Saturday, April 29, 2006

Barbara Becnel; first woman governor of the nation's largest state -- California?

maybe, and -- in the best of all worlds -- hope reigns! There appears to be a growing leadership vacuum, and surely this is a woman worthy of serious consideration -- one who will force the much-needed debate on our system of justice and capital punishment over the next few weeks leading to the June primary. Can't recall ever being stopped by the quoted odds of chances of victory -- and this isn't the time to start.

Last night I ventured in to Berkeley to hear my friend give a presentation at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian-Universalists. In the audience were a number of familiar faces -- those with whom I'd stood on vigil at the gates of San Quentin in the eerie days and hours before an execution -- over many years.

I recalled that UUs were almost always strongly represented in most of the causes I've supported over time, and that is true across the nation. Have always suspected that I could go to any part of the country, visit the local UU church or fellowship and start a conversation with anyone -- starting in the middle of the fourth paragraph and leaving out all the indefinite articles! Have wondered from time to time whether there is something we've learned through UUism or whether the power lies in the kinds of individuals who are attracted to the denomination? The percentage of UUs working hard in support of equal rights, human rights, fair wages, single-sex marriage, reforms in campaign financing, world peace, etc., far outstrips almost any other denomination. When combined with the Ethical Culturists, the American Friends Service Committee, the Humanists, ACLU, and the United Methodists -- there are probably enough of us to shape almost any progressive political endeavor, and often do, by sheer strength of our convictions and the determination to act on them.

Sitting in that modest sanctuary with the others last night -- listening to Barbara make her presentation that included a description of the last day and hours spent in the death chamber as a witness to Stanley Tookie Williams' execution -- gave some sense of what I've missed by going it alone over recent years. Seeing Ann Fagin Ginger, a noted authority on the United Nations, international law, and longtime head of the Berkeley Peace Commission -- stirred those embers of days of Berkeley activism -- and reminded me to make those re-connections soon. Amplifying my voice by working more closely with others is surely something to reactivate. Living in Richmond has served to dull some political nerve endings that may have some life left in them.

Barbara has asked that I do some writing for her campaign. We'll meet again later this week to talk about that. If we're going to get the debate on the moratorium up and running through her campaign -- the time is now. There is less than a month-and-a-half left in which to move the issue into front and center of the debates. She has never even paused in her efforts to stop state sanctioned killing. It is I who slackened of late. It is I who needs now to get out of my paper hat and back to work.

All three candidates (the governor, Steve Westley, and Phil Angelides) are committed to continuing the death penalty in this state. None will even allow for reconsideration of a moratorium though there are several bills waiting to be heard in the legislature. In the event that Barbara picks up a significant number of votes in the June primary -- she will have placed the issue squarely into the debates. In the event of a close election, if a significant number of voters who are calling for a moritorium or for abolition were to vote for her -- this would represent a solid block of potential votes any contender will need in order to insure victory in November. Her candidacy may not seek the governorship as much as it is a plea for the hearts of those who aspire to lead us.

I've been hoping that Angelides would relent and tap into the growing restlessness in this state and nation around the question of the death penalty. Maybe, together, we can help him to shift to a new position. We need to convince him that there is a large and growing constituency for abolition. I know that his position is bolstered by the other two candidates, and a reluctance to break ranks in the middle of a campaign. He told me at the meeting in Mendocino that he stands alone in his family. His wife and daughters are staunchly opposed to capital punishment. Interesting?

Judge Foley has postponed from May to August the decision to rule on the unusual cruelty aspect of death by lethal injection; so that judgement will fall within the timespan of a lively and contentious political campaign for the office of governor. That should justify an open discussion before the statewide electorate. Barbara will be the instrument for that discussion and I will support her in that effort.

The media is ignoring her presence in the race. She's a courageous woman whose persistence, passion, and sheer power of intellect will serve the cause well. She will travel to Soweto after the primary to scatter Stan's ashes there as promised. Meanwhile, his cause and that of others, as well as our collective consciences will be well served by her run in the primary.

This morning (quite early) we talked briefly by phone. She was on the freeway on her way to appear on a panel on street violence at Oakland's city hall. She will attend the Democratic Convention where she will bring her cause to the table. I no longer hold delegate status in the 14th Assembly district so can't be of much help there -- but next week we'll confer and maybe, together with enlightened friends (you?), -- we can make a statement that will be heard 'roun' the world.

Wish us well. Do take the time to respond to this entry ... would appreciate hearing from you in these troubled times.

Photo: For additional information go to or send an email to We'll need volunteers throughout the state. Join us in this important struggle to bring to a halt this barbaric practice of killing in our names. It's quite possible that these are the first steps in bringing a reconsideration of preemptive war and the possibility of peace in our day, or that of our children.

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