Various social justice issues discussed at DeSaulnier town hall
By Lou Fancher
When terms like “gerrymandering” rest easily on the tongues of citizens and references to gender and racial inequities in housing, the workplace, government and health care are commonplace, it’s good and bad news.
At the town hall “Women in Leadership, Politics and Society,” held Nov. 2 in Danville with U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, it was good that more than 400 people in the Charlotte Wood Middle School multipurpose room were energized to participate, learn, discuss, advocate and ultimately vote on issues in the 2020 elections. The bad news was that familiarity with troubling realities — gun violence, health care deficits, women lacking representation in government or business leadership positions, voter suppression and more — is common in mainstream America.
DeSaulnier and a panel of local women leaders touched on hot topics affecting men and women but focused their comments primarily on problems considered to most egregiously impact women: fractured healthcare, lack of leadership career opportunities and inadequate representation in government.
Overwhelming interest caused a last-minute move of the event from the Danville Community Center to the larger venue. During the town hall, an interactive app allowed people in the audience to report on workplace bias and other issues related to gender they have experienced. The information gathered was to be posted on the Congress member’s website.
DeSaulnier began with mention of the impeachment inquiry activities in Washington, D.C., saying it was relevant and timely. A powerpoint presentation (available online) outlined President Trump’s violations and the inquiry’s guidelines and procedures.
“If I had done what he has admitted to, I would expect to be indicted for a felony,” said Desaulnier.
Addressing the inquiry’s fairness, Desaulnier, supported by slides, said rules applied to Trump are the same rules that governed impeachment inquiries during the Nixon and Clinton administrations.
East Bay Leadership Council President and CEO Kristin Braun Connelly said the lack of affordable childcare was the issue she most wanted to address. Drawing a line from women in federal government positions to achieving parity for women, Connelly noted the percentage increase of women in Congress during her lifetime has risen from 2.5 to today’s 30.8% but said it was not enough.
“Parity with women is being established in lots of developing countries, and the United States isn’t setting the model as a leader in this,” she said.
Dr. Cassie Marshall is an assistant professor in residence in the Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health program at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Concerned about providing integrated, affordable, high-quality health care to women and their families, Marshall highlighted the extreme costs of poorly coordinated, overpriced care.
Studies involving 11 countries concluded that the United States has some of the highest rates of chronic illness, maternal mortality, C-sections and women skipping medical care because of cost, Marshall said. Another study found that more than 40% of women in San Francisco experience homelessness during pregnancy.
In addition to state legislation aimed at solving the black-white gap in infant mortality in the Bay Area, Marshall suggested one solution to the crisis in health care for women and children is more family health education for fathers and partners.
Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton in her job deals with several issues: women’s rights, immigration, criminal justice reform, human trafficking, unaffordable housing, boys and girls of color in what’s known as the school-to-prison pipeline, voter’s rights, how to serve the mentally ill or drug addicted population and more.
Despite initiatives taken by her office to eliminate policies considered racist and implement restorative justice programs in prisons and juvenile centers, she said, ”For those of us in leadership, there is so much more to do. It’s you and I who have an opportunity to be the healers.”
Marcela Davison Avilés, a lawyer, author and cultural consultant for Disney/Pixar’s COCO movie, believes storytelling impacts public opinion and causes people to rethink existing ideas and attitudes.
Asked during the audience question-and-answer session for her opinion about the wall being built between the United States and Mexico, Avilés said, “How long do we have? It’s a misguided system. The heritage of the border is the heritage of PanAmerica; two countries that are linked. And so what’s lacking with the policy is willful ignorance in terms of its history and its heritage.”
National identity and liberty were foremost in Avilés comments.
“When we set aside egos and (are) joyous to learn where we all come from, the journeys we went on and are still undertaking, it will be quite a story that all of us can tell.”
In a conversation after the town hall, Karen Earby, of Richmond said she came to the event because of Trump.
“I wanted to find out what we’re doing about the next election right here. It starts here: I’m wanting to get more involved.”
Joining her and also from Richmond, Sheryl Yates attended, hoping to hear about health care, homelessness and discussion addressing gun violence.
“I’m curious and feel a responsibility to learn. What can we do to turn it around? We have to have gun control, get people with mental health issues into facilities.”
Asked where the money might come to fund the initiatives, Yates said, “Tax everybody. Tax me, rather that than have me worrying about my daughter, my family.”
Indicating the high degree of citizen engagement at the town hall, Stacey Salinas, of Oakland, answered a request for suggestions about DeSaulnier’s next town hall with this recommendation: allow more time for audience questions and moderate speakers’ replies tightly so a broader range of topics can be addressed.