The Occupy Movement in the City of Fullerton presented three resolutions for consideration by the Fullerton City Council at last night’s meeting. Two of them passed. If you want to know more, you’ll either have to either slog through or jump over my disclaimer.
[Disclaimer: I’m one of the chief Civic Liaisons for Occupy Orange County (Irvine & Fullerton Synod), in which capacity I’ve met with the Mayor, Interim Chief of Police, City Manager, and a couple of Council Members. I was involved in process of drafting the resolutions being considered by the Council, although I did not write them in their form as submitted to the City nor in their form as revised by the City Manager’s office — although I thought that that office did a very good job with them. I also spoke in favor of them at the meeting. I’m also running for State Senate as a Democrat and am helping with the Assembly campaign in the area. I also consider the Mayor and her husband to be political friends, whom I admire, but whose reciprocal support I never assume. I serve on the Democratic Party of Orange County E-Board with the Mayor’s husband. I’m probably forgetting even more things to disclaim. At any rate, I’m hopelessly conflicted — but I’m writing the factual portions of this story as objectively as I can, although the opinions expressed are obviously subjective.]
When Occupy Orange County goes to a new City, its primary purpose is to get people thinking about issues that are often glossed over in the media and are not in the forefront of voters’ consciousness, largely because too few politicians emphasize them. Part of this effort is to get City Councils to pass resolutions on issues relevant to the concerns of “the 99%.” Occupy Fullerton (as I’ll call it; the nomenclature of different groups in OC is sort of nebulous) had its chance last night to go before the City Council and push for three of its concerns. Two resolutions passed; one did not. Excited to know more? Read on.
(The text of the three resolutions are available at this link. If that link ever changes, please notify us and we’ll try to update it.)
“Move Your Money”
The first resolution is the most substantive. Currently — partly due to restrictions placed on municipal investments in the wake of Orange County’s notorious bankruptcy — Fullerton’s criteria for investment is solely determined by factors such as safety and liquidity. (Yes, at one time big banks were considered safer than smaller institutions. It was a simpler era.) The problem, as has been recognized by Occupy movements across the nation, is that big banks tend to shove all the money into a single pile and then invest it wherever they want; they have no more intrinsic loyalty to the local community as a site for savings and investment than does ExxonMobil (or Mitt Romney. Whoops, trying not to be partisan here, forget that I said that.)
Smaller institutions such as community banks and credit unions tend to reinvest in the community. They can’t do so entirely — that would lead to an unsound lack of geographic and sector diversification in their investment portfolios — but they do it more, in part because that close community relationship with those around them is part of what they’re selling. They “live here”; they don’t want to see the place messed up.
So what this resolution does, in effect, is to establish community reinvestment as an additional criterion for choosing where to deposit city funds. It won’t shift all deposits (nor should it), and it will apply only to institutions that can otherwise pass muster with the post-bankruptcy panel that reviews investments. But community banks and well-established credit unions — of which Fullerton has a few, barring the county employees one that might create conflicts of interest — should be approved without much difficulty. To its credit, Fullerton did try to do this before, years ago, with accounts in the Fullerton Community Bank — but that bank was since purchased by a larger institution, Opus Bank. Currently Fullerton has no money in institutions.
Four members of the Council supported this resolution. The dissenter was Pat McKinley, who let the audience know that Wells Fargo had been very good to him, and who from this observer’s perspective seemed to see this resolution as requiring total divestment from large banks as opposed to prudent diversification with community interests in mind. Other Councilmembers explained it to him, but to no avail. 4-1. Right there, Occupy Fullerton justified its existence; this was not likely to happen without our efforts.
Student Loan Scams
Like the kindest of heroin dealers, financial institutions love to pass out the first taste of easy credit to college students for free. These are the types of people who, after all, have life plans that lead them to care about things like their credit histories; one way or another, they’ll probably be good for the money. That means that if financial institutions lend money to newly independent and generally inexperienced 18-year-olds, they can bring returns of 12%, 18%, even 29%. That’s a lot more than you make in your savings accounts — am I right?
These legal scams are perpetrated by financial institutions and their free credit card offers on campuses all around the country. College students routinely ring up $5000 or so in outstanding credit — as one person testifying noted, cards are also sometimes mistakenly issued to house pets with human names — and then begin to settle into the joy of adult life in America, serving as animals to be milked for profit. And, yes, people’s lives get messed up.
This resolution asks the Mayor of Fullerton — currently Sharon Quirk-Silva — to be in touch with the resident colleges where these dark arts of marketing are practiced and work with them to get the word out to students about the problems of addiction and the questionable ethics of their “dealers.” This might involve regulations on marketing; it might involve counter-programming. The Mayor announced at the meeting that a series of “Town and Gown” (“gown” is academia; don’t ask) meetings are already underway and that this will be added to the agenda. Councilmember Jones spoke extensively in favor of this proposal, which passed unanimously. Again, it’s not like Occupy is the first group to raise concern about this — but we’ve helped make something happen.
Because Dick Jones had started out by saying that he supported all three resolutions, the Occupy crowd in the audience felt pretty good about the Council voting to oppose the concept of corporate personhood that underlay the notorious Supreme Court decision of Citizens United. Not so fast.
More of my speech to the council regarded this resolution than the others, although I’m not taking the result personally. I told the Council that I have heard complaints from many politicians that they don’t like the huge role of money in politics either; they get elected to promote ideas, not to be courtesans to special interests. (Whatever else can be said about politics in Fullerton, the city does have a real clash of ideas in its politics. The Royce-Ackerman style “traditional Republicans” that make up the council majority clash with the Norby-Nelson style libertarian Republicanism represented by Bruce Whitaker on the Council and Tony Bushala and friends in the local blogosphere, and both clash with the moderate to liberal to leftist coalition that includes Sharon Quirk-Silva, 2010 Council candidate Doug Chaffey, and 2012 Green Party candidate Jane Rands. We should be happy if our political discourse can be about ideas rather than money, right?
Well, 40% right. Dick Jones supported the motion and Quirk-Silva seconded it. Then the other councilmembers spoke.
Pat McKinley just doesn’t seem that unhappy with the role of money in politics as it stands. Someone who wants to review the video may want to chime in with more of his reasoning, but I’m not feeling up to looking at it right now. If he wants more money in politics, he’ll have a chance to enjoy it soon when the onslaught of Bushala-dollas swamps him between now and June 5. The photo illustrating the story came just after McKinley spoke and before Jones rebutted his view. (I would love to know what Quirk-Silva was thinking right then.)
Bruce Whitaker then spoke. His was a vote that I and many of my young Paulista colleagues in the Occupy movement thought that we were going to get. (Yes, we are very much a broad coalition ourselves, with wild internal debates about Obama and third parties. Where we are unified, though, we are really unified.) As it came out later, though, Whitaker really hadn’t much been lobbied by any of us. Oops!
At least Whitaker gave an explanation for his vote: the notion that there should be no limits on donations, but that there should be immediate electronic disclosure of donations (by which I hope he also means independent expenditures), which he thought would allow voters to “consider the source” of campaign money spent. That is an alternative, but it’s a weak one — and, in any event, that system is not yet in place, and its would occur whether or not Citizens United remained in effect. But, anyway, that was sufficient for Whitaker to vote no.
Eyes next turned to Bankhead, who simply said words to the effect of “I oppose the resolution,” without elaboration. And so the motion was defeated, 2 votes to 3. I’m not sure how many cities have been given the chance to consider an anti-Citizens United movement since last fall and voted it down, but I think it’s unusual.
Occupy members walked out of the room somewhat dazed. For our motley coalition of Greens, Obama-supporters, Paulistas, and a few people who defy categorization, getting two resolutions passed is not chicken feed. But, boy — losing on Citizens United? Lots of people really hadn’t expected that.
To an extent, people agreed, this was partially our fault. The Paulistas really expected Whitaker’s vote. Jones was always the most likely (being the least “big money”-oriented) of the three conservatives to vote with us; and he’s also the only one who, if he wins his recall race, has the guarantee of another race coming up in November. But still — this, more then the others, is our issue, and it was a learning experience for Occupiers.
And — Occupiers are unhappy about it. That’s — what’s the opposite of hyperbole, hypobole? That.
I explained to them last night that, while I don’t know Fullerton’s rules specifically, under usual parliamentary procedure someone who was on the winning side of a vote can bring up for “reconsideration” at a later meeting. In this event, presuming that Occupy hangs on to the votes of Jones and Quirk-Silva, any one of the three naysayers — after being properly approached and lobbied by Occupy, which will happen — could bring up the resolution again and it would presumably pass. There are no guarantees, of course, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
In the meantime, though — well, we have ourselves an issue. If the Fullerton Council had intentionally wanted to ignite a municipal debate over Citizens United, they could hardly have done a better job of it.
I don’t think that it will be an ugly public debate — and as usual I’ll probably be tut-tutting from the sidelines. But a no vote on this issue, of all issues, is a big deal. Word was already gone out to other Occupations; what I hear now is that people will be coming to Occupy’s big event this Sunday in Hillcrest Park, the delightfully named “Occupalooza.” I’ve secured promises from our Occupiers that they will try to school visitors in our peaceful, civil-disobedience-avoiding ways. We have a blemishless track record so far with both Irvine and Fullerton (and even the time that we accidentally wandered into Tustin), and I’d like to retain it.
Presuming a peaceable weekend and an on-time departure, the problem for the three naysayers (more so for McKinley and Bankhead than for Whitaker) is that they have handed their opponents an issue and a motive. I don’t think that many people are up in arms to defend Citizens United, but — fair warning here – any Democrat (and maybe any libertarian, Bushala can weigh in on that) who doesn’t pick up this issue in the recall election just isn’t trying to win. This is a college town, after all. I don’t know who was advising McKinley and Bankhead before this vote, but this really would have been a moment where discretion was the better part of valor.
(My current conspiracy theory — maybe they thought that Whitaker was going to vote “yes,” giving them a free chance to vote “no” without stirring up the Occupiers in the run-up to the election. If so — and especially if Whitaker chooses the right moment, a month or two from now, to reconsider — this will have been one of the most clever political jujitsu moves that I’ve ever seen. The Occupiers seem to want to forgive Whitaker for his vote — if he repents. But they were real, real unhappy with McKinley and Bankhead. As I’ve told them, I’m staying out of this because I think that it conflicts with my own campaign (which isn’t against the Fullerton Council anyway, but against Royce-style politico Bob Huff.) I’m just reporting here what I saw last night. Any other Occupiers who are reading this, feel free to join our merry Commentariat.
Obviously, the Occupy resolutions were not the biggest news of the night — Michael Gennaco’s Report and the scheduling of the Fullerton Recall for Primary Day are each bigger parts of the continuing Kelly Thomas saga. But all of that was expected. What this is, though, is new. In a wild political year in Fullerton, the unexpected activation of an interest group with a sympathetic issue that will play well with college students — barring a successful motion to reconsider — may up being what mattered most about last night.
Fullerton politics — the fun just never stops!