In October and early November Oaklanders look forward to warm weather, beautiful sunsets, and-fires and earthquakes. Oh, and election season.
This time last year I was walking the neighborhoods of West Oakland and Lake Merritt, flyering folks coming out of BART, and staying up late at night strategizing with other campaign staff, or the future mayor herself.
What a difference a year makes. Jean Quan, who I have known for many years-sometimes argued (loudly) with, strategized and broken bread many times with, is now mayor of this wonderful little city.
Jean Quan and her family have a long history of fighting for peace, union rights, ethnic studies, and human rights. They come from immigrant stock and Jean developed her skills against the backdrop of a single mom who couldn’t speak English.
The new mayor spent much of her childhood in public libraries and attended a renowned public university. She had to obtain scholarships even to survive her college years; and then almost didn’t get her degree due to being jailed in defense of ethnic studies.
Last year after the Mehserle verdict was handed down, Jean was accused by the police department of preventing them from dispersing the crowd down the block from City Hall. She had stood arm-in-arm with Rebecca Kaplan to separate protestors from the police in an attempt to defuse the situation.
Now, while she is out-of-town, after a morning in which the police department destroyed the village in Frank Ogawa- Oscar Grant Plaza-tearing up posters, pulling down a library, and arts and crafts and first aid tents, while manhandling sleeping protestors- OPD is in control of our city. The chief just held a press conference with his staff and Council Member de la Fuente was the only elected representative present.
Where is the rest of our governing council? Why did the most hands-on mayor we’ve ever seen let this happen while she was out-of-town? Why did she entrust our city’s fate to a department that may soon be in federal receivership for its cavalier attitude toward human rights?
For those of us who’ve long loved this city, who’ve worked here, raised our kids here, even sent them to school here-we can’t stand aside much longer while the police and their union runs roughshod over our citizens- good, bad and the rest- just-tryin’-to- make-it folks.
And for those of us who walked and phoned day after day for the mayor-to-be…. Well, let me back up–I’ll just speak for me. When I was young, I spent a lot of time demonstrating against a president who turns out to have been one of the best of our time. He brought us civil rights-long overdue, Medicare- the first installment of single payer healthcare and other additions to the New Deal first promised by Franklin Roosevelt.
But Lyndon Johnson chose to listen to his hawkish advisers and follow counsel that he seemed to have known in his heart, was wrong. The country went to war at home as well as abroad and Johnson left office in disgrace.
Maybe that is a false historical analogy-I hope it is. But I see a police department that is out-of-control, and tonight I see a city under martial law. Come home Jean, and take charge.
We were able to build a caring community during your grassroots campaign, so it is no surprise to me that people, young and old, came to City Hall to design and build a new way of life. Oakland has always been a center of activism and experimentation. Your administration needs to honor that hope and nurture that change or you will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.