It is unfortunate that a some members of our community and Vallejo’s Vice Mayor introduced the political shorthand “kill the gays in Uganda” in to the civic conversation surrounding the Vallejo City council election. This pejorative phrase is being used unthinkingly against anyone supporting the endorsed Democratic candidates running for Vallejo City Council including me.
Tony Summers, Jonathan Gordon, Vallejo Councilmember Hermie R. Sunga
A few days after I endorsed Anthony Summers I bumped into Vallejo’s Vice Mayor at our Saturday Farmers market. I was standing in front of the Better Vallejo booth that was advocating for the candidates that are running against our endorsed Democratic candidates.
For more information on the Vallejo race see:
Vallejo City Council Race 2013 - Introduction
Vallejo City Council Race 2013 - Meme Warfare (This Diary)
Vallejo City Council Race 2013 - Category Collapse Disorder
Vallejo City Council Race 2013 - Jump Start Vallejo
Vallejo City Council Race 2013 - Cartoons & Correspondence
Vallejo City Council Race 2013 - Election Results
Update 1: Removed speculative association per FogCityJohn's comment.
Update 2: Changed title to remove meme from title
Update 3: Removed speculative reference to local community group per postretro's suggestion
I remarked to the Vice Mayor on a email she sent to me a day before where she implied that the Democratic Party supported the meme and that tacitly that I did the same. I told her, with out mentioning the meme, that her language was a bit harsh and could be off putting to someone that was going to bring business before the council after the election. And we had what looked like on the surface a pleasant conversation. By this time a large group of listeners had gathered around us from the traffic in the market place and those at the tables.
Paraphrasing the conversation she said: Jonathan, you are new to politics when I started I did not understand political shorthand. Killing the gays in Uganda is just political shorthand. Come before the council and it will be business as usual. I was appalled that a pejorative phrase about fellow community members could be spoken of so casually in Vallejo’s public square, the Farmers Market in front of such a large audience.
Those words hit each observer differently but I’m sure that they do damage to the civic body by dividing us. The group from the tables all nodded as if approving the banality of this civic evil. A few of my friends standing by just gritted their teeth. And a number of strangers, who stopped to listen, shrugged it off as if disgusted by politics and moved on quickly. I began to wonder how many times has this meme been used in Vallejo over the last 4 years.
My "on the road to Damascus moment" was outside the Chamber of Commerce candidate’s night at the Empress Theatre. I was hanging out greeting everyone as they arrived for the event.
Three children between the ages of 12 and 15 were handing out flyers supporting Anthony Summers. As I stood next to them as a passerby taunted them using that meme. Seeing the hurt, confusion, and fear in their eyes it was left to me to tell them, "Anthony is running for office, and politics makes some people say mean and crazy things." I wish I could had said something better.
By spreading this meme Better Vallejo thinks they are better than Vallejo, in that they have the right to frame the debate chose the political shorthand, meme, to communicate their values to children and persons of faith that support Anthony. And, by extension anyone associated with Labor and Jump Start Vallejo. And do not forget the Democratic Party is being accused with this meme too.
Describing it in theoretical political terms I would say: Better Vallejo, the source of the meme, is being used as the active agent of Inverted Totalitarianism to accomplish a Neoliberal Agenda by spreading this destructive meme in the community on the grass roots level. Its principal target being Labor.
This may or may not be planned, I'm not big on conspiracy theories, but it just might be a product of the times. Democrats divided and both sides polarizing along the lines described in Lakoff's The Political Mind.
The same meme two years ago was used by the same coalition for the same purpose two years ago in the City Council election to attack Mayor Davis but with the addition of a specific meme for Mayor Davis that revolved around “Osby ain’t right.” This meme I’m told did not catch on but was released as a bumper sticker. And again its principal target was Labor.
I’m ashamed that two years ago I did not question the use of the meme in public to further Better Vallejo's message and political agenda like I’m doing now. I did not use it myself, preferring to express my views in a more complex way than using political shorthand or memes. And I learned tact, restraint, and respect for Religious traditions from my being a member of Street Prophets and my being an admirer of Fredric Carlson's work on Talk to Action and Street Prophets.
Two years ago I was relying on the authority of Better Vallejo and Talk to Action, and as such, I did not question its ultimate use. I was lazy. Talk to Action presents a clear case that C. Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs, and Ed Silvoso have a well funded Right-Wing political agenda. And with the formation of the Vallejo Faith Organization in 2007 it reached its peak influence around 2008 with Prop 8 and Barack Obama on the ballot. To me it seemed like all the Vallejo churches and individuals of Faith became swept up in it. However, after its peak local participation in it declined.
At that time I remember the Prop 8 signs up on the entrance way to one of our largest Catholic churches in Vallejo along with hundreds of signs being displayed at each of the smaller black churches. Vallejo has over 100 small independent small churches within its city limits.
I like to think my re-publishing and using information from Talk to Action helped push back a number of wedge issue memes during this time. It was using this non-pejorative authoritative source of information accurately that addressed the facts but did not attack individual pastors and congregation members that made its use so effective. That is what gave Talk to Action its power.
Please keep this in mind while reading this diary. Vallejo was recently named as the most ethnically diverse city in the nation. And as such roughly divides up as 24.5% Pacific Rim and First Nations, 23.7% Hispanic, 21% Black, and 24.1% White.
Now, consider the fact that there are three black Democratic candidates running for the City Council seat, and I was asked at a club meeting by the Past President of the club to disallow Anthony Summers membership in the Democratic Club and to further to deny him physical access to our meetings. This was at a public meeting.
By some of the statements made by the other two Black candidates running in this race I suspect that they are persons of faith. I guess I should deny them a seat at the political table and make up my mind about their suitability for office based on that meme being painted on them. I reject this eliminate the eliminator trap of insufficient options framed by the meme.
My friends it took me empathizing with three black children accused of killing gays in Uganda by a white male adult to drive home the potential racist and segregationist use in the expression of the meme.
The passerby was victimized by the banality of its casual delivery. He was just repeating the political short hand he was given by authorities he trusted. He simply repeated what the local media saying. I have no idea the impact on the children I will leave that for Daily Kos conjectures in the comments. As for me my outlook on everything changed in that moment.
I ask my fellow Daily Kos members how deep into a persons religious beliefs to I have to go to satisfy suitability for political office or eligibility to freely participate in the civic public square. Do I ask the everyone who is from the Black Faith community, the Overseas Filipino Catholic community, and the Catholic Spanish Surname community if they attended Ed Silvoso's first visit to Vallejo or his second one? Do I ask if they displayed a Prop 8 sign in 2008? Or do I ask them if they bought a copy of the Transform Vallejo DVD?
I think it is a misuse of Talk to Action to be used as a body of convincing evidence to prove to the secular and LBGT community members in Vallejo that other members of our diverse community condone killing gays in Uganda. This is an exact application of direct causality thinking mentioned in my previous diary direct from the Right-Wing playbook. The meme on the local level becomes a stand in for for tens of thousands of human beings and potentiality hurtful to them.
Clearly Talk to Action's is not at fault here. Talk to Action has no control how the publications on their website are used. Especially in this specific case where it is being used to justify a the truth of a meme.
The ground situation here in Vallejo is complex and the reason I had not been blogging much about it prior to this diary, was to allow the local community space to sort its affairs out without outside interference.
Scrutiny from the global can be good when authority can be used to ground a discussion in facts. But, it also can lock in pejorative phrases that evoke frames that are destructive or overstated. These wedge issue memes from the global are destined to impede civic progress and disrupt good local governance to force privatization of community assets.
Our Jumpstart Vallejo candidates are committed to the process of improving our score and when elected in November are faced with the difficult task of finding the funds to get the job done. We need everyone behind them because they literally have to weigh each of the Municipal Equality Index points, such as partner benefits, against hiring new police officers and other pressing costs of running our city. And, this is a job of governance that I’m confident that when our candidates, Pippin Dew, Jess Malgapo, Rozzana Verder-Aliga, and Anthony Summers, are elected they will do admirably.
Lastly, I want to say that the social group, the Vice Mayor, and the other candidates that are allegedly using this meme can correct this by giving up its use and publicly renouncing it. And In addition they need to take the time and effort to explain its negative effects on the civic environment to their followers.
Jonathan Gordon (linkage)
Vallejo Street Prophet
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of United Democrats of Southern Solano County, The Solano County Democratic Central Committee, California State Democratic Party, or the National Democratic Party.
Partial List of Endorsements for
Pippin Dew, Jess Malgapo, Rozzana Verder-Aliga, and Anthony Summers
Vallejo Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee
Solano County Democratic Central Committee
California Real Estate Political Action Committee (CREPAC)
Vallejo Police Officers
Vallejo Education Association
Napa-Solano County Building and Construction Trades Council
Napa and Solano Counties Central Labor Council
Communications Workers of America Local 9404
Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 3
Glaziers Local 169
Cement Masons Local 400
Painters Union Local 376
Iron Workers Local 378
Iron Workers Local 118
Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 343
Sheet Metal Workers Local 104
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180
Operating Engineers Local 3
Heat & Frost Insulators & Allied Workers Local 16
United Food & Commercial Workers Local 5
Carpenters Local 180
Teamsters Local 315
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla
Mayor Osby Davis
Solano County Sheriff, Thomas A. Ferrara
Supervisor Erin Hannigan
Supervisor Jim Spering
Supervisor Skip Thomson
Supervisor John Vasquez
Solano County Superintendent of Schools, Jay Speck
Solano County District Attorney, Donald A. du Bain
Vallejo City Councilmember, Hermie Sunga
Vallejo Unified School Boardmember, Hazel Wilson
Vallejo Unified School Boardmember, Raymond Mommsen
Vallejo Unified School Boardmember, Rev. Dr. Tony Ubalde
Solano County Assessor-Recorder, Marc Tonnesen
Solano County Board of Education Boardmember, Larry Asera
Former Vallejo City Councilmember, Michael Wilson
Former Vallejo City Councilmember, Tom Bartee
Former Vallejo City Councilmember, Cris Villanueva
United Democrats of Southern Solano County President, Jonathan Gordon