As the clock winds down on 2016, it's customary for us scribes to take a thoughtful look back at the year that was and assess the highs and lows and lessons learned. Well, screw that. Twenty sixteen was a Dumpster fire for the ages, and I will be glad to see it go.
Things got off to a bad start when David Bowie died in January, and it pretty much went downhill from there. Sure, there were some high points (give me a minute, um . . . in May, Portugal powered itself for four days in a row with renewable energy, and the Dungeness crab season opened after a bad 2015, and . . . lots of cute puppies were born), but the unfathomably awful presidential election and obliteration of basic standards of decency that culminated in the election (thanks, Vladimir) of a spectacularly unqualified and despicable human being was the story of 2016.
So instead of looking back—in anger and regret and nausea—we look forward, and are cheered by the good work and everyday forms of resistance we see here in the North Bay and statewide.
If there's a silver lining to the orange menace that looms over the land, it's the determination to persevere and stand strong in the face of what may come. As we enter the Trump era, we have reason for cautious optimism. See you on the other side.—Stett Holbrook
THE FIGHT FOR $15
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a phased-in increase to the California minimum wage that will be fully implemented by 2022 and ramp the state wage to $15 an hour. Marty Bennett of North Bay Jobs with Justice says it's a good start, a big victory at the state level, and his organization is planning to keep the pressure on so that by the time 2022 rolls around the state will already have enacted a $15 wage floor through local efforts. The bottom-up push is exactly the model that's led to numerous states and municipalities raising their minimum wages, even as the federal minimum wage stagnates at the sub-poverty rate of $7.25 an hour.
It's not going to be an easy fight. The incoming president said throughout his campaign that wages are too high. He said a lot of things, so there's that. But Bennett says the fight will stay local and that the localities will serve to push public policy in the right direction at higher levels of governance.
"We want to be moving local policy that will raise the wage floor here and that will continue to ripple up," Bennett says.
His organization has been looking at the work done by a similar group to Jobs with Justice in Santa Clara County that led San Jose to update its own phased-in minimum wage to the $15 mark. Bennett says as San Jose goes, so goes other municipalities in that county—and a dozen already followed suit after San Jose's announcement.
Bennett hopes to see that effort replicated at the city level in Santa Rosa, and notes the popularity of the Fight for $15 movement, even in the face of a fight against a bunch of kleptocrats taking over the country.—Tom Gogola
Earlier this month, State Sen. President Pro Tempore Kevin de León introduced his California Values act, a throwdown at Trump grounded in empathy, decency, reason and facts. Naturally the alt-right enablers in California didn't like it much, given de León's emphasis on immigration and laying off the get-out cruelty at the heart of the Trump regime. de León's SB 54 sets out to "ice out ICE," referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or the Trump Deportation Force, depending on your level of cynicism about such things. Other local politicians have offered their own more direct push-back to Trump; U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman offered his colleagues a "Hey, There's Only One Freaking President at a Time" bill to highlight that Trump, despite what those who elected him might want to believe, is not president until Jan. 20.
Huffman previously offered a bill that set tax-disclosure rules for any future presidential candidate who decides to lie about how he'll he release those taxes but never does. Back in Sacramento, State Sen. Mike McGuire just this week offered a close-to-home tag-team to Huffman in a bill he co-sponsored that would compel federal tax disclosure on any presidential candidate who wants to be on the ballot in California.—T.G.
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
The Republican Party's zeal to abolish the Affordable Care Act is among the more gruesomely inhumane GOP gestures this side of eliminating Medicare and forcing Americans to recite Ayn Rand maxims under penalty of a death panel established by House Grim Reaper Paul Ryan. The old-time expression for this sort of hyper-aggressive posturing in pursuit of the death of the meek (who shall not, under any circumstance, inherit the world if Donald Trump has anything to do with it) used to fall under the generalized rubric of "social Darwinism," where might makes right and only the strong survive (it helps if they are billionaires).
The problem with the social Darwinist construct is that half of these would-be Obamacare killers don't believe in evolution in the first place. Hell, the upcoming vice president doesn't even believe in dinosaurs. What is to be done? Well, defend the flawed, but good-faith Obamacare, for one thing, despite the fact that it didn't usher in the progressive dream of a single-payer system.
Organizing for America is a post-Obama progressive group with a sturdy, activist presence in the North Bay. The group had pledged to refrain from making any noise about the upcoming administration until after Jan. 20, but given Trump's promises to "repeal and replace" Obamacare on day one, OFA has taken off the gloves for the fight in the hopes of sandbagging that pledge.
Congressional Republicans, led by California's Kevin McCarthy, have vowed to issue a repeal bill on Jan. 3 and put it on Trump's desk immediately. So instead of waiting for Trump to take office, OFA announced this week that it had launched an aggressive pushback campaign, in conjunction with health-advocacy groups from around the state. They've started to call states and districts where there are vulnerable Republicans to push the point that repeal will have immediate negative impacts on vulnerable constituents who have come to rely on Obamacare's many benefits to keep them from, you know, dying.
Organizing for America isn't waiting for the body count to pile up or for the alt-right to show up en masse at the nearest emergency room with bloody Gadsden flag tourniquets wrapped around their self-inflicted wounds, flying triumphantly over their dumb and self-defeating obsession with destroying Obamacare.—T.G.
The North Bay is already home to the grand-pappy of the tiny-house movement, Lloyd Kahn, and this is a part of the world where significant legislative attention has been paid to the growing unaffordability of housing. Whether that attention has yielded any tangible benefit to workers and middle-class strivers is subject to debate, but Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties have each in their own way tried to come up with humane and creative solutions to the chronic high cost of housing and the corollary of homelessness amid stunning wealth and beauty.
Organizations such as the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California have already been doing the yeoman's work on behalf of homeowners and tenants around the Bay Area, and now the organization has changed its name to reflect the reality of the work it has been doing all along in the North Bay (it was formerly Fair Housing of Marin). The group has joined in two recent lawsuits and complaints that charge housing discrimination against big lenders like Fannie Mae and OneWest Bank. The organization's executive director Caroline Peattie says the fight is on.
Peattie's group has already pushed back hard against the proposed anointment of OneWest mortgage vulture Steven Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department. In a recent interview, she noted that "organizations like ours are feeling beleaguered and also feeling more strongly than ever that we really need to put our noses to the grindstone and work to ensure that we can do everything we can to help civil rights of consumers."—T.G.
The state has already stood up loud and proud against any threatened return to ICE raids and dehumanizing policies around undocumented immigrants in the state. Cities are declaring themselves sanctuaries, and human rights commissions at the local level in places like Marin County are pushing out defiant memos playing off of Kevin de León's recent and well-received missive about California values and saying, in effect: Leave our workers alone.
It's not just talk. North Bay Jobs with Justice's Marty Bennett notes that his Sonoma County organization is one of many that has pledged to join a rapid-response effort being coordinated in San Francisco that would deploy mass protest in the direction of any promised ICE raid or beat-down of an immigrant at the hands of cruel policymakers or thuggish law enforcement officers.—T.G.
FIGHTIN' LYNDA HOPKINS
Sonoma County supervisor-elect Lynda Hopkins has come out swinging against Trump.
"I do think we need to pick a fight, because this isn't about Democrats or Republicans," she says. "He has essentially declared war on progressivism. He has declared war on environmentalism. He has declared war on labor."
During her hard-fought campaign against Noreen Evans, she jokingly wondered if she could move to Canada if she and Trump both won. But she's staying put and says she wants to move aggressively against the next president.
"I don't think we can reach our hands across the aisle and say, 'Let's be nice,'" she says. "Because that's not the strategy he is using. This is not an administration you can necessarily work with, in all the signals we have seen thus far."
She was heartened by state Kevin de León's "California values" legislation and says talk of secession and CalExit are misguided.
"We need to lead the country in the right direction. If we just secede, which is probably not even legally possible, then what happens to the rest of the country? I want to see us as the progressive beacon and a leader to a more progressive future. I don't want to just abandon the middle of the country."
Hopkins says she is most troubled by Trump's positions on immigration and climate change. On the immigration front, she is working with outgoing Supervisor Efren Carrillo, immigration attorney and Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights member Christopher Kerosky, state Sen. Mike Thompson and the county counsel's office to create a local effort to fight Trump-led deportation should it come to pass. One idea she mentioned is creating a conduit of resources for those fighting deportation proceedings.
"I think this is something we need to look at sooner rather than later," she says.
While Hopkins is not interested in breaking bread with Trump, she says she does want to reach out to his supporters, many of whom live in the 5th District, a region she says is a microcosm of America.—S.H.
While we thought Proposition of 64 was too much too soon, recreational cannabis is now legal in the Golden State. That's good news. Possession of marijuana won't land you in jail and clog up our courts and jails anymore. As the stigma of cannabis consumption ebbs and more research is done on medicinal uses, we hope more people look to the herb for its therapeutic properties as an alternative to Big Pharma.
Go Local's Terry Garrett has put the value of Sonoma County's cannabis crop at $3 billion. If he's even half right, the economic impact of this homegrown industry will continue to provide a sturdy leg to the local economy and a bulwark against any (God forbid) collapse of grape monoculture and wine-industry economy.
One of the thorniest issues will be how small-scale growers survive the mainstreaming of the industry. Last week, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors took the misguided step of banning cultivation in rural areas and thereby perpetuating illegal cultivation and crime there. Will that mean that only operators who can afford pricy industrial and agriculturally zoned land be able to compete? We hope not. The good news here is that the industry is coming out of the shadows and demanding a place at the table to shape their future.
Of course, if the odious Jeff Sessions is confirmed as U.S. Attorney General, the legal cannabis industry could all come crashing down, but our guess is that he'll leave it alone given the growing value of legal pot (both financial and medical) and the president-elect's claims in support of state rights.—S.H.
ART GETS REAL
The future of our culture, locally and nationally, is not going to be determined by Beyoncé doing a stadium tour; it's going to be found in the cafes, clubs, parks, libraries, galleries and town squares where we engage with friends and neighbors on a personal level.
North bay event promoters like Shock City, USA and Sonoma County Metal & Hardcore bring the best of anti-establishment music from around the country and the world to our doorstep, and local bands like post-punks Red Wood, whose latest EP Wildfire is out now, fearlessly rail against a society that embraces false positivity and stays silent in the face of fascism.
Painting Trump in a bad light is not enough. We'll be looking for art that employs compassion in all forms of creativity.—Charlie Swanson
While Trump is busy stacking his administration with stalwart climate-change deniers in service of the petroleum industry, Sonoma County and California continue to be leaders in the fight against climate change.
At the state level, Gov. Brown threw down against Trump in recent comments to the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.
"We've got the scientists, we've got the lawyers and we're ready to fight," he said.
As the fifth largest economy in the world, what California does to combat climate change will have real impact, Trump or not. At the local level, Sonoma Clean Power reports that it has saved customers more than $62 million in electricity bills with energy that is 48 percent lower in greenhouse gas emissions than that offered by PG&E.
"It's such a huge achievement for this community," says Ann Hancock, executive director of the Santa Rosa–based Center for Climate Protection.
Meanwhile, spurred in part by Sonoma County's example, more than 300 communities are considering the creation of local clean power utilities.
"It's going gangbusters across the state," she says. "Sonoma County's impact extends far and wide."
Even though Trump has threatened to pull out of the Paris climate accord, Hancock is cheered by the fact that 198 other signatories are going forward. "It's going to be hard for [Trump] to mess with something that big."—S.H.
Although the election was just a few painful weeks ago, donations to state and local nonprofits working to fight challenges to human rights, reproductive health, the environment and other causes at risk to the new administration are already pouring in. Fear, anger and defiance are apparently good motivators.
Three days after the election, the Sierra Club reported it had added more monthly donors than it had in all of 2015. The Oakland-based nonprofit also raised $110,000 in less than 24 hours after making an appeal to supporters. That was the most from a single email appeal in its history.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood said it had received an unprecedented 160,000 donations in the week after the election, a good thing since the federal government subsidizes the organization to the tune of $390 million for clinics across the country, mainly for services to low-income Medicaid patients, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and non-abortion-related birth control.
Closer to home, Elizabeth Brown, executive director of Community Foundation Sonoma County sees some encouraging trends. Her organization helps donors channel their resources into hundreds of local nonprofits.
While she's aware of increased donations to national organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU, she says many local philanthropists are "doubling down" on local organizations they already supported in defense of immigrant rights, women and children in need, and LGBTQ issues.
"Some of them are saying, 'This is a time maybe when we need to step up.'"
Since we don't know what Trump will do, there's an effort to be strategic rather than reactionary, she says. That's heartening, because strategic philanthropy is likely to be more long-term than a one-time, for instance, to help victims of a natural disaster.
Brown also reports that donors are looking to do more than give money and are wanting to get personally involved, with efforts aimed at bridging the social and economic divisions laid bare by the election in the Sonoma County and nationwide. "We're having a wake-up call about how well we know each other," says Brown.
San Rafael's 10,000 Degrees, a nonprofit that helps low-income students in the North Bay with funding and supportive services for college, is seeing a jump in both the number and size of donations, as well as open-ended offers to volunteer.
"People are really thinking about how they can have the greatest impact in the fastest way," says Kim Mazzuca, the group's president and executive director. "The spirit of philanthropy has become much more deeply personal."—S.H.