April 2004

I heard about a congressional race this week that has me really jazzed. Samara Barend is running for Representative in New York’s 29th District. Samara is a 27 year old native of New York State who is finishing her Masters in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Here is a great post from someone who met her recently.

Sam is exciting because she is a young, smart woman who, if she campaigns well, could win. But there is something else – if she wins, she could actually make a difference in congress. She has just the right balance of political savvy and true interest in the people she would represent. Kind of like Mr Smith Goes to Washington meets The War Room.

I can’t wait to see what happens with this one.

Just when I think I can’t be more outraged by the Bush administration, they do it to me again. Today I heard a story on NPR that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

In late November 2003, the Washington Post contacted the Chief of the United States Park Police, Teresa Chambers, for an interview. They had received information from the Fraternal Order of Police about budget shortfalls and staffing shortages in the Park Police — specifically in DC parks — and wanted to follow up. Chief Chambers verified that their information was correct, but stressed that her staff was working hard to fill in the holes since they understood the important role they played in national security. The interview with the Washington Post was fully approved by her superiors at the Department of the Interior and her quotes appeared in the final article, published on December 2, 2003.

The evening the story was printed, Chief Chambers received a gag order from her supervisor ordering her to have no further contact with the media. Three days later she was stripped of her gun and badge and escorted from the building by armed National Park Service Agents (treatment normally reserved for agents accused of criminal acts). She has been on paid non-duty status ever since.

Just last week the gag order was lifted, and Chief Chambers can finally speak to the press. She and her lawyer are working on getting the Department of the Interior to identify exactly what the charges against her are. So far, no one has come up with anything.

Since Chief Chambers was put on non-duty status, one acting chief has retired and another one has taken over — in the meantime the National Center for Women and Policing has announced that Chief Chambers will be awarded a lifetime achievement award at the end of April for her 25 years of service.

The Department of the Interior can’t decide what to charge her with, but it seems pretty clear that the only thing this decorated public servant is guilty of is being honest about the security capabilities of the US Park Police being stretched too thin. I would think DOI would be grateful for her vigilence.

One of the things about this election year that has been so amazing is how the American people have taken things into their own hands. The first major example of this, of course, was the surge of the grassroots during the Dean campaign. But just yesterday we saw another victory of the people over corporate special interests. The residents of Inglewood, California voted 2-1 against a special ballot initiative which would have allowed Wal-Mart to build — exempt from normal zoning and environmental requirements — a “Supercenter” store the size of 17 football fields in their community.

Peter Kanelos, a Wal-Mart spokesman, told the Chicago Tribune in January, “The community is not against us. The opposition is merely a special interest group trying to limit competition.” Well Peter, it turns out the opposition is the community — and the best kind of special interest group, the women and men who live, work and play in this Los Angeles suburb. Despite Wal-Mart’s best effort ($1 million was spent on the initiative campaign), the people who live in this community have decided that the retail behemoth should actually have to abide by the same rules as everyone else.

Wal-Mart seems to think that because they move into mostly working-class areas, the people in those areas will welcome them with open arms — any job is a good job, right? Not necessarily. This vote by the 10,000 folks who live in Inglewood sent a message to any retail company trying to take advantage of the community they move into: “We deserve better”. We deserve better than $12,000 a year for full-time work; we deserve better than minimal health care that doesn’t cover birth control, well-child care or vaccinations for children; we deserve better than a job where we could be fired for attempting to organize; we deserve better than being treated as a second class citizen if we are a woman or a person of color. We deserve better — no matter how cheap the pickles or dog food or sink strainers are.

Thank you, Inglewood residents, for standing up for yourselves, for organizing yourselves, and for continuing the current trend of the people being the most important special interest around.