Call it a small victory against Betsy Devos and the charter school agenda: At the January 17 West Contra Costa County School Board meeting, the Rocketship charter application was voted down!
Thanks to everyone who turned out in the last few months to show their support. After hearing from the staff analysis about Rocketship application, it would have been incredible if the board had approved it. School district staff pointed out several severe shortcomings with the application, including a significant proportion of unverifiable signatures in Rocketship’s petition. They also pointed out that Rocketship had a shocking history of five abandoned or closed schools in the Bay Area (Rocketship currently has thirteen).
But the battle is not over; Rocketship will probably petition to the county. The Invictus Charter application, which was rejected by the WCCUSD Board in July, was later approved unanimously by the County Board on September 6 in Pleasanton.
Strong black women have always been beacons for all women’s liberation.
Because they have been faced with hatred, resistance, and insult (subtly, and not so), they talk back, act back. And then they tower. A short list of examples include:
Rosa Parks, and before her Claudette Colvin.
Anita Hill—coming to talk in Oakland March 10 about her #MeToo moment decades before there was a #MeToo campaign.
Barbara Lee—Oakland’s representative in the U.S. Congress
Nina Turner, former Senator from Ohio and Our Revolution president -- her grandma told her she has three strategic bones in her body: her wishbone, her jawbone, and her backbone.
Jovanka Beckles -- she’s got those bones too, because she’s had to, being a black Latina lesbian who endured hate speech on the Richmond City Council and successfully fought Chevron’s attempt to buy the Richmond City Council. Jovanka also helped pass the first local rent control measure in 30 years. She helped raise the minimum wage in Richmond. She supports single payer health care for all. She’s fighting to close corporate tax loopholes to help fund public schools and tuition-free college.
If you don’t know these strong black women, you should. Look them up -- be inspired and awed.
Also, consider coming out to the Sisters in Solidarity International Women’s Day Celebration, which will include speakers like Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton (CCC’s first black woman DA) and will be emceed by Councilmember Jovanka Beckles.
In honor of Black History month, below is a beautiful essay penned by former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. Gayle, who is running for California Lt. Governor, was recently endorsed by Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution! Please volunteer with Gayle’s campaign or make a donation today!
Frederick Douglas said: "I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs". He escaped slavery and became a resistance leader. Harriet Tubman told us: "Don't ever stop. If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going". Frederick and Harriet reached freedom and helped many others reach it. They took action.
There were also those who turned around to fight their oppressors. During my first year as Mayor of Richmond in 2007, I introduced a proclamation honoring the Black heroes of Harper’s Ferry (1859) and all those who fought against slavery and all those still struggling for liberation. African-Americans Osborn P. Anderson, Dangerfield Newby, Lewis Leary, John Copeland, and Shields Green joined the military invasion of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, led by John Brown and a small group of radical abolitionists, calling for slave insurrection, the end of slavery, and full control of their own destinies.
The actions of these brave freedom fighters became one of the most moving arguments for the end of slavery. Most of them died in the insurrection, except for O.P. Anderson, who escaped and later joined the Union Army as an officer.
Lucy Parsons was a 6-year-old slave girl in Texas at the time of Harper’s Ferry. She grew up to become an amazing American labor organizer. Lucy and her husband Albert were leaders in campaigning for the eight-hour work day. Although Albert was tried and executed in 1887, Lucy never stopped organizing, speaking, denouncing, writing, and demanding justice for working folks.
These true heroes are often excluded or erased from our history, yet their stories connect well with many subsequent struggles, all the way to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. During Black History Month I honor those brave Black men and women who rose up and fought oppression. I invite you to do the same. Let us be Californians of action against all injustice. “Don’t ever stop,” as Harriet said.
When I look back at how progressives won so many races last November, one victory particularly stands out: Danica Roem, who became the first transgender woman to win state-wide office in the U.S. Roem's victory was not only striking because of the barriers she broke, but because she had defeated longtime incumbent Robert G. Marshall.
Marshall, who authored the Virginia bathroom bill, proudly referred to himself as the state’s "chief homophobe,” and ran a campaign filled with bigoted personal attacks. After she won, dozens of news outlets rushed to interview Roem and ask her about her what it was like to emerge victorious after such a hostile campaign. She simply said, "I don't attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now."
It was a beautiful, moving, and gracious gesture which reminded me that in politics, vitriol does not have to be answered in kind. And that reminder came just in time. A month before, Mayor Tom Butt politically attacked my friends and neighbors Eli and Claudia.
I don’t know what Mayor Butt thought when he received that menacing email about Moore and Jimenez “deserving the death penalty or worse.” Hopefully he was shocked (because hopefully that message was out of the ordinary). And I don’t know what he did in response – whether he ignored it, or replied in an effort to tamp down that kind of talk.
But I do know that in October, he crossed a line. Mayor Butt had already started tearing down individuals in an effort to tear down the RPA. But this time, he went from going after someone’s character to going after their employment. He went from creating online controversy to creating risks for people’s personal security.
It was not election season negativity, nor was it a rant against a public official (e.g. part of openly criticizing our government). It was an attack against a constituent.
Claudia Jimenez puts it well: “As we repudiate this kind of hateful leadership at the federal level, we must not allow it in Richmond. Richmond residents cannot be in fear that their private conversations, their home address or other private information would be blasted out publicly by their mayor. We need a mayor who focuses on Richmond’s real issues, not attacking constituents for disagreeing with him.”
We could all do well to learn from Danica Roem.
According to an ACLU public records act request, an October 2017 Tom Butt e-forum blast incited a reader to respond to Butt that RPA members Eli Moore and Claudia Jimenez "deserved the death penalty... or worse." In an effort to scandalize the RPA, Butt's e-forum had falsely claimed, among other things, that Moore and Jimenez were not paying taxes on an “unpermitted” building on their property.
Butt's e-forum also revealed their address, making it easier for Butt's sympathizers to take their vitriol offline and engage in real-life threats and harassment. Indeed, Moore and Jimenez report that, after Butt doxxed them, their tenant (who now lives in their house) saw a woman hiding in the bushes in the front yard taking photos. "Mayor Butt’s inclusion of our home address served no purpose, except to potentially endanger the current residents of the house," Jimenez said in a medium.com blog. Given the intimidating emails Butt provoked, “this risk of danger is real.”
The blog sets the record straight about a number of allegations in Butt’s e-forum. It summarizes key findings from the 58 documents revealed by the ACLU public records request. In it, Jimenez questions why, if Butt had thought they had an unpermitted building, he did not just notify the appropriate city and county agencies and instead contacted Moore’s employer to “verify” allegations of housing law violations. She charges that Butt’s main aim was to whip up opposition to the RPA and to retaliate against Moore and Jimenez for “political differences and disagreements about issues of rent control, gentrification” and other policy matters. Ultimately, she concludes that “We need a mayor who focuses on Richmond’s real issues, not attacking constituents for disagreeing with him.”
On January 30, the City Council extended a 45-day urgency ordinance prohibiting the approval of applications to construct, modify or place schools in certain commercial and mixed-use zoning areas. The moratorium was extended until December 17, 2018 so that the City staff could complete new zoning amendments that could potentially further restrict the establishment of schools.
Currently, Richmond has approximately ninety schools operating within its boundaries and at least eleven of them are public charter schools. Many of these charters are locating in mixed use zoning areas that are not meant for schools, but rather for commercial activities that generate tax revenue and provide employment.
The location of these charter schools are interfering with Richmond’s General Plan and Policies. For example, the City shifted a Light Industrial zone (once occupied by a business park) to Industrial Business in order to accommodate the planned expansion of an existing charter school. In Marina Bay, a former high-tech office was converted to a school; and in Hilltop approximately 13.4 acres of Industrial Business land that had contained 165,387square feet of one- and two-story commercial and industrial developments was purchased by Making Waves Charter School. According to the General Plan, Southern Shoreline and Hilltop were supposed to promote uses such as high-density housing. Now, they are suffering from traffic, parking and public safety difficulties from ill-located charter schools.
All the while, existing Richmond public schools are being hollowed out. Public schools anticipate that student enrollment will drop 34% in 2019-20, leading to excess facilities capacity and eventually school closures. This, according to the ordinance, “can lead and result in blighted conditions for communities that lead to significant public health, safety, and welfare impacts.”
The City of Richmond Planning and Building Services Department will conduct outreach to inform the proposed zoning changes. Check out this city webpage to keep up with development.
Judge Becton is CCC's first female African American DA, and she is filling the position vacated by Mark Peterson after he resigned amidst a campaign finance and ethics scandal.
Becton received highest marks on a CCRJC community scorecard that ranked candidates on a range of issues, from bail reform to support for re-entry services. Although Becton’s current term only lasts until January 2019, as the incumbent she will have an advantage for the June 2018 elections.
This is a significant victory, as DA is the most powerful elected official within our criminal justice system and can be an important force in reducing excessive sentences, ending mass incarceration, and reducing racial disparities. Please consider meeting her at this community town hall, and communicating to her the importance of ensuring equal outcomes for people of color in our justice system!
The following is an excerpt from a recent article from BeyondChron.org, authored by Steve Early:
Click here to continue reading.
As environmentally conscious folks, many of us gladly fill up our green bin every week, and giddily anticipate free compost giveaways at Richmond's Earth Day celebrations. But what if our city’s compost facility is not that green?
At the beginning of this year, Contra Costa County health officials issued a cease and desist letter to Republic Services’ Richmond composting facility. City and County agencies had received some 400 calls about foul smells emanating from the site, including some people reporting nausea, headaches and throat irritations. When county health officials visited the site, they saw seven fires burning – not a good sign. Also, it turned out that Republic Services was handling 350,000 tons of materials when they were only permitted for 1/10 that amount.
A few months later, the California Water Board found that the facility was in violation of other regulations; one of the slopes on the landfill had failed, threatening local water resources. Then in September, Cal Recycle (the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery) notified the City Council that because of the fire problems at the facility, the landfill had been put on a list of facilities that chronically violate state minimum standards for solid waste handling. And as a result, the CCC Health Services Department was going to put the facility under a strict compliance schedule.
The landfill’s Land Use permit is apparently expiring soon, and needs to be re-permitted; the City should take this opportunity to ensure that Republic addresses these issues, for the sake of our environment, residents and facility workers.
Exciting news from our allies at the Safe Return Project (which supports formerly incarcerated individuals): SRP is launching a Participatory Defense Network for Contra Costa County!
What is participatory defense? According to the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, the San Jose-based organization which pioneered this model, it means bringing a “community organizing ethic to the court process; encouraging the active engagement of families and communities in the defense of a loved one who has had contact with the criminal justice system; holding the public agencies that make up the criminal justice system accountable; and bringing a community presence to what is usually an isolating court process.” Ultimately, participatory defense is aimed at equipping impacted communities with the tools and information needed to meaningfully impact their local criminal justice system.