Holding Biden & Harris accountable

Around the world billions of people woke up feeling relief at the departure of Donald Trump from the White House.

We are as excited by Trump’s removal as anyone. After all, we have spent three years running to replace a key figure in Congress who has done as much as any Republican to enable Trump’s policy agenda.

While celebrating Trump’s removal, we also recognize that the threats to our future remain largely unabated. We know that the transition in the White House was the product of millions of Americans whose relentless grassroots organizing and activism forced the entire political spectrum to address issues long ignored in Washington, from police violence, homelessness, and poverty to America’s ongoing human rights abuses around the world.

As we engage the new administration, it’s crucial that grassroots pressure hold them accountable to their election mandate, and the only increasingly urgent—and still institutionally ignored—needs for universal healthcare, climate justice, and peace.

Few figures within the Democratic Party will challenge Biden, or Harris, or Schumer, or Pelosi.

But we’ve proven our willingness to take risks on behalf of We the People of the United States.

From my Senate arrest in 2015 for an act of journalism in solidarity with Edward Snowden and Eric Garner, to our work winning over 80,000 votes from San Franciscans last November, we have stood with the future against the past time and again.

Many thanks for being a part of the solution! We couldn’t do it without you.


How’s that stimulus deal treating you

You know all too well that our country and our community are struggling. We’re losing as many Americans to the coronavirus every day as we did to the worst act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history.

And even those lucky enough to remain healthy are being impacted by a collapsing economy. 40 million Americans have lost their health insurance plans due to job loss. And a predictable—and preventable—eviction wave continues to sweep the country.

Congress has failed to step in to help meet the needs of a people in a mounting crisis. Even after months of delay and posturing, the bipartisan agreement announced yesterday includes direct payments of only half the amount included earlier this year.

But the need for stimulus has grown only greater. Too many are struggling just to survive at this point—yet Congress has offered one-time payments of $500-600 per person.

In San Francisco, that amount could likely pay a month's rent—for a closet. Presenting that as meaningful support in the face of the crises confronting Americans is frankly insulting.

We can have choices. We’re happy to offer one, if you’re ready for change.


Wall Street is a scam

Truth often makes any fiction pale in comparison, and last week’s saga on Wall Street offered a perfect example.

As if the irony of a ragtag army of grassroots investors bringing a hedge fund to its financial knees was not enough, the company that both empowered that grassroots effort—and then kneecapped it to serve its own interests—is named Robinhood.

Many people are rightly outraged that market manipulation is routinely practiced by Wall Street firms, yet uniquely disallowed on the rare occasion that those firms lose money in the process.

Many voices have decried the craven double standards and conflicts of interest that pervade the decision to suspend purchases of some stocks targeted by short sellers. But not enough have turned their attention to conflicts of interest that do even more damage to the public.

In 2012, Congress passed the STOCK Act to prohibit insider trading by federal policymakers. It was passed largely in response to Nancy Pelosi purchasing stock in VISA before blocking proposed regulation that would have undermined the company’s interests in order to protect consumers.

That pattern didn’t end there.

Just last month, Nancy Pelosi disclosed purchases of call options on Tesla, before news became public of the Biden administration’s plan to transition the entire federal fleet to electric vehicles.

The STOCK Act didn’t go far enough.

Pelosi’s far from alone: plenty of federal policymakers have profited from the pandemic. Several GOP Senators, including former Senate Intelligence committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), sold millions of dollars' worth of stocks in industries (such as hotel, restaurant, and shipping) that faced pandemic-induced challenges even after downplaying public concerns about the extent of the pandemic.

During the 1990s, I worked in Chicago for a series of Wall Street investment banks, including Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan (before the Chase merger), and Salomon Smith Barney. That’s how I paid for night school and got my undergraduate degree. Finance is a familiar arena to me.

Finance is also a familiar arena to Nancy Pelosi. As a centimillionaire, she ranks among the wealthiest members of Congress.

It’s bad enough that our policymakers mostly come from the same socio-economic class. It’s worse when their policy decisions may be motivated not by the public interest, but by the interests of the corporations that they co-own.

Our city deserves representation by a voice dedicated to our communities, instead of their own stock portfolio.

Together, we can make that happen.

Thanks for standing with us.


Holding Biden—and Pelosi—answerable to us

This has been one hell of a year—in more ways than one. But despite the challenges that our country continues to face, we’ve found plenty of reasons to be excited about the future.

Many are breathing sighs of relief in the wake of Trump’s loss in the election, and recent news about the progress of forthcoming Coronavirus vaccines. We share those causes for celebration—while noting that the incoming administration has already presented the need to be held accountable, and also that the pandemic is not only far from over, but growing worse by the day.

Those continuing challenges are much of why I feel so personally grateful for all the support that helped us win 81,000 votes last month. That’s the most of any challenger to Pelosi in her 33-year career, and enough to win some congressional districts. We won 22% of the votes—despite having only 7% of Pelosi’s funding, and less than 0.1% of her press coverage.

But we didn’t just win an unprecedented result against the sitting Speaker of the House in the face of a corporate media whiteout. We also established remarkable momentum, more than doubling our vote total from the March primary. That trend puts us well on track to liberate the seat in 2022, matching the pattern set by Rep. Ro Khanna when he replaced Mike Honda in his third campaign.

Beyond the progress and momentum we established on our campaign, we also helped secure the passage of half a dozen federal policies through the House of Representatives. Together, we forced Pelosi to shift on issues from policing and foreign policy to funding the Postal Service and labor rights.

Having achieved those results, it would feel irresponsible to abandon the voters of San Francisco. I’m still recovering from our 2020 campaign, and not yet ready to formally declare my plans for 2022—but I’m excited to explore the possibility of running again.

As a grassroots candidate challenging the establishment without the support of a party machine, we face more headwinds than I can count. And running again will require some planning over the next several months that we’ll need help to do.

Your support will help us prepare the foundation to continue the historic momentum that we’ve started building together.

Whatever shape my future ultimately takes, one thing you can count on is that it won’t stray far from my 20-year track record of speaking truth to power.

President-elect Biden has already frustrated progressives—by pushing back on the movement for black lives, by including Neera Tanden from the neo-liberal Center for American Progress among his appointments, and by signaling his deference to the fossil fuel industry in other appointments. President-elect Biden and Speaker Pelosi are going to need voices holding them accountable.

I’m not going anywhere. Can I count on you to continue standing with us?

Whether you’re able to stay with us, or instead either politically exhausted, or at the end of your financial rope, we wish you & your family a healthy holiday season. However severe the public health & economic crises of the pandemic may continue to grow, remember that you are far from alone.


Change vs. Continuity

Concerns about the Biden administration’s likely trajectory grew this weekend, as the president-elect announced some of his appointments, and as separate discussions emerged about Biden potentially pardoning Trump and some of his criminal minions. Both stories suggest grave failures of accountability to human rights and to the Democratic base.

This election was a referendum on the failed Trump presidency. But beyond inadequate, disappointing, and corrupt policies, the president also engaged in crimes against our Republic ranging from human rights abuses to incitement to violence, lies to the press, and the misappropriation of public funds to enrich himself and his family.  This is the reason Biden won.

To pardon such unapologetic offenses would effectively invite more in the future. It is the dangerous counterpoint to the impunity revealed by the legacy of the Bush administration.  Because the Obama administration declined to hold accountable Bush era Officials who's authorized international human rights abuses, those criminals were recently recycled under the Trump administration as, for instance, a Justice of the Supreme Court and Director of the CIA.

As I wrote 11 years ago, “while President Obama's aim to "look forward, not backward," may resemble a thoughtful political compromise, it is an illegal capitulation to illegitimate political interests carrying profound consequences for human rights and freedom both in the U.S. and around the world.” I wish reality had not proven me right.

Beyond his apparent receptivity to pardoning the worst constitutional crimes in many generations, Biden has also announced preliminary cabinet appointments giving rise to concerns. His Secretary of State nominee is a longtime Obama advisor who supported every war over the generation.  Biden was elected with a mandate for change, not to continue the abuses of the past.

Similarly, Biden's early appointments on climate suggest a deference to the fossil fuel industry. While John Kerry was named an envoy for climate change, he lacks a cabinet position, and his opportunities to assert policy influence remain unclear and uncertain.

Finally, and most alarmingly, Rahm Emanuel has been discussed for a potential cabinet level role in the Biden administration despite his documented history working to cover up racist police violence Mayor of Chicago. Allowing him to return to Washington would be a failure of accountability- and a thumb in the eye of the communities who put Biden in office.

I'm eager to hold the Democratic establishment accountable -- and would love to hear your ideas about how we can best support your activism. Have suggestions, or action opportunities that we can share with our grassroots supporters? Drop me an email at [email protected].


$500 “stimulus” checks? Really?

You know all too well that our country and our community are struggling. We’re losing as many Americans to the coronavirus every day as we did to the worst act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history.

And even those lucky enough to remain healthy are being impacted by a collapsing economy. 40 million Americans have lost their health insurance plans due to job loss. And a predictable—and preventable—eviction wave continues to sweep the country.

Can you help us get the ball rolling on a 2022 campaign to finish what we started together in 2020, and win the working class—and the future— with an ally in Congress?

Congress has failed to step in to help meet the needs of a people in a mounting crisis. Even after months of delay and posturing, the bipartisan agreement announced yesterday includes direct payments of only half the amount included earlier this year.

But the need for stimulus has grown only greater. Too many are struggling just to survive at this point—yet Congress has offered one-time payments of $500-600 per person.

In San Francisco, that amount could likely pay a month's rent—for a closet. Presenting that as meaningful support in the face of the crises confronting Americans is frankly insulting.

Are you tired of being abandoned by our elected voices in Washington? Help bring the strongest challenger that Pelosi has ever faced back in 2022!

We can have choices. We’re happy to offer one, if you’re ready for change.


What can we learn from Texas?

When California was on fire last summer & fall, it was hard for anyone on the west coast to ignore it. Beyond the blood red skies at high noon in the bay area, smoke from our wildfires reached as far as Europe.

Today, the Midwest is experiencing a different kind of climate chaos. Driven by a polar vortex and factors that have displaced the jetstream, the entire middle of the country has been forced to grapple with temperatures lower than many areas have ever seen before.

One state hit especially hard is Texas, where the state has long maintained its own electricity grid because Republicans favor less regulation, and a policy environment that encourages cheap energy, without prioritizing reliability.

As power, then heat, then running water went out across the state, the Governor of Texas blamed massive power outages on the Green New Deal, while Senator Ted Cruz reportedly took a vacation to Cancun.

These are absurd deflections of responsibility. Despite public discussion, the Green New Deal has not been enacted (or even debated) by Congress. Why is the GOP Governor of the nation’s largest red state telling lies on television?

Because it’s always easier to shoot the messenger, and blame an intended solution for a problem caused by industrial interests that continue to effectively dictate the outcomes of bipartisan policy debates.

As Rep. Ocasio-Cortez made clear, however, “The infrastructure failures in Texas are quite literally what happens when you *don’t* pursue a Green New Deal.”

If this were just a fight between the Governor of Texas and one of our nation’s leading progressive lights in Congress, that might be the end of it. But, sadly, it’s not—because this is yet another area where the GOP position finds tragic support from the Democratic Speaker of the House.

Nearly exactly two years ago, Nancy Pelosi was asked about the Green New Deal. Her response is worth remembering:

“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive. The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?”
- Nancy Pelosi, 2/7/2019

Texans aren’t dreaming right now. Their nightmare is entirely too real. Without electricity, homes across the state lack access to heat, in sub-freezing temperatures that have killed dozens across the Midwest.

Californians weren’t dreaming when we woke up to blood red skies last fall. Our nightmare sadly recurs every year, when wildfire season forces millions to grapple with evacuation, poor air quality, and destroyed homes—and entire communities.

Career politicians who claim to stand for progress while doing the bidding of fossil fuel industries do no favors for the public, or the future.  History will recall how Nancy Pelosi stood with Republicans against calls for increasingly urgent climate justice.   We must continue to hold true to our progressive values and hold our leaders responsible.

As we brace for a year of extreme weather and empty promises from corporate politicians, I need your support to keep our voice bold and active -  I hope I can count of you for a gift of $100, $50, $27 or what you can afford to invest in our continued charge.

Our dream is that our nation might yet realize its power, shrug off the yoke of bipartisan corporate rule, and at least support efforts to address the global climate catastrophe.

The future isn’t here to fight for itself. That’s why we’ve been committed to climate justice for decades, even when taking action requires taking on an uncomfortably challenging struggle.

If climate justice is “a dream” that you share, we look forward to representing your voice!


Is your voice in Congress serving the public, or their stock portfolio?

Truth often makes any fiction pale in comparison, and last week’s saga on Wall Street offered a perfect example.

As if the irony of a ragtag army of grassroots investors bringing a hedge fund to its financial knees was not enough, the company that both empowered that grassroots effort—and then kneecapped it to serve its own interests—is named Robinhood.

Many people are rightly outraged that market manipulation is routinely practiced by Wall Street firms, yet uniquely disallowed on the rare occasion that those firms lose money in the process.

Do you want a voice in Congress dedicated to fighting Wall Street on behalf of the American people?

Many voices have decried the craven double standards and conflicts of interest that pervade the decision to suspend purchases of some stocks targeted by short sellers. But not enough have turned their attention to conflicts of interest that do even more damage to the public.

In 2012, Congress passed the STOCK Act to prohibit insider trading by federal policymakers. It was passed largely in response to Nancy Pelosi purchasing stock in VISA before blocking proposed regulation that would have undermined the company’s interests in order to protect consumers.

That pattern didn’t end there.

Just last month, Nancy Pelosi disclosed purchases of call options on Tesla, before news became public of the Biden administration’s plan to transition the entire federal fleet to electric vehicles.

The STOCK Act didn’t go far enough.

Pelosi’s far from alone: plenty of federal policymakers have profited from the pandemic. Several GOP Senators, including former Senate Intelligence committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), sold millions of dollars' worth of stocks in industries (such as hotel, restaurant, and shipping) that faced pandemic-induced challenges even after downplaying public concerns about the extent of the pandemic.

During the 1990s, I worked in Chicago for a series of Wall Street investment banks, including Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan (before the Chase merger), and Salomon Smith Barney. That’s how I paid for night school and got my undergraduate degree. Finance is a familiar arena to me.

Finance is also a familiar arena to Nancy Pelosi. As a centimillionaire, she ranks among the wealthiest members of Congress.

It’s bad enough that our policymakers mostly come from the same socio-economic class. It’s worse when their policy decisions may be motivated not by the public interest, but by the interests of the corporations that they co-own.

Our city deserves representation by a voice dedicated to our communities, instead of their own stock portfolio.

Together, we can make that happen.


Black history offers lessons for today

America celebrates Black history month during the month of February. The choice of the shortest month of the year offers a fitting reflection of the importance our country has placed on Black history—but it plays a far more prominent role in informing and inspiring our campaign to win a new voice for San Francisco in Congress.

Black history offers crucial lenses through which to better understand the struggles of our present day. Beyond commemorating a community whose history has been erased for too long, we actively learn from that history, and apply its lessons every day.

It’s impossible to even discuss Black history without grappling with the political assassinations that took from us world-historical leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Fred Hampton. Their assassinations, in turn, reveal the depth of America’s commitment to neo-imperialism—and the functional meaningless of our supposed “rights” when capital finds itself threatened by voices from civil society.

Many have come to recognize the threat posed by white supremacy in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency. It has been no surprise to us, precisely because Black history reveals the vast, longstanding—and continuing—disparity between our nation’s rhetoric and the disappointing reality of what passes for democracy in America.

In 2007, I visited India & Pakistan for a 13-city tour performing hip-hop & spoken word promoting communal harmony between Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and South Asians of other faiths. While visiting the city of Amritsar, I visited the site of Jallianwala Bagh, where British troops massacred thousands of Indians in 1919 who were protesting British colonial rule 30 years before finally securing independence.

Hundreds of people died by leaping into a well to escape the fusillade. The bullet holes in the wall are still there.

50 years after the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, Fred Hampton was assassinated while he slept, at the ripe age of 21. He pioneered the free breakfast program launched by the Black Panthers, which in turn inspired the free breakfast programs now widely practiced across the U.S. in public schools.

During the early days of the pandemic, we reminded thousands of San Franciscans about the availability of those resources. Decades before they became helpful to San Franciscans of every color & creed, Fred was killed (without charge or trial) by the FBI and local police authorities for having helped create them.

I lived in Chicago for a decade throughout the 90s. And I’ve spoken at a law school symposium in Chicago alongside the lawyers who represented his allies after his death. Neither Fred’s sacrifice, nor those of the revolutionaries of the Global South who overcame despotic colonial rule, are lost on me.

Their sacrifices, juxtaposed with the remarkable privileges that we each inhabit today, are precisely what inspired me to challenge the most powerful corporate politician on the planet.

I’m proud to stand in solidarity with Black America.

It’s why I’ve taken action with the movement for Black lives from coast-to-coast, long before the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It’s why I risked arrest in the U.S. Senate to ask powerful Democrats how they justified the police murder of Eric Garner in 2015, and the failure of our system to hold accountable the officers responsible.

It’s only through seeing history through the lens of the least enfranchised that we can witness the pattern of oppression and subjugation that persists across every era in U.S. history.

It is the response to that pattern that animates my contemporary political commitments. Black history reveals the intersections among the evils identified by Dr. King: racism, militarism, and capitalism.

The movement to end slavery was one that vindicated human rights, but it was also a battle against capital.

That’s why I also advocate for a moratorium on rent & mortgage payments, universal health care, a $25/hour federal minimum wage, and climate justice. Each of these issues affect Americans from every walk of life—but they are all ultimately struggles that pit human beings against capital. And for too long, our policies have served capital while leaving people out in the (too often, literal) cold.

It’s easy for people whose acculturation to politics overlooks Black history to think of those as separate issues, or to grant legitimacy to the battles between corporate political parties in Washington, or to defer to the establishment by considering discrete policy questions in isolation, rather than in the context of surrounding policies that intersect and amplify marginalization.

It’s Black history that has offered me the lens to see through that facade, to understand the historical implications of today’s debates in Congress, and to deconstruct the smoke & mirrors of each day’s news cycle to get back to first principles.

It was Black history that first inspired me to critique capitalism, policing, and the Democratic Party. And it’s Black history—alongside the future history of the United States of America—that I hope to help shift by representing San Francisco in Washington.

We invite you to take advantage of this month to learn something new, and we further invite you to take action on what you learn. If you don’t know how or where to start, reply to this email and we can offer a few ideas.

Your voice, in service,

Shahid


MLK Day is more than just a day off work

Dear Friend,

Today, we celebrate a socio-spiritual legacy of a renowned national leader whose voice has been all but forgotten. Even those who lionize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tend to downplay his significance, the prescience of his teachings, and the relevance today of what he endured as an activist and organizer promoting peace and fairness in the face of “intersecting evils” that he specifically named. Three aspects of MLK’s legacy are especially important for us today to remember.

The FBI

First, Dr. King’s experience offered insight into the precursors of the Snowden revelations, 45 years after his assassination. King was pursued mercilessly by the FBI, which targeted him for political surveillance, surreptitiously recorded his conversations, blackmailed him, and tried to drive him to an early grave. Beyond him, our government targeted the entire movement for civil rights, as well as many others.

Today, driven by ham-fisted and knee-jerk reactions to intervening national security crises like the 9/11 attacks, our government’s surveillance tools are vastly more robust, equally unaccountable, and (at least in some cases) subject to the same politicization that MLK suffered.

As we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, we should consider what his life indicated about the threats that grew in the wake of his assassination. The national security state, its ever-expanding tentacles, the bipartisan support for domestic intelligence powers, and the threat it presents to dissent and democracy have only grown in the years since Dr. King was taken from us.

Fascism

Beyond the FBI, Dr. King also confronted his share of critics among white supremacists, whose power and reach have also grown immeasurably since his time.

The assault on the Capitol on January 6 represents the historical high watermark of the same cultural forces that vilified Dr. King.

One measure of our progress may be that Dr. King’s critics had the unfortunate support of many moderates—and even self-described liberals—of his era. Today, at least, our establishment has arrayed itself against the white supremacy apparent in the attacks.

Yet still, too many comfortable voices continue to choose the path of supporting of order over justice, which King correctly described as the crux on which injustice rests.

The climate crisis

Among the many aspects of Dr. King’s legacy, none has been more overlooked than his foresight with respect to the global climate crisis. King specifically named three “intersecting evils,” each of which has played a crucial role in enabling an existential risk confronting our species.

At the intersection of capitalism, racism, and militarism is precisely the set of international social forces that drove the climate crisis. Corporate resource extraction is directly driven by capitalism, but also implicates both racism and militarism, as well.

The racism of corporate fossil fuel development, in particular, is most visibly demonstrated by projects that violate indigenous rights. The Keystone XL Pipeline offers a prominent contemporary example, and we’re grateful for indications from the incoming administration that Biden plans to cancel the project’s permit on his first day in office. That cancellation remains an exception to the continuing rule of deference to fossil fuel industries, which continue to place private profit before the public interest in sustainability.

Corporate resource extraction has also, in our history, unfortunately relied on militarism. Wars for oil may offer an obvious example, but our nation’s pattern of invading other countries to seize their resources is unfortunately even longer standing. In dozens of instances over the past 75 years, our military industrial complex (acting most frequently through not the Department of Defense, but the CIA) has destabilized democracies in order to seize natural resources as mundane as bananas & pineapples.

His legacy

We honor Dr. King as more than merely a renowned historical civil rights leader. He was a grassroots organizer whose life and struggles unfortunately revealed constitutional challenges that we have yet to overcome. He was also a world-historical visionary who saw the future, and tried to warn us from continuing to stumble blindly down the racist path of militarism and corporate rule.

Whatever you do today to honor Dr. King, we invite you to re-double your organizing efforts tomorrow, and beyond. While today’s holiday offers a fitting opportunity for commemoration, the greatest homage we can pay is action inspired by Dr. King’s timeless principles.