Commentary: Vote No on Recall, Fight Plutocrats’ Consolidation of Power

By Susan Vaughan

I have heard repeatedly that proponents of the recall of three school board members are just concerned parents. Is that what is motivating 96-year-old uber-rich investor and charter school supporter Arthur Rock, who has donated almost $400,000 to the campaign so far? Or CEO David Sacks ($74,500), supporter of Republican governor of Florida, mask resistor and voter suppressionist Ron DeSantis? Or the California Association of Realtors Mobilization PAC ($55,900)? Or the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce ($10,000)? Or PG&E ($27,500) ? Or Visa, Inc. ($5,000)? Or Silicon Valley entrepreneur Garry Tan ($20,099)?

Are any of them thinking about ensuring that schools have enough N-95 masks, installing solar panels on school rooftops and removing old inefficient radiators, replacing toxic tire-crumb playing fields with something healthy, hiring professional chefs to create healthy lunches from locally sourced ingredients, hiring more support staff, or distributing Muni passes to all staff so that we can combat global warming and street congestion at the same time? Are any of them thinking of campaigning to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for these measures?

I doubt it. These morbidly rich individuals and corporations see an opportunity. They want to turn San Francisco into their libertarian playground, a place where they can practice for their ultimate goal: putting the final nail in the coffin of our nearly 250-year national experiment with government by, for and of the people – in other words, our democracy.

If they succeed in their gambit (the election is on Feb. 15), Mayor London Breed will be able to appoint all three replacements to the Board of Education. (Many of them are also underwriting the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin, scheduled for June. Breed will also get to appoint his replacement, should they succeed.)

Their efforts are anti-democratic and force our local government to spend funds on elections instead of, say, fighting addiction or Muni. Plus, it’s unnecessary. The three school board members are up for reelection in November and Chesa Boudin is up for reelection in 2023.

So a word about Mayor Breed: She seems to be going along with their plan. In recent weeks, she has forced the Board of Supervisors back into an emergency session to compel them to give her what is essentially a blank check to tackle problems with substance abuse and crime in the Tenderloin. These are not new problems. 

Breed has also recently hinted, in an interview with Kara Swisher of the New York Times, that she would like to replace district supervisors with supervisors elected citywide. This has been the goal of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and other economic elites for decades, ever since former Supervisor Tom Ammiano successfully introduced a measure to return to district elections, starting with the 2000 election. It’s easier for small “d” democrats who might oppose the consolidation of wealth and power (and support wealth redistribution measures, such as rent stabilization) to raise money and win in districts than it is to win citywide.

A short gambol through American history here: Our government is founded on the premise of equality as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. At the time, in 1776, colonists were resisting the crown- and Parliament-backed East India Company trade monopoly and taxes assessed on trade goods and other items to finance defense against the French and their Native American allies. In the end, the British were defeated. The 13 North American colonies were not worth the military expense, compared to the Caribbean islands that produced sugar cane (which could be converted into molasses and rum!).

The preamble to the 1787 Constitution that the founders adopted is explicit that the aim of the new government was the common good. It does not say, for example, “We the plutocrats of the United States, in order to form a more perfect plutocracy, establish justice for plutocrats, insure domestic tranquility to protect plutocrat wealth and power, provide for the defense of plutocrats, promote plutocrat welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for us plutocrats and our offspring, do ordain …”

Nonetheless, once the British gave up the fight, it took almost 200 years to achieve a truer democracy. That happened with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, protecting the right of African Americans to vote. But we had been working towards that truer democracy and equality during those centuries through the creation of land-grant colleges, the passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890, and the creation of taxpayer-funded public schools and New Deal programs to mitigate poverty, empower workers, redistribute wealth and regulate industry.

There has been resistance along the way. The Civil War was the result of an attempt by southern slaveholders to deny the message of implied racial equality in the Declaration of Independence, and Movement Conservatismstarted in the 1930s to resist the New Deal.

Those two anti-democratic impulses – racial and economic inequality – were married in the 1960s and 1970s as financial elites saw their power slip away.

That movement now threatens to end our 245-year experiment in self government. Pundits such as Barton Gellmanand George Packer at The AtlanticRalph Nader at the Ralph Nader Radio Hourand commentator Thom Hartmann have been warning us for months about Republican efforts in numerous states to undermine free and fair elections, return Donald Trump and like politicians to office, and ensure their own hegemony. Retired generals have added to these warnings, as have numerous historians of fascism and American history.

Their warnings are dire: with the end of self-government, we have the end of tackling our most pressing issues – our climate emergency and environmental collapse in general, more pandemics, failed governments, poverty, hunger, and mass migration as people seek escapes. Most commentators imagine a strongman coming to power, like Hungarian Viktor Orban, Brazilian Jair Bolsanaro, or Mussolini. Not one of those strongmen has come to power without the backing of powerful businesses, according to historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat.

The plutocrats funding the school board recall – and the recall of Chesa Boudin – are part of this effort to destroy our democracy.

Don’t let them succeed. Vote no on these recalls.

Susan Vaughan is a substitute teacher and writer in San Francisco.

15 replies »

  1. Where’s your outrage about using School District Funds to rename Abraham Lincoln High School and Washington High School because neither man did enough for this nation and democracy?

    To use your words, I think that these three San Francisco School Board members “are part of this effort to destroy our democracy.”


    • These Board members were properly elected. This attempted Coup d’etat funded in large part by reactionary monied cadres must be obliterated. The time to toss an office holder is when he/she stands for re election. Everyone and I mean anyone who supports the Recall is a tool of the most reactionary groups in Amerika.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What about Allison Collin’s racist comments against Asians, calling them “house [pejorative]?” What about her $87 million lawsuit against SFUSD, a school district that is already facing a budget shortfall and almost got taken over by the state under her watch?


    • You can vote her out of office in November AND choose her replacement. That is not the case with the recall. The recall gives one person under tremendous rightwing pressure, Mayor Breed, the power to appoint replacements. Remember, Arthur Rock supports the eradication of public schools with taxpayer money (charter schools).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Why do you demonize charter schools? Charter schools are both PUBLIC and private. My daughter attended an innovative PUBLIC (free) charter high school because ‘mainstream’ high schools wouldn’t allow her to advance faster than the prescribed gauntlet of classes even though she could test to prove she had the knowledge already. Her PUBLIC charter school took the risk and let her as a freshman to start the school’s yearbook, manage the budget, work during lunch/afterschool/ weekends with classmates, and with little or no teacher supervision or class time (proving you don’t need a class & entire school year to produce a yearbook). Her PUBLIC charter school created innovative feedback panels of parents/business volunteers to evaluate student presentations & projects. By the time my daughter’s class graduated, all seniors were experienced with public speaking, comfortable interacting with adults, and had an innovative education. My daughter’s a senior in college and said her charter school’s ‘design thinking’ model definitely helped her in architecture design classes at MIT. PUBLIC Charter schools can/are inventive and offer a free alternative to mainstream schools. I know because I’ve been a public school advocate and in-classroom volunteer for 40+ years in SF and the peninsula.


  3. Your long and winding argument, attempts to sway people by the mentions of facts and names, which while correct, do not necessarily have anything to do with each other. The reason there is a recall is because the school board has waisted time and money on school re-naming committees while students were not getting the services they needed. Now that doesn’t mean just shove kids back in school in the middle of a pandemic, but that also means focus your time where it is most needed, and that is the health and education of students.

    Yes, there are some scumbags giving money to this cause, and they are working their own agenda, but that doesn’t mean that we just ignore the problem at hand. There is no contractual document that because a scumbag puts money in the general pot, that you owe them anything. Focus on the issue at hand, then focus on changing the rules about those who give money to city recalls and elections. For instance, say a sitting political official is not allowed to donate funds to other political campaigns, especially ones not in their state (see, Desantis).

    You start to make an argument against Mayor Breed, but then you wonder off and mention various historical events that have nothing to do with Breed. You pretend to be intelligent by saying words like, “plutocrat,” but you’re really the parent in a Peanuts cartoon. “Wha wha wa, preamble, wha wha wa, plutocrat.” That’s not an argument; that’s a jumble of weirds that might sound intelligent if someone was only half listening.

    These people giving money to this campaign for their own shady reason, are to a degree attempting to destabilize the community. The mere mention of their names stops people who disagree with their policies from looking or focusing on issues that are important. They know that. It’s important to have school board members who support students and their families, and who care about public education, not closing public schools to implement less-regulated, and self-interested charter schools. If people don’t vote, then noting happens. We continue in this stalemate, just like in congress. And that isn’t democracy.


  4. Ms Vaughan,

    Were you going to list all the less than $100 per donation that came in by residents of San Francisco? Are you going to list the names and hours of all the local volunteers that spent their time getting the 80.000 signatures for EACH Commissioner?
    I hear verbal trauma in your article regarding who donated to the YES on the BoE Recall but not so much about Ms. Collins’ attempt to sue her FELLOW COMMISSIONERS and The SFUSD for $87 million. Even though her suit was judged to be without merit by the court, SFUSD still had to pay the cost of defense. BoE’s poorly thought out Mandates (Washington Mural, 44 School name change, etc ) were reversed because the BoE was not acting in a democratic fashion in violating the Brown Act. Our own City Attorney sued SFUSD to START the process of returning to in-class learning. Last I read, Recall elections were legal and democratic.
    Maybe you could have mentioned the absence of outcry when Democracy was attacked by the thief who stole signed petitions last May. Where was the outcry in the 3 month delay in his arrest? Where was the outcry that the target was a Chinese Immigrant? Has the Asian Community not been attacked enough?? I certainly heard no outrage by the “No on Recall” Berniecrats. Two big unions oppose the Recall but have you investigated groups that have ever supported them?. The focus on donations is an attempt to cloud the issues. We expect more from a SF Neighborhood paper. Respectfully, Dawn, Balboa Grad
    PS If you are asked, “Where did you go to school?”, as San Franciscans, that refers to High School.


    • The recall process is being abused. The appropriate process for removing school board members with whom you disagree is during the regular election — and that happens in November. How do we know that Mayor Breed will appoint better school board members than the ones being recalled? We don’t.


    • The School Board members have acted legally. No laws were broken. This whole Recall is nothing more than petulant spoiled histrionics by all too typically impatient 🙄 I Want My Way NOW. This political temper tantrum is costing the City time and a lot of wasted money. There’s a regularly scheduled election in November. That’s the time to vent.


  5. If your child is failing third grade, you should let them continue to fail until the end of the school term. At that point, reassess if the child should repeat third grade (stay the course) or move on to another school. No intervention is needed. That’s the argument ‘No on Recall’ folks are proposing. If the Board is failing in their job, let them CONTINUE TO FAIL, do more damage, and then vote them out.

    The major donors Vaughan references were also donors to the Democratic Congressional Comm., Nancy Pelosi, Roh Kanna, Scott Weiner, and more Democrats. Duh, of course, realtors support the Recall. The #1 selling point for any home sale is the school district’s performance! If the schools are failing, houses don’t sell. The real estate community needs a successful school district and they’re not getting that with the current ‘clown car’ commissioners.


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