Interview with Berta Hernandez, a member of the Left Party in the United States, who is a candidate for District 11’s Supervisor in the city of San Francisco. The IWL’s group in the US, La Voz de los Trabajadores / Workers Voice strongly supports Berta’s campaign and the Left Party.
By La Voz – The Workers’ Voice
1- Can you explain the reasons why your party decided to launch an independent candidacy, for District 11 Supervisor, in San Francisco? If you win, would you really be the first socialist supervisor in the city?
The Left Party in the United States has a long history of electoral participation against the Democrats and Republicans’ two-party political regime. In places like San Francisco, local politics is dominated entirely by the Democratic Party. Even though the Republicans are marginal in this city, their interests are well represented by the Democrats. In the current conditions of economic crisis, housing crisis, displacement and gentrification of entire neighborhoods and police brutality, the responsibility lies solely with the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, in one way or another, all unions are subordinated by it. Therefore, we need to build an independent and unified political movement of workers to organize the struggles.
My campaign is at the service of the independent organization of these struggles. I would be the first truly socialist supervisor. There was a supervisor, in the past, which claimed to be socialist, but in the end he supported actually the Democratic Party.
2- What administrative obstacles have you found to carry out an independent, popular, and working-class campaign? Are elections truly democratic and open to all in a very progressive city like San Francisco? Tell us a little bit about the bowels of the system.
To be a candidate is not difficult, it takes $500 or to collect 2,000 signatures of voters in the District in which you want to postulate. However, in order to obtain public funding, it is required to have a broad base of donors that only large party apparatuses can guarantee.
Local elections are nominally non-partisan. However, the Democratic Party’s machinery channels the millionaire contributions of large corporations and unions to impose their candidates, and to use public resources, veiled or openly, to promote these candidates. Nothing out of the ordinary.
San Francisco is a city where only one party dominates and where there is only one local newspaper of importance [San Francisco Chronicle]. The independent weeklies have succumbed in the Internet era, since they have lost their paid advertisements on printed bases. Ten years ago the city severely limited the display of campaign signs in public spaces, and there was no organized defense against this attack on freedom of expression. As a result, there has been great depoliticization and elections have record abstention figures, which facilitates the Democratic operative.
In recent years, there was a challenge to the Democrats by the Green Party, because they elected supervisors and members of the board of education. Even Matt Gonzalez’s campaign for mayor almost managed to defeat Willie Brown who was Gavin Newsom’s successor. When Obama won the presidential elections, in 2008, all elected Green Party officials returned to the Democratic Party. It corroborates that the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements and Bernie Sanders’ campaign is another recent example of this. Therefore, in these conditions, a workers’ socialist and independent campaign obviously goes against the current.
3- Can you tell us a little bit about the main axes of your program and in particular your proposal to govern through community councils? How would that work?
We have 10 points raised as priorities for the District:
- Stop the evictions and proposals to ensure housing for all.
- For the defense of the environment.
- For a sanctuary district to fight against deportations and full rights.
- For the dismantling of the Police Department and community self-regulation.
- Health for All – clinics and a hospital for the district.
- Unrestricted resources and services for all children and youth in the district regardless of their immigration status.
- For a minimum wage of $40 per hour.
- For true representation through community councils, voting rights for youth over 14 years, non-citizens and those with criminal records.
- Improvements in public transport.
- Promotion of art and culture
The proposal of building elected community councils seeks to locally enable independent neighbourhoods organizations that can develop their own power to counteract the dominance of the city center. The idea is to create a political culture that serves as a vehicle to independently organize the struggles and demands. District 11 is practically the last of the neighborhoods where there is a concentration of workers who resist the expulsion from the city. A city whose annual budget is even higher than in many countries, but at the same time there are very high levels of inequality.
This proposal wants to make space for a political conversation and, systematically, to expose how the game of economic interests of all social classes moves. We also want to advance towards the interests of the most exploited and oppressed. There is a layer of salaried workers in the city who enjoy many privileges that others do not have, and this creates tension between workers, which is used to divide us. All this is very complex. For example, in District 11, three of the five candidates are prominent members of different unions, and two of them represent two different sectors of the Democratic political machinery. The workers’ division is evident.
4- On September 13, the main newspaper of San Francisco, SF Chronicle, published an interview with the title “Counselors, not cops”, where you were quoted saying that the police of the city was a gang of murderers, rotten to the core. Could you contextualize these statements and tell us a little bit about the problem of police violence in San Francisco, and your campaigns’ proposals to replace the police?
The statements you mention were made during one of the interviews that the newspaper’s Editorial Board makes to the candidates of various public offices. Supposedly, it is to decide who the newspaper will endorse. Actually, nothing that happens at these meetings is crucial to decide their endorsement because their interests are aligned with those of large corporations and the Democratic machinery, which are the same thing. Therefore, I used that forum to raise issues that other candidates do not want to touch on, and to propose transitional solutions that could jumpstart an alternative social movement. One of the debates in the city is about the reform of the police department, which has been demonstrative with its actions, its racism and repressive nature, in a city with huge accumulated wealth and a growing sector of workers in more and more precarious conditions.
The police abuse in the city comes from long ago. However, the phenomenon of gentrification has generated a situation in which new residents, with resources and mostly white, are fearful of communities of colour that are displaced. This encourages greater harassment and repression against them. Alex Nieto is perhaps the most terrible example of this phenomenon, in which the new neighbours call the police for seeing a young Latino walking along their neighbourhood and feeling that he does not belong there. This caused a large-scale operation that annihilated him with 59 bullets.
In San Francisco the police is trained to kill. They have a protocol that gives them a legal justification framework to do so. In the case of Mario Woods, killed by the police in Bayview (traditionally a black neighborhood in San Francisco) in December last year, it is clear that the police created, step by step, a situation where, by protocol and with the city’s legal advice, it would justify the use of lethal force. The firing squad of five armed men against this young man can only be described as an extrajudicial execution. Another brutal police crime had to occur to force the resignation of Greg Shur, chief police. A veteran police sergeant shot Jessica Williams, 29 years old, a few blocks from where Mario Woods was shot down. Within the context of these crimes, the racist and homophobic scandals exposed in the exchange of text between police officers qualify black people as animals. In addition, there is the participation in cases of sexual exploitation of minors, jointly with the Oakland Police Department. San Francisco’s police kill you for not paying the bus, for not looking like someone who lives there, for being black, for having a disability, etc. No one in the department rejects or repudiates all this. Nobody says I will quit. No one proposes a statement offering apologies and promising that they we will be better and they will get rid those elements in their force. Nobody. They defend and justify their actions. They say that everything is fine. What else do we need to say than that they are rotten to the bone and that they all have to go? In the communities we have the ability of self-regulation and addressing the problems of coexistence. Therefore, instead of police, we need counsellors or community workers. In order to eliminate theft we need good jobs, control over the housing speculation, and social services for all. To avoid problems of violence on the streets and domestic violence, we need educational programs, counseling, and support to transform paradigms of coexistence and human relations… not the police.
5- How can the community get involved in your campaign? And after the election, what are we going to do?
We have our web site with the campaign’s information and how to contact us. We also ask for donations that can be made through the Facebook page, and we have regular activities of distribution of our electoral platform, among voters, in three languages: Chinese, English, and Spanish. We walk along the precincts, we attend forums and debates, and we also put campaign signs in public spaces. The weekend before the election, we will go throughout the district in a caravan distributing materials. Hence, there are a variety of opportunities to support for all those who want to participate. After the elections, we will focus on continuing the work in neighborhoods to carry on with the community organization.
Translation: Camila Polgar.