It’s not too late to look back and gather some hope from the ravages of 2019.
I give you Lucy McBath
Most of all I want to thank the incoming Congressional class elected in 2018, seated in 2019. They showed us that we can win and win as women, men-Brown and Black, gay, intersectional and very progressive Democrats-with passion and actual plans to make people’s lives better.
Lucy McBath who had been politically active but had never run for office, decided to run after Trump was elected with the threat of gun control measures being rolled back. Her son, Jordan Davis, was murdered in Florida for driving away after a crazed white man demanded that he turn his music down. She defeated a Republican and turned Newt Grinrich’s former seat blue. She took her pain and turned it into public service and advocacy.
A new City Council
After a few years of disappointment and weak responses to Oakland’s crises, particularly the affordable housing and out-of-control epidemic of displacement and homelessness, Oakland’s voters elected an activist city council (I’m biased for my boss, Nikki Bas, because she’s that good) and replaced cranky or ineffective leadership with At Large Member Rebecca Kaplan as president of that body. There have been some missteps but overall, this group of veteran and new members have recognized the historic challenges of housing our residents, demanding independent police oversight, and working to prevent more displacement. Yes, progress has been too slow for what is needed but more is yet to come…as Rachel Maddow likes to say, watch this space.
The Coalition for Police Accountability
In September of 2016, that ignominious year, a small group of folks who believed that Oakland desperately needed civilian oversight of OPD and so with virtually no money, no political consultant, they campaigned for and won a ground breaking measure, an innovative investigative agency and public commission, made up of local residents, with the power to propose and policies and procedures in addition to disciplining members of a long troubled police department. The measure passed with 83% of the vote.
Since that amazing victory the little group of police reform activists expanded to a coalition of over a dozen social justice and good government advocacy organizations. They have worked their tales off to support the fledgling commission as it set up with absolutely no assistance from the city administration. They organized a program in West Oakland to bring the commission to homeless communities to detail their experiences with Oakland police. They have organized listening sessions on use of force, and done research and grunt work to bolster the Commission while the city was actively obstructing its work.
The Coalition has devised and written–with community input–fixes to the loopholes in the original legislation that the city has used to prevent the commissioners from being able to completely fulfill their duty. They expect this legislation to be on the ballot in November 2020. Meanwhile the Commissioners themselves put in hours and hours of work with very little notice by average Oaklanders but they have had some successes despite the city’s top leadership.
Hyphenated Republic Blogs City Hall
This activist turned city desk reporter Jaime Omar Yassin has partially filled the hole left by the demise of the actual East Bay Express which attempted to fill the hole left by the demise of many previous alternative papers and a once robust Oakland daily. Someone could write a college course on all the papers [remember the independently owned Montclarion, it had a city desk and a school beat with 2 whole reporters!] that used to serve our little metropolis and still there weren’t enough column inches to cover all the local boards that people have forgotten they ever voted for.
Omar covers an eclectic beat of his own choosing, frequently ranting about his lack of recognition or pay but-such is the life of the lowly reporter. He attends the council meetings regularly, and when I miss one, I just check his twitter feed for what happened. His interpretation is often a bit jaundiced for my taste but he’s careful to get his facts right. Check out his article on the legacy of soon-to-be-gone city administrator Sabrina Landreth and her relationship to the city’s aforementioned civilian police oversight board. https://hyphenatedrepublic.com/2020/01/07/landreth-leaves-legacy-of-obstruction-at-oakland-police-commission/
While we continue to blame the media for the political disaster we are currently living in, we need to be reminded that there are a lot of reporters still working hard but many local journalists have lost their positions (and more live on the edge of that growing abyss.) If you want to read some of their stories, you may have to subscribe to the Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us which is now paying them (G-d knows what) to cover local stories like this one, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jan/21/mothers-who-occupied-vacant-oakland-house-will-be-allowed-to-buy-it
The Fight Deck/Ragged Wing Ensemble
Lest you think I forgot the arts, there’s just too much going on in Oakland to list. Even if you never peruse our vibrant art scene, you can’t miss the burgeoning mural movement around tha Town.
Here’s the rub, the paradox of our resurgent arts scene, as Oakland becomes popular and draws residents from around the world, it prices out ever more of its indigenous and even its newer artists.
The Flight Deck in downtown Oakland on Broadway is a performance space that hosts two resident theater companies-Ragged Wing Ensemble (its founding organization) and the Lower Bottom Playaz. They also put on classes and provide event space, bringing black box theater back to life in the heart of Oakland.
But, and you knew that was coming, they are not renewing their lease as they have found it difficult and time consuming to cover the rent and costs at the current rate much less focus on their art. Here’s an excellent article on their struggle and final show, The Art of Leaving, a participatory event on March 29th. https://www.kqed.org/arts/13870004/flight-deck-oaklands-only-black-box-theater-to-close-in-march
I only recently discovered the venue-having attended performances of the Lower Bottom Playaz-and it was wonderful. Both companies will revert to their nomadic existence-a testament to the tenacity of art and artists and Oakland artists in particular- but we need to ask ourselves if this is what we want for the new “improved” Oakland.
After a very discouraging year in national politics where one degradation to our vulnerable populations, our environement and our civil liberties has followed another. Add to that a sense of powerlessness to stop more of our Oakland folks from landing on the sidewalks where even their tents and meager belongings are not respected, this movement was like the breath of spring and people responded to it immediately.
Back in November when three Black Oakland mothers and their kids moved into an empty, abandoned house (no appliances, a water heater, nada) in West Oakland (an historically majority Black neighborhood) it seemed as if this was an act of desperation but it was desperation with a plan and lots of research to back it.
Thanks to ACCE
It turned out the moms were well versed in organizing and using civil disobedience besides being hardworking and highly disciplined. If that wasn’t enough to spark a movement in a city where even the newcomers are outraged over the cost and insecurity of housing, they were backed by the Alliance for Californians for Community Empowerment, ACCE and its powerful director, Carroll Fife, who is also one of Oakland’s most gifted orators.
Corporate House Flipping
They had done their homework and discovered that the house was being kept empty by a well known corporate house flipper which makes its huge profits by preying on low income neighborhoods where the former owners were pushed out using predatory loans given to them by the very banks gambling on the outcome they also caused. Black wealth in the form of the only wealth most Americans can ever hope to achieve, homeownership, was then systematically siphoned off-where it had not already been redlined out of existence.
You know the rest of the story, the moms got to stay long enough to put up bunk beds for their kids (not to mention adding a water heater and appliances) pay utility bills, and create a sense of belonging not only for their families but also for a community longing for action in the hope that they would not have to live out their lives on the streets, in their cars, or packing up and leaving their histories behind.
The day before the eviction I sat on a chair outside in the cold and damp while crowds of folks took turns linking arms in preparation for arrest. When those supporters left, others arrived. I saw old friends and met new ones, there were lots of young people, neighbors, and women of color in attendance.
That evening I was at a meeting (of course, this one on public banking, ask me about that.) I got a text about 7pm that the sheriffs were on their way so I bolted to 2928 Magnolia and parked across the street. By 7:30 my car was massed in by hundreds of supporters. We stayed and chanted and visited but around 10pm when it was time to quiet down so the neighbors could sleep, most of us went to our homes.
Shock Troops Arrive before Dawn
I awoke at 7am the next morning and discovered that sheriff’s deputies had already battered down the door and taken away the remaining moms (the children had been sent to safety and one mom was broadcasting at the KPFA studios for Democracy Now at the time.) [Ask me about the effort to change the way sheriffs are elected. It can happen.]
By the next day, the moms and their allies had been freed and after being promised by the corporate house flippers, here going by Wedgewood, an innocuous sounding name among their many LLC identities, that they could safely retrieve their belongings, arrived and found everything in garbage bags on the sidewalk or just dumped outside-new mattresses, toys, children’s clothing, a laptop in a garbage bag.
It was just too much for them and their supporters, ne of the moms broke down. They had got invested in making a home despite their political instincts. It’s hard to see your kids things, strewn on a sidewalk. On top of that, EBMUD was in the process of digging a trench next to the sidewalk where their things had been left.
But now the story has a happy ending and we can all go home to our warm dwellings. The corporation that took over the house and vowed to evict the moms has agreed to let the Oakland Trust for Land purchase the home so that these moms and others will hold it as affordable housing in perpetuity.
Hmmm. The moms have heard little from the corporate flippers. They do know that the mayor with the help of other powerful folks has seemingly agreed to pay these predators the market value of the house rather than limit the price towhat their LLC paid for it. We don’t know who exactly is doing the negotiating or whether the Councilmember who fought for solutions alongside the moms, CM Nikki Fortunato Bas, with the aid of Council President Rebecca Kaplan, has been included in the talks (and I do not have inside info on this.)
And so the Movement Begins
So after a brief but restorative celebration, we realize that the story of this house isn’t over and neither is the story of the thousands of Oakland residents who bed down on the sidewalks, in the parks, or live in fear of the sheriffs at their door. While this tale is far from over, we take heart in the courage, thoughtfulness and discipline of this first step to victory. Thanks to Dominique, Misty and Tolani for sparking a movement for housing as a human right. https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/otisrtaylorjr/article/Moms-4-Housing-It-s-one-victory-in-a-long-war-14996656.php
On to many more victories in 2020, my March 3rd Primary recommendations will be coming soon. Please make sure you are properly registered as a Democrat!