Taking Action, Getting Results!

Bethany Snyder speaks at the January meeting

The American River Democrats were pleased to welcome guest speaker Bethany Snyder to the January 2018 meeting, so she could share her expertise in contacting lawmakers and getting results. She said that using resistance and bringing attention via protests and demonstrations is only one part of the equation—being an advocate and building relations with lawmakers and their staff is equally, if not more important to getting your point across in a meaningful way.

Currently from Roseville, Snyder is from Minneapolis, and has 15 years experience in the advocacy, legislative, and policy worlds. While currently an outreach and communications director for a health care consulting firm, she has also served as a grassroots director, lobbyist, and staff member for Senator Al Franken.

She said that advocacy is a three-legged stool, consisting of media advocacy, direct lobbying, and grassroots engagement. All three are equally important. Media advocacy involves getting your story out there, through letters to media (newspapers, etc.), stories shared through traditional (TV and radio) and social media, and other ways to publicly share an issue. Lobbying gets a bad name in the pubic eye, as we picture highly paid agents of wealthy corporations trading donations for favors from lawmakers. But the truth is, all causes have lobbyists of some sort, including environmentalists, seniors, the LGBT community, immigration rights, and so on. They are just people bringing their message directly and professionally to the lawmakers, and often help craft legislation. Grassroots engagement is people like us contacting our representatives directly, and lawmakers do want to hear directly from their voters. Regular communication can be one of the most effective tools to getting your cause heard.

There are of course multiple levels of government to advocate to. The local level includes city and county councils and boards, school boards, sheriffs, and elected commissioners. They can be the easiest and most direct representatives to contact, as they usually have smaller constituencies and are located in your community. State level government includes your Assembly Member and State Senator,  the Governor, Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, Secretary of State, and other elected state-wide officers. Federal level includes your Congressional representatives, Senators, and of course, the President.

Slide from Bethany’s presentation

The big question, then, is what is the best way to contact them and be heard? There are many effective ways, but one of the best is the good old-fashioned phone call. Snyder recommends calling when the office is open so you can talk directly to a staff member. Those calls are tallied each day, with your position and ideas noted. (A voicemail after hours will be heard, but they may not understand all your issues, and can’t ask for clarity, so it can be lost.) When calling your rep, Snyder recommends you be personal and professional, share your story, but be short and succinct, and be mindful of the time you are taking. Be sure you have researched the issue so you are accurate in your points, and ask questions in the call, like “Can I count on ___’s support?” Be patient and persistent, and always say thanks to whomever you are speaking to.

Another good method is emailing. Though not as effective as the personal call, it will still be read and recorded, just not as quickly. (There is, of course, no opportunity for dialog if they want clarification, and they are not likely to email back and forth with you.) But your opinions will be noted, and the same protocols as the phone call are recommended; using accurate points, succinct, polite, and asking for support. Traditional mail is not as good as it used to be, as there are now security issues with opening letters, so it can take longer. (Postcards are a good option.) These are scanned and filed like email, so you are heard.

Social media is not a good way to contact your representative, since they don’t usually manage their own accounts, and comments to their posts are usually so full of both praise and hateful trolling that they are mostly ignored. Giving them lots of “likes” to their posts may make them feel good about an issue, but it is not the same as advocacy!

But still the most effective way, when possible, is a personal visit to the office, by one or more people advocating for an issue. There may be a staffer there who deals specifically with that issue, and will be happy to discuss. The same rules as above apply; be knowledgeable and succinct, be polite even if you are against their current position, and value their time (if you waste their limited time going on and on, you become an annoyance rather than an advocate!) They can only see so many people in a day, so make your meeting positive.

Snyder also recommends finding an advocacy group to help you understand the issue more deeply, and to advise what is the best timing to contact your representatives about your issue. If there is a vote or hearing approaching, that is the perfect time to give them your ideas and opinions. If it just concluded or is months away, your thoughts are not as impactful. And remember, always ask the question! So many people give their thoughts without ever requesting what they really want—a vote!

Following up, Snyder shared some of the things that do not work in getting your message through. Being confrontational, lying, being flaky, and contacting lawmakers who do not represent you. (You may want to give Paul Ryan an earful, but unless you have the power to re-elect him, he and his staff don’t care about your opinion!) Contacting members of administrative agencies, like the GAO, DOJ, HUD, HHS, etc. is also useless, as they don’t set policy. They often do allow public comment on an issue, so do provide that as appropriate, like when they are about to destroy a National Park or begin coal mining in your county.

Communication with your representatives is always important, and those who take the time are heard well beyond those who save their feedback for the ballot every few years. Some of the myths or perceived barriers to taking action that Snyder shared include the idea that you are not an expert so you opinion doesn’t matter. Not true, make your voice heard based on what you do know—others certainly will! Some think they won’t be listened to—also not true—all politicians have staff to keep track of the feedback they get, even if they don’t agree, it is noted. What if your representative is the polar opposite in political orientation? Let them know anyway, they may not change, but they may “evolve” with enough feedback, and if it is overwhelming, they may even change their vote, or sit out. (Feedback to some Senators saved the Affordable Care Act, at least for now.) What if they have already decided, or cast their vote? Let them know how you feel; positive feedback keeps them going for next time, and negative may keep them wary of their choices. When your representative is on your side, let them know that you are on theirs!

2018 Physicians for Social Responsibility Scholarship Essay Contest

Physicians for Social Responsibility is an organization many of the members of the American River Democrats belong to. Dr. Bill Durston, club member and vice president of the Sacramento Chapter of PSR recently announced their scholarship essay contest:

We’re pleased to announce that the 2018 PSR/Sacramento Scholarship Essay Contest is now open to high school seniors in Sacramento and surrounding counties (Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, San Joaquin, Solano, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba). A total of $15,000 in scholarship money will be awarded to 12 students. The prompt for this year’s contest, chosen by a vote of our members, is the following quotation by the Iranian women’s rights activist, Mahnaz Afkhami:

“The connection between women’s human rights, gender equality, socioeconomic development, and peace is increasingly apparent.”

To enter the contest, high school seniors must submit an original essay of 500 words or fewer describing their thoughts about Ms. Afkhami’s statement. The deadline for essay submission is midnight on Saturday, March 24, 2018. Students should submit their essays and contact information via the Scholarship Essay Contest Page of the PSR/Sacramento website.

We would appreciate your help in bringing the 2018 essay contest to the attention of any high school seniors with whom you have contact. We would also appreciate your help in choosing the 10 finalists by being an essay reader. Each essay reader is invited to read and rank an initial batch of ~30 essays in mid March in the initial screening process; to read and rank another batch of ~30 semifinalists’ essays in late March or early April in the second phase of the finalist selection process; and to participate in an in person discussion at our house on the evening of Sunday, April 15, at which we will make the final decision on the 10 finalists and two alternate finalists.

Being an essay reader provides an intereting perspective on the thinking of today’s youth. In past years, most essay readers have found the finalist selection process to be an enjoyable and inspiring one. Given the timeliness of Ms. Afkhami’s statement, the essays should be particularly interesting this year. Please contact us by email or call us at (916) 955-6333 if you would be willing to be an essay reader. Note that you don’t have to participate in all three phases of the finalist selection process to be an essay reader. You can just participate in one or two of the three phases if you like.

Please save the date of Sunday, May 6, to attend the essay contest finals dinner at which the 10 finalists will present their essays orally and a distinguished panel of judges from the community will select the first, second, and third place winners. First place will win a $3,000 scholarship, second place a $2,500 scholarship, and third place a $2,000 scholarship. The other seven finalists will all receive $1,000 each, and the two alternate finalists will both receive $250. We’ll be sending out detailed information about making dinner reservations in the near future.

This is the 14th consecutive year that PSR/Sacramento has offered the scholarship essay contest. With this year’s awards, we will have given out over $165,000 in scholarship money since the inception of the contest. It’s through the generosity of supporters like you that we can continue to offer the scholarship essay contest every year. Tax-deductible contributions toward the scholarship fund can be made online via the donations page of the PSR/Sacramento website or sent by regular mail to PSR/Sacramento, 10 Dumfries Court, Sacramento, Ca., 95831. One hundred per cent of contributions made to the scholarship fund go directly to the students.

Thanks for your support of PSR/Sacramento and our annual high school scholarship essay contest. I hope you’ll consider helping choose the finalists in this year’s contest by being an essay reader, and please remember to save the date of Sunday, May 6, to attend the 2018 essay contest finals dinner.

Bill Durston, M.D.
Vice President, Sacramento Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility

Brad Westmoreland Running for Congress

Brad Westmoreland

Brad Westmoreland is an attorney from Elk Grove who has decided to enter the race for the Seventh Congressional District seat, currently held by Dr. Ami Bera. Westmoreland visited the American River Democrats at their November meeting, and laid out his ideals and reasons for challenging the incumbent Democrat.

Ami Bera won the 7th District seat in 2012, defeating Republican Dan Lundgren after losing in his first bid in 2010. Representing a narrowly divided district, Bera pledged to work across the aisle to get important things done, and represent his conservative constituents as well as the liberals, progressives, and moderates. (Something Lundgren was famous for not doing.) And while Democrats have been grateful to have Bera in this seat after years of Republicans, he has cast some votes that raised concerns, and even lost endorsements from some groups. He has voted to scale back some of the new banking regulations, restrict refugee resettlement, and most famously, supported the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which drew the ire of labor and environmental groups. (In that vote, he was supporting President Obama, but now that President Trump has bailed on it, and the other countries moved forward without the U.S., it has begun to look a bit better now, though it still likely needed “fixing.”)

And so Westmoreland has entered the race from the progressive side, aligning with those supporting Bernie Sanders. He introduced himself at the meeting as someone who grew up in a very conservative family—he remains the only Democrat, and has experienced the conversations many of us dread at some family gatherings, like Thanksgiving! But he says he always stays positive and listens to all points of view. He and his wife Crystal, who is a mental health professional, live in Elk Grove and are expecting their first child.

Why did he enter the race? Westmoreland say he believes we can do better than winning by razor-thin margins. He wants to reach out to the uninvolved people—the 12,000 fewer Democratic voters in 2014 compared to 2012—getting them interested by speaking to issues that matter to them, such as health care and “Medicare for all,” and education innovation to make it free and responsive to the changing economy. He wants to demonstrate our values to people who feel they are without a voice; to let them know that we are your party.

He spoke of the issue of gun violence, pointing out that the NRA is just a lobbying organization for gun manufacturers, who are maintaining an industry that kills people. He pointed out that gun incidents are actually good news for gun makers and sellers; that mass shootings become a win/win situation, as people buy more guns for protection, and in fear of more gun laws coming. Gun sales always spike after such tragedies. No one needs an assault weapon, he said; we need to ban them and get them off the streets. The question of it being a mental health issue is just a smoke screen; he said his wife has pointed out that mental illness does not mean violence, and it is a dangerous stigma to put on people who are suffering. What we need to do is close the loopholes; online sales, gun shows, private sales; to improve background checks. What often gets lost in the discussion, he said, is that women are often the victims of gun violence, through domestic abuse. In Canada, a man needs permission to buy a gun from his wife and/or ex-wife.

The next issue Westmoreland spoke about was related to his time in college when he began working for a man who had, at age 16, been paralyzed after an accident that broke his neck. The man was in need of 24-hour care, and Brad was an in-home caregiver. This experience changed his perspective, and after completing law school he went to work fighting for disability rights. That is one of the reasons he is now opposing H.R. 620, a U.S. House resolution to amend the Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). He says that the changes will weaken the ADA and disability rights across the nation, absolving businesses of the responsibility to make their premises accessible to all—rights that were hard-fought-for and have worked well for 27 years. (Congressman Bera, a co-sponsor of the bill, has stated that it is an effort to avoid un-needed lawsuits against small businesses, allowing them reasonable time to make repairs without paying large settlements, but that he fully supports the ADA.)

Westmoreland next spoke about public education, which he said should be free to all. One of the barriers to a strong middle class is student loan debt. It impedes the ability to own a home and start a family for many who work hard to get an education. Free public education is an important mechanism to give everyone a shot at achieving the middle class life. He also spoke about immigration and the myths that prevent immigration reform, like that they don’t pay taxes. Immigrants—documented or undocumented—actually pay a higher tax rate than corporations. He said the statute of limitations should apply to the undocumented immigrants, and they should have a path to citizenship.

Westmoreland covered a lot of issues in a spirited discussion with the American River Democrats

Westmoreland also took questions from the club members. He said he stood for campaign finance reform, because lobbyists are crowding out the people from speaking their voice and getting to their representatives. The constitution guarantees the right to petition your representatives, which is impeded by the big influence the moneyed interests have above the ordinary citizen. He also supports net neutrality, an issue the Trump administration is attacking today. Mental illness should be given a priority to help those suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD, rather than stigmatizing them as potentially violent, dangerous people. He agreed with the importance of not only passing background check laws for guns, but for building the infrastructure to monitor and enforce to rules, especially in states that may not be eager themselves.

But one of the biggest questions he took was why he is running against Ami Bera. He pointed out the big differences in their positions—he supports Medicare for all (single-payer health care), free public education, an assault weapons ban, a ban on fracking, and strengthening unions. He said we need to expand the electorate, and that we are in a “blue” district that voted “purple”—we need to take the issues to the people who never vote, both here and across the country, to build a majority. The results in the recent Virginia elections have got more people interested and excited, and that needs to be built on.

He said that our district has many Republicans who may not fully understand GOP policies. As a congressman he would represent them, but vote his conscious about what is best for everyone. But it is still important to listen to them, especially those, like his own family, who spend a lot of time watching Fox News, but who will respond to a conversation about the direction our country is moving in.

There are currently five candidates for the 7th District Congressional seat. Besides Ami Bera and Brad Westmoreland, there are three Republicans—Andrew Grant, Yona Barash, and Omba Kipuke. The primary election in June will narrow the final ballot to any two of those candidates.

For more information about Brad Westmoreland and his positions on issues, or how to support his campaign, visit www.bradwestmoreland.org.

Recent mass shootings coincide with Americans Against Gun Violence annual banquet

Bill Durston kicks off the Americans Against Gun Violence annual dinner

Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Texas. Those names all now evoke the horror of mass shootings that are all too common in the United States. They also invoke memories of the usual political response: Democrats call for action, Republicans say it is not appropriate to “politicize” the tragedy, and weeks and months pass with nothing accomplished, until the process repeats itself in the next horrifying incident.

Americans Against Gun Violence, an organization formed to put political pressure and increase public awareness of the issues around the needless death and injury caused by the presence of so many, and so much more lethal guns in our country, held its first annual banquet on October 22, just after the Las Vegas massacre, and just before the Sutherland massacre. President of the organization, Dr. Bill Durston, kicked off the event, which was shared with Physicians for Social Responsibility, and introduced the keynote speaker, Josh Sugarman, author of Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.

Josh Sugarman addresses the membership at the AAGV dinner

Sugarman noted that lots of attention is drawn to mass shootings, like the recent Las Vegas incident, but daily deaths from guns is even worse. One hundred people on average die each day from guns in America. What is behind this? The gun industry. They are at heart a consumer product business, with marketing plans to increase their profits, just like the automobile industry, consumer electronics, restaurants and food production—the difference is they are the only product not regulated by the government!

When a shooting occurs, one of the first questions the media and law enforcement asks is what was the motive. Why would someone get a hotel room to be a sniper at a concert, why would someone walk into a church intent on murdering everyone, why would someone ambush a cop, kill their spouse and family, shoot up a schoolyard, or assassinate a public figure? But what does that really matter in the end? The fact is these people, whatever their reasons, have the ability to build an arsenal. And they have access to military and law enforcement-grade weapons to accomplish it. Yes, there are some restrictions on the level of weapons—for example, a military automatic weapon can fire multiple rounds by just holding down the trigger. For the consumer-available weapons, the shooter must pull the trigger for each round. But they can still shoot in very rapid succession, making such guns effectively the same as a military machine gun.

The industry sells its product primarily to white males, of whom only 33% are currently gun owners. And that market is aging and dying off, with fewer new customers entering the market. That puts pressure on them to continue to resell their products to their primary market, by introducing ever more powerful and “efficient” guns, while stoking fears that a mass confiscation is just around the corner, and they need to stock up now. A phenomenon seen when either a liberal politician is elected, (President Obama’s election, or just the likelihood of Hillary Clinton’s election, for example) or when another mass shooting occurs, is a marked increase in gun sales, out of fear that new laws are on the way. The industry is also trying to expand their market beyond the white male demographic, finding ways to appeal to women, children, African Americans, and Latinos as a new customer base. They want diversity, not just “stale, male and pale.” (Quote from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade organization, about the demographic they want to change.)

And after every new incident, not only do we hear the chorus of “it’s not the time to politicize this tragedy,” but we are also told gun control doesn’t work, if you restrict guns only criminals will have them, the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, the real problem isn’t guns but mental illness, etc. Sugarman stated that it is time we recognize that (to paraphrase the Bill Clinton presidential campaign) It’s the gun, stupid!

Members of the American River Democrats were well represented at the event

While other nations react to gun violence by finding solutions—Australia and the United Kingdom are notable success stories—the National Rifle Association (NRA) insists that we need more guns. And the politicians who follow their lead (mostly Republicans, but Democrats are not always innocent) go along, failing to pass meaningful laws, and even opening the current restrictions even further.

Sugarman said that states with high gun ownership have higher gun deaths, including accidental shootings and suicides, while states with stronger gun control laws have lower overall rates of homicide (and not just from guns!) California is a good success story, but national laws are far more important. The NRA likes to tell everyone to look at Chicago. “They have strong gun laws, yet the gun violence rate is one of the worst.” While that is untrue on the face of it (many other states and cities have much stronger gun laws), even if Chicago had California-like restrictions, guns can be easily brought in from many neighboring states, like Indiana, that have very loose gun laws.

The bottom line is that lots of guns means lots of gun injuries and deaths. Dividing people into “good” ones who can get a gun and “bad” ones who shouldn’t, just doesn’t work. Many of the guns out there—handguns, assault rifles, automatic weapons—are designed specifically for killing people, and that is what they do, whether by intention, accident, or suicide.

But the public is way ahead of lawmakers in supporting change, and have found some success in a few places, like California. But the industry is not sitting still. The bill to legalize silencers and allow open-carry laws to be valid across state lines is still out there waiting to be passed by Congress. And the much ballyhooed idea of banning bump stocks has gone nowhere, despite the seeming universal openness to the idea, by even the NRA. California’s Dianne Feinstein is reintroducing an assault weapon restriction bill, but it is generally considered dead on arrival. But hey, it’s worth a try, right?

Meanwhile, America is held hostage by a fading industry, said Sugarman. While two-thirds of Americans live in gun-free homes, and only 1.5% of the population belongs to the NRA, they somehow exert more control over Congress than the will of the people. Sugarman said we need to focus on solutions, not slogans that will sell. Gun violence is a preventable epidemic, he said, with 33,000 annual deaths of Americans. We need to ask ourselves, are we doing everything in our power to prevent gun violence?

Learn more about Americans Against Gun Violence at aagunv.org.

Listen to Josh Sugarman on CapRadio.org on Insight from November 1.

Read a piece on recent gun violence written by Bill Durston, reprinted on this website: The Air Force is Not the Problem, A Good Guy With a Gun is Not the Solution

The Air Force Is Not the Problem… And A Good Guy with a Gun Is Not the Solution

By Bill Durston, President, Americans Against Gun Violence

Dr. Bill Durston, Americans Against Gun Violence

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, in which 25 people were killed, including numerous children and a pregnant woman, and 20 others wounded, it has come to light that the gunman, Devin Kelley, had been hospitalized involuntarily for mental illness and imprisoned for domestic violence while serving in the Air Force. Much of the media attention surrounding the shooting focused on the fact that the Air Force didn’t report Kelley’s mental illness and domestic violence conviction to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). A secondary focus of media attention has been the fact that Kelley was shot and wounded by a good Samaritan who lived nearby as Kelley was leaving the church.

Devin Kelley booking photo

Devin Kelley booking photo

As a result of not being listed in the NICS, Kelley had no trouble purchasing four guns from gun stores in Colorado and Texas, including the assault rifle that he used in the church shootings and the handgun that he later used to kill himself. The Sutherland Springs resident who shot Kelley twice with his own assault rifle, 55 year old Stephen Willeford, clearly risked his life in rushing to the church when he heard gunshots, but Kelley had already exited the church by the time that Willeford arrived and shot him. Despite being shot by Willeford in the leg and torso, Kelley was able to drive off in his SUV at high speed. Willeford hailed a passing driver, 26 year old Johnnie Langendorff, and they gave chase in Langendorff’s truck. Kelley crashed his car about 10 minutes later and was found dead in his vehicle by law enforcement officers, apparently as a result of having shot himself in the head.

Should the Air Force have reported Kelley’s hospitalization for mental illness and imprisonment for domestic abuse to the NICS?

Definitely. Preliminary reports indicate that it was not an individual clerical error but rather a system wide problem that resulted in the failure to report not only Kelley to the NICS but also multiple other Air Force personnel who should be prohibited from owning guns.

Would reporting Kelley to the NICS have prevented the Sutherland Springs mass shooting? Possibly. But under Texas’s lax gun control laws, even if he was prohibited from buying a gun from a federally licensed firearm dealer at a gun store as a result of being on the NICS database, Kelley still could have purchased a gun without a background check from a private “kitchen table” gun dealer or at a gun show.

Since the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed prohibiting “mental defectives” and individuals convicted of domestic violence from owning guns, how many mass shootings have been committed by other individuals who, like Kelley, fell into prohibited categories while in the military but were not reported to the appropriate civilian authorities?

None that I’m aware of. Of the more than 1.5 million U.S. civilians killed by guns since 1968 in single shooting incidents, there must have been some who fell into the same prohibited but unreported category as Kelley, but the point is, closing the “Air Force loophole,” which definitely should be done, is in and of itself not going to have a measurable effect in preventing mass shootings in the United States or in reducing the daily toll of gun violence.

And what about the “good guy with a gun” argument?

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (Facebook)

Obviously, you’d have to be out of touch with reality (as many gun zealots are) to claim that the Sutherland Springs mass shooting is an example of a “good guy with a gun” successfully stopping a “bad guy with a gun.” The action of Stephen Willeford was definitely heroic, but by the time that he shot and wounded Devin Kelley outside of the First Baptist Church, Kelly had already killed 25 people and wounded 20 others inside the church. An FBI study of 160 mass shootings between 2000 and 2013 found only one case in which an armed bystander other than a security guard or off duty police officer stopped a mass shooter. In 21 cases, unarmed bystanders disarmed and restrained the shooter. Whether the Sutherland Springs mass shooting would be considered by the FBI to be a case in which a mass shooting was interrupted by an armed bystander is unclear. While it’s possible that Kelley might have gone on to shoot other people after leaving the church, the evidence available at this time indicates that he had a vendetta against church members, and he’d already discarded his assault rifle by the time that Willeford shot him.

So, where do we go from here?

Following the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas on October 1, attention was focused on “bump stocks,” devices used by Stephen Paddock to make his semi-automatic rifles fire almost as rapidly as fully automatic ones. Brief consideration was given to banning “bump stocks,” but as usual, Congress took no action to prevent future mass shootings. Now, as the Sutherland Springs mass shooting fades from the spotlight, the Air Force has announced that it’s going to review its protocols for reporting Air Force personnel who should be prohibited from owning guns to the NICS, but no other action is being seriously considered by Congress to prevent future mass shootings.

A recent New York Times article about mass shootings in the United States concluded with a quotation from a British journalist, Dan Hodges, who wrote:

In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

In essence, Mr. Hodges is stating that the United States of America is a country that loves its guns more than its children. While I have come to the cynical conclusion that this statement may be true for some people in our country, I hope it’s not true for the majority, and I know it’s not true for you or for anyone else on our Americans Against Gun Violence listserv. I also strongly disagree with Mr. Hodges’s statement that the US gun control debate is over. On the contrary, I believe that the founding of Americans Against Gun Violence last year marks a new beginning.

Below is a list of what I see as some of the take home lessons from the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs mass shootings.

Please contact your state and federal elected officials to demand that they take the actions in bold print. (You can click on this link and enter your zip code to get the names and contact info for your elected officials. If you’re calling from a smart phone, you might want to enter the numbers of your US senators, your US representative, and your state legislators into your contact list for ease of calling in the future.) You can contact your elected officials about any one of the “bullet points” below that you feel most strongly about, or better yet, you can contact the same officials on a new bullet point every day until you’ve gone through the whole list.

  • All background check loopholes should be closed. A thorough background check should be required for any gun sale or transfer.
    Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward requiring thorough background checks for all gun sales and transfers.
  • All semi-automatic rifles should be banned, with no grandfather clause, as was done in Australia within just 13 days of the infamous Port Arthur massacre there in 1996. Such weapons are specifically designed for the purpose for which Devin Kelley and Stephen Paddock employed them – to kill and maim large numbers of people in a short period of time. There is no legitimate civilian use for such weapons.
  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward a complete ban on all semi-automatic rifles comparable to the ban enacted in Australia in 1996.
  • The paradigm for determining who can and cannot own a gun in the United States is backward. As the article in the New York Times referenced above pointed out, the United States is one of only three countries in the world, the other two being Mexico and Guatemala, in which the default position for someone seeking to acquire a gun is that the person can have the gun unless society can prove that he or she falls into a category of persons prohibited from owning one. In every other country of the world, the default position is that the person cannot have a gun unless he or she can prove why he or she needs one. And in most other high income democratic countries, “self defense” is not accepted as a reason for owning a gun given the well established fact that guns in the possession of honest, law-abiding people are much more likely to be used to kill or injure them than to protect them.
  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward requiring persons seeking to acquire a gun to submit convincing evidence that they have a good reason for having a gun and that they can handle one safely.
  • It’s the guns, stupid! As documented in the New York Times article on mass shootings, the reason why the United States is the only high income democratic country in the world in which mass shootings occur on a regular basis, and why the overall rate of gun related deaths in the USA is 10 times higher than the average in these other countries, is that the rate of gun ownership in our country is much higher than in every other high income democratic country of the world. The high rate of gun ownership in the United States is due, in turn, to our exceedingly lax gun control laws as compared with every other high income democratic country.
  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward the adoption of the same kind of stringent gun control laws in the United States that have long been in place in every other high income democratic country of the world, including a complete ban on civilian ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and stringent restrictions, if not a complete ban, on civilian ownership of handguns.
  • Good guys with guns don’t prevent mass shootings or reduce the daily toll of gun violence in our country. On the contrary, people with concealed weapons permits have committed mass shootings and many other criminal homicides. (See the Violence Policy Center report on “Concealed Carry Killers” for more information on this topic.)
  • Contact your US Senators and your US Representative and demand that they oppose H.R.38 and S.B.446, bills to make a concealed weapons permit issued in one state good in any other state.

Until the rogue Heller decision in 2008, there was no “Second Amendment right” for anyone to own any kind of a gun in the United States outside of service in a “well regulated militia.” Even after Heller, there’s no constitutional right to own an assault rifle. (See the post on the Facts and FAQ’s page of the Americans Against Gun Violence website concerning the Second Amendment for more details.)

  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward overturning the rogue Heller decision and restore the Second Amendment to its original meaning.
  • Contact PBS and demand that it retract the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment by CBS commentator William Brangham on the PBS News Hour during coverage of the Sutherland Springs mass shooting on November 7.
    • Brangham stated, “In the United States, the Second Amendment gives citizens broad rights to keep and bear arms. The Supreme Court has several times affirmed this fact.”
    • This statement is grossly inaccurate. See the post concerning the Second Amendment on the Facts and FAQ’s page of the Americans Against Gun Violence website for details.
    • In addition to demanding that PBS retract Brangham’s misrepresentation of the Second Amendment, demand that PBS rebroadcast the PBS News Hour segment from December 16, 1991, in which the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger stated in regard to the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment by the NRA that was endorsed by Brangham, “This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
    • If you’re a PBS contributor, mention this in your message.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, please become an official paid member of Americans Against Gun Violence, and please make an additional donation if you’re able.

The above “to do” may seem like a tall order. At our first annual dinner on October 22, though, our keynote speaker, Joshua Sugarmann, stated:

Gun violence is at epidemic levels in the United States, and this epidemic is preventable. You and I know that, and this knowledge is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that we know how to stop the epidemic of gun violence that afflicts our nation. The curse is that when the next “worst mass shooting” occurs, we can’t just shake our heads like so many others and wonder why these horrific tragedies keep occurring.  Instead, we have to ask ourselves, are we doing everything within our own power to prevent them?

Thanks for supporting Americans Against Gun Violence and for doing everything reasonably within your power to help stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence in the United States of America.

Bill Durston, MD
President, Americans Against Gun Violence
Reprinted courtesy Bill Durston

Governor Candidate Delaine Eastin Visits ARDems

Delaine Eastin speakingWith big-name people like Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villariagosa declared running for California governor in the 2018 election, Delaine Eastin may seem like an unlikely candidate to capture a spot on the final ballot. But she makes up for lower name recognition with both passion and enthusiasm for issues that ignite the progressive fervor of many California Democrats. And it’s not like Eastin is an unknown—she held statewide office as Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1994 to 2002. Prior to that she was city council member for Union City, and a four-term Assembly Member. She has also worked as a teacher and in business for Pacific Bell.

Ms. Eastin spoke at the September 20 meeting of the American River Democrats, stating right off the bat that we are in crisis right now, not just with a “knucklehead” as president, but from lack of participation in civil society. We are stronger together, she said, as a democratic government. The budgets our representatives create are statements of our values; how we treat the people who need us is a moral test we are failing. California was once fifth in the US in per-pupil spending for schools; now we are near the bottom. Since the first Jerry Brown administration (1975-1983) California has built six college campuses, and 23 prisons.

Delaine Eastin speaks for the American River Democrats

Eastin says she will fight for the big things—education, universal healthcare, or Medicare for all, affordable housing. She is the only candidate who is in favor of banning fracking in the state. She says she has the courage, vision, and heart to fight for equality, justice, peace, and hope. She is against “the best government money can buy” and will not take any money from big oil, big tobacco, or other corporate interests, as some of her rivals for the nomination do. She says she is prepared to stand up to bullies, the rich, and the powerful. California is full of “dreamers,” who built this amazing state—not just the ones who need our protection from the current Trump administration, who is ending the DACA program.

As a city council member, she fought for issues like recycling, and served on the library commission. As an Assembly Member, she authored bills to improve schools, improve transportation systems, crack down on unlicensed contractors, increase use of recycled materials, such as “white goods”—old appliances filling landfills. Realizing the tobacco taxes only covered cigarettes, she fought to expand it to other forms—cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff, etc.—to help fund libraries. She was named “Rookie of the Year” by the California Journal, a non-partisan analytical journal that reports on the State Legislature, and “Legislator of the Year” awards several times from the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, the California School Boards Association, and the California Media Library Educators Association.

Delaine Eastin speaks

Eastin spoke with passion about her hopes for California and her candidacy.

Her experience as chair of the Assembly Education Committee led to her later election as Superintendent of Public Instruction, where she filed a lawsuit to stop the state from diverting funds away from education, and reducing class size in public schools. She worked for school accountability and higher standards, decreasing waste in the system, and bringing better technology to the classroom. She also worked for universal pre-school, and after serving two terms, continues to be an advocate for education, serving on several boards for education advocacy in California.

Her goals are for an economy that works for everyone, including universal pre-school availability, small class size, and increasing the number of nurses and counselors in schools—California is last in the U.S. in those crucial positions. She wants to address the housing crisis in the state—we have the highest number of grown children living with their parents, and homeless people overall. She wants more affordable housing located near transportation hubs to help people get to work or school. She is for universal health care (she supports SB 562), fighting climate change, improving our infrastructure, and protecting the rights of those under attack—the disabled, immigrants, LGBTQ, people of color, and California Dreamers. She seeks a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. She asks the question: Did we do as much for the next generation as was done for us?

To learn more about Delaine Eastin, join her campaign, or donate, visit DelaineForGovernor.com.

Consumer Protections Highlight August Meeting

The American River Democrats August meeting will feature guest speaker Noemi Esparza, a practicing attorney at the firm Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora in Sacramento. Noemi is very active with Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC) and she is an officer on CAOC’s Diversity Committee. Noemi has testified before the legislature numerous times and she is a former legislative staffer, so she is extremely knowledgeable about policy and the legislative process and the Capitol’s political dynamics. She will be speaking about consumer issues, and specifically two pending bills in the California Legislature.

Senate Bill 33 (Bill Dodd) addresses the “forced arbitration” agreements that we all sign with literally every purchase for goods and services. This agreement does not allow us to sue or pursue other legal means of recourse.  For example, if we have AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc., we signed this agreement with them at the time we signed up for service. The recent issues with Wells Fargo Bank brought the need for this bill to prominence.

Senate Bill 632 (Bill Monning) would set a precedent for deposition of terminally ill patients who are involved in lawsuits when their illness is a result of a product/workplace or other harmful exposure. The asbestos exposure case is one of the best examples as litigation has been drawn out for so long, with lengthy depositions, that the patients often succumb before all information is gathered.

Several documents have been provided to give us more background on these two measures, including editorials and resolutions in support of them, and a format letter example to send to your representatives.

SB33: SB 33 (Dodd) Fact Sheet 7-25-17 SB 33 Reso August 2017 for DPSC Sac Bee editorial supporting SB 33 SB 33 (Dodd) text as amended 7-3-17

SB632 SB 632 (Monning) Fact Sheet 7-26-17 DPSC – SB632 Reso 7-12-17 BEWARE THE FINE PRINT Parts 1-3 w cover SB 632 (Monning) as amended 7-10-17 SB 632_Model Support letter

Join us on Wednesday, August 16 to hear more about these important consumer issues. The American River Democrats will meet at 6:30 pm, at Samurai Sushi, 12251 Folsom Blvd (Hazel at Hwy 50) in Rancho Cordova. Guests are always welcome!

Congressman Ami Bera Staffer Visits American River Democrats

Matthew Ceccato speaks to the American River Democrats

Matthew Ceccato is Congressman Ami Bera’s District Director at his California office, for the 7th Congressional District. Ceccato is a military veteran who was wounded in Iraq, and returned to attend grad school thanks to the G.I. Bill, and began work with Bera as a caseworker on veterans’ issues. He shared a lot of information with the club in a 2015 visit regarding help for veterans in need. Since then, he has been promoted to District Director overseeing the office, and as a guest speaker at the June meeting, shared more information about the operations and what is available to constituents through the Congressional office.

Ceccato said that there were three main categories of staff that he oversees in the office. Caseworkers are the heart and soul of the office. They are there to help people who have problems or issues with any federal government, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid issues, veterans’ issues, immigration and more. Field Representatives are there to represent the Congressman at various events and meetings he is unable to attend himself, to get feedback and share information with his constituents. The interns are a hardworking group who take calls, meet visitors, and process correspondence and social media feedback, and record all the information that comes in. It is all shared with Congressman Bera, who is then able to act on it—including making personal callbacks when possible. Ceccato said it is an amazing team, and your connection to the federal government, on anything from a denial of benefits to a visit to Washington D.C.

Meanwhile, he said that it was a whirlwind going on in Washington. They get about 1000 calls a week, and sacks of mail. And voices are being heard—calls about health care are making an impact. Ceccato said that even if the Senate had passed their version of the “Trumpcare” bill, it was dead on arrival at the house. Now tax reform is on the table, and the same kind of feedback can stop the kind of spending cuts that would be needed to give a tax break to the wealthiest. He said that calls and letters help even if your representative is already on your side. Reaffirmation helps, and feedback contributes to debate.

Ceccato also highlighted some real accomplishments made on veterans’ issues. A Post-9/11 Veterans Memorial is now underway. “Blind scheduling”—medical appointments made without confirming dates and times—is being eliminated. The National Guard overpayment problem has been resolved. Bera is also working to improve woman veterans’ care. Homeless veteran women with kids is a growing problem that needs addressing on a national level.

In conclusion, Ceccato urged the club, and anyone in the Seventh Congressional District to contact Bera’s office for any federal government issues people would need help with. Stalled tax refunds, students in need of financial aid, homeowners needing loan modifications, immigrant citizen applicants, small business loans, stalled passport issues, veterans medical or educational benefits, and Social Security and Medicare problems are just examples of assistance they can offer.

Contact the Sacramento office at 916-635-0505, or visit during office hours of 9 am to 6 pm at 8950 Cal Center Drive, Building 3, Suite 100, Sacramento CA 95826. Send a letter, or contact them online at bera.house.gov. The Washington DC office can be reached at 202-225-5716; 1535 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC, 20515.

Common Sense Kids Action Helps Make Children a Top Priority

How do you know if your representatives are voting for and pushing legislation that is helping our kids? Common Sense Kids Action is a nationwide organization that tracks measures in the legislation, and how they will affect kids, either positively or negatively. They are also involved in media and education, helping parents and teachers make informed decisions about media and technology.

Jeri Dahlke speaks at the American River Democrats May meeting

In May, Jeri Viera Dahlke, an American River Democrats club member, who is also involved with Moms on the Left and Indivisible, spoke at our club meeting about her involvement with Common Sense Kids Action and how we can use it to make a difference in issues affecting children and teens in our area and state.

Dahlke said that her husband had been a teacher in Watts, and she soon learned that the life of kids in school is not nearly the same across the state, despite funding goals. Access to books and facilities, and parents with little time to help made the differences stark from one district to another. She felt she needed to be more involved to make a difference for kids and their families who need support. She began working with Common Sense Kids Action, to help make it easier for people to understand what is going on and how it impacts children. She said “Doing good things for kids helps others—the benefits expand.”

Common Sense Kids Action serves by rating legislation, proving voters’ guides, educating and advocating. Advocating begins with visiting legislators at the Capitol, sending emails, making phone calls, and sending cards and letters. Every measure should be evaluated for its direct impact on kids—is it a good benefit? Common Sense Legislative Ratings allows you to choose Federal or State, and find a list of bills pending, with their positive or negative impact on kids. (California currently has 62 positive, one negative—not bad!) This guide can help you determine which bills you want to encourage (or discourage) your representatives to vote for, including Senator Richard Pan and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia’s Bill of Rights for Children and Youth (SB 18 and SCR 41.)

The Bill of Rights for Children and Youth states that all children deserve:

  • High-Quality Early Learning and Care
  • High-Quality Education Opportunities
  • Supportive Family Environments
  • Preventative, Accessible, and Comprehensive Health and Dental Care.

You can join Common Sense and sign up for email notifications of actions. Common Sense Kids Action will send you periodic email alerts on legislative activity that impacts your community; You will have the opportunity to share your actions and these issues with your friends by sending them Common Sense Kids Action alerts and issues; Common Sense Kids Action may share with our affiliates and like-minded coalitions working on behalf of children the email address and/or zip code that you provided to us when you signed up to participate in Common Sense Kids Action.

Common Sense want to help you “Get inspired, get the tools, get to work on behalf of kids.” In addition to their website, you can follow on Facebook or Twitter at CSKidsAction.

Single Payer Health Care a Real Possiblity

Zulma Michaca and Shirley Toy speak at the American River Democrats April meeting

Though the Affordable Care Act—AKA Obamacare—was a major step forward to giving Americans universal affordable health insurance, it still has flaws, notably cost control. And now that the Trump Republicans are continuing to devise an even less accessible system, the California legislature is working on putting a system in place to provide the kind of health care most of the developed already has. State Senate Bill 562 is currently being heard in committees with a real chance of being passed and signed by the Governor. It recently passed the Health Committee and is due to be heard in Appropriations.

At the American River Democrats’ April meeting, we welcomed Shirley Toy and Zulma Michaca from the California Nurses Association. Their organization supports SB 562, because health care (not health insurance)is a human right. The Affordable Care Act was a great improvement, said Toy, but not enough. Costs continue to rise, and ACA didn’t do enough to change that. While the rest of the developed world pays less and gets better care, in the U.S., costs continue to rise while the Trump administration and Republican congress try to reach a compromise to end the ACA, and replace it with something “fantastic.” While the house finally passed their version, the Senate Republicans are struggling to make a less “objectionable” bill, but every proposal so far has robbed millions of the benefits they now have, while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

Meanwhile, American businesses large and small have problems competing with each other, and with international firms who don’t need to provide health insurance to their employees. Companies are forced to bargain health benefits with current and potential employees, while those in the “gig economy” and small business start-ups have to face big bills to get health care for themselves and their families.

The big question for bringing single-payer health care to California is how to pay for it. Toy pointed out that we already pay—and one-third of our insurance money goes to administration, marketing, doctors’ staff who deal with insurance, and profits for the private insurance companies. And the cost hospitals incur for treating uninsured people, especially in emergency rooms, gets built into the fees they charge paying customers. But just saying we already pay too much doesn’t actually fund the alternative! As club member Dr. Bill Durston pointed out, even the best idea needs a funding mechanism—the previous single payer bills would not have worked had there not been a companion bill to cover funding.

The bill currently says “It is the intent of the Legislature for the state to work to obtain waivers and other approvals relating to Medi-Cal, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare, the PPACA, and any other federal programs so that any federal funds and other subsidies that would otherwise be paid to the State of California, Californians, and health care providers would be paid by the federal government to the State of California and deposited in the Healthy California Trust Fund.” So that means that any money coming into California from the Federal government for healthcare would be funneled into the fund first. Additional money would obviously be needed. The remaining funding is not specific in the current bill, stating “It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would develop a revenue plan, taking into consideration anticipated federal revenue available for the program. In developing the revenue plan, it is the intent of the Legislature to consult with appropriate officials and stakeholders.”

So clearly, funding will also come from a combination of taxes and fees, to be specified in a companion bill, most likely. Though many, especially Republicans (and some Democrats) will claim it is a big tax hike on Californians, it should save money overall, as both the elimination of insurance company overhead, and using the power of large-pool negotiation with providers and drug companies, should allow for big savings. But then there is always the danger of bureaucratic waste and fraud, so the managers—the “Healthy California Board” and their staff—will have to be extremely vigilant in managing the program. If California proposes to provide a viable alternative to the national Trump/Republican plan, all of the citizens will need to see they are getting a good deal for good health care.

What do we get if SB 562, and a companion funding bill, are passed? All California residents will be eligible to enroll in a common health care system (like insurance, but different.) You choose your doctor, and/or “Care Coordinator,” who keeps track of your records and treatment. You may go to specialists without referrals, and coverage includes dental care, emergency, diagnostics, rehabilitation, substance abuse, prenatal care, mental health, prescription drugs, and more. You may also use a health care organization; a non-profit that coordinates care (like Kaiser, and others.)

Rates paid to providers are negotiated to insure both fairness to the doctors, medical staff, facilities, and drug companies, as well as the taxpayers of California who support the system. An immediate savings of at least 25 to 30 percent will come from the elimination of the insurance company costs. The system will be run by an independent board of nine Californians, appointed by the Governor and legislature, and chosen based on a background and expertise in health care; and must have at least one member from the general public, a nurses labor org., another labor org., and someone from the medical provider community. There will also be an advisory committee, representing a wide variety of citizens and representatives of various medical fields.

The political will needed, and fight to get this passed, will be formidable. Conservatives hate any government control of the market, even for essential services like health care. And conservative Democrats are reluctant to go too far, and risk losing support of the insurance and medical industry. While many organizations, like the California Nurses Association, labor unions, and many more support the idea, many doctors may fear losing income under this system.

But there is a lot to recommend it too, even to conservatives. Imagine the boon to businesses large and small if they no longer need to worry about providing health insurance benefits to attract good employees, and for the larger companies who are compelled to provide some form of coverage by law. Workers will have more choice to choose better jobs without worrying about losing or interrupting their health coverage. And entrepreneurs will be free to follow their dreams without the threat of bankrupting their families to buy insurance while they try to launch a small business. Is it worth paying somewhat higher income tax and potential business tax, if the payoff is so great? After eliminating the cost of health benefits for both employees and retirees, businesses will have a huge surplus of cash to help them chip in.  And individuals who have insurance costs deducted from their paychecks today may not even notice a tax increase. A successful launch of this system will no doubt draw more businesses to California once it has proven it works.

healthy california logoThe plan was designed following the model of developed countries around the world who provide better health care to their citizens than the U.S. does today. And as the bill progresses through the legislative process it will no doubt evolve further, especially the funding process. But the time to strike is now, with Democratic majorities and a Democratic Governor, (but one who still needs to be convinced.) For more information about this bill, see Healthy California.org, and let your representatives know you are behind it, especially those who may be on the fence, like Assembly Members Cooley and Cooper, and State Senator Pan.

Update: Senate Bill 562 passed 2 committees in the Senate and was approved on the Senate floor by a 23-14 vote, right down party lines. It has been sent to the Assembly, where it is currently in the Rules committee awaiting action to send it forward, likely to the Health and Human Services Committee, and then Appropriations. However, the companion funding bill has not been crafted as yet, causing Speaker Anthony Rendon to hold it in Rules for now.

Rendon stated: “As someone who has long been a supporter of single payer, I am encouraged by the conversation begun by Senate Bill 562.

However, SB 562 was sent to the Assembly woefully incomplete. Even senators who voted for SB 562 noted there are potentially fatal flaws in the bill, including the fact it does not address many serious issues, such as financing, delivery of care, cost controls, or the realities of needed action by the Trump Administration and voters to make SB 562 a genuine piece of legislation.

In light of this, I have decided SB 562 will remain in the Assembly Rules Committee until further notice.

Because this is the first year of a two-year session, this action does not mean SB 562 is dead. In fact, it leaves open the exact deep discussion and debate the senators who voted for SB 562 repeatedly said is needed.

The Senate can use that time to fill the holes in SB 562 and pass and send to the Assembly workable legislation that addresses financing, delivery of care, and cost control.”

Ken Kiunke, Communications Secretary