human rights

Dec 172014
Mike Katz-Lacabe speaking with students and community members at his Free Speech Day.

Mike Katz-Lacabe speaking with students and community members at his Free Speech Day.


For an event organized in 3 days, the Free Speech Day was very successful.

The day started with Mike speaking about his work as a human rights activist and then as a privacy rights researcher/activist.

Then SLHS students spoke about their concerns and experiences. One girl asked question of whether Martin Luther King’s dream had come true (it has not), others mentioned their disappointment at how City and School authorities are not transparent about issues that concern students, such as the COPS grant.  One student brought up the fact that they see many more military recruiters than college recruiters at school, which sets out rather low expectations for students.

Throughout the day, there were speeches and one-to-one discussions.  One speaker addressed the issue of neoliberalism, another spoke about pesticides.   A man spoke about his religious experience, another one performed a beautiful, spiritual poem. A Jewish rebbe  spoke about the freedom of speech aspect of the Hannukkah story.

Some speakers spoke about issues related to San Leandro.  Some mentioned their concerns about the growing police power.  Rob Rich spoke about Joey, the young man who was found murdered in front of his home last week, and whom the police groundlessly accused of being a criminal.

Their words were powerful and I look forward to posting the videos.

It was wonderful despite the cold, and we are planning to hold another such Free Speech Day in the spring during a weekend day, to make it more accessible to everyone.

The City of San Leandro has declared December 18th, 2014 to be “Mike Katz-Lacabe day“.  We agree that Mike Katz-Lacabe – not only an outgoing School Board member, but a champion of civil liberties in San Leandro – deserves to be honored.  And what better way to do it than with a Free Speech Fest!

Please join us for an afternoon/evening of, well, speech.  All speech. Any speech.  Your speech. (Can’t come? See below)

Come and tell us:

  • what you think
  • what you want
  • what you hope
  • what you are thankful for
  • what you are fearful
  • a story
  • a poem
  • a song
  • a haiku
  • an anecdote
  • an experience
  • an opinion
  • an idea
  • a recipe
  • a helpful hint
  • your analysis of the current political situation and what can we do to reach the liberty, equality and justice we all deserve.

Tell us with words, with music, with signs.

Tell me, tell a new found friend, tell the police (you know they’ll come by) and/or tell our camera so others can see it later.

But speak. Speak here, in San Leandro, while we still have that right.  They have taken so many other rights away from us, let’s exercise those we have left while we still have them.

This last-minute Free Speech Fest will take place on Thursday, Dec. 18th – Mike Katz-Lacabe’s day – between 3:30 PM and 8:30 PM.  Stop by whenever you can, we can’t promise there will be more than one person there, but that’s all you need to have a conversation.  We know you are busy – yes, there are lots of protests, rallies and meetings to attend, but we really hope to see you here.

As a location, we have decided in the area around the beautiful Holiday tree in the patio between City Hall and the Police Department here in San Leandro.  You can’t miss it, it’s really tall.

Bring your friends, your children, your parents, your neighbors, your students.  Grab your coats and scarfs and Guy Fawkes masks.  Come!

Mike Katz-Lacabe Day Free Speech Fest

Thursday, Dec. 18th, 2014
3:30 – 8:30 PM
Around the Holiday Tree outside San Leandro City Hall

Can’t come? Don’t worry. Just e-mail me a video, or something you want me to read and we’ll make sure to share it during the event.

Jan 182014
Dr. Vanila Singh

Dr. Vanila Singh

Vanila Singh Runs for Congress to Get US Visa for Human Rights Abuser

Religious – and foreign – politics have found their way into an American congressional race, but in a completely different manner to what we are used to.  There are no Christian fundamentalists running for California’s congressional district 17, nobody pontificating against abortion or gay marriage or promising to bring prayer back to the classrooms.   Instead, we’ll be treated to two competing understandings of Hinduism.  For Democratic candidate Ro Khanna, Hinduism is one more aspect of his cultural identity which informs, rather than defines, his vision of the state as secular and pluralistic.  For newcomer and potential spoiler Republican candidate Vanila Singh, on the other hand,  Hinduism appears to be the cornerstone of her political identity.   For the incumbent, embattled liberal Congressman Mike Honda, a man of indeterminate religious beliefs, Singh’s entrance in the race cannot come at a better time.

To the average American, even the average non-South Asian voter in CD 17, the name Narendra Modi may not immediately ring a bell.   But this Gujarati politician and self-described Hindu nationalist is posed to become the next Prime Minister of India – and the main sideshow attraction in the CD17 race.   Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat during the violent 2002 riots which left over 2,000 Muslims dead, including children burnt alive.  Modi’s administration has been accused by human rights organizations and researchers,  not only of supporting the violence, but of planning it and then working diligently to derail any possibility of justice.

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

The Gujarati riots incensed human rights activists and supporters of religious freedom worldwide so when Modi announced, in 2005, that the would visit the United States for a conference, a coalition of  activists and evangelicals formed to lobby the State Department to deny him a visa.  They obtained the support of many members of Congress and were eventually successful.  While the visa denial may seem like a small gesture, it incensed Modi and his supporters, who have since been working to get the US government to change its stand.

One of Modi’s biggest and richest backers in the US, is the Chicago-based Punjabi tycoon Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar.  Kumar has set out to get that visa for Modi and is not afraid to use his money – and that of other Indian nationalists in the US – to do it.  He co-founded a Super PAC to recruit and fund Republican candidates that support a “pro-India platform”, the main element of which is helping Modi get a US visa.  Kumar told India West that he approached Singh due to her volunteer work with the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a pro-Modi group with Hindu-supremacist links.   Singh apparently accepted, changed her voter registration from “declined to state” to Republican, and filed.

With 435 districts to chose from, one may wonder why Kumar chose to focus on a district that is not only heavily Democratic, but which already has a Hindu candidate.  Not only does a Republican have no chance to get elected – the Republican candidate only got about 27% of the vote in the 2012 general election -, but Singh’s candidacy jeopardizes Ro Khanna’s chances of winning.  While Khanna is not a supporter of Modi – he says he’s committed to both secularism and pluralism -, he has taken a hands-off approach on this matter and is willing to defer to the State Department’s decision.  Honda, meanwhile, has lobbied the State Department to make sure that Modi is continued to be denied a visa.  Surely, Kumar is doing himself no favors by helping Honda win this race.

Shalabh Kumar

Shalabh Kumar

Kumar’s strategy, however, seems to be more devious.  He told India West that his Super-PAC would have backed Khanna if Khanna had been an independent “free of Pelosi’s whip” and willing to sign on to the “pro-India” agenda mentioned above.  We can surmise that there were conversations on this issue between Kumar and Khanna that did not leave the former satisfied.    Indeed, Khanna’s fundraising success along a broad donor base and his commitment to not accept contributions from PACs, makes him uniquely immune to the promises/threats of deep pocket special interests like Kumar.  Clearly, another strategy was in order.

As Kumar told India West, “it’s a very challenging formula to take down Mike Honda without active Republican support.”  Indeed, while CD 17 is a new district for Honda, he benefits from a considerable incumbent advantage, which Khanna can only overcome by receiving at least some Republican and moderate votes.  A poll conducted last August by a pro-Honda group, had Honda receiving 49% of the total vote.  That was less than the 57%  a different poll gave him in March, but still considerably higher than the 15% Khanna had.  While Khanna will have had a full year of campaigning under his belt by the time the June primaries hit this year, if Singh is able to garner the great majority of the Republican vote, in addition to the likely limited Hindu fundamentalist vote, her candidacy might actually threaten Khanna’s ability to get the second-highest percentage of votes in June and make it to the general election in November.  Khanna could innoculate himself somewhat against this danger by encouraging another Republican to run – hoping that will split the Republican vote -, but Kumar’s deep pockets, added to those of other Hindu nationalists in Singh’s circle, will give Singh a considerable advantage.  If nothing else, Singh’s candidacy can take time and resources away from Khanna’s mission of explaining why he’s a better choice to Mike Honda.

While Singh’s entrance into the race is problematic in that it subverts American democracy, Kumar’s actions underline the pernicious effects of PACs in American elections.  Unwittingly, they also serve to test Khanna’s moral core and his quality as a candidate in a way that is seldom possible for newcomers.  If Khanna stands firm and still wins, he will go to Washington as a less naive Mr. Smith, but one with as much integrity.

Note: This article has been edited for clarity.