Shahid Buttar is running for office in the 12th Congressional District of California, and he was interviewed by #WeThePeople on April 4th, 2018. He has an excellent campaign ad, from which we learn that he has been an activist for over 20 years, and describes himself as a DJ, an MC, a public interest advocate, an educator and a grassroots organizer. He has an inspirational command of the English language and has written and spoken across the United States on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where he has worked since 2015 as EFF’s Director of Grassroots Advocacy. He is running for office because he doesn’t feel that San Francisco or its values of transparency, freedom, inclusion and opportunity are being represented in Washington D.C. Shahid’s family emigrated first from Pakistan to England and then from there to the US, to escape discrimination. They lived the American dream for over a decade and then lost their house just as he started college. Shahid has been building social movements in his city since 2003. He has over the years fought for San Francisco’s rights in the courts, the policy sphere, the media and on the streets. He has been involved with Occupy, the Immigrant Rights Movement, the Digital Rights Community and the Movement for Black Lives. For Shahid, resistance is not just a hashtag, as he says. He is a Constitutional lawyer and a non-profit leader with experience.
What made Shahid decide to run now? Watching Congress voting to extend and expand the surveillance powers available to the Trump Administration (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), he says, and Nancy Pelosi undermining a proposed warrant requirement which would have constrained mass surveillance by the NSA, the DEA and the FBI. This, followed by the occasion where Pelosi read for 8 hours from letters from immigrant students, and then voted in a backroom deal to throw them under a bus! Being an immigrant himself, particularly steeped in mass surveillance and human rights issues (both of which she is particularly weak in), he could not stand aside after that. San Francisco, Shahid says, needs an unapologetic, skilled, experienced, progressive champion, who will promote its values.
In answer to John’s question, Shahid says that he has never been afraid to walk the streets of any American city, and quotes FDR “I dare say that the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He explains that that is one of the reasons we are in this mess. “ If you step back from the xenophobia and targeting immigrants to just think about the extent to which American policy is filtered through the lens of fear, and how much of our military industrial complex is rooted in fear of unknown threats, when we have known threats often paid for by our tax dollars that are abusing us. The chimera of fear and the way it is co-opted and abused and taken advantage of, whether by corporations or by government intelligence agencies, I think is a big part of the problem.”
John asks what can be done about gun and police violence, and about the connection between the two. Shahid says that it is a no-brainer to support a ban on assault-style rifles. There is no reason that civilians should have them. He then tells us that he recently got to describe his Second Amendment theory on national radio. It goes like this. “A lot of Conservatives are concerned about Second Amendment rights and to the extent they locate gun control as a threat to their interests there is a little bit of a bait-and-switch in that they are barking up the wrong tree. The Second Amendment isn’t actually about weapons. The text of the amendment refers to them, but the purpose of the Second Amendment is a right to resistance against the federal government. It’s the Constitutional escape hatch passed at the time of the Founding for colonies that were fearful that the federal government would run roughshod over their rights. It is why the text of the Second Amendment grounds the right to bear arms, particularly in a well-regulated militia. In 2008 the Supreme Court radically reinterpreted it and created an individual right to weapons for the first time.” So what inhibits your right to resistance today? The answer can’t be gun control. “The reason that there is no meaningful right to resistance today is because the Police have become militarized, and the militarization of Police presents the threat to Second Amendment interests that many of its defenders mistake for being gun control. I do think that the opportunity to diffuse Second Amendment concerns, to recognize common cause in the liberty interest and to unite that coalition against the militarization of the Police is one of the political opportunities of our generation.”
Shahid reminds us that there are people on the Right who are also willing to fight the NSA, and hopes that Progressives can do to the Democratic Party, what the Tea Party did to the GOP (i.e. take over the Party). Bernie demonstrated in 2016 he says, that the Democratic base has not entirely forgotten progressivism. He adds though that some of the party must be willing to maintain an attachment to liberty because progressivism without liberty principles is dangerous. He thinks that there is an opportunity, particularly for a progressive challenging a bipartisan corporate establishment, to put the interests of people before profit, and to champion those principles and the policies that would promote communities and families and give people opportunities to pursue their own happiness.
What can we do about Police violence?
*Firstly*, says Shahid, we could finally enact the End Racial Profiling Act, and start collecting data. Presently we have to turn to a British newspaper to get statistics about how many Americans get killed by police each year!! ERPA would give citizens a right of private action. They would no longer have to prove Discriminatory Intent of the government agent. This requirement is the hole into which most civil rights claims sink. Disparate Impact (the statistical proof of discrimination which the law would require the State to collect and make available) would be enough to state a claim in court.
*Secondly* create a national registry of killer cops. Once fired from a police department you should not be hired by another.
*Thirdly*, we need to the legalize cannabis at the federal level, Shahid tells us. This is a crucial leg to take out of the stool of the prison industrial complex. It would diminish civil asset forfeitures which are often justified on the basis of the drug war. If you legalize some of those underlying offences, then the law enforcement abuses that rely on those criminalizations as a foundation, start to get addressed too.
Do you realize how many jobs and how much revenue would be lost if you took away the criminalization of pot across the United States, asks John? Only in law enforcement, Shahid replies. Think about how many green jobs would be created across the cannabis industry supply chain.
And I would add that we need an Independent Review (of the Police departments) John comments. Shahid agrees and adds that Civilian Review Boards often don’t have adequate resources and in those cases they become ruses. So what is necessary is an *independent authority with investigating powers*! Shahid is excited at the thought of an opportunity to participate in oversight hearings as an interlocutor, to be able to ask the Attorney General questions under oath.
There follows a discussion about the Bush v. Gore Decision, which revealed a blatantly politicized Supreme Court jurisprudence with in retrospect incredibly profound consequences, Shahid says. Now we have torture with impunity, profiling unapologetically… the prison industrial surveillance complex available to a criminal kleptocrat at the head of the executive branch. One of Shahid’s proposals is an 18 year rather than lifetime term for the judges. The Democrats should have appointed very progressive judges, given how far to the right the Republican appointees were. Shahid also tells us that most Americans are not aware that about 11 years ago the Supreme Court basically overruled (by circumventing) Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education. There is a jurisprudential revolution that is well under way and you see it all the time, Shahid states.
John says that for him a greater overarching issue is the lack of education of the populace and the inability to handle so much information coming at us all at once. The facade came down all in one go. They agree that MSM has let the People down by not keeping them informed in the way they should, but Shahid also reminds us of President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the American People, where he spoke of the need for “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry to defend democracy in America.” We are neither, he says…
Shahid tells us in response to a YT question, that the Fourth Amendment has been viciously eroded, in the way for example that the Police have impunity when retaliating against citizens exercising their First Amendment rights (such as recording police activities). They’ve emboldened themselves, intimidated the public and extended their authorities by arresting people… without corresponding jurisprudence. He describes as a frontal attack the NSA and the idea that you have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures, which is much more than privacy… It is the freedom of expression on which our democracy rests. It is ultimately the opportunity for democracy to exist. We flirt with losing those protections, he says. Shahid certainly favours police accountability for violence, for profiling, although charging police with tyranny might be a bit of a stretch (YT). He would also like to reform “Qualified Immunity” which is the defence the Police use if you sue for physical harm. He’d like it to be illegal per se. There should be liability as a Matter of Law for any police officer who kills an unarmed person.
Shahid has answers for all the questions thrown at him by the YT audience. Medicare for All is a first important step to begin to address the problems we have in our capitalist society (and towards building in practice alternative distribution systems). He speaks of a distributive justice scheme that unites Smith and Marx. It looks like a market-based system with very robust equality of opportunity. We’ve never had that before, and a system that eliminated entitlements for established capital could be much more just, while also claiming the efficiency of capitalism… but I’m not running on that, he says. A single government purchaser for all healthcare services would drive down the cost of healthcare dramatically. It would also satisfy a core human right recognized by most civilized countries, by keeping a lot of people off the street and, it would improve the competitiveness of US businesses both large and small.
Again, in answer to a YT question, Shahid refers to Eisenhower speaking about how the emergence of defence plus the profit motive, would shift the character of the country. He describes it “having a spiritual impact of the union of industry and defence”. This ultimately is what is driving the aggrandisement of executive power and the marginalization of Congress (with respect to its war-making authority). He also refers to the War Powers Act (1970s) which came about in response to the abuses pervading the war in Vietnam, which was based on false pretences and amounted to colonial aggression.
The corruption of money in politics is Shahid’s core issue. He has fought for campaign finance reform. “There are a whole host of threats to the integrity of our elections: campaign finance inequities… voter suppression… gerrymandering… all of these issues would represent potential violations of anti-trust laws if anti-trust laws applied to political and not just economic markets.” One of the things Shahid would like to do in Congress would be to extend existing anti-trust protections so that federal judges despite the challenges would be in a position to defend competition in political markets.
There is not a lot that Congress can do to advance public financing of elections. That is easier to do at a State level, according to Shahid. That’s good says John, that’s possible. On issues of policing and election law for instance, Shahid says the States have way more authority than the federal government. “From a public policy standpoint it is critical to make sure that elections and candidacy is available to all people not just anointed representatives of corporate interests.” Conservatives have turned their sights both on the federal judiciary and on State legislatures as crucial levers to promote their policy mission and the Clinton and Obama administrations haven’t responded in kind. That’s one reason I’m very happy to live in California where we have a more enlightened State legislative process than in many parts of the country.
Wow, what an amazing candidate! John, Laura and everyone else has learned such a lot during this interview. Shahid Buttar is a very interesting, brilliant person, who has led a fascinating life. He has a sense of humour and another talent too… because before law school, Shahid’s activism took the form of politicized spoken word poetry, so he’s a documentary performance poet first. The closing song is Shahid’s own, and it is about why the agencies need to be erased.
Volunteer. Help spread the word. Donate to Shahid Buttar. The links are in the video description. Good luck Shahid!