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 Atlantic, Ralph Nader at the Ralph Nader Radio Hour, and 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.