Who is the RPA? It’s made up of volunteers with passion, progressive values, and who love Richmond. In this new series, we get to know new faces on the RPA Steering Committee. We begin with Brenda Williams, a newly-elected Steering Committee member who is the organizational representative for Richmond Rainbow Pride. Her recent film Beyond Hate explored themes of free speech, including Chevron’s involvement in Richmond’s 2014 elections and the experiences of Councilmember Jovanka Beckles as she faced homophobia and racism.
TA: What are your ideas about how change and progress occur?
BW: Fortunately, there is no one way to create change and progress. But with certainty action is required. Ted Kennedy said once that he just kept showing up. Eventually, people would say, “What about that guy over there? Let him do this. He's always around.” So he kept showing up and doing what he could... I learned the same lesson from my dad. It's great to dream big, but somebody has to be willing to show up and actually do the work.
When there is work being done simultaneously all over and you string all of that work together, you have the potential for a major shift and that shift is the change. The small changes are fantastic because they allow people to see the possibilities of what can be. But it is with concerted effort and action that the big shifts occur. Inspiration allows people to step out of their comfort zone and ensure more change. For myself, I want to be part of what inspires people to work towards changing what we know needs to be changed and creating what we want in its place.
TA: How does the RPA fit in?
BW: My idea is essentially when you find someone or a group who gets it right; join them to make it happen. And if no one is making happen what you know needs to be happening, be the catalyst to get it started. I think RPA gets it right, so joining their efforts makes sense.
TA: As filmmaker, you particularly believe in dialogue as an avenue for change
BW: Talking out loud creates an atmosphere for change. It's a great way to stimulate people and bring about better and stronger discussions and ideas. Closed doors are more frightening because of the lack of transparency. So I love the idea of town hall style meetings and open dialogues but I also believe in capturing those dialogues so action items can be uncovered and initiated.
A great example of continuously being open to discussions with all types of people is that this year I received an editorial grant for my recent film “Against Hate.” I selected a filmmaker who in reviewing the footage got a chance to look closely at Richmond politics and engage in dialog with me about the salient points made in the film. She saw the grace and poise Jovanka displayed, but also we talked candidly about the success of RPA and how groups like this have to exist all over the country so we can locally affect the outcome of our future and our politics; we all have to be involved. I received an email today from the filmmaker -- who already was a social justice activist -- and she is running for an Assembly District seat and we inspired her to do this! That’s change. And to survive the next four years, we need this change over and over happening all across America.
Environmental justice activists are celebrating a small victory in the long-standing struggle to clean up toxic pollution along the south Richmond shoreline: Last week, the US EPA called on the California Department of Toxic Substances to holistically manage numerous contaminated sites along the Richmond shoreline, and urged “an effective remediation of the area that would be fully protective of human health and the environment.”
The area, which stretches from the Marina Bay to Hoffman Marsh/ Central Avenue suffers from the toxic legacy of shipyards (Marina Bay), chemical manufacturing (by Stauffer Chemical, subsequently Zeneca), a mercury fulminate plant (on UC’s Richmond Bay Campus), a battery recycling plant (Liquid Gold), and a former industrial dump (Blair Landfill). The Blair Landfill site even has radioactive hot spots, which are also legacy of Stauffer/Zeneca pesticide manufacturing.
For over a decade, a group of tenacious volunteers, under the auspices of the Richmond South Shoreline Citizen’s Advisory Group, has been working to ensure the comprehensive clean up of the area. The toxic chemicals, vapors, and heavy metals chemistry is too complicated for most to understand, but the contamination affects everything from the mudskippers that live in Stege Marsh, to the crayfish in Baxter Creek, the offshore fish which locals eat, and the birds who use the former Stauffer Chemical evaporation ponds (“fresh water lagoons” of HA 2).
EPA’s letter is a welcome response to a community which has fought this legacy of environmental racism. The Citizens Advisory Group meets with the DTSC, the Responsible Party/s at 6:30 p.m. on the Second Thursday of the month (except June and December) in the basement meeting room of the Community Services Building at Civic Center. The public is welcome.
RPA Steering Committee member Tarnel Abbott lives less than ¼ mile from the site in the Panhandle Annex neighborhood, she is a member of the Richmond South Shoreline Citizen’s Advisory Group along with City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin.
We know that corporate charter school chains are having a serious negative impact on public education by draining resources, creaming the student crop, and counseling out the difficult and "less profitable" students.
All parents want the best schools possible for their kids, but charter school chains are damaging the ability of local districts to fairly distribute limited resources. Charter schools are funded with taxpayer money but governed by millionaires and billionaires outside the public school system without much oversight.
A large part of the problem is that local school districts have no true enforcement power regarding these schools. A poorly performing charter school can simply jump over a local school board and ask the County or State Board of Education to approve a charter application. All this is done with legal help provided by the California Charter School Association.
Problems also occur when school board candidates declare, "I am not for charter schools!" when, in fact, they are sponsored by the California Charter School Association and their supporters' dark money.
Gayle McLaughlin is a current Richmond City Council Member and former mayor. She lives in the Richmond Annex.Read more
When the WCCUSD Board of Education voted last month to evict adult education classes from their long-established Serra Adult School campus, the abrupt decision stunned the teachers, students, and staff of Serra Adult School.
The Serra Adult School serves a mostly low income and immigrant population, though classes are open to anyone. The site is home to four ESL classes, and High School Diploma, GED and Adult Basic Education (the adult version of an elementary school education) programs during the day; and at night there are job training classes.
The Board made the decision to evict the Adult School with no input from teachers or students, and now district staff is fast-tracking the process. Superintendent Duffy says the Serra site will house a new elementary school slated to supplant the adult school “only temporarily”; after four years, the school will need to move to a larger location. Then presumably the district will sell the site to a charter school.
In this post-Trump era, the story of Richmond’s grassroots progressive activism continues to inspire people far and wide. The RPA Outreach Action Team has been busy responding to numerous requests to help fledging, volunteer-based grassroots organizations take off across the state and country. The team has already made some 35 presentations to local activists, and have another 30 talks lined up, including several in the Bay Area cities (Pacifica, Albany, San Pablo and Sonoma). In May, the RPA will be hosting around 75 local progressive activists from around the region to launch a Greater East Bay Progressive Round Table. This network will unite emerging progressive grassroots organizations to share experiences and collaborate.
And speaking of capacity building, in June the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center will be hosting a day-long training session as part of the “Movement Schools for Revolutionaries” series, put on by David Cobb, one-time Green Party Presidential candidate. Many of us know David from his long-standing work to end corporate personhood. The RPA Outreach Team will be sharing Richmond’s experience. Contact Luci Riley on Facebook for more info.
The team welcomes new members who can help further the work of the group, in particular people who can edit video and do internet research. Please contact [email protected] if you can help.
During her recent visit to California, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, Haiti's elegant and humble presidential candidate of the Fanmi Lavalas party (the party of Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide), was welcomed to Richmond by progressive councilmember and former mayor Gayle McLaughlin and guests. Dr. Narcisse shared some of her experiences as a Haitian doctor and presidential candidate.
Dr. Narcisse advocates for community-based health care and education in a country where government is notorious for not working for the people, and economic conditions are the worst in the region.
With a population of 10.5 million people, 1% of the Haitian population has 45% of its wealth. Unemployment is reported at 45%, (more likely closer to 80%) and a continuous stream of Haitians flee out of the country on a path to Mexico headed to the US in search of employment.
To be a political organizer in Haiti comes at a price; no one hires you. Dr Narcisse, a highly trained public health medical doctor and a political organizer and coordinator of the Fanmi Lavalas party is excluded from working at medical institutions run by the corrupt government and the international charity organizations.
On Wednesday, California’s single payer health care bill cleared its first hurdle, moving out of the Senate Health Committee with a 5-2 vote. The Healthy California Act (SB 562) would establish a publicly run healthcare system that would cover all Californians regardless of immigration status.
The bill has significant public support and is endorsed by dozens of organizations who are part of the Healthy California Coalition (the RPA joined in January 2017); as well as California cities such as Richmond, whose City Council unanimously voted on April 18 to adopt a resolution supporting SB 562.
Among Senate and Assembly members, there is support for the single payer concept but significant reservations around how to pay for such a program. Currently economist Robert Pollin of University of Massachusetts - Amherst is preparing a financial study which should be completed in May.
Wednesday’s Committee vote was preceded by a large rally, where Senator Ricardo Lara, one of the bill’s co-authors, stated: “We want to insure that everyone has care, because this is who we are as a society. California has the courage to say it’s finally time to remove the insurance companies from the decision-making on how we get care in this country. It is time to say once and for all, that healthcare is a right, not a privilege only for those who can afford it.”
Senator Toni Atkins, co-author of SB 562, said, “California will not go back. We are not standing still. We are going forward.”
Forward and onward!
Let’s have some fun on Cinco de Mayo and bring our RPA solidarity to the Latino community.
This is an invitation to ALL MEMBERS of the RPA to march together on this special Cinco de Mayo celebration, held in Richmond on Saturday, May 6th. We will march behind an RPA sign reading:
RICHMOND SAYS NO TO TRUMP
Last month, Action Team member Gayle McLaughlin made a presentation in San Jose, where activists agreed to start a South Bay Progressive Alliance. By 2018, the group hopes to launch several local city-based alliances in the area. The group is borrowing some tips from the RPA, including staying party neutral and supporting corporate-free progressive candidates running for local office. Gayle McLaughlin will also be making presentations in San Diego, CA; Vallejo, CA; El Cerrito, CA; and Oakland, CA. If you have friends and allies in those cities who may be interested in attending these presentations (or who may want to schedule one in their city), please email Juan at [email protected] . The Action Team will accommodate speaking requests as much as possible given time and money constraints.
Finally, the Sister Progressive Alliance Action Team is looking for volunteers to help present the story and the ideas that made the RPA successful. While the speakers in the Speakers Bureau are carefully selected, there are other important tasks that need to be covered – in particular, a volunteer videographer is specially needed at this time. Please contact Juan Reardon for more information: [email protected]