It’s remarkable how much the mainstream of the Democratic Party has shifted since Bernie Sanders shook up the party three years ago. This year, at the state convention, economic inequality is on the political agenda.
In his opening speech welcoming the delegates, Governor Gavin Newsom (who has never been in favor of anything that involved taxing the rich) actually said that the wealth gap “is real and unsustainable.”
Sen. Kamala Harris held a press conference this morning, and I asked her if she supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s idea of a wealth tax. “I think she’s onto something,” Harris said. Me: Does that mean you support raising taxes on the rich? “Absolutely,” she said.
Even Willie Brown got into the act, saying that in San Francisco, under Mayor London Breed, the “gap between the haves and the have-nots is being instantly merged.”
Well, actually it’s not; inequality is getting worse. And Harris, while she’s talking about tax credits for working families and the gender pay gap, hasn’t actually proposed any new taxes on the rich or formally endorsed Warren’s plan.
But at least they’re talking about the crisis that – along with climate change – is the greatest threat to the future of humanity. Finally.
If there was an overall theme to the convention, it was reproductive rights. From the Women’s Caucus in the morning, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed a packed room of more than 1,000, to most of the speeches by presidential candidates, the war on women declared by Alabama, Missouri, Louisiana and other states was a central issue.
Debra White, the general counsel of Planned Parenthood, took us through the battle lines, and she, like others, repeatedly said that abortion is health care.
Dr. Pratima Gupta, who sits on the SF Democratic County Central Committee, was the only candidate nominated from the floor (not by the existing caucus leadership) to win a seat on the board of the Women’s Caucus. She introduced herself by saying she was an abortion provider – and a mother. “And these two things are not contradictory!”
Pelosi still isn’t calling for impeachment – although I think it’s fair to say that the clear majority of people in the convention center today favor that path – but she seems to be getting closer. Today, she said that Congress “will go wherever the facts lead us” and that “we will have an ironclad plan to act … Trump will be held accountable.”
She didn’t say exactly what that “plan to act” would look like, but I don’t think she’s gone quite that far in the past.
Sanders isn’t speaking until Sunday morning, but so far, the star of the show has been Elizabeth Warren. She got by far the strongest response from the floor and had the entire place buzzing.
It was a crazy day, with each of 13 candidates getting seven minutes to address the convention (Scott Shafer at KQED called it “speed dating,” which is a good description).
None of the second-tier candidates did or said anything that will help them break through in California. Sen. Cory Booker came the closest, with an inspired talk about the need for gun control, but most of the 3,000 delegates will probably walk away wondering: Who is Eric Swallwell, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, John Hickenlooper, or Jay Inslee anyway?
Pete Buttigieg got applause when he said that he woke up this morning next to his husband – and that his marriage was only legalized by a one-vote majority on the Supreme Court. He did say that “The economic ‘normal’ has failed a working and middle class that powered America into a new era of growth… only to see the amazing wealth we created go to a tiny few.”
But he didn’t say what we can do about it.
Harris and Beto O’Rourke talked about how great California is, and put out their stump-speech agendas. Harris said “this election is about who we are as a people.” The biggest cheer she got was when she called from Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.
O’Rourke talked about how Trump is dividing us, and called for a comprehensive new immigration policy that would allow the DREAMers to stay. He said not a word about economic inequality.
Warren had the clearest message for change – and wasn’t afraid to take on the Democratic Party establishment. Every problem facing the country, she said, “is to connected to one thing: Power is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy and the well-connected who are helping only themselves.”
In Washington, she said, “they dream small, they talk about tweaks and nudges. But the time for small ideas is over. We need big, structural change.”
Warren was the only candidate critical of others in the race and the party leadership (although she used no names). “When a candidate says it’s not possible, that the political calculations could come first, that you should settle, they are telling you they will not fight for you.”
The floor erupted in cheers.
It was the second big welcome Warren received in the Bay Area. Thursday night, she held a town hall at Laney College in Oakland Thursday, and said that this was the largest of the 90 town halls that she has participated in.
Warren said she is the “first 2020 candidate to make preschool affordable to all families” and highlighted the need to increase teacher pay.
Warren said she wants to attack corruption in government head on, stating that she has the “biggest anti-corruption plan since Watergate.” She also discussed the toxic role that money plays in elections and stated the need to “end lobbying as we know it.”
One of the more moving moments: A youth-led protest on climate justice that clogged the stairs to the convention floor — but nobody complained.
Outside the convention hall, sex workers were demonstrating for their rights and pushing a resolution that would put the party on record in favor of decriminalization.
Alex Andrews, who works with the Sex Workers Organizing Project, came all the way from Florida to join the demonstration. “These women don’t want to be arrested for reporting violence against them,” Andrews told me.
The Resolutions Committee killed their proposal.
Additional reporting by Zachary James.