Showing up in person

In the aftermath of last November’s election, I started attending far more political events than I ever had before. I joined groups that were just forming and groups that had been around for decades. I made signs and attended marches. I listened to speeches by experienced activists. Showing up for causes that I believe in started to make a difference in how I experience my daily life.

My newfound motivation is summed up best in this advice post about Trump by a psychologist: “We do good things because they are good, but results are not guaranteed.” Most of the beliefs I’m advocating for right now are things that have been important to me for decades, if not my entire life. What deterred me before wasn’t thinking that something didn’t matter; it was thinking that my own actions wouldn’t help. I wanted more immediate gratification than I could realistically expect. I ran a service organization on campus and I phone banked for a candidate I believed in and I became a peer counselor on a crisis line. Then I got discouraged and wondered whether I had actually improved anyone’s lives. And then I convinced myself that I needed to take care of myself first, which was technically true, but I didn’t actually make a plan for how to resume taking care of others.

Six months after the election, I’m revisiting President Obama’s words from his farewell address: “I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.” This is still tough for me. My guess is that I’ll be battling complacency and fear for a very long time. But I’m trying to believe in the people around me and to spend my time working alongside them. Seeing their faces, hearing their voices, and relying on their strength… it’s not a magic cure, but I think it helps.

The cost of healthcare

Nancy Pelosi has been working with other Democrats to host events in support of the ACA. I attended a rally at City Hall on January 15 and a town hall at Delancey Street Foundation on February 18. Pelosi is also asking constituents to send her personal stories of how we would be affected by the repeal of the ACA. I decided to adapt some of my tweets into a letter that I sent by email.


A few weeks ago, I attended your rally to save the ACA at City Hall here in San Francisco. I was proud to see the turnout across the country that weekend. For me, that day was partly about being a person in a visible crowd, but also about spending the time to hear other people’s stories. I wanted to share my own story with you to explain why it’s so important to me to fight for healthcare for everyone.

I grew up without consistent health insurance, but I got mandatory coverage when I went to college. In my senior year, a few days after a student clinic visit, I got a call insisting that I go to the ER immediately. I asked them, “Wait, what? Why? I feel fine.” They told me that they’d completed a blood test and my results contained something or other that was 3x the expected levels. They were super scared, so I reluctantly canceled my plans with friends and hopped on a bus to a nearby hospital, rolling my eyes. Getting screened in the ER was tedious because I had to wait around, but I didn’t really mind. Just like I assumed, they found levels contrary to campus clinic.

However… they did find high blood pressure. Really high. Enough that they wanted to admit me immediately to run some more tests. At this point I started arguing with them. I felt fine, no big deal. What I really meant was, “I don’t know whether I can afford to be that sick.” I find that it horrifying that I was 21 years old and had blood pressure that called for hospitalization and still tried to refuse further tests. Even though I had insurance, I was panicking that I might be on the verge of a preexisting condition that meant I could never afford a coverage gap again.

I was very lucky: my insurance covered almost all of my $23k hospital bill for a two day stay. I had a parent that taught me how to talk to institutions, including calling the hospital on the phone and asking for a payment plan. I didn’t end up with a serious health crisis. And when I graduated a few months later, I started working at a job that provided good insurance and paid enough that I could save up. But if my health had been a bit worse, or my family had been poorer, or if I’d been less educated, that could easily have been catastrophic.

Our broken healthcare system affects every single person in this country. The ACA finally gave me hope that we would fix it in my lifetime. Thank you for the support you’ve shown so far. Please continue to fight on behalf of all of us.

Post-election changes

This is not a post about how the outside world has changed since November 8, 2016. If you’re looking for that, you probably want this series of posts by Amy Siskind. These are observations about myself.

On the night of the election, I stayed up until 5:30 am, struggling to come to terms with what had just happened. By the next day, I was angry and had resolved to show up and do my part.

Here are some ways that my life has changed in the past 2.5 months.

It’s impossible to maintain focus at work and in my personal life. Turns out it’s harder to write layout code when you simply don’t feel safe. This shift has made me realize how secure and happy I felt for much of the past year. Even as I struggle to find my footing again, I’m grateful to have had that time and to become more aware of it.

I feel physically nauseated from time to time, regardless of how much I sleep and what I eat. Sometimes it seems incredibly daunting to get up from where I’m sitting and walk to my bus stop and go wherever I need to go. I assume that this is due to stress.

I lost interest in most of my old hobbies. I would like to keep running, but it feels like I don’t have the energy to do it yet. I picked up comic books but gotten bored after a few pages. My cosplay ambitions are on indefinite hold, partly because I have no interest at all, but mainly because I don’t think I can sustain both cosplay and activism, and if one of them has to go, it’s obvious what I should do.

I started reading the news again. I’d been trying to limit my daily consumption of it, especially during the endless campaign, but I think I went overboard and got disconnected from the outside world. I grew up reading the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, and when I moved to California after college, I got into neighborhood coverage, urbanist blogs, and The Atlantic. These days I mainly try to read The Guardian and periodically peek at National Review, but I inevitably also read a lot of New York Times and Washington Post because that’s what gets shared the most in my networks.

I call my members of Congress on a regular basis. I put their phone numbers in my contact list a week after the election and I’ve been following action newsletters and calling their district offices ever since. I helped a few friends get through their phone anxiety to make their first call.

I learned that I like attending political events in person. However, not every group is right for me. Each group of people has its own style of running the meeting and resolving conflicts. Coming from a tech environment where everyone bends over backwards to avoid crosstalk, it’s jarring to hear people interrupting each other or bluntly saying, “That’s not true. Your facts are wrong.” It’s something I’m trying to get used to without losing my sense of self.

Becoming a Democrat (again)

I’ve been voting for about a decade now and I’ve almost always voted for Democrats. I was excited for my very first election (a midterm election!) because I could finally vote Rick Santorum out of the Senate for his opposition to birth control and promotion of intelligent design. I was also eager to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 primary.* Back then, it actually mattered that I was a Democrat because Pennsylvania had closed primaries, meaning that only Democrats could vote for the Democratic candidate.

However, when I moved to San Francisco, I registered to vote without declaring a party preference. This isn’t the same as explicitly declaring yourself Independent; it’s just not having any annotation on your name in the voter rolls. I was just trying to avoid phone calls and paper mail, not totally disavow the party. Over the years, I got used to this status quo, and ended up feeling surprisingly attached to it. Since California’s primaries are only closed for Republicans and not Democrats, I didn’t feel the need to rejoin until now.

In the weeks before an election, you get voter guides in the mail from a bunch of different advocacy groups. I do my best to study multiple guides and compare their reasoning when they differ, but I assume that some voters will vote Democrat all the way down the ticket out of information overload or apathy. After all, I’ve considered doing it myself: I didn’t do enough research before my first election and was surprised by how many offices there were beyond Senator.

Here in San Francisco, the Democratic party totally dominates local and state politics, to the point that people strongly identify with specific factions within it. In San Francisco, this looks like a fight between “progressives” and “moderates” over how to fix the housing crisis (but everyone at least agrees that we have a housing crisis and that it’s hurting existing communities and vulnerable people). When I’m on the fence, I do look to the Democratic party’s endorsements in hopes that party members have done a lot of useful arguing on our behalf and figured out a reasonable compromise.

I’m not sure where I thought those party members came from, but last fall, I learned that some of them are directly elected at Assembly District Election Meetings (ADEMs). So, last weekend, I showed up to the Assembly District 17 election at Local 261, a union hall in the Mission to reregister as a Democrat and vote for San Francisco’s voice in statewide party policy.

The line was several blocks long and the wind and the rain were intense enough that my umbrella snapped in the line of duty, but I made it into the building after an hour and was able to cast my vote. As of this post, official results aren’t out yet, but a preliminary photo on David Chiu’s Facebook page suggests that the margin between the 7th Delegate and the 1st runner-up might only have been a vote or two, which is amazing and makes the wait in the rain feel worthwhile.

* This claim is according to the best of my recollection, but I’m not 100% sure and I’m not going to FOIA my voting record to fact check my own blog post and confirm that I voted. For what it’s worth, I did find a Facebook post from April 2008 where I mentioned Obama.

San Francisco’s representatives

My Civic Workout recently asked subscribers to look up the answers to these questions:

  • Who are your elected officials?
  • Where are their newsletters?
  • When are their upcoming town hall meetings?

I live in San Francisco, and if you live in my general vicinity, all of the information below should apply to you too. If you live elsewhere, consider taking some time to research your own elected officials and share your work with your local friends.

Here are the links I used:

http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
http://house.gov/representatives/
http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/

I couldn’t find websites or newsletters for everyone. Most people do seem to have campaign newsletters, but those aren’t the same thing as constituent newsletters. One reason might be that newly sworn in members haven’t set everything up yet (as of early January 2017): for example, Kamala Harris was elected to the Senate and Scott Wiener was elected to the State Senate on November 8, 2016.

Federal legislature

Each state has two Senators that represent everyone in the state. If you live in California, both Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris represent you, regardless of where in the state you live.

Each person has exactly one representative in the House of Representatives. The districts don’t necessarily line up with city names. You might need your zip code or even your street address to figure out who represents you in the House. Nancy Pelosi represents most, but not all, of San Francisco.

Legislation can be introduced by either the House or the Senate. If someone tries to introduce a nationwide version of SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious racial profiling bill, it could come from either the House or the Senate.

Cabinet nominations and Supreme Court nominations are confirmed by the Senate. When the president chooses people to lead the Department of Homeland Security or the State Department, or to fill an empty spot on the Supreme Court, the Senate needs to sign off on each of those choices.

Senator Dianne Feinstein
feinstein.senate.gov
San Francisco office: 415-393-0707
Washington DC office: 202-224-3841

Senator Kamala Harris
harris.senate.gov
San Francisco office: 916-448-2787
Washington DC office: 202-224-3553

Representative Nancy Pelosi
pelosi.house.gov (newsletter)
San Francisco office: 415-556-4862
Washington DC office: 202-225-4965

State legislature

Legislation can be introduced by either the Assembly or the (State) Senate, which are similar to the House and the US Senate. One important difference is that State Senators don’t serve the whole state; instead, they have their own districts which are a bit bigger than Assembly Members’ districts.

Scott Wiener serves San Francisco, Daly City, and Colma in the Senate. David Chiu serves the eastern half of San Francisco in the Assembly; Phil Ting serves the western half of San Francisco.

State Senator Scott Wiener
sd11.senate.ca.gov (newsletter)
San Francisco office: 415-557-1300
Sacramento office: 916-651-4011

Assembly Member David Chiu
asmdc.org/members/a17 (newsletter)
San Francisco office: 415-557-3013
Sacramento office: 916-319-2017

Assembly Member Phil Ting
asmdc.org/members/a19 (newsletter)
San Francisco office: 415-557-2312
Sacramento office: 916-319-2019

Concrete actions

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, I hoped that Trump would not be elected. If he did get elected, I hoped that he wouldn’t follow through on his claims. Since the election, I have been proven wrong over and over. Right now, I have very little hope for the future, but I cannot stand by and do nothing.

Here are my attempts to take consistent, effective action against the regressive policies and cultural fallout that I’m expecting from a Trump administration:

Advocacy

For the immigrants that will be targeted by inhumane deportation policies, I’m donating $50 per month to the American Civil Liberties Union.

For the people who will lose access to reproductive healthcare thanks to fundamentalist Christian terrorists, financial barriers, local abortion clinic shutdowns, and coercive state laws, I’m donating $50 per month to Planned Parenthood.

For everyone endangered by unconstitutional government surveillance, especially activists, I’m donating $50 per month to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

For queer people who might lose their marital status, get fired from their job, or get denied their correct gender markers on paperwork, I’m donating $50 per month to Lambda Legal.

For everyone targeted by hate crimes and resurgent white supremacy, I’m donating $50 per month to Southern Poverty Law Center.

Journalism

I’ve purchased annual subscriptions to The Guardian and Foreign Policy to get news that isn’t curated for me by advocacy groups, friends, or colleagues.

I’m donating $50 per month to ProPublica to support investigative journalism.

 

Congress

I’m following three email newsletters: flippable, re:act, and resist in addition to all of the advocacy groups above.

I’m calling Representative Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara Boxer, and Senator Dianne Feinstein with my comments and including my name, address, and zip code to make sure they know I’m a constituent.