Time to Listen to Each Other

From the General Strike, photo by Pamela DrakeEveryone is gearing up for a rough city council meeting tonight; and as a result of last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting, some council members have been sending out notices to their constituents to pack the hall with supporters for 4 public safety measures.

Those council members who have called their constituents to come on down, have failed to explain why they support the Bratton contract with specifics. I’m calling on them to be clear about what Bratton will be asked to do and what he will not be asked to do. I would like someone to explain the interface between the Bratton/Wasserman folks, and what Judge Henderson and his compliance managers will allow given the Negotiated Settlement Agreement which may be the key to this controversy. Is Stop and Frisk equal to racial profiling? If it is, how is it possible Henderson would allow it?

But no one can deny that Oakland as well as some of our surrounding communities is in a public safety crisis. People who live in formerly “safe” neighborhoods have discovered some of the dangers that people who live in East and West Oakland have lived with for a long time.

More people are afraid now than I can ever remember and the list of the dead is growing at an alarming rate. Still, this is not the time to rush into half-baked solutions or to demand  gimmicks-state of emergency, curfews-instead of well-thought out policies.

There is evidence that Bratton and his compatriots have accomplished some good things re crime and community complaints in Los Angeles. But there is also lots of evidence that many Oaklanders continue to experience brutality and harassment at the hands of our police force. Regardless of how one acts at a meeting, or whether the aggrieved parties are making these demands, our local citizenry has every right to demand reassurance when it comes to how new crime-cutting strategies  will affect all members of the community.

We all deserve a real conversation about these issues. We owe it to one another to listen and be given time to change our minds and even change them again. This is an ongoing crisis that demands both long and short term solutions. What it doesn’t demand is dueling crowds, shouting matches, threats of arrest for hecklers or fear mongering by any of us.

I will see you at the Council meeting tonight. I will be demanding answers to these questions and really listening to the responses I get before coming to a conclusion. I hope you will do the same.

How Not to Win Friends and Influence People. Stop it.

DSCN1166My mother never repeated the old saying to me that “you can catch more flies with honey” than with, I don’t know, catcalls? Well, my mother was a reporter and believed in “just the facts” anyway, not very homespun; but somewhere along the way I learned the basic truth of this saying.

I have not always been good at the honey part. I’ve rarely been accused of being sweet and my anger can get the better of me; but when thinking strategically, I try really hard to be patient and make my arguments persuasive.

The crowd at the public safety meeting the other night was large and raucous. It may have succeeded in persuading some council members that Bratton is not the guy to help our city, just maybe. On the other hand, it may also have convinced the viewing audience that the folks who care about police accountability are unaccountable themselves.

If you were there, you might have seen a very small group of folks who seemed genuinely unhinged do most of the catcalls, insults, and name calling. But, you would also have seen how easily influenced others were by them.

If you only heard it on KTOP or the local news, you would have thought that everyone had lost their minds. What you didn’t see were opportunities for discussions about the reality of the threat of crime and violence, much less creative solutions.

These meetings have led some council members and many Oakland citizens to repeat the myth that the folks who protest so loudly are not Oaklanders but should go back to, Berkeley or Walnut Creek, or wherever they imagine them to be from. I believe that while some young people come to town for demonstrations, and why shouldn’t they, most of the protestors are Oaklanders. Now maybe they weren’t born or raised here but so what? I wasn’t born or raised here either, and ain’t I an Oaklander?

I would guess that a lot of them are drawn by the image of a place full of radicals, artists, and entrepreneurs, plus some of the best weather and slightly more affordable housing. Are these bad reasons to find a home in Oakland? There may be another reason why many folks believe the protestors are not Oaklanders. When they speak at these meetings, they don’t seem to know our town or understand how it works and some of them seem to disrespect our long-time neighbors and activists.

Telling the city to stop closing the schools, for instance-most Oaklanders have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how our government works and know-the administration of the schools is completely separate from that of the City.  So why go yell at council members about paying for the schools instead of, say, policing?

So here’s the other thing. A friend wiser than me recently told me about negotiating techniques she has learned from study and application. One of the things she said was that if you go to a meeting/negotiation to persuade someone of the rightness of your position, do not assert that you are the good guys while they are the bad guys.

First, that sets them up as your enemy and does not incline them to hear you much less work with you. The other problem with portraying yourselves as the good guys is that you then must act like the good guys since you now will be held to a higher standard. When you mess up under those circumstances, you really lose credibility. Now, if you don’t care whether the people who’re making the decisions think you’re the good guys, ’cause after all, they’re the bad guys; then consider how the other folks whom you are trying to influence will view you.

All that cursing and yelling and catcalls (meowing would come under that nomenclature, I think) haven’t won you much and may lose you a lot of potential comrades in the long run.

Here’s some other tidbits of advice from an old radical. Oakland electeds do know about the prison-industrial-complex. They’ve heard of and even voted for programs for struggling families and at risk youth, hell, some of them designed measures to support those programs; and they would rather spend more of Oakland’s precious tax dollars on violence prevention and art, and good stuff than on policing.

Another news flash-Oakland’s leaders and community activists know we have a troubled police department. Do you know how we got into a Negotiated Settlement Agreement? That’s why it’s called a negotiated agreement. The city leaders wanted to confront the problems head on and they have tried and will keep trying. Yelling at them, especially the brand new ones, who were, I gotta say, extremely patient, will not help us find a way to heal the wounds caused by bad policing.

Oh, and for you law‘norder folks-like you’re reading this!-Oakland officials also know that we need more police than we presently have. Oakland’s leaders, elected or otherwise know that our cops should come from and even live in Oakland. Since it has been determined by the courts that we cannot mandate that, they are trying to find other ways to make it happen.

If you have new solutions to our crime and violence problems, it would be wonderful to hear them. Most of us here in Oakland like the solutions you have previously posed in these meetings but we know them to be much more difficult to implement than it looks. Most of us in Oakland, and I believe this, do not want any more stop and frisk types of “solutions” to the scourge of crime and violence. We are an independent lot and don’t want our rights trampled or our youth disrespected.

I did think the speakers who gave their personal stories of police abuse were pretty effective-especially those folks who have worked out some ways to nurture themselves and their communities. Oh, and those screamers who made fun of and personally insulted city officials, speakers, etc-that came off as just plain mean. Mean only works for authoritarian solutions with cruel leaders, and most of us will react badly to that stimulus no matter who it comes from. Stop it.

Finally, we need to be really creative in these scary times of corporate control and militarization. We need, most of all, to find and nurture our humanity and the humanity of those around us to move beyond this climate of control. I don’t see creative solutions being posited in a meeting rife with scoffing and outright intimidation. In fact, I think those things are the anti-thesis of what we are trying to build here in Oakland.

So I’m asking you, please, before the next meeting, to consider ways to broaden the conversation and show everyone, including yourselves, some respect. If you’re new here and want to know how we think, well, respect is something we put a lot of weight on- it’ll get you farther than insults.

Saying Goodbye to the Oakland City Council while Reading Pogo on a Clear Afternoon


In the next week the Oakland City Council will see a rare makeover as three long time council members exit the stage and 2 new faces take their places with one well-known local politician moving into the other. Jane Brunner, Nancy Nadel, and Ignacio de la Fuente, will be moving on while Lynette McElhaney, Dan Kalb, and former school board member Noel Gallo will be seated.

Much has already been written about the responsibilities and obstacles they will confront in fulfilling their promises to renew the city and remake the fractious city council. Top among them are crime and violence, police reform, and desperately needed public works along with the possibility of a transformative change in our local and regional economy with new development at the port.

But, little has been written about the legacy of the three outgoing council members, which is considerable despite the fractious board of more recent memory. I remember when all of these folks were elected; and while I may not recall all their specific accomplishments, I will long remember what they added to our little burg. And, I want them and you, curious readers, to know what some of those overarching themes were and why they need to be remembered and honored.

I came to work for the city council as the chief of staff for Nate Miley in 1991. He was considered the first  reform council member after years of the  Lionel Wilson-led council, Lionel himself a ground-breaker, as a judge and our first Black mayor. Former Assembly Member Elihu Harris had replaced Wilson during that campaign-an interesting story in itself (check it out online if you dare).

Harris disappointed many by seeming to pick up where Wilson left off. He and the majority of the council were seen as overly influenced by the downtown White business elite that dominated the previous Republican administrations. One refrain I remember from Harris and his cohorts was that Oakland was not going to build more affordable housing because too many folks moved here to take advantage of that, as if buses were dropping people off from Castro Valley to live in run down apartments, rather than that long-time residents still needed decent, affordable housing (which is not limited to projects.)

This is not to denigrate some of the Harris administration achievements, many of which were put in place before Jerry was inaugurated, and were credited to his mayoralty. In fact that old council was also influenced by activists members like Council Member Mary Moore who fought with the powers that be to protect the neighborhood interests. But, by the time Mary left and John Russo took her place, she had begun to be viewed as a NIMBY; and the reform-minded Russo then honed his power along with his generation’s local developers like Phil Tagami.

Someone ought to write a book about Mr. Tagami, by the way, a man many of us watched grow into a powerful and sometimes reviled figure in Oakland politics and the development community. He’s a truly fascinating character whether you like what he does and how he does it, or not.

After Miley was elected came Mr. De La Fuente and Sheila Jordan who spun off from the school board to the council then to the county Department of Ed where she has since built a small empire. As an aside, for all those budding politicos considering a run for the school board, Sheila, then Jean Quan, and now Noel Gallo were able to move to the council from 2nd Avenue. While it may seem that becoming a school trustee is often entree into the next level of elected office, it’s just as often a dead end for political careers. Running the schools is an almost completely thankless task.

So from Ms. Jordan, the seat then turned over to her close friend, Jane Brunner, while Nancy Nadel moved into what has been called the West Oakland seat; but which now finds most of it voters in the Adams point and Lake Merritt areas. Ignacio De La Fuente  was elected to represent the Fruitvale district in 1992 and was the powerful president of the city council for 10 years of that two decades. This council set about changing the face of Oakland politics and bringing  their strong social justice bonafides with them.

Prior to this “reform” council being elected, Wilson Riles Jr. was considered the “conscience of the council”. When Mr. Riles left to run the American Friends Service Committee, Nancy Nadel took that title and remained the only one of the new members-particularly after Mr. Russo was elected-to stand completely outside the heavily-financed camp of Don Perata followers.

Despite the heavy influence of Don Perata who ran a lobbying firm known as Perata Engineering-the guy who engineered the Raiders deal along with our long term taxpayer obligations to  the Silver and Black-these council members pushed their own progressive agendas.

Notably, Brunner and Nadel, having grown up in low-income housing in New York City, have always been promoters of affordable housing for those who have long lived and struggled in Oakland.

Nadel who has the most interesting background in a membership of folks whose own stories could be made into successful miniseries, has a masters in geoscience, has worked as an artist, a teacher, and an environmentalist, and now heads her own sustainable boutique chocolate company.

She has led the struggle to develop restorative justice and violence prevention as a public health issue, and worked to implement groundbreaking programs to reintegrate former prisoners into the community.

Nancy can be counted on to look at ways that sustainable industries can be developed regionally, youth and their needs can be explored and resources can be found to demand underserved populations be offered real solutions to better their lives.

Jane has always been a union stalwart, a neighborhood mediator, and budget negotiator. Her negotiating talents have been prodigious even as others pushed for jobs programs that often resulted in little, she worked on the details that made them come alive (along with her former colleague, Jean Quan, a behind the scenes council negotiator without whom many successful ballot measures and inter-jurisdictional programs would not have passed.)

Jane presided over district town halls and folks from all over Oakland attended her D1 meetings to learn about and deliberate on the issues of the day facing Oakland. Only Mayor Jean Quan, of all the mayors in my memory, have promoted and organized similar but citywide town halls. I hope that new and long term council members will still consider adding these regular constituent check-in sessions to their agendas.

As a union lawyer, Jane Brunner, has advocated for local, union-strong jobs, that is, jobs with benefits and protections against unscrupulous employers and for affirmative action for Oaklanders who have traditionally been kept out of the equation. Council Member Desley Brooks has more recently assumed that mantle. Now it is her turn to develop a coalition to carry on that tradition with the new council members.

Now we come to Ignacio De La Fuente, who I once considered an ally and still consider a colleague. He came to office as the first Mexican immigrant to sit on the Oakland Council. He has maintained his cultural connections and roots in a district with a successful Latino- based business and retail district. Two of his most significant accomplishments are the redesign of the old Montgomery Ward building into the Cesar Chavez Education Center and the completion of the Fruitvale BART station project.

Believe it or not, I have worked more closely with Mr. De La Fuente than I have with Ms. Nadel and Ms. Brunner though I have always admired their tough work ethic and creative, progressive solutions.

As a council aide to Nate Miley, De La Fuente was the one who helped us shepherd through Miley’s ground breaking legislation to curb crime around liquor stores as alcohol industry lobbyists circled like vultures and our legislation looked like it could not pass. I watched while Ignacio challenged the  police department’s budget busting excesses. I also remember when he tried hard to pass a local hire requirement for the police department that was undone by the California courts.

While De la Fuente has long had a knee-jerk reaction against environmentalism; because of concerns that it would hurt job growth-and an autocratic and rule-bending style of leadership-personally, he is always good-humored and self-deprecating. He has never shown offense at my outspoken criticism.

Nancy Nadel retired and has already moved on, but her innovative approaches to our problems will be missed. Jane seems to have ridden herself out of town on a rail, and Ignacio couldn’t wait to spend his stockpile of campaign funds on a useless crusade of silly attacks.

Somehow that didn’t surprise me.  He had always hoped to be mayor, and he still seems to be the only one who doesn’t know that can never happen. When he watched a colleague and former close ally who came to the council later than he did, take that job with no money and little high level support, the bitterness fairly dripped off of him until even some of his allies could not stomach his campaign of naysaying and demagoguery against the administration. It could be said that it was reminiscent of the Republican approach to making government work.

Jane could have run a campaign describing the innovations she might very well have promoted as city attorney but with the able assistance of Larry Tramutola- another special Oakland character- she slid into an attack mode from which she never recovered.

This council changing-of-the-guard could be a tale of good intentions lost due to corruption, or opportunism, or simple convenience, but I think, like everything, it’s more complicated than that.

Public servants, and, make no mistake, these are public servants who have worked overtime for what they believe in, are elected by us (all 3 were repeatedly reelected), then trained by all of us. Yes, it’s difficult to run a work-a-day life and stay informed on politics even  the local kind. But, it is a requirement of good government that folks not only vote but keep abreast of the issues they care about and continue to learn and demand what they want from their electeds in the context of what is possible.

Politicians are a little like puppies. You need both a rolled up newspaper and a bag of treats to train them to heel long enough to understand what you want. I frequently chat with folks I meet asking them how they think Oakland is doing.  They often comment on the failures of the mayor and the city council (any mayor, any city council), the police department, etc. When asked what they would do, the answers quite often range from the impossible to the absurd. It is disturbing and appalling how little many of our most well-educated citizens know about how government works.

So on the day after this new year has started, I wanted to memorialize the hard work and the sometimes magnificent accomplishments of this previous board of long-time activists.

I’d also like to welcome the newly elected and soon-to-be-reviled, incoming city council. Before you post that nasty comment in the paper, or denounce a new initiative, take a look in the mirror, remembering the wise words of that sage, Pogo. We have met the enemy and he is us.