FYEG Migration Suitcase in the USA

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The first contact one makes upon arriving in the United States of America is with the INS (Immigration and Naturalisation Service) These nice people wouldn’t let me in the country unless I gave them an address where I would stay. Since I didn’t have one, well that was a problem. Luckily I had some phonenumbers of the people I was going to work with and the Officer who dealt with my case was in a good mood. He called Riva and was satisfied with her address. For two days that address was actually correct. Soon I moved to K’s place, where I spent the rest of my time in San Francisco.

Even more time I spent in “the Office”, the garage which served as the campaign headquarters of Renee Saucedo. Renee, an immigrant rights lawyer with Latino background, ran for Supervisor of District 9 as a Green candidate and fights hard for universal health care, dignified affordable housing, day-labourers and immigrant rights. Because local elections are the only ones where the American people have a real choice, because women are still gravely underrepresented in all institutions worldwide and because Greens are the only guarantee that future generations have a planet to live on, I went to the United States of America to work on Renee’s election campaign. So far I’ve done numerous tasks which include designing a flyers, printing stuff thousands and thousands of mailing label and following a crash course in MS Access. Another one of my taks is organising fundraisers eg. at El Toro’s, serving Tamales (Mexican food, wrapped in something) and smoked salmon and raising over $500.

Most houses in the Mission district (a Latino and thus immigrant neighbourhood) are built out of wood and have nice colours and shapes. They defi netely remind me of those Far West Cowboy films. What also appeals is that a lot of houses have front yards where usually there are plants, trees or fl owers. Another striking phenomenon are the wooden poles for electricity or phone wires. Between all those nice things there must be some ugliness. On the street here you see the face of a country where the government doesn’t give a shit about its people. Poverty is horribly common here and so is homelesness. In addition, it seems that a great part of the population is a bit loony. Talking to one’s self could be the most practiced form of conversation around here.

One afternoon I went to the Roxie theatre to see Alambrista! A great film about a Mexican man who migrates to the US, but finds out that the American dream is not quite what he imagined. Unfortunately the turn-out was not that great and by consequence neither was the amount of funds raised. Afterwards, the 15-person audience talked to Bob Young, the director who is almost 80 years old now. He stressed that he is not partizan and that he made this director’s cut for fundraising purposes for all people and organisations who address the migration issue. He also mentioned a film he made a long time ago that was banned from the screen in the States and even was to be destroyed. Luckily somebody could make a copy of it so that Young’s son could use the footage in another film called “Children of Fate”. The parallel with Fortress Europe is striking, but so is the difference: Instead of detaining illegal immigrants, the Americans rather exploit them in the highest degree.

I spent a lot of my time posting the upcoming events of Renée’s campaign on the calendars of local media websites, such as Bay area Indymedia, SF Progressive and the San Francisco Sentinel. When I was almost glued to my chair doing that, Riva (Office co-ordinator) sent me to the other side of the city with my bicycle to pick up the leaflets for the Arab-American, Muslim, Iranian and immigrant communities fundraiser. A task I really enjoyed because, as some of you may know, one of my dreams is to start a bicycle messenger service in Malta.

The debate between Renée and her opponents for Supervisor of District 9 took place in the Mission Presbyterian Church. The Church was almost completely filled with people from the neighbourhood. From the introduction on, it was very clear who had the support of the crowd. Renée got the loudest applause, miles ahead of Bustos, another Latino candidate. Third and fourth were Steve and Lucrecia with a moderate applause and last in line the current supervisor Tom Ammiano who was welcomed with a lot of boo’s. Renee expressed herself strongly on content, stating several ideas and strategies on the addressed topics (housing, workers’ rights and community strenghtening). Both Steve and Lucrecia made a good impression and gave some nice punches to Tom, who mainly blabbed away about his “great achievements” (eg. appointing corporates in commissions and schoolboards) without leaving time for the Spanish translation. Bustos mainly told us stories about his dad who came from Mexico, trying to play on emotion, backed by his noisy cheerleaders. Conclusion: if this crowd is representative for the 9th District, we know who is going to City Hall.

That night I went shopping at Rainbow Grocery, a workers owned organic food supermarket. So in the next days, K and I will eat healthy and honest food! We’re making a big kettle of chicken soup (chicken not from Rainbow, no meat there). When I was walking through the aisles, I thought about our friend Ska. She’d love this place! One of the items I bought was a organic food bar called “Active Greens”. What also struck me was that music was played inside the fridge! Most likely to keep the milk and the eggs from the free range chickens happy.

Another film I went to see “Straight Outta Hunters Point”, a documentary by Kevin Epps, screened in a school as a fundraiser for the campaign of Mark Sanchez. Mark is running for schoolboard, which is also elected on November 2nd. The film gave an insight view in the neighbourhood “Hunters Point” exclusively inhabited by African-Americans. Schools are insuffi ciently funded, unemployment, poverty, drugs, rivalising gangs, violence and on top of that the most polluted military site in the US, causing the highest cancerrate nationwide. The only light in the life of the youngster populating these streets is rap music. All of them show their eloquent skills in front of the camera, in their typical slang. Unfortunately only a few of them manage to earn a living with their art. After the film there was a Q & A with the director. He is very down to earth and has great sense of humor. Although the people of colour have been in the US for centuries and they didn’t even migrate here voluntarily, they are treated like second rank citizens by their government.

Various databases with voters, donors and others have been my main occupation. Not very exciting to report about except for the fact that apparently there are a lot of Maltese in this City. Debono ,Attard and some others are on the list. Another funny detail: “B” is a full family name here!!

At this moment I’m watching the BIG debate with D9 candidates, organised by the League of Women Voters of San Francisco. The candidates are the same as last time and so are the topics discussed: affordable housing, living wages and safety. This time the debate takes place in English and there is no translation to Spanish. The atmosphere is quite clinical, partly because of the ultra rigid moderating. The candidates only get one minute to answer the questions so basically they’re rattling their answers and thus hard to follow for me and the Latino audience. The press is very present and note that the first applause is for … Renée.

Here are all the candidates in one or two sentences: Tom doesn’t look the audience in the eye when he monotonously repeats what he’s always been and always done. I wonder how he ran his fi rst campaign. Lucrecia, although stronger in Spanish, manages to build a radical image and emphasises a lot that Tom doesn’t.

Bustos hides very well that he’s the mouthpiece of “the machine” but the well-informed know better. Renée confidently and convincingly states her solutions and strategies for the addressed issues. Her fi nal speech shows a lot of motivation and ambition to get into city hall. Steve power-muscle-macho Seltzer is very, very much against big corporations and everything that starts with “multi-billion dollar”. Hopefully he doesn’t KICK anything else but those nasty war-profiteers.

An extra point for Steve’s proposition for a youth media centre. The big absentee topic in this campaign is the environment, unfortunately. The third pillar of sustainability is still heavily undervalued.
You probably all wonder where the Bushes, the Kerries and the other presidential candidates are in this story. Well, they aren’t here because I don’t want them here for several reasons. If I were a US citizen I’d probably vote for Leonard Peltier, a native American activist and political prisoner for almost 30 years, who is on the ballot for the peace and freedom party in California. “But you are Green, Jan” I hear you think. That’s right, but the green party has divided itself in a Nader and a Cobb camp. The former was never registered as a green and although respectable for his work for consumers and struggle for health care, Ralph is not a team player. The latter, usually referred to as “David Who?”, came out of nowhere (Texas) suddenly to be the Green candidate. This is the ideal strategy to remain futile and insignificant. I don’t dig it. All of the above are innocent lambs though compared to the earlier mentioned M A C H I N E. The machine is the white, male, rich, democrat/republican, corporate, cop-loving, warprofiteering and mass-deceiving establishment of which both Bush and Kerry are puppets. Both were members of “Skull and bones”, the secret conservative student club at Yale university, both have a corporate interest, both are pro Iraq war and probably both their daddies are closely tied to the CIA (Kerry’s daddy not verified). I don’t have to tell you who the puppeteers are, the architects of the “new world order”, the greediest of the greedy…

The machine is pure fascism. Proof for that is the whole Homeland Security Department affair, which has three main purposes:

  1. Scare the shit out of the American people.
  2. Drain resources from valuable projects (education, housing, healthcare, …) and pay more cops ludicrously high wages, militarising and criminalising entire communities.
  3. Hunt down critical people, like journalists, activists, whistle-blowers, intellectuals, etc… Put them behind bars or just kill them straight away.

Before I came here, some people told me if I’d work for the greens I’d help Bush in office. Well, being here convinced me even more of the negligable difference between him and Kerry. They are sponsored by the same corporations. Democratic and Republican mean the same in respespectively ancient Greek and Latin and neither parties defend the peoples interest. When I told one of my fellow campaigners about my motivation to come to the US – spreading the word about the importance of a third, preferably Green, party -she corrected me: “You mean a Second party, right?”.

Have you ever heard 4000 cyclist change gear at the same time? That’s the sound I heard last night when the Critical Mass took a turn and went uphill. At 6 pm we assembled at Embarcadero Plaza, most people with funny Halloween costumes, some naked and some with fancy bicycles with built-in discobar and light effects to make a tour through SF. For three hours we were loud, had fun and blocked traffic. Sometimes the crowd just stopped in the middle of some crossroads, people’d put their bikes down and start dancing for some minutes and then take off again. It felt great be part of this. You can imagine this is my cup of tea – civil disobedience on bicycles! One guy got arrested for being too drunk and there was a rumour of another one getting beaten up by the police. Besides these incidents the cops behaved well. This month’s edition of Critical Mass was dedicated to the strikers on the hotel business. For more than a month already, major hotels have locked out their employees and hired lower waged and non-unionised workers to do the job. So the cyclists paid all these hotels a visit to support the strikers who are in front of their hotels 24 hrs a day.

In this past month I have learned a lot about local, national and global politics. I learned how to work on databases with M$ Acce$$. I know now that the keys to a succesfull campaign are funds, volunteers and voters. Funds and volunteers are pretty obvious, although the American political system gives them another dimension. As far as I know, political parties don’t receive government dotations according to their amounts of seats in legislative institutions. This means that whoever wants to run for office has to raise his own funds, which is very difficult if you’re not a democrat or republican with a corporate agenda. With the third key, voters, I mean that you have to know who will potentially vote for you, as you cannot address the entire electorate.

I knew for a while that the Belgian political system has some severe shortcomings which have recently grown to new proportions with the formation of asymetrical regional and federal government coalitions. I know now that we, compared to the American people, are blessed with our system. At least we are not forced to vote for a lamer to get rid of an incumbent tyrant and fail to do so. We are represented in our parliaments, even if we don’t vote for rightwingers and we are relatively sure that all our votes are counted.

Renee, my candidate, was not elected but took an honourable second place with almost 22% of the votes. Tom Ammiano, who has been Supervisor of District 9 for ten years already got 50.31% of the votes. If the absentee ballots that are still on their way by snail mail and the provisional ballots get counted, there is a chance that Tom will go under 50% and then the second and third choice votes count. We know that Renee had 38% of the second choice votes. We also know that the provisional ballots are never counted.

Concerning the presidential election, well, there really wasn’t one. It was a theatrical play, with overpaid actors and phony numbers. George W. Bush, the first appointed president of the USA, can continue to feed the Machine. Some people even claim that the last elections held were in 1912.
Another reason to seriously doubt the results is the fact that the observation of the elections was not organised. Anyone can go to a polling place and observe, but without coordination and follow up this is senseless. I went into one polling place, introduced myself as an observer from the Federation of Young European Greens and questioned the polling place supervisor about security issues, related to this study. Finally, all the votes are counted in one place and the trajectory the ballots follow to reach that place is not clear. It looks like it is set up to confuse anyone who seriously want to watch what goes on on a night like this.

Apparently I was not the only one who was dissatisfied with the election results. The day after, 3000 people marched in a protest against president Bush, against the wars he wages against the Iraqi, Afghan and Palestinian people and against the police state which the USA is becoming. Belgium was very well represented in this event as both my cousin Stef and I walked on Market Street with the chanting crowd.
Luckily there is more to life than campaigns and politics. So on wednesday morning we rented a car and hit the road.

The original version of this text, including dozens of weblinks and pictures can be found at http://janfrancisco.blogspot.com

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