Updated: Jan 8, 2021
Shervin Aazami, Blue America's newest 2022 congressional endorsee, is a young Iranian-American public health professional who was born in Italy, moved here at 4 and grew up in working class neighborhoods in Canoga Park and Chatsworth. Raised by his grandparents, Shervin told us that he learned the power of hard work watching his mom toil long hours in a department store to make ends meet for their family, and the power of service from his father who labored to become a family doctor for the community.
As a lifelong activist, Shervin's career has been committed to seeking justice and equity through the lens of public health. Before launching an exploratory committee for a run for Congress in the San Fernando Valley, Shervin served as the Director of Congressional Relations for a national Indigenous healthcare advocacy nonprofit where he fought for Congress to honor its treaty obligations to Tribal Nations and Indigenous people. I asked him to introduce himself to DWT readers today and tell us a little about how he sees the contours of the race and about the issues that are propelling him to run. If you like what you read, please consider contributing to his campaign by clicking on the 2022 Blue America congressional thermometer on the right.
A Progressive Vision For The San Fernando Valley
-by Shervin Aazami
After four years under a racist and xenophobic authoritarian, our nation is once again at a moral and political crossroads. But the immense challenges facing our nation-- from our costly and ineffective healthcare system, to the existential threat of climate change, to worsening racial and gender-based income inequality, to skyrocketing rates of houselessness, to our militaristic immigration system - did not start with Donald Trump. They have long preceded Donald Trump. The injustices in our nation are the rotten fruits borne out from the generational impacts of institutional racism, classism, and unfettered capitalism-- rotten fruits cultivated by broken leadership in Congress. Our elected leaders-- both Democratic and Republican-- have been financed and controlled by corporations and business executives who lobby for legislation that improves their bottom line at the direct expense of working class people.
Here in the San Fernando Valley, our community has directly experienced the destructive impact of corporate welfare on housing affordability, rates of poverty, and access to healthcare, to name a few. Brad Sherman has represented the San Fernando Valley in Congress for over 23 years, and California’s 30th Congressional District in particular since 2013. During his tenure, Rep. Sherman has failed to champion a single piece of progressive legislation to address the most pressing socioeconomic issues in our community. Instead, Sherman continues to raise hundreds of thousands from corporate donors including private equity firms, commercial banks, defense contractors, and agribusinesses that are actively thwarting action on progressive policies - like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and universal basic income-- that collectively aim to solve these challenges. Indeed, less than 1% of Rep. Sherman’s campaign contributions come from grassroots donors, while a whopping 78% are derived from corporations and their lobbyists.
We need new leadership here in the San Fernando Valley. We need bold, progressive policies that meet the needs of working class people. We need to take this fight to the highest levels of power. And we need to use every resource to build political movements for justice in our communities. This grassroots and people-first campaign is focused on exactly that-- creating a new political coalition here in the San Fernando Valley committed to transformative change to our systems of government.
Housing for All
Housing is an inherent human right. It is past time that our federal laws recognized that truth and worked to eradicate the systemic racial inequities in housing affordability and access. The generational impacts of redlining-- i.e. the century-old practice of state-sponsored housing segregation by race-- continues to play an outsized role in worsening racial wealth gaps, aided by gentrification policies that displace low-income communities of color the most. Our housing policy platform calls for enactment of the following policy changes:
Repeal the Faircloth Amendment and fully fund the repair and maintenance costs of existing public housing through green, energy-efficient improvements.
An austerity measure passed under the Clinton-era, the Faircloth Amendment has effectively banned the construction of public housing over the past two decades beyond their 1999 levels.
Provide full, permanent, entitlement-based funding for public housing agencies (PHAs), housing voucher programs, and Native American and Native Hawaiian housing programs.
Nearly 2 million people are on the waitlist for Section 8 housing vouchers due to stagnant federal funding-- a backlog that could last years and leave individuals and families in desperation. It is past due for Congress to fully fund these essential programs.
Provide a universal basic income of $1,000 monthly for every American making up to $150K annually, with higher payments for houseless and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Universal basic income (UBI) is a necessary tool for economic revitalization, and eradication of racial wealth disparities and poverty. Too many families are on the verge of economic ruin by virtue of a single major expense, and have to decide between food security and paying rent. UBI would give struggling families a leg up to live with dignity and improve their quality of life. Our platform calls for $1,000 in monthly UBI for every American making up to $150,000 annually, and $2,000 payments for houseless and formerly incarcerated individuals.
However, UBI should not be made available to millionaires and billionaires - especially when the falsehoods of trickle-down economics have been made so abundantly clear. While tuition-free college and single-payer healthcare should be extended to all Americans regardless of income, it is my view that education and healthcare represent essential government services that are separate and distinct.
Ban “exclusionary zoning” and strongly incentivize inclusionary zoning.
Ban discrimination based on tenant source of income, including public assistance.
Provide a tax break to renters paying over 30% of income to rent.
Prohibit landlords from enacting annual rent increases above 3% unless significant building improvements are made.
Too many predatory landlords are exploiting tenants by raising rent but failing to make a single change to housing units. Congress must step in and impose a national cap on rent increases at 3%, but allow for exemptions for landlords to raise rent by up to 5% if done in tandem with significant improvements to housing structure (i.e. maintenance, upgrades, transition to renewable energy sources, utility coverage, etc.).
Strengthen protections for LGBTQ+ individuals by closing loopholes that allow discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation and establish and fully fund a new federal housing program for LGBTQ+ communities and youth.
LGBTQ+ individuals, especially trans people of color, face significant discrimination in housing whereby landlords deny them available units, arbitrarily increase rental costs, sexually harass, or otherwise.
Establish and fully fund a new federal housing program for the formerly incarcerated and eliminate all eligibility barriers for federal housing assistance.
Formerly incarcerated individuals are disproportionately impacted by houselessness, and ensuring access to permanent housing is one of the strongest tools against recidivism.
Ban “no-cause” evictions.
Ban “no fault” and “1-strike” evictions.
Eliminate all legal barriers to federal housing assistance eligibility for undocumented immigrants.
Environmental Justice, Economic Growth, and the Green New Deal
Climate change is the existential threat of our generation, and a colossal public health crisis. The environmental impacts of climate change have tangible, significant, and severe impacts on human health and continue to worsen population health disparities. Structural racism and the legacies of redlining have left Indigenous, Black and Latinx communities on the frontlines of the crisis, as they experience the harshest impacts of climate change.
Abolish all federal oil and gas tax subsidies.
Expand and Strengthen the Clean Air Act to empower the EPA to aggressively pursue litigation, fees, and penalties on fossil fuel companies.
Invest $200 billion in block grants for state, Tribal, territorial, and local governments towards creation of energy-efficient and green municipal broadband infrastructure.
Commission a federal advisory committee of environmental justice activists and experts, Tribal officials, public health practitioners, medical professionals, and urban planners to develop a comprehensive report on the intergenerational impacts of environmental racism on the social determinants of health.
While some research has been done on the population health impacts of climate change, few studies have taken a holistic view of how destructive forms of state-sponsored segregation like redlining, the creation of the interstate highway system, decades of fire suppression policies, and other federal, state and local laws and regulations have precipitated the rise of climate change.
In partnership with the Owens Valley Indian Water Commission, Tribal Nations, and the Department of Interior, commission a comprehensive report on the generational impacts of the Los Angeles Aqueduct on the economic, social, spiritual, and health outcomes of Tribal communities in the Owens Valley.
Over a century ago, the City of Los Angeles colluded with the federal government to swindle the Paiute Tribes in the Owens Valley in the Sierra Nevadas by taking over full control of their water. The LA Aqueduct continues to supply roughly 40% of the water source for the city, while Tribal citizens experienced some of the worst rates of air pollution nationwide for decades brought on by frequent dust storms resulting from drainage of Owens Lake.
Ban fracking, offshore drilling, and mountaintop removal coal mining.
Invest $1 trillion over a decade into renewable energy technology research, and development; and provide strong incentives for state and local governments to transition to 100% renewable energy economies.
Invest a minimum $20 billion annually into the EPA and CDC to conduct research on the public health impacts of climate change and provide block grants to state, Tribal, territorial, and local governments to address its population health impacts.
Provide full, permanent, and entitlement funding for Water and Sanitation infrastructure on Tribal lands and reservations and for Tribal water programs at EPA.
Invest $15 billion annually to update and modernize municipal water and sanitation infrastructure.
Provide a federal jobs and wages guarantee and tuition-free college for workers in the fossil fuel and health insurance industries as we transition to a 100% renewable energy economy and implement Medicare for All.
Divest federal pensions from fossil fuel companies and strongly incentivize states to follow suit.
Establish the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis as a permanent committee with full legislative authority and subpoena power.
In order to fully legislate on the Green New Deal, we need a permanent committee that has the full authority to develop and pass legislation on climate issues and to subpoena federal officials. Without teeth, the recommendations of the Committee will remain largely wishful rather than actionable.
A 21st Century Public Health System Including Medicare for All
The U.S. healthcare system constitutes nearly a fifth of our GDP, and costs us $11,582 per capita annually-- more than double the comparable industrialized country average. Much of the spending derives from the dumbfoundingly costly process of dealing with insurance and pharmaceutical companies that have rigged the system for maximum profit, not maximum health. Even worse than the wasteful spending is how little it translates into better population health outcomes for the American people.
The health, economic, and social devastation triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic-- which as of January 2021 has infected 21 million Americans and killed over 356,000 and counting-- lays bare the failures of our crumbling public health infrastructure and broken healthcare system, and further exposes the systemic and generational racial health inequities built into our unjust system. That is why our 21st Century Public Health System policy outlines:
Enact Medicare for All with a federal jobs/wages guarantee.
Through Medicare for All, we would provide full, permanent, and ZERO-COST healthcare coverage that encapsulates medical, preventive, dental, vision, mental, behavioral, reproductive, pediatric, and long-term care services and benefits.
Congress must also provide a federal jobs and/or wages guarantee to prevent the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people currently employed by medical billing, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies.
Triple the annual budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with significant investments towards new climate change and emergency preparedness programs and technical assistance.
Impose stronger regulations on medical devices and close the 510(K) loophole.
The 510(K) loophole authorizes medical device manufacturers to fast track FDA approval of a medical device-- without showing clinical trial data, rigorous scientific review, or the basic tenets of safe human research-- simply because the device is substantially similar to one already on the market from that manufacturer. Even when devices have been directly linked to injuries and even death, many of them remain on the market.
Invest $100 billion annually towards constructing, upgrading, and modernizing America’s hospitals, clinics, and health stations.
Provide $1.5 billion annually in block grants to state, Tribal, territorial, and local governments and nonprofits for a new comprehensive federal harm reduction initiative and eliminate all legal barriers to implementation.
Put simply, harm reduction is the philosophy of practical strategies to reduce the adverse effects of drug use for individuals, families, and communities. For decades, cultural stigma and discrimination against drug users fueled by the economically and socially destructive, morally corrosive, and inherently racist War on Drugs, has stifled the availability of harm reduction programs.
While some harm reduction principles like use of the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone and Good Samaritan laws have grown in prominence, they continue to operate on the sidelines of public health. Even more troublesome is that more transformative programs like syringe exchange, supervised drug consumption sites, widespread use of drug checking (e.g. fentanyl testing strips) continue to face significant legal and social barriers despite their demonstrated value in reducing drug-related harms, deaths, and also consumption rates.
Cancel student loan debt and make public colleges and universities tuition free, and create a pipeline for youth to enter the healthcare and public health workforce as the next generation of health leaders.
Fund the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to work with colleges and universities to establish comprehensive training curriculums for mid-level and paraprofessional health providers to reduce the national shortage of healthcare practitioners.
Establish a new Center within CDC committed to studying and funding solutions to address the public health impacts of mass incarceration and police brutality.
Modernize federal, state, Tribal, territorial, and local public health disease surveillance and real-time reporting systems to better track, measure, respond to, and mitigate future public health challenges.
Provide universal free child care and pre-kindergarten.
Child care and pre-kindergarten services are essential for public health, because early childhood education is essential to public health. Low-income Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities are most severely impacted by lack of early care and education (ECE) coverage in particular.
Double annual funding for the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant (MHBG) and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG).
Provide full, permanent, and entitlement-based funding for the Indian Health Service.
Pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020.
Defund our military-industrial complex and endless wars and fully fund public health.
A Decriminalized Immigration System
Our common narrative is that we are a nation of immigrants, yet we build private prisons to incarcerate immigrant children and have millions lay in fear as they wait for a citizenship status that may never be offered. This is outrageous, undemocratic, and unbecoming of our national values of justice under the law. It is our duty to establish a new people-centric and inclusionary immigration policy that celebrates the essential role of immigrants in our nation’s past, present, and future; and is grounded in dignity, justice, and equity.
Abolish and permanently outlaw private and public for-profit prisons and detention centers.
Pass the New Way Forward Act.
The New Way Forward Act would transform our immigration system towards a more just, equitable, and humanitarian approach. Most importantly, the New Way Forward Act would decriminalize migration by making improper entry and reentry a civil, as opposed to criminal, issue. Criminalization is what allowed for the separation and detention of tens of thousands of immigrant families and individuals over the past few decades.
Abolish and outlaw the use of DNA testing and facial recognition technology by immigration and border enforcement officials, and federal, state, and local police departments.
Abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Pass the American Dream and Promise Act.
The American Dream and Promise Act would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans, and provide ten years of permanent resident status for undocumented individuals who entered the country as minors.
Pass the Reuniting Families Act.
Similarly, the Reuniting Families Act would clear bureaucratic backlogs to employer-based and family-sponsored visas; reclassify spouses, permanent partners, and children of Green Card holders as “immediate relatives''; strengthen LGBTQ+ protections by allowing citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their partner even if the partner lives in a country that does not recognize marriage equality.
Repeal the disastrous 1996 immigration laws and related provisions.
The Illegal Immigration Refrom and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 is what created heinous policy like the three and ten year bans and mandatory detention of asylum seekers. But the law outlined many other terrible provisions that must also be repealed including permanent deportation, expedited removal, and the “Constitution-Free Zone,”
Permit all deported Veterans who were honorably discharged to return to the United States and cease the practice of Veteran deportation.
Fully fund and move jurisdiction of immigration and asylum courts from the Department of Justice to the independent Judiciary.