BY KAREN OCAMB | First Lady Michelle Obama choked up delivering her final message to young people from the White House on Friday. “For all the young people in this room and those who are watching, know that this country belongs to you. To all of you,” she said. “Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter. Or that you don’t have a place in our American story—because you do. And you have a right to be exactly who you are.”
It was as if the First Lady was viscerally aware of the tremendous spike in the volume of calls to the Trans Lifeline and the Trevor Project suicide prevention helpline since Election Night when it became clear that Donald Trump would become the next President of the United States. “Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered,” Michelle Obama said, adding that “the power of hope, the belief that something better is always possible if you’re willing to work for it and fight for it….is what moves this country forward every single day.”
Eric Bauman — the openly gay Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party since 2009 — has been delivering a similar message for 25 years, perhaps leaning more into the “fight” part during his rousing speeches. A few days after Trump’s shocking election, Bauman, chair of the important Los Angeles Democratic Party since 2000, reiterated his call to Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators to adopt safeguards against Trump’s “dystopian worldview” and anticipated efforts by the capricious Trump to roll back hard won gains in healthcare, immigration and climate change.
“Several months ago, I facetiously called on Governor Brown to build a wall around California to keep Donald Trump out,” Bauman wrote in a statement reported by the L.A. Times on Nov. 11, 2016. “Today, on a more serious note, I sincerely call on Governor Brown and our Legislature to build a metaphorical legal wall to keep our residents safe from the grim and cynical vision that Donald Trump has laid out for America.”
Bauman was blunt, as usual. “The election of Donald Trump ushers in one of darkest eras in our nation’s modern political history,” he wrote. “Many across the state and country are frightened, and they are right to feel that way.”
The fear is real. The LGBT community nationwide is grappling with how to respond to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s anticipated introduction of the First Amendment Defense Act, a federal anti-LGBT “religious liberty bill” which Trump has promised to sign, and more than the 200 anti-LGBT bills in state legislatures in 2016. Over the holidays, for instance, a Texas federal judge issued an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of protections for transgender people and women seeking an abortion under the Affordable Care Act.
“We expect the volume to continue to rise in 2017, both because we have more conservative state governments than in the past, and also since our side defeated an overwhelming majority of bills in 2016,” ACLU Advocacy and Policy Counsel Eunice Rho told CNN.
Gov. Brown has made it clear he won’t back down to Trump, especially around climate change and legislative leaders issued a joint statement noting that millions of Californians “overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny. The largest state of the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy has shown it has its surest conscience as well. California is – and must always be – a refuge of justice and opportunity for people of all walks, talks, ages and aspirations – regardless of how you look, where you live, what language you speak, or who you love. And California will defend its people and our progress.”
To that end, state officials hired Eric Holder on Wednesday to defend California against intrusions by Trump or his administration. “Having the former attorney general of the United States brings us a lot of firepower in order to prepare to safeguard the values of the people of California,” Kevin de León, the Democratic leader of the Senate, told the New York Times. “This means we are very, very serious.”
And if Bauman is elected Democratic Party chair at the Democratic Convention on May 18, it will be his job to keep the state in Democratic hands. Right now, Democrats control both chambers and hold every statewide elected office.
Fortuitously for him—and perhaps because of his rigorous ability to listen to others—the state party is not engaging in the same kind of circular firing squad as the conflicted National Democratic Party appears to be experiencing. But while Bauman seems to have a lock on the election as a recognized state leader, he is working for every vote, showing up at almost every event, and reaching out to the many independent and unaffiliated voters tired of politics as usual.
To crib from an old feminist saying, for Bauman, the personal is political. A registered nurse with a graduate education in health care administration and hospital experience in trauma and intensive care units, he co-founded Consultants in Nursing Services Administration, a health care management consulting firm, with his now-husband Michael Andraychak in 1990—the height of the second wave of AIDS. He served as President of Stonewall Democratic Club from 1994 to 2001, during which time he was instrumental in getting Gray Davis elected governor over his millionaire opponents, earning the title “king-maker” in many political circles. He went on to serve Davis as a Special Assistant, LGBT liaison and director of Davis’ L.A. office, then John Garamendi as both Insurance Commissioner and Lt. Gov; followed by service as senior advisor to Assembly Speakers John Perez, Toni Atkins, and now Anthony Rendon.
Like Michelle Obama, Bauman is trying to spread the word about the importance for regular people, as well as activists, to “get and stay active. Do not crawl into a ditch and hide. It’s OK to not watch TV for a while. But do not be afraid,” he says. “California doesn’t have to let the Trumpist mentality and allowing bigots and racists to take over our state. This state is a progressive icon for all our nation.”
Find groups and people who think like you and share ideas and activities. Create opportunities, he says. “Most of all, there has to be resistance. People need to speak out and challenge the prospect of Trump’s personal behavior becoming normal.”
Get engaged, Bauman says. Consider joining the California Democratic Party, which “puts people first and supports creating opportunities for everybody, no matter who they are, where came from, how got here, what their economic status is, and who they love.”
Bauman is also trying to reach out to voters who have no party preference, using refreshed messaging on non-partisan issues such as healthcare and education affordability initiatives as linkage.
Bauman is also keenly aware of his leadership in and for the LGBT community. The past five years, in particular, have seen the “rapid normalizing of gay people. You can see it in the percent of those who support marriage equality or who know someone gay. Now it is normal for a millennial to see a gay couple on TV.
And like Michelle Obama, Bauman sees the hope for the future in the progress that’s already been made. For instance, his Orthodox Jewish broker just matter-of-factly to Bauman that his husband Michael would have to sign documents, too. “That is very, very telling about the transformation of the world,” Bauman says.
The importance now, Bauman says, is for LGBT people to become engaged in issues and with communities beyond the LGBT community. He notes that Assembly Speaker Rendon appointed out Assemblymember Evan Low to chair the committee on elections and reapportionment. “That means this 30 year old gay Asian man from the Silicon Valley will have his imprint there for the entire decision-making process for our new election laws and the reapportionment battles for 2020,” Bauman says. “Folks from our community must engage at all different levels of government and politics, providing critical input at Democratic Party meetings and be fully integrated into everything—as it should be. We have to be part of it all to make sure our voices are heard.”
But, Bauman notes emphatically, “we can’t do it alone. For us to be successful, we have to work in partnership with young people, the donor class, the grassroots class—we can’t do it alone,” he says, underscoring the need for coalition building, “making a place at the table with other people, every other interest group.
But, Bauman says, adding a nudge of empowerment, “if we can’t hear their voice, we can’t help them.”