By Michael Feinstein. Inside/Outside. May. 23, 2016

It might not be like the original Woodstock in 1969 – where millions now say they were there, when in reality it was (only!) “half a million strong.” But if you were part of the official opening of the Expo light rail line to Santa Monica this past weekend, you were truly part of history. Not only was the opening of Expo a victory for public transit, but a victory against racism and classism in our region as well.

Back in 1989, today’s Expo reality was mostly a dream, and potential segments were under hot debate. At that time, many envisioned the route to Santa Monica passing through Rancho Park and Westwood, with a stop near the Westside Pavilion, as well as easy bus connections to nearby UCLA and jobs at Wilshire/Westwood.

Expo light rail forum

In September 1989, I attended an Expo light rail forum at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in West Los Angeles, with more than 500 people in attendance. To say the atmosphere was uncomfortably tense would be an understatement, as local opposition came out in force.

As one letter in the LA Times described it: “Organizers of this staged event whipped the crowd into an anti-rail frenzy as they denounced the proposed rail line. The only person allowed to speak on its behalf was Neil Peterson, executive director of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. He was often interrupted and shouted down.”

The event also had a specific anti-Santa Monica dimension. Two months before, the councilmember from that district was quoted in the LA Times saying that the Expo Line was “a bald-faced attempt by the city of Santa Monica to ram something down the throats of the city of Los Angeles.”

Why were so many opposed to light rail in general, and specifically running through that community? Some made the traditional arguments – LA is a car culture, LA is designed differently, and public transit doesn’t pay for itself.

Dog-whistle racism

But there was also a dog-whistle racism among some (not all!) in attendance about not having “those people” coming to the Westside Pavilion on the Expo Line, and that light rail would bring down property values – the kind of dog-whistle racism the Trump presidential campaign has given a platform to in 2016.

Whenever any of the speakers mentioned Santa Monica, the crowd jeered. During the question and answer period, a few were foolish enough to identify themselves as being from Santa Monica. The crowd turned on them with anger and vengeance. Anyone there from Santa Monica could feel it. I know I did.

When I think back to that forum, I think of today’s Trump rallies, where Trump riles up the crowd in a hooligan-like manner against the media in the room – and how intimidated those vulnerable, unprotected journalists and camera people must feel – especially as they’ve watched attendees beaten at other Trump rallies.

Fascism in America

This is no joke. Trump wants to attack free speech and the First Amendment by weakening libel laws so wealthy people like him can sue the media when it is doing its job as the fourth estate of a healthy democracy.

Different people have definitions of fascism. But most include the attempt to eliminate a free and independent media. Public transit is an antidote to fascism, because it emphasizes our commonality – physically, by putting more of us in a common space (and heading towards a common destination), and economically, by proving more opportunity via the public sphere, which narrows the gap between the haves and have-nots.

This past weekend I ran into a young Latina at the 17th/SMC Expo station, that I know who works at the Co-opportunity organic food market on 16th/Broadway. For the last few years, she had been commuting from south of the I-10 freeway near Crenshaw. With three buses and connections, it took an hour and a half or more each way. Why did she make such a commute? Because she wanted to work at and learn from a co-op, and that kind of opportunity was not available in her community. Now, the Expo Line was going to cut her commute by more than half – and she will have an extra hour to be creative each day. Who knows what great contribution to society she may now make because of Expo?

Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and the political revolution

Addressing social inequities has also been a big part of the 2016 presidential campaign, and it comes to focus today in Santa Monica with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in town.

As a Green Party organizer who went through the Nader 2000 campaign, I am very familiar with being ignored as part of movement to democratize electoral politics and give more voice to the dispossessed. In many ways, the 2016 Sanders campaign has more in common with the Green Party platform and the Nader 2000 campaign, than with the mainstream Democratic Party. Sanders is riding the energy of the Occupy Wall Street. Nader’s campaign flowed from the Seattle, anti-WTO movement of 1999. The large grassroots rallies for both were mostly ignored by the media.

Now there is debate about how to “unify” the Democrats to beat Trump, and whether Sanders voters in the primary will vote for Clinton in the general. This is a false debate in California. Owing to the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College, only about a dozen states will be in play in November. California is not one of them. You are free to speak out against Trump, but still vote your issues in California without worrying it will elect him.

Presumptive Green Party nominee Jill Stein is campaigning on a Green New Deal to address climate change and create millions of ecologically-oriented local jobs, while cutting military spending and reigning in Wall Street. We still remember the half million strong from Woodstock. What if half a million progressive Californian’s said their revolution can’t be taken-for-granted, by voting in November for Stein.

Obama won California by 2.9 million votes in 2012. If Clinton only wins in 2016 by half of that, it still won’t be close – and what if at the same time, another half a million voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson instead of Donald Trump from the right? Not only would this kind of voting send more clear policy signals from the electorate, but it would accelerate the movement to enact ranked-choice voting (RCV) for president, governor and other executive office.

Needed electoral reform

Under RCV, voters can rank the candidates in the order of their preference. For the Democrats, instead of trying to get unenthusiastic Sanders supporters to turn out for Clinton in November, they would already be at the polls ranking Stein No. 1 under RCV. If Stein isn’t elected, under RCV her votes would then go to her voter’s second preference. The Clinton campaign would only have to encourage Stein/Sanders supporters to rank Clinton No. 2.

What about electoral reform for state and federal legislature? Countries with policies that Sanders advocates elect their state and federal representatives using multi-seat districts with proportional representation (PR), instead of the single seat, winner-take-all elections used in the U.S.

Under PR, if a party gets 20 percent of the vote, they get 20 percent of the seats, and more of the diversity in society gets representation. This is the opposite of trying to funnel all voters – including the large number of independents – into the Democratic and Republican party primaries, and then only having two choices in November. Instead we need a system where as many parties as truly represent the voters have a real chance at being elected.

Expo and democracy

The Expo line is making access to our transportation system more uniform, widespread, affordable and fair, Let’s find a way to do the same thing for our politics – inviting everyone aboard and ensuring a seat for all

Three part series on Santa Monica and the Expo Light Rail Line

Michael Feinstein is a former Santa Monica Mayor (2000-2002) and City Councilmember (1996-2004) and a spokesperson for the Green Party of California.  He can be reached via Twitter @mikefeinstein

Inside/Outside‘ is a periodic column about civic affairs Feinstein writes for the Daily Press, that takes advantage of his experience inside and outside of government.