Yes on Prop 10: A Case for Tenant Protections

California has been at the forefront of a massive housing crisis for years. Unaffordable housing and inadequate support services largely contribute to the growing epidemic of homelessness impacting cities all across the state. Despite multiple attempts at policy reform and financial allocation to remedy the issue, the core of the problem for California seems to be simply attempting to treat the symptoms of chronic homelessness without abolishing its roots.

There are many factors that can account for the rise of homelessness, but few are as consequential as the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act which limits how cities can apply rent control. Currently in Los Angeles, rent control applies to buildings that were constructed before October 1978, leaving newer development projects at risk of rent hikes every time a tenant moves out. Costa-Hawkins helps glide this process, placing restrictions on rent control for major metropolitan cities such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood.

Image result for prop 10 protestLos Angeles has seen its rent increase at least 3% every year since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. About a third of Californians spend half their income on their rent. Another 3% increase will leave an estimated 1,180 more people homeless, adding to the growing crisis being impacted by high housing costs and low household incomes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in five Californians live in poverty. This is unacceptable, and a gross misrepresentation of the progressive values that we claim to uphold for our communities.

Prop 10 is on the ballot for California voters this November, with one of its highlights advocating for the repeal of Costa-Hawkins. The ballot initiative campaign has spent over $60 million pushing for tenant protections and relief from increasing rent hikes by instituting local standards for rent control. “In the midst of the worst housing and homeless crisis that our country has ever seen, how does a bill that restricts local government’s ability to address it go untouched?” asked Damien Goodmon, director of the Yes on 10 campaign. The time for silence on one of the state’s most pressing issues is over.

Image result for prop 10 protestNo, Prop 10 will not immediately solve all of the housing problems across California’s urban areas. It may place many rental units at risk of being taken off the market by landlords in order to be converted to for-sale units, catering to higher income audiences and potentially emboldening gentrification. Despite this risk, it is imperative that local governments provide incentives and act as partners in this process so as not to intimidate landlords and development companies. Prop 10 is a crucial step towards the shared goal of all Californians to have equitable and fair housing options for all of our communities.

California needs more affordable housing, about an average of 320,000 new homes per year to properly address the shortage, but construction projects are simply unable to match the required speed of working at a rate triple their current pace. Supply cannot feasibly meet the demand given our current infrastructure. Strengthening rent control will prove to be the most direct and effective protection measure for renters, providing them with the stability and confidence required to invest back in their communities. Prop 10, however, would not mandate any measures for rent control with its passage, but it would give cities and counties the authority to make those decisions for their own communities. Each city and county is different, with different populations and concerns, so we must grant each locale the freedom to decide how best to alleviate their housing crises.

We must repeal Costa-Hawkins if we can ever hope to take serious action in combating homelessness in our neighborhoods. With a range of support from progressive elected officials and organizations, including tenants’ unions, advocacy groups, and workers’ coalitions, Prop 10 is galvanizing marginalized communities across the state that refuse to be taken advantage of by manipulative landlords any longer.

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Brazil’s Presidential Elections: An International Context of Right-Wing Populism

Americans have been strapped into a brutal emotional rollercoaster ride for the past two years, reeling from an exhausting mourning period with a front-row seat to the societal decline and deterioration of democratic values under the Trump administration. Right-wing populism is on the rise, emboldened by nationalist movements in Western Europe that formed out of a place of resentment and anger sparked by a growing refugee crisis and economic downturns. Countries such as Germany and Italy are being hit hard with an influx of refugees from the Middle East, rising crime and unemployment, and dissatisfaction in the euro, leading to the steady normalization of nationalist parties across the region, a xenophobic epidemic carrying very real consequences.

In the summer of 2016, voters in the United Kingdom voted to separate from the European Union in a split known as Brexit out of similar conservative economic and social fears. The prominence of populist candidates across Europe points to a shared narrative of anti-immigration frustrations that are manifesting themselves at the polling booths, from empowered far-right parties in Austria, Italy, Hungary, and Slovenia, to the near victory of Marine le Pen and her corrupt National Front party in France.

Image result for jair bolsonaroThe plight of contemporary populist rhetoric has now landed in Brazil under the shadow of Jair Bolsonaro, a polarizing Presidential candidate who promises to “break the system” with an array of hardline conservative policies that evoke a return to the nation’s brutal authoritarian past. With 46% of the vote from the first round of elections, Bolsonaro won popular support by tapping into a deep well of resentment over corruption scandals and increasing crime rates contributing to the rapidly growing socioeconomic divide in Brazil. A recent Gallup poll indicates that 77% of Brazilians regard their government as being highly corrupt and are skeptical of the integrity behind the electoral system by which government officials come into power.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain and 7-term legislator, has advocated for restoring Brazil to a military dictatorship, invoking an era of Brazil’s repressive political history that was responsible for brutally torturing and murdering hundreds of its dissenters. In a 2014 report by the National Truth Commission, it was also found that the United States had spent years teaching torture methods to the Brazilian military in supporting the coup.

Aside from his anti-democratic ideals and deplorably sexist and racist remarks, Bolsonaro also opposes abortion rights and affirmative action initiatives created by the former Workers’ Party. On the growing issue of crime, he promises to toughen prison sentences, give police forces greater authority to kill, and make guns more accessible to obtain for civilians. He is hostile towards the press, discrediting large news organizations that do not cover him favorably, and often uses social media to reach his followers.

Image result for brazil elections protestThis political zeitgeist in Brazil can’t help but trigger an unsettling deja vu for many Americans that saw the evolution of an unrefined and unqualified real estate mogul turned President of the United States. Bolsonaro and Trump share many similarities, spanning political beliefs, campaign tactics, and utilization of populist and often controversial rhetoric to bolster the forgotten masses of a nation struggling under social and economic stressors. The past two years in America exemplify the dangers that right-wing populist ideals can have on our standards of social rights, economic equity, and the demands of the working class and minority communities. Immigrant children are being detained from their families, forced to show up in court and defend themselves, some of the youngest at two years of age. Travel bans on Muslim-majority countries were enforced by executive decision, only to have the nation’s courts strike those policies down as unconstitutional. These are merely a few instances of xenophobic sentiments taking root in American society after Trump’s victory, but there have been many others since then.

Image result for brazil protests 2018

However, despite the massive opposition to Bolsonaro, polls show his victory to be likely. Young people compose about 60% of Bolsonaro’s followers, admiring his unconventionality and his critique of the past administration under Dilma Rousseff which sent Brazil into its deepest recession, ultimately leading to her impeachment, and damaging the integrity and credibility of her Workers’ Party. Bolsonaro will be facing former education minister and São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party in the run-off elections on October 28.

Analyzing the Validity of Constitutionally Protected Hate Speech

One of our society’s most privileged pastimes involves the outstanding and relentless defense of the Constitution as the founding principles of this nation, unwavering in its authority, and righteous in its demand for justice for all. Justice, however, is capable of taking on many different forms. The First Amendment of the Constitution deals primarily with protecting free expression, asserting that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble” but these protections offer little nuance when discussing more radicalized forms of hate speech. Historical precedent clearly shows the institutionalized protections on hate speech, from Supreme Court affirmations on public displays of burning crosses in Virginia v. Black as well as R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, claiming that the First Amendment “prevents government from punishing speech and expressive conduct because it disapproves of the ideas expressed.” The law of the land consistently takes priority over preventative measures against the development of a hostile social environment, one in which hate speech is able to embolden its base of listeners towards stronger inclinations of division and intolerance.

This ongoing debate regarding the boundaries of free speech manifests itself within institutions of higher education, particularly American universities that grapple with ensuring free and open civil dialogue alongside cultural tolerance and inclusivity. First Amendment protection often conflict with University mission statements that claim to uphold diversity as a core value, as hate speech excludes and further marginalizes communities based on discriminatory biases. Hate speech takes on many forms, from verbal slurs and edgy jokes toeing the boundaries of racism, to the defacement of property and utilizing symbols such as swastikas or Confederate flags to convey a message of intimidation towards the groups that have historically been targeted by those symbolized movements. Victims of hate speech experience a trauma that extends long after the time of the incident, as William Kaplin writes in Racial Harassment on Campus, “feelings of vulnerability, insecurity, and alienation that repeated incidents of hate speech engender in the victimized groups may undermine the conditions necessary to constructive dialogue on campus” (519). Dealing specifically with college campuses, however, the Supreme Court has declared academic communities to be “special environments” that highlight the nuance of total freedoms of expression, that “although First Amendment principles do apply with full force to the campus, their application may be affected by the unique interests of academic communities” (Kaplin 521).

We can look to precedent established by lower court cases on campus hate speech, such as Doe v. University of Michigan which declared that a campus policy prohibiting discriminatory speech and harassment violated constitutional rights to free speech, with a similar case replicated in UWM Post v. Board of Regents, and even going so far as to protect fraternity members dressing in racially charged drag costumes in Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University. These cases divulge the larger question at hand in this paper, leading us to a thesis that challenges the status quo of institutionalized freedoms on university grounds. Allowing hate speech to develop and spread in public discourse directly contradicts the cultural values that Universities implement to foster a safe space for the expression of ideas. The intellectual realms of freedom of speech and diversity of thought disproportionately impact communities of color with cultural histories steeped in discrimination and prejudice.

The lessons we learn from legal precedent fall firmly on the line of established jurisprudence without much room for flexibility amidst a rapidly evolving political climate. There is often little to no discussion on the ramifications that these acts of intolerance and prejudice have on the very communities that they target. Any potential consideration for the safety or security of these marginalized communities is outweighed by a blind commitment to First Amendment rights that contribute to the creation of a hostile environment on campus. Universities will not make exceptions for limiting freedoms of speech, which then invalidates any claim made in mission statements to preserve the importance of diversity and equity. There cannot exist a genuine dedication to reforming institutionalized bias and discrimination affecting marginalized student experiences without acknowledging the detrimental impacts of boundless freedoms of speech on these communities. Freedoms of speech ultimately protect a superior class’ right to discriminate, intimidate, and provoke hateful behavior, all while influencing receptive observers to embrace intolerance out of a fear of persecution by liberal agendas of University academia.

On the other hand, critics of diversity measures claim that Universities should not be held accountable for protecting the fragility of student communities that argue against opposing viewpoints, invalidating a “diversity of thought” to emerge on campus. While this argument may sound legitimate at first, it is important to contextualize the emphasis on diversity of thought as a mask for supremacist ideals to rise to prominence once again in the history of American discourse. It is dangerous to claim that political correctness is responsible for the victimization of conservative ideals, that measures towards cultural competency contradict intellectual diversity, or that such conservative notions can even be considered a protected minority class, as critical race theorist Michael Harriot elaborates:

“It is a pseudo-cerebral catchphrase for maintaining the same white power structure that has always existed. Mediocre white men run the world, and the only way they can keep doing so is to concoct a fictional alternate universe where they are the oppressed class. In their contrived version of reality, they’re discriminated against—not because they are unqualified propagandists who either misunderstand or misconstrue the facts, but because they are victims of the liberal agenda. They don’t view their racism, sexism and homophobia as wrong because they “diversify thought” by playing the role of an intellectual devil’s advocate.”

Harriot’s critique highlights the motivations of white men in positions of power, historically the most severe perpetrators of bias and discrimination, and how these motivations can project themselves within the bubble of campus life. It is a difficult discussion to facilitate, given the clash of interests between cemented legal precedent on protections of speech and the influence of fluid campus policies that appeal to broad, often abstract conceptions of diversity and equity. We as a society may never conclude this debate with a satisfactory answer that would prove effective enough in addressing every facet of the conversation surrounding the extent of freedom of speech protections at the expense of minority communities on college campuses.

However, it is important now more than ever for students on every college campus to seriously reflect on the guiding principles of their institutions, and decide whether or not collective action and advocacy is required to bring to light such issues of prejudiced campus policies in hopes of reform. Should First Amendment rights continue to be extended towards students that wish to perpetrate discriminatory rhetoric and behaviors into campus discourse? Despite the fact that hate speech may be perceived as being restricted to verbal epithets and provocative dialogue, there is no denying the vast influence of such dialogue in radicalizing a base that is predisposed to notions of conservatism and white supremacy. When given a venue for right-wing extremism to foster and be accepted into the collective discourse, we legitimize the pining of the forgotten white male, dripping in all his various societal privileges, and we further legitimize his antagonism towards minority communities that he sees as having attacked his historically superior authority over the world and all its resources.

When we validate the argument for a diversity of thought, therein lies the potential for serious, dangerous repercussions to arise. As it stands, diversity of thought often goes unchallenged by the neo-liberal consensus that supports a vibrant discussion of differing perspectives, one that respects each side choosing to engage in a rational debate that ultimately serves to uncover the underlying truths and issues of any situation. Some groups and ideologues should not be extended that same level of protection and civility. Groups that don’t have any meaningful contributions to the intellectual sphere of thought, Nazi Party remnants for example, should not be freely welcomed into that space solely to spout hateful rhetoric and incite violence against classes of people. Academic freedoms allow professors to clearly judge the merit of ideas presented in assignments, constrained within a particular field of study, as there exists a mutual set of expectations for the caliber of the work performed in such an academic environment. The same should ring true for freedoms of speech, where the content of student speech may be judged on the basis of its intention to discriminate, intimidate, or threaten against any particular subset of groups vulnerable to the hostility of Constitutional protections. We would be remiss if we did not also note the influence of our nation’s violent foundations of indigenous genocide as well as the founding fathers’ intended primary beneficiaries of Constitutional protections at the time of its conception: white male landowners.

The evolution of such hate speech manifests itself into larger public demonstrations where just one spark can set off a powder keg of energy, prompting acts of racially motivated violence to occur and threaten the safety and well-being of individuals. Last summer, a white supremacist rally organized by far-right group Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Virginia quickly devolved into a deadly battle involving many physical altercations and a driver who rode directly into a crowd of counter-demonstrators. The President of the United States, instead of offering words of solace and condemning the violent hate crimes at Charlottesville that day, chose to spread the blame to both sides, further humanizing the white supremacists that came to protest the removal of Confederate statues as “very fine people”. To remain neutral in such instances of oppression and wide-scale injustice is to take the side of the oppressor. When a University administrator does not actively condemn the early roots of supremacist ideals through hate speech, then they endanger the lives of marginalized students on campus that do not have in their possession any form of institutionalized protections. When the University of Southern California’s Provost Quick releases a memorandum that protects the freedom of speech of a known white supremacist student who was involved in the Charlottesville riots, the entire administration participates in the invalidation of minority students by stripping away any ounce of security or dignity that once belonged to them under the guise of a campus commitment to diversity and equity.

Ultimately, the argument in favor of blanket protections for hate speech under the First Amendment is not justifiable nor is it responsible to uphold on college campuses that promise a space for its students to learn, grow, and thrive in every aspect. The promiscuity of unrestricted speech threatens an inclusive academic environment, placing a disproportionate target on marginalized communities that hate speech “silences both physically, through intimidation and threats of further harassment or actual violence, and spiritually, by demoralizing its victims” (Ma 703). There cannot exist an expectation for open and civil dialogue to occur when one side is empowered in their desire to exert superiority while the victims are further oppressed in a cyclic and harmful model that only serves to solidify 18th-century ideals in a 21st-century society while learning nothing from our national history rooted in violent discrimination and racial injustice.

Academic Sources
Gould, Jon B. “The Precedent That Wasn’t: College Hate Speech Codes and the Two Faces of Legal Compliance.” Law & Society Review, vol. 35, no. 2, 2001, pp. 345–392. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3185406.
Juhan, S. Cagle. “FREE SPEECH, HATE SPEECH, AND THE HOSTILE SPEECH ENVIRONMENT.” Virginia Law Review, vol. 98, no. 7, 2012, pp. 1577–1619. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23333530.
Kaplin, William A. “A Proposed Process for Managing the First Amendment Aspects of Campus Hate Speech.” The Journal of Higher Education, vol. 63, no. 5, 1992, pp. 517–538. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1982092.
Ma, Alice K. “Campus Hate Speech Codes: Affirmative Action in the Allocation of Speech Rights.” California Law Review, vol. 83, no. 2, 1995, pp. 693–732. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3480951.
Noorani, A. G. “Hate Speech and Free Speech.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 27, no. 46, 1992, pp. 2456–2456. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4399116.

Trials and Tribulations of Education Policy in California

How Key Stakeholders Are Preparing for November’s Superintendent Race

Voters in the Golden State will be casting their ballots on November 6 for a litany of both congressional and statewide seats, one of which will determine the course of leadership for California’s Department of Education. The State Superintendent is responsible for this leadership of the Department, executing Board of Education policies, as well as managing school districts, after school programs, summer programs, and career and college readiness programs.

Related imageYesterday, I had the privilege of attending a Public Policy forum hosted by Southern California Grantmakers, a regional association of philanthropists and grantmakers working to make a difference in our communities and around the world. This event was attended by a myriad of influential donors and grantmakers in the nonprofit world, representing different types of foundations ranging from private to community, as well as some government agencies. A forum was held Monday night to provide members with an intimate opportunity to hear from the candidates running for the highest statewide elected office for education, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The conversation was moderated by Cara Esposito, Board Member of Southern California Grantmakers and Executive Director of the Leonetti/O’Connell Family Foundation, and involved a conversation solely with candidate Marshall Tuck since his opponent, Tony Thurmond, declined the invitation to participate.

Grantmakers asked Marshall what his top 3 goals were for education, and he responded with “increasing post-secondary and college completion rates, improving college readiness, and bridging achievement gaps” as part of a broader effort to strengthen equity for all students. A strong believer in universal pre-K, he wants to divert the state’s exorbitant funding from its criminal justice system into education, as well as exploring other sources of revenue that could be used to increase teacher and principal compensation and fund classroom resources. Tuck believes that California’s data systems are woefully lacking, and that major steps must be taken to track students more effectively all the way through to the workforce.

A significant aspect of Tuck’s educational ideology revolves around equity, addressing the disproportionate levels of support in place for students of varying socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic demographics. He recognizes the disparity in teacher quality, facilities, funding, resources, and more that contribute to gaps in academic achievement largely affecting low-income students of color. He claims that “the middle and upper class have never been stuck in poorly performing schools”, an important distinction to make when reforming the education system to properly serve its most vulnerable populations.

Image result for marshall tuckMarshall Tuck brings 15 years of experience in public school administration to the race, most notably his executive leadership of another nonprofit known as the Partnership for Los Angeles, a collaborative venture between philanthropy and the public sector to improve student performances in struggling K-12 schools. Tuck and the Partnership successfully raised four-year graduation rates by 60% and had the highest academic improvement among California’s schools systems with more than 10,000 students. Prior to the Partnership, Tuck served as the President of Green Dot Public Schools, where he helped create 10 new public charter highschools in LA’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Green Dot’s major success involved developing a foundation of high academic performance for students of color in low-income communities, a marginalized population that often falls through the cracks of the achievement gap in our education system.

If you ask a representative sample of voters if they know the name of the current Superintendent, it is likely that a majority of them will have not even heard of the position itself. This is incredibly problematic when recognizing the scale of the impact that the State Superintendent can have on statewide education policy, especially with California’s influence as a progressive economic power on the rest of the nation. It is unacceptable for California’s representatives to claim that we are progressive when we are failing our most vulnerable populations of young students, providing inequitable and unsatisfactory preparation for their future pursuits in academic and professional fields. U.S. News ranked California’s pre-K through 12 education performance at a dismal 44th in the nation, measuring the impact of our schools through statewide test scores and public high school graduation rates.

Image result for lausd classroomsCan we afford to continue with the status quo, as California is dropping lower and lower in national education rankings by the year? Or is it time that we explore avenues for reform, transforming the way we think of traditional educational standards by challenging the norms that have changed little from the times of the Industrial Revolution? We must move past political battles and instead spend more energy addressing educational inequities facing our students, teachers, and community stakeholders, identifying gaps in curriculum and support services to improve success rates and college readiness.