Tuesday, April 30, 2019

My Last Southern Vice-Chair Report

The LPC abolished the office of Southern Vice Chair, and I decided to not run again for any LPC office. Five years is enough, and I have other projects to work on. I wrote out these remarks, but didn't read them at convention. I ended up speaking from the heart, and things came out a little differently. I didn't make the motion I was contemplating, for example. The convention was video-taped, the relevant video is posted here.

My written remarks bear on certain controversies I've been involved with. If you have been involved and feel offended by anything, please reach out to me in person. I have been careful not to name names. Here is what I wrote:

Five years ago members elected me Southern Vice Chair in Visalia. To those who supported me and gave me opportunities for activism: thank you. I’ve earned the satisfaction of achieving my purpose in the company of friends, despite opposition. My purpose was to support activists instead of attacking them. I have done my best to fulfil that purpose fairly.

Visalia 2014 was a small convention. I was there to help rebuild the Party, not to run for any office. But a group of activists asked me to run for SVC. I am one of the least political persons I know, had no aspirations to hold office. Didn’t want to get roped into something I couldn’t do.  Knowing that officers serve their constituents, I asked them what they wanted from me. They said “just don’t F…k with the activists. Don‘t attack people for doing activism, don‘t try to take over control of activists.” I wondered “Do officers of the LP really do that? Such a strange way for a libertarian leader to behave!” So I promised “Yes.” I got the job without opposition.

It was the beginning of a new experience for me. Shortly after I took office, I learned of a whisper campaign against the people who had asked me to run. So-and-so is dangerous. The group is power hungry. Criminal. Up to no good. And so on. None of it made any sense so far as I could see. So I investigated. Inquired. Learned the facts.

There was nothing criminal or unseemly going on. The victims of the whisper campaign cooperated on bedrock libertarian principles. Respect others. Stand up for what you believe. Take responsibility. Work hard to accomplish your goals. Far from stirring up trouble, they were absorbing attacks without retaliating, to set an example. They wanted a diverse and strong Party that worked for liberty. I found nothing that justified the whispering about them. I wished others would emulate them, so we could build a stronger Party.

We had good leadership in LA County back then. I’ve been a region rep since 2012, later a treasurer. A year or two before I started, the County leadership changed membership requirements to bring in new members. Many activists lived in LA County, but affiliated with San Bernardino. The leadership encouraged the members to change our bylaws, to welcome any Central Committee member who lived in the County, regardless of affiliation. The membership did in fact change the bylaws as the leaders suggested. I heard no one complain about the welcoming approach. It was a smart rule that got more people involved with our local affiliate. 

The whispering went away. For two years, we built the Party. Our activists were rebuilding relationships, learning new skills, making new friends, building trust, and growing the Party. The 2015 state convention was about twice as big as Visalia. We elected a new state Chair that year, Ted Brown. We kept growing. Controversies were few and contained. Together, we built up momentum, had a much larger convention in 2016 at the LAX Hilton, and sent a full and lively delegation to Orlando to nominate a presidential candidate.

Johnson/Weld weren’t my first picks. But they brought a lot of resources to our affiliates. They brought tools, access and networks to local activists across the nation. Our activists in Southern California were some of the most influential and active in the campaign. I had the unexpected privilege of acting as State Campaign Director for the final months of the campaign. Robert Imhoff, Boomer Shannon and Matthew Barnes led the fieldwork, bringing their passion and fire. We were all doing as much as we could to get as many volunteers involved as possible. I’m so proud of the work we did, and how hard our volunteers worked with little support from the campaign which focused on other states. The building of local organizations was a big win of that campaign! A lot of new candidates and members came out for other races in 2016. You can read more details in my 2017 report.

What energy! A group of volunteer activists had elevated their game and reached new levels of experience and capability. I was - and am - proud of the small role I had played in the campaign and the peace that was breaking out in the Party. If you remember the 2017 Convention in Palo Alto, it was the least contentious in years. New people and new abilities were coming into the Party. Trust between members was improving. After the members re-elected me SVC in 2017, I was looking forward to more years of growth heading into 2020.

But someone had reignited a whisper campaign against activists in Southern California. A small minority of members who had stood on the sidelines during the 2016 campaign accused the activists who had worked hard of being motivated by lust for power. Of making a power grab by making friends and doing activism! As if the role of libertarian activists is to do nothing but complain, make enemies and lose elections! Perhaps the antagonism reflected old personal grudges, envies, and familiar dysfunctions. Perhaps we have been experiencing sabotage by our “dirty tricks” political opponents. Maybe some of both. I don’t know if time will tell.

I do know that suddenly the climate changed. In June 2017, LA County held its annual convention. All the officers were getting along fine and the members re-elected them all.  But one member at convention, motivated by the slanderous whispers going around, wanted to bring those activists down. He brought a state Judicial Committee action to undo the elections of three activists he didn’t like. Regional caucuses had elected these three to represent their regions at the County level. You might remember a group of activists wearing Jeff Hewitt T-shirts at our last convention in 2018. Win! The plaintiff thought those activists were lawbreakers for concocted reasons. They were the most dedicated, active members we had in Southern California.

The plaintiff had no just reason to undo those three regional elections. So he fueled the controversy by ludicrous and unfair conspiracy theories to justify attacks. I begged him to stop and warned him no good would come from suit. He went ahead anyway.  He did tangible harm to members’ reputations, relationships, and business endeavors in the name of “law and order.” Instead of tamping out the flames, the then-Chair of LA County fanned the flames, supported by some other officers and representatives who believed the lies. Encouraged by the state Judicial Committee, that Chair appointed himself to represent the accused, without their consent and while advocating for their removal and the abnegation of County Bylaws. The State JC held a trial with the prosecution representing both sides. It was a mockery of due process.

The LA County Ex-Com repudiated the State JC opinion in May 2018, over the resistance of the Chair and officers who had supported him. After that, the victims were ready to move on and put the past behind. But eleven months of strife had already damaged the County’s social cohesion and broke the trust that had been growing. Members were taking sides. Everybody had their favorite villain. The controversy had disrupted local activism and Party building for almost a year. I was cautiously optimistic that with new leadership, the County could heal.

The LA County Convention came along in June 2018. A new member ran for Chair, promising to end division. For a few months, the County seemed to be on the road to recovery, and business meetings returned to normal. Then a controversy in San Bernardino spilled over into LA, through the state Ex-Com. The San Bernardino members had elected new officers at the beginning of 2018; none of the outgoing officers ran for re-election. It seemed a peaceful convention, but tension between members and certain of the new officers (not all) erupted quickly. To make a long story short, in September 2018, responding to a request from the new officers, the LPC Chair and Northern Vice Chair, against my advice, held a mini-trial in executive session to consider accusations by some new officers against the outgoing officers. The Ex-Com wasted a lot of time and reached no concrete findings. The new officers went away upset and the secret trial inflamed old wounds in San Bernardino, breaking trust. It was a lose-lose scenario. Fortunately, San Bernardino has recovered and elected new officers since then.

The controversy spilled over in to LA, where an outspoken member—bearing that freshly injured wound—complained to the County Chair who was also state secretary and Chair of the region that the member most regularly attended. The officer claimed the member had threatened her and banned him from meetings, without credible evidence or due process. She threatened to call the police if he shows up, and confirmed her threat when I asked. But I looked and saw no credible evidence of any threat by the accused. Zero. Nada. Since then, the Chair and officers who supported her doubled down on the accusations and threats. With no corroborating evidence. 

Evidence? Who needs that when you can make up a story to tell? Officers made up a story about being "kicked out of" the County’s regular meeting place, while instigating the disruptions they claimed to oppose. Using their own disruptions as an excuse, they moved all the County’s monthly business meetings to an online forum controlled by a mute button, ignoring Robert’s Rules of Order. They repeated their threats and accusations. Some members applauded this misconduct by officers; I’m not sure why. Others consented to misconduct by silence, apathy and inaction. Too few stood up to oppose the destruction of meetings, the defamation of hard working activists or banning of members without due process. It continues still.

LA County can and will resolve these issues on its own. I’m not calling for intervention here. But we have lessons to learn here. Our human natures will always create friction and misunderstandings. How do we get past the natural competitiveness to accomplish the purpose of our Party? The answer is simpler than you might think. And it doesn’t involve any kum-by-yah or miracles.

All it takes is turning your focus of activism outward, outside of the party. You don’t like that guy? Don’t think person over there is libertarian enough? Save it for private conversation. Turn your public fire outwards. You’ll amaze your friends with what you can accomplish.

I could give tons of examples, but do not have the time. I must focus on something close, the Hewitt campaign. More than any other race last year, that victory makes the point of moving on by winning together. It was like Heaven smiled on the whole campaign. Things would break our way every time. The more momentum we got the harder everybody worked. The teamwork came together like magic, pushing the campaign forward. What a heartbreaking election night, and what a thrilling comeback victory! Big stories in the LA Times and OC Register, the whole deal. Win! A new Libertarian County Supervisor of Riverside County, Jeff Hewitt. Win! Brighter days of wiser governance and a new confidence ahead. Win.

Many people were generous with their money and time to make our victory happen. More than I can thank or mention in this short report. But I can’t finish without closing the circle. I am so proud of the activists who asked me to run for SVC back in Visalia five years ago and helped me win re-election twice since then. They overcame adversity and attacks by focusing on winning where it matters. While being victimized by false accusations and threats of violence, deserted by many they had aided before, they turned away from the tactics of division and political destruction to focus on their best opportunities. Their focus and intensity helped propel the Hewitt team to a great win. By following their example, we will earn more successes in the years ahead, and heroic tales for new activists and allies.

So let’s do some homework.

Madam Chair, as is my privilege as an officer, I move:

Whereas we all have pledged to not initiate aggression for any social or political purpose; and

The purpose of our Party depends on keeping first this pledge with one another as an example and proof of our principles;

Be it resolved that no person acting in the name of the Libertarian Party of California shall ban or threaten with police force or other violence any member from attending any business or social meeting of the Party except for justified executive sessions, or deprive members of a venue for meeting in person; and any member who after neutral due process is convicted of the conduct at issue shall be subject to expulsion for cause by the Executive Committee, as provided in Bylaw 5, Sections 5 and 6.

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