***SOLIDARITY SUNDAYS PINNED POST***
We all love good news, right? Right. So here's some:
*Chaffetz won't run again
*O'Reilly has been ousted by FOX (thanks to the investigative efforts of the NYT; the brave women who went forward with their lawsuits against him; the more than 50 advertisers who pulled their sponsorships; the COUNTLESS people who pressured those advertisers; and the many women w/in FOX and the Murdoch empire who stood the f**k up and demanded that O'Reilly go)
And in SolSun news: we've received two emails today that made us feel really good about the work we're ALL doing. The first one is from a friend of a friend of SolSun host Kris Bradburn, who wrote "I met w/ Mayor Spencer (Alameda) with regards to a city issue, and for some reason she mentioned that she got a stack of postcards asking her to sign the global covenant for mayors on climate & energy...she got the message and said she'd sign. Way to go!!!"
The second is from the Chief of Staff for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, with who we met yesterday. He wrote: "You guys hit a home run. She was extremely impressed with all of you - extremely. Honestly, I think she has grown a tad tired of the simplistic chanting, and one line arguments. You guys are so in depth on policy, it really engaged and excited her. Great great job."
So, that said, here's the recap [warning: it's long!] Caveat that this will recap the meeting in general, but is informed by my own perspective and doesn't necessarily speak for all who were there. I hope to convey the gist of the meeting, AND hope to inspire and inform other folks on how they might go about setting up meetings like this. Other meeting attendees, feel free to weigh in!
Quick recap for those who are new here: Back in January, I submitted a request for a meeting with a rep from her office via the website. No connections, no strings pulled, just a basic online form. The office replied, and four of us met with her Chief of Staff, Sean. We went in representing SolSun, with the goals of introducing ourselves, getting on their radar, and gaining insight into the most effective ways to influence and communicate with the Senator. We went in prepared, informed, positive, and clear on who we are and what we do. Great meeting, and we've stayed in touch with Sean, who has since met with A LOT of activist groups. In February we were invited to meet with the Senator herself. We put together a team of SolSunners, met in advance, sourced questions from this group, and prepared an extensive, well-researched packet with concerns and questions. Then DiFi cancelled due to a medical crisis (her knee replacement), but we still met again with Sean. Last week he wrote again to say that she'd like to reschedule , so we assembled the same crew of SolSunners and put together another packet with prepared questions and concerns. In the end we only made it through a few of our questions, but we left copies of the packet with her so she + the staff will see our work and questions. It is attached below for anyone to review!
The goal of our meeting was really to establish a positive connection with Feinstein, who is a Senior Senator and who holds powerful positions on the Senate Judiciary Committee (ranking Dem), the Sen Intelligence Comm, and the Sen Appropriations Comm, in the hopes of beginning a relationship with her. It's crucial to note here that meeting with her doesn't mean we *agree* with her. It's not an endorsement, we are not uncritical of her, we do not agree with her on many things. Feinstein is a moderate Dem on the hawkish end of the spectrum—she's NOT a progressive. She's practical, no-nonsense, cautious, policy-driven, and not given to sweeping political rhetoric. In Bay Area terms, she's often practically GOP. We don't believe that one meeting with her can "change her mind" or convince her of anything—we know that, and she made that clear when she explained that she won't be swayed by "thunder" and noise, and then reminded us that she became Mayor after she found her two colleagues shot dead in Nov 1978 (which was one week after Jonestown). In other words, she's a tough woman who's been through a lot and seen a lot.
That said, we do believe that there are ways we can work with her and her office. We made it very clear that we want her to take strong stances against Trump; she made it clear that, to her, the calls to "resist" are too simplistic. Politics is messy, complex, frustrating, and nuanced. This is HER talking, btw. We fully agree that we are NOT living in normal times, under normal circumstances, and that politics as usual will not cut it. That is something we conveyed both in conversation, and in the packet we left.
She began the meeting by having us all introduce ourselves (including the nervous college student interns who she instructed like a proper grandmother: "Stand up. Say your name. BOTH names, first and last!") Her vibe was warm and pleasant but also to-the-point, proper, and no-BS. She talked about the profound structural challenges facing Dems right now—the lack of votes, GOP control, etc. She began to talk a bit about how one can make change in a situation like this—basically as a way to preemptively temper any demands we might put forth. I talked about the need to get creative, and mentioned that's what activists have been doing—the rules are out the window, everything is new and crazy, and we're trying to come up with the best ways to effect change AND keep people engaged. I said that I think politicians need to do the same.
She then brought up a serious healthcare issue that's just been brought to her attention, that she's really fired up about, that she sees as a concrete way that people can resist: the potential elimination of insurance subsidies known as cost-sharing reductions (CSR) that basically enable millions of low-income people to get insurance. She shared the press release she'd received, and talked about this. One of our attendees, Sia Kollo Sellu spoke about how cuts like this would directly affect her as someone living with metastatic breast cancer. It would ELIMINATE her health care. Completely. Sia and the Senator had a powerful exchange about this, and I could tell that Feinstein was emotional about both Sia's personal story and the political issue. (Note: The Hill ran a piece about it today: http://thehill.com/…/329412-health-subsidy-demand-jams-up-s…)
I then moved us onto our policy questions. For this part I'm gonna borrow from Sahar Azi's comprehensive meeting notes (thank you Sahar!):
*Mer asked about Syria. (See the SolSun document we shared with Dianne Feinstein.)
i. Senator Feinstein, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was sharing information about where chemical weapons have been manufactured in Syria with the Obama White House for months; the Obama administration did not react. She thinks the strike sent a message to al-Assad that was necessary. She did discuss efforts to support a moderate
opposition in Syria—and the nature of the opposition has changed over time. The goal had been to get al-Assad to the table. These efforts failed—as the Intelligence committee knew it wouldn’t. The question becomes, since we can’t forge a peace agreement, what can we do. She said she was of the opinion that we might need to do somethings we don’t what to do. She proposes, perhaps, taking out the Syrian air defense system and creating a safe zone for refugees to be safe. It is
time, perhaps to take out al-Assad, but that is not very easy. She thinks loss of life is inevitable, but perhaps we can use special forces and sophisticated tactics to carry out certain missions. All of the work that went into creating a peace agreement went away with the past administration. So what is Trump going to do? She indicated that we don't know, as he is unpredictable, but this will not be a ground war, nobody wants that, but that special forces would likely be involved. She repeatedly asserted that there are no simple answers.
*Mer asked about North Korea/China. (See the SolSun document we shared with Senator Feinstein.)
i. Senator Feinstein suggested that "making noise: might not be the way to make a difference with regard to North Korea. She described the government as improving its nuclear capacity, and the leader of North Korea as being unafraid to take people out in his quest for power. She said the US sent the Carl Vincent fleet, though our missile defense if not up to snuff. We are left with the six-party talks and whether the Chinese leader has
any say. Senator Feinstein wonders about the nature of the meeting with the Chinese President at Mar-a- Lago. She also discussed what actual weaponry the North Korean military has; she is concerned about what our intelligence knows about where this equipment can be found.
*These questions and answers took a while—because of time constraints, Leslie jumped to the final question about Activism.
i. Senator Feinstein said that she is not particularly affected by "thunder" (i.e. activist noise). She became mayor in the wake of assassination; noise is not necessarily what moves her. She then suggested that we build our membership to create policies that work. (My commentary—in other words, we should organize.) She said that she does truly believe that the thing that can get things done is the women of America getting together.
She was complimentary of our efforts, and then paid us our biggest compliment. She said that she's been watching us during the meeting, observing our facial expressions, our preparation, how we ask questions. "You should know that your group is VERY unusual," she said. In a good way? we asked. "Yes," she said emphatically. "In a very good way."
By this time there were two separate groups waiting in the lobby to meet with her (mostly white men in suits); after we took photos with her she said "I would like to have us meet again next time I'm back. We should do it over a meal." "And drinks," i added, and she said "I'll bring the wine." She also asked for any feedback or thoughts on this healthcare subsidy issue.
And that was that! We went and got lunch and high-fived each other. Over lunch at the SF Ferry Building many of us agreed that while we DISagreed with many of her positions, esp her hawkish stances on Syria and North Korea, we appreciated the chance to hear her talk about them, and respect her process. Again: We may not agree, but if we'd gone in there and yelled at her (which we would never do) or made hard demands right off the bat, I'm not sure we would get invited back. I'm not sure she would engage with us. We can now track her positions and follow up with her and her office in way that might get through better—for SolSun to now say "We OPPOSE this stance you're taking on ___" may now carry more weight.
This all might really rub some folks the wrong way, and I'm really trying to just report out and not go too deep into my own takes on effective engagement, activism, etc, but I want to be clear that this meeting represents one particular approach that's available to us as constituents who want to make change. There's a vast spectrum of actions and approaches—this one is about respectful engagement and relationship building with someone who has a great deal of power, and who will be more likely to listen to us if we come to her informed and willing to listen—but also willing to tell her what we think. We're seeking similar meetings with other California officials (Kamala Harris, Gov Brown, local mayors) and I REALLY encourage others to do the same. We are more than happy to help you advise and prep for meetings like this. We're SO lucky to have Mer Rainwater, master Organizational Development and Facilitator on our team.
Also: we have NO clue if she'll run again in 2018. We're not allowed to ask about campaigns inside the Senate office.
Ok wow I wrote a lot! Thanks for reading!