Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What is happening with the Oakland ID card?

Oakland has an ID card.  I went to the downtown office, did the procedure to get one for myself and my son. 

Mine came in the mail a few weeks later.
Not a great photo, but... No problem. 

My son's never came. 
Finally a letter came and I now have two copies of my Oakland City ID. 

When I called the office to ask after my son's card, the young man answering the phone did not have the English level needed to publically represent a government office.  After a short, frustrating attempt, I switched to Spanish. 

I was told that the company making the cards had still not made any cards for minors.  They took my number and said that they would get right back to me with some kind of ETA for youth cards.

That was over a month ago.  The original application was over 4 months ago. 

While applying for our cards, I met the director a second time.  She had visited my son's school for an ID card orientation where she was one of the hosts that could not speak Spanish.  In her office I let her know that I had been at an orientation and was a member of the local Green Party who are supporters of the City ID.   

She knew of some of that and she suggested to me that the Oakland Greens come as a group to apply for their cards, do something of a photo op to show our support.  I took this good idea to our local Green Party club meeting and we all said yes. 

I have been trying to get the director to call me back for three months now just to tell her yes to her own proposal. 

The Green Party, along with others following the lead of former Council Member Wilson Riles have been supporters of the City ID and the adjoined ATM features from inception. 

Wilson came to several Green meetings carrying local currencies from other places in the US and telling us about it.

He was advocating two things:

1) The launch of a local city currency to help deal with the current super recession.  This is being done around the country in different forms as a way to add trade value to the local economy.

2) A low cost municipal ID card to fill the gap among those who do not have easy access to another form of government issued, photo ID. 

Personally I am convinced that the local currency is a good idea if you have the government support for it, which in Oakland we do not yet.  In both 2010 and 2012 I and my fellow Greens Anderson and Menjivar, ran for local offices supporting the idea of a local currency.  Of course our local press would rather talk about a dozen self-styled anarchists throwing rocks than report on, or dialog with, thousands of Oakland voters with practical proposals and if you followed local Oakland politics these last four years, you can be excused for not having heard about this.  What are three candidates, thousands of voters, an established civic leader etc when compared to a police force that would rather talk about a tiny fringe breaking windows or burning trash cans.  What they were trying to avoid talking about was not the local currency, it was the general problems of police misconduct and the mishandling of several public protests, notably a picket at the port where they fired non-lethal munitions and the totally aggressive and abusive way they dealt with the Oscar Grant protests and Occupy. 

We who advocate well considered domestic proposals, such as a local currency, have trouble brining our ideas into the spotlight.  Here is a link to what is going on in the USA right now:  

The ID card is also a great idea.  Not only does it provide ID, it also provides proof of residency.  There are many who need a more accessible ID.  Of course the attention is immediately drawn to the undocumented immigrants.  That is one good use.  The others include seniors, parolees (who really need something), minors and non-drivers who could use a good local ID to do things like enter security zones, cash checks, prove local residency for schools and libraries, and all the other little things we take for granted when we have that California Driver's License. In my case I want some solid ID for my son and a second photo ID document that I can use to register my domestic partnership. 

Wilson Riles is also active in bridging the understanding divide between African American activists the immigrant communities.  He saw this kind of card as serving many communities and bringing them together.  My take on it, is that it is great to have a local ID card, get our city out of the anti-immigrant ugliness around the country and provide ID for all that need it, not just an I-am-an-illegal-alien card as some other city ID's have become. 

After much avocation, Oakland City Council approved a photo ID/ATM card that leaves the path open to an electronic local currency in the future if we ever get the support for this idea.  Since many of those who do not have ID's also do not have bank accounts, this card can also work as a standard ATM cash card.  It seemed we are on the right track. 

Except for some details. 

The ATM fees that the provider originally charged were outlandish.  They were lowered somewhat, but are still too high.  Seems to be the same type of opportunistic exploitation of the poor provided by the check cashing places that the local ID card is supposed to help protect against.  Poor people do not need ATM fees that are abusively high. 

The mistakes are many.  I applied for my card after others and got mine before they did.  There is still no sign of the minor's cards. One guy I knew, African American, got a nice card with somebody else's photo on it. Other reports of slow delivery and mistakes are many. Will this card grow a reputation for mistakes?  One would hope that someday the Oakland ID card would get our residents onto a plane or into a bank account, but it needs to hold up to the scrutiny of other agencies. 

And the Greens have still not heard back about the photo Op and we are not sure we want to anymore.  At the last meeting where we talked about it one fellow Green put it simply.  "If it is being run this poorly, do we want to be associated with it?" 

That is a question all of Oakland City Government should ask itself about this card to make sure that this good idea is not so poorly done that it gives us all a bad name. 

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