By Ken Stone
But the 28-year-old social-justice crusader is dismayed that some lawyers said no to helping deal with voting complaints. (He ultimately signed up four, including Marlea Dell’Anno.)
“You would never believe that I had attorneys telling me: ‘Oh, well, I can’t defend a Trump supporter,'” Harris said hours after a press conference attended by Republicans and Democrats. “We’ve gotten into a bad place.”That place includes both top party officials in San Diego County, who he said “gave me a headache.”
It wasn’t until Krvaric decided not to sign that Rodriguez-Kennedy said, “Oh yeah, I’ll do it,” Harris revealed in a phone interview. (Neither party chair responded to a request for comment.)
He said Krvaric was the only official who said no outright.
“That’s unfortunate because it only puts their party behind,” Harris said. “They’re already struggling to keep people engaged. … We need a balance of power. He’s not willing to support civility?”
With a historically worrisome Election Day looming, the founder and president of the People’s Alliance for Justice calls his latest project the hardest task of his activist career.
It comes a week after four local academics announced a broad “conversation” on ways to head off civil unrest and potential post-election violence.
Harris said Friday he may partner with the civil community dialogue group, but jump-started his own effort Thursday: a “simple agreement of civility in this election.”
In front of the County Administration Building, he hailed the presence of Republican county Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, whom he later called the first to sign the civility pledge. (Gaspar’s Democratic rival Terra Lawson-Remer also signed the pledge, he said.)
WATCH LIVE: Local leaders call on San Diegans to remain civil on Election Day, days after https://t.co/UnNipB7YbV
— 10News (@10News) October 30, 2020
Gaspar didn’t address the press, but fellow GOP Supervisor Jim Desmond did. Most speakers at the morning conference were Democrats, including former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña and judge candidate and former Chula Vista Mayor Tim Nader.
As the academics take Zoom meetings to plan their next steps, conservative critics wonder aloud (and in story comments) if calls for compassion are a partisan liberal mission.
Despite his distaste for Donald Trump — he’s known him for 35 years and says his New York business reputation was that of a “buffoon” — Druck insists that he doesn’t care who people vote for.
“My concern is our country, not any party that I may affiliate with,” he said this week. “If my grandchildren are not safe, I don’t give a damn who is creating the conditions and compromising their well-being and safety.”
He pushed back against suspicions he’s worried mainly about right-wing violence.
“I’m concerned about anybody who has either criminal intent or who is going to act with reckless disregard in this community,” Druck said. “It’s one thing to stand in protest and to use our voices and to be disruptive in a peaceful, nonviolent manner. It’s another to be unlawful and destructive.”
He said he’s seen examples of extremely disturbing violence from the left and the right.
Still, right-wing elements — such as the Michigan militia members facing charges of plotting to kidnap or kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — are getting much recent attention.
Should the public worry more about Republican unrest if Joe Biden wins the White House?
San Diego’s Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of truthorfiction.com and a frequent denouncer of Trumpism on Twitter, said resistance to civility pledges and the like appears to be a GOP election strategy.
She said the party “has chosen to publicly embrace QAnon and all its anti-Semitism to leverage violence or its threat to keep people away from the polls on Election Day.”
Indeed, right-wing blogger Roger Ogden said he didn’t see much point in the pledge.
“The great majority don’t need to pledge to be civil,” he said Friday in a Facebook chat. “The ones who are most likely to be uncivil won’t make the pledge anyway. Maybe I’m too cynical?”
Ogden doesn’t see a close election.
“I think there will be a clear winner, whether Biden or Trump, and people will soon accept it and move on as they almost always have for 240 years, with the most notable exception being in 1860,” he said.
Mike Forzano of Santee quit the Defend East County group in part because of racist tendencies among its 22,000 Facebook members but still aims to protect businesses threatened in protests like La Mesa’s.
Times of San Diego asked Forzano whether Republicans should join Democrats in civility efforts.
“That depends on what they are planning,” he replied on Facebook. “Are they planning to stand up against violence? If so, how? Why do they feel the election outcome needs their response?”
He said everyone who can help keep people safe regardless of their party should “do what’s right.”
“I will be protecting all people should anything happen,” Forzano said. He didn’t comment on the “civility pledge.”
Druck’s family history makes him sensitive to political violence, since his grandfather’s brother was an Austrian attorney murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.
“Our efforts were simply a small group of community leaders who convened a conversation on safety that we all felt could be helpful to us personally, to our community and to the country,” he said. “Why more of my Republican friends have chosen not to participate in this nonpartisan conversation and call to action is a mystery to me.”
He said he approves of safety checkpoints, civility pledges, multifaith prayer vigils and phone numbers to report violence or unlawful behavior.
Professor Luna, co-chair of Restoring Respect and the first director of the Institute for Civil Civic Engagement, said more than 25 people from over 20 organizations have responded to an Oct. 22 email about preparing for civil unrest.
They are taking part in discussions, planning and actions, he said, and include representatives and leaders from the City Attorney’s Office, district attorney, Anti-Defamation League, League of Women Voters, the Chicano Federation and The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Short term, we are looking to support efforts to promote civility such as Rev. Harris’ civility pledge for the run-up and response to the election,” Luna said Friday. “We are also working to assemble a tool kit for community groups to use in pursuing peaceful political participation.”
Longer term, his partners are trying to help “interconnect the already robust networks of community groups, government organizations and academic institutions already working in conflict resolution, peaceful community engagement and community problem solving to help San Diegans share information and activities to promote peaceful and effective civic participation.”
Luna said no social media channels have been set up yet.
“We’ve barely had time to organize a Zoom,” he said via email. “This isn’t a formal organization by any means. It’s a coalition of concerned citizens/groups. At some point it may yield enough cohesion to have its own social media identity, but for now we operate messaging through our respective organizations.”
The Rev. Harris is in more of a hurry, though.
He said the recent discovery of “Racism Lives Here” signs in front of Trump supporter homes in Coronado spurred him to action.
He contrasted his pledge project with the Druck-Luna-led effort that’s yielded nothing concrete so far.
“We’re the only ones in the region who have formed an initiative,” Harris said. “We have a website where people can sign up. We have a hotline [858-432-3779] that is being run by a team of volunteers. … And we have a more nonpartisan approach.”
Harris acknowledged his reputation for seeking media attention — with criticism of the press conference as a “showman thing.”
“Well, showman thing or not, nobody’s promoting civility and nobody’s really stepping outside the box to do it in the kind of way we’re trying to do it,” he said.
Though Republicans such as County Assessor Ernie Dronenburg and San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones were early adopters of the civility pledge, Harris hopes for more elected leaders to sign. He announced Friday that San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez and Councilwomen Monica Montgomery Steppe and Barbara Bry have signed, along with District Attorney Summer Stephan and City Attorney Mara Elliott.
Montgomery Steppe even issued a statement, saying in part: “As voters, we have the right to participate freely in the election process without experiencing any form of harassment, intimidation, suppression or violation of our bill of rights. I am asking San Diegans to take the civility pledge and commit to a civil, respectful and safe election.”
Even so, Harris said some elected officials “played with it, like: ‘What’s the motive? Who’s going to be there (at the press conference)? It was like pulling teeth, man.”
Harris would like both parties to reach out more to the middle, especially unaffiliated voters categorized as NPP — no party preference.
“As long as these party chairs (stay) snug up in their seats, and they don’t come out and engage people who are in the middle…. NPP are climbing up the ranks, and there are more people leaving both sides of the aisle,” he said. “They’re tired of the rivalry, of not even having the basic respect.”
Harris repeated a line from the press conference.
“Some may say: Make America great again. I say: Make civility great again.”
He also said: “There was a time you would respect people. And we’ve lost that. Which is why we’re not going to accomplish anything, which is why things are going to continue to get dangerous.”
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