Think Chesa Boudin is letting criminals roam free? You have no idea, because SF’s court records are a mess

Anna Tong Sep. 25, 2021 (SFChronicle.com)

District Attorney Chesa Boudin at San Francisco's Hall of Justice in May.
District Attorney Chesa Boudin at San Francisco’s Hall of Justice in May.Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

San Francisco’s criminal justice system is under an international spotlight. Our district attorney, Chesa Boudin, has been the subject of dueling profiles in New York Magazine and the New Yorker. Our shoplifting issues have been covered ad nauseam in outlets from the Wall Street Journal to CNN. Yet despite all the attention, nobody seems to know much about what is actually happening in our criminal courts.

Is Boudin letting dangerous criminals back on the streets, or is he unfairly maligned? We often have no idea.

San Francisco’s criminal justice system is a black box. And a major reason why is because our criminal records request system is shamefully inadequate. We are the tech capital of the world, yet our system is stuck in a pre-internet time warp.

For example, a reporter I work with has been following an incident where a man chased a couple with a kitchen knife in broad daylight. The anti-Boudin crowd latched on to the man’s “long and violent record,” insinuating that it was Boudin’s fault the man was free and that the attack was allowed to happen. My colleague, however, received a tip that the D.A. had tried to charge a felony, but it was the judge who actually tossed the case. Because of the court’s impenetrable record system, it took almost a month to confirm who the judge was. Meanwhile, the news cycle has moved on.

In order to hold Boudin and other elected officials accountable — or to laud them — we need to demand that the San Francisco Superior Court do a better job making records accessible in reality, not just in name.

Somebody jaded might say: “Well, that’s just how it is with government institutions — they make it hard.” I would tell those people to go across the bay to Alameda County, or look at the federal court filing system, or look at what other San Francisco departments have done during COVID.

I am a freelance journalist, and if I’m researching a criminal case in Alameda County, I can go online and request records with the click of a button, and pay for them with my credit card. In a few days, the requested documents will arrive at my house by mail. I can also walk into a courthouse and electronically view most case filings from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during the week.

If I want to research federal court filings, it’s even easier: I can do everything from home. The PACER website provides “instantaneous access to more than 1 billion documents filed at all federal courts.”

Other city departments had no trouble moving online during COVID. For instance, the Department of Building Inspection increased the types of projects and permits that allowed online submissions.

San Francisco Superior Court’s criminal records request system, on the other hand, became even more byzantine during COVID.

San Francisco refuses to accept any criminal records requests by any method except paper. You can send a request via snail mail. If you want to ensure they get your request, or if your request is time-sensitive, you must drop it off in person. You can’t pay for your records request online, so to avoid going back to the courthouse to pick up your documents, you must include a blank check with the request, and a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

Walk-ins are no longer permitted during COVID. To view a docket, you must first submit your request in writing, by either snail mail or a trip to the courthouse. Then, in a time frame that varies and can take up to a week, somebody from the records division calls you, and you make an appointment to come in to view the docket. At your appointment, you have only 30 minutes to look at the docket that can be hundreds of pages long. After that, you will be kicked out, even though relatively few people appear to make these appointments each day.

If you want to know what happened at specific hearings, you will need to either pay for a court reporter transcript, which costs about $30-$50 per hearing, or you will need to pay $25 and head back to court to pick up … a CD-ROM. The last time Apple made a Mac with a CD-ROM drive was 2012, nearly 10 years ago. I couldn’t find a computer with a CD-ROM drive, so I had to borrow a friend’s old car to play the CD-ROM.

Journalists like me aren’t the only ones who need easy access to records. Crime victims and people who are accused of crimes, many of whom have inflexible jobs, or don’t have a car, or don’t have money to request expensive CD-ROMs, need them, too. This equity problem is especially bad in criminal court because crime too often targets the poor.

The terrible criminal court records “user experience” even extends to the court’s public relations. When I emailed to ask when reporters would be able to walk in to request dockets, public relations officer Ken Garcia emailed me back: “It’s a ridiculous question to ask right now. I was only a journalist for 35 years, but I think anyone should know better given the circumstances.”

I replied that if COVID safety were truly a priority, the court should consider conducting its business online, rather than requiring that I return paper documents.

He never responded to my email.

That won’t cut it. San Francisco voters have consistently demanded criminal justice reform at the ballot box. To determine if this voter will is being met, we need transparency. Having open courtrooms is not enough. Our court needs to bring its records request system out of the dark age.

Anna Tong is a freelance reporter.

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10 YEARS LATER, OCCUPY LIVES ON IN SOCIETY AND POLITICS

FRI, 9/17/2021 – BY CARL GIBSON  (Occupy.com) 

Now that the Occupy movement has turned 10 years old, it’s worth looking back and gauging how effective our protest against capitalism and oligarchy has been over the past decade. Yes, the tents and occupations are long gone. Yes, capitalism is still the dominant ideology. And yes, banks and multinational corporations still run our government. But when following the timeline, the impression Occupy Wall Street left on American politics, society, and how we talk about capitalism is undeniable.

10 years ago, when the first Occupy Wall Street activists descended onto Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the entire movement was largely met with ridicule. A New York Times write-up cast protesters as non-threatening, inanely shouting about the greed of the financial sector as tourists “gazed quizzically” at the spectacle.

A week later, NYPD lieutenant Anthony Bologna (known as Tony Baloney) pepper-sprayed two young women without provocation. The incident went viral, and soon, Occupy encampments sprung up in hundreds of cities nationwide (full disclosure: I helped organize with Occupy Houston, which maintained a physical occupation well into summer of 2012).

The camps themselves served a variety of purposes. We not only had a physical space to practice direct democracy and hold a 24-7 dialogue with local residents about capitalism, we also fed the homeless by collaborating with grassroots mutual aid groups like Food Not Bombs, and provided the unhoused community with temporary shelter. Our camps served as hubs to plan nonviolent direct action, and as public forums for dialogue about capitalism, racism, the climate crisis, and other topics that were often ignored by major media.

Occupy Wall Street anniversary, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy

Occupy Wall Street was never meant to remain married to the tactic of occupation. In 2011, members of Spain’s Indignados movement told Occupy Houston organizers on a conference call that the camps were a means to an end. In fact, the Indignados recommended we voluntarily disassemble the encampments after two weeks to organize our family members and neighbors in our own communities. Looking back, maintaining the camps into the winter months was a tactical mistake, and we went from having the sympathy and support of the community to becoming a public nuisance and a target of ridicule.

But Occupy had a tangential impact in society even well after police evicted the encampments. In New York City, Occupy Sandy sprung up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to coordinate with the national guard and direct mutual aid efforts to support those most in need. Occupy Madison still continues its efforts to build tiny homes to shelter the homeless, which is even more crucial during Wisconsin’s notoriously brutal winters. In Minneapolis and elsewhere, Occupiers successfully defended multiple attempts to evict victims of foreclosure. Occupy’s Strike Debt movement launched the Rolling Jubilee campaign, which ended up buying nearly $32 million in distressed medical debt for pennies on the dollar, and abolishing it. Shortly after she was elected, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez occupied the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in conjunction with Green New Deal advocates.

The Occupy movement’s true legacy is perhaps as a seed of more radical direct action and political campaigns that permeated future years. Occupation was a critical tactic in direct action efforts to stop construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. The tactic of shutting down traffic on highways and at major intersections that became a staple of Occupy Wall Street was later repeated at Black Lives Matter actions across the country

In 2016 and 2020, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) both ran on platforms that borrowed heavily from the Occupy movement. Sanders pushed for universal healthcare and a living wage, abolishing student debt, and putting an end to imperialist foreign policy. Warren ran on free universal child care, aggressive anti-corruption policies, and establishing a wealth tax targeted specifically at the super-rich. Sanders won tens of millions of votes and nearly half of all states in the contest for the Democratic nomination in 2016 despite a documented effort by the Democratic Party’s leadership to sabotage his campaign.

Occupy Wall Street anniversary, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy

Even though Joe Biden ended up becoming president, even the relatively conservative former Delaware senator has adopted some of the economic populism mainstreamed by the Occupy movement. President Biden has boldly come out in favor of significant tax increases on the rich, while simultaneously pursuing a $3.5 trillion budget bill that would be the most ambitious social welfare legislation since the New Deal if passed. The contents of Biden’s plan contain a multitude of programs championed by the Occupy movement, like universal pre-K education, establishing a national paid family and medical leave program, and allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs for the first time ever. 

President Biden has even been the first president to acknowledge the epidemic of dozens of multinational corporations getting away with paying zero US taxes — a subject that gained mainstream attention following the US Uncut movement that predated Occupy (full disclosure: I was one of the co-founders of US Uncut). 

Anyone that claims the Occupy movement failed hasn’t been paying attention to American politics for the last decade. The fight to eradicate capitalism and wrest control of our government back from the corporate elite goes on. But Occupy built the foundation for today’s protest movements, dictated the tone of the last two presidential elections, and continues to have a lasting impact on how we talk about capitalism. In 2016, a majority of millennials had unfavorable views of capitalism. By 2021, both millennials and Generation Z had a negative view of capitalism. A full 41% of Americans now view socialism in a favorable light. 

The camps may have been disbanded, but Occupy’s values have become inextricably connected with society. Socialists are increasing their ranks in Congress and in state legislatures, and Democratic Socialists of America — the largest and most influential socialist political party in the US — continues to organize for electoral victories from the municipal to the national level. Occupy isn’t going anywhere.

Carl Gibson is an independent journalist and columnist whose work has been published in CNN, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Barron’s, Business Insider, The Independent, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs.

Occupy Wall Street anniversary, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy

OCCUPY WALL STREET DID MORE THAN YOU THINK

FRI, 9/17/2021 – BY MICHAEL LEVITIN

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE ATLANTIC (Occupy.com)

A decade before United Nations climate scientists issued a “code red for humanity,” the 20-year-old college junior Evan Weber joined several thousand protesters descending on Wall Street to declare a code red for democracy. At the height of the Great Recession, Weber and his generation saw the climate crisis staring them in the face, along with exploding wealth and income inequality, student debt, and housing and health-care costs. On September 17, 2011, they rebelled. Pointing a finger at banks, corporations, and the wealthiest 1 percent, whom they blamed for corrupting our democracy by buying elections to control the legislative process, the protesters camping in Zuccotti Park issued a clarion call for justice: “We are the 99 percent.” That fall, hundreds of thousands of people joined Occupy Wall Street and its partner occupations in more than 600 U.S. towns and cities. Overnight, the movement created a new narrative around economic inequality—and seized the public’s attention. Polls showed that a wide majority of Americans supported Occupy.

Then, almost as quickly as it had arrived, the movement appeared to vanish, leaving behind little except for the language of the 99 and the 1 percent. In the decade since, the wealth gap has only widened. The rules haven’t changed; our system remains rigged to benefit those at the top. And yet, on the tenth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, it’s clear that the movement has had lasting, visible impacts on our political and cultural landscape—igniting an era of resistance that has redefined economic rights, progressive politics, and activism for a generation.

Reinventing Activism

At its core, Occupy made protesting cool again—it brought the action back into activism—as it emboldened a generation to take to the streets and demand systemic reforms: racial justice, women’s equality, gun safety, the defense of democracy. As the Occupy veteran Nicole Carty told me, “We can’t unlearn the 99 percent. Now what you have is a whole generation that is growing up in movement times, which explains all the escalation you’re seeing and the work that’s happening among very young people who were still kids during Occupy.”

Rewriting the protest playbook, Occupy introduced a decentralized form of movement organizing that enabled hundreds of city chapters to reinforce and strengthen one another yet remain independent—a sharp break from the traditional, hierarchical structure of protest movements of the past. Pioneering the use of live-stream technology while employing powerful social-media messaging and meme tactics to grow participation both on- and offline, Occupy showed a new generation how to turn social movements into a viral spectacle that seizes control of the public narrative.

More deeply, the movement on Wall Street injected activists with a new sense of courage: Confronting power and issuing demands through civil disobedience is now an ingrained part of our political culture. In the years since, a cascade of social movements influenced by Occupy have altered the national conversation, including Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the Women’s March, Indivisible, and March for Our Lives. On a fundamental level, “we changed the way that people hear and see and understand and process a narrative of resistance,” the former Occupy activist Dana Balicki said.

And in a sense, the protesters have never gone home. Harry Waisbren, who helped lead the movement’s online efforts at Zuccotti Park, told me, “The individuals and the networks would go on and start new projects, and you’d keep seeing them over and over at the cutting edge: The same people who were in Occupy Wall Street were in Black Lives Matter, the People’s Climate March, the Sunrise Movement. Some of the top activists of this generation got their start at Occupy.”

Protesters in Zuccotti Park, New York (Brian Shumway / Redux)

Protesters in Zuccotti Park, New York (Brian Shumway / Redux)

From Occupy to the Green New Deal

The Sunrise Movement, the youth-led climate organization that Weber co-founded in 2017, is today among the loudest voices—in the streets and at the ballot box—demanding transformative, Green New Deal–style policies in Congress’s $3.5 trillion budget bill. The impassioned Gen Z climate generation didn’t come out of nowhere. It emerged as a direct successor to Occupy, whose activists helped redirect the fight against inequality into a focused, strategic movement to save the planet.

The six-year battle that defeated the Keystone XL pipeline and the 10-month defense of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its challenge against the now-illegal Dakota Access Pipeline are two other examples of Occupy galvanizing the U.S. environmental movement as activists recommitted themselves to halting oil, gas, and coal infrastructure projects nationwide. From the fossil-fuel-divestment campaign to the 2014 People’s Climate March, which preceded the Paris Accord, and from Extinction Rebellion’s militant direct actions to the global climate strikes that brought millions of young people into the streets in 2019, Occupy’s groundbreaking message and tactics set the modern climate movement on its course.

Some of the most skilled Zuccotti Park organizers also later founded the organization Momentum to train activists such as Weber to develop tangible policy goals and create a road map for enacting long-term, structural change. As a result, Sunrise helped marshal the youth vote in the 2018 midterms to elect a slate of House progressives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who would elevate the group’s climate-jobs plan—which came to be known as the Green New Deal—to the top of the Democratic Party platform.

The Wage Rebellion

In dollars-and-cents terms, Occupy changed the way Americans understood their role in the economy, inaugurating a decade of labor unrest as employees became activists and workers rediscovered their power. In the fall of 2012, a year after protesters were evicted from Zuccotti Park, Occupy organizers working in coalition with unions and nonprofits took the message of economic justice to those most ready to hear it: low-wage earners seeking a $15 minimum wage. When the first several hundred fast-food workers in New York City walked off their jobs demanding higher pay, better working conditions, and the right to form a union, that marked a breakthrough for organized labor, opening a new workers’ front known as the Fight for $15.

In response, voters and legislators raised the base pay in more than half of U.S. states; dozens of cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., established a $15 minimum. Democrats nearly managedto include a $15 federal minimum wage in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law in March, revealing how much the economic demands spurred by Occupy have reshaped the national discussion.

The fight against income inequality transformed the labor movement in other ways, as Occupy activists in 2012 began helping organize nationwide Black Friday strikes at Walmart, which eventually led to higher pay for half a million employees at the world’s largest retailer. The uprising spread across the low-wage sector—encompassing striking janitors, airport staff, nurses, domestic workers, hotel workers, hospital employees, construction workers, supermarket clerks, and others—shifting the balance of power between employers and employees. The decade-long wave of worker protests achieved its greatest visibility and impact in 2018, when public-school teachers launched strikes to demand raises—which they won—across a dozen states, including West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and the Carolinas, in what became known as the Red State Revolt.

The steady uptick in labor activism seems to be moving the needle. In March, the House passed the most pro-union bill in decades—the Protecting the Right to Organize Act—to strengthen labor protections, expand collective-bargaining rights, penalize employers who violate labor laws, and weaken right-to-work laws. Forty years after Ronald Reagan crushed the air-traffic controllers’ strike, dealing a generational blow to America’s unions, the nation appears to be entering a new, more robust era of worker demands—accelerated by conditions in the coronavirus economy, and again, reflecting the distance the country has traveled since Occupy issued its seminal wake-up call to the 99 percent.

Occupy Wall Street protesters in November 2011 (Marcus Yam / The New York Times / Redux)

Occupy Wall Street protesters in November 2011 (Marcus Yam / The New York Times / Redux)

Remaking the Democratic Party

But perhaps Occupy Wall Street’s most seismic and discernible impact has been on politics itself—shifting the window of what is deemed politically acceptable discourse and pulling the nation to the left. Prior to Occupy, no mainstream legislator in Washington dared to criticize capitalism’s thorough corruption of our politics: the obscene wealth gap, the laws designed by corporations, the billionaires evading taxes, and the revolving door that keeps the 1 percent in charge. That all changed with Occupy, which declared that economic injustice and inequality were deliberate outcomes of policies shaped by Wall Street’s greed. By framing the populist economic message that thrust anti-corporate lawmakers such as Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Ocasio-Cortez into the electoral spotlight, Occupy Wall Street arguably did more in six months to move American politics to the left than the Democratic Party was able to do in six decades. Which raises the question: Could Sanders and his political revolution have been possible before Occupy shattered decades of silence about income inequality? Not likely.

As Representative Ro Khanna from California’s Seventeenth District, which includes Silicon Valley, told me, “Sanders’s and Warren’s life’s work was happening well before the Occupy movement, but I’m not sure the country would have been ready to listen to their voices—and I don’t think they would have emerged as national figures—if it weren’t for Occupy putting the issues of wealth and income inequality front and center.” Some imagined that the movement would transform into a political force: a Tea Party of the left. Although the transition never happened, Occupy achieved something perhaps even greater. According to Khanna, it “created the conditions for the emergence of a progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and in the long run, the progressive wing is ascendant and is likely to succeed.”

The movement was particularly instrumental in the rise of Sanders, whom many would later call “the Occupy candidate.” When Sanders first got on the national map in 2015’s primary season, it was thanks in large part to a group of Occupy activists who had repurposed their digital-organizing and social-media talents into a viral movement called People for Bernie. Operating independently of the Sanders campaign, the group created a horizontal model for voter engagement by inviting volunteers across all regions and demographics to help the Sanders phenomenon spread in the distributed, decentralized format of a social movement.

“We understood how to mobilize the internet,” Charles Lenchner, a co-founder of People for Bernie, said. “We trusted the people and told them to do what they thought was right. We gave away the keys.” The tactic drew millions of supporters as it empowered people to become stakeholders propelling the movement. The group fueled Sanders’s meteoric ascent, particularly among Millennials, as the campaign introduced small-dollar fundraising as a winning strategy and activated a new generation’s engagement in the democratic process.

By reinventing digital electoral politics, Occupy veterans helped put a once-fringe Democratic socialist into the leadership of the Democratic Party, where he was able to move progressive priorities—Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, debt-free college, a $15 wage, higher taxes on the wealthy—from the periphery into the mainstream. Sanders would provide the springboard for Ocasio-Cortez and a generation of anti-corporate lawmakers to begin to remake one of America’s two major parties, as social movements shaped electoral outcomes. In the words of Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party, “Occupy shifted the political culture of the U.S.,” birthing an era in which “liberals have been radicalized, and radicals have been electoralized.”

When I interviewed Evan Weber for my book about Occupy and its legacy, he agreed that the movement played an essential role in igniting a new progressive era—one that might finally be on the verge of achieving transformational social, economic, and electoral reforms. “AOC wouldn’t have run if Bernie’s campaign wasn’t as successful as it was, and Bernie’s campaign wouldn’t have resonated and been successful if not for Occupy,” he said. “Occupy helped create a mood and understanding in the country of the populist moment that we’re in, where so few have so much at the expense of the rest of us.”

Occupy was like a great wave hitting shore—and a warning of even bigger waves to come. Among the slogans and chants that resonated at Zuccotti Park, one in particular has echoed through the decade: “This is what democracy looks like.” For a generation whose time to solve the climate crisis is running out, government must now deliver. The alternative, Weber warned, may drive “an army of young people to begin flexing its muscles” on a scale not seen since the 1930s, through disruptive resistance featuring “mass sustained shutdowns, occupations, and general strikes.” As the turbulence of the past decade has shown, systemic crises must be confronted. Occupy provided a blueprint for how popular dissent and demands can change America. Now a new 99 percent must write the next chapter.

This article was adapted from Michael Levitin’s book Generation Occupy: Reawakening American Democracy.Michael Levitin is a journalist and co-founding editor of The Occupied Wall Street Journal. He is the author of Generation Occupy: Reawakening American Democracy.

SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN PLAYED HIGHLY POLITICAL ROLE AGAINST FILIBUSTER REFORM IN 2013

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, center, works during the certification of Electoral College ballots in the presidential election, in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, center, works during the certification of Electoral College ballots in the presidential election, in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Elizabeth MacDonough’s hubristic approach was on display in her fight against Democrats’ rule change.

Ryan Grim

Ryan Grim
September 22 2021, 7:23 a.m. (TheIntercept.com)

SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN Elizabeth MacDonough actively organized against Democratic efforts to reform the filibuster throughout 2013, working closely with a bipartisan group of senators hoping to stave off the rules change, MacDonough told a law school audience during a 2018 commencement address at Vermont Law School.

By 2013, Senate Democrats faced a long backlog of judicial and executive nominees, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell thwarting the party’s efforts to confirm the Obama administration’s nominees at every turn. Outside of a few holdouts, Democrats in the Senate were pushing to eliminate the filibuster on judicial and executive appointments below the Supreme Court level. MacDonough played a highly political role in the intense dispute, she recounted.n

MacDonough said in her commencement speech that while her nominal job was to assist the elected senators in the body, she felt her true allegiance was to the institution of the Senate, which is cloaked in a heavily contested mythology. “I represent the interests of my unseen client, the institution of the Senate itself. While serving its hundred members on a day-to-day basis, I still represent the Senate,” she said.

“It was the protection of the Senate’s rules and precedents that brought me into conflict with the Senate majority back in 2013 when talk of overturning the Senate’s cloture rule for nominations by what is called ‘the nuclear option’ was revived,” she continued, referring to the parliamentary procedure that lets the Senate override a standing rule by simple majority. “It was my duty to advocate for preservation of that rule and in doing so, I worked with all the gangs.”

The term “gang” is used in the Senate to describe an ad hoc working group of senators, generally from both parties, who’ve formed a group on a temporary basis with a particular goal in mind. A Gang of Six formed to hash out health care reform in 2009, for instance, and a Gang of 10 worked on the recent bipartisan infrastructure plan in the Senate. In 2005, a Gang of 14 got together to fend off changes to filibuster rules when it was Democrats who were holding up George W. Bush nominees.

Offering technical advice to a gang would be well within the scope of her job but, as MacDonough made clear in her address, she allied with the centrists looking to block reform. “We worked on compromise orders; I was warning of nuclear winter, the erosion of the Senate’s trademark comity, and the danger of setting such a precedent,” she said. “I cautioned against the loss of the 60-vote threshold as a bulwark against pressure from the executive branch. I hoped that there would be some understanding that the rules that some in the Senate wanted to amend for a limited advantage were there to protect them from disadvantage in all other circumstances. And for a time, it seemed as though the center would hold.”

MacDonough described the ultimate reform to the filibuster — which allowed the Obama administration to staff its agencies and appoint judges — as a “stinging defeat.” “By November, the argument was lost; the chair on my advice ruled against a point of order on lowering the threshold for cloture, but an appeal was taken, and I was overturned. It was a stinging defeat that I tried not to take personally. That wasn’t easy,” she said.Her understanding of the event as a “stinging defeat” suggests an expansive view of her role in the Senate.

Of course, she was not overturned because she made no ruling. As parliamentarian, she only advises the chair of the Senate, who is either the vice president or a senator. She reports to the secretary of the Senate, who reports to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Her understanding of the event — a majority of senators voting to implement new rules in the chamber where they are elected to serve — as a “stinging defeat” suggests an expansive view of her role in the Senate.

The fight to reform the filibuster has brought the Senate’s real history into relief, with a number of Democratic senators having read the recent book “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy,” a history of the filibuster written by Adam Jentleson, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The book, along with individual education sessions conducted by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., has helped senators understand that the filibuster was not part of the original Senate design, was introduced by accident, expanded in a fluke, and then ruthlessly exploited almost exclusively in defense of segregation and white supremacy.

MacDonough noted that in 2017, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., ended the filibuster for Supreme Court justices, she felt a sense of empty vindication. “It will never feel good or rewarding enough to say ‘I told you so’ when people finally understand the point of which you were trying to convince them,” she said.

The notion that McConnell would not have ended the filibuster if Democrats had resisted doing so is at odds with every norm McConnell had been willing to break to keep the seat open, including refusing to entertain a nominee from President Barack Obama.

That year, MacDonough took heat from the right for barring some elements of the Affordable Care Act from being repealed through reconciliation, and from the left for allowing drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve to go through. But, she said, she had no regrets, and she wasn’t going anywhere. “As a senator said to me recently, if last year didn’t make you retire, you’re never going to go,” she said. That’s just fine with a majority of senators in both parties, Senate insiders said, explaining that MacDonough enjoys an immense amount of popularity on both sides of the aisle and that firing her now would likely blow up any chance of moving anything through reconciliation. Having an unelected bulwark to blame for an inability to govern is a bipartisan thing.Having an unelected bulwark to blame for an inability to govern is a bipartisan thing.

In any event, she did stick around, and in February scotched the Democratic effort to include a minimum wage increase in reconciliation, despite the Congressional Budget Office finding that the policy had a significant deficit impact. MacDonough’s confidence in her position was expressed in the opinion she delivered. After hearing extended arguments from both parties, and sorting through dueling memos, she issued a one-line verdict simply declaring the minimum wage ineligible for reconciliation. The hubris of declining to offer any advice, and instead simply rendering a verdict, infuriated some Democrats involved in the process.

Her opinion, issued Sunday, on including a pathway to legal residency and citizenship in the Democrats’ reconciliation bill suggests that MacDonough took the criticism to heart; this time around, she actually explained her reasoning as to why, she judged, immigration reform shouldn’t be part of reconciliation. But the way she did is indicative of how far removed the position is from that of a staffer offering parliamentary advice. She begins it like a Supreme Court opinion: “The question before us is …”

LPR Legislation3 pages

For a provision to clear what’s known as a “Byrd bath,” there is a six-prong test. Five of those prongs — no need to go into them here — are fairly objective. The sixth, the most subjective, is the “merely incidental” test. A policy can’t be included if its budget impact is “merely incidental.” A staffer offering guidance would let principals know how a policy fared on each prong, and in cases where there’s a gray area, present competing arguments and precedents. Instead, MacDonough waxed poetic about the trials of migrants and then created a brand new precedent that, if taken to its logical conclusion, would bar any significant legislation from moving through reconciliation.

“The reasons that people risk their lives to come to this country — to escape religious and political persecution, famine, war, unspeakable violence and lack of opportunity in their home countries — cannot be measured in federal dollars,” she wrote. That’s a lovely sentiment, but it has nothing to do with interpreting Senate rules. MacDonough should run for office, and in the meantime, the Senate needs staff that can offer unbiased advice.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

Ryan Grimryan.grim@​theintercept.com@ryangrim

A new dark-money group with GOP support seeks to raise crime fears

A misleading mailer attacking the record of DA Chesa Boudin hits the streets—but who paid for it?

By TIM REDMOND SEPTEMBER 22, 2021 (48hills.org)

A new dark-money organization is sending out mailers that seem to encourage people to support the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin—but it’s not part of any formal campaign and it’s impossible to figure out who is funding it.

The group is called Stop Crime Action, and its mailer went out across the city last week. I didn’t get one, and most of my progressive friends in Bernal Heights didn’t either; we are apparently not the targeted audience.

But those who got the mailers saw an image of what looks like a broken car window and a message that says “crimes are rising in our neighborhoods.”

It lists (misleading) data on the rise in crimes in the city:

So I went to the site that the mailer uses as its source. You can do the same thing, too. It’s right here.

Over the past eight months, the data shows, rape is down, 13.5 percent. (And, under Boudin, rape prosecutions are up.) Robbery is down, 7.0 percent. Arson is indeed up, 6.1 percent – but there’s not a whole lot of arson in San Francisco. The numbers went from 231 to 245, which means 14 more instances.

Yes, murder is up in San Francisco. It’s also up across the country, and across California. But in fact, the increase has been much lower in San Francisco than in most other big cities in the state—and much lower than communities with tough-on-crime prosecutors.

This stuff is, in fact, the new normal: The local news media, particularly the Chron and the TV stations, have consistently run factually inaccurate, biased stories about Boudin’s record.

The interesting element of this is that the mailer was produced by a group called StopCrimeAction, which has a fairly rudimentary website that talks about a mission to “educate the public about crime and what is being done to address it” and “organize residents to engage elected officials.”

But records on file with the Secretary of State show that the group has only been around since July 9. It’s filed as a public benefit corporation (which means it’s a nonprofit, but contributions are not tax exempt since it’s involved in political campaigns).

There are three named officers: Frank Noto, Thomas Ostly, and Marie Hurabielle.

Noto is a political consultant who says he specializes in “overcoming NIMBY opposition” to real-estate development. He was a big supporter of Nancy Tung for DA. He’s the one running the organization.

Hurabielle is a Trump appointee to the Presidio Trust who ran for City College Board in 2020. She is also, according to data on file with the Federal Elections Commission, a donor to national and statewide Republican campaigns.

Thomas Ostly was a prosecutor in the DA’s Office until Boudin took over. He’s a big supporter of surveillance cameras in the Castro.

So here’s where it gets interesting.

Since this is a 501 c 4 nonprofit, it is under no obligation to release its donor list. This is how dark-money groups get around campaign-finance laws.

I asked Noto if the organization was supporting the Boudin recall. He told me:

“We are not taking a position on either of the Boudin recalls.”

But the mailer clearly parrots recall-campaign talking points. And it the group isn’t working with the recall folks, it’s not at all clear to me why it exists and what it’s doing. Why put out that mailer if there’s no political point to it?

I asked Noto who paid for the mailer, and he said: “Stop Crime Action paid for the mailer.”

Yes, I get that. But who are the donors to Stop Crime Action?

He has declined to answer that question.

So what we have here is yet another unaccountable dark-money group playing in the often-GOP-led world of attacking the record of an elected progressive prosecutor in this era of recall madness. Why should I be surprised?

Tim Redmond Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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Remembering Spain’s 15-M Movement, Occupy’s scrappy precursor

Banners at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza during the 15-M occupation. Photo by David Schnur.

Remembering Spain’s 15-M Movement, Occupy’s scrappy precursor

By MARKE B. SEPTEMBER 20, 2021 (48hills.org)

As the US looks back a decade later, a necessary reminder that Occupy was a reverberation of a global movement.ByMARKE B.SEPTEMBER 20, 2021 l

In May and June of 2011, I traveled with my photographer husband to Tunisia and Morocco to document the cultural transformations taking place as the “Arab Spring” unfolded, dictators were toppled, and people throughout the Mediterranean and beyond protested for democracy. On our way, we stopped in Spain to witness the 15-M aka “Los Indignados” Movement that had occupied Madrid’s main square and elsewhere in the country, which like many was suffering from economic collapse, corruption, and massive unemployment. (The 15-M protest movement was directly inspired by San Francisco’s own protest history and iconography.) Soon, the Occupy Movement in the US would seize headlines, but as we observe that movement’s 10th anniversary, it’s good to be reminded that behind Occupy was a global movement for change. You can read more about Occupy and five centuries of protest in my book, Into the Streets: A Young Person’s Visual History of Protest in the United States, now in its second printing from Lerner Books. The story below was originally published to the Bay Guardian’s website on May 25, 2011.

“Yes We Camp,” “Toma la Plaza!,” and “I can haz democracy … for realz now?” signs blanketed Madrid’s enormous Puerta del Sol plaza, as what started as a demonstration by a politically disenchanted few (“los indignados”) on the Sunday before the May 22 regional and municipal elections has grown into a full-fledged, round-the-clock, generalized protest movement, attracting tens of thousands here and in other Spanish city centers.

A calico patchwork of Quechua brand tents and sun-diffusing tarps fans out from the vibrant and loud main speaker/assembly arena, as dozens of perfectly scruffy, mostly half-naked (and from what we saw over two days, mostly white but pretty well-mixed age-wise and gender-wise) people beat the current heatwave while making Sol home. At night, the plaza roils with sympathizers — but a conscious effort to tone down the hard-party aspect without diminishing the festival atmosphere seems to be surprisingly successful.

The scene at the speaker circle in Puerto del Sol. Photo by David Schnur

The takeover also transcends the superficial: protestors here in Sol have in effect set up a functional utopian “leaderless” community, with separate committees of volunteers directing communications, sanitation, nourishment (vegetarian options available), feminist representation (“No Photos!” read the banner at the committee’s HQ), language usage, diversity and inclusivity, community outreach, and camp security (the role of which has been broadened under its new name as the “Respect Committee,” Comisión de Respeto).

The only official government reaction to the ongoing demonstrations has been to allow them to continue as long as they stay non-violent. And the current mainstream media narrative is a breathless comparison to the uprisings of the Arab Spring. (More on that below.) On Tuesday, the 24th, we made our way through the “movimiento del Sol,” dubbed the May 15th Movement, or 15-M (www.spanishrevolution.net), to get some idea of what the current protests — or, in the more poetic Spanish term, “manifestationes” — were all about.

A speaker rails against capitalism. Photo by David Schnur

BIRTH OF A MOVEMENT

“On the 15th, a group of about 30 of us decided to gather here, it wasn’t too serious, just have a beer or two—and then we were like ‘Let’s stay here!’ ‘Oh, alright.’ Just like that.” Pablo Prieto, spokesperson (portavoz) with the Communications Committee told me. “And from there it was spontaneous, it grew to this point.”Help us save local journalism!Every tax-deductible donation helps us grow to cover the issues that mean the most to our community. Become a 48 Hills Hero and support the only daily progressive news source in the Bay Area.Learn more

Along the way there was a clash with the police that generated nationwide attention. “On Tuesday morning of the 17th, around 5 or 6am, there were about 200 of us camping in the square, the police came and took us away violently,” Prieto, a wry, intellectual thirtysomething in thick glasses, said. “So after, we met at a certain place, had an assembly, and decided to come back and try again, and it worked. We grew quickly into the thousands. At that point we realized we needed some organization, so we formed the committees and became more of a community. We wanted to form a template so this could be replicated in other cities.”

Pablo Prieto, spokesperson with the 15-M communications committee.
A list of politicians “charged” with corruption and failure, most from the conservative Christian Peoples’ Party. In 2018, the party was found guilty of operating an illegal accounting and kickback scheme, in a case dating back to 2009.

But what exactly is “this”? Spain has been one of the European countries that has been hardest hit by the global recession, and even though it has begun to recover slightly, its unemployment rate, at more than 20 percent total (44 percent among youth), is the highest in Europe. The protests have no official demands yet, but some of the issues that spring to mind are lack of opportunity for educated youth, a wealth of corruption charges within the two major national political parties, a feeling that the European Union and European Central Bank heads are issuing economic directives (like pressuring Zapatero to cut government services) without any democratic recourse, and the new vocal confidence that the Internet gives young people without a corresponding, direct-democratic result in the real world. The May 22 elections slammed the ruling Socialist party, but the protestors have bigger fish to fry.

“In the beginning, the media says that this is mostly about government corruption or only about unemployment,” Prieto said. “But it’s not against the government. It’s against the entire system, the globalized system. And we think we can only fight it with a globalized movement, it’s not just for one particular country. It’s about the global financial system and the deeper roots of the crisis. I realize that sounds a little hopeful, and as a movement right now we don’t have any official goals. Everyone here has issues that they feel should take importance, that they are not being heard enough, and so right now we are just at the stage of everyone getting a voice and using the assembly and direct democracy to find the direction we will take. We are right now in the communications stage, trying to get to one common point, but that is farther than we have felt we’ve been before with the current system.

Anti-police and pro-democracy messages plastered the plaza. Photos by David Schnur

“I think that is what we’re about,” Prieto continued, “we’re not just protesting against something, we’re proposing an alternative. Everyone has a right to speak, a voice, and everyone has exactly the same power. There’s no leaders, no hierarchy at all, and we believe that’s the way democracy should work. We have continued staying here after the elections — and are planning to stay here through next Sunday, after which we will take our message to other communities — because we aren’t just about this moment. And although the Internet has been crucial to this movement, we need to go beyond that. Once we were in the papers and talking to people we began to reach older people and people with different economic means, people who are offline.” The movement is no mere Facebook page.

ICELAND, NOT ARABIA

Using classic, small-scale anarchist techniques like direct democracy and full-participatory assemblies to overthrow an entrenched global system is a trick not even the best minds or biggest movements have been able to pull off in the past, Internet or no. (And jettisoning representative safeguards against mob rule is probably not very comforting to anyone in a minority. “We realize that this movement is not wholly representative of some sectors of society,” Prieto said, “and that’s why we are making a conscious effort to correct that and to take this into the neighborhoods.”) But the 15-M movement does indeed have some immediate concerns and models, though not the ones you might expect.

At night, the plaza was absolutely packed with protestors. Photo by Marke B.

We had just come from Tunisia, the source of the “Arab Spring” that saw the overthrow in January of dictator Ben Ali, but where continuing economic woes and pre-election angst had begun to render post-revolutionary hopefulness slightly bitter. Tire-burning protests and Al Qaeda presence had closed off some cities in the south already swamped with refugees from the Libyan war, and gangs of disaffected young men from the Berber hills were setting up random roadblocks out of frustration. In the capital, too, protests continued against the ongoing influence of the old guard in the interim government, even though everyone we talked to glowed with pride and confidence in their newly won autonomy.

So it was curious that papers around the world were heralding 15-M as the Spanish wing of the Arab Spring. Setting up an alternative utopia under a Socialist prime minister is a lot different from risking being shot in the street to overthrow a dictator. There are some commonalities, of course, like high unemployment and a surfeit of young people with no opportunities. Prieto welcomed some of the comparisons, but also balked at being lumped together with the events unfolding to the south and east.

The entrance to the Sol Metro station was covered in handmade messages. Photo by Marke B.

“I think the more complete comparison would be to Iceland,” Prieto said. “We have the energy of the Arab Spring, but we are more like Iceland’s revolution, when they refused to pay back the money or accept the austerity measures imposed by the banks. That was really standing up to power.”

The Iceland connection, a reference to the recent reaction against a complex financial restructuring plan, came up again when I spoke to Manuel Verastegui, an exuberant young man on the Comisión de Respeto security committee, who definitely channeled the positive energy and fervor of the Arab Spring. He came from the nearby city of Rivas, about 15 kilometers away, to live in the plaza.

Manuel Verastagui, a volunteer with the 15-M security committee. Photo by David Schnur.

“Your media probably didn’t cover it, but the protests in Iceland were very influential to us,” he said. “I think that’s what we are taking as inspiration. But that’s just the start. We are tired of being treated like numbers or commodities. The way the present system stands is completely ridiculous. We are given a ‘choice’ of someone to vote for, when each side is horrible. We are told what to do with our money, when why shouldn’t I have a say in how that money is spent? The whole financial system is weighed against the individual.

“For instance, in Spain if you can’t pay for your house, they take your house away from you, but you still owe the money on the house. Why? They want to make sure you can never survive financially, because it is in their best interests. It is the same with jobs. Why is the government getting rid of jobs and services when the rich people are making more money? We have had enough of this, so we are starting our own society here to show what it can be like.”

KEEPING THE PEACE

Verastagui, looking exhausted but still hip in a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, a constantly buzzing Motorola two-way radio glued to his hand, also gave me some insight on the formation of his Respect Committee. “At first, after the police were violent with us, we decided that we needed a committee of ‘security against the police,’ but then we realized that this was maybe not a good reference. We do not want to answer violence with violence, we have in mind Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

“Also, we began to see that there needed to be some mediation within the camp as well, to help defuse some of the tensions and disagreements — sometimes a small fight — between members. We are all working so hard for this, we are sleeping maybe three or four hours a night. Sometimes these little things get bigger. We try to ensure that no one is disrespectful, and give everyone an opportunity to either work things out, or discuss things in the assembly. We even give out hugs to anyone who asks!”

(As I talked with Verastagui, a vote about organizing a children’s space was ending in the assembly area, and a discussion about establishing a “spirituality committee” was being taken up. An elderly hippie-ish man in vaguely Native American dress was at the microphone saying in English: “We are at the turning point of human history, which is why this movement is happening now. Humanity can go either this way, or that way.”)

A volunteer in the 15-M communal kitchen. Photo by David Schnur.
Taking a break from occupying in a heatwave. Photo by David Schnur

I talked more to spokesperson Prieto about the cultural implications of 15-M, explaining that in the United States, anger against the recession had bred not a utopian youth movement but a crochety old Tea Party, and that a protest community like this one forming in Washington D.C. seemed impossible in my mind. “Everyone thought this was impossible in Spain as well, but we don’t care about impossible,” Prieto told me. “Improbable, probably, but never impossible. And yet look what is happening. Our main concentration now is to spread this into all the neighborhoods and suburbs, and then beyond, which is already taking place.

“There are movements like this in every major city in Spain now as well. And one of our biggest inspirations has always been the protest movement of San Francisco. So don’t say it can’t happen again there.”

Marke B. Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.

Iraq War Vet Disrupts George Bush During Live Speech

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DEB HAALAND, A LIVING TESTAMENT

The path to becoming the nation’s first Native interior secretary

By Jenni Monet | Sep 15 2021 (sierraclub.org)

Deb Haaland

Photo by Shane Balkowitsch

SHAYAI LUCERO watched Deb Haaland’s confirmation hearing from her flower shop on the Laguna Pueblo. She knows Haaland and her extended family. The floral business Lucero runs out of her converted garage used to belong to Haaland’s sister.

These relationships are as typical as any across the reservation—a sprawling community about 50 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, comprising six small villages, a colonial mission, and the now-parched lagoon that inspired the pueblo’s Spanish name.

In the flower shop, a laptop played C-SPAN’s live­stream of the proceedings.

Haaland arrived at the Dirksen Senate Office Building with her arms fully loaded. On one side, she held a big white binder at her hip. On the other, she cradled an ornately painted Pueblo pottery bowl like a baby. The New Mexico representative wore a charcoal-gray pantsuit, a basic black top, and strands of chunky turquoise stones around her neck. Tacked to her lapel was a congressional pin. It was February 23, 2021—mere weeks into her second term.Becoming “Madam Secretary” has catapulted her to the status of an Indigenous icon. She’s a meme. She’s a GIF. She’s some artist’s latest beadwork.

Haaland gifted the pottery to Don Young, a House Republican from Alaska. He had agreed to give a rare endorsement at the start of Haaland’s Senate hearing despite their disagreements over drilling for fossil fuels. Affectionately calling his colleague “Debbie,” the senior statesman explained to the gathering of mostly white and male lawmakers how he and Haaland had become fast friends. “It’s my job to try to convince her that she is not all right, and her job is to convince me I’m not right,” he said. “She will listen to you.”

John Barrasso, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, noted Haaland’s epoch-making hour. “If confirmed, she would be the first Native cabinet secretary,” he said. “For that reason, her nomination is historic and deserves to be recognized.”

He nodded gentlemanly toward the cabinet nominee, flipping a page from his script. “At the same time,” he said, sighing, “I am troubled by many of Representative Haaland’s views—views that many in my home state of Wyoming would consider as radical.”

At 60, Haaland has a face that reflects a lineage of Pueblo matriarchs. In 2018, she became one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress, along with Ho-Chunk Democratic representative Sharice Davids from Kansas. Her nomination for secretary of the interior largely came about because Indigenous activists had a wild idea, tested it, and lobbied President Joe Biden to follow along.

Deb Haaland, wearing a bright-colored dress, has one hand on a bible and one palm in the air. All six people in the photo are wearing face masks.


Deb Haaland is sworn in as the nation’s first Native interior secretary. | Photo by Lawrence Jackson/White House

Haaland greeted lawmakers in Keres, the language of the Káwáigamé, or People From the Small Lake, Laguna. “Guwadzi hauba,” she said, introducing herself by clan: Turquoise. Then she spoke of summers spent in Mesita village. “It was in the cornfields with my grandfather where I learned the importance of water and protecting our resources—where I gained a deep respect for the earth.” She encouraged Republicans, Democrats, and independents in the committee to consider their shared love for the outdoors.

But Republican senators wanted none of that. Barrasso worked to set the tone: a grilling.

“I’m an orthopedic surgeon,” he told Haaland. “And just a couple of months ago, you tweeted, ‘Republicans don’t believe in science,’ a pretty broad statement.”

“Senator, I . . .” Haaland gently waved her hand, searching for a response. “Yes, if you’re a doctor, I would assume you believe in science,” she said.

Science. The word came up frequently during the proceedings, revealing the cultural divide over whether to trust expert analyses on current issues like the corona­virus and climate change. For two days, oil-backed Republicans took turns expressing their frustrations. Senator James Risch of Idaho stirred tensions when he repeatedly pressed Haaland about the Keystone XL Pipeline—never mind that the energy project is determined by presidential permit and not by the Interior Department. Senator Steve Daines, the most vocal of Haaland’s critics, raised concerns about energy-sector job losses for his Montana constituents. Barrasso, meanwhile, insinuated that the congresswoman was a drug peddler for proposing cannabis cultivation to offset oil and gas revenues. At every turn, Haaland responded with inscrutable poise.”We must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be.”

On March 15, the Senate gathered to vote on whether she would become the first Native person to lead the Interior Department. It was a historic day.

Lucero was again at work, placing bright marigolds into a perfect ring, a wreath that would lie on the grave of a young tribal member. It had been one year since Laguna Pueblo had closed its reservation borders in response to the pandemic; the coronavirus had hit the community particularly hard. The grieving she’d seen as the only florist on the reservation weighed on her.

Lucero is a wife and a mother, a daughter and an entrepreneur. She’s also a former Miss Indian World, a title she preserved in a collage of decorative pins, ticket stubs from memorable events, and photographs of her travels, hanging near her dining room. The year she reigned, in 1997, she journeyed to Japan, performed at Lincoln Center, and made stops across Indian Country, including an Iñupiat blanket toss in Alaska. Unlike other pageants, Miss Indian World is less about outward beauty and more about deep cultural ties. For the traditional talent competition, Lucero delivered a presentation about Pueblo plant medicines.

As the Senate vote got underway, Lucero’s mother, Cecelia, gave an enthusiastic play-by-play. “Murkowski for Haaland,” she said while her daughter focused on her sympathy wreath.

When the voting stopped, Lucero put down the marigolds and joined her mother at the laptop. The final vote was 51 to 40—confirmed—with most Republicans voting against Haaland. Lucero marked the moment by snapping a screenshot. She looked at her mother, expecting to see her beaming. Instead, she saw tears.

Photo of Laguna Pueblo shows several rows of brown and beige stone buildings. Behind them is a white church and snow-covered mountains in the background.

Laguna Pueblo, where Haaland grew up. | Photo by Christian Heeb/laif/Redux

“I just keep thinking about all those Indian leaders who trekked from their homes to try to get the government to listen to them,” Cecelia told her daughter. “Centuries of chiefs and tribal leaders.”

Lucero’s mother might have been referencing any number of Native delegations who for over two centuries and during almost every presidential administration had visited the White House, and specifically the Interior Department, to advocate for themselves—their sovereignty, their land, their right to pray. So often these trips were futile. A rare exception came in 1922, when the All Indian Pueblo Council stopped a bill that would have seized some 60,000 acres of Pueblo land and disrupted their ceremonies.

“People in Indian Country, it just seems, we have this sense of relief,” Lucero said. “We’ve been ignored for so long.”


ALMOST EVERYONE CALLS Debra Anne Haaland “Deb.” Native millennials go further—to them she is “Auntie Deb.” Becoming “Madam Secretary” has catapulted her to the status of an Indigenous icon. She’s a meme. She’s a GIF. She’s some artist’s latest beadwork. Across social media, one of her most famous lines is now hashtagged on a regular basis: “Be fierce.”

Her appointment as the first Native American to lead the Interior Department is more than riveting considering the department’s legacy and documented abuse of Indigenous people. In 1851, two years after the department was created, President Millard Fillmore appointed Oliver M. Wozencraft as an Indian commissioner to form treaties with California tribes. Gold diggers had been scouring the Sierra Nevada foothills as militias carried out state-sponsored Indigenous genocide. There was a maniacal mood in what California’s first governor called a “war of extermination.” Wozencraft deceived tribes into signing 18 treaties—land negotiations that he knew Congress would never ratify. Interior Secretary Alexander H.H. Stuart helped break these pacts, writing a series of letters to Fillmore justifying the abrogation.

One hundred and seventy years later, Haaland quoted Stuart in a speech upon accepting her nomination. “This moment is profound when we consider that a former secretary of the interior once proclaimed his goal was to, quote, civilize or exterminate us,” she said. “I am a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.”

Haaland was sworn in on March 18 wearing a rainbow-striped ribbon skirt and tall calfskin moccasins, her initiation in joining the most diverse cabinet in US history. Only six of the president’s 15 secretary picks are straight white men—the lowest number in any administration.

Indigenous people have inhabited the North American continent for millennia, since well before European explorers arrived in the late 1400s. Despite what followed—calculated land dispossession by way of massacre, removal, and ethnic cleansing—some 3 million people are citizens of today’s 574 federally recognized Native nations. With barely 1 percent of the US population, Indian Country is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood communities in America. According to a 2015 report in Theory and Research in Social Education, 87 percent of state history standards do not mention Indigenous people after the year 1900. That could explain why many Americans’ knowledge of Indigenous history is so limited or, in the case of former senator Rick Santorum, rife with ignorance. “We birthed a nation from nothing,” Santorum said in an April 23 speech before the conservative Young America’s Foundation. “I mean, yes, we have Native Americans, but there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

Deb Haaland wears jeans, hiking boots, and a baseball cap as she climbs up a rock. A man follows behind her.

Haaland hikes in Bears Ears National Monument with tribal leaders and Utah politicians. | Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP

For many, Haaland is the most visible reminder that Native people are still here. As the leader of the $12.6 billion Interior Department, she is a beacon of progressive policymaking, responsible for overseeing nearly a fifth of the nation’s public lands across 11 agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Secretary Haaland is now poised to prioritize, for the first time in this country’s history, Indigenous affairs. Even before she came to Congress in 2019, the Pueblo politician had spoken out against fossil fuels. In 2016, she drove from Albuquerque to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to stand with water protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. At the beginning of her first term, Haaland joined other progressives—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar—at a press conference introducing the Green New Deal.

By the end of Haaland’s first term, five of her signature bills had become law, all but one of them related to Indian Country. The Not Invisible Act is now being implemented in the Interior Department. This law and its companion legislation, Savanna’s Act, were signed by President Donald Trump last year. Together they call for enhanced policing to curb the dramatic rate at which Indigenous people are disappeared or found dead. A decades-long grassroots effort to address the “missing and murdered” was galvanized in 2017 after the horrific murder of Spirit Lake mother Savanna Lafontaine-Greywind. Investigators in Fargo, North Dakota, bungled the job, revealing the subtleties of police bias. In her second week at the Interior Department, Haaland established a Missing and Murdered Unit to help carry out these two laws.

“We’re looking at systems as a whole to be fundamentally delegitimized, so it’s a powerful moment,” said Sam Torres, director and researcher for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. “In a way, we’re starting to scratch the surface on correcting injustices that have been hundreds of years in the making.”

Torres has been examining cycles of violence in Indian Country triggered by the 1819 Indian Civilization Act, a federal policy designed for the cultural genocide of Indigenous people through a network of Indian boarding schools. The most notorious of these forced-assimilation programs was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Its stated mission: “Kill the Indian, and save the man.”

In her 2018 campaign blog, Haaland wrote that her Laguna Pueblo great-grandfather had been sent by train to attend Carlisle in 1881. In a 1995 essay for New Mexico Magazine, she said that her grandparents had been similarly separated from their families when they met as children at a boarding school in Santa Fe.

In June, before hundreds of tribal leaders attending the online National Congress of American Indians mid-year conference, she announced the first-ever investigation into the US boarding school policy, the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. Haaland confided to them that her role as Madam Secretary was one of the most important challenges of her professional life.

“I come from ancestors who endured the horrors of Indian boarding school assimilation policies carried out by the same department that I now lead, the same agency that tried to eradicate our culture, our language, our spiritual practices, and our people,” Haaland said. “We must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be.”


BEFORE THE RAILROAD arrived in the 1880s, men in the village of Old Laguna would travel five or so miles to a jutting mesa where cornfields and fruit trees flourished in the summer. The farmers lived in makeshift camps until it made sense to permanently settle there. Today, Mesita village is a patchwork of roughly 40 homes, a Catholic church, a plaza, and a meeting hall. The occasional train passes along a northern sandstone bluff. To the south, a steady stream of 18-wheelers, RVs, and cars roll by on Interstate 40.

Helen Steele, Haaland’s grandmother, was raised in Mesita. At age 18, she married Tony Toya, a young man from the nearby Jemez Pueblo. He was courting her the day railway recruiters offered him a job some 200 miles west in Winslow, Arizona. The young couple moved there and settled behind a roundhouse, where a colony of Laguna workers had formed. They lived in homes converted from castaway boxcars. They spoke Keres and baked bread in handcrafted hornos, or mud ovens, just as they did back home. The Toyas, who were determined to maintain a connection to Mesita, took advantage of free train rides and returned to the reservation often, especially to tend to summer crops. Haaland was born in Winslow, and these experiences of her grandparents became a defining part of her upbringing.

In 1974, Haaland was a freshman at Albuquerque’s Highland High. Before then, she had bounced among more than a dozen schools, the sheltered daughter of two military parents. John David “Dutch” Haaland, a marine officer, had saved six lives during his two-year tour in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Silver Star. Mary Toya, Haaland’s mother, served in the US Navy and kept a home with floors so clean you’d slip on them. As the war played out on TV, Haaland said, some days the news reports would bring her father to tears.

After graduating high school in 1978, Haaland packed her bags and moved with a friend to Los Angeles. Her ambitions were straightforward: “Just to meet some movie stars,” Haaland told me. Beyond that, they didn’t have much of a plan. Going broke brought her back to the popular Albuquerque bakery where she’d been working since age 14.

For Haaland, understanding her Indigeneity began in adulthood when she entered the University of New Mexico (UNM). She was 28, and her guides were Native authors and poets exploding onto the national scene. Today’s US poet laureate, Joy Harjo, who is Muscogee, was on her roster of instructors. Haaland read books with plot­lines about characters returning to the reservation with “feet in two worlds.” Back then, Indigenous studies programs hardly fit the rubric for higher education, but Native literature and poetry laid that foundation. And it spoke to Haaland, who had been dancing on ceremonial feast days and Christmases since she was a young girl. “Sometimes I’d be the only one out of my family dancing,” she said. “Nobody else would dance.”

On graduation day in spring 1994, a very pregnant Haaland wore UNM’s red cap and gown. Four days later, at 33, she gave birth to a child she named Somàh. Single motherhood would alter the trajectory of their lives. “It was a choice I made to be a single mom,” Haaland said in a campaign video in 2018.

When Somàh turned two, Haaland started her own company, Pueblo Salsa, as a way to spend more time with her child. She worked out of a commercial kitchen and sourced some of the most sought-after red chilies in northern New Mexico. She sold jars that were stocked at local grocery stores and other small businesses statewide. But she struggled. When not making salsa, she was delivering it to her customers. In between, she traded preschool duties for Somàh’s free tuition while filing the occasional magazine essay as a freelance writer.

By 2002, Haaland had become drawn to political organizing. That year, South Dakota senator Tim Johnson eked out a narrow reelection victory, by 528 ballots, largely credited to Lakota voters. “When I saw what the Indian vote had done in South Dakota, I said, I bet we can do that here,” Haaland recalled.

She applied to law school, sold her company, and returned to UNM in 2003. But these ambitions threw her finances into tumult. Living away from New Mexico for a short stint had made her ineligible for in-state tuition. Haaland describes those years as lean—a diet of pinto beans and tortillas. Yet, when she sought emergency food stamps for the first time, she was denied. She had “too many assets,” she was told. She walked away feeling too poor to feed her tiny family but not poor enough in the eyes of the government. It took a brush with homelessness—essentially, couch surfing among friends—for her to become eligible.

Years later, Haaland’s efforts began to pay off: She was hired by President Barack Obama’s campaign to secure the Native vote. She became the state Democratic Party’s Native American caucus chair. She ran for lieutenant governor of New Mexico in 2014, lost, then circled back to the state Democratic Party as its first Native chairperson.

When Haaland was scoping out locations to kick off her For Congress, For Us campaign in 2017, a former professor at UNM Law School, John Feldman, offered up his juke joint. Two years later, he hosted the launch of her reelection campaign. “She’s a team builder,” Feldman said. “And not just everybody has that. That’s what I’ve seen all along.”


SHAYAI LUCERO REMEMBERS the day in 2004 when Haaland the canvasser came knocking on her door. Haaland had studied the data and noticed that Lucero rarely missed an election. Haaland asked her if she would mind driving Lagunas to the polls. “That was her grassroots effort, to get people to realize the importance of our vote,” Lucero said. “And the history of Miguel Trujillo.”

After World War II, Native veterans like Trujillo returned as heroes, but to a country that disenfranchised them. Across New Mexico, Native Americans did not secure the right to vote until 1948, through a lawsuit that Trujillo filed and won. But it took time for Natives in New Mexico to trust the electoral process, even in the 2000s, when Haaland canvassed area pueblos. Trujillo’s legacy was mostly suppressed in obscure history books until Haaland kept mentioning his name. She’d reserve Pueblo recreation halls, bring pots of green chile and a stack of tortillas, and register Native voters.

The night Haaland became one of the first two Native women elected to Congress, she acknowledged—who else?—Miguel Trujillo. “Seventy years ago, Native Americans right here in New Mexico couldn’t vote,” she said to her supporters. “Today we all came together, and we said we still believe in the American dream, and American democracy, and in hope.”

The room roared.

Across the 19 Pueblo governments in New Mexico, top leadership roles are mostly reserved for men. For Lucero, that fact has deep personal roots. “As a young woman, I always told my dad, ‘Oh, I would love to be governor,’” she said. “And he would always have to burst my bubble: ‘You’re never going to be governor.’”

Many Pueblo women see Haaland’s interior secretary appointment as a turning point.

“We need to be giving her our support,” Lucero’s mom said. “She’s going to be protector of our Mother. We need to support the woman who’s going to protect Her.”


HAALAND’S ENTOURAGE ZIGZAGGED up the Moki Dugway on a morning so clear and golden you could see why tourists love Bears Ears. The tawny earth and sandstone bluffs were only the beginning of a seemingly unbroken landscape.

Less than a month after being confirmed as interior secretary, Haaland was ascending a snakelike road up to Muley Point that was chiseled into Cedar Mesa for the Happy Jack uranium mine 70 years ago. She passed a few guardrails that don’t hide the fact that the occasional vehicle has gone over the edge. Eventually the silhouettes of two buttes, Bears Ears, came into sight.

It was quiet on the mesa during a prayer. As the top administrator of the nation’s public lands, Secretary Haaland had come to Utah to update President Biden on an American controversy: the making and breaking of a monument. For more than a century, the state’s southeast corner has been a resplendent backdrop for the racism that provoked the dispute over protections for the area. The mostly white, mostly Republican majority in Utah favors the loosest federal restrictions over the region, while many others—Natives, scientists, and environmentalists—say it is deserving of so much more.

Looting by locals has been a key catalyst for such contention. The decades-long pilfering of Indigenous holy objects got so bad that it led to unprecedented crackdowns by the Bureau of Land Management. One sophisticated sting in 2009 exposed looters’ houses stuffed with artifacts, including an unearthed cradleboard with an umbilical cord.

“They call it pot hunting, but it was grave robbery, really,” former interior secretary Sally Jewell told The Washington Post in 2019. Jewell was the head of the Interior Department when President Obama created the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. For conservatives across Utah, the designation felt like federal “overreach.” And they let President Trump know it after he succeeded Obama in the White House.

In the three years since Trump shrank Bears Ears, the threats to this treasured ecosystem have mounted, according to stakeholders who demand that the monument be restored. The hazards, aside from prolonged plunder, range from vandalism and over-visitation to unmonitored off-roading. More politically charged issues are linked to uranium mining and oil and gas drilling—all on a site considered a sanctuary to Native Americans.

“It is much like the Mormon temple up in Salt Lake City,” Clark Tenakhongva said at a press conference during Haaland’s visit. The vice-chairman of the Hopi Tribe is also co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. “If you desecrate, destroy our shrines, our temples down here, basically you’re destroying our culture, our religion, our lifeline.”

The land here is sacred to many of the region’s Native Americans, including a Pueblo diaspora who lived among these sunburned mesas about 1,200 years ago, before a megadrought forced their migration to the banks of the Rio Grande. It’s because of this that Haaland describes herself as a “35th generation New Mexican.” And it’s why her first act as a representative was drafting legislation to restore the protections to Bears Ears undone by Trump. That bill failed, making it unfinished business in her first official tour as interior secretary.

In the afternoon, Haaland hiked Butler Wash with Tenakhongva and other tribal leaders, along with Utah Republicans and the state’s governor, Spencer Cox. Conspicuously missing was senior senator Mike Lee, who had pestered Haaland about Bears Ears on both days of her confirmation hearing. Lee had invited Haaland to Utah, but now that she was there, he wasn’t.

If such treatment bothered Haaland, she appeared to have brushed it off. At one point, she stood in the center of a selfie snapped by Governor Cox; his long right arm stretched far enough to frame the shot with Senator Mitt Romney, who leaned in, off to the side. They smiled behind their masks. Romney and other Republicans want Haaland to tell Biden to back off, to let Congress decide the future of the monument.

“I think this is an opportunity to find common ground,” Romney said. “No pun intended.” And he promoted a “working together” approach, though the lawmaker, along with Lee, had been among the 40 senators who had voted against Haaland’s confirmation.

In a report sent to the White House in early June, the interior secretary advised Biden to reinstate the original boundaries at Bears Ears as well as Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. Utah is now poised to sue.

“Sister,” Tenakhongva, a former radio DJ, said to Haaland from the podium during the press conference. He then addressed his opponents’ gripes about government “overreach”: “Wait until you become a brown-skinned person and a Native American,” he said, his tone filled with frustration. “That’s when you will talk about overreach of the American government.”

Tenakhongva was crestfallen when Trump reduced Bears Ears. In December 2017, on his first day in office as the Hopi vice-chairman, he sued the president. The lawsuit is on hold pending Biden’s review. Tenakhongva explained to Haaland what it meant to have Obama designate a monument that, for the first time ever, honors traditional knowledge rooted in the land—the plants, the water, and the spirits of their kin. “It took years of hard work for us to get to that point,” he said. “It’s never been fair.”

While lobbying by at least one uranium company bolstered Trump’s decision to shrink the monument, the sense industry-wide is that mining the mineral is too expensive. Meanwhile, the Utah Geological Survey reported in March that all 255 oil and gas wells situated within Bears Ears have been abandoned since 1992.

Still, a recent uranium reserve included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan raises speculation. Last year the same uranium company that lobbied Trump, Energy Fuels, coordinated campaign contributions for members of Congress who supported the creation of a $75 million federal uranium stockpile for its conventional mill near Bears Ears, the only one operating in the United States. In its press release, Energy Fuels applauded the reserve. And it thanked a single senator by name: John Barrasso.

On her hike to Butler Wash, Haaland found herself at the edge of a rare perennial spring, a lifeline to the arid mesa. It glinted at her. Tenakhongva and other Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition members burned earth medicines and offered them to the water. For the second time that day, in the home of her ancestors, Haaland acknowledged the land with gratitude and prayed. “The earth holds so much power,” she said as the desert light started to wane.

Hands shoved in pockets, a medicine bundle dangling around her neck, Madam Secretary stood in the Valley of the Gods as sundown gave shadow to the land.

This article appeared in the Fall quarterly edition with the headline “A Living Testament.”

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MORE STORIES ABOUT: indigenous communitiespoliticspublic landsSee all storiesPublished in the Fall 2021 issue of Sierra Magazine

Jenni Monet is a journalist and founder of the weekly newsletter, Indigenously: Decolonizing Your Newsfeed. She is a tribal citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna.