It's hard to do and say nothing while your police are beating, tear-gassing and shooting your citizens. It's hard to turn the threat of broken windows downtown into an all-police-on-deck emergency yet shrug when bodies lie shredded by bullets in East Oakland. It's hard to do nothing as thousands of the homes of people you represent are stolen out from under them. And it's hard to care not a whit about the economic woes of the homeless and those making minimum or near-minimum wage. But to her lasting credit the current Mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, has achieved these near-impossible goals.
And wants a second term for doing it.
Enter Dan Siegel, determined to make a hard job harder. Tomorrow, January 9th, 2014, Seigel, a civil rights attorney who in his younger days famously led the student charge to retake People's Park in Berkeley (1) will formally announce his candidacy for Mayor of Oakland. It is his intention NOT to do any of those near-impossible things as Mayor.
Siegel joins a growing list of people who want to replace Quan. These include Oakland Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, Port of Oakland Commissioner Bryan Parker, and Joe Tuman, Chair of San Francisco State University's Department of Communications. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan who ran for Mayor in 2010, is also a strong possibility but has not announced.
How is Siegel's candidacy percieved by one of the local punditry?
Siegel's entrance into the race means that Oaklanders concerned with the protection of human rights and civil liberties now have a candidate they can support.
That's a promising start.
You would expect anyone running for Mayor in a town bought and paid for by the one percent to be circumspect about positions perceived as unfavorable to business interests. And in fact none of the campaign websites of any of Siegel's opponents put forth any ideas to help Oakland's poorest except paeans to trickle-down economics. But in conversation with me previous to his announcement, pretty much the first thing out of Dan Siegel's mouth was
This Fight for $15? Definitely. Absolutely. A $15 minimum wage within a week of me becoming Mayor, or as soon as I can get the Council to vote.
And soon afterwards
I like what they're doing in Richmond. This eminent domain thing.
A subsequent clarification elicited
I support Richmond's attempt to form a Joint Powers Authority with other California cities, joining together against the Wall Street Banks to prevent future foreclosures, and if I am elected I will submit legislation to have Oakland join this JPA.
That's not mincing words. That's directly challenging the one percent on income inequality. That's a pistols at dawn challenge to the Big Banks over foreclosures and foreclosure prevention. The same banks who already sued Richmond over their CARES program and put massive pressure on politicians in other locales to disown Richmond's attempts to help its citizens. Banks which will threaten to squeeze Oakland by the, well, you know whats, just as they have Richmond.
I'm guessing the Koch brothers, Wells Fargo and Duetsche Bank are not going to be making contributions to 'Siegel for Mayor' any time soon.
Siegel makes no bones about his politics: he is running "to the left of everyone" and doesn't take the label of "radical" or "radical progressive" as anything but a compliment.
He looks for inspiration to Chokwe Lumumba, the recently elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi (winning with 87% of the vote!) who is proud to have been a
...human rights attorney, radical community organizer, and founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement...
and who is not afraid to say
... I am a revolutionary.
Another "radical" winning candidate who has attracted a lot of attention and whose campaign may be considered something of a harbringer is Kshama Sawant, a card-carrying socialist and Occupy Seattle participant who won a seat on the Seattle City Council in November. Like Siegel, she has taken up the Fight For $15 banner and has stated unequivocably that unless Seattle passes a $15/hr minimum wage ordinance by the Spring she will lead the effort to put such an initiative on the ballot for November. Oh yeah, she's also advocated having workers seize Boeing's manufacturing plants if the company leaves the state.
If Lumumba can win in the Deep South, and Sawant can win in the land of Amazon and Microsoft - and they did - can Siegel pull together a coalition that will propel him to victory in Oakland? These examples show that neither a radical background nor a radical platform necessarily consign a candidate to a few percent of the vote. Couple this with the ranked-choice voting system that allowed Jean Quan to win in 2010, and no one really knows what might happen.
But I will leave the detailed demographic and ideological analysis of Oakland's voters and who they might vote for to a subsequent diary. I find the more interesting discussion is not whether he can win, but the moral, philosophical and practical implications of what happens if he does.
Dan Siegel, as noted by the San Francisco Chronicle, is
one of Oakland's most active and vocal police critics...
Should he win, he would inherit partial control over one of the most loathed and worst performing police forces in the nation (the Oakland Police Department is now under partial control of a Federal Compliance Director
due to their record of civil rights violations and willful refusal to institute reforms).
Beyond that he would be in charge of an organization that plays a role in sending some of those it arrests to Pelican Bay and the torture of solitary confinement. A fate which he and especially his wife, Anne Butterfield Weills (right), have been fighting against in a legal battle for years.
After being a prominent member of the Oscar Grant Movement, which got BART officer Johannes Meserle prosecuted for murder, he would be the nominal boss of people like OPD officers Miguel Masso, Alan Blueford's executioner, and Patrick Gonzales, who killed Gary King, both of whom have been cleared by kangaroo court-like "investigations."
In a quick reversal, he would go from suing the City of Oakland for millions of dollars - as he is currently doing in the wrongful death lawsuit of Alan Blueford at the hands of the Oakland Police - to symbolizing that City.
It is one thing to be an advisor to a Mayor (resigning appropriately in disgust). It is another thing entirely to have "the buck stop here" when the buck involves actions one has deep objections to.
The picket-line-walking activist, deeply engaged with the Independent Port of Oakland Truckers in trying to better their conditions, would find himself on the other side of the table.
The potential for all this to end in an "Animal Farm" type closing scene is all too apparent.
But so is the potential for a radical restructuring of the City's priorities and a powerful transformation of its police.
With 70% of Oakland's voters saying that 'crime' is the major issue facing the City, and all his opponents calling for ever-increasing numbers of police, Siegel was adamant that
You cannot police or jail your way to safety.
Siegel intends to change OPD's leadership and by doing so creating a culture change top to bottom. He wants to shift the focus of the Oakland Police Department so that it becomes a sophisticated tool to prevent, investigate and solve violent crimes - rather than the horrorshow it is now, and engage the community to keep neighborhoods safe rather than relying on necessarily sparse police patrols. By doing these things and making sure OPD follows its crowd control policy and lapel camera policy rather than honoring them in continual breach he could preside over the end of the Oakland Police Department we have come to know and hate.
Focusing Oakland's policies on its workers and its underclass, instead of one percent of its population, would not only make Oakland a remarkable place but could make radical progressive groups in cities across the nation sit up and take notice. Raising the minimum wage to $15/hr would boost the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Oakland's wage earners. Putting up a real fight against foreclosures and evictions instead of meekly acquiescing to them, and putting into place a program like Richmond CARES in Oakland to help those not quite yet in foreclosure (a policy which would also help deal with what could at any time be a next huge wave of banditry by the Big Banks if another economic collapse occurs) will leave almost all of Oakland's residents more secure.
Providing homes for the homeless, creating neighborhoods that look out for one another instead of fearing one another, making universal preschool availability a reality, and providing hope for teens that there will be living wage jobs waiting for them when they graduate, all things Siegel has told me are his goals, would be monumental.
One can almost imagine that another world is possible.
And then reality sets in. No one can run a city without compromises, tactical manuevering, setbacks and even outright defeats. But no one should run a city without staying true to one's beliefs and aspirations.
It's a paradox that could be fascinating, or horribly frustrating, to watch unfold.
(1) Siegel was in fact wounded by live ammunition shot by then-Governor Reagan's goons during the retaking of People's Park.
Dan Siegel has published two essays here on Daily Kos:
Tough Talk Won't Solve Oakland's Crime Problem.
Dan Siegel, 60's Activist, Now Civil Rights Atty, Speaks on Modern Day Policing and The New Jim Crow.