A San Francisco-based civil liberties lawyer, progressive advocate, DJ and poet is making a second attempt to unseat Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Democratic primary for California’s 12th District.
Shahid Buttar, an immigrant of Pakistani descent who hails from Great Britain and grew up in the Midwest, filed the paperwork to qualify for the race at San Francisco’s City Hall on Friday.
Buttar said that it was a “great deal of outrage” that inspired his decision to challenge Pelosi’s 30-year leadership as San Francisco’s Democratic representative in Congress. He plans to confront her for taking conservative positions on issues including climate change, health care, immigration and surveillance.
“I don’t have [political] aspiration, I have frustration,” said Buttar. “[Pelosi] is failing to defend democracy or the public.”
As an ardent supporter of efforts to end mass surveillance, Buttar’s objects to Pelosi’s support for preserving a bill that allows the National Security Agency to search the communications of Americans with people it is “targeting” overseas, in 2018.
“People think of surveillance as invading privacy — but my concern is dissent and democracy, which surveillance kills,” said Buttar. “The reason I ran for congress is because Pelosi is an architect of the mass surveillance bill.”
A request for comment made to Pelosi’s campaign was not immediately returned.
In recent years, Buttar has served as the director of grassroots advocacy for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil rights group in the digital space.
Along with defending the right to privacy and encryption, Buttar has thrown his weight behind police accountability and LGBT and immigrant rights movements.
After graduating from Stanford Law school in 2003, Buttar defended Jason West, the mayor of New Paltz, New York, who was the “only official who was criminally prosecuted for supporting marriage equality.”
He founded a program at Muslim Advocates in San Francisco to challenge racial and religious profiling by federal agencies such as the FBI and for six years served as executive director of Defending Rights and Dissent, an organization formed in response to the passage of the Patriot Act formerly known as the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
Buttar said that he was arrested in the Senate in 2015 for “an act of journalism” after accusing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper of perjury regarding the extent of NSA surveillance.
“I was asking Clapper how he justified never facing a charge for perjury despite lying to the Senate under oath about mass surveillance,” said Buttar.
Referring to the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who was killed by New York police who suspected him of selling single cigarettes without tax stamps, Buttar said: “You have powerful people getting away with documented crime — while powerless people are lethally persecuted for doing nothing wrong.”
Buttar said that he aggressively plans to address the climate crisis and supports the Green New Deal and was critical of Pelosi’s record in that area.
“She did allow creation for [a] committee on the climate crisis. That’s a first and I’m grateful. But she also hamstrung the committee,” said Buttar, adding that Pelosi “denied it investigative subpoena power,” among other things.
He described Pelosi as a “climate delayer” rather than a “climate denier,” which he said is worse.
“She recognizes the science and yet still refuses to do anything about it,” said Buttar. “It places the future at risk …for the sake of the present.”
Outside of his advocacy, Buttar has worked to organize artists around political performance. He co-founded a number of collectives, including an “outdoor poetry convergence” that has gathered at the 16th and Mission Bart Station on Thursday nights for the past 15 years.
Buttar ran against Pelosi in 2018, garnering some 18,000 votes, but was a late entry into the race. This time around, he is confident that his campaign “will surprise a lot of people in Washington.”
Buttar’s campaign broke $300,000 from over 7,600 contributions. His endorsements include the Democratic Socialists of San Francisco and Silicon Valley chapters, the Berniecrats, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez and civil rights activist Shaun King.
“At the current pace we will be the strongest campaign that Pelosi ever encountered,” he said.