Monday, February 09, 2009

Does CARE care? Nope...

(First a little blog administrivia; I disabled comments on BB Church’s Funhouse last year but I thought a discussion about this California mess is appropriate and changed the settings. Nothing happened. I just noticed that comments are allowed on my last blog post, so hopefully they will be for this one and all posts going forward.)

I posted the full content of Jean Strauss’ email to her troops, or at least twenty of them who attended a Sacramento meeting earlier this year, here. I commented on their website here. Bastardette has her own take on CARE on her blog...

After wading through all this what I was waiting for, as a California adoptee whose rights and records are at stake in this enterprise, is a statement explaining what gives CARE the moral authority to advocate for compromises to my rights. There is nothing in this letter, or their website, that addresses the fundamental question: Who are they to say that its ok for some adoptees to get their records and some not? I certainly never gave CARE permission to negotiate over whether I’m subject to a contact veto or a disclosure veto. Neither did the millions of other California adoptees, past, present and future, who will have to live under whatever regime CARE deems fit for them.

CARE is without a credible base of support and has not articulated a clear and precise vision of what the legislation they’re advocating will do. They are self-described amateurs with little knowledge or expertise in organizing or issue lobbying… my next question is why are they doing this in the first place? And since it’s a question that I don’t anticipate will be answered, and one I that I can only speculate to answer, I have to move on to the next question, which is what can I do about it?

I am not going to attempt to lead or organize a challenge to CARE within the adoption reform community, like CARE I have forfeited the authority to do so. I will still assert my rights as an individual and will fight anyone who threatens them by any means necessary.

Below is my commentary on the Strauss email. Portions of her email are in quotes and italicized. My responses are not, duh.

“Dear Everyone:”

What I like best about the Jean Strauss/CARE email is the opening, it could be the title of a dreamy Pink Floyd song. Things deteriorate pretty quickly after this inclusive salutation, though… If this were a letter it would be on pink paper, “Dear everyone, half of you are fired!”…

“Your support (and the support of many others) will be the only way to achieve our goal of providing access to original birth records for as many California adult adoptees 18 and older as possible.”

Here’s where CARE articulates clearly what their website mumbles semi-coherently. CARE is not going to fight for access for all California adoptees, they are going to fight for access for some California adoptees. Or as many as they can get, leaving the rest to suck hind tit or fall off the sow. Note that CARE doesn’t specify how many would make them happy. Is it 80%? Is it 50% +1? Less than that? Who knows? Does CARE care?

“Our bill was submitted the third week of January, and we have an enthusiastic and very distinguished author in Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, the Majority Whip of the Assembly…”

“Our effort is a professional one, not a grassroots one. We are being guided through the labyrinth of the California legislature by Stephanie Williams, a lobbyist with over two decades of experience walking the halls in Sacramento. Our strategy, language, and any ultimate success, will be largely due to her expertise and hard work. We would not be where we are without her, and supporting her is an important aspect of our membership.”

What membership? It’s one thing for a robust grassroots movement to engage professionals to advocate with them in the legislature, it’s another for a small group with no demonstrable base of support to saddle a legislator, kick in the spurs and holler “Giddyup!”

Legislators are politicians, and California legislators are highly skilled politicians who know where their power lays; it’s in their base. They read endorsement lists like a Zoarasterian priest divining a goat’s intestines. They wake up in the morning counting votes and voters. I’ve worked with and for several of these folks, on issue campaigns and to get them elected. I know how they think. The first question they’re going to be asking themselves when confronted by CARE, a group they’ve never heard of, is “Who is their base? How big is it?” Hint: CARE doesn’t have one. Worse, it doesn’t want one.

If a group doesn’t have an active base then it will easily lose control of the process. If CARE’s legislative author decides to take a detour to Tijuana on their trip to the Promised Land, what can they do to stop her? At this point, nothing, nada, zip, they’ve handed her the car keys and locked themselves in the trunk, happy just to be along for the ride. CARE states in several places in this letter that they don’t have a firm grasp on the process, so they’ve lost control right out of the gate.

If you have no base, you have no credibility. Even your sponsor will treat you like a joke.

“One of the first hurdles we have to overcome as a group is how to educate others within the adoption reform movement about the strategy we are undertaking in California. It will be crucial to our success that people understand that our strategy in the California Adoption Reform Effort is solely based upon the legislative process that exists and what will work within that process. Hence, this is not an effort to 'right a wrong' or a 'fight for our Constitutional rights'. Our approach is a non-emotional one based upon statistical and empirical data. Thus, ours is 'an effort to update an antiquated and outdated policy established in 1935 (the sealing of adoptee birth records) so as to be able to provide adult adoptees with information about their origins so that they will have the ability to know their ethnicity, their nationality, their exact date and time of birth, and their original name as a protection against potential incest.'”

If CARE isn’t going to argue that California’s adult adoptees have some sort of right to access their original birth certificates, and instead argues that they have a “need” to access an assortment of data points contained in their OBC, then they shouldn’t be surprised if the legislature simply amends the existing statutes regarding the provision of non-indentifying information to specifically state that data. Occam's Razor, and all that... But then CARE slips in that they're asking for the original name “as a protection against potential incest”, which is neither empirically nor statistically significant, and is instead a transparent ruse to get at OBCs. One thing California legislators are not is dumb. If I can see it, so can they. The difference is that I don’t have a privacy fetish…

“The difference in language (and emotion) will be necessary within the confines of the legislative process. The results will be what we want to achieve - even though we're not using the 'language' we're used to using to express our needs.”

Needs, wishes and desires… This is the “non-emotional” lexicon of CARE. Waving the bloody shirt of potential incest isn’t “emotional”, nope… What I need are my rights, the rest of this stuff is nobody's business.

“This is not an easy thing to ask of all of you, and yet it will be an important contribution of each of you to this effort if you are able to master it. I realize the italicized text above doesn't verbally capture the emotional impact that sealed records have had upon adoptees who've faced a lifetime of secrets, nor does this language relay how those secrets have often eroded self esteem and contributed to a the feeling of 'second class citizenry'. I know many of you are interested in being involved in access legislation because you believe access to your original information (all of it) is your constitutional right, and the constitutional right of your children. I am with you. Yet I believe we must use tools that will help us get the job done. The language of 'constitutional and civil rights' commonly used in access legislation appeals stands in direct opposition to the California Constitution. If we use this approach, we will, I have become convinced, fail.”

If an individual believes that it’s their civil right to be able to be able to access their government held documents of identity, why would they support CARE, which has a different vision entirely? If an individual believes that it’s their human right to know their identity, why would they support CARE, which pays lip service to the concept in one sentence and then proclaims that they are ready to toss those rights out a window as soon as they can find one open?

“Many might say that this 'quieter' and very precise language and strategy was not needed in other states which have achieved openness, and many may wonder why Oregon, our neighbor, could succeed without having to play this 'game'. In Oregon, a single donor helped fund a statewide measure which was voted upon by citizens. To do that in California would cost between $3 and $30 million - and the result would most likely be the same as Oregon's: a lawsuit would be brought that the proposition is unenforcable because it would be unconstitutional. Oregon was able to prevail in their lawsuit, and much of the legal debate was elegant and helps our cause. But it does not address the very real difference between our two states constitutions. A similar legal battle in California would be far less likely to end in a positive outcome.”

“The first amendment of California's Constitution is all about privacy. Privacy is so important in our state that there are even privacy committees. We may be the only state in the Union with such a strict and overriding concern regarding privacy. To pass our bill, we will have to address the privacy obstacles that will be in our path.”

Well here’s the deal. The case law regarding the California constitution’s privacy amendment actually looks pretty good for us. I don’t know where CARE is getting their advise on constitutional issues, but I offered the California working group at the AAC National Conference last year in Portland a binder of historical material and case law on Open Records and the California constitution compiled in 2000 by 16 lawyers from Heller Ehrman LLC (RIP), no slouches at the time when it came to government relations and constitutional law, with a brief arguing that California’s constitutional privacy amendment was no impediment to Open Records (yeah, I'm calling a spade a spade. We are talking about Open Records for Adult Adoptees here. Go ahead and arrest me, Language Police Division of CARE, I dare you...), but no one in the working group wanted to take it from me. Since this ten-pound document was doing me no good sitting in a box in my Oregon garage, I donated it to Bastard Nation. Last November, I heard through a surrogate that CARE really, truly, wanted it after all, and I told the surrogate that they’d have to ask BN. I guess they can go piss up a rope for it now, since they’ve thrown BN, and anybody else that believes that adoptees actually have rights, under the bus.

Now, if you talk to legislators they’re going to tell you differently. They view things through a political prism, and their polls and focus groups tell them it never hurts for them to be seen on the side of privacy, it’s like putting photos of themselves with kids and a golden lab on their campaign brochures. Privacy = Good. It’s axiomatic. For politicians privacy is a loaded term that can mean everything from underpinning Roe v Wade to keeping damaging corporate secrets safe from whistleblowers and a curious public. If you can massage their apprehensions enough to get a clean bill passed, which means getting sign-offs from constituencies that have privacy-based concerns, then you’ll have far fewer problems if it gets to the courts. But CARE is using the flat-earth model, with a map with a lot of hazy marginal areas that say, “Here there be monsters”…

“We have submitted a clean bill (this means it has no amendments or compromises attached to it). We are asking for one thing and one thing only: that every adult adoptee over the age of 18 be allowed to have a non-certified copy of their original record of birth. It is a simple bill - but it is not an easy challenge. I know there are some for whom compromise represents a 'sellout'. You probably should not join C.A.R.E. We welcome your support, and we want a clean bill, but we are already facing very complicated maneuverings which will probably mean we are facing some compromise. There is going to be little room for debate on this if the time comes - we are being represented by a legislator who is in this to pass the legislation, not to make a statement.”

I have to stop right here, mid-paragraph. Let’s get real. CARE has a lobbyist who has convinced Fiona Ma to carry their bill. Assemblywoman Ma is committed to passing some legislation, so she will do what it takes, make compromises and she’s been given the green light by CARE. At this point there are only two ways this has been negotiated between CARE and MA; either CARE knows exactly which fall-back positions Assemblywoman Ma will take as the bill moves forward and has signed off on them, or CARE doesn’t know and doesn't care. If it’s the first scenario, what compromises have been discussed? Which compromises are acceptable to CARE and which would not be acceptable? Are there any compromises that would be unacceptable? And if it’s the second scenario, if CARE has simply put themselves at the discretion of their author, then they are just pathetic.

A quote occurs to me (I can’t attribute it, dammit), “Now that we’ve determined that you’re a prostitute, the only thing left to discuss is your price…”

So let’s get down to business. Will CARE accept disclosure or white-out vetoes? Will CARE accept contact vetoes? Will CARE accept tiered-access, with adoptees born in some eras allowed access and others born later or earlier locked out? Or will CARE accept whatever comes along? Which states does CARE want to use as a model; Illinois? Massachusetts? These are answers CARE owes every California adoptee.

“I say this after only one day of walking the halls. Privacy has already come up. It is not the concern of just one legislator, it's the concern of every legislator we've encountered.
I say all this not to be discouraging but to be honest and clear. Our author and lobbyist need our support for the path they see to success. They are interested in helping our group provide access to original birth records to as many adult adoptees as possible, and I believe we have a good shot at succeeding if we can achieve a broad understanding among triad members and friends for the need for this strategy, and for the nuances of language that will be necessary to succeed at our goal.”

The reason that CARE has to walk this path is because they are as weak as a kitten. A strong wind would knock CARE off its feet and send it rolling down the street like a fajita wrapper from Taco Bell. Why is CARE negotiating from a position of such weakness?

“I know that many of you have taken the time to submit new language for our website and organization. Know we've been reviewing all of it and running it by the people who will be working this bill through the tricky seas ahead. What ends up on the website and in postings is going to be the result of legislative vetting.
I have often cited a quote of Thoreau's when trying to help people understand that triad members are the voices which should be listened to as adoption policy is revised. To highly paraphrase Thoreau,

To navigate an ocean we should seek the counsel of shipwrecked mariners rather than find our way based on the advice of those who've never been out of sight of land.”

This is really too much. In the paragraph above Strauss tells potential CARE supporters that they have to learn a brand new dance step and lexicon that has no foundation in their existential realities and then she says that their voices should be listened to. And then she says that we need to trust the professionals! Since when have professionals cut a good deal for adoptees?

“Our lobbyist and author are the mariners who must chart this course. They know, much better than any of us, how to navigate these waters. Only through their wise counsel and honesty will we arrive at our destination.”

CARE has a wild 20 MPH underhand slo-pitch and a bench that couldn’t hit its way through a Jr. T-Ball tournament but because they have an experienced manager and coach they think they belong in the Big Leagues.

Back in 2000 I had lunch with Joe Cerrell and Hal Dash from Cerrell and Associates, they pitched me a three-month lobbying campaign they thought would get what Cal Open wanted over rack of lamb at the Esquire Grill. They said it would cost 35K, plus an additional 35K for incidentals (print, media, et al). Cerrell, a lion in Cali politics, asked who our base was, and when I told him he said, "Ah, do-gooders". At the time of our lunch we already had a bill in play, and I swiftly came to the conclusion that Cerrell's strategy would have worked but we didn't have the time window necessary to raise the money. I got a good lunch out of it, and a chance to sit with a couple of the Great Ones. If CARE had done their homework, and had taken time to build their organization and fundraised ahead of time, they might have positioned themselves favorably. As it stands, they are headed to the plate with a cracked bat and a bad contact lens prescription...

Later boners…


Blogger Marley Greiner said...

Agbolutely breathtaking, BB! I'll post more later!

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how you do it, Ron but I sure have missed your insights. Not only do you hit the nail on the head but you do it so damn eloquently. I have no connection to CA but I appreciate your writing and I hope that everyone who reads it will clearly see what is happening here. If CARE is to succeed, it will make all of the hard work in AL, NH & ME look like a waste of time.
Janet Allen

1:51 PM  
Blogger KL said...

I too am a California adoptee and I find this devastating!! I sure hope that we can get some sense into the powers that be so they will see the folly of this bill and instead create one that addresses all of us!

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The prostitute story is attributed to an anecdote about GB Shaw. It was also used by Groucho Marx but I can't remember the movie.

I've been to CARE's site and don't understand the part about "non-identifying" baby last names. I've emailed them for an explanation. Will update when and if I get one.

4:36 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

CARE's position is that the language used on their website was aimed, presumably by their lobbyist/executive director/ at the legislature, couched in code to move them past their fears and concerns over privacy. We are supposed to adopt this language, because it is good for us.

10:06 AM  
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2:44 AM  

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