Friday, July 26, 2013

There is more to Oakland than a Sad-Mad City

There is more to Oakland than a Sad-Mad City

A recent article in the Huffington Post seems to describe Oakland as having two parts:

Black Block and Occupy described with the snarl words “protester-tourists” and whose views are summed up by quoting the Occupy website and saying that: “They are hijacking our streets, wearing masks like bandits in the night, right under our noses. And we feel powerless to stop them. They have hijacked our message, blocking our ability to choose our own mode of expression.


The rest of us. Meaning I guess people in her friend circles going about their lives: “glass company trucks sped through the streets from job to job, electrical workers continued to upgrade underground electric lines, and construction crews continued renovation projects for new restaurants and office buildings as part of Oakland's revitalized economic development downtown, uptown and elsewhere. Residents are making a stand -- using social networks, they immediately made plans to continue to patronize Flora, the Awaken Cafe, Oaklandish and the other vandalized businesses. Locals have circulated a fundraising appeal for Youth Radio.

She goes on to add some other things that sort of hint at police accountability or the need for some more equity in our local development.  The article has its good and bad points, but I really disagree with the idea that we are a “sad-mad city” and once again there is a lot of attention to how we are perceived. 

But read it yourself.  I was uneasy with it mostly because it seemed to cut so many of us out.  Too much of it sounded like the Kaplan – Quan reelection campaign view of this city. 

One group of Oaklanders who do not get mentioned is our dysfunctional “progressives”  Last night at the showing of the radical theatre SF Mime Troope (SFMT.ORG and please go see them) a woman wearing a bunch of left cause buttons told us that she supports Jean Quan because she has been such a good person and been around for so long.  I asked her what she thought then about Deeana Santana our City Administrator and she had no idea who that was.  This kind of uninformed progressives thinking that they are supporting the least worst Democrat because that “gets things done” is a national disease that has many sufferers in Oakland.  When we ask them what we are getting for our “practical” strategic brilliance one gets some vague answers. 

What we do not get is a lower rate of young black men killed in our streets.  Not less from internal violence and not less from police shootings.  We do not seem to get a lot for the black and brown flatland residents who are not going to go to any of those nice restaurants downtown, even if they live in downtown.  There are a lot of other things we do not get, such as proper education for the whole community, jobs, foreclosure relief, police accountability and… well I am trying to write about this article that describes us as a ‘sad-mad’ city and will have to stop here.  Suffice to say that all the problems have been talked about and then we turn around and elect people who are guaranteed not to effect any progress. 

And our youth have very few of those jobs in the glass trucks and doing the upgrades to our “revitalized” economy.  Most of that is contracted out to out of town residents working for non-union independent contractors who take city money and/or often enough a city salary.  That list starts with Ms. Deeana Santana who like many of our administrators comes from a group of “pros” available to any city that pays for them akin to a free agent football player.

Are our police “protest-tourists” too?  You can count the number of them who live here in Oakland on how many hands?  I doubt you need four hands.  I'm told they hold their Oakland Police picnic in Danville or somewhere like that.  My invitation did not come.

Other people come as crime-tourists to Oakland for the sex workers and drugs. 

All these people from out of town are part of the Oakland reality every day.  Oakland is not a country, not even a county and the reality of our lives is that we are only 400,000 in an urban area of over seven million.  There is no boarder crossing.  I took a friend to San Leandro for dinner, did that make me a food tourist?  Other people living in this area who come here to work or whatever are our fellow residents, not tourists. 

Another Oakland to take note of is the one that does not vote, does not know much about what goes on downtown and does not need to come downtown to Occupy to commit acts of vandalism or get mistreated by the Oakland Police.  It is out of their communities that we have the 130 black and brown youth killed, and 3 times as many wounded every year. 

Also from that community comes the peacwalkers one could find on Fridays walking the heavily affected high crime areas offering a message of peace and reform to the neighborhoods. 

That only scratches the surface of the cultural and economic life of the un represented flatlands.  Worried about the flatlanders not being represented in what is going on downtown?  How about standing up during our upcoming redistricting and oppose our current gerrymandered districts that cut up the neighborhoods from the affluent hills to the working class flats and secures the election of “moderate progressive” Democrats?  Honest districting in Oakland would lead to at least one Republican on council and probably a Green. 

From all of our communities comes a large number of us who protest.  We protest the Zimmerman Trial, we protest the Oscar Grant murder, we object to police violence, we advocate peace, social justice and economic reforms. Not one of us was on 17th street messing with any windows with a hammer.  

Every time we are doing something we have this sudden focus on the few Black Block folks and no attention paid to our City Council who has still not made good on the promise of a viable Civilian Police Oversight since the project was first promised in 1977.  Good thing for the Chamber and the Council and Ms. Quan that they have these Black Block folk around, otherwise we might have to discuss what large numbers of hammerless people have been asking about for a long time. 

Funny how our pols always call this a distraction but are glad to stay distracted and harp on this small fringe. 

And there are many other kinds of people here doing many different kinds of things.  That includes some well financed people who came here to advocate radical violence and stir things up and then disappear.  If they care so much about this radical fringe, why do they not investigate these people who provoked so much discord and ask who employed them in the first place? 

Most of Oakland on the “sad-mad” day had nothing to do with sadness or the madness or anything downtown because downtown has little or nothing to do with their lives.  Helicopters fly over that area all the time, it could have just been a traffic jam. 

Lives of privilege and lives of disparity went on as normal.  Life in Oakland is not really a series of dramatic ups and downs; in fact it is really a bunch of conditions that resist change.  The tragic events are not exceptional, they are part of the pattern.   Nothing changed this week either. 

I feel that the sad-mad city idea misses most of us and most of what is going on. 


Friday, July 19, 2013

The Oakland Chamber thinks we should hold protestors accountable?

Our Chamber of Commerce is asking why we "tolerate" the vandalism that splinter groups caused at the Trayvon Martin protests. 

Funny that they are so intolerant of this crime, but so inactive around police accountability in Oakland.  At this time we pay more in police abuse settlements than San Jose and San Francisco, yet we still do not have a police commission with hire and fire powers akin to other cities. 

We could keep going with this accountability thing.  We hear  a few words of support from the Chamber about Auditor reports on minor interfearance in the contract bidding processes, yet not so much about all the work thrown in the direction of Phil Tagami and others who get so much of the work, often without open bidding.  They are also big on how the homeless degrade our business space, and they sure do, but not so big on opposing prop 13 which kills our local county and city social service and school funding..... 

This kind of selective demand for people to be held accountable is not wrong on the accounts that they ask for, it is wrong on the accounts that they do not ask for, but should. 

We all should be asking for some more accountability!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

One word missing in the immigration reform debate:


Exploitation is the missing word because exploitation is not what our two party system is talking about. 

We had a client named Andrews.  His business was contracting.  His complaint about today’s immigrant standing outside the hardware store hoping to pick up day labor was that they want to much and that the do not come “hat in hand” like they used to.  I did not hit him because I do not do things like that, so we quietly got rid of him and his business. 

He could not be more wrong.  The undocumented live day to day and in a state of insecurity and are very “hat-in-hand” all the time.  That is the whole deal.  A major segment of American employers want to have labor that is below legal costs, without benefits and unable to demand legal treatment under our employment laws or join a union.  Yes this kind of immigration is illegal, and so is the employment offered.  It is not just the fact that they have hired someone illegally, but these employers continue to act illegally in how they treat these workers.  The illegality is part of how this group of people are exploited all across our economy, but especially as farmworkers. 

All US workers are exploited by this mistreatment of the undocumented.  Employers are not held to account for breaking these laws or any other labor laws in any significant way.  Thirteen million people have dissolved into the US society as the bottom rung of our labor force.  We all suffer the dangerous conditions, the unpaid extra work hours, the insecurity and lack of recourses when wages and benefits are never paid.  The same lobbyists who have made sure that the immigration side of employment law has become unenforceable in the fine print have done the same job to the rest of employment law.  Many US workers live under the threat of being replaced by an undocumented worker and thus accept basically the same conditions.  Unemployment and the treat of even deeper poverty is another wall of the prison that so many workers are trapped into. 

Politically many working people are exploited by those responsible for our national problems but blaming our issues on the Spanish speaking undocumented.  Somehow the biggest banks in the world can lose more money than ever existed in history on speculative investments and the biggest military in the world can have a fleet of floating airports with atomic power plants in the hold, but the costs involved are never mentioned as a reason our nation lacks funds for the needs of the common people.  Instead our lobbyist shills that pass themselves off for elected officials blame our nation’s problems on milk credits for the nanny’s kids.  Blaming your problems on an ethnic minority is an ugly old game. 

The whole discourse of who deserves to be here and if “illegals” should have a “path to citizenship” is ugly.  It speaks to a lot of racism of course, and it is a symptom of the insecurity of the situation of working class whites.  Are they really willing or even able to do the work offered these 13 million?  And why do they feel so threatened?  Are Americans so reduced by the post Regan economy that one of the few things they have to boost their self-image is their citizenship?   

As long as a serious number of working class Americans are so seriously exploited by this anti-Latino rhetoric we are all going to continue to be exploited in bigger ways than who picks the strawberries. 

Exploitation extends to the nations of the world who educate their youth only to lose them to the 21st century brain drain.  These high tech immigrants find themselves hat-in-hand working in Silicon Valley.  At the same time our schools are hat-in-hand and not providing the kind of education needed for that Silicon Valley job.  One should notice that at the same time Silicon Valley has voiced the “need” for more H1 immigration visas for tech work and have that provision in the Senate Immigration Reform bill, Apple Corp has been caught laundering their profits in Ireland.  Would it be too much of a stretch to say that on the one hand these US companies avoid taxes to the point of impoverishing our schools while at the other hand get free access to education paid for by other nations and at the same time have those H1 Visa workers in a beholden “hat-in-hand” position where they are dependent on their employer just to be here? 

We have a system drawn up by the lobbyists.  The farm lobby, the building lobby, the high tech lobby all have more influence in Washington than any of people doing this farm work, building work or programing work no matter what the worker’s citizenship or status.  We have the system that the economic interests have turfed out between each other and the politicians they own. 

And our democracy is being exploited by the narrowness of the issue as described inside the beltway and in our media.  For all the talk of the “partisan divide” on this issue and how many Latinos will vote for a Democrat after Obama, our two party system is silent on the word “exploitation”. 

All the focus is on the boarder and the people crossing it is combined with silence on the exploitation at work here in our country.  Another boondoggle is offered the crony capitalists who will build this multi-billion dollar electronic fence and another with an on-line verification system.  Obviously thirteen million people did not cross the Arizona desert, especially the millions of them who are not from Mexico and Central America.  What about all the others? 

Our relations with Mexico have a lot more on the table.  There is some serious question to how independent Mexico really is from the US corporations and government.  It seems that US capitalism is addicted to Mexican drugs, Mexican petroleum and Mexican cheap labor on both side of the border.  The two party silence on the nature of the relationship between the US and Mexico is stunning.  How is it that we are having this “Great Debate” on immigration and the Mexican border and never discuss the two nation’s bilateral relations? 

What the on-line employment eligibility check does for employers who are INTENTIONALLY hiring undocumented workers is not discussed by our press either.  The fact that most employers who hire the undocumented do it knowingly and intentionally because they are seeking out that lower price and exploitive conditions, is glossed over if even mentioned. 

Working people are not treated as people, we are treated as a labor market in this surreal public debate.  Totally unacceptable things are being done to our workers, yet there is not a single word about labor protection in the proposed Senate bill. 

How could there be when the discussion is missing the word exploitation?