Our movement is in the news again!
Hot off the "presses" is a wonderful podcast from Stepping Up, titled Smackdown: City Hall v. Big Oil. Produced by Claire Schoen, this podcast focuses on “surprising stories from climate activists” and features our favorite Communities for a Better Environment rep, Andres Soto. Well worth a listen!
And if you haven’t already checked it out, read a Counterpunch article penned by Ralph Nader titled Citizen-Mayor Gayle Roars through Richmond California. It chronicles the history of the RPA and Gayle’s bid for Lt. Governor. An excerpt is below:
[In Richmond], McLaughlin found a few like-minded progressives and started the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA). (Gayle had volunteered in the Green Party’s 2000 Presidential Campaign)
With very little money, but many long overdue proposals for the betterment of the city, the RPA went to work. They had three public assets—a set of progressive policy changes, support of a large silent majority of residents, and a dedicated core of thirty no-nonsense local champions for a just community.
RPA ran a slate of candidates for City Council in 2004, with some success. This was followed by a victory in 2006 that made McLaughlin mayor—a post she held until 2014 when she was termed out and then successfully ran for city council. RPA now controls five of the seven seats—overcoming the Chevron Company’s longtime political boosters…
Because of McLaughlin and the RPA, Richmond has a higher minimum wage of $15 an hour, a police department that has curbed police misconduct, a major drop in serious street crime, an increase in Chevron’s tax payments, a decrease in toxic pollution by Chevron, and Solar Richmond, a program demonstrating a greener local economy, more energy self-reliance and jobs.
In case you missed it, Richmond was recently honored by the Transnational Institute, a Dutch-based international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world.
Their Transformative Cities project stresses that the award “is not a process where we are going to judge social movements, civil society organizations, citizens platforms or other groups,” but rather a process to “extract lessons can bring unique insights about how to set up transformative political practices, from the strategic to the tactical level.”
Richmond was honored because of what it has been able to achieve in terms of environmental accountability over Chevron, raising its local minimum wage, passing rent control and “by appointing a visionary gay police chief, greatly reduced local crime rates, including homicides, through successful community policing."
The jury particularly noted that “The hybrid RPA has been central to all this. As a membership organization, a coalition of community groups, and a key coordinator of grassroots education and citizen mobilization, it works on issues such as labour, immigrant rights, environmental justice, rent, police accountability, fair taxation of business, community health and environmental protection.”
Jackson, MS was another US city that was honored for its progressive elected officials and growing network of worker-owned cooperatives. Other inspiring stories included efforts in Accra, Ghana to stop the installation of pre-paid water meters, and a successful campaign by mill workers in Mumbai, India to ensure that a portion of land slated for luxury real estate development was reserved for workers’ housing.
2018 is off to an inspiring start: here in Richmond we are resisting the pernicious spread of charters and defending our neighborhood public schools. In January we became the latest city to sue oil majors such as Chevron for the local climate impacts they are causing. And although our residents are suffering from coal dust, we are fighting back.
Our work is done through the energy, passion and contributions of volunteers and activists like yourself. Please renew your membership today (at the last membership meeting, we voted to raise dues to $5/month). And if you can afford more please support us. THANK YOU!
Steve Early’s book, Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an American City is now out in paperback! Many of you probably have purchased the hardback when it originally came out, but the affordable $18 version means that you can gift more of them to friends.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein, a Senior Fellow at the Hass Institute discusses the impact of government policies that created racially explicit inequalities in the development of housing communities in Richmond, the Bay Area and nationally.
On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War by Kim Moody analyzes how changes in global capitalism have altered both the composition of the working class and the economic and political ground on which it struggles. Mentions the RPA as an example of how local unions can be critical to local level, third-party candidates.
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.
Good bye, 2017. You were a real doozy. And we know that with an unhinged President and a Republican-controlled Congress bent on shredding the social safety net, there’s more drama and trauma ahead in 2018.
But here in Richmond, we have been long tilling the fertile fields of bottom-up, people-centered, progressive activism. And with five corporate-free city council members on the dais this year, our efforts continue to bear fruit.
As Melvin Willis pointed out when he announced he was running for mayor, in 2017 RPA-backed councilmembers:
- Passed a $15 minimum wage
- Established a ban on small pack cigarettes, menthols and flavored tobacco paraphernalia
- After twenty years, got a 1 percent tax on development to support the arts in Richmond
- Passed a balanced budget, and set up more transparency for budget setting in the future
- Saw the successful implementation of Measure L, which is allowing renters to stay in their homes, instead of being forced out by excessive rent hikes
Looking ahead 2018, I see more exciting policy achievements in 2018. And I see the election of a young, hope-filled, African American mayor to lead our city – someone who will inspire, serve and work side by side with our diverse and dynamic residents.
Throughout California, I see us taking our positive vision of corporate-free progressive politics to the next level, with candidates like Jovanka Beckles running for Assembly District 15, and Gayle McLaughlin running for California Lt. Governor. If in 2017 #MeToo was the courageous rallying cry of women stepping out from the shadows of sexual harassment, next year I hope it represents the empowerment of more and more women as they run for political office – and win.
Nationally, I expect to see the progressive revolution continue to build as we head towards this fall. As Collier Meyerson pointed out in The Nation, this past November Bernie Sanders/ Our Revolution candidates won 27 of 59 races in which the organization made endorsements. So although one might say the Democrats did well during the off-year election, it’s more accurate to say that progressives did well.
And that makes me inspired and ready to fight in 2018.
Thank you for standing shoulder to shoulder with me me in the struggle! This is the year to step it up: to join an RPA Action Team, make a (more generous) donation, come to our upcoming membership meeting, or apply to serve on the Steering Committee. Together as one, we are making another Richmond possible!
A reflection one year after Trump.
I remember it clearly: it was a year ago, but it seems like a lifetime.
November 8, 2016 -- I had spent my day handing out progressive voting guides at a couple of polling stations. In the company of kind people, soaking up the November sun, talking with neighbors, and excited about the candidates and causes I was supporting. Afterwards, I gathered among friends at the RPA office to watch the returns on the big screen. My excitement gave way to horror, and sense that I was spiraling away from reality.
The next morning at work, we called an emergency staff meeting at Friends of the Earth; people were in shock and tears. I was able to offer some encouragement to my colleagues: We will get through this, we will resist, and I do have hope. I draw my from hope from Richmond.
It is all too easy to read the 2016 election as the triumph of a brutish, dangerous, reality television egomaniac. But that would be conferring far too much importance on Trump. The story of the 2016 election was equally about the meteoric rise of a social democrat and the blossoming of a inspiring, progressive movement. It was the story of grassroots change, and the story of Richmond.
In Richmond, we had just won a progressive majority on the City Council. Relying on the sweat of hundreds of volunteers, we had elected two first-time candidates who represented the future of progressive politics – young, diverse, and embedded in the movements for clean energy and the rights of poor and working class people. And that gives me hope.
It is all too easy to reflect on the past year as a series of hateful, racist policies – from a proposed Muslim ban to a border wall – and the emergence of white supremacists from the shadows. But this past year was equally about the spontaneous gathering of thousands at airports across the county, where Muslim faithful prayed between baggage carousels and parking lots. It was the story of tolerance and love, and the story of Richmond.
In Richmond, a local man was arrested a few years ago after making threats to a mosque in my neighborhood. What followed was an outpouring of fellowship, as people posted notes of solidarity and well-wishes on the mosque doors and gathered in the courtyard to support the congregation. That night still gives me hope.
It is all too easy to look at this past year and view it as the epitome of corrupt politics and the corporate capture of our government. After all, Trump literally handed his pen to the CEO of Dow Chemical after signing an Executive Order to eliminate regulations. But to dwell on that is to miss the fact that an unprecedented number of people are now stepping up to run for public office. Galvanized by the injustices perpetrated by this Administration, women’s groups, environmental organizations, and others are offering candidate trainings. It is the story of empowerment, and the story of Richmond.
In Richmond, it is said that Chevron once had its own desk at City Hall. But for the last ten years, a grassroots progressive movement has successfully thrown Chevron out of our government and elected City Council candidates who have refused a dime of corporate money. And that gives me hope.
In Richmond, our city is committed to environmental sustainability, even while Trump pulls out of the Paris climate agreement.
In Richmond, we are cultivating worker-owned cooperatives and raising the minimum wage, even while the Republican-controlled Congress tries to pass tax reform on the backs of the poor and middle class.
In Richmond, we have a new law to help people to stay in their homes, even while rents skyrocket astronomically in the Bay Area and cities around the country.
In Richmond, we are gradually creating a future that is more just, and doing it from the bottom up. And since that is the only way to ensure durable social change in our country, what we are doing in Richmond gives me hope far beyond.
Feeling hopeful? Keep it going through supporting the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
Who is the RPA? It’s made up of volunteers with passion, progressive values, and who love Richmond. In this series, we get to know the new faces on the RPA Steering Committee. This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Peter Chau, who also co-chairs the RPA Education Action Team.
TA: Tell us about your involvement in the RPA and in progressive causes.
PC: I campaigned for Ben Choi and Melvin Willis in the last election and worked with the RPA on the half-cent sales tax in 2011. I am currently a member of the RPA Education Action Team.
I am passionate about public education. I have particular knowledge and experience with the West Contra Costa Unified School District, including13 years of volunteer experiences launching new programs like the Mock Trial program; running multiple bond and parcel tax campaigns; serving on bond and budget oversight committees; and running for the school board in 2014.
TA: What are your ideas about how change and progress occur?
PC: Change and progress occur when a group of like minded individuals rally behind a comprehensive, cohesive vision. In Richmond, that meant creating an independent progressive organization and executing campaign strategies to get progressive councils members elected.
TA: What would you like the RPA to accomplish? What is your vision of where the RPA is headed?
PC: I would like the RPA to become more active in public education causes in Richmond. Public education is one of the last frontiers that Wall Street and billionaire bullies are trying to privatize. I believe that until we focus on improving our public schools, we will not be able to stop privatization efforts, nor improve the City of Richmond. Let's work together to improve our neighborhood schools!
Our beloved compañero, Maximo Rivera, passed away on August 16. He lived in North Richmond and was an active member of RPA and ACCE for many years, advocating on housing, environmental justice and immigration issues. He brought to our events and actions his soft spoken and kind, yet persistent demeanor. He lifted our spirits with his humor and the music of his band.
In 2015, Maximo and I were both members of a delegation to his home country of El Salvador, organized by School of the Americas Watch. We visited grassroots organizations and officials who are working to build a just society in El Salvador, following the brutal war against the people there a few decades ago that was backed by the U.S. military, and in the ongoing context of harmful neoliberal policies the U.S. is pushing throughout Latin America.
Our group was moved to witness Maximo’s emotional response to visiting his home town of Cinquera in Cabañas province -- now recovering from the destruction of the war -- for the first time since his childhood. He shared memories of sitting behind his father on a horse before roads or cars arrived. His family left Cinquera in 1953 when he was 10 after his uncle was killed by the National Guard because someone said he was a communist. Maximo was inspired to meet and interact with young Salvadorans who honor the martyrs of the past and are striving for a peaceful and socially just future.
Maximo’s son, José, is also a longtime RPA activist and musician who coordinated Richmond’s Municipal ID program. He expressed that the family is urgently requesting assistance to cover funeral expenses. Donations can be made online; anything helps and will be greatly appreciated.
Maximo Rivera was part of Richmond’s progressive transformation and he will be sorely missed.
Who is the RPA? It’s made up of volunteers with passion, progressive values, and who love Richmond. In this series, we get to know the new faces on the RPA Steering Committee. This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Ada Recinos. In her day job, she is the Advancement Manager for Prospera, which partners with low-income Latina women so they can achieve economic prosperity through cooperative business ownership.
TA: Tell us about your background in progressive activism.
AR: I am a commissioner on the Human Rights and Human Relations commission. I have about 4 years of experience organizing and campaigning for progressive community issues in Oakland and my hometown of Torrance regarding rent control, immigrant reform, women's rights and have supported local campaigns.
TA: What are your ideas about how change and progress occur?
AR: Change and progress occurs through education. Folks need to educate themselves on how to make progressive values accessible and in turn use education to support folks to claim progressive identities. In my experience, movements are by the people and for the people. Folks are accepted at every level of 'wokeness' with an understanding that compromise is not defeat if we keep pushing forward. I do not expect folks I approach to accept what I am teaching and sharing the first time. I anticipate hard discussions and disagreements. Change and progress occurs after gaining the trust of folks who then become ambassadors for the movement. When people become educate about the issue and feel included in the movement, it becomes theirs and a deep part of their identity.
TA: What are you interested in bringing to the RPA?
AR: I am interested in bringing a challenging perspective, a commitment to bring more diversity in Richmond's leadership and passion for issues that affect folks of color. I also hope to bring a voice and support to Richmond during a Trump presidency.
TA: What are some of the issues you’re most passionate about in Richmond?
AR: I am particularly interested in supporting the enforcement of measure L, and to keep the police and sheriffs accountable to not cooperating with ICE. I hope the RPA is headed towards making Richmond residents more proactive about their rights and introducing legislation that is proactive about residents needs.