The Blue Wave just keeps on coming in…
If the view of this historic wave weren’t obstructed by the rusting hulk of the small but potent remains of the Republican Party, it would have been easier to see the tsunami that keeps plowing onto our shores, from the California to the New York Island [Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land]. Today is Sunday, November 11th, Armistice Day, and we are still learning the results of the rebellion against the racism, xenophobia and nationalism of the once conservative party known as the GOP.
And, after 26 years of waiting, the Year of the Woman is beginning to come true. So for those leftist cynics who saw the elections as a disappointment because our star Dems, Abrams, Gillums, and O’Rourke, didn’t win outright, I am so heartened to see that Lucy McBath who lost her son to racist gun violence, will take over Newt Gringrich’s former district, Ayanna Presley, Lauren Underwood, Antonio Delgado, and Sharice Davids, Rashida Tlaib and of course, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are headed to the halls of Congress. There are more, but I simply can’t recall them all.
These new Congressional Reps are younger and more progressive than anything we’ve seen since the days of the McGovern candidacy and I don’t believe they’ll go to Congress dependent of the DNC to tell them what to fight for and how to do it.
Progressive Issues and Local Concerns
Most of these candidates ran on progressive national issues like universal healthcare and tuition-free college but they also ran on local issues, sensitive to what their neighbors deal with in their everyday lives, they have put the importance of local decision-making back into the national spotlight. This is how you win-you have to have candidates who know those issues and are willing to engage in retail politics, that is, walking, door knocking and phoning for hours every day. We like to complain about money in politics, for good reason, but money is not usually enough to win most local elections.
Pundits always speak of the national message and that’s important but you disregard the importance of local policies and how they’re implemented at your electoral peril. Here in Oakland, you could come to either conclusion-money wins or focusing on local issues wins-depending on which race you looked at.
Why the Mayor’s Race Ended the Way It Did
In the mayor’s race, many thought Libby Schaaf couldn’t be beat and their instincts have been proven true, but remember that just weeks before the election, 20% of Oaklanders were still undecided, her campaign was lackluster, and her appearances doled out to a small portion of the electorate.
Cat Brooks campaign sought to harness the movement of young people, seniors and families, Black, Brown, and White, who are very dissatisfied, some actually terrified by the changes in our city and the very real threat that they will be left behind. Unfortunately, the campaign didn’t completely embrace the necessities of retail politics until late in the game while running against a completely different view of how our city is functioning and for whom.
Cat, having been branded a rabble-rouser, needed to redefine her image as someone who could soberly handle the day-to-day compromises and details of being a mayor-nevermind that the mayor does not make policy or ultimately determine the budget, but harnesses the power of the bully pulpit, for which Ms. Brooks is eminently suited.
A mid-hills acquaintance who is a Libby supporter asked me if Cat would start a riot if elected, sigh. But less than a month before the voting started, her campaign put out a wonderful video depicting her as a thoughtful policy maker who is also unafraid to lead. It was brilliant and had it come earlier in combination with a well-oiled ground campaign, it might have succeeded in changing her image in the minds of mid-hills’ voters.
[As for Pamela Price’s campaign, I never really saw evidence of it. After all, she had just run a hard-fought campaign for DA and it was probably unrealistic to think she could turn around and run for many more months, not to mention, this was a very different race than that for district attorney.]
Hills voters, for the most part, were unlikely to see the need for a such a radical change in city hall. To many of them the cranes going up, the restaurants downtown, the decrease in the crime rate-all of these combined-was enough to overlook the growing tent camps and the level of anxiety that many middle management much less poor Oaklanders experience every month when they pay their rent.
Herein lay the crux of the issue for Oakland progressives in this race. Folks who live in the hills or the new downtown don’t really see a problem. They see a mayor who challenged Trump [she actually did next to nothing for sanctuary and immigrants other than freak them out] and who only began to talk about homelessness during the campaign–as doing a satisfactory job.
But the question continues to be, does Oakland work for you, do you recognize the large percentage of residents that the new Oakland does not work for? Or is just the price (some) Oaklanders have to pay to erect of the new version of the Town?
Back in the early 90’s, I remember when Mayor Elihu Harris and his city council blamed other cities for not housing enough of the poor, despite the fact that many of Oakland’s poor have lived here for decades-they’re from here and worked in the once plentiful industrial jobs in our city. After those jobs disappeared, they were negatively impacted by the war on the poor of the 80’s and the 90’s plus massive incarceration aimed at locking up much of the Black population.
Many of those left-behind-folks became marooned in public housing projects that received less and less funding and were eyesores in their neighborhoods. I could write a whole blog on the corruption in the Housing Authority at that time, but suffice to say that it led many to eschew affordable housing just at the time when the Feds moved to defund it.
Now here we are. Long term residents who were able to thrive through the bad times, don’t want to see how we got here, so they just don’t. (This is not limited to hills homeowners, the difference is, many flatlands homeowners, especially Black homeowners, were pushed out in the crash or left earlier due to high crime and high housing prices.)
When these comfortable folks turned out for Libby, they could see themselves as supporting an economic boom while also promoting their resistance cred given the mayor’s lip service to it. Their understanding of the plight of people living on the sidewalks is very superficial and many believe most of it can be blamed on mental illness, much the same way as many blame our mass shootings on that. Somehow the sudden huge increase in homelessness (and mass shootings) doesn’t seem to register the level of alarm necessary to demand real solutions.
The Magic of Trickle Down in Oakland Elections
At the heart of quintessential American ideology is that opportunity is available to many and that those who produce economic booms should be rewarded for their “good deeds.” Despite all evidence to the contrary, we hold these truths to be self-evident-trickle down will work if we just let it do its magic-this belief is as rampant in Oakland as it is in Trump country. Very little is understood about the role of regulation and the way most of our rules have always favored the already privileged, especially in regards to housing.
The city council races, despite reporters claims of dissatisfaction, were each distinct, because, ya know, some politics are hyper local. The West Bay press, a well-financed PAC and her own bad deeds combined to force an end to Desley Brooks long career on the council for a fresh and friendly face in that office, Loren Taylor.
The top three candidates in the D4 race, all women, were all progressive and full of energy. Sheng Thao, the winner, will be up and running immediately as she has had the most experience with the workings of the city council. Pamela Harris is a local Democratic Party star. Nayeli Maxson, who I credit with some of the most innovative ideas for our city, was an orphan candidate in that her former boss, Annie Washington, would not support her as too progressive for the district, while others saw her as too close to the mayor (she wasn’t.) She’ll be back to running an organization that promotes and assists local entrepreneurs, many of them immigrants and POC. I hope that the new council members will seek her out as they develop progressive policies.
In District 2 an incumbent council member, Abel Guillen, was replaced by Nikki Bas who has long-time progressive credentials and policy chops. Her campaign was run mostly by women of color who come from the same progressive non-profit background that she does-they have championed increased minimum wage, local jobs programs and environmental justice policies. That her name was virtually unknown outside these circles and her own neighborhood (where she’s been an active parent) at the start is pretty astounding.
However, Abel got elected by these same folks after which he abruptly turned away from them, both in policy positions and personal relationships. As the old song goes, “ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya.”
On the other hand, the residents who grew to appreciate Guillen were often the same ones who fell for Libby’s “Oakland toughness” charade and were lulled by her “resistance” cred. But these are not the people who will go out and walk miles, phone for hours, challenge media, and trudge to early morning meetings until their candidate’s name became a household word. His folks were satisfied to put up lawn signs and like his postings on facebook completely unaware that he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to fight for proactive policies as the tents proliferated and people were forced to move en masse away from the city they loved. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…..
Disappointment in the District 4 Oakland School Board
While in D2 and D6, the incumbent school board members ran unopposed, in District 4, an open seat brought out two very different visions for our schools. Former Board Member Gary Yee’s campaign was funded by the charter school movement which funnels so much money toward their privatizing policies and candidates, that a challenger must run an almost perfect campaign.
Unfortunately, as I have come to learn, Clarissa Doutherd who would be the kind of perceptive and thoughtful board member this school district desperately needs, did not have that kind of campaign. Calls to reporters went unreturned, even an offer to deliver her lawn signs was not responded to-these may seem like small things-but they can be devastating against big money and a candidate with name recognition. Nevertheless, she has the policy chops and an almost unique ability to “hear” Oakland’s parents, that should not go unutilized in this desperate period for OUSD. I hope that other city reps will engage her to bring new ideas and energy to Oakland’s education community. We really need her skills and compassion.
AD 15-Buffy vs. Jovanka
Here we have a case of the Obama nostalgia combined with gobs of money, a touch of racism, and the sad reality that a candidate with no public record can run as whatever people want them to be. Officials who have held elective office will always have baggage that can be used against them and twisted by out of town mailings until many readers are inclined to believe the worst.
A Progressive City Council
For the last eight years, Oakland has had one of the most conservative city councils since the 80s. Now, with three new council members, engaged Oaklanders are poised to promote an activist agenda: public land for public good, funding for affordable housing, emergency measures to house the unhoused-listening to volunteers like those in HAWG, the Housing Advocacy Working Group and the East Oakland Collective-plus pushing back against the administration’s attempts to block independence for our Oakland Police Commission (thanks to the Coalition for Police Accountability).
We have a chance to engage at every level of government and the times demand that we do it.
While I’m at it, best wishes for a speedy recovery to Master Grass Roots Organizer and Tireless Advocate for progressive causes, Floyd Huen, who worked on Nikki’s campaign after a long day of walking for Josh Harder-who also may have won his seat in the 10th Congressional District by now. Floyd is due for open heart surgery this week so say a prayer or a chant for him and his family. His positive spirit alone should carry him through. Take care, Floyd, you are beloved.
[Floyd was a toddler in 1949 when his family emigrated from China. Below]