Saturday, November 29, 2008

Reflection on Prop 8

I wrote this for the Ragweed, the JVC South newsletter:

Election night was a night of mixed emotions for me. I was excited that Obama had won, but every time my phone vibrated with a call or text message, I was anxious that it might be my sister calling with bad news. She had told me that she would let me know how the California election results were going as soon as she knew. She called me a little while after the polls closed, and I excitedly started talking about Barack Obama. When she said "Yes, but…" I felt my heart sinking. She told me the results so far for Proposition 8, the state proposition that would end gay marriage, adding a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. It was winning. I tried to come up with reasons why the reporting precincts might be skewed conservative, but it wasn't looking good. I just couldn't believe it could possibly pass. I felt shocked and betrayed by the people of the state where I was born and raised, in whom I had faith to do the right thing, and I felt tears welling up in my eyes.

As a straight woman, the government will recognize my marriage, no matter when I choose to get married or what man I choose to marry. Imagine being in love with someone, wanting to spend the rest of your life with them and get all the legal and social benefits of a marriage, and the government telling you you're not allowed to. This is what millions of couples are being told in California and in most of the rest of the country.

Earlier this year, California judges overturned a state proposition from a few years ago that defined marriage as between a man and a woman and declared same-sex marriage legal. The marriages officially began after 5 p.m. on June 16, 2008, and a number of cities kept their offices open late that day. I was working in San Francisco this summer, and on my bus ride home after work that day, I passed by City Hall. I saw people with signs protesting the marriages, including one that said gay sex is a threat to national security. I was horrified. Imagine having protesters at your wedding. It's a time of celebration, happiness, and love, and as you walk out of the city hall, you see people with signs saying you're going to hell - going to hell for being in love and committing yourself to your partner for the rest of your life.

I have a very hard time understanding any justifications for banning gay marriage at the government level. No matter what your religious beliefs may be, if the state is issuing marriage licenses, it has no right to discriminate against a group of people and deny them their civil rights. Allowing more people to get married is not going to destroy the fabric of our society – it will strengthen it. As many people have mentioned in these debates, it wasn't very long ago that people of different races couldn't get married in parts of this country. Those laws weren't just, and neither is Prop 8 or any other law against same-sex marriage. This is a matter of equality, and by denying gay people the opportunity to be legally married, we are making them second-class citizens. The government is telling a group of people that their committed relationships are in some way less valid than those of straight people. This is why civil unions are not enough. Not only do they not bestow all the legal rights as a marriage, but by putting the relationships in a different category, the state is saying that they are not worthy of the title of marriage.

On November 15, I had the great pleasure of going to a Prop 8 protest here in Houston. Rallies were held all around the country to call for marriage equality and an end to legalized discrimination. The passage of Prop 8 did not end the movement to legalize gay marriage, and I firmly believe that we will change these laws.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Our Town" Story

For a recent JVC retreat, each community put together an "Our Town" presentation, to share with the other communities a bit about the places we live. Each of us in my community wrote a brief story from the perspective of someone with whom we would interact through our work. This is what I wrote (this is not a real person's story, but it includes the typical problems we hear):

My name is Jos̩ Valenzuela, and I came from Mexico to Houston three years ago. I had to leave because I couldn't earn enough money to support my family. The job that I had in Mexico didn't even pay enough for us to buy tortillas. I tried to find work that paid more, but it was impossible. Coming to this country was my only option. I came to the U.S. without papers, and I am always afraid that I will be caught and deported. My wife and three children still live in Mexico, and I send money back as often as I can Рthey depend on me. I miss them very much. Because I don't have a social security number, it's difficult to find a steady job, so I work as a day laborer. I go to the Woodridge Home Depot every morning at 5:30 a.m. Some days I get paid well, and other days I don't get picked up and don't get any money at all. Three weeks ago, a man hired a group of us to work on an apartment building that was damaged in the hurricane. It had flooded, and the carpet was soaking wet and smelled like mold. When he hired us, he said he would pay us $15 an hour. There were five of us, and we worked very hard. We worked ten hours a day, six days a week, for three whole weeks. He told us he would pay us when the job was finished and he saw that we had done well. After a few days, I started coughing a lot, and I got a rash on my arms. I asked for gloves and a mask, but he said no, and that if I wanted to leave I could because he would just find someone else to do the job. We all kept working, and we did everything he asked us to do. One week into the job, I was ripping up floorboards and got a really bad cut on my hand. The boss took me to the hospital, and he said their insurance would pay for it. At the end of the three weeks, we had finished the job, and he handed us checks for $500 each. I said that he owed us a lot more money, but he told me I had worked too slowly, and that's all I deserved. I told him he was breaking the law, but he said that since I was undocumented he didn't have to pay minimum wage, and if I did anything he would call the migra, and they would deport me. He also refused to pay my medical bills from my hand injury. I didn't know what to do, and I was afraid. What am I going to tell my family?

Note that if someone does a job, all labor laws (including minimum wage) apply, regardless of immigration status.

Prop 8 Protest

A couple of my roommates and I went to the Prop 8 protest here in Houston on Saturday. You can see my photos here.

Here are a few of them:

Don't teach H8

Love: It's not just a straight thing

Jesuit Volunteers for gay marriage

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election Day

Tuesday will be an exciting day in our house, especially for those of us more politically inclined. I kept my voter registration in California and voted absentee, mainly because of my strong feelings about Proposition 8. Otherwise I would have re-registered here in Texas to try to make it just a little more liberal. A poll last week found that 23% of Texans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim. This is a scary country.

I'll take this opportunity to share how I voted. (Deciding how to vote was a long involved process involving many hours on the phone asking my sister to look things up online and tell me what to do.)

President: Barack Obama
Barack Obama is not my ideal presidential candidate, but he's far better than John McCain for sure. He's too moderate for me, but any presidential candidate with a chance of winning would have to be (for now, at least). And as Democrats go, he's really pretty good. He's a great speaker and has inspired a whole lot of people to take interest in politics and recognize their own power to make change. If he doesn't win, a certain roommate is likely to start breaking things and lighting them on fire, so we're all crossing our fingers here.

Vice President: Joe Biden
I honestly don't know a lot about him, but I do know he voted against giving money to the Salvadoran government in the '80's (which is a very good thing), and he would make an incredible president in comparison to Sarah Palin. Also, the ballot didn't give me a choice whether or not I was going to vote for him if I was going to vote for Obama.

U.S. Representative, 9th District: Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee speaks for me! She's not perfect, but she was the lone voice in Congress voting against funding the war in Afghanistan after 9/11, and I give her major props for that. Also, the other choices are a Republican and a Libertarian, and you know that's not going to happen.

State Senator, 9th District: Loni Hancock
I almost voted for Marsha Feinland, the Peace and Freedom candidate, but after I made my sister read what Hancock has accomplished, I decided to stick with her. She may be part of the establishment in Berkeley ("the establishment" always being a negative thing, of course), but when you're the establishment in Berkeley, you're very progressive by everyone else's standards.

Member of the State Assembly, 14th District: Nancy Skinner

Superior Court Judge, Office 9: Dennis Hayashi
I actually could have gone either way on this, but Hayashi's bio was more impressive to me. I really like his emphasis on civil rights.

City of Berkeley Mayor: Zachary Running Wolf
I chose the write-in candidate because I don't particularly like Tom Bates or Shirley Dean. Running Wolf might not actually make a good mayor, but this is a symbolic protest vote. I met him this summer, and he's a cool guy, though a bit extreme.

Berkeley City Council, District 2: Darryl Moore
I don't know a lot about Moore, but he seems good and better than the guy running against him.

Rent Stabilization Board Commissioners: Clydis Ruth Rogers, Judy E. Shelton, Nicole Drake, Igor Tregub, and Jesse Townley

School Directors: John T. Selawsky and Toya L. Groves

AC Transit District Director, At Large: H.E. Christian (Chris) Peeples
I almost didn't vote for him because I really don't like the weird Belgian-designed buses they have now.

Bart Director, District 7: Lynette Sweet

East Bay Regional Park District Director, Ward 1: Whitney Dotson

State Propositions

Proposition 1A: Yes
I hesitated about this one because it's a whole lot of money, but it would be so cool to have a high speed train to LA.

Proposition 2: Yes
Let the chickens turn around in a circle! This will not give us bird flu.

Proposition 3: Yes
I really like health care for children, and the arguments in favor convinced me.

Proposition 4: No
I actually thought a long time about this. I believe in reducing abortions as much as possible, but I'm afraid this proposition would do more harm than good.

Proposition 5: Yes
I was a little unsure about this because the arguments against it make it seem pretty scary, but our prison system is really bad, and a focus on rehabilitation is very important.

Proposition 6: No
Not good.

Proposition 7: No
Also not good.

Proposition 8: NO!!!
I am very passionately in opposition to this proposition. As I mentioned above, it's the reason I kept my voter registration in California. I'm usually really good at understanding people's points of view, even if I disagree with them. In general, I see complexity and get that issues aren't black and white. However, I have yet to hear any real, legitimate argument against gay marriage. The only arguments I give any recognition to are the religiously based ones - I strongly disagree with these, but I respect the right to believe them (as long as you don't turn them into hateful actions, which I do not respect). But religious arguments have no place in a state proposition. Under the law, we are all equal. By denying same-sex couples the right to marry, we are turning them into second-class citizens. You may say that they can get the same legal protections through state-recognized civil unions, but even if that were the case, refusing to use the word "marriage" says that the nature of the relationship and partnership is in some way different and lesser than that of a straight couple. You may personally believe that is the case, but the government has no right to say that. Gay marriage does not destroy "traditional" marriage. Gay marriage *strengthens* the institution of marriage because it means there will be more loving couples formally and legally committing themselves to each other. Gay marriage creates more stability and is good for children because they can be raised in the committed environment of a marriage. If anything is destroying marriage in this country, it is divorce. If you pay attention to one thing in this blog post, let it be this: VOTE NO ON PROP 8!

Proposition 9: No
This seems like a bad idea.

Proposition 10: No
This is also a bad idea.

Proposition 11: No
I went back and forth about this, but eventually the arguments against it convinced me. I do think that the redistricting process should be changed, I'm just not sure this is the right way to do it.

Proposition 12: Yes
I'm all about helping veterans have homes and farms.

City of Berkeley Measures

Measure FF: Yes
I love libraries.

Measure GG: Yes
I also like fire stations.

Measure HH: Yes

Measure II: Yes

Measure JJ: Yes
I'm impressed that there's no argument against this.

Measure KK: No
I had mixed feelings about this because I would like a say in whether a street becomes bus-only, but it seems like this measure could hold up some positive progress, and the impartial description says that it's "not clear whether the voter approval requirement of the ordinance is lawful because it conflicts with California Vehicle Code," so I decided to vote no.

Measure LL: ???
I didn't vote on this measure because I couldn't even figure out what it would do, let alone whether it was a good idea. If anyone wants to explain it to me, please do.

District Measures

Yes on VV and WW.

If you are a San Francisco voter, please vote no on K, which would keep SF law enforcement from investigating sex trafficking, among other things.