welcome to the Commonwealth Club of California we’re here today with our Michelle Meow Show at the Commonwealth Club and like all of our programming we’re coming to you live online only and we’re doing this free this is our way of keeping our important conversations going even as we are all sheltering at place working from home or working from our remote offices if you have registered on our website you were offered an opportunity to of course support our programming if not you didn’t you’re unable to we certainly welcome you at any time to go to Commonwealth Club org and support us in any way small or big it’s appreciated there’s a way to help us keeping our programming alive I’m John zipper I’m the Commonwealth club’s vice president of media and editorial and among my tasks here is the enjoyable job of co-hosting the Michelle Meow show at the Commonwealth Club if you’ve been following me this far along you also know that my name’s not Michelle meow so let me now introduce the real co-host of this show Michelle meow Michelle welcome thank you so much for joining us today for our special program if you’re joining for the first time in learning of the Michelle meow show the Michelle meow show is you’re a through Z covering the LGBTQ LMNOP and everyone in between a super grateful and thankful to the Commonwealth club for offering this platform to be as inclusive as possible bringing in all thought leaders to address social justice issues with an intersectional lens I love saying that and now let’s get our program started I’ll introduce our guest today he’s been building social movements and speaking truth to power for almost two decades since graduating from Stanford Law School in 2003 he has worked in both San Francisco and Washington as a legal advocate a nonprofit leader a grassroots organizer and is a poet and musician an early advocate for marriage equality for same-sex couples and a prolific organizer in the movement to end warrantless government surveillance he most recently built a national grassroots network for the Electronic Frontier Foundation as the organization’s director of grassroots advocacy he’s now hoping to unseat Speaker Pelosi and is running for Congress representing district 12 let’s welcome Shahid Buttar.
Shahid welcome to the show. Thanks so much for having Michelle it’s great to be with you well let’s get to know you a lot better I mean we’ve done a ton of reading about you but it’s traditional here in the program we ask everyone you know a coming-out story so however way you know that sits with you but I did read you identify as a cisgender heterosexual Muslim lawyer I’m you know let’s talk about your path and you know recognizing your passion and then making the San Francisco Bay Area your home let’s hear your story thank you I came here to go to school in the year 2000 I before that escaped first England and then rural Missouri and then the south side of Chicago to come to the part of the country frankly that I’d always wanted to live in and when I finished school one of the very first things I did and I describe myself in those terms usually when describing my work promoting marriage equality and it was not long after finishing at Stanford when I was working for a San Francisco law firm in the nation’s capital I had a chance to represent the second mayor and country who recognized the right of consenting adults to marry a partner of their choice that was Mayor Jason west of New Paltz New York and so maybe I’ll just tell the story of that case because it sets up the stage here I met Jason we were both artists and activists I was organizing hip hop artists and spoken word artists around the country to reclaim public space and politicize performances Jason in addition to being the mayor of his town was also a prolific puppeteer he built large giant puppets that were used in the street demonstrations in the Hudson Valley in New York we were speaking together on a panel at a conference in Washington at American University the National Conference on organized resistance this was in 2004 I believe and you know by the end of it we traded cards and when Gavin Newsome here in San Francisco was the first mayor to recognize the right of consenting adults to marry a partner of their choice Jason and I on the phone within a few days of that and when Jason Salim nice marriages and New Paltz it made the movement for marriage equality a national struggle which it was not before and you know it’s interesting I’ve heard in that case I think demonstrates a lot of things for me it demonstrates particularly the intersectionality of civil rights and I was so excited to hear you describe the focus for your program because intersectionality has been a practice for me very long before the word became widely embraced and it’s for me it’s just been obvious that marginalization is compound and the privileges compound you know as an immigrant Muslim who whose family lost our home to foreclosure and who got my undergrad degree going to school at night for 10 years I’ve experienced many of those different you know I’ve been housing and secured different points I’ve seen those lotuses of marginalization in my own life and I’ve seen them be entirely more pernicious in the lives of others and and I’m eager my job my mission is to eradicate marginalization and I had a chance to do it in that case I’ve had a chance to do it in a few other ways since and I’m eager to continue doing that on behalf of the people of San Francisco as our elected representative in Congress well we’re going to get into a lot of the issues that you’ve gotten into in your campaign but I want to stick with the kind of getting to know you part and ask you are the politics that you hold now that you’re working for and are dedicated to all right have they been the same to your life or were you non-political yeah and youth were you a conservative in your youth I mean what’s your political evolution been like yeah as a youth I would say I was rapidly patriotic be as an immigrant I was very committed to not just the principles in the constitution of what we were taught in school but particularly it’s you know symbolism in this plays I was a boy scout and very committed to even traditional forms of patriotism one of my brothers was in the reserves Officer Training Corps served in the US Army and other of my brothers was in ROTC before he was medically disqualified with asthma so between you know military family rural Missouri Boy Scouts you know that might sketch a little bit of sort of you know who I was when I was a young young young person sure and then my family moved to the suburbs to st.
Louis and you know throughout at the time my particular concerns and I remember learning about the Native American genocide in elementary school was a very young person and that with that and the exposure to racial diversity and racial inequity in particularly the faith congregation that my family was part of so we lived in rural Missouri and we went to st. Louis to attend a mosque occasionally on the north side of the city and the congregation was largely immigrant South Asians who tended to be very well resourced and about equal numbers of African American congregants from the north side of st. Louis many infirm had not had the same educational or professional opportunities and in Islam we pray shoulder-to-shoulder and the different circumstances of people you know could not be more obvious when we leave the building and you’d see the cars people would get into or you know we go to gatherings at different people’s homes and you know we describe each other as brothers and sisters and our circumstances in our homes for instance were so very different and so that was my first exposure and then learning about the Native American genocide and understanding a little at a history when I when we lost our home to foreclosure for me it I would describe that as experientially reinforcing a set of concerns that I had before developed in the abstract as a student but not necessarily as someone who got a chance until I was 16 to encounter that kind of marginalization I mean I faced I faced prejudice as a very young person in Missouri but I wouldn’t describe it as systematized marginalization you know there’s a difference between prejudice and racism and people conflate the two very often but racism requires institutional power you know individuals can be prejudiced but it takes a criminal justice system to be racist you know it it takes capitalism to be racist and you know the prejudice that I encountered from largely powerless people in Missouri I don’t think of that as the same way as you know seeing the banking system you know take homes and and deny education and I think a lot of the things that many Millennials for instance I’ve experienced in the last decades since the last financial crisis I had the unfortunate experience of encountering and enduring some time before and and and at the same time and just to lay this out after my family lost our home and I couldn’t go to college anymore and I was you know down and out in Chicago the way I got on my feet was working for a series of banks and so I had a chance before I got my undergrad degree to effectively work on Wall Street and see the corruption that lay behind the curtain you know we were selling many of the same derivatives that went on to create the 2008 financial crisis and and I saw this dark Margaret Wilde Lee diverge from any you know plausible construction of value in the economy and so I had sort of like those sorts of concerns built on it and then really what dialed up my set of concerns and what what I might say crystallized the voice that I’ve had for the last 20 years was studying what passes for law in the United States at the same time that I witnessed it effectively its legitimacy crumble in front of me you know the Bush versus Gore decision happened just a few months after I started law school I watched the Patriot Act enacted by a Congress that hadn’t even read a bill that was pulled off a shelf by right-wing authoritarians that were weaponizing a national crisis to impose an authoritarian agenda that we’ve never repudiated since I’ve seen speaker Pelosi entirely complicit in that all that time and on all these different issues I’ve seen those same principles that I was inspired by as a very young person you know the inscription on the basis of the Statue of Liberty III was one of the huddled masses yearning to be free I relate to that myself and and to see the way that we have come to treat immigrants to see the way that we sacrificed our own rights in the service of hating others to see the way that our own resources have been co-opted by I’m particularly inspired by figures including dr.
King and President Eisenhower you know who had intersecting warnings that both connected and I see our civilization bury its head in the sand while you know our leaders told us to warrant so they warned us about a number of threats that we’ve been entirely unable to end to address effectively and so that that’s a little bit about what brought me I hope that gets to some of your question yeah yeah we’ll definitely get into the issues and also Speaker Pelosi what sets you two apart but first you know you might you might know of him but a fellow Democratic Socialist but Bernie Sanders had just suspended or announces the suspension of his presidential campaign yesterday and so speaking of you know personal experiences and evolution of one’s own politics and how we get to where we’re at today I would say that we can credit someone like senator Sanders in impacting you know many generations across the political sphere as well as being a part of this new socialist movement a modern socialist movement that’s happening in this country would love to hear your reflections on you know senator Sanders announcing the suspension of his campaign and what your thoughts are as far as the impact that he’s had on American politics thank you so much I cried the other morning when Bernie announced that he was dropping out of the race and it affected me more personally frankly than I anticipated especially because I’d had moments in the context of his campaign crying before particularly the night of the Florida and Illinois primaries yeah I would not be running for Congress were it not for Bernie Sanders and I want to make that inescapably clear he inspired me in two different ways he both inspired me substantively to recognize that the value paradigm that he and I have long shared was not just one that he and I shared I knew that the majority of his constituents in Vermont shared it but until 2016 frankly never did I guess how widely shared and supported across the American body politic how radical in particular are the Millennials in that generation that broke so dramatically to support his campaign in that generation that has been effectively abandoned by the political establishment I didn’t recognize how radical the young ones were and you know this dovetails a little bit with John’s previous question I’ve always been you know unapologetically committed to my principles so much so that the idea of running for office in the past under the preceding paradigm it’s never been possible I mean I wouldn’t think of it twice you know I the idea that I was so committed to my principles made me unelectable and then Bernie demonstrated for me that of what people think of as electability is in fact just a pretense for corporate neoliberal centrism and that in fact a visionary commitment to human rights is electable and it didn’t happen then and it didn’t happen this year in that particular race but it will happen in others and we’ve seen it happen in some members of the squad for instance broke through on that paradigm and so I see cracks in the neoliberal armor happening around the country and so that substantive inspiration to see how much support is already out there for a meaningful repudiation of corporate capitalism and a equally meaningful commitment to human needs and human rights that there’s already that support he also inspired me methodological which is to say I had always thought of political campaigns as vacuous exercises in institutional narcissism until I saw him show up on the picket line and I saw him when Disney workers and Amazon workers are raised not through public policy but just through using his megaphone I saw what solidarity from a candidate for public office can do for social movements and having been a long committed social movement organizer you know a dumb impact litigation of lead nonprofits have done the policy work on the street work done direct action have been arrested I’ve done all the different pieces of the social justice equation and recognizing the way that he as a spokesperson was able to rally his supporters around a set of intersectional causes reframed for me the possibilities and electoral activism I frankly long to ride in a lot of electoral activism as you know serving an establishment because there wasn’t a meaningful left alternative which is why I’ve been building issue-based movements for twenty years and and Bernie basically lifted the lid off and said a the country is way more left than we might think and be here’s how you do it right in a way that actually puts the people in front and I’ve been very inspired to follow his lead I frankly ran in this cycle I mean I was auditioning to be one of his lieutenants and support his agenda on Capitol Hill and the reason one of the reasons I was trying the other morning is I heard about his decision and was recognizing that the future for me I am now auditioning to try to stave off the worst potential outcomes of the future because regardless of who wins presuming the Biden’s the nominee I’m gonna have to be fighting the next present because they’ll be entirely too conservative to meet the needs of the future and instead of going to support a president who’s gonna be fighting for the future I fear that I’m gonna be fighting a president who’s gonna be standing in its way and I’m here for it the the entire Democratic Socialist Movement is on Azana has been honest what’s the word it’s better on a strength lately and and certainly we’ve seen a number of offices obviously non-presidential that have been picked up by Democratic socialists it’s also a term however that a lot of people don’t understand and you know it’s been used both as a pejorative and as a kind of a glossy cover all for anything give us your definition of it is that you know and and situated in in kind of the the world that people do understand I mean is this Marxism is this european-style social democrat democracy is there something uniquely American about it is it you know what what are we looking at what is your tips thank you and I’ll try to bridge that in the prior question because Bernie’s role with respect to articulating it I think is one of the things that creates some ambiguity because you know there’s democratic socialism there’s Bernie’s platform how did the two relate I think that’s one of the reasons that there is this ambiguity that people are trying to resolve the uniquely American aspect of democratic socialism is the breadth of the visions that are encompassed within it precisely because we haven’t yet attained institutional power to realize the vision in the policy so in other countries I think there have been much more rigid definitions between for instance social democracy democratic socialism traditional socialism other things on the spectrum between you know crony corporate capitalism on the one hand and you know communism perhaps on the other I see that democratic socialism as uniting a few different threads one of them is a commitment to democracy which I would describe as quintessentially American we have a legacy in the world however we continue to disappointingly betray it at seemingly every opportunity we still helped introduce the concept of democracy into the modern world that’s a legacy that I am very committed to defending and I’ve sketched out at least four different vectors from which our democracy is under attack and I will say that as an immigrant Democratic Socialist my brand of democratic socialism attains a particularly anti-authoritarian character because I’m not just interested in expanding public ownership of industrial sectors I’m not just interested in expanding human rights to include healthcare and housing and food and education I’m also interested in guarding our democracy from a the politicization of our courts which I’ve seen happen in slow-motion for the last 20 years I fought the Kavanagh nomination in 2006 to the DC Circuit and I spent three years at the American Constitution Society preparing a pipeline of progressive jurists for the next Democratic president and one of my central disappointments in the Obama administration was their refusal frankly to consider progressive jurists and their propensity for proposed for appointing effectively diverse prosecutors and saying that they’d done their job in diversifying the bench while still conceding its ideological co-optation by the right wing and so I have a proposal there as to end life tenure to restore judicial independence in the age of politicized jurisprudence in staggered 18-year terms for Supreme Court justices separately from that there’s a another dimension threatening our democracy and that’s the erosion of voting rights we see this in very sharp belief it was just a few years ago that the Supreme Court struck down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which for since the civil rights era had guarded civil rights from erosion by state legislatures and in the wake of that decision predictably I wrote at the time warning that state legislatures controlled by Republicans would start narrowing voting rights imposing restrictive voter ID requirements often that require resources that people don’t have effectively pull taxes you know denying voting machines to neighborhoods that need them we saw in Milwaukee this week an absolutely horrific Tim you nishan of the number of voting machines available to people and people in the middle of a pandemic we’re waiting for hours and hours in the rain no less to vote that’s not just an assault on their rights it’s an assault on a republic a third vector here is the surveillance state that’s a particular concern of mine already shred the political civic character of Muslim American communities and I’ve witnessed the chilling effect of government surveillance in destroying democracy within the United States within some of these communities and I recognize how surveillance inhibits dissent and the threat that that poses to the principles that I was taught to love and cherish as an American and then finally and this is one of the most pernicious is executive secrecy the courts can’t review what they don’t know about that was the central lesson of the Snowden revelations the supreme court had just kicked out a case alleging mass surveillance by the NSA saying that you can’t prove is happening so we’re not gonna look at it it was that case that prompted snow than three weeks later to lay bare all the evidence and say okay yeah well here now three hundred million Americans have standing to sue this this program and if not only can courts not correct those things but Congress can’t oversee them an executive secrecy is the hole in the bucket of our commitment to human rights well there’s a you know part of democratic socialism inflected by a u.s.
Perspective is challenging the American exceptionalism that for so many observers allow us to excuse casually for instance the profound tension between invading countries to impose democracy particularly when we can’t respect it at home and I think the pretense of the values that our country claims to represent in the world fly in very sharp tension with the reality and as an immigrant from places around the world that have been where democracies have suffered at the hands of our military-industrial complex I am here as a voice from the past with an eye to the future to defend very timeless values in the present let’s let’s get into the issues and shall we and so it’s you know we definitely can’t bring up senator Sanders and without talking about a big issue that he brings up for all of us and the that is the wish for Medicare for all and that’s something that you support and let’s dive into that what does medicare for all look like it looks like people being able to go to a doctor or get the medicine they need without having to risk bankruptcy and without having to fear homelessness it is so appalling to me not only that we kick sick people into the street when they run out of money but that so many of us turn a blind eye it’s it’s amazing to me that so many Americans are comfortable with accepting this predatory corporate paradigm that and I want to be clear about this it kills Americans every day and right now the pandemic makes clear that that corporate predatory system is going to kill a lot of Americans and quickly you know we’re now dying and mass because of corporate rule and and there’s lots of dimensions to this there was a 17 year old who died in Los Angeles last week because he was turned away from an urgent care clinic because he couldn’t get health insurance and then he died of Cova and I’m grateful that Congress among the stimulus ministers has allowed for free kovat testing presuming you can find a test kit but there’s no free treatment even for this pandemic let alone anything else and we have the money this this canard that we don’t have the resources for Medicare for all is absolutely offensively preposterous I can point to a single weapons program on which we are hurling two trillion dollars for an obsolete weapon that serves no security rationale doesn’t even meet its specifications and can’t do anything to even if it did work which it doesn’t can’t do anything to address our real national security needs they might include a pandemic how biomedical threats they might include terrorism what they absolutely do not include our traditional nation state military actors of the sort that the f-35 Joint Strike Fighter program was issued to and developed to counteract and so we are we are wasting our resources on unnecessary objects of fraud while vital objects of human needs are being just abandoned and there are a couple other things that Medicare for all would look like it would look like a massive job stimulus because when people for instance well let’s flip it let’s look at it from the standpoint of employers when employers no longer have to pay for their employees health care it’s going to lighten the bow Sheetz in the income statements of every industry across America there is no greater potential job stimulus lever we can pull then by socializing the cost of health care and removing the burden both from families and from employers there’s another really important part to consider here and that is the reduction in overall cost commensurate with the improvement of overall outcomes Burnie says this I think a lot of people still don’t realize we pay more money for worse outcomes than anywhere in the world the question I would ask anybody who doesn’t support Medicare for all is how can you say that with a straight face knowing that we get worse service for more money than any people on this planet there is no good there’s not even a bad reason for that there’s this no reason at all except for political timidity and an unfortunate deference to corporate interest and the last time I checked the United States presented itself as a democracy not a core cracy and I’ve been watching corporations run our society off a climate cliff for entirely too long and at the same time that the corporate rule of that resource extraction context has been predatory at the macrocosm pharmaceutical companies health insurance companies our predatory for-profit health care system has been just as predatory in the microcosm and every American family that has had to go without medical care of medicine because they haven’t known how to pay for it proves the dire and urgent necessity for us to join the rest of the industrialized world in recognizing that health care is a human right one last point I’ll just make here then I’ll stop about this pandemic makes the case so forcefully because to whatever extent we might have ever imagined that health care is appropriate to treat like a commodity it makes particularly little sense in an age of pandemic and I’ll try to attach this in terms for economists you know we treat health care currently like a commodity people contract for it they get private insurance to provide for it if they meet catastrophic situations that they can’t pay for right that’s that’s quintessentially a private transaction but economists would concede particularly in an age of pandemic the individual health has massive public stern a letís contagion is an externality it’s not just in the interests of underinsured and uninsured people to make Medicare for all the national policy to establish a human right to health care it’s an all of our interests because when our neighbors get sick especially in a pandemic it puts everybody at risk and that’s not rocket science that’s what appalls me about this this is just common sense and I think it’s really sad that we have to fight tooth and nail simply for our civilization to make decisions that are such no-brainers and it reflects the unfortunate co-optation of our democracy by Wall Street it is interesting I’ve been thinking lately about how so the health care industry is what like 1/5 of the entire economy something like that and it’s been buckling under this you know crisis despite obviously some heroic efforts of nurses and some doctors and others who have literally been putting their lives in danger just to maybe kind of keep going along those lines and this is asking you to predict so that you know everyone gets a freebie here because we don’t know how long this will last or whatever but care to care to project what you think the the American attitudes and the political environment for whether it’s medical Medicare for all or some other dramatic change in the health care setup would be once we’re through this the this health crisis and this this condiment and economic crisis I think the bipartisan clamor for universal health care is frankly already there bipartisan majorities even a majority of Republicans already favor the policy so I would just reframe the question with all respect I think what you’re asking me is will our political system heed the established consensus of the American people or what we consider to get railroaded by our corporate overlords and and frankly the one way I could and also reframe the question as well the people of San Francisco recognized that we’re being fleeced by our own elected leadership and that we can have a voice that will actually stand for our needs instead of for Wall Street’s profits and I do think that our race presents a very crucial test that will determine the outcome of exactly that question that you’re raising and all I can say to that is you know every minute of my time an ounce of my energy for the last three years has been dedicated to liberating the sea and I hope very much that the answer will reflect the responsiveness of our democracy to we the people of the United States that’s the bet I’m making and we’re leaning in to make it hop you know something you mentioned you know we have the money and this this this comment I mean just this morning there’s the headline that the Treasury had approved another 2.3 trillion dollars in aid when this country has already approved trillions of dollars in aid and during this pandemic one of the I guess the what would happen under medicare for all single-payer health care system is that it would be paid for by federal money and and so you know the question really is if the we we have all this money what are what are people so worried about especially when they say or make a statement like I you know I don’t like the idea of taxes being raised what are they missing I think they’re missing history there is a long-running fight between capital and labor and when we look at policy questions without being informed by that history we risk unfortunately repeating even at satyr aspects and corporations have been preying on the American people for a long time and I think that when people look at the current debate over Medicare for all which might seem like a visionary alternative and then they compared it to the majority of American politicians for whom it would seem revolutionary it’s another way I add value I think as a voice with a foot abroad having immigrated from the UK an international perspective reveals that it’s the majority of US politicians who are frankly in the isolated minority that’s the irony here is that Medicare for all is not as it is a visionary policy but it’s not a new policy it is the policy for every industrialized country on the planet with one exception the very same country that in carcere rates more people than anywhere else in the world too it’s the thing that amazes me is that we have this notion of ourselves as a free people and a brave people when we are being fleeced mercilessly and we are frankly jailed at higher rates than anybody anywhere else you have the tension between our national self-identity and construction and the reality I see is demonstrated in precisely that impression among some Americans that these objects of widespread international consensus are somehow revolutionary similarly international human rights that are respected around the world are not recognized here one of them is healthcare in the World Health Organization has described both how universal healthcare is a compelling public need and exigent imperative in public policy and is not even new in the American experience President Roosevelt included health care and a secure home in his second Chris proposed second Bill of Rights which Congress has never and the states that Congress has never enacted in the States have not ratified but the second Bill of Rights envisions a robust commitment to many of the same human rights that many other countries acknowledge that we refuse to acknowledge and I think that I would just invite many Americans who you know might think of a medicare-for-all as this incredibly destabilizing thing you know people who don’t see the no-brainer case for that it will be a job stimulus that it will reduce costs that it will improve health care outcomes it will keep people alive that it will prevent homelessness like there is literally no policy that makes more sense than this one if only because the prevailing system is so obviously filled in so many different ways and for people for whom that might seem unsettling I just say look up and look abroad because we are not as much as we might think the innovators and all things and and in this case we are very slow to adopt a long ago established expansion of human rights and I’m I’m eager for the United States to join the rest of the world when you’re talking about the this shared policies or whatever that the rest of the development world has they don’t all pursue a medicare-for-all sort of approach I mean Germany still is private insurance based but I believe they have universal health care provisions and and such why is Medicare for all than the answer for the United States and and isn’t it especially considering this is such a as you’ve said you know countries such so deeply rooted in in these corporate interactions and in control and and other things isn’t that actually probably the most difficult thing I mean are is there another way to get to universal coverage or and so why Medicare for all I guess it’s a short question no that’s a good one I mean if I were to sketch the spectrum of alternatives I think the hardest one would be a British model NHS where it’s not just the health insurance but also the health delivery apparatus that is nationalized and and Medicare for all is not that medicare for all envisions a much lighter shift that only socializes the insurance layer that allows health care delivery so still remain private and decentralized so in that respect it’s frankly not nearly as revolutionary of policy as you know the more socialized ones around the world you’re right that Germany’s is a little bit less so in my mind the key there is making sure that anybody can get to a doctor and get medicine you know I President Obama for instance was able to trade everything out of his bill as long as people weren’t denied coverage for previous conditions my bottom line is people need to get to doctors and medicines when they need them for a preventive care or for crisis care and and whatever it looks like to get there well I’m very comfortable too in the process of legislation work with my would-be colleagues in Congress to craft measures that might be of alternatives to the Medicare for all vision that maybe are more like the NHS in Britain or alternatively more like the German model but from for me the key is making sure that people don’t get turned away from medical facilities and they don’t get turned away from pharmacies because they don’t have the money in their pocket that is a travesty in places at all as it places us all at risk and whatever the specifics look like in order to get us there I’m happy to engage and accommodate you know dialogue and the construction of a policy vehicle that maybe differs from Medicare for all as long as that gold standard making sure that everybody gets the care they need is respected thank you staying on you know healthcare is right housing is a right and you know these basic human needs as a right in how we get there as a country do this pandemic all of a sudden has kind of put us in this temporary place in which we have found a way we have found a way to provide some shelter for those who are homeless all of a sudden health care is accessible to anybody who’s impacted by kovat 19 or you know however we articulate how this virus is impacting us from the health perspective or an economic perspective but anyway there seems to be the solution which was kind of always there and one would argue that you know House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been successful in being that you know working on a bipartisan level with with the different branches of our government in ensuring that there’s aid for corporations to small businesses to working-class I can’t say that you know hundred percent of the entire community is covered in that but at the very end of the day trillions again trillions of dollars of money as its pumping back into the economy economy to make sure that we stay alive so this really was a really long way of getting into the conversation of what sets you apart from House Speaker Pelosi and if a good number of individuals and folks especially in the Bay Area feels she’s doing a great job in working with someone like President Donald Trump you know what how would you make it even better yeah I appreciate that the very first thing and not to say that if I were in her shoes I’d be the speaker but just to draw a circle around her engagement with the president I wouldn’t have supported his four and a half billion dollar request to build concentration camps at our borders I wouldn’t have supported his trade policies I wouldn’t have supported his foreign policy I wouldn’t have been posed the fiscal austerity measures favored by conservatives that speaker Pelosi resuscitated even after the prior Congress had abandoned them and I certainly wouldn’t have slow-walked an impeachment process that ultimately snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by failing to even try holding the president for his worst offenses against the Republic so I’ll get into the stimulus package is just a minute but I want to just focus as long as you mentioned the president there’s no good reason that the president is still in office except for speaker Pelosi’s failure failure in at least two different dimensions first I took her a year to show up for a process for which there was plenty of evidence long before and when she did finally and she refused during that year decidedly in public repeatedly to pursue executive accountability it was no secret that she didn’t want impeachment and when she was fan finally effectively dragged to it by circumstances outside her control namely the emergence of the you know the leaked the whistleblower when she did finally concede the need for impeachment she limited it so dramatically she said that we’re not going to impeach the president for his human rights abuses we’re not going to impeach the president for his incitement to violence we’re not going to impeach the president for his lies to the public and the press in Congress including you know we’re not gonna impeach the president particularly and this is the ground that would have one we’re not going to impeach the president Pelosi said for corruption every day that Trump has been in office he has been putting public money in his pocket that is a criminal act and it is unconstitutional there is a specific constitutional prohibition against emoluments that is self enrichment at public expense that’s all this president does he doesn’t even have a pretense of interest in governance he’s only there to enrich himself and his speaker Pelosi refused and this is not just my allegation representative Jerry Nadler has confirmed it was Speaker Pelosi who hamstrung the impeachment process and prevented it from including all of the charges that the president should have had to answer for and that’s why he wasn’t removed from the Senate corruption charges if they’re if the impeachment process was a litany a recitation of all the different times who would take years to tell them all how the president is stealing money from the American people for him and him and his family his personal self enrichment if that was what the impeachment process was about plenty of outraged voters in red states would have put in play GOP votes in the Senate and because the impeachment process was instead about a partisan crime which was a crime and should be impeachable but we also know that impeachment as a political process not a legal one it was obvious frankly and I wrote as much at the time that then that the impeachment like process that speaker Pelosi finally endorsed was doomed from the beginning and I saw that nation frankly you know this has happened more than once where I see predictable pitfalls that I warned about them and I hate being proven right about these things you know I warned that body cameras would be a ruse and extend mass surveillance without improving police accountability you know and with marriage equality that was an area where he said we have to respect the rights of our neighbors in each of these contexts you know I’ve been right it took Pelosi ten years to show up for marriage equality after I was fighting for it in the courts as a sis hetero Muslim man from the Midwest and in these other contexts too I’ve seen her show up slow or not at all and impeachment is one of those ways that I think she’s unfortunately failed the nation she gets credit for a process that she lost and delayed and did everything she could to fail and the fact that the corporate media props her up as this line of the left despite supporting Trump in all these different context trade policy foreign policy immigration policy industrial policy wars abroad issue is one of the people who helped cover up CIA torture under the Bush administration and refused to impeach that administration for its human rights abuses that is an era when I was helping organize protests trying to stop Bush’s Wars here in the Bay Area I was one of the twenty thousand people who non-violently used our bodies to shut down the financial district the day after Bush invaded Iraq because that was a corporate invasion that was placing people’s lives at risk and we were right and it wasn’t just in illegal invasion that killed a bunch of people abroad thousands of Americans died and that region is still being destabilized we’ve wasted if we didn’t have the money for Medicare for all how did we have the money to waste on Iraq and Afghanistan in the last two decades Afghanistan the Washington Post reported last fall has been based the war in Afghanistan has been based on more than one decade of lies persisting through the Bush administration through the Obama administration into the Trump administration and the idea that we have wasted decades and decades thousands of lives and trillions of dollars on systematized death at scale with no discernible benefit to anyone is outrageous to me and frankly that in my mind should be the central issue in the u.s.
Politics it’s amazing to me that we talk about all these other things when we’re just like bombing of smithereens out of people all around the world and funding the Saudi genocide in Yemen and Trump wants to now go to war with Venezuela as he’s engineering right-wing cruise and Brazil and Bolivia I mean it’s I there is a pandemic there are these domestic crises I see what’s happening internationally in far sharper relief than I think the American political system is internalizing and it is a very dark time around the world and we are a driver of much of it and you know my family did not migrate twice around the world so that I could see the United States become the center of an axis of evil and I am here to defend democracy and the principles that have long made this country great before this criminal president and speaker Pelosi’s unfortunate and unacceptable complicity with his agenda is ultimately why I’m running to replace we’re getting a number of questions from people who are watching us I want to work in some of those someone mentions that voters should have a chance to hear candidates explain why they are best suited to represent San Francisco in Congress so would you participate in a virtual debate with Nancy Pelosi yes absolutely I’m very eager to do so and I want to just develop that a little bit Nancy Pelosi hasn’t debated an opponent in 30 years and as an immigrant I take very seriously many components of American democracy that I think many others take for granted and to me that is also a little outrageous I mean how do you get away with that in my mind debating your ideas is part of the job it’s it’s like the first bullet point in the job description is to fend your ideas in public and she won’t do it and I think I know why it’s because frankly she can’t her record is so indefensible she survives politically on propaganda and a misconstruction of how she actually shows up in Washington the distinction between the rhetoric surrounding her and the reality is vast and you know if she were actually challenged by a credible challenger and I am incredible challenger but she refuses to show up for a debate I am very eager to participate in that debate and again if if she refuses I would suggest to any San Franciscan who is showing up for work here there’s a further point to this and this relates to ultimately the challenge that we in the Democratic Socialist or you know this gets back to some of the first questions you were raising that we present to the establishment the only reason these issues seem novel to the American people is because they haven’t heard from us yet which is to say that debate might be the ballgame I was saying last fall at a moment in time when Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren were trading swords or at least many of their supporters were at a time when the candidates were still in a more date on phase that that was an opportune moment for the left and as we should be fighting anybody that was to say Bernie supporters that we should be knocking out Biden and Buddha George and clove ashore to let the nation here in debate that could have happened between Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren that debate frankly never quite happened and if it happened that is the debate that would have transformed the country because America’s never heard from either of those kinds of camps you know it speaks to the question that John raised before about the brand of democratic socialism that I and others represent you know there are lots of and I don’t want to say that Liz was a Democratic Socialist all because she was a far cry from it but but there are these debates that the American people can learn from and in debate between me and Pelosi I think beyond just an opportunity for our campaign and particularly an opportunity for the city of San Francisco I think of it as a teaching and learning and civic opportunity for the nation that her refusal to engage undermines maybe the last thing I’ll say on this it was about a month ago maybe three weeks ago a story emerged in the New York Times that Christine Pelosi who sits on the Democratic National Committee and his Nancy Pelosi’s daughter had called Bernie Sanders and his campaign operations to complain that one of the figures who have endorsed me Susan Sarandon that Susan Sarandon had endorsing and I said this on Twitter and I’ll just say it here if the policies are so concerned about actors endorsing our campaign that they’re complaining about it too Bernie’s Anders I would just invite them to show up for work and do what most other people do and debate me in public and I look forward to having that conversation when I keep going make sure we have enough time for our audience questions sure let me go to the next one where do you stand on term limits for members of Congress so term limits seek a valuable goal which is to say accountability and turnover and unfortunately well they seek accountability and what they do is force turnover and turnover and accountability sometimes run in opposite directions I’m a favor of term limits for judicial offices in legislative offices I think more compelling that term limits is opportunities for public financing of Elections that allow challengers to incumbents to be more viable I similarly have another goal or another way to get at that same goal of accountability and fluidity in politics is my agenda of extending inside trust statutes to encompass political markets that will give judges a textual basis to for instance intervene to correct instances of partisan gerrymandering to ensure competitive elections I think that the goal the goal for term limits is valuable the mechanism I think is inartful particularly because among the things that people get over decades in Congress is you would hope some modicum of expertise and frankly we see this put Pelosi she is a master tactician she claims that mantle and frankly she deserves it I do think me the critical perspective on that is who she uses her mastery of legislative tactics for and it’s not the people of San Francisco and it’s not the people of the United States it’s the corporations of Wall Street but setting that aside you know the accumulation of experience and expertise and one of the currencies in capitol hill particularly is relationships the accumulation of those resources expertise experience and relationships renders a legislator increasingly useful for includes to the district over time and here’s the key as long as they remain accountable to the district and I think a better mechanism to ensure accountability than legislative term limits are public financing of elections and an antitrust regime that prevents partisan lockups and you know another example we I’ve benefited from here in California the jungle primary system which creates opportunities for intra-party challenges like mine that the traditional closed and open primaries do not so there are a lot of different ways to reach the goal of more legislative accountability and I’d prefer ones other than term ones someone actually could ask the question that really kind of flows right along with what you were just talking about which is now if you were to replace Nancy Pelosi you would be replacing of course someone who has all that experience and seniority and power you would be a junior member of the House who do you see as likely and who do you see as desired lead new democratic leaders in the house so the next Speaker of the House should be barbara Lee and there’s no question about that Barbara Lee tried to stop the war in Iraq like I did Barbara Lee voted against the Patriot Act like I would have barbara Lee has stood with the American people at every turn she’s been a leader in the progressive caucus she’s a renowned voice from here in the Bay Area and frankly she’d be a much better speaker of house the Nancy Pelosi would be she would have at least gone to bat against this tyrant at times that Pelosi enabled him and it’s been very frustrating to watch a voice from the wrong side of the bay hold the gavel at a time that we frankly needed a voice like barbara Lee to speak for the house and the American people and preserving democracy at a time like this I would be a very junior member of Congress and we have seen very junior members of Congress have incredible influence very recently I can think of one who ran in the same cycle as I did in 2018 representative Ocasio Cortes we ran in the same cycle originally on a very similar platform I got as many votes in 2018 as she did in her primary and I’m eager to finish the job and this cycle and join her in Congress and I think if her example is any indication even a young voice in Congress can make a big impact I want to participate this in a different direction which is to say you know the you might hope you will I’ll take this another way minute ago in response to your previous question I said that it’s great to have an experienced member of Congress as long as they’re accountable to the district and you might hope that speaker Pelosi with all of the institutional power that she’s accumulated the relationships the expertise the experience she is the head of the Democrat party you might hope that local needs would get address right but it’s conspicuous to me that we have the worst housing crisis in the country here in San Francisco where his speaker Pelosi been on housing I’ll tell you the answer she’s a wealthy landlord who makes a million dollars a year in rent she hasn’t legislated anything for renters in 30 years and I want to make this clear to the federal government used to invest billions of dollars a year in block grants to States to incentivize affordable housing had those programs simply continued we’d be in a very different place here in the Bay Area but the local housing crisis has a federal route and she is entirely complicit in creating that crisis it’s during her tenure that the spending on affordable housing has fallen through the floor and it’s not like we haven’t had the money because we’ve been spending cords like in obscene amounts of money on the very same military boondoggles we were just talking about and frankly the amount of money we’ve wasted in the war in Afghanistan makes the amount of money that we’ve saved by abandoning affordable housing it makes a trivial it’s it’s pennies right and so if we just took an infinitesimal fraction of the money that she’s been willing to hurl at military contractors and invested in our communities San Francisco would literally look different I mean our city has been eviscerated by gentrification and displacement right the demographics of the city have demonstrably shifted there are entire populations and communities that no longer live here that could have lived here had she remained accountable to the district marriage equality is another issue I spent the Bush administration fighting for marriage equality in the courts she was the Speaker of the House at points and with all that privilege representing this proud visionary City she could not bring it upon herself to support equality for my neighbors that’s unacceptable and this idea that she’s so powerful that she can’t show up for San Francisco you say that to the people in Hunters Point I was in a meeting at Hunter’s Point two months ago and I’m watching the elected supervisor for that district Sherman Walton d-10 I’m watching him in a room of outraged constituents you know trying to lay out the latest information and explaining ways that people can get involved in that meeting I’ll be honest with you that reading was that was the only time I have questioned if I wanted to be in public office cuz I’m just watching the heat that he’s getting and I talked with him about it anything the fact of the matter is it’s the Navy polluting that neighborhood it is a federal crime against the residents of San Francisco there’s nothing that Sherman Walton or even the board of supervisors can do about it there is one person in the city who can show up for Hunters Point and she hasn’t similarly one other example a month ago maybe six weeks ago an off-duty FBI agent shot a nun house neighbor of mine about a hundred and fifty feet from my front door I’ve been to three different community meetings responding to that incident the first one was convened by a local nonprofit the homeless youth Alliance I was in a room of people who were close friends with the person who survived that attack thankfully and and it was mostly about grieving the second meeting was convened by d5 supervisor Dean Preston representatives from the district attorney chase of Eugene’s office came SFPD was represented and they all said this is outrageous and there’s nothing we can do there’s one person in the city who could do anything to even just ask the questions why are off-duty FBI agents shooting unhoused people in the haze and Nancy Pelosi won’t ask the question I see a lot of influence in our city representative in Washington and I see all that influence doing absolutely nothing to support the people and the needs of this district do you think the two US senators who are also from the city are any better or are they the same in your opinion oh wow well let’s talk about senator Feinstein first you know I I spend a lot of time in Washington pleading with her to show up for work when she was the chair of the Senate Intel committee I’ve been fighting the FBI in the domestic surveillance apparatus for over a decade before I joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation I was the executive director of a nonprofit known at the time as the Bill of Rights Defense Committee I now sit on the board of defending rights and dissent which it was merged into it another group and for a few years I was based here in San Francisco leading a program to counter racial and religious profiling on behalf of a dead startup nonprofit called Muslim advocates and at the time I was fighting aller Bob Muller was my principal antagonist when he headed the FBI and was infiltrating mosques and Quaker communities around the country and and was infiltrating environmental networks as supposed terrorists well I have to interrupt the rainfall trading Quaker communities yeah this was well established during the Bush years the the domestic surveillance apparatus and this frankly isn’t new this is a 100 year history that stretched unapologetically for 50 years supposedly ended in 1976 with a set of congressional hearings the church and the pike committee hearings this is all thoroughly documented under and to the extent anybody remembers its day its COINTELPRO the counterintelligence programs this was the era when the FBI was for instance threatening dr.
King and trying to drive him to it an early death this was the era when the FBI was working with law enforcement authorities to assassinate civil rights leaders like Fred Hampton and Chicago this was the era when you know our government was unapologetically disrespecting the First Amendment doing it in secret until carved called out for it particularly when a group of hippies broke into an FBI office in Philadelphia during the oddly Frazer fight and literally stole the documents out of a filing cabinet drove them to Washington DC threw them down on the desk of Senator Mike Gravel who then read them into the Congressional Record and held accountable the executive branch for abuses that Congress was abdicated the responsibility for enforcing I’m very aware of this history and I frankly every member of Congress squares in both to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic and I fear that most members of Congress are not sophisticated enough to even understand what that means because they keep voting for unconstitutional surveillance detention incarceration and xenophobic belligerent international policies and if they understood what it means to defend the Constitution of the United States they wouldn’t be casting those votes and ultimately I think that we need people in office who will stand for those principles but especially under administration’s led by presidents like this we’re winding down on time only about six minutes left and I had a couple questions that were burning on my end but I’ll start with the first one where do we go from here I think anybody who is elected into office or is a elected official after you know kovat 19 in this outbreak has a lot of work to do whether you’re mayor governor a council member a junior congressman you know there there’s a lot that we have to do to rebuild the country how do you see us doing it what do we need to do going forward we have to retool on the kind of mobilization that we’ve seen our country do before it I think about the Second World War as an example I’m proud to see UAW workers United Auto Workers around the country retooling to build a ventilator said we need having you know now that we abandoned the domestic manufacturing sector in the 90s in the service of this global trade agenda we’re building that domestic manufacturing capacity I think that’s one crucial part of the next phase rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure is going to create opportunities for the job creation we’re going to need to meet the unemployment wave there are a whole bunch of parts of the green New Deal that intersect here and so one of them people fix a 100 percent renewable energy commitment and that’s an important one and we need that if only to stave off the worst potential coming disasters implicit in climate calamity but there’s another part of the green new deal that gets a lot less attention that I think is equally important particularly in terms of rebuilding our nation in the wake of this pandemic and that is the federal jobs guarantee the idea that and it becomes particularly poignant here in California and let’s talk about it as it relates to California one of the things a green util in California is going to look like is a generation of people being put to work to do jobs that the market will not sustain particularly and I think of one that is very compelling in California is the very labor intensive not market viable project of replicating indigenous forest management techniques to diminish the propensity of our forests to catastrophic wildfires climate chaos is already killing Californians and we need to do better you know before the pandemic hit we already had a species wide crisis with a longer fuse but a very short one in the grand scheme and if it’s not the pandemic we need to recover from its climate chaos that we need to address and get on the front end and I think that the same measures that would help us recover from the pandemic can help us get on the other side of the corporate resource extraction machine that is driving our species off the cliff with it yes sir the pandemic has really done a lot to reframe what is essential and what is not and I’m also very eager to see Adam you nishan and the amount of resources we dedicate to policing we need to deke our Sri it’s obvious that we don’t need all of what passes for security this is security theater and it’s another example frankly of the military-industrial complex I wrote a chapter in Project Censored 2017 volume about how police militarization relates to the warning that Eisenhower gave us in 1961 and after we started you know abusing International Human Rights around the world and starting all these wars for profit domestic police militarization is the military-industrial complex turning its sights on us and and it’s not essential nor is it American and I you know whether from an anti-authoritarian perspective or just from the budget perspective implicit in recognizing the need to focus on essential services I’d really like to see us deke our survey and rationalize our policing industrial complex ahead I could listen to you for another full hour or even a day as I learned so much you know just within this hour but we’ve got a couple minutes left and John is it okay if I last ask the last question you’re sure but my last question is and this is a personal one I really really would not like to see another trump presidency for the next four years the presumptive Democratic candidate is Joe Biden and we could use all the support we can in to ensure that there isn’t another trump president so you meant so the short question is would you and the communities you serve the voices that you speak for you know support a Joe Biden and is that first to become the next president of the United States so Joe Biden to me is part of the problem so I mean and I live in California they think they will vote blue no matter who so I have a privilege here in being able to vote my conscience and I can’t vote for somebody who put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court you know someone who’s got an outstanding rape allegation against him somebody who is complicit in mass incarceration someone who cheerleaded for the war in Iraq I mean it’s not just the case then this is one of the things I think that Bernie’s movement is responding to it’s not just the case that bernie is not the nominee the Democratic Party has settled on the most conservative voice from the presidential field and you’re right the Trump is the worst president we’ve had in modern history if Biden were able to beat him which I don’t think he can because he doesn’t have any enthusiasm he can’t muster support and frankly I don’t know how well he’s gonna do on a debate stage every indication seems to be that he’s unable to operate without a teleprompter I’m very concerned both that Biden is not able to win which is precisely why we shouldn’t nominate candidates who don’t have support and I’m also concerned that were Biden’s successful in attaining the White House unless his vice president had a very different record than his I don’t think a Biden presidency looks very different than a trump presidency I mean remember I was talking before about how Trump puts public money in his pocket no Biden’s son makes over half a million dollars a year for a position he’s not qualified for I see Trump and Biden very much in the same boat and so you know the presumption that he’s better because he’s a Democrat there is a perspective from what’s the biggest difference between Democrats and Republicans in the White House is that when Democrats are there that people go to sleep and you know I’m all the people who say they would rather go back to brunch like I don’t want them at brunch I want them at the marches I want them organizing with us I want their solidarity and I would just reiterate dr.
King’s invitation you know he wrote explicitly in the letter from Birmingham jail the deferring justice for the sake of expediency is bankrupt and in his era what we lost when we refused to heed his voice was merely justice but today it’s much more than that we are risking the future of life on this planet by failing to heed his invitation to dismantle the intersecting evils of capitalism and racism and militarism and Joe Biden has been an agent of each of those evils to the same degree that Donald Trump has in some respects frankly Biden’s worse there Trump never wrote a crime though they put millions of Americans in prison Trump wasn’t in a position to fool the country into illegal Wars the Biden’s record is thoroughly unacceptable it he’d be PP he would just continue the paradigm of failure so frankly at the moment I think for a lot of Americans there’s nobody in the race to be excited about and I think that’s a real problem and I think that I fear how that will show up in November I fear the Democrats learned nothing from 2016 and I should make that clear too Clinton was a stronger Nam and even Biden and Trump is stronger now than he was then that concludes our program Shahid Betar who is running for Congress district 12 thank you so much for joining us here on the Michelle meow show at the Commonwealth Club thanks for having me and thank you for joining us for this program and I’ll leave the last words to John well I would just say find out about future programs we have we’ve got a lot of online programs lined up they’re all free and we’re adding more pretty much every day so go to Commonwealth Club org slash online thanks for joining us