Countless thousands of progressive San Franciscans have long lamented that Nancy Pelosi, while technically representing the city in Congress, does not truly represent them or their values. Hopes and hearts across the City by the Bay were lifted on Wednesday, however, when Shahid Buttar, a constitutional lawyer, online privacy advocate and longtime activist, officially announced he was challenging Pelosi in the 2020 Democratic primary to represent California’s 12th district in the House of Representatives.
Buttar addressed an enthusiastic gathering of supporters at an art gallery in San Francisco’s SoMa district, showing off a bit of his artistic side — in his free time he is a DJ, musician and spoken word poet — by leading the crowd in a chant of a rap that began, “If you wanna see a doctor, it should be free, health care is a right, not a commodity!”
“I don’t need to tell you that our communities are in crisis, because you probably know that every 15 seconds in the United States someone is going bankrupt because they got sick,” Buttar began. “The leading cause of homelessness is medical costs. How barbaric is it that in the country that is supposed to be the richest in the world there are people without shelter because they got sick?”
He then noted how Pelosi “is committed to the interests of for-profit health insurance companies before the health of patients.”
Next Buttar tackled an issue that affects most Bay Area residents, the high cost of housing.
“We used to invest billions of dollars per year [in affordable housing],” he said. “The budget for those programs has fallen on the order of 80 percent during Nancy Pelosi’s tenure in Washington.”
Addressing what is arguably the greatest existential crisis confronting humanity, Buttar, who backs the Green New Deal, lamented that “our species is in crisis because we are more committed to fossil fuel extraction than we our to the lives of your children and your grandkids.”
“Climate change is not just a threat to future generations,” he asserted. “People are dying today from the effects of climate change.” Buttar then blasted Pelosi for “deriding the only visionary solution that’s been proposed to the climate crisis as a dream.”
Buttar then discussed the fight for LGBTQ rights, mass incarceration and the creeping police state.
“In a land that claims to be free and home of the brave we in fact live in the land of the police and the home of prison slaves,” he said. “That is the reality of the United States today and I don’t expect the incumbent to know it.”
As director of grassroots advocacy for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), online privacy issues are right in Buttar’s wheelhouse. He slammed government surveillance and corporations as “essential threats to our freedom,” reminding the crowd that he has “spent the last 15 years of my life fighting intelligence agencies in courts, in Congress in the streets and with you.”
“Watching Nancy Pelosi vote against proposed surveillance reforms made me want to quit my job and run against her,” he said. And he did.
Buttar, who immigrated with his family from Pakistan and grew up in rural Missouri before graduating from the University of Chicago and Stanford Law School, is making his second run for Congress. However, he entered the 2018 race late in the game yet still managed to secure the second-highest number of votes of any Democrat in the primary and more than any other Democratic challenger to Pelosi. His campaign is hoping that with increased familiarity and the historic leftward shift of much of the US electorate — as seen in the election of democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — he will be able to rally San Franciscans around the progressive values that have made the city a national and global leader on so many issues.
Some of Buttar’s backers, almost all of them committed activists, gave short speeches contrasting the candidate with Pelosi.
“I want my representative to actually represent me,” supporter Ilica Mahajan said, explaining why she will vote for Buttar. “We the workers need to fight back, and as a socialist, he’s fighting for workers.”
“We need a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, housing for all, an end to racism and imperialism,” Mahajan added. “You can’t do that if you’re a capitalist.”
Brian Hofer, chairman of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission, touted Buttar’s history of being a tireless online privacy advocate, said that “the difference between Shahid and Nancy Pelosi couldn’t be more stark.”
“She’s never seen a mass surveillance bill she didn’t like, and she’s voted for every US military action,” he explained.
Rusha Latif, a researcher who studies popular movements and who participated in protests in Tahrir Square, Egypt, hailed Buttar as “an ally in the fight against colonialism, occupation and neoliberalism.”
Palestinian-American activist Lara Kiswani agreed, adding that Buttar “will throw down against war and intervention.” Buttar is an outspoken critic of Israeli crimes in Palestine and has endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
Valerie Ibarra, a producer and host at internet radio station Mutiny Radio, said that Buttar “will fight the corporate-captured two party system that fails to meet the needs of everyday citizens.”
“Pelosi will not push for Medicare for All because she’s not negotiating with the corporations, she’s negotiating for them,” Ibarra said. “She’s been here for 30 years; she’s part of a problematic system.”
Gloria Berry, a veteran of the US military, law enforcement and the tech industry, said she was drawn to Buttar because “not only does he just mention race, he also articulated the problem and offered solutions.” The former San Quentin prison guard said she was particularly concerned with police use of force.
“He’s a visionary and he’s also pragmatic,” said Jim Pugh, co-founder of the Universal Income Project. “He knows we need fundamental systemic change.”
Buttar is hoping to harness that desire for change and upset Pelosi. It will be a grueling uphill battle, but one which he is confident can be won through the strength of a people-powered campaign that lays out a stark choice between business as usual — the business of greed, violence and ecological destruction — and the better world that so many residents of a city of dreamers believe is possible.
For more information on Shahid Buttar’s campaign, visit www.shahidforchange.us