An Imperfect Idealist

A perspective by Ignatius Ding on Barry Chang.

Editor's note: This article, written by Ignatius Ding, reflects only his views and opinions, not this publication.

It was almost midnight right before Christmas more than two decades ago. I stopped by his office and found him sitting behind a huge pile of Christmas cards—over a thousand of them—madly signing each one by one, non-stop. The odd scene intrigued me to ask what was going on, why he was signing in such a hurry and who he was sending so many cards to.

“He” is Barry Chang.

It turned out that he had just learned from a member of the local Amnesty International that writing to prisoners of conscientious jailed by authoritarian regimes, at times, would help lessen their suffering in silence and even led to reduction of their days in living hell.

“Hey, this is a good investment of time!” I said to myself. So, I decided to join him on this seemingly “Don Quixote” style crusade that night and the following 20 Christmas seasons.

Before long, hundreds of others across the Bay Area, then in many other cities and countries joined this annual Christmas campaign writing to those in prisons and/or their families.

Over the years, we added and replaced many names on the list of persecuted as we learned the release of about two-thirds of them from behind bars. Our low-key effort paid off.

To me, Barry Chang is a genuine idealist and living proof of the concept of “Power of One” that my other dear friend, the late best-selling author Iris Chang, was often preaching to her audience.

This positive experience not only just affects those who we supported, but also every one of us involved.

How did we really know our yearly drive worked?

Well, we actually received a number of cards or “thank you” letters slipped out of the prison camps. Some of the prisoners were eventually let go early on parole and sent into exile in the U.S.  Many of them joined us to sign cards each year.

Fifteen years ago, I went to meet with one prominent dissident at SFO as he stepped off the plane. Among the first things he asked me, he wanted to know “who Richard Gere is” because a trustee in his jail block told him about a report in the Voice of America broadcasting this big Hollywood movie star had written an open letter to plea for his release.

I instantly knew what that was. My friend, in fact, only contacted Gere to solicit his help, but did not meet with him until many years later.

In 1996, Chang became one of the founders of Vision New America, a non-profit foundation that promotes the civic participation of underrepresented groups through public policy internship programs, educational forums and community events, including the sponsorship for hundreds of local high school and college students to serve in congressional offices as interns.

He saw the best way to get our youth involved in the civil and community services, political and participatory process to, you may guess, “participate to get first-hand experiences.”

Vision New America is still going strong after 15 years actively serving the Silicon Valley community.

With his firm belief in democracy and social justice, he devotes much of his energy to various human rights causes, and wholeheartedly embraces fair political practices, and supports good candidates for local, state and federal offices.

He actively raised sizable political contributions for a number of office seekers. His unparalleled enthusiasm and superb ability in fundraising was wildly known to many from coast to coast. Journalists nicknamed him the “super volunteer” or “high octane activist.”

His past patrons include former Washington State governor and current U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, Congressman Mike Honda, Assemblyman Paul Fong, former Assembly majority leader and current Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan and many local officials, including former Cupertino Mayor Michael Chang, former Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) Board president and current trustee Ben Liao, former Board president T.N. Ho of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, and San Jose Councilman Kansen Chu.

The list is long and diverse.

In 1995, he went into local politics by accident of sort.  That was quite a surprise to some of us.  It turned out that he became a candidate himself only after his months of search for someone to run for an open seat on the CUSD Board failed.

Somehow, his eight-year CUSD tenure changed his perspective on local offices and he became very engaged to make a difference on the home front and to the political system, from the bottom up.

His stellar performance on the board to hold superintendents and district staff accountable, initiate new and innovative programs, strengthen CUSD financial prospects while expanding and modernizing school facilities was exemplary.

His time for the first-term on the Cupertino City Council since 2009 has been even more remarkable. 

In addition to tending the tedious city affairs in general planning, commercial zoning, traffic, finance, building a dog park, or a walkway to Blackberry Farm, the new councilman was drawn into a controversial issue. 

He was alerted by city residents regarding the rampant and continuing violation of state environmental and safety laws for years by a foreign multi-billion conglomerate.

The outstanding but unenforced Notices of Violation issued by the federal, state and local regulatory agencies severely threaten public health, cause permanent damage to the environment, continue to pollute the air and water, and the deadly chemicals released by an aging rock quarry and adjacent cement plant are seeping into the Bay and our food chain.

Despite collusion by local and state politicians and agency staff, he led the fight and recently won a landmark reprieve from the State Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR) to issue a to this corporate culprit——that it must address and remedy all cited violations that have been overdue for five years or longer or it will be removed from the state official list of pre-qualified suppliers (AB3098) and disallowed to sell products to any state and local agencies.

That was a real wake-up call to the quarry/cement company and its partners-in-crime. The business giant immediately hired the area’s best lobbyist to lobby Governor Brown to intervene.

That has failed miserably.

Separately, a frivolous lawsuit was filed against our courageous councilman in Superior Court while a .  Two well-known dirty trick “political consultants” appear to be orchestrating a misinformation drive.  A blogger in Southern California has dedicated his website to attack the grassroots effort to stop the mega-polluter in Cupertino.

It appears that certain petty information has been fed to media in a brazen personal attack and character assassination against my friend.

Is he perfect? Of course not!! Who really ever is?

Maybe, he is not the most patient man in the world, but more than anything else he is absolutely honest and principled—a supreme quality that we want in politicians from Cupertino to Sacramento and Washington.

No, he is not a “one-issue politician” as one Mercury News columnist has insinuated, but a single-minded idealist believing in “there is a will, there is a way” for the good of the people. 

You all know him…again, his name is Barry Chang, first-term council member of Cupertino.

Author:  Ignatius Y. Ding is a 33-year Cupertino resident, international human rights activist and businessman with a solar energy product marketing and manufacturing firm in Mountain View


Ignatius Y. Ding August 15, 2011 at 08:27 PM
. A sawed off shotgun, really? Go get a pair of glasses. You need it. If you can't stick with the issues, find yourself another career. You are giving your pitiful profession, if you can call it that, a bad name. .
Max Engels August 15, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Comm'n Ignatius- James is angry because he thinks that it was you who advised Barry to turn down his $50 offer to have a ride with Sandy J. on lehigh monster track. James - if you still have those Leigh truck tickets maybe you should try to sell them to Gilbert and his dog Faye?
James Rowen August 15, 2011 at 09:21 PM
Huh? Never had a conversation with Sandra in my life. All I have seen is about 30 comments by the same four people about the bad ol' cement company, who probably has a lot of better things to do than to worry about the munchkin army that has been attacking it on cyber space. As for Iggy with the gun, why are you holding a gun? Cyber space warrior?? With combat music playing? Are you one of this guys, Iggy, that parade around the house with combat fatigues and black paint? How about the rubber gal from the enemy, how is the interogation going? I have to say that five articles about the poor Barry is really getting silly. Herhold attacked this guy, and I went after Scott, because he really is a piker, a rotarian wannabee who had no business attacking Chang. I yelled at the county exec because I think he set this guy up. On the other hand, I think coming up with a realistic solution is the best way to beat Lehigh at their own game. But this rebel without a cause crap is really getting boring. As for fasie Maxie, he has as much to do with reality as Reverend Jim.
James Rowen August 15, 2011 at 09:48 PM
As I have said many times before, people here do not want to resolve the issue. The same people like Iggy the Cyberspace Warrior, and Jessie "Two Guns" Chou, have been writing over and over again about Rich Robinson and the corrupt political machine, which does not exist. It is a lot more fun to walk around with signs than sit at a table and resolve the issue. Chou, Ding, and their munchkins are too busy talking about the secret plans and the black helicopters sent over from Germany to buy off politicians, then to have a legitimate scoping meeting with Lehigh. I bet that if a true session acutally occurred with Lehigh and legitimate people who wanted to come up with a timeline to solve this, it would be solved. But it is easier for Jessie and Iggy to write about evil conspiracies than actually meet and come up with a solution. Barry the victim is a better story than Bary the problem solver. It is just as bad as writing that he is a victim, a hero of the underdog, than writing this guy is a wacko. Last week it was the bad flyer, this week it is the hero, next week will be more of the same. The proper managed solution, and I work primairly as a consultant in urban planning, not politics, is to have a scoping meeting, not a mob scene, design a plan and stick with it, but Jessie, Barry, and Iggy are too frightened that they do not know how to do this. Running a mob is easier.
Jessie Chou August 15, 2011 at 10:33 PM
Beware that House republicans will try to weaken or delay the EPA's 2012 rules for hazardous emissions from the manufacture of cement when Congress returns in September. Lehigh cement has been lobbying hard for this change, see: <http://articles.mcall.com/2011-08-05/news/mc-pa-cement-industry-regulations-20110805_1_rocco-marinaro-andy-o-hare-cement-kilns> As Science 2.0 points out "More objections and stalling tactics are sure to interfere with these new regulations, which have been more than 20 years in the making." <http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/08/03/03greenwire-senate-democrats-confident-they-can-keep-anti-71181.html> <http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug2011/2011-08-04-091.html> <http://www.science20.com/seeing_green/ohohno_catching_my_breath_america%E2%80%99s_most_toxic_air-81256> So let's keep our eye on the ball here. While most Cupertino residents are furious with the county for allowing Lehigh to get away with so many violations, and unhappy with the city for rolling over and playing dead simply because Lehigh is politically well-connected, the real goal is working to ensure state and federal enforcement of environmental laws, and to prevent the Republicans from weakening the EPA. Lehigh is on the defensive now. They are not used to this position. They are running around congress trying to line up support for hampering the EPA.
James Rowen August 15, 2011 at 11:45 PM
As I read on Facebook, the very Republicans, Two Guns Chou is writing about, are people Rich Robinson is attacking. Didn't he get the memo from Lehigh, Two Guns?
Susan August 15, 2011 at 11:46 PM
James, seriously, even if we wanted to have a Kumbaya moment with Leigh, the horses have already left the barn: Lehigh's removal from the AB 3098 list is pending with the Office of Mine Reclamation; their illegal dumping of tens of millions of gallons of polluted water into the Permanente Creek is pending with the Regional Water Quality Control Board; their 2010 Clean Air Act violation is pending with the US EPA; their US Mine Safety and Health violations are pending with the US Department of Labor, and still pending is the Bay Area for Clean Environment's lawsuit against the Santa Clara County and Lehigh to stop the expansion of mining operations into 200 virgin acres of our foothills without a use permit. Last but not least, the US EPAs order to reduce neurotoxic mercury emissions by 90% by the year 2013. Instead of complying with these laws and orders – or inviting us to chat over tea – HeidelbergGlobal has lawyered up to fight each and every one. So, as far as you, or anyone else for that matter, being bored or tired of our so-called whining, they really should just take the advice from your blog: "If you like what we write, good, and thank you. If you don't like it, then goodbye." Or, hang around and continue to contribute. Either way, we will continue to discuss and compare notes with each other about both the past and present, and we are not going to stop until this outlaw in our backyard is brought into compliance.
Ignatius Y. Ding August 16, 2011 at 12:08 AM
- http://www.cyberspacewarrior.org/Pictures/Geneva1996/Geneva-Switzerland-1996.htm -
James Rowen August 16, 2011 at 01:12 AM
Susan, I kmow personally that all it takes is a realistic timeline. I say this as the perfect outsider. You all have sat here accusing Sandra James, Rich Robinson, and several others including Liz Kniss of corruption, and you have the nerve to lecture me about being how you are the moral super people. You are not. You have the perfect opportunity to get this company to sit down and not for tea, but for a realistic timeline Everything Ding and Chou have written has shown they are totally disinterested in getting this matter done correctly. You people do not know me, and yes I have insulted you. You attack a man I have known for thirty years, studied freshman english with, and also ran two hard campaigns against, launched a war
James Rowen August 16, 2011 at 01:19 AM
(sorry, the mouse clicked)...... launched a war on Rich in Santa Clara that lasted half of a decade. But I still love Rich Robinson as the smarty alecky guy in my Comparative Government class in 1979. So I will launch as many missles as I can on Chou and Ding, because they slandered a guy I know and trust. Their antics convince me that they are so empowered by protesting that Barry, Iggy, and Jessie "Two Guns" Chou do not want a solution. They would not know what to do. I know this sincerely that you have Lehigh completely in a corner. Now is the time to deal from strength, and I know precisely how it could be done. I am sorry, but I know. If I am wrong, then I will never say another word in Cupertino again.
Jessie Chou August 16, 2011 at 01:43 AM
Susan, you're absolutely correct. What is there to discuss? And with whom? Should BACE negotiate how many more years a polluter can violate environmental laws? If the residents want 0 years and the polluter & politicians they own want 10 years do they compromise on 5 years? BACE has no authority to negotiate such a deal. What would they do? Go to the state and county and say, "you know, those polluters are really nice people and we've decided that we want you to continue to look the other way for a few more years." There is nothing to negotiate, and no one to negotiate with. If I were a company involved in a highly polluting industry and could choose between spending a large sum of money on compliance versus a relatively small sum making friends with regulators then of course I'd choose the latter, especially if all my competitors were doing the same thing (I might even have a fiduciary duty to do so). Of course as a person I would not be able to do what they're doing strictly on moral grounds.
Max Engels August 16, 2011 at 02:08 AM
James - you are not only perfect outsider but also a PERFECT IGNORANT (not to say a perfect idiot). All it takes is to read the July 20 OMR letter to Lehigh to know that the phase of deals with the county and deadlines is has ended 5 years ago. Now it is all about compliance with the law, not about dealmaking. http://cupertino.patch.com/articles/lehigh-to-lose-right-to-sell-cement-to-government
Ignatius Y. Ding August 16, 2011 at 04:25 AM
It was not any of us pointing finger at Rich Robinson, but SJMN's Scott Herhold who brought up Robinson with a direct quote from him.
James Rowen August 16, 2011 at 05:42 AM
I am so glad we have moved beyond name calling, Maxie, and focused on issues, Jessie "Two Guns" Lehigh Cement. The fact of the matter is that the cement company will be operating many years from now. My way has it operating safely, and with respect to the communirty, which both of you show is not something you want.
Ignatius Y. Ding August 16, 2011 at 08:01 AM
Do you have any clue of social justice activism or how to build international alliance across national borders and ethnic lines? Case after case in history, David won over Goliath when there is something unifying and rallying people around a cause or conviction - whether a social, political, religious or moral one. Often, that distinct factor actullay came from the culprit or oppressor, not the average Joe Blow citizens in our neighborhood or victims in distress. Many empires were overthrown. Ill-equipped militias in a colony beat the British Red Coats. Erin Brockovich made PG&E pay for its sins. Nelson Mandela rose from his solitary finement to presidency. Anyone assumes that Lehigh wants to talk or compromise is naive, at best. Less than six months ago, its corporate attorney flatly told the state SMGB commissioners that the complaints from the Cupertino resisdents just noise from a small batch of troublemakers and should be ignored. As of today, 27,247 people who have co-signed a petition to remove Lehigh from the state AB3098 supplier list do not agree with that assertion.
Ignatius Y. Ding August 16, 2011 at 09:19 AM
- When 42 million people spoke out, Japan's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council failed. http://en.chinabroadcast.cn/2239/2005-7-1/124@253245.htm We confronted China and Japan head on, We battled Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Taiheiyo Cement, Kajima and Nishimatsu Construction in U.S. state and federal courts, Japanese district and high courts, and Chinese district and appelate courts. We took the Japanese government and multi-billion Keiretsu's to the U.S. Supreme Court and Japanese Supreme Court numerous times. Do you really think that we would have ever scared of sitting down with Heidelberg across table?
Jessie Chou August 16, 2011 at 02:50 PM
Ignatious, the standard operating procedure whenever a citizens group gains critical mass is for the city, developers, polluters, etc., to dismiss it as a small group of troublemakers. They'll also claim that anyone not part of the group is automatically on their side. Typically the developer or polluter will file a frivolous lawsuit against individual members of the group, not because they believe they have a case, but because they want the group to spend money on legal fees. For example, on Measures D&E in Cupertino, the developer recruited a naive local resident to be the plaintiff, and then sued the two individuals that submitted the petitions to the city clerk, claiming inconsistencies in the signature gathering process. The judge ruled against the developer of course, but the developer knew that this would happen. The developer ended up paying the legal fees of the defendants to avoid a counter-suit against the plaintiff. The plaintiff was fortunate that she was not sued and that the developer settled. <http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/95015-ca-bern-steves-346590/legal_cases/1832> The group that was sued ended up benefiting from the lawsuit because they were able to use it in their campaign collateral, and won an overwhelming victory. At least the city could no longer claim that it was only a tiny group of people that were opposed to their efforts to give developers rezoning gifts of enormous value and destroy Cupertino's schools!
James Rowen August 16, 2011 at 04:15 PM
The cement plant is linked to the effort to block Japan having a permanent seat on the Security Council, the international drug trade, Somalia, and the concentrated to implant chips in the back of Cupertino residents;. As I said, Iggy and Jessie "Two Guns" are both too busy to effect change. The effort to make these giants of advocacy, self appointed, irrelevant is not needing any help, they are doing it to themselves. Ps, the wmds from Iraq were buried in limestone, we have a talk show host available to swear to it.
Jessie Chou August 16, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Well stated Max. The time for deal-making is over. The cement plant has no credibility when it adhering to deals anyway. It's rather sad that it took a group like NoToxicAir/BACE to force the issue and demand enforcement of existing laws. Why weren't the county and city demanding enforcement? Well everyone knows the reason, they were too busy kowtowing to the cement company, looking for money or lucrative executive jobs when they left office.
James Rowen August 16, 2011 at 08:12 PM
I have the solution! Based on another wacko comment, we transport back in time 70 years ago and demand the county board of 1942 shutter up the cement plant. Then we can forget using Liberty ships to fight World War Two, lose the war, and have the enemy conduct an air raid on the plant! It is so easy!
Ignatius Y. Ding August 16, 2011 at 08:30 PM
Ah, you really have no clue. Fine. Just stick with urban planning since you though yourself being good at it. Can't find a client to pay you for it? That is a different problem altogether :=(
James Rowen August 16, 2011 at 09:40 PM
Ignatius Y. Ding August 17, 2011 at 03:33 AM
@James Someone has sent me a link to an old article in Metroactive from the late 1990's. It's quite interesting. Do you want to put it up at your blog site as an intro as well so other people would get to know you better?
James Rowen August 17, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Translation. James we know something bad about you and are going to use it if you do not shut up. Iggy, lot of people read about that, including my lawyer, who read your post and considers it blackmail as you are threatening to disclose something in attempt to restrain me, I am going to like that new xar.
Susan August 17, 2011 at 06:58 PM
James, your lawyer knows there are no laws preventing us from making statements in fact. He/she also know you have a reputation for provoking and cyber-bullying individuals online in order to prevent them from speaking out about issues and individuals you are associated with. Is anyone paying or encouraging you to intimidate us?
Jessie Chou August 17, 2011 at 07:54 PM
The history of Mr. Rowen is no secret Ignatius. He's a world-class nut-case. All of us in the local political consultant community are well aware of his history. He's become a non-entity in Santa Clara county politics, and no one pays any attention to his rantings anymore. Readers can Google "metroactive rowen" if they are interested in what Ignatius is referring to, but that happened 15 years ago. Time to move on and not lose focus. Rowen's statements clearly demonstrate that he has no knowledge of the Lehigh issue, so why are people even dignifying his strange statements with responses?
James Rowen August 18, 2011 at 12:25 AM
Interesting commentary from a guy who referred to Rich Robinson as a "hate man." Hmm, also interesting is the statement of Iggy Ding that he is a state appointee. As for Jessie, I won't be able to chat as I am busy reviewing the appoint I received to my city's charter review committee. Also the famous metro article, right after that, I was unanimously reappointed to my city's civil service commission.
James Rowen August 18, 2011 at 01:15 AM
"\ to intimidate us?" there is an intimidation when someone says, we have something on you
James Rowen August 18, 2011 at 01:23 AM
There is a law about claiming to be a state appointment, and not being one. right, ignatius?
Jessie Chou August 19, 2011 at 05:17 AM
The cement plant has filed a lawsuit which delays their removal from the AB 3098 list. As usual, they find a way to delay compliance with environmental laws. Meanwhile the county is give a private company a valuable gift, the county road that runs through the quarry. Which city council candidates have stated that they will push for enforcement of toxic polluter laws and which city council candidates will give the cement company a get out of jail free card? It's pretty clear from reading their ballot statements. Which candidate was urged to run by a cement company employee?


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