May 1, 2018 (San Diego) There was a time that political campaigns did not come to San Diego. This was once a small sleepy military town, and to be honest, nothing really happened here. However, over the last two presidential elections, and starting in 2008, to be honest, candidates are coming to San Diego.
This year we already had a visit from Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been consistently at the top of the pack. We saw Beto O’Rourke come for a town hall meeting. He is near the bottom in a field of twenty candidates. However, and O’Rourke knows this, it is way early in the process. So things could (and will) move.
He has chosen to go visit and hold as many town hall meetings as he can. His goal is to talk to as many voters as he can. Regardless, it is early but hundreds filled the Jacobs Center on Euclid Avenue, in South East San Diego.
Before the event proper, O’Rouke met in private with SEIU nurses and with Reverend Shane Harris, a national civil rights leader from San Diego. This matters as many politicians will see national and local leaders wherever they go.
Beto O ‘Rourke did a 15-minute walk and talk with Rev. Shane Harris President of the Peoples Alliance for Justice to discuss criminal justice reform and economics in the African American Community. Harris said that Beto noted more federal resources need to go into transitional services for people exiting prison. He also was optimistic about reparations for African Americans as well as he was educated by Harris about the killing of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, CA and Alfred Olango in San Diego, CA. Beto will visit San Diego again and made a commitment on video to go to Coop’s BBQ Restaurant with Rev. Shane Harris for an even more in-depth conversation. Rev. Shane Harris will not make an endorsement until after his Peoples Alliance for Justice summit later this year where candidates will address his civil rights crowd.
The event was to start at 10:30 and the crowd started to form up starting about nine. In the beginning, it was a short trickle, but then it became a flood. Some already wore campaign swag, from both the Beto for Senate in 2016, where O’Rourke came closer than anybody has done with Senator Ted Cruz. Others wore new swag for the presidential campaign, and yes, a vendor did come and set up, doing brisk business at the end of the town hall.
The crowd was diverse, though I did note a lack of African Americans in the crowd, even though the neighborhood where the center sits is majority African-American. It may have been the nature of the hour since people have to go to work. However, there were people from all walks of life, and it seemed from various areas of the city.
When O’Rourke came out he addressed the crowd in Spanish. (Being a native speaker, I can tell his Spanish is accented, but pretty good.) He said, “gracias por recibirnos aqui, en su comunidad.” (Thank you for welcoming us into your community.) He then went into how President Donald Trump mistreats people regardless of sexual orientation, or race, or color in the community where the center is located. “We are all Americans before all.”
When we went into immigration and how the president speaks about immigrants, he stated that the president sent members of the US Military to the border, one of the safest moment in the history of the country.
“We do not need to fear one another, we do not need to hate one another. We do not need to buy in, or be complicit on racism coming from the highest positions of trust. We los fronterizos of San Diego, and El Paso, this is the best time to be where we are. Not just to call out a president who describes Mexican immigrants as rapist and criminals, though then commit crime at a lower rate than those born in this country. We also need to call him out when he calls asylum seekers and infestation, or animals. This is what I would expect somebody in the Third Reich to describe a fellow human being. Because an infestation is a way to describe a cockroach, something you want to kill, and to keep from coming in and harming your country.” This was received with a raucous applause.
He went on to describe the conditions at the border. These include a child with a number written on his show, who was abandoned by the Coyote. Or the fact that the mothers who are bringing their children from the Triangle in Central America, are doing it seeking life for their children. Any of us would do the same under the same situations. However, what the administration is doing is caging these children and deporting the mothers. O’Rourke did say that this is the moment not to turn our back on those children in cages, and those separated families. He called for the reunification of those families and for the reform of the immigration system, in our image.
“Start by freeing every one of those dreamers from any fear of deportation. Make them US Citizens! They are as American as anybody else.” O’Rourke then went into the need for an American immigration reform, written by Americans, not by either party.
He connected this to the attack on the Chabad Poway Synagogue. He honored Lori Kaye, who saved Rabbi Goldstein’s life, and the rest of the congregation. He also said that Jonathan Ramos, an off duty Border Patrol agent, put his life on the line, as he does every day. “Not only do those heroes deserve our thanks and our praise. We must forever commemorate their memory and their actions.”
“We must stand up against the hatred that we see in this country.” O’Rourke called the president for calling Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists “very fine people.” And the crowd cheered him on.
He also gave a local color note, about coming to San Diego for vacation as a youth, with his father. He quipped that while it is ten and a half hours drive, his dad used to do it in ten. He would later close with the fact that the Padres have a farm team in El Paso and how the two cities are linked.
O’Rourke went into his policy ideas, in rough terms. He also told the crowd about Gus the Turtle that went missing, and the kinds of sacrifices made by candidates as they crisscross the country. It is at this moment that we switched from the trivial to the serious.
He used that to also thank veterans and dependents for their service and pledged to help them. He had breakfast with a local family, Howard and Jean Summer, “whose son deployed to Iraq, fought for his country, came back with post-traumatic stress. Came back unable to access the care that he needed, with the mental health care that could have saved his life.” Tragically he committed suicide.
The Summers make a point to meet with all candidates, regardless of party. They want that care for others, so others may live. O’Rourke also served in the Armed Services Committee while in Congress, and he pledged to do something about this.
While San Diego is not the military town it once was, this matters. We have diversified our economy in many ways. But we have still a lot of active duty and veterans living in the region. Getting good care for veterans is a national issue as well.
As O’Rourke put it, and he would every so often, this is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a national issue, and it has to be treated this way. Party is not part of it.
Which brings up healthcare. He stated that tens of thousands of our fellow Americans cannot afford to see a doctor or their prescriptions. The largest provider of mental health care in this country are county jails. “Ninety-seven years after insulin was invented, and sold to the Canadian government for three Canadian dollars dying of diabetes, or rationing their care. (They) are succumbing to something that nobody in 2019, in the wealthiest country should ever have to worry about. So the deal has to be guaranteed, high-quality universal healthcare.”
When he was asked by a member of the audience on this, he agreed that we also need accountability. The audience member was a pharmacist and he asked about our current model, that relies on bringing patients repeatedly for tests because those are the money generators in our health care system.
Another person asked about schools, and O’Rourke remarked that we need to pay the teachers well because half of the teachers in this country leave the profession within five years. We have added to their burden of low pay, training for active shooters. This also impacts the children who have to deal with the fact that their school is no longer safe.
Remarkably a Republican asked what could be offered to disenfranchised life long Republicans. O’Rouke said that first of all, he would be a president for all. Also that he served as a non-partisan city council-member, and that during his tenure in Congress he worked across the aisle. He raised the issue of working across the aisle for all Americans.
Most importantly, for O’Rourke global warming is a critical issue. For all intents and purposes, he has endorsed the green new deal. He wants to decarbonize the economy complete by 2050. He did point out that the massive floods in Houston and the wildfire in California are a consequence of global warming, and that we need to do this now. He did mention that we have ten years to turn around, and he pledged to do what needs to be done, including rejoining the Paris accords as one of his acts in office.
On the way out we had a single counter-protester, who was a global warming denier.
Edited to add some more background.