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Checking in: Oakland Tribunal on Police Violence, Oakland Rising House Party and Organizing against Ranked Choice Voting

So many things to do in Oakland, so little time-you can check this report from Pamela Drake on some you may have missed:

If you’re active in the life of this city, there’s a plethora of ways to keep informed. I found both our special talents and serious shortcomings on display this recent winter week.
On Saturday and Sunday the East Side Arts Alliance, the National Lawyers’ Guild, the New Year’s Movement for Justice (for Oscar Grant), and a host of other civil rights and media groups sponsored A People's Hearing on Racism & Police Violence in a chilly auditorium in central Oakland.
On Saturday I heard heart wrenching testimony from parents’ who had lost their children to police violence, and on Sunday young people who have been stalked by the police bore witness to being singled out for their activist activities since the murder of Oscar Grant. More testimony was given describing the profiling of Muslims and other immigrant groups targeted by US officials and the groups that are resisting its effects.
A panel of legal and academic experts was set up on one side of the stage while the panel that gave testimony was set up on the other. After the witnesses and victims testified, the other panel could ask questions about the incidents or about the organizations many of the witnesses have founded in the fight to obtain rights for their communities.
Not only was the testimony moving in its horror but also in the hope that so many victims have become active in fighting for change. Some of the participants were also artists and poets who brilliantly shared their skills with us.
There was free, delicious food to help ward off the cold and bring people together and all of the involved organizations had tables at the event. The testimony was videotaped and may be given to the UN Commission on Human Rights. Refer to peopleshearing.wordpress.com for more information on this testimony.
My one quibble was that mainstream press was excluded. I understand the concerns about the usual anti-Oakland, anti-youth, and often racist coverage of these kinds of conferences and their participants; but since so many of the young folks who need this information get their news from local television, it made it more difficult for them to be aware of the proceedings. I believe it could have been done without being invasive.
From the chilly school auditorium (what’s with cold California anyway, other states have heat in public buildings!) to a warm home in North Oakland, I attended a house party (I was a co-host among many, including our new mayor) for the Oakland organization, Oakland Rising, a multilingual, multiracial collaborative with deep roots in East and West Oakland's neighborhoods, that encompasses the work of its member non-profits.
The house was packed with Oaklanders who either support the community and electoral empowerment work of Oakland Rising or folks who wanted to know more about what they do and how they do it.
I saw new friends and met again the now grown children of old friends. It was heartwarming on that cold, rainy day to know that young people are dedicated to making our town a better one. In fact, the theme of the event was The Possibility & Promise of Oakland in 2011.
It was also a fundraiser for this relatively young but mighty organization which includes the implementation and education of voters in our new Ranked Choice Voting system as among its recent successes. I urge you to read and then donate on their website towards their good work, oaklandrising.org.
Speaking of Ranked Choice Voting, RCV or IRV (instant runoff voting), I recently participated on a panel which purported to discuss the ins and outs of that system but was actually a precursor to preparing a group of young activists to assist in the repeal of the new voting system.
The panel at TOLA is part of a leadership academy set up by Larry Tramutola’s campaign consultants’ shop. Mr. Tramutola has run lots of successful electoral campaigns, but his most recent campaign, Don Perata’s run for mayor, was less successful than expected by local pundits.
I was told that they wanted to talk about the pros and cons of RCV, ranked choice voting or IRV, instant runoff voting. I thought it was a bit odd that a group set up to train young activists would be focusing on whether RCV was a good idea. After all, it was voted in in Oakland in 2006 and is now in use in Berkeley, Oakland, San Leandro, and San Francisco. Why discuss what is already decided public policy?
I arrived and found out that there were 3 RCV antagonists prepared to argue against our chosen method of voting and me as the sole protagonist. I was told that the details of what happened in Oakland were not really relevant as we were discussing RCV in the abstract while the rest of the panel repeatedly referred to Oakland’s election, particularly David Manson, who had worked closely with the Perata campaign.
Manson asserted that the African-American voters in East Oakland had essentially lost their votes since many of them specified Perata as their number one choice (Quan or Kaplan as number 2). Manson also implied that this type of voting was too complex for flatland voters and disenfranchised them.
David Latterman told us how shocked (almost dismayed)he was that his candidate in the SF Supervisorial race, Malia Cohen, won despite initially coming in way behind. He is the guy who told the Chronicle before the final count in our mayoral election, that it was statistically impossible for Jean or Rebecca to overcome Perata. When it turned out that Perata got so few second and third place votes, he was quoted by Chronicle reporter Mathai Kuruvila as saying, "I underestimated that there are so many people who do not like Perata." Duh.
They didn’t buy that RCV may reduce mudslinging given the existence of the “Anybody but Perata” movement even though most of the remaining candidates were severely restrained in their criticisms of one another.
I had to point out that 72% of the voters managed to chose and rank 3 candidates and that 40,000 more people voted in this mayoral campaign than the June primary in which Ron Dellums was elected. I also thought it was worth noting that Perata outspent Quan by more than four times while only garnering a little less than 35% of the voters’ first choices.
Terry Riley, anti-RCV statistician, told the activists that RCV had resulted in a “topsy-turvy” election result in Oakland. In response to the fact that so many more people go to the polls in November he said, “there are no barriers to voting”, meaning, I guess, that he does not know or care why so many fewer people vote in primaries than in November elections.
His anti-RCV cohort, David Latterman told the group that if RCV was a good idea, “so was asbestos,” but I don’t recall anyone getting cancer from voting in a ranked choice election. I did agree with them that Oakland’s election was probably an aberration, in that the first choice candidate usually does win, despite the method of voting. However, I noted that they had a polarizing candidate who ran a poor campaign. Once again, I had to be reminded that we weren’t really talking about Oakland after all.
Despite of the hypothetical nature of the discussion, later that day I saw two of the very real interns on Lakeshore taking a survey to discover whether people had liked their RCV experience. Look for another ballot measure coming to a city you know soon.
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