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A Better World Begins in Oakland

The Aimee Allison Campaign for City Council

by Paul Rockwell

Oakland, California

There’s a popular saying in the Bay Area: “A better world is possible.” According to Aimee Allison, a young, dynamic candidate for the Oakland City Council, “A better world begins in Oakland.” For her it begins in District 2, where she’s waging a grass-roots campaign against the Brown-De La Fuente machine. Pat Kernighan, her opponent, is one of the Oakland insiders. She votes consistently with De La Fuente. In her first election, Kernighan raised $86,000., a lot of money for a small district. Some say she just bought the election. In contrast, Allison accepts no corporate donations.

City Council contests rarely attract attention. But the outcome of the Allison groundswell may well change the tone and direction of Oakland’s City Council, an administration that does not even run its own schools, and is currently paralyzed by a wave of crime and murder. If Allison, who has an audacious plan to attack the roots of crime, wins a seat, she becomes a swing vote, and the corporate backers of De La Fuente may just meet their match.

Crime in Oakland is the biggest issue on voters’ minds today. Under Brown, De La Fuente and Kernighan, Oakland has one of the highest homicide rates in the nation, triple the national average. That fact alone requires a change of leadership. In the context of Oakland’s failure to protect the safety of its own citizens, the Allison campaign against crime takes on special significance. Only a few weeks ago, the manager of the Bangkok Palace restaurant was gunned down near Allison’s campaign office on Grand Lake.

“That night of the shooting,” Allison told me, “took me through the trauma of violence in Oakland. As the police hauled the manager out on a stretcher, I saw the victim with a bullet in his head. He was a real person, not just number 46. His co-worker was sobbing, and I sat with him through police questioning. The whole experience touched me, and I realized that City Council policies are not working. Our leaders have failed to grasp the magnitude of violence in Oakland. That’s why I am calling for a new, bold policy to end the crime wave, to dig into the roots of crime.”

Last week I walked with Ms. Allison through her precinct, door to door. Every person who opened a door agreed the City Council has failed to do its job. Allison took time to explain the dynamics of crime in Oakland. “There are 10,000 parolees in Oakland on any given day,” she said, quoting the police chief. “They are the products of a city without jobs, decent education. When they get out of prison, they’re dumped on Oakland streets like empty cans. The city provides no jobs, no skills, no training programs, no drug rehabilitation. Inevitably many fall back into a life of crime.

“We not only need more cops, we need a new structure that prevents crime. Our city officials lack the political will to enforce Measure Y, which provides some money for prevention. After the Riders settlement, when police corruption was exposed, the judge ordered internal changes. But the city fails to hold the police accountable.” Allison stressed the themes of community police, accountability, and programs of social uplift for youth. Crime, or course, is an economic as well as legal issue. Allison is often asked: How do you fund programs of social uplift when our city is so poor?

Her answer is refreshing. Oakland, she says, is not really poor. Oakland has the fourth largest port in the United States. World commerce now depends on our unique waterways --the Oakland estuary and harbor. Oakland is the source of billions of dollars in profit for multi-national corporations. All the motors at the Toyota plant in Fremont pass through the Port of Oakland. Airport commerce rose ten percent at the Oakland Airport last year. In short, Oakland as a city is rich in resources. Its land, its tax breaks and services for developers, its vibrant labor force, its beautiful climate lure corporations from around the world.

While the Port depends on the generosity of Oakland, the Port pays no taxes. It’s autonomous. It does not even attempt to discharge its responsibilities to the community that sustains it. All the Board members of the Port are appointed by the Mayor. Allison intends to change the submissive relationship between the public sector and corporate power. She wants a partnership with business, not serfdom.

Raising revenue from the Port is the centerpiece of her economic plan. Her revenue-sharing approach offers a sharp contrast to the focus of Brown and De La Fuente and Kernighan: bringing Yuppies to downtown Oakland. Gentrification does not address the poverty or crime, Allison insists. Corporations are standing in line to get access to Oakland’s water , land and climate. Allison intends to leverage our wealth to improve our quality of life.

Whatever happens June 6th, one thing is clear. With her determination and charisma, Aimee Allison is a rising star in Oakland’s time of darkness.

Paul Rockwell is a writer living in Oakland

Published in In Motion Magazine May 23, 2006