My 2018 Primary Recommendations & a Look Foward to November

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Vote Dan Kalb AD 15, Pamela Price DA, & Write-in N.O. Confidence for Sheriff

You got your ballot in the mail and your handbook before that and wow, this is another fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. With an open seat in Berkeley/Oakland/Richmond for state assembly and our current governor being termed out from his last incarnation, we have lots of folks to study and TV ads to avoid.

So let’s tackle the governor’s race first. Like most Californians, or most voters, I don’t know any of these guys and gals too well. At least the current governator was once our mayor and though I didn’t much like him, I had some idea what he’d do. Scratch that, with Jerry you’re never sure of anything.

The once flamboyant Governor Moonbeam has turned into Gov Scrooge and it’s well known by all our legislators that if we want more money for programs for kids and housing for the bottom, say, 75% of us, we’ll have to wait for the next boss in Sacramento.

Governor-Delaine Eastin

Gavin Newsom had sucked all the air out of the room until two billionaire charter school proponents, Eli Broad and Reed Hastings, started pumping billions into the race for Antonio Villaraigosa. Having met him once and found him to be a bit sleezy and a lot opportunistic, I would take Gavin over him if those were the only choices.

However, despite Newsom’s image as the brave guy who promoted marriage equality, I remember when San Francisco was on the brink of total gentrification from a wonderful pastiche of cultures and revolutionary instincts to the stultifying center of finance and tech bros it seems to be today, and Newsom presided over that change, encouraging it all the way. Oakland is there now and woe to us if we don’t heed the warning signs.

So my choice was between State Treasurer John Chiang and former Schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin.  Delaine has all the right instincts and when I saw her at Oakland’s rally to repeal Costa Hawkins law which prohibits many municipalities from passing renter protections,  I gave her my vote. You should too.

Lieutenant Governor-Gayle McLaughlin

I am not excited about this race but most voters never are. The only obvious reason to run is to be the next in line for governor. I had thought to endorse Ed Hernandez and then looked at his list of supporters-I was very impressed that he has all the union support but then noticed that that included all the police unions and that worries me. It’s already very difficult to get police reform bills passed, and I doubt he would oppose anything police unions support.

Gayle McLaughlin has operated in the tiny crucible that is Richmond politics where Chevron is the obvious villain to be opposed and most who do, come out looking like heroes. I find her naive and not as grounded as I would like but I will vote for her in lieu of the establishment candidates. BTW, if you notice the inundation of your airwaves with Kounalakis ads, look her up. She is a developer who is the daughter of a developer who has spent her life being appointed to high profile commissions. Don’t let the Obama imprimatur cloud your weepy eyes.

US Senator-Kevin De Leon

State Senator De Leon is responsible for most of the progressive legislation which got through the legislature this year as he was the Senator Pro Tem who pushed and organized the resistance including defining us as a sanctuary state. Now that Senator Feinstein has managed to portray herself as a staunch supporter of the Resistance and, given her millions in campaign cash, Kevin may have little chance but we should look for him to lead our state in some other capacity soon.

Congress-Barbara Lee Speaks for Me-as always

CA Secretary of State-?

I’m sure there are folks who can tell you why or why not to continue to support the incumbent, Alex Padilla, but I could find little or no information on that race. It looks like Padilla is guaranteed a return to that office.

Also, the Wellstone Voting Rights Task Force, for complicated reasons, is voting no endorsement in this race.

Betty Yee for Controller and Malia Cohen for State Board of Equalization.

Attorney General-Xavier Becerra

Ok, so I changed horses in mid-season. My club, the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, had heartily endorsed Dave Jones for Insurance Commissioner and feted him with a celebratory dinner. I got many calls from him and finally decided to endorse him before the California Democratic Convention back in February.

But then I got more info from someone who worked as an attorney in that department under both Garamendi and Jones. Describing Jones as insurance commissioner,”Jones could have pursued a pro-consumer agenda, like John Garamendi. But instead he was as passive as he could possibly be. He didn’t even bother to replace people who were in positions subject to his appointment. He just left the Republican holdovers to keep doing whatever they were doing (he didn’t seem to know or care).”

And more specifically as a reference to Jones’ environmental platform, “But where he has real power to help consumers–by making insurance companies treat policyholders fairly–he’s pathetically timid.
Here’s an example I {former employee} know about:  the insurance commissioner has the authority to disapprove all health insurance contracts (policies). There are department lawyers who review every word to make sure it complies with the law.
There was a huge backlog of these policies (the insurers could use them until and unless they were disapproved).  While literally thousands of these policies were sitting without review the laws changed and included more consumer protections. I tried to get those policies disapproved, since they clearly no longer were valid.
But the policies were being used by insurance companies and Dave Jones didn’t want to upset them. So he ordered that they all be approved, even though they all violated the law.”
I’ve heard that Jones was weak on money bail reform while Becerra was not. So I am now endorsing AG Becerra. Maybe Jerry managed to do something right.
Tony Thurmond for Superintendent of Schools-very important!
Now to the fun down ballot stuff. It often seems like throwing darts at your handbook would work just fine which leads me to believe that some of these positions should be appointed rather than elected as they are based on professional credentials that few have and even fewer may desire. But here we go:
Assessor-James Johnson
I can’t say I know a lot about this office though I suspect it’s one that shouldn’t be based on political expertise. I have a recommendation from a progressive friend who has worked with him that Johnson does indeed know the work of this office and is highly competent to carry it on. She is concerned about that the next assessor see the job as important and not just as a political stepping stone so I’m going with that.
Auditor-Controller-Irella Blackwood
Ok, I’ll admit to knowing little about what this office does too but it seems very important. One of the reasons I chose Irella was that during a forum she mentioned why she would present more transparent reports than her opponent Melissa Wilk, who already works in the county auditor’s office, is currently doing. Of course, promises are cheap and we’ll have to see but it is a concept her opponent did not push.
They both have great endorsements but Blackwood’s includes Ann-Marie Hogan while Wilk’s includes Sheriff Ahern who is being targeted by civil rights groups demanding his department be audited for why spending is going up for county jails while prisoner numbers are falling.
I’m sure they would both be fine auditor’s but I want to see this office removed from the sheriff’s influence.
County Board of Supervisors- Wilma Chan-this incumbent has quietly led the fight against the worst of the Trump crimes here in Alameda County.
District Attorney-Pamela Price
I’m happy to note that since I endorsed her, George Soros has followed my lead, LOL and pumped some money into mailers to elect her and other progressives into the office most responsible for mass incarceration of Black and Brown youth.
I’ve written more extensively about this endorsement here – https://draketalkoakland.com/tag/pamela-price/

And I will just add that while Nancy O’Malley has accomplished good things in the past, she is a traditional DA and the times call for innovation and a focus on dismantling mass incarceration. Whatever happens we should be grateful to Candidate Price for taking this on.

Sheriff-Write-In–N.O. Confidence

As I detailed in the blog above, there was a search for someone to run against this sheriff with the necessary law enforcement background but no one took that on despite our coalition’s effort. Since then, some of us have been beating the bushes to find a write-in candidate who would not be required to have the law enforcement certification but would be the antithesis of what most California sheriffs have become,  gung-ho supporters of the Trump anti-immigration policies and purveyors of the abuses of the mass incarceration state. Because they are elected independently, they act with impunity and little can be done to restrain their most negative impulses.

We still have until May 22nd to find a write-in candidate who embodies what real public safety would look like, a California where everyone is encouraged to watch out for each other without imposing their biases on them and where all feel free to come forward and ask for help in times of need. That person must be a registered voter in the county and be willing to obtain 20 signatures to prove it. That’s it, sign up!

But if as likely, no one steps forward-ideally a POC who works in the re-entry, anti-violence or public health field-then we will promote a campaign for everyone to write in the well known anti-sheriff candidate (gluten free of course) N.O. Confidence, who uses the pronoun “they.

State Assembly AD 18-Rob Bonta

Assembly Member Bonta is running unopposed probably because he is one of the hardest working folks in that body and is one of our reps who ushered in the resistance against the regime in DC while also fighting for affordable housing, renter protections, and money bail reform. That’s just a sliver of the issues he is taking on. Show him your support.

State Assembly AD 15-Dan Kalb

This is an open seat in a wide-open race. We have a well-heeled candidate, Buffy Wicks, whom almost no one knows and who has’t lived here for long but due to the Obama nostalgia and piles of cash, has a good chance of getting in the top 2 of our weird primary system.

Wicks is also not a supporter of the repeal of Costa Hawkins which would allow municipalities to enact renter protections on some of the units not now affected by any protections, and she is quite willing to take contributions from the charter school industry. Outside of those pivotal issues, she might be a fine rep but I have nothing to base that on. She worked in the Obama administration but I have no way to know what her real contribution was.

My candidate, Dan Kalb, is widely acknowledged to be the most likely to write successful legislative initiatives in the legislature. His expertise ranges from environmental experience to fighting for affordable housing through knowledge of and a willingness to enact police reform. He is a principled politician who will not make promises he can’t keep.

So now I have to add that I like Jovanka Beckles and Cheryl Sudduth. I keep scratching my head wondering why CNA, the nurses’s union, declined to support Beckles in favor of a political neophyte when they might have put Jovanka over the top. Maybe it’ll still happen, we’ll see. In terms of Cheryl, I am really impressed by the number of issues she is involved in, particularly the layers of sanctuary she reps, and the passion with which she addresses them.

Judge Superior Court-Karen Katz

When Tara Flanagan ran she made a big splash and was a very visible and able politician. But since then she has disappointed those who closely watch trials as more law and order, especially for Black defendants, than was hoped for when elected.

Karen Katz has spent her life as a public defender and is running because she says, “we are all safer when justice is administered fairly.” I have no idea if she has a chance to beat a sitting judge, actually that is probably unlikely, but given some of what I have heard about Judge Flanagan’s court, it’s worth a try.

Propositions-County & Regional

RM3-NO

This measure raises the tolls on the Bay Bridge over the next few years to fund a hodgepodge of projects which claim to be public transit oriented but list to the side of ferry boats while stalling out on your daily AC Transit route leaving you stranded as you bike, albeit in better lanes, to the BART where your wait might be a couple of minutes shorter or not, depending on where you live. As one wag said, these are projects inspired by a transit agency that recently moved to the west bay at great expense but wants East Bay drivers to fund far flung transit and highway improvements to traffic nightmares wrought by Silicon Valley. Why must we continue to pay for all their sins?

The worst part about this mishegoss of a measure is that once these tolls are implemented, there will be no place left to go for funding by transit agencies which are still cleaning up the crumbs left by this mess.

As Jack Kurzweil, one of the founders of the Wellstone Club says, “The projects are not presented as part of a grand plan to address the future transportation needs of the Bay Area.  That’s because there is no such grand plan.  Consequently, there is little basis upon which to evaluate the choice of projects.  They are parts without a whole.  The Bay Area needs a transportation vision that makes sense.”

County Measure A-Childcare-Yes

Although it’s a small increase to the sales tax, the type of tax I rarely favor, we can handle this to fund something as desperately needed as good childcare. I recently bought shoes in Santa Monica and their sales tax is higher-yet I saw lots of shoppers there so go ahead and vote for this.

City of Oakland Measure D-Libraries-Yes

This is a relatively small increase in property tax, $75, but it will have a big impact especially for children for whom their local library branch is a sanctuary and the 30% whose school libraries have been shuttered. With this tax, library hours can be increased as well as the services they supply.

By the way, as some of you may know, adult education was wiped out in Oakland over the last decade and the library is one of the remaining spaces which provides adult literacy classes. And if, like me, you’re a kindle user, the library is a great place to get your ebooks too and the librarians are quite helpful in getting you signed up.

Prop 68-Yes-Park bonds

Prop 69-Yes-funds for Transportation to be spent on Transportation-Duh

Prop 70-NO, no,no-Don’t hobble the Legislature waiting on Republican votes for these projects

A Word about the Upcoming Mayoral & Council Contests

As many of Oaklanders look forward to the fall 2018 elections to remove some of the Trump stain, we also have to take stock of our city. We see the cranes all over the downtown and the crowds at the Lake. We have a plethora of renowned restaurants to choose from when we go out–and all this is good.

But  we may be becoming inured to the ever growing empire of tents, the daily displacement of families & couch surfing youth; at the same time as many of our 1920’s cottages turn into million dollar homes, more and more of us live in unspeakable and highly visible squalor on our streets. And others band together in older homes and apartments hoping that when they go out to work, they don’t get attacked and deported by agents of a xenophobic and lawless regime in Washington.

Our neighbor San Francisco now has the lowest percentages of families of any city in the country. Are we on the verge of becoming the same kind of city as that, cleansed of  its Black leaders, its Latino entrepreneurs, its artists and writers, its Bohemian youth, those who struggle and yearn for justice and new ways of living?

We are in the last moments when the way out of that reductionist and ultimately bleak future is clear–reelecting the folks who have tinkered with small solutions and toyed with our fears while so many go quietly away from us, is not the answer. Just as we’re doing on the national scene, we must allow our creative and compassionate ideas to flow and design the Oakland we have always dreamed of. That means we must stop looking for someone to blame and start proposing bold even outlandish solutions, then join with others to make them happen. Si se puede.

PS. Don’t be fooled by those who denounce the regime in Washington while doing little for the least of these in our hometown. Watch what they do, not what they say.

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A Common Sense Primer for Candidates and Newly Electeds in Oakland and Beyond

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We’re in the midst of the silly season, the heartless fall festival of campaigns, consultants, pundits, endorsement battles and, oh yes, the candidates themselves, trying to find a way to survive it all. Someone recently said, a good campaign consultant should study marketing, not poli sci, so true. It’s the Gotcha Season!

Make friends with the media, that means reporters, editors, photographers and bloggers.

1)So here’s some basic advice from an old hand at local politics.Yeah, I know with 24 hour social media and in an atmosphere where a candidate for president gets excoriated for being off line for 90 minutes, it all seems local and there’s some truth to that. But, again, first off, make friends with the media, that means reporters, editors, photographers and bloggers.

If you suspect that they have already stereotyped you or taken a dislike based on your race, gender, political leaning or just your inability to smile for 2 or 3 hours straight, your instincts may be right.

In fact, they probably are-all the more reason to woo them. Pretend they are puppies or babies or your mother-in-law (okay maybe not that) just coo gently and share a not too intimate but just intimate enough anecdote so they know you’re human and that they’re in on the joke.

Do not make enemies of the press or ignore their importance now if you hope to have a political future. I have seen it happen again and again and so have you. Your grandmom was right about first impressions, you can’t make them later.

Having grown up with a mom in the biz, I happen to enjoy working with reporters. And remember, they’ve been downsized too and have to do the work of many nowadays. Make it easy for them and they will bless you.

And whatever you do once in office, don’t run complaining to a reporter you haven’t thanked twice or given at least one scoop to. Don’t demand a retraction, just give an appropriate reaction. You’ve developed a relationship so you might say-more in sorrow than in anger, why, my friend?

Do you have an  elevator pitch? Are you ready with a soundbite?

2)Why are you running? Can you explain it to your teenage daughter? Ok, maybe that’s too hard but do you have an  elevator pitch, a sales talk that keeps the door from being slammed in your face? If not, why do I care?

And, if you’re running against an incumbent, why should I even bother to consider you if you can’t differentiate yourself from the guy or gal I already know, and though I may dislike her, I know what he cares about, what they can do for me. So practice that 30 second, 1 or 2 minute blurb in the mirror or use your phone to record it and get ready with a soundbite or two that a voter or a reporter can take away from any meeting with you.

3)How’s your voice? Don’t talk down in your chest, no froggy throat, don’t talk softly or engage in uptalk (mostly a woman thing-always questioning ourselves). It goes without saying-cut out the ums and yaknows-or does it?

Stand up and speak with authority but warmth. As we’ve learned, all this is double edged for women, be authoritative but not a know-it-all. Smile but don’t seem flirtatious, sigh.

You’re not writing a bureaucratic how-to manual, just make it punchy and easy to take in in say, 8 seconds.

You may have a lot of knowledge of the intricacies of say, the budget or the park department, but no one wants to see the engine, they just wanna know that you can drive the machine. And, for all you helpful friends, writing campaign pieces before the consultant gets hired. No, you’re not writing a bureaucratic how-to manual, just make it punchy and easy to take in in say, 8 seconds. Yeah, I said that.

What are you going to do for me and when are you going to do it?

Here’s the thing, voters may be wowed by your knowledge and some voters will be able to glean that you know something about what your are proposing to do–BTW, I’m not one to suggest pivoting away from tough questions because that’s dishonest and I hate that-a surprising number will not be able to tell. The bottom line for voters is always-what are you going to do for me and when are you going to do it. Make sure you’ve told them, and they can go home and tell their roommate, spouse or doggie pal (elevator pitch.)

Every teacher learns how to read her classroom, so read your audience-eyes glazing over, move on or punch it up a bit.

What’s your plan for the animal shelter/rescue/dog park?

3b) So yeah, everybody loves their kids and you’re here to make it better for the little ones but remember-between the cost of rent and the cost of college these days-lots of the little ones are dogs, cats, ferrets, whatever, what’s your plan for the animal shelter/rescue/dog park. Do you have a picture with your pet?

4)Learn to delegate BUT, the first calls for endorsements are yours to make. If it’s someone you really need, absolutely don’t delegate. I thought everyone knew this but, no, they don’t. Sorry to tell you, but even a great fundraiser will order you to make the big money calls and lots of the smaller ones (Yeah, they’re the boss on that.)

5)Oh, endorsements, they’re so important. Actually, not really. Now some are very useful. In these parts, it’s Barbara Lee’s. Get to know her Advisory Committee members, nuff said. And BTW, don’t make up any endorsements you don’t have.

Door-to-door is what can win it for you. It should be on the top of your list.

6)But, all the clubs and organizations out there can’t win it for you, they won’t probably give all the time, money or volunteers they sorta promised you. If a voter is in that organization, ok, that works for them. So make the rounds but don’t freak out about it. Door-to-door is what can win it for you. It should be on the top of your list. Wait let me say it again-Door-to-door is what can win it for you. It should be on the top of your list.

Ok, now you’ve won, you’ve got a pile of debt, you’re exhausted, your family is done with you and your neighbors are wondering what they should call you.

7)First, thank everyone by name who did anything you know about in your campaign. As soon as you’re done thanking them and not before, start asking them to help you pay off your debt OR ask them to volunteer to help set up your office depending on their skill set, wallet.

8)You’ll need an advisory committee and maybe a kitchen cabinet too. While it may sound like work, it’s like making preparations for a trip and this experience is just that-trippy. So while your volunteers are still happy that they got you in office (cause they did, without them you wouldn’t have made it) ask them to join your advisory group, transitional or permanent, whatever. Get someone to head up your office volunteers now. Ask her yourself and make sure he knows how much you rely on them, etc.

You will find that once you are in office, you will be loved by some, hated by some, avoided by others, but most of your constituents will NOT hang on your every decision. They will however, hone in on your every mistake, perceived mistake (perception is reality in politics, it’s a law of nature) or faux pas. Maybe I should have mentioned this item first but you knew this wasn’t for the faint of heart, the lazy or those lacking in ego.

You, of course, want to make bold decisions, take us in a new direction, invent the cure for cancer, uh, got carried away there but you will too. Then you find out that no one knows what the problem really is and why they should care or that the solution eludes you and the 200,000 people who came before you or it is made at the county, state, federal, or cosmic level.

If you didn’t have a kitchen cabinet, you need one now.

9)So now you learn that even bold decisions that can work, can have some effect and– those that can get another 4 or however many votes needed, may piss off a lot of folks. So here’s what you do-get your advisory committee to hold neighborhood hearings-of course you’re there but you’re listening. If you didn’t have a kitchen cabinet-your most trusted advisors who love you but won’t take your shit-you need one now. Cause they have your back but will also give it to you, right between the eyes when you least want to hear it.

You’ve made that decision, moved ahead on that project, you’ve even invited your harshest critic in the press into your office for a picnic lunch with you, just you,  to explain why you did it and why you need his/her/their help to get the word out there.

If you do good constituent work and your folks feel looked after, you can take practically any position you want.

10)Now, it’s time to remember that your constituent work is the most important work you can do. If you came into office as a policy wonk who was gonna reorganize the world or just your town, start with the problems in the neighborhoods that you can fix. If you do good constituent work and your folks feel looked after, you can take practically any position you want.

Here’s where your volunteer coordinator pays off as she wields the phones in your office with knowledgeable neighbors who can make sure everyone’s questions got answered, their problems got to the right person or the issues got reported to you and at least acknowledged-acknowledgement, it’s what everyone wants, what everyone needs.

If you got elected to an office with staff…

11)And one more thing. If you got elected to an office with staff, unlike, say, the school board (then see item 8) make sure to hire staff that complement you and each other. No, no, I don’t mean they say, “you must’ve lost weight, you look great,” nice though that is.

If you’re a wonky guy or gal, it’s tempting to hire a know-it-all just like you but don’t. Now you need that people person who remembers everyone’s name or at least is willing to chat folks up when you don’t feel like it. But if you’re a warm-hearted soul with no mind for details, then hire the wonky know-it-all to help you with complicated policy, don’t shy away from it because of your discomfort.

Remember not to make them mirror images of you.

Just make sure your office is well-rounded, yes the genders, ethnicities, and neighborhoods/districts should be considered first.Not only should your office reflect your constituents, it should reflect your potential constituents, but just remember not to make them mirror images of you. Too much of a good thing, etc..

Now, go out and make us all proud and don’t forget where you came from or you’ll be back there sooner than you think.

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2013 Films in Review, an Oakland Experience, Part II

Please read Part 1 first!
Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela
Time and Hollywood marched on. In August I saw Blue Jasmine which I came to loathe while swearing once again that I would give up on Woody Allen; and then I saw Lake Bell’s In a World… which reminded me of what Woody once meant to me. See my blog, In a World Where Woody Still Made Good Movies. I won’t waste anymore time on that super silly flick-or Blanchett’s portrayal which I didn’t believe, but do catch In a World if you still can. Lake Bell is worth keeping an eye on.

Another interesting film came out in August, the Butler, or, as it came to be known, Lee Daniels’ The Butler. While watching this film, I was quite entertained and caught up in the period. It made me see those turbulent changes through a parent’s eyes, even though I was involved in much of it myself as a youth. Either this is a tribute to the film or my own age, not sure which.

I do know that given the choice to watch the series Eyes on the Prize again or this film, I would choose the series. I tend to prefer good docs, that take their time, to overstuffed fictional accounts. However, watching Winfrey exercise her chops might be worth the seat time again.

Another little thing happened in August which we should not forget. We, by that I mean, progressives, conservatives, and decline-to-identifys, stopped our country from going to war in Syria. We just said no, too many of us to ignore and the prez decided to lay the decision on Congress after he heard us. They decided not to do anything other than try to repeal Obamacare once again. Don’t for a moment think that we’re not as embroiled in Syria as we are in the rest of the Middle East but at least it’s not all out war.

I was reasonably entertained by Enough Said in September where Elaine awkwardly wooed, as only Seinfeld’s Elaine could do, Tony Soprano, or the mild-mannered guy who once played him, the recently deceased, James Gandolfini. It was enough for me to see this duo, another odd couple, goofing around for a couple of hours to give up some ducketts for my senior ticket.

October-Blockbuster-for-adults month! There was Gravity, Captain Phillips, Twelve Years a Slave, and Blue is the Warmest Color. I gotta admit here, I’ve still been too chicken to the see Slave, not sure I need to see that cruelty yet again to believe it-just seeing a child ripped from its mother is more than I, a mom with an overload of separation anxiety, can bare.

Gravity appears in my mind as alienating as I remember 1968’s 2001, A Space Odyssey being. With the fear of the Void I have, I can hardly drive past open fields without developing a longing for religion or beginning to worry that the neutron bomb (anybody remember that?) has dropped.

So there was Captain Phillips, which was a reasonable thriller. What I liked was that the Somali captain was depicted with as much humanity as the Tom Hanks character and some background information was thrown in to explain the pirates’ motivations. I do intend to see Blue is the Warmest Color as I enjoy love stories, especially sexy ones.

November’s best movie, interesting, entertaining, well acted, even enlightening was The Dallas Buyers’ Club. It’s hard to admit that an actor I saw as a lightweight, rom-com lead has turned into a real actor while literally losing the beefcake and becoming a light weight for that job.

I was at Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom on Christmas day and was inspired but like some of our local California cuisine, it didn’t stay with me. Though I loved watching Idris Elba and the cinematography was amazing, I longed to know more about Winnie, who she really is and how she became that. It seems she had a much tougher row to hoe than her husband. I ran across a Jennifer Hudson flick or a Lifetime movie version of Winnie’s life that was also made this year, but I would love to see Naomie Harris reprise the role from the Elba movie into a full length film.

During the holidays, I also took in American Hustle. I can’t tell you how much I related to that music, that period, that nightclub scene, uh oh, that’s TMI-it was a very entertaining if not a great movie. Most importantly it closed out the year with a film written around the female leads-the sexy, ditzy, crazy female characters played by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence at their best (is their any other kind with those two?) and no Carey Mulligan types littering up the set.

I mostly left out documentaries because I usually catch them later on PBS or Netflix. So don’t get me wrong, documentaries are some of my favorite watching. And, even though I haven’t mentioned the Oscars or the Golden Globes, which would mean I could throw in some TV watching. But let’s do-please add Scandal, Parenthood, and the lamented end of Treme, my favorite series of this year and last to the lists of must see stuff.

What else will I remember from this year besides the Sequester, except for business-class people trying to catch their planes, the incipient drought to end all droughts (we hope), the cravenness of Republicans and some Dems to strip poor people of basic necessities, not to mention the cravennesss of our BART board and the almost funny incompetence of BART managers?

Well, I’ll remember the minimum wage fights, the groundbreaking at our port/the former army base after decades of waiting, and the courage of low wage workers everywhere fighting for their right to human dignity. Can’t wait to see the movies, documentaries, musicals, comedies, and love stories to come out of that fight in the years to come.

2013 Films in Review, an Oakland Experience, Part 1

Fruitvale Station poster/bus shelter shattered

Fruitvale Station poster/bus shelter shattered

The first thing I hate about those year-end top 10 movie lists is that about half of them were not actually available to most viewers until after the first of the year so my list is based on what the average moviegoer was able to see during this year.

For me, thinking about films that affect me requires connecting them to the culture, the times they take place in, and my part in those times. I suspect that affects lots of reviewers but that they rarely reference those concerns. So I’m going to review the year that was as well as the films I saw and how they affected me.

Here we go:
Last January, after the winter rains stopped dead here in Northern California-Zero Dark Thirty, actually showed up in many theaters where us regular folk could see it. The Promised Land also made its wider if much briefer debut. I missed them both, Zero Dark Thirty, because I felt I already knew more than I wanted to about our torturing tendencies here in the land of the free and home of the rugged, mean-spirited individualist; and the Promised Land because it vanished so quickly. While I know that ZDT is still an important film, I probably won’t see it.

I did finally get to catch the Promised Land with Matt Damon and John Krassinski and was disappointed, it’s true. However, really, compared to most of the schlock like the Batman movies, anything with Melissa McCarthy (ok, yeah, she can make you laugh just before you throw up) or Carey Mulligan, it wasn’t terrible; but for a Damon message movie, it was a bit lame.

In February I saw No about the Chilean referendum in 1988 that ended Pinochet’s reign of terror with Gael Garcia Bernal. What I learned again is that a good soundbite is poetry in politics, pop culture is important, and sometimes the good guys win. Plus, you know, Bernal is always watchable.

Side Effects by Steven Soderbergh, still a cinematic darling to those of us who remember his old indie films, seems to have lost his knack. I just went back and reread the plot, sounds great-corporate malfeasance, betraying lovers, massive plot twists and turns-but lots went wrong or just got annoying. The Tomatometer on Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 84% rating, calling it a smart, clever thriller, but it was just too clever by half for my ticket. Don’t even bother to catch it on HBO.

Also that month we got a new pope. I say we, but I don’t know why. I’m barely a Christian and never more wedded to church than a Philadelphia Quaker can be. I tried not to follow the whole media blitz, but couldn’t help noticing that he was being called a Latino even though he is on the decidedly White side of that equation, as the son of Italian immigrants. Since then, despite the fact that Catholic orthodoxy has changed little under his rule, I have come to appreciate his candor on issues that real people must face in a world of heightening inequality.

But, by the end of February I found myself focused on the horror of an innocent teen who had been murdered in Florida. Things went from bad to worse over the next few months as we all witnessed the murderer go free, but I was heartened by the nationwide reaction against this injustice. I am sure we will see some of the news clips from that outrage and our response to it in future films depicting our times.

In March I saw the Sapphires, which is a movie I could see over and over, if only American cable channels would play it. It was based on the true story of young Australian Aboriginal girls who broke into showbiz while playing for the troops in Vietnam. Well, they only made it on the stage of the theater of war, but it was realistic about that war and the racism they experienced-while being joyously in love with its talented cast.

I waited impatiently for On the Road and then waited just as impatiently for it to be over. Thinking of all the friends I’ve been on road trips with, I exited relieved that it wasn’t with any of these guys. Some of the driving scenes even left me a bit nauseous, and the way women were treated despite, all the talk about freedom and experimentation, was downright depressing. How different are the Tea party misogynists from these guys?

Then came Patriot’s Day in Boston. I had just returned from a walk when my son who was living along the marathon runners’ route inexplicably called me in the middle of the day (if you have a grown son, you know what I mean) and told me he was okay. “What do you mean?” I responded. Then I turned on the TV and found out that the Boston Marathon had been bombed while he was attempting to walk home amid the terror and confusion.

He had been staying at a friends and had just left when he heard the explosions or what he thought might have been crashes. Confused about what he was doing when the bombs blew up, I asked if he had gone out to see what had happened-to which my biracial son replied, “Mom I’m only half White.” I laughed in relief but we both worried about him being on the street with a suitcase, suspicious looking as a man his color is assumed to be, of course.

The next day I flew to LA to join my daughter at a music biz function as we closely monitored the dragnet, manhunt and all out militarization of an American city on cable TV. I’ll admit I don’t remember much about movies that month, too much TV watching. I did see MUD but couldn’t really identify as a 14-year-old boy,a failing I routinely struggle against, given Hollywood’s penchant for their stories.

In May, I was excited to go see the latest of the Before, After and In-Between Midnights and, finally, a movie written by and about a woman’s point of view (Before Midnight). Maybe it just proves what we knew all along-romance is fun and kinda glamorous- relationships, marriage, and raising families are hard and sometimes not very pretty. I’m not sure I’ll go to the next one After the Early Bird Special. There was also The Great Gatsby with Leonardo Di Caprio, watchable in his beautiful shirts, and Carey Mulligan who’s not or did I mention that already?

One of the movies that touched me the most, though I didn’t expect it was, the East. Even though I border on elderly, I will never forget the years of hitch hiking, living off the land, on the cheap, experimentation with every aspect of our lives, and the accompanying moments combined with freedom/repression and exhilaration/despair. There’s a new generation going through those experiences but with electronics and in dark economic times, not those of post war affluence, yet they seem remarkably like us.

They are working hard to remake the world yet again; and I applaud them while wishing with all my brain that they could learn from our mistakes. The East wasn’t epic, but it was thoughtful and connected to the times in a way I really needed to see.

I haven’t seen The Act of killing, hadn’t even heard of it till recently, though it came out in July; but I do plan on seeing it to begin to understand the intersection of pop culture with the another important human invention, genocide.

One Friday night in July I was attending our Congresswoman, Barbara Lee’s birthday party with a couple hundred of her friends and admirers. The party had just gotten started when my daughter called me on my cell. She told me that the jury in Florida had just reached a verdict on the Trayvon Martin murder case. I could tell by her voice that the worst had happened-George Zimmerman would go free. I told the mayor and our congresswoman what had happened and felt the shock travel through the room. Congresswoman Lee made the announcement to an audience-prepared for the worst but still hoping for justice…somehow.

As it happened, it was opening night for Fruitvale Station at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland that Friday. My friends and I had bought tickets, even knowing the verdict was near, better to be among our own kind in a place that reminded us of what held us together more than what pulled us apart. Our tears held us together that night even as subsequent nights began to pull us apart.

Perhaps it was not a blockbuster film, but it was one that told the story more truly than any Hollywood epic ever could of the real lives of struggling working families, and of young men who know that they live on the edge of the American justice system-a cliff over which they may be plunged at any moment.

I believed Michael B. Jordan, as Oscar Grant, when he promised his sister that he would find a way to help her with the rent, even though he had lost his job, and I truly believed Octavia Spencer when she walked down that hospital hallway one last time. I can’t separate my own feelings as an Oaklander and parent of young Black children, now grown, who grew up afraid to attend parties lest gunfire break out. Turns out, it often did-a fact from which they shielded me until recently.

And I can’t separate that night of horror and sadness with the camaraderie I felt sitting with so many Oaklanders who took this film to their hearts. For all those reasons, Fruitvale Station will be tops on my list of important movies this year.

If you want to read the rest of my Oakland year/movies in review, please see the next post-I can’t imagine anyone would read that long a blog (but this is flu season so some folks are bed-ridden). Kripes, this one is too long by half but it contains my impression of the effect Frutivale Station had on many of us Oaklanders, so maybe will you!