Indivisible: Conejo Monthly Newsletter


Join Us for A Conejo Together / Indivisible: Conejo Public Forum

Gender Identity & Our Public Schools:

Separating Fact from Fiction

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Sunday, October 20, 3-5:30 p.m.

Lundring Event Center, Cal Lutheran University

Get free tickets via Eventbrite

Our local schools have been swept up in controversy surrounding California’s new guidelines for teaching about sexual health, particularly LGBTQ+ awareness (and gender identity in particular). Misinformation about the curriculum and its objectives – some of it based in lack of understanding, but much of it intentionally designed to undermine confidence in our schools – has outpaced facts about the new content and its implementation. Conejo Together and Indivisible: Conejo are co-sponsoring this public forum addressing these issues -- and while space will be limited inside CLU's Lundring Center, we're offering our activists the first opportunity to reserve seats through Sunday, October 6!

The event will feature education experts who will separate truth from distortions concerning the state's mandates and suggestions, and our local districts’ plans for putting them into practice. Todd Walker, an Oak Park-based social worker and therapist who has been providing gender-diversity training for area public school teachers and counselors, will share material from those presentations. And a panel of transgender and gender non-binary students and adults, along with members of their families, will discuss their journeys and the challenges they face at school, in the workplace, and in dealing with the misconceptions of others across our society.

This forum will help foster understanding of, and enthusiasm for, the contemporary science and sociology that underpin California’s laws and guidelines for instruction in sexual health. We'll be opening this event to the public early next week, so don't miss your opportunity to reserve seats in advance!


Global Climate Strike, Conejo Valley Pride

& Our First IndivConejo Bar Nights

Highlight an Exciting Month of Advocacy

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The Dramas that Plague the Conejo --

And What We Must Do to Settle Them

A Message from Jon & Gina

The Conejo Valley can’t seem to stay out of the spotlight – too often for the wrong reasons, and in ways that have seriously damaged our region’s reputation. The time has come to identify the common causes of these political and cultural tempests, connect some dots, and recognize that our own actions over the next year will help determine whether such dramas continue to plague our community.

As we’ve seen this fall in both the Oak Park and CVUSD schools, an extremist fringe of Christian conservatives has made the Conejo Valley ground zero for attacks on California’s new guidelines for teaching sexual health. Specifically, they’re targeting proposals meant to raise awareness of the societal contributions of, and the personal issues faced by, LGBTQ+ Americans – particularly transgender and non-binary youths and adults. In doing so they have invented a tawdry curriculum that doesn’t exist, and have intentionally misrepresented real (and entirely reasonable) policies, all for craven political gain.

More recently we’ve witnessed a Trumped-up kerfuffle over a charity flag-football tournament that became a political football all its own. As details of the controversy came into focus this week – amidst vicious arguments about who was responsible for ruining an event designed to benefit the family of Borderline victim Sgt. Ron Helus -- it became clear that the forces driving this far-right rage fest at the local level are largely the same ones pushing the schools flap. Their motivations, grievances and behaviors are as familiar as they are exasperating, because they are at the dark heart of Trumpism (if not conservatism as a whole) nationwide. It’s up to us, as we head into 2020, to make sure those roots aren’t given more of a chance to take hold in the Conejo Valley -- even as we work to yank them from the ground across the country.

Invented Outrages in CVUSD & Oak Park 
CVUSD trustee Sandee Everett’s participation in an August forum that encouraged conservative-Christian parents to abandon public schools, in favor of homeschooling or parochial schools, is the centrifuge that has spun off the latest round of chaotic flailings by local extremists. They burst into this autumn frustrated by the defeat of their school board candidates last November; incensed by the criticism of Everett over that forum; and riled up by the state’s right-wing echo chamber, which spent the summer trafficking intentional misrepresentations of California's sexual-health guidelines.

Here's how they’ve spent the last six weeks:

  • Parroting Everett’s claims that an individual's gender-identity struggles are nothing more than “feelings,” devoid of grounding in physiology;

  • Railing against a health curriculum that exists solely in their twisted fantasies (since CVUSD hasn’t even begun implementing the state mandates);

  • Pushing for the censures of trustees Jenny Fitzgerald, Cindy Goldberg and Dr. Betsy Connolly, hoping to punish them for their public criticisms of Everett’s behavior;

  • Repeating false attacks on the Conejo Schools Foundation, an exceptional organization whose programs have benefited tens of thousands of students, even after their claims were debunked definitively by Superintendent Mark McLaughlin and district lawyers; and

  • Exporting their hostility toward the sexual-health guidelines to Oak Park, where the board and administration already have implemented sensible lessons on gender identity and LGBTQ+ awareness for students at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Indivisible: Conejo and our partners at Conejo Together are co-sponsoring a public forum on Sunday, October 20, that will address the gender-diversity and curriculum issues at the center of these disputes. Titled “Gender Identity and Our Public Schools: Separating Fact from Fiction,” it will feature experts on the relevant educational and LGBTQ+ issues, along with a panel discussion featuring local transgender and non-binary young people and adults. (See the event listing elsewhere in this newsletter.) 


Unpacking the Motivations Behind These Attacks
Even as we prepare for that forum, and as we sort through the hullabaloo over the canceled “Blue Bowl” football tournament, an existential question hovers over the events of the last two months: Why? Why has the local right wing chosen these particular targets (including the students most vulnerable to bullying and self-harm, a beloved nonprofit that touches almost every local family’s life, even Thousand Oaks’ outstanding chief of police), and chosen to go after them in such a reckless and unhinged fashion?

The answers, at least in one case, may begin with sincerity – a real (if misguided) moral opposition to equality and safety for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals. But there’s nothing sincere about the falsehoods they’ve circulated concerning materials to be included in the sexual-health curriculum. Their behavior may be grounded in fury over their defeats of the last year, and a vindictiveness that aims to destroy everything in their path. (For example, the deceptive attacks on the Conejo Schools Foundation reek of vengeance for the failed school board campaign of Amy Chen, who was roundly condemned for concocting a fake position as a nonprofit executive in order to claim qualifications she hadn't earned.)

But there’s even more going on here – especially when one notices that conservatives across the state are contriving similar outrages concerning the health curricula in their own school districts, as well as the flimsy excuses being invented to launch recall efforts such as the one targeting City Councilwoman Ruth Luevanos in Simi Valley, or Gov. Gavin Newsom statewide. What we’re seeing, in a way that transcends the details of our local battles, is an increasingly desperate grab for power among conservatives who feel unfairly disempowered in progressive California – accompanied by a wholesale commitment to the chaos, norm-shattering and corruption that define Trumpism.

The right wing believes it has a two-lane path back to power, in a state where voters have clearly rejected the Republican Party’s values. The first strategy is to undermine democracy, using recalls (which typically engender low turnout and highly negative campaigning) to overturn legitimate electoral results and oust progressive leaders. The second strategy, which would play out over a longer term, is to invent “scandals” to undermine progressive elected officials as well as state and local policies, then appeal to moderate voters by portraying California’s (i.e., Democrats’) values as untenable on education, immigration, policing and other issues.

Seeing Red Over the “Blue Bowl” 
This past week’s flag-football controversy perfectly exemplifies these efforts: An event that was supposed to pay tribute to Borderline victim Sgt. Ron Helus, and benefit his family, instead turned into the springboard for right-wing wrath. The organizers, from a Florida-based startup nonprofit called Fallen Officers, initially had gained the support of Helus’ widow, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, T.O. Police Chief Tim Hagel, and Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin. Then, however, the organizers invited two “celebrity” Trump supporters to participate -- actor Scott Baio and singer Joy Villa – and raised an enormous red flag by inviting defeated 2018 Assembly candidate Ronda Kennedy as well.

According to the T.O. Acorn, when he learned those names had been added to the program, Sheriff Ayub decided that an ostensibly nonpartisan event had been turned completely over to politics. He recommended that Hagel, Irwin and the Helus family withdraw their participation – which set off a venomous social-media campaign by the event’s organizers, slamming Hagel and Irwin with accusations ranging from cowardice to racism. Those irrational accusations were picked up by right-wing media nationwide, leading to an unwarranted social-media “dogpile” of criticism that still hasn’t settled down completely.

The search for facts in this fiasco has been complicated by the organizers’ dissembling. But one fact is clear: Baio, Villa and Kennedy have no credible place in a non-partisan setting in our community, and had no business being invited to participate in this event. Baio had slunk into obscurity after his days as Chachi and "Charles in Charge" until he somehow became Trump's highest-profile Hollywood endorser; Villa has no local ties, unlike dozens of just-as-talented Conejo natives who could have sung the National Anthem without bringing such hyper-partisan baggage.

Ayub, Hagel and Irwin, no matter their political affiliations, are leaders in our region – “dignitaries,” so to speak -- so it shouldn't have been necessary to scour the landscape for similarly prominent Republicans to demonstrate the "unity" organizers claimed they were seeking. Still, Pastor Rob McCoy, currently serving as Thousand Oaks’ (nonpartisan) mayor, certainly could have served as such a Republican dignitary. (To his credit, McCoy has distributed a strongly worded statement dismissing right-wing criticisms of Ayub and Hagel’s handling of this situation.)

But who, precisely, decided that Ronda Kennedy was an appropriate stand-in? She enjoys no "celebrity" or local prominence; has no real history of support for law-enforcement causes, and was nowhere to be seen after the Borderline tragedy; and has never held elected office. To make matters worse, her performance during the 2018 campaign against Irwin was notoriously caustic and dishonorable, even by the standards of contemporary politics. It was stained by wild and unfounded accusations against Irwin, the media, and anyone who crossed her.

Indeed, the vile tenor of this past week’s diatribes, from the Fallen Officers organizers and from right-wingers on social media, has been remarkably similar to the low character of Kennedy’s candidacy … as though they were operating from the same playbook. (Kennedy herself has taken this opportunity to fling more baseless charges of racism at Irwin, and Democrats in general, simply because Kennedy and Villa are African-American -- conveniently erasing the very-much-white Baio from the equation.)

Kennedy has decided to launch another (unpromising) run in 2020, this time for Congress against Rep. Julia Brownley, but that candidacy still doesn't entitle her to share a stage with people of Irwin, Ayub and Hagel’s stature. In an earlier era, supporters of both parties recognized this privilege of status: An elected or highly placed government official is not expected, nor would even be asked, to appear publicly with such an antagonist, much less a defeated opponent whose professionalism was so questionable. Is that “elitist”? Perhaps, but it’s a tradition acknowledging that the stature of a public office should engender a basic level of respect for the person holding it. This seems to be another norm that California Republicans are intent on demolishing -- so it’s impressive that Ayub, Hagel and Irwin refused to play along.

How We Must Respond
Kennedy’s undignified response to recent events has been amplified by her principal supporters in 2018 – members of the frequently unhinged Conservative Moms of Conejo Valley group who were responsible for running important aspects of her campaign, and who did much of her dirty work on social media. Unsurprisingly, they’re also among the loudest voices behind the attacks on the CVUSD board and the Conejo Schools Foundation, and they've even inserted themselves into the deranged ravings against Ruth Luevanos in Simi Valley.

When one connects these dots – and it hardly requires a conspiracy theory on the level of “QAnon” to do so – it becomes clear how Trumpism is playing out at the local level in 2019: in a momentary outrage over a football tournament, in cooked-up controversies over school curriculum and a cherished nonprofit, in the over-the-top response to Luevanos' support for immigrants' rights, and in ways we haven't anticipated yet. The disputes created by the far right are reductive and duplicitous, and they can be difficult to fight within the short word counts inherent to social-media argument.

We're going to need to offer much more than that. As advocates for truth, sanity and progressive values, it will be our job over the next 14 months to engage all our energy and intellect to offer our community clarity in the face of distortion, and reality in the face of delusion. This is the challenge of our times, and the mission for which we've built this organization and all our capabilities. 2020 is coming. Are we up for it?


MARK YOUR CALENDAR!

INDIVISIBLE: CONEJO DEBATE WATCH PARTY
Tuesday, October 15, 5 p.m.
Westlake Village
RSVP for the address!


The Democratic Party and CNN, in their wisdom, have decided to cram a dozen candidates onto one stage for the next presidential debate. That means we'll have just one Debate Watch Party, Oct. 15 in Westlake Village. Once again, we'll start the party at 5 p.m. and hit the "Play" button on the DVR at about 5:30. That'll give you time to participate in the pregame Pasta Poll, drop $10 in the kitty for food & drink, and sample the evening's signature cocktail!


GENDER IDENTITY & OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS: SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION

A Conejo Together / Indivisible: Conejo Public Forum
Sunday, October 20, 3 p.m.
Lundring Event Center, CLU
RSVP here!


See details elsewhere in this newsletter!


"VOICES OF A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES"
Fri. & Sat., Oct. 11 & 12, 8 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 13, 3 p.m.
Chalice Community Forum, 3327 Old Conejo Road, Newbury Park
Get tickets

 
We've been looking forward to Chalice's presentation of a theatrical piece based on Howard Zinn's best-selling book "A People's History of the United States."  Co-written by Zinn & Anthony Arnove, the play features the words of activists and dissidents who've spoken out against injustice, wars and oppression: slave turned abolitionist Sojourner Truth, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, Nez Perce tribe leader Chief Joseph, labor organizer Emma Goldman, once-interned Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama, Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Greta Thunberg.


MEET KATIE PORTER AT A T.O. FUNDRAISER
Sunday, October 13, 9 a.m.
Thousand Oaks
RSVP to receive address


Indivisible activist Trudy Wolfe is hosting this breakfast reception for Rep. Porter (CA-45) at her home in Thousand Oaks, supporting Porter's re-election campaign and celebrating her whirlwind first year on Capitol Hill. Contributions begin at $100, and you'll receive the address after you RSVP via the ActBlue website.


IMPEACH NOW! RALLY IN VENTURA
Sunday, October 13, 1-3 p.m.
Ventura County Government Center

We need to show Congress there is broad resistance to Trump’s crimes. Join us with your best signs and American flags!


ICE OUT OF VENTURA COUNTY -
ACTION AT BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MEETING
Tuesday, October 22, 3:15-6 p.m.
County Government Center, Ventura


Despite the passage two years ago of SB 54, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department still collaborates too much with Trump's deportation regime. This meeting of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors will feature the VCSD's annual accounting of its implementation of SB 54 and its relationship with ICE. 805 Immigrant, CAUSE, MICOP and Buen Vecino are sponsoring this protest, followed by participation in the meeting.


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IndivConejo Launches Voter's Guide

For Nonpartisan 2020 Races

Indivisible: Conejo is developing a Nonpartisan Voter Resource Guide for the Conejo Valley and Ventura County, and is preparing to gather information concerning incumbents and challengers running for elected offices across the region in 2020. We're looking for volunteers to help implement the guide: reaching out to candidates and managing their completion of a questionnaire, collecting biographical information, and helping compile the guide itself. If you're interested in contributing to this effort, please contact Bill Lasarow at artscene@artscenecal.com

This project began with the concern that voters frequently know little about candidates below the top of the ballot, particularly in local races. All too often, this lack of awareness results in miscast votes, or no votes at all, in races that actually carry great importance in our daily lives.

The questionnaire that will be sent to announced candidates will help illuminate their political outlooks, intentions for governing, and the personal values they'll bring to the issues they will face. We will use the Voters’ Guide to help:

1. Determine endorsements by Indivisible and other progressive organizations in the area.

2. Promote awareness of issues of vital interest to voters.

3. Improve voter turnout and increase informed voting in down-ballot races.

We'll encourage candidates to use the resource as well, to help build positive relationships with other candidates and political organizations, and to identify ways in which a campaign’s message and values can best match the issues of greatest interest to prospective constituents.

Great thanks to Bill Lasarow for launching and shepherding this project! We look forward to working with our volunteers in the Conejo and across the region to make this Voter Guide a huge success.