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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Police State and Prisons | Racial Justice
"Dream Bigger Than Cops & Condos": #SaveE12th Activists Takeover Oakland City Council
On Tuesday May 5th, Black.Seed, Asians4BlackLives, and allies shut-down the Oakland City Council and held a People's City Council against a proposed development on East 12th Street. The development, up for a vote at that evening's city council meeting, includes no affordable housing and links to the larger wave of displacement being felt throughout Oakland and the bay area. According to the activists, the high-rise luxury condos include one bedrooms upwards of $3,150/month. The condos are proposed by Urban Core and real estate firm UDR. The activists stood in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, linking gentrification to increased policing, and criminalization of Black and Brown people.
Mayor Libby Shaaf had just finished the presentation of her 2015-2017 budget, when dozens of chanting activists marched through the door, passed the gates and stood on the dais. A small group stepped in front of the sitting Oakland City Council and took over the stage. The hands of the nine activists were tied together and placed inside lockboxes. Stenciled on the black boxes was “No Justice, No Peace”. They faced the crowd, which faced a banner that said: “The People’s City Council.”
The facial expressions on the faces of the Oakland City Council ranged from puzzled, to frustrated, to non-registering. The largely sympathetic crowd filled the chambers. Those with Coalition for Police Accountability shirts and Justice for Alan Blueford shirts where there for a vote on the Civilian Police Review Board which was supposed to occur that evening. Much of the crowd was there for the same reason as that evening’s People’s City Council: to halt the construction of a luxury, high-rise apartment building on the East 12th Street land parcel in the Eastlake neighborhood near Lake Merritt.
For the past few months there have been calls to shut down business as usual. Through these shutdowns – which range from housing auctions, to freeways, to federal buildings, to the ILWU Local 10 sponsored shutdown of the Port of Oakland – the movement aims to mobilize, organize the masses, and to prevent specific oppressive acts. Whether by hitting the checkbooks of the powerful (ex: port-shutdown) or by physically preventing business from being done (ex: blocking foreclosure auctions), these shutdowns aim to materially alter our cities and open up space for liberatory conversations and acts. When the People’s City Council marched into the room and took over the council chambers, they created a space of power for the Black, Brown, and displaced residents of Oakland.
The People’s City Council opened their meeting with by allowing impacted individuals from Eastlake and Oakland to speak before the council. Residents, educators, workers, those displaced, all spoke of their inability to live in the city they call home. The organizers of the event were sure to note that there were no time limits for speakers. Through a megaphone one organizer critiqued the city council, saying, “We can dream bigger than cops and condos for our city.”
The cry to “dream big” for Oakland is a call to activate our revolutionary public imagination and fight for the institutional changes that can turn the imaginary, material. Behind the People’s City Council, as hackers had taken over the projector, were the words “A People’s Budget, Not a Policing Budget.” This message is not lip service, but is tied to a growing movement in Oakland to put the People in charge of the budget. There are many organizations fighting to increase community involvement in the city’s budgetary process. One such group, the Community Democracy Project, has been holding public dialogues and petitioning in favor of what has become known as a “People’s Budget.” The call for a radical imagination was echoed the Sunday before during the BlackOUT Collective’s #Oakland2Baltimore rally at City Hall. In front of one hundred or so people, the Black, female-led organization called for Black people to “imagine a world where Black lives matter.” This call is uniquely necessary now; almost 50% of Mayor Libby Shaaf’s proposed budget is allocated to the police.
Eastlake United for Justice (EUJ) in conjunction with the legal organization Public Advocates has drafted a letter outlining the specific legal concerns regarding the City’s issuance of a Disposition and Development Agreement to the proposed developers of East 12th . While I will not focus in depth on those specific questions of illegality, a link to their letter is available below, it is necessary to briefly outline the objections. Three of the four concerns rely on getting the 12th Street land parcel defined as a “surplus land.” A surplus land is defined as any “land owned by any local agency, that is determined to be no longer necessary for the agency’s use, except property being held by the agency for the purpose of exchange.” When defined as a “surplus land” area proposed for development will be subject to a number of qualifications under the Surplus Land Act. These qualifications include, but are not limited to, making at least 15% of the units available at affordable housing cost and giving first priority to entities interested building affordable housing and/or public parks.
The community is also pushing for the 12th Street parcel to be subject to state and federal housing policies. Policies included in the Federal Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) are necessary to resist the de-facto racial and economic segregation caused through gentrification. It is important to note that the proposed development for East 12th Street is 100% luxury housing, with one bedroom units costing upwards of $3,150 per month.
The calls to “imagine an Oakland where Black lives matter” or to “dream bigger than cops and condos” are fundamentally calls to stretch our public imagination and find ways to creatively challenge oppressive structures. One activist was explicit: “Justice is not throwing pigs in prison. Justice is: not using the prison industrial complex to save our children.” She continued. “For every Black person killed by police, I want 100 Black people set free from prison. For every Black person killed by police, I want 100 Black trans-women given jobs.” Her reconceptualization of “justice” holds power in its transcendence rather than its feasibility. The People’s City Council was a recognition that we need new structures, institutions able to acknowledge the creativity of the public imagination and turn its power into reality.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has shown us how much quickly the People progress in relation to systems of power. Social media is able to shine a light on biased, exploitative media coverage while that media coverage is occurring. The movement is able to find and spread problems in the police investigations, while the police are still investigating. The People’s City Council seen Tuesday night asked us: what would Oakland look like if its city council moved with the speed and power of the People? Unfortunately, the activists Tuesday night want change quicker than the slow-trudge of bureaucracy will allow. They, we want a People’s City Council now, yesterday. The hope exhibited at the May 6th City Council meeting is that spectacle, organizing and the energy created by the two will affect revolutionary change. The Movement has demonstrated its ability to move as swiftly as the pen stroke of a CEO, now it is demanding the same power.
Councilman Dan Kalb was visibly flustered as he left the council chambers Tuesday night, he said repeatedly how the acts that night would not change anyone’s minds. “They accomplished nothing,” Councilman Kalb said. He described the activists who adjourned his council meeting in place of their own as “grossly disruptive.” Their shutdown of the meeting prevented a vote on the Civilian Police Review Board, and the councilman was sure to note that as well. Yet, Kalb did not note that the reason the CPRB was up for a vote was because his city council had delayed its vote the meeting before. Kalb also neglected to include that without the confrontational and disruptive tactics used by the local movement against police-terror, the CPRB would not be on the agenda and Internal Affairs would unquestionably be in charge of investigating issues of police misconduct. Councilman Kalb shook his head in disgust and exited the council chambers shortly after the meeting was adjourned. As the door closed behind him, the room chanted “No cop zone. No cop zone. They knooow better. They knooow better.”
To contact the author Evan Matthews please email evanpmatthews [at] gmail.com