I spent Wednesday morning, November 4th, at the ampitheater in the plaza in front of Oakland’s City Hall, masked and distanced but heartened by the crowd who sang and prayed together for a just America, demanding that we count every vote! We ate lunch at a parklet near Latham Square and commiserated over our fears that though we might win, we were confronting a country where close to half the populace supported unspeakable cruelty and corruption.
The talk even turned, given the reports on Tuesday evening, of an increase in Trump’s vote even among Latinx voters, Black men and particularly white women, that things looked a bit hopeless. Looking now at the percentages, it’s clear that Black and Brown organizers and voters rescued us from Trump and the horrors his regime posed for the future of the planet.
But Saturday, when the Biden win was finally declared, was a beautiful celebration from my back deck to Philadelphia, to Atlanta, Paris and Berlin. Ding dong the witch is dead-brains, heart and courage could be found in the smallest and poorest neighborhoods where people registered, waited for hours, braved intimidation and voted-the would-be dictator will be banished from the ruined Rose Garden, disinfected from the Oval.
If 2020 turns out to be merely a Blue Wave and not a tsunami since it did not carry the Senate and barely kept the House, it’s still an enormous victory.
Let’s remember that it’s rare for an incumbent president to lose reelection so this repudiation is still that. The power of incumbency, overwhelming voter suppression, the destruction of the United States Post Office as one of the few remaining public institutions that could inspire trust, all made it very difficult to achieve this result. But folks like Stacey Abrams and the Working Families Party pressed on for us and Philadelphia gave us the win. I am, btw, a suburban Philly girl by birth and raising so I’m savoring that a bit more.
Biden got the largest popular vote in history. Well, you know all this. Locally, Barbara Lee won a powerful 92% of our vote and continues to hold the moral highground in Congress. While we watch newer players trying to make the moves to place them on her path of leadership when she retires-Barbara retiring? Ha!- not one of them yet looks up to the task.
Local Leaders in the National-Barbara and Kamala
Another thing Barbara did, which showed her leadership chops, was to champion Kamala Harris for president and then VP. While Kamala’s promise as a presidential candidate in her Oakland kickoff, the political event of that season, fell flat, she did her job on the ticket with her smarts and her charm and her incredible energy. She herself has never seemed to have a clear message so that her attractiveness and vivacity, equalled only by Obama’s, never connected in the same way.
Whatever Kamala’s strenghts and weaknesses, young women and little girls all over the country are encouraged and hopeful. And with Barbara, the elder stateswoman, as her mentor, Kamala can only develop a stronger message and platform.
So now why did it turn out that half our country really did support an autocrat, a white supremacist and a low life grifter? I had believed that no more than 35 to 40% of our country could be so cruel, so crass, so ignorant but I was proven wrong Tuesday night.
The Authoritarian Strain in America
It’s a complicated and layered mix. Start with 2 cups anti-Blackness, add 1 1/2 cups hatred of Brown immigrants-each ingredient being picked off the same organic source of patriarchy- grease it with a bottle of oil d’authoritarianism and layer on a crisp of deep inequality and you get a recipe for fascism.
Remember fascism has always been built on racism, anti-semitism, and hatred of differences–those who are seen as the other-and by the way, that includes misogyny pervasively mixed throughout-and paid for by corporatocracy. But it thrives through propaganda, lack of knowledge about the other and a desire to maintain some pathetic version of the status quo. And our status quo is a racial, cultural and gendered caste system that, at times, appears impregnable.
Rather than ask how we reach out to these folks, we need to first ask ourselves how we purge or at least challenge our own stubborn need to maintain this caste system and to even accept virulent strains of white supremacy as a tradeoff. We must begin by restoring affirmative action (proposing reparations is a better way), to demand that the wealthy pay their apportionate share of taxes, and refuse to become innured to homelessness and police state violence. Unfortunately, our votes on recent state propositions here in California show that we as a state have rejected most of those remedies.
Happily, locally we upheld our progressive values by approving police accountability measures and taxing ourselves to provide better school facilities and begin to solve homelessness.
All Politics is Local
Tip O’Neil’s old quote https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/all-politics-is-local-the-debate-and-the-graphs/ encapsulates many important concepts of governing and is why I love local politics. It refers to a couple things, 1) if you seek first to satisfy the needs of your local constituents you can propose more radical solutions to them; 2) if you deliver locally, you can more broadly propose ideas which are completely at odds with most people seem to favor. Thus voters in Florida went for the cruelty of Donald Trump, the kidnapper-in-chief, and still voted for a living wage that doubles the current federal standard.
Oakland and Alameda County Go Their Own Way
Nowhere did the Left show its power to assert equity and accountability like Oakland with the possible exception of the entire state of Georgia-a place where I’ve spent many months this year and I never thought I’d say this–it was nothing short of miraculous!
So what did we do differently in Oakland, the Town, we voted to replace a competent Black legislator with a super smart housing organizer who inspires people and movements. We replaced Lynette Gibson-McElhaney with Carroll Fife of Moms 4 Housing whose clear message is-housing is a human right. Beyong being inspirational, she is creative and collaborative in her thinking. She gives us a progressive majority on the city council with the win of incumbents like Council President Rebecca Kaplan who beat another mayoral challenger, a local entrepreneur whose bona fides seemed to fluctuate from day to day.
Rebecca’s challenger, as many of you know, had the strong support of the current Mayor Libby Schaaf, whom many around the country see as a progressive but whose actions in Oakland are profoundly reactionary. He also had the strong support of app companies like Lyft which just paid the voters of California to turn our state into a sharecropper like economy with a near permanent loss of workers’ basic rights in the success of Prop 22.
Noel Gallo kept his seat because people basically like him and see him as well-intentioned even if a bit flighty. No one knows which way he’ll vote from minute to minute or what his rationale is for those votes. Also, his challengers started too late.
In District 1 the legislator-par-excellence, Dan Kalb, with credentials both as an evironmentalist and someone who can get police reform and tenant rights done, won handily despite predictions that his well-funded opponent who was promoted by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, looked to have an edge. Then voters remembered who delivered for them. Let’s hope Ms. Wicks who also supported Johnson, Rebecca Kaplan’s challenger, stops meddling in city council races. This is not the way to build a machine, Buffy.
In District 7 Treva Reid is poised to win and beat a slew of challengers including a very reactionary but well-known minister who always takes the side of police and more recently, adopted the anti-masking crowd.
Bloomberg Money Sent Packing
Four seats were up for grabs for Oakland Unified’s troubled Board of Education. A crew of candidates emerged with various educational backgrounds and community experience Once the teachers’ union, OEA, made their choices, it seemed the likely winners were outlined for the voters.
But then a number of procharter political action committees, PACs, got involved, including Michael Bloomberg’s, and dumped more than a half a million dollars into these relatively provincial races. However, this was nothing new. Corporate backed PACs have had a lot of power over this school baord ever since the state took control of the District upon discovery of a budget deficit and promptly increased the deficit while allowing charters to subsume about 30% of the local public schools.
For the first time in many elections all but one of the charter candidates seem to have lost to union and community backed contenders- Sam Davis, Mike Hutchinson and Van Cedric Williams. It’s the beginning of a new era and a chance to turn the District around including a win for more funding to repair and replace school infrasructure.
The choice in this national election-mirrored in local elections-was balanced on a precipice of whether open appeals to white nationalism should govern America or whether our country would reject that. As we dance in the streets and look forward to the struggle ahead, let us remember what Professor Brittney Cooper said in a recent tweet, “When you build a policy agenda that supports Black women’s interests around reproductive justice, housing, healthcare, economic access, you create a big tent that includes everybody. We bring everybody with us, just like we brought America with us.”