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    The Pitfalls of Our Need to Label

    zoe“Please just stop your 100% political posts! Most of your classmates…are open minded, but you are so far left and one sided we are mostly tired.” — my college Class President in a comment to a posting on my personal Facebook page

    “The (San Francisco) DCCC has been hijacked by Republicans disguising themselves as Democrats,” — Rebecca Young, co-chair of the Public Defender’s Racial Justice Committee

    Clearly, I can’t win. Depending on whom you talk to, I am either too far left or I am a Republican disguising myself as a Democrat. I’m not the only one experiencing this dichotomy.

    Assemblymember David Chiu, who represents Assembly District 17 covering the eastern portion of San Francisco, is also experiencing the joys of being both too far left and too far right. Last week, he swapped districts with Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, who represents AD 51 in Northeast Los Angeles. For three days, they toured each other’s district, and learned about innovations and programs they might be able to bring home to their own district.

    The evening before David Chiu departed for L.A., he came and spoke to the membership of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. During his presentation, he discussed the contrast between being the President of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, and representing San Francisco in Sacramento as a member of a statewide legislative body. When Chiu served in SF, he was considered one of the few who attempted to claim the middle ground between Progressive and Moderate. For the most part, his values and his voting record put him just to the left of the middle line between the two. When he ran for Tom Ammiano’s Assembly seat last year against fellow Supervisor David Campos, a proud and adamant Progressive, David Chiu was demonized by the far left as a Moderate in comparison.

    The irony is that now, as he serves in Sacramento, he is considered a fairly radical liberal in comparison to the rest of the Assembly. This is for introducing legislation like AB 357, which is first-in-the-nation state legislation that would require food and retail establishments with 500 or more employees in California to provide at least two weeks scheduling notice for their workers and additional pay for last minute schedule changes. Or the LGBT Disparity Reduction Act, that would help ensure California LGBT individuals are recognized and supported by health and human service state agencies.

    When I ran my very first (and only) political campaign for a seat on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), the first question I heard from nearly every potential donor I called was: Are you a moderate or a progressive?”

    Since Republicans make up only 8% of San Francisco registered voters, our city is (by and large) run by Democrats. It seems it would be boring if all Democrats agreed on certain key principles, like access to quality affordable health care, diversity and inclusion, equitable world class public education, and immigration reform. Instead, it seems we need to create an artificial differentiation—it’s not whether you are blue or red, but whether you are light blue or dark blue? Are you a Progressive Democrat (aka Lefty) or a Moderate Democrat (aka Republican)?

    I resist answering this question of whether I am Progressive or Moderate because I don’t like labels, and I feel it is a lazy shortcut to try and stereotype and categorize someone without delving into specific positions or issues. My standard response was, and still is, that I am solutions-oriented; it depends on the issue in question. For some policy issues, my perspective and solutions may be considered quite progressive, and for others, more moderate. Still, many aren’t satisfied with my equivocation. “But what are you mostly?”

    Well, it seems I am categorized mostly as a Moderate (in San Francisco terms). What I have discovered these past several years is that the leadership of the Progressive movement in SF is pretty insistent that, to wear the title of Progressive, you have to vote 100% in alignment with the Progressive agenda and positions. Should you deviate from their blueprint, you are no longer part of the Progressive family.

    In the 2012 DCCC race in AD17, both David Chiu and Leah Pimentel retained their seats running on the Progressive Slate. Leah was even appointed to the DCCC by a heavyweight leader of the Progressives, Aaron Peskin. When they didn’t vote the (Progressive) party line, they were ostracized. David Chiu was accused nonstop during his 2014 Assembly campaign of being a right-wing moderate. Leah was physically assaulted by a pro-Mission Moratorium supporter following a heated DCCC meeting this past May where she didn’t vote the way the progressives wanted her to vote.

    I love the Democratic Party, and I enjoy most aspects of serving on the DCCC. It is becoming increasingly divisive, though, as members attack one another and propose resolutions intended to create division and force votes on controversial legislation. At our last meeting, a member dramatically jumped up in protest, tossing her chair to the ground (the move has lost its effect on me, since this is the third time I’ve seen her do this). Even a recent resolution calling for the DCCC to treat the public and one another with respect was controversial, with a long drawn out debate. I have to keep reminding myself we are all Democrats.

    San Francisco politics has always been full of personalities and rough and tumble battles, but this city needs real solutions to significant challenges: skyrocketing housing costs, broken transit, and increasing crime, to name a few. I hope we can come together as a party, and as a city, to find opportunities for collaboration, and focus our energy on solutions, rather than looking for ways to “take down” the “other side.” Right now, there is too much at stake for us to waste time on petty infighting and labels.

    Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, as a San Francisco Library Commissioner, and as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.