The local mid-term elections in Oakland have come and gone. We will have a new mayor and other new officials. What will be different? What will stay the same? What does Oakland need? Will a new administration bring us a Oakland we can all call home with pride?
I am not a political pundit and frankly I have little faith in politics and possibly less in politicians. Nothing in the way elections are run or served to the public grows my adoration. I find it infuriating that one has to make their way through a hailstorm of competing information which can’t all be true to make some type of informed decision about who will be our civic leaders. When elections themselves are circuses what good can come of them?
Chris Hedges says America is a declining civilization on the eve of the end of literacy and the rise of spectacle. Most of us rely on information supplied by the approximately 6 corporations that control 90% of all major mainstream media outlets. So we have a very narrow source of information from which to make decisions. We only have the illusion of choice. A great deal of advertising and marketing research money goes into developing methods to handle us. Less care, I think is given to enacting what we the people say we need. For the most part this seems satisfactory to a large portion of the population. We are in a brand driven era. We vote for brands. If our brand wins we consider ourselves winners even when the brand does not deliver what it advertised. What brand is Oakland’s new administration and what will it bring to the table in Oakland?
Will it find a different way to be in relationship with corporations? From my point of view Oakland has always undervalued itself. Administration after administration, no matter its complexion, seemed unable or unwilling to market a Oakland with a large North American African population. As a result we spent years bereft of investment that would have brought jobs and productive infrastructure to ‘The Town’.
Jerry Brown’s “elegant density” ushered in a new approach – change the population, he told us there was a name for it, gentrification. The logic was; change the demographic and make Oakland marketable as a destination for business. And so it is. Progress we are told is inevitable. In an era of declining literacy maybe some of us believe it’s that simple. The current Mayor’s tour in office gifted us The West Oakland Specfic Plan (WOSP) that will guide development in West Oakland for the next thirty years. It is more accurate to say that progress is planned. Often what the public wants to circumvent in the current moment is the result of planning in decades past. Note it’s called planning — even if the results are disastrous, supports inequity, and causes people who called a space home to no longer be welcome.
If the new administration of Oakland is interested in what I think we need to focus on here’s my short list of what would make a better Oakland in the immediate.
Be at the forefront of systemic change embrace Oakland’s progressive nature. End police terrorism in Oakland. 59% of all police stops in Oakland are North American African, they are stopped almost three times as much as Hispanics the next most frequently stopped. These disproportionate stops end in arrest less than half the time. Such egregious behavior increases the stress on already strained police community relations, creates distrust in a community that feels under fire, and are a poor use of resource. Find a way to make progress work for all of Oakland as opposed to remaking Oakland in the name of progress. What’s truly progressive about inequity, displacement, and profiling?
Create a safety net in the form of affordable housing for families in traditionally marginalized areas who want to continue to live in Oakland. Stem targeted displacement, demand value in housing, curtail the planning of exclusive neighborhoods that displace families by pricing them out of Oakland. Be deliberate about the inclusion of current residents and organizations in the planning, execution, and benefit of new development/progress. Pass a living wage ordinance.
If Oakland’s future includes families we will need better public schools that include STEAM as part of the core curriculum. We need to support innovative actions by OSUD to meaningfully engage students of color whose rates of matriculation are symptomatic of the lack of an appropriate interface for meaningful learning experiences. Education should support critical literacy, desirable employment paths, and encourage higher education. We need to intentionally support the development of engaged world citizens. Support, enable, celebrate, expand access, and invest in the arts and community based oganizations (CBO) including tradition arts and CBO’s with a history of service who find themselves struggling to stay in Oakland.
Become invested in greening open spaces and the clearing of blight. The work could be done by low-income unemployed residents for a living wage. The greened spaces could offer vegetables, flowers, and fruit that could be sold at cost at community farmer’s markets to help pay employees and increase the availability of fresh produce in communities like West Oakland where there is no major grocery chain.
Protect all of Oakland’s cultural narrative be mindful of the erasure of history, cultural spaces, and artifacts.
Be Oakland first and a politician in another life.