A Challenge to Dianne Feinstein
A perfect storm of opposition to California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is brewing. Take the issue of Iraq. Over 2,200 U.S. soldiers will have died in Iraq by Christmas, and that will figure will surely rise to over 3,000 by the 2006 elections. The Iraqi death toll is already over 100,000 and will continue to rise even faster.
Sixty percent of the American people now oppose the occupation and want the troops brought home, a figure that is growing even higher in California. Sen. Feinstein voted to support President Bush’s invasion of Iraq and continues to support the occupation.
But that’s not the only important issue where she has more in common with George Bush than with the people of California.
* She voted for Bush’s USA PATRIOT Act.
* She voted for Bush’s No Child Left Behind attack on public education.
* She called on Bush to invoke the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act against the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
* She opposes gay marriage and can’t even bring herself to speak the word “filibuster” against Samuel Alito, who, if confirmed, will no doubt cast the deciding vote against Roe v. Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court.
* She opposes immigrant rights and supports the racist death penalty. While millions of Californians supported Stan Tookie Williams’ request for clemency from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Feinstein couldn’t even be bothered to issue a press release.
There is so little difference between her and the California Republican Party that the Republicans have not even decided if they are going to field a candidate to oppose her. Millions of Californians disagree with her about fundamental issues.
On December 15, I will announce my decision to seek the Green Party nomination to challenge Sen. Feinstein in the November 2006 elections.
My campaign will seek to turn this election into a referendum on the war in Iraq and pose a very simple question: If you are against the occupation of Iraq, why would you vote for Sen. Feinstein?
Despite the mainstream media’s support, her multimillion-dollar campaign treasury and backing from the political establishment, my campaign will aim to win “A Million Votes for Peace” in California. This would represent more than double the best statewide Green Party vote in California and announce the arrival of the antiwar movement at the ballot box in this state.
I believe this is possible for several reasons. First, as I outlined above, millions of Californians strongly disagree with Sen. Feinstein’s enthusiasm for the occupation of Iraq and her many other Bush-Lite positions.
The second reason is that she faces no real threat from the Republican Party. Therefore she can’t hide behind the “lesser-evil” shield that so often protects Democratic Party politicians from the sins they have committed against their own supporters.
Either the Republicans will field a little-known candidate who is in even more violent opposition to the people of California than Sen. Feinstein herself, or, if no real Republican challenger emerges, we have the chance to make this a two-way race. If that happens, then the sky’s the limit.
The third and most important reason I believe we can develop a real challenge to Sen. Feinstein is that the widespread opposition to her policies has begun to turn into active movements.
Antiwar: Students across California are challenging military recruiters on their campuses, and on November 8 of this year, the people of San Francisco voted by 60 percent to oppose the recruiters’ access to public schools and campuses. The September 24 antiwar demonstrations in San Francisco and Los Angeles were the biggest since before the invasion of Iraq, and we expect the March 18 protests marking the third anniversary of the invasion to be huge.
Muslim and Arab communities have never passively accepted the racial profiling embedded in the USA PATRIOT Act and have led the fight to defy it on a municipal level. Finally, Californian Cindy Sheehan’s actions have helped galvanize soldiers and military families against this war.
Death penalty and prison system: The mass movement struggling to stop the execution of Stan Tookie Williams has forged new coalitions and brought in thousands of young people who will continue on to fight for an end to the racist death penalty and challenge the incarceration of a generation of Black and Latino and poor youth.
In 1970, there were about 25,000 prisoners in California. Today, there are almost 200,000. The prison system is out of control. Prison guards are the largest political lobby in Sacramento.
Millions of Californians have a close relative in prison, most often for nonviolent and relatively minor drug offenses. Tookie’s movement has put in motion what I believe will be a sustained resistance to this insanity.
Immigrant rights: Anti-immigrant bigotry breaks like waves across California’s political history.
The latest round of racism is being fueled by James Gilchrest and his so-called “Minutemen.” Really, they are just vigilantes who bring shame to the name they appropriated.
Gov. Schwarzenegger went so far as to “welcome” them to California, and encourage them to terrorize Mexican immigrants trying to cross the border and harass immigrant day laborers up and down the state who are merely looking for work to feed their families.
Sen. Feinstein hasn’t gone as far as Arnold, but she is the principle sponsor of a federal law barring states from issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented workers. It is important to understand that this issue has become a major focus of civil rights actions for immigrants. In fact, the first thing that Arnold did when he took office was to overturn a California law granting undocumented workers access to a California driver’s license.
Sen. Feinstein took Arnold’s initiative to the federal level. The anti-immigrant climate that she helps stoke led to James Gilchrest winning almost 25 percent of the vote in a special election for Congress this month. Thankfully, immigrant workers, U.S.-born Latinos and other activists have confronted the Minutemen wherever they go, and are bringing to life a small, but potentially massive, movement.
My campaign will work to highlight the demands of the civil rights and antiwar movements in California.
We will tour state and community colleges, and invite antiwar, prison system and immigrant rights activists to speak at all events. We will go to the unions and ask for a hearing. We will ask 25 student governments and dozens of community groups up and down the state to invite Sen. Feinstein to debate me. We will have a massive presence at the March 18 protests against the war. We will use the Internet to distribute free video campaign commercials. We will enlist artists and poets to help spread the word. And we aim to be serious about raising money.
Just as “College Not Combat” has become a slogan that has taken on a life of its own in the media, we will make “A Million Votes for Peace” a phrase that people remember in November 2006, through buttons, stickers, banners and e-mails. We will demand coverage in the mainstream media, and use Pacifica Radio’s California network, Indymedia and the alternative press to bypass them if they refuse.
My campaign will not be counterposed to activism -- exactly the opposite. It will say, “Instead of voting against the things you are fighting for in the streets, isn’t it time you take your movement to the ballot box?”
I think the number of people who want to answer that question in the affirmative may frighten Sen. Feinstein.
Todd Chretien was Northern California field coordinator for the Ralph Nader-Peter Camejo campaign in 2004 and is a member of the International Socialist Organization. Earlier this year, he was a co-author of Proposition I in San Francisco -- the College Not Combat referendum that passed by a wide margin. This week, he will announce that he is running for the U.S. Senate for California on the Green Party ticket, challenging Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
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