by the Federation, because it funds something completely unrelated, it could get cut.”

Fletcher also questions that paradigm of “delegitimizing Israel.”

“I think this is a term that people who defend Israel use to label people who criticize Israel in a certain way,” she said. “Many of us would answer that it’s Israel’s own policies that are delegitimizing Israel in the eyes of the world. I don’t find it a useful term.”

Sha’ar Zahav will be hosting the Reclaiming Jewish Activism panel. Davey Shlasko, a member of the congregation who helped facilitate the new arrangement, thinks the concern about Abileah’s associations were misplaced.

“I think it is unfortunate that the predicted objection to Rae’s other work was enough of a concern to cancel an event that is actually about drawing inspiration from our ancestors,” Shlasko told me via email.

But it’s in looking back at history that the panel acquires so much meaning. “It is safe to say that living in the United States, Jews have never been more empowered, safe, and connected to the community they live in,” mused one source, who wished to remain anonymous. “It is inevitable that with such success, the need to band together changed. The group identity changes. Sometimes it’s that fight, that need to rally together, that keeps the group intact.”

For Abileah, “the event will be Jewish activists talking about our ancestors.” She’s upset about the event’s cancellation, but not surprised.

“For a lot of Jewish people it can be challenging to speak out against this issue because you don’t know where your friends stand on this, or your synagogue or even your family,” she said. “There are a lot of people who we say are PEP: progressive except Palestine. My family and community have been supportive, but I’ve gotten hate mail and threats of violence.”

“It sounds like these Jewish institutions that are censoring have so much power, like they’re the mainstream Jewish voice. But I think the majority of Jewish Americans want a resolution to the conflict and are opposed to the occupation,” she said.

And how does she think Joseph Abileah would react to this situation? “I’d like to think that he would be shocked and hurt by it,” she said. “It’s sad to see so much fracture in the Jewish community over this issue.”

June 6 hearing may spell the end of HANC recycling center


It’s just a triangle of land on Frederick Street, right next to Kezar Stadium. But the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) recycling center has been the subject of years of political battles- and depending on the results of a June 6 hearing, they may get shut down for good.

HANC got an eviction notice in December 2010. HANC’s lawyer, Robert DeVries, successfully challenged the eviction. The Recreation & Parks department sued for eviction again in in June 2011, and that matter may finally come to a close June 6. The Guardian is awaiting comment from Rec & Parks.

In December, the Planning Commission approved a plan to turn the site into a community garden. They meant a garden run by Rec & Parks, not HANC. But HANC got to work building one, and Executive Director Ed Dunn is proud to say that they did so “without a cent of taxpayer money.”

Dunn emphasizes that “over the course of the past year or so the operation has been completely transformed.” The new community garden has 50 beds, which resident gardener Greg Gaar says are divided into about 100 plots, are are planted with mostly native plants that are currently in full bloom.

“We could build one community garden like this per month at no cost to the city,” said Dunn, referencing a recent SPUR report that talked about the benefits and challenges of urban agriculture.

Said Dunn, “we can help fill in some of those challenges.”

The center has a history of working on the cutting edge of environmentally friendly trends. The site at 780 Frederick was established as a recycling center in 1974, a decade before San Francisco implemented curbside recycling. The curbside program became fully operational in the early ‘90s. But 18 recycling centers remain in the city- and state Bottle Bill laws require the existence of recycling centers in “convenience zones.” Dunn says the HANC recycling center fulfills the legal requirement to be nearby a recycling center for several supermarkets.

Now, many San Francisco residents rely on curbside recycling, rather than trucking their bottles, cans, and paper products to a recycling center. But a large population uses recycling centers- for excess amounts of recyclables that don’t fit in the bins, other material that doesn’t fit like large cardboard, or to generate income. Those who benefit from money traded for recyclables include housed people looking to supplement income, often immigrants and the elderly, and people living on the streets. But the center’s opponents have painted the population it serves as mostly or all homeless, and the city has argued for its eviction on the grounds that the recycling center attracts homeless people to the area.

“[Gavin Newsom] thought the eviction was one way they could ward off camping in Golden Gate Park,” said Dunn.

Some neighbors have raised concerns about the noisy garbage-picking in the nightime, and questioned the need for recycling centers with curbside in place. If the center is shut down, though, it won’t signal the end of recycling centers or those who benefit from them. It will likeley change where people go to cash in on recyclables; HANC’s recycling center is centrally located, while the majority of  San Francisco’s recycling centers are in neighborhoods on the city’s borders, including several in Bayview-Hunters Point.

Regardless of the centers effects on the community, HANC’s landlord, Rec & Parks, doesn’t legally need a reason to evict them- they just need to give notice. HANC has fought the eviction, but after almost two years of successful stalling, Rec & Parks may finally succeed.

‘Reclaiming Jewish Activism’: easier said than done


This article has been updated

A panel in which three local activists will talk about how their Jewish ancestors inform their present-day work seemed harmless enough. But in the Bay Area’s friction-prone Jewish community, its cancellation has led the organizers to write a letter in protest and accusations that one of the area’s biggest funders of Jewish events, the Jewish Community Federation (JCF), is participating in McCarthy-style censorship.

The panelists- Julie Gilgoff, Elaine Ellinson, and Rae Abileah- are all authors and activists. Bend the Arc (formerly the Progressive Jewish Alliance) and the Workmens Circle organized the event. They planned to hold the panel in the Jewish Library, run by the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), which funds most of its grants and programming through the JCF.

In late January, the Library cancelled the panel. It will now be held at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.In an open letter to the Library, the event organizers write, “six decades after McCarthyism’s assault on progressives and their values, we reassert that censorship by association is dangerous and unconscionable.”

David Waksberg, CEO of the Bureau of Jewish Education, said that the BJE didn’t want to suppress the event all together. “In the end we decided not to do it with the understanding that they would be going forward at another location,” he said.

“I don’t know how it’s censorship when you agree, you guys go have your meeting, just don’t have it at my place. How is that censorship? No one’s telling them they can’t speak,” Waksberg said.

“The program involves two authors who have written about activism domestically,” Waksberg explained, “and another individual who has been involved with BDS related to Israel.”

BDS-  the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that activists throughout the world have used as a protest against the Israeli occupation in Palestine- is at the center of the conflict, right beside Rae Abileah.

Abileah will take part in the panel to discuss her great uncle, Joseph Abileah, an influential Israeli peace activist and war resister in the 1940s. 

“I grew up in the Bay Area Jewish community,” Abileah told us. “I was part of the Diller Teen Fellowship,” a program BJE puts on, “where we had Jewish gatherings, trainings and meetings.”

She’s also outspoken in her opposition to Israeli occupation in Palestine.

Abileah works for CODEPINK Women for Peace and Jewish Voice for Peace. She has travelled to Gaza CODEPINK in 2009 for a Gaza Freedom March with participants worldwide. She has also organized BDS campaigns.

“In 2005 the Palestinian civil society called for BDS as tried and true nonviolent tactic to get the Israeli government to uphold international law. We decided to be in solidarity,” said Abileah. She has since organized to spread a boycott of Ahava products, “Dead Sea beauty products made in an illegal settlement in the West Bank.”

According to Abileah, “several stores in the Bay Area have stopped carrying it.”

Abileah says she is proud to support nonviolent forms of protest like BDS and hunger striking, noting the lengthy hunger strike undertaken by Palestinian prisoners that ended just yesterday.

The hunger strike was successful. Israel agreed to prisoners’ demands to end solitary confinement (for 19 prisoners), allow more family visits, and to free some of those held in “administrative detention,” or imprisonment without trial, although the demand to end administrative detention was not met.

BDS has had successes worldwide as well. And it has become a controversial issue in the Bay Area.

Waksberg said, “we were concerned this would be an event that would have a lot of people yelling at each other.” This would not be unprecedented.

The ongoing rift is possibly best exemplified by the controversy surrounding the 2009 screening at the SF Jewish Film Festival of Rachel, a documentary about the life of 24-year-old Rachel Corrie. Corrie was killed in 2003 when, as part of a campaign to stop Israeli settlements, she stood in front of a bulldozer on its way to demolish a Palestinian family’s home.

The showing of the film, as well as the festival board’s decision to invite Corrie’s mother to speak after the film, sparked outrage. A portion of the audience booed and hissed at supportive references to the Israeli government.

Largely in response to that event, the JFC rewrote its funding guidelines in 2010. The guidelines outline a policy of not funding organizations that promote violence, attempt to “proselytize Jews away from Judaism” or work on “undermining the legitimacy of Israel.”

The idea of fighting for or against “Israel’s legitimacy” is invoked often but is vague- what exactly does it mean to oppose Israel’s “legitimacy” or “right to exist”? In In the guidelines, one thing seems to clearly do so: BDS campaigns.

In the guidelines’ section on “potentially controversial Israel-related programming,” the types of programs “not consistent with JCF’s policy” has three bullet points, all singling out support for BDS as unacceptable. The programs that are inconsistent are ones where the “overall experience” “endorse or prominently promote the BDS movement,”  “Individual programs that endorse the BDS movement or positions that undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel,” and co-sponsoring public programs featuring supporters of BDS.

The open letter states that “The Federation’s 2010 revised funding guidelines, which prohibit grant recipients from associating with organizations and individuals who oppose its strong support for Israel, apparently triggered the cancellation.”

Wakberg says that these guidelines didn’t play a role in the BJE’s decision to drop the Reclaiming Jewish Activism panel.

“The JCF didn’t tell us whether or not to do this. This was our decision about what we thought was right for the library,” he said.

“There was going to be an event,” Waksberg said, “and there is going to be an event.”

Yes, the event will go on. But so, it seems, will tensions in the Bay Area’s Jewish community.

Tax equity


steve@sfbg.com, yael@sfbg.com

A broad consensus in San Francisco supports reforming the city’s business-tax structure by replacing the payroll tax with a gross receipts tax through a November ballot measure. But the devil is in the details of how individual tax bills are affected, which has divided the business community and given a coalition of labor and progressives the opportunity to overcome the insistence by Mayor Ed Lee and other pro-business moderates that any change be revenue-neutral.

Service Employees International Union Local 1021, San Francisco’s biggest city employee union, last month launched a campaign demanding that the measure increase city revenue, setting a goal of at least $50 million, which represents the amount the city has lost annually since 2001 when 52 large downtown corporations sued to overturn the last gross receipts tax. The union is threatening to place a rival measure on the fall ballot.

“This call for it to be revenue-neutral didn’t make a lot of sense given all the reductions in city services in recent years,” said Chris Daly, the union’s interim political director. “It’s fair to at least get the money back that we lost in 2001.”

The union and the city recently agreed on a new contract that avoids more of the salary cuts that SEIU members have taken in recent years, but workers could still face layoffs under a new city budget that Lee is scheduled to introduce June 1. Lee, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, and business leaders working on the tax-reform proposal have until June 12 to introduce their ballot measure.

But they don’t yet have an agreement on what the measure should look like — largely because the technology sector (led by billionaire venture capitalist Ron Conway, the biggest fundraiser for Lee’s mayoral campaign last year), the traditional businesses represented by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and the small business community are pushing different interests and priorities.

“The technology industry has to realize they have a tax obligation like any member of the business community does,” Jim Lazarus, the Chamber’s vice president for public policy, told us.

Conway is reportedly using his influence on Lee to push for a model that keeps taxes low for tech companies — even if that comes at the expense of other economic sectors, such as commercial real estate and big construction firms, which will likely see their tax obligations increase. Yet some Chamber counter-proposals could end up costing small businesses more money, creating a puzzle that has yet to be worked out.

But one thing is clear: The business leaders don’t want to see overall city revenue increase. “If there’s anything that is unifying in the business community is that it’s revenue neutral,” small business advocate Scott Hauge told us. “We’re not going to increase revenues, that’s just a given, so if we have to do battle then so be it.”

SEIU and other members of progressive revenue coalition that has been strategizing in recent weeks are hoping to exploit the divisions in the business community and arrive at a compromise that increases revenue, and if not then they say they’re willing to go to the ballot with a rival measure.

“We’re working on trying to recover what we lost in the 2001 settlement and then some,” Sup. John Avalos, who has been working with the progressive coalition, told us. “We have to have something going to the ballot that is revenue generating.”




For labor and progressives, this is an equity issue. Workers have been asked to give back money, year after year, despite the fact that big corporations have been doing well in recent years but haven’t contributed any of that wealth to the cash-strapped city. Labor leaders say that after they supported last year’s pension-reform measure, it’s time for the business community to support city services.

“When we talked about Prop C, we said if our members are doing this with our pensions now, we’ll see next year what businesses do with business tax,” said Larry Bradshaw, vice president of SEIU Local 1021. “Then we read about secret meetings where the labor movement was excluded from those talks.”

Anger over the “secret meetings” of business leaders that Lee assembled to craft the tax reform measure — meetings at which no labor leaders were included — helped inspire the fierce protest campaign that defined the SEIU’s recent contract negotiations.

In the first weeks of negotiations, workers were already up in arms. Protest marches at SF General Hospital and Laguna Honda Hospital brought hundreds of hospital workers to the streets. These hospitals serve some of the city’s poorest populations: Laguna Honda patients are mostly seniors on Medi-Cal and General is the main public hospital serving the city’s poor.

On April 5, city workers got creative with a street theater protest that involved six-story projections on the iconic Hobart Building. Protesters dressed as rich CEOs and handed out thank-you cards to commuters at the Montgomery transit station. SEIU’s “The City We Need, Not Downtown Greed” campaign included a website (www.neednotgreed.org), slick video, and direct mailers portraying CEOs as panhandlers on the street asking city residents, “Can you spare a tax break?”

The most dramatic civil disobedience came on April 18, when more than 1,000 workers rallied outside City Hall — along with several progressive supervisors — and then marched to Van Ness and Market. Protesters blocked the street, resulting in 23 arrests. At that point, increases in health care cuts and pay cuts to city workers were still on the table.

That was followed the next week by hundreds of workers staging noisy demonstrations in City Hall, and then again on May Day when SEIU workers were well represented in actions that took over parts of the Financial District.

In the end, the demands of union representatives were met in the contract agreement. Health care cost increases and pay cuts were eliminated, and a 3 percent pay raise will kick in during the two-year contract’s second year, a deal overwhelmingly approved by union members. Labor leaders hope to use that momentum to force a deal with the Mayor’s Office on the tax reform measure — which some sources say is possible. Otherwise, they say the campaign will continue.

“We may end up on the streets gathering signatures soon,” Daly said. “We need to figure it out in the next few weeks.”




The Controller’s Office released a report on May 10 that made the case for switching to a gross receipts tax and summed up the business community’s meetings, and the report was the subject of a joint statement put out by Lee and Chiu. “After months of thorough analysis, economic modeling and inclusive outreach to our City’s diverse business community, the City Controller and City Economist have produced a report that evaluates a gross receipts tax, a promising alternative to our current payroll tax, which punishes companies for growing and creating new jobs in our City'” the statement said. “Unlike our current payroll tax, a gross receipts tax would deliver stable and growing revenue to fund vital city services, while promoting job growth and continued economic recovery for San Francisco.”

Daly and Avalos say progressives agree that a gross receipts tax would probably be better than the payroll tax, and they say the controller’s report lays out a good analysis and framework for the discussions to come. But despite its detailed look at who the winners and losers in the tax reform might be, Daly said, “We haven’t seen an actual proposal yet.”

Lazarus made a similar statement: “Nobody likes the payroll tax, but the devil is in the details.”

But it’s clear some businesses those with high gross receipts but low payrolls — would pay more taxes. For example, the finance, insurance, and real estate sector now pays about 16 percent of the $410 million the city collects in payroll taxes. That would go up to about 21 percent under a gross receipts tax.

“Several industries that could face higher taxes under the proposal, such as commercial real estate, large retailers, and large construction firms, felt the increase was too sharp,” the report said under the heading of “Policy Issues Arising From Meetings with Businesses.”

The report highlighted how the change would broaden the tax base. Only about 7,500 businesses now pay the payroll tax (others are either too small or are exempt from local taxation, such as banks), whereas 33,500 companies would pay the gross receipts tax, which the report identified as another issue to be resolved.

“While some businesses appreciated the base-broadening aspect of the gross receipts proposal, others felt that too many small businesses were being brought into the Gross Receipts tax,” the report said. Hauge also told us that he fears a tax increase on commercial real estate firms could be passed on to small businesses in the form of higher rents. “I don’t want to see the business community split,” Hauge said, although it’s beginning to look like that might be unavoidable. The big question now is whether progressives and labor can find any allies in this messy situation, and whether they’ll be able to agree on a compromise measure that all sides say is preferable to competing measures.

Community college students convene to unite against cuts, state legislation


Students and staff from community colleges throughout California gathered at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) Mission campus May 12 to discuss legislation, particularly the Student Success Act, that organizers feel threatens community college students.

The conference “was the first time that students from community colleges across California came together like this,” said Everic Dupuy, a student at CCSF. 

Dupuy participated in a panel with fellow students and teachers explaining the Student Success Act. The act would implement six recommendations made by the Student Success Task Force, a body created in January 2011 to investigate policy changes to increase graduation rates at community colleges.

Students have vehemently opposed the recommendations that the task force made. A December issue of the Guardsman, CCSF’s newspaper, was devoted to that opposition. 

The Student Success Act act includes policies that would prioritize class placement for newer students. Students who have been enrolled in community college for more than two years would find it more difficult to get into classes they need. The act would also create a system-wide standardized test to assess student success. 

“The task force’s recommendations will benefit higher-income students more, while students who attend part-time and work while attending school will be hit the hardest,” an editorial written collectively by students across the state claimed.

Members of the task force said that encouraging students to complete their coursework in a streamlined two years is necessary as community colleges have faced budget cuts. “Hundreds of thousands of first-time students, recent graduates of California’s high schools, have been turned away because they could not register for a single course,” said Peter MacDougall, chair of the Student Success Task Force, in an editorial.

But Dupuy says prioritizing new students is unacceptable. “It pits newer students against older students in a race for classes. It basically creates a situation where education is being rationed,” he told the Guardian. 

Teachers, staff and administrators at CCSF have also come out against the Student Success Task Force. At a rally in November, faculty and members of the CCSF board of trustees came out against the recommendations in the report published by the task force, saying they insert the state into local policies and reward students who study full-time and declare majors early at the expense of others.  

“The California Master Plan for Higher Education said education should be free and accessible to everyone,” said Dupuy. The plan, written in 1960, did “reaffirm the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state.”

It has since been altered several times, and in 1985, community colleges began charging fees for courses. In recent years those fees have rapidly increased, and will be increased by $10 this summer, when students will begin paying $46 per unit fees. 

Other sessions at the conference included presentations from students who organized with student movements in Chile and Canada.  Students in Quebec are revolting against college tuition hikes in a strike that has now lasted 13 weeks.  

Students from Santa Monica College also presented at an Occupy-style general assembly meeting that ended the conference. They proposed the formation of a statewide student union, and will be hosting another statewide conference to plan the student union May 19. Santa Monica College has been a site of conflict recently, as students protesting the implementation of a program that would have increased fees for more popular summer courses were pepper sprayed at a hearing on the program. Their campaign worked, and the college delayed the program for further examination. 

Organizers say the student union would play a role that existing student government structures can’t. “Our student governments are mostly administrating us instead of fighting for us in our districts” said Mikhail Pronilover, a Santa Monica College student. 

“The Student Success Act is a perfect example of why we need a statewide student union. Organizing in our districts isn’t enough- if we can’t come together, we won’t be able to defeat it,” said Claire Keating, an incoming student at UCLA. Keating is involved with the Southern California Education Organizing Coalition, formed recently to address the SSA and other perceived attacks on students. A similar group, Occupy Education Northern California, has also formed in recent months- students hope to continue the coalition-building trend across the state.

A massive student march on Sacramento has become a tradition in recent years. But students are ramping up efforts to keep year-long pressure on legislators.

Organizers hope Saturday’s conference, with reprsentatives from throughout the nation’s largest public education system, will prove an important step in that direction.