2020 was a terrible year for many reasons. Many of us would like to theatrically annihilate it, like John Oliver. I am not confident that I will ever be able to leave home again without a mask in my pocket.
However, this month I am asking you to remember 2020 and resist attempts to erase it. There are three things in particular.
First, 2020 was a triumph for progressives in the Democratic Party, especially in California. Every incumbent member of the Squad was reelected. Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush joined their ranks. Bernie Sanders won the California Primary with a majority in 47 of the 53 Congressional Districts and 50 of the 58 counties. I am not sure there has ever been a time in US history when socialism has been as popular. Eugene Debs, for example, never sought a major party’s nomination and never won any electoral votes as a third party candidate.
In the past few years, reactionary nationalists have been using the term “American exceptionalism” to refer to the idea that the US is exceptional in our virtue and mission. However, for most of the 20th century the term was used by leftists to describe the phenomenon of the US being the only industrialized nation without a major left/labor movement. We can argue about whether the Bernie/Squad/DSA formation represents a left/labor movement, but it definitely represents a lot of people asking why our public sector is so underdeveloped, why we can’t have the benefits and services that left/labor movements have won in so many other nations, and why inequality continues to worsen. This is an important moment.
At our Congressional Forum last month, we asked the three candidates who they had supported in the 2020 primary election. Two of them, Sydney Kamlanger and Jan Perry, answered “Biden and Harris.” That was who we all voted for in the November general election, but Kamala Harris wasn’t even on the primary ballot. If she had been, she would have been running against Joe Biden, not as his partner. It has been a strange couple of years, so I don’t blame anyone for misremembering, but this answer also seems like an attempt to erase that there was a primary election at all, that there had been disagreement about who the nominee would be, and specifically that Bernie Sanders won California.
At first, when he became the nominee and then the President-elect, Biden seemed to understand the profound challenge and change Bernie’s movement represents. Sanders supporters were invited to join task forces to create Biden’s platform, and progressive elements were incorporated. When Joe Biden took office, he had been transformed from one of the leading ‘80s New Democrats, who had triangulated the Party away from its labor and social justice base hoping to lure back Reagan-curious suburbanites, into the new FDR.
Unlike Roosevelt or LBJ however, Biden seemed reluctant to push too hard for his transformative agenda. He trusted Manchin and Sinema, the right wing of his party, who negotiated his program down to a stump then still refused to vote for it, while his allies attacked the left for asking him to actually deliver what he ran on. A month ago, Biden’s first State of the Union was dominated by events beyond his control: COVID and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but he barely mentioned climate change and seemed to accept defeat on his transformative domestic agenda, returning to a failed status quo.
When Biden invoked the threat of the fascist right, it was as a call to inaction: we cannot push for real change now, because we need to unite to keep what we have. Now is not the time to criticize Democrats like Manchin and Sinema, who put fossil fuel and medical industry profits ahead of human well-being, because we need their help to protect reproductive rights and fair elections. This logic was at centerstage in this spring’s California Democratic Party convention. The Party leadership celebrated their defense of the status quo against the progressive insurgency, using this same logic: we need all the resources we can get to hold back the Republican menace, which includes fossil fuel, medical industry, insurance, and police and prison money. State Party leadership used parliamentary shenanigans to block a campaign organized by the Progressive, Environmental, and African-American Caucuses which would have gotten fossil fuel and law enforcement money out of the party, and undermined AB1400, which would have established single-payer healthcare in California, and AB854, which would have reformed the Ellis Act. Again, they fear losing support from the right, from those who profit from human suffering and environmental destruction, more than they fear losing that of progressives activated by the promise of Bernie, the Women’s March, the Parkland kids, and Black Lives Matter. Conservatives in our party would like progressives to shut up or even to go away, to see Bernie’s national primary defeat and Biden’s general election victory as a repudiation of the left and a validation of the establishment, but we are not going anywhere. I encourage you to remember 2020 by supporting the groups working to hold the Democratic Party to its platform and values, not its fundraising goals: the Progressive Caucus, the Environmental Caucus, and the Black Caucus, groups working outside the party such as the Working Families Party, and the Democratic Socialists of America, progressive PACs such as Ground Game LA and Onward Culver City, and candidates who refuse to take police, oil, landlord, or corporate money.
Second, 2020 was the summer of Black Lives Matter. Arguably the largest mass movement in US history was catalyzed by the police murders of George Floyd and Brionna Taylor and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets despite the pandemic. Black Lives Matter formed in 2013, after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, and it is based in an established abolitionist movement, but the tragedies of 2020 brought it to the fore.
I am very proud that this Club has hosted speakers from BLM-LA and that we shared our 2021 Fiesta La Ballona booth with West LA for Black Lives. We are the only Culver City group to have given BLM a platform. The Chamber of Commerce, in contrast, met the moment with a panel whose members they listed as: “Culver City Mayor, Goran Erikkson; Acting Chief of Police, Manuel Cid; and CCUSD Board President, Parent, and Wife of a Law Enforcement Office, Summer McBride.” Note that we do not find out if the men are married, have children, or what their partners do. More importantly, none of the panelists represents or studies the abolitionist movement. The Other cannot speak; they must be spoken for.
Many organizations and officials put out solidarity statements but then ignored the actual analysis and agenda presented by BLM. It has been disheartening to see leading Democrats, such as Joe Biden, Kevin DeLeon, and Karen Bass, support increasing or maintaining police budgets when BLM explicitly calls for defunding the police: supporting care not cops, moving resources and responsibilities from systems of violence and punishment to those of healing and care. The City of Los Angeles gave almost half of their American Rescue Plan funds to the LAPD. Again, it’s as if 2020 didn’t happen.
It was even worse to see a mass movement against police violence met with police violence. Portland police used so much tear gas that it was detectable in the water supply and affected women’s menstrual cycles. Buffalo police shoved a 75-year-old man to the concrete, then dozens of officers protested an investigation of the shoving. Police nationwide shot protestors directly in the head with rubber bullets, causing injuries including broken jaws and lost eyes. Denver police were just found liable for $14 million for violence against BLM protestors.
On April 11, the Culver City Council will discuss bringing the City into compliance with AB481. Written by Assembly Member David Chiu, passed by both houses (with the votes of our Assembly Member Isaac Bryan and our State Senator Sydney Kamlanger), and signed into law by Gavin Newsom in September, AB481 requires every law enforcement agency in the state to publish an inventory of the military equipment it has, set clear policies for future acquisitions, establish a clear and timely way for citizens to lodge complaints, and report all uses. The American Friends Service Committee has excellent resources on this issue.
The policy proposed by CCPD is not as bad as it could be. However, both the policy itself and its announcement on the CCPD website lead with misleading claims that CCPD “does not possess any tactical equipment that it has obtained from the military, nor does it possess any equipment that is designed solely for military use.” While those claims are technically true, neither of them is the definition of “military equipment” in AB481. CCPD are attempting to distract and confuse. Once that preliminary feint is out of the way, the proposed policy document features the required inventory of military equipment conforming to AB481. CCPD has drones, over 100 assorted rifles (including two Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifles), tear gas, pepper gas projectiles, “flash bang” devices, Tasers, and a “less lethal projectile launcher” with a selection of projectiles including chemical irritants. It also reveals their intention to purchase a robot capable of dispensing tear gas.
The draft policy also contains multiple references to an Emergency Response Team. As the Center for Public Safety Management report linked on the CCPD website documents (see p. 106 of the PDF), this is another term for a SWAT team. As that report describes, this is a new project for CCPD, and one the report discourages for practical reasons (rather than SWAT’s problematic history). The ERT/SWAT project was never brought to the City Council and, as described in the CPSM report, involves extensive militarization of CCPD. While CPSM discourages the formation of a SWAT team, if the project proceeds they recommend working with the California Association of Tactical Officers and National Tactical Officers Association and give a list of suggested trainings. It also reports that CCPD expects twenty officers to be part of this project, each giving it one quarter of their time. One fifth of the department will be immersed in these additional technologies of violence. Please look at the relevant section of the CPSM report and the CATO and NTOA websites. Police are literally preparing for war.
The draft policy establishes a clear process for CCPD to purchase, maintain, and use military equipment, but it is not the only option. Again, the American Friends Service Committee has very useful recommendations. We have a chance to stop and reverse police militarization. My desire, of course, is that the existing arsenal be destroyed and CCPD banned from acquiring or using any gear covered by AB481. We have seen how police use this equipment and who they use it on. If you marched for BLM, put up a sign, or your organization made a solidarity statement, please email our Council Members and show up at City Hall on the 11th. They are gambling that we have forgotten about 2020.
Finally, I remind you what the Culver City Police Officers Association did in 2020. On June 8, they released an open letter to the City Council, attacking every member except Goran Eriksson for considering reforms. In July they appointed Luis Martinez, a cop who cost the City almost $9 million in a wrongful death suit after he gunned down an unarmed suspect in front of his children, to be the City’s first staff representative on the Equity and Human Relations Advisory Committee, forcing the Council to remove him after public outcry. They also assessed each of their members over $400 to hire public relations consultants, who produced videos attacking community members including two UCLA professors (one of them a MacArthur Fellow), a member of the School Board, and her father, and whose participation in the November City Council election included the city’s first-ever political billboards as well as mailers with red “X”s over caricatures of candidates Yasmine-Imani McMorrin and Freddy Puza, coincidentally the first Black woman and the first openly LGBTQ+ person to run. CCPOA’s contract is up in June. There will be a City Council election this fall. I hope you will remember 2020.