J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Category: Oakland (Page 1 of 2)

How To Be Less Racist


In the United States and Europe, racists are coming out of the woodwork, freely expressing views that were considered taboo only a year ago. Concerns about terrorism and economic security (some valid, some exaggerated) are amplified and directed broadly at people of color, most of whom have nothing to do with terrorism or the availability of jobs. This racism was always there, but it’s more dangerous now that it’s moving into the mainstream (including aspects of our federal government). Some of the dangers, specifically, are harassment and violence against non-whites (including police violence), voter disenfranchisement, and deportation of immigrants (some legal, some undocumented, many if not most vital to our national economy).

Other problems with open racism include social discord and a divisive sense of “us vs. them” pervading our national consciousness. More severe, dystopian outcomes of open racism might include internment camps for Muslims, reversals of civil rights protections, harassment or murder of civil rights activists (including journalists), use of lethal force against peaceful protestors, or even “ethnic cleansing” scenarios (genocide). Big problems, in other words.

I guess one potential benefit of racist attitudes being openly expressed is that it opens the door to conversation, debate, and the potential for attitudes to shift. That’s the purpose of this post: to influence those who might feel racist but are open to non-racist perspectives.

I’ve been reading some Alt-Right blogs and trying to better understand where this racism comes from (I won’t say which ones, because attention and web traffic fuels these hate blogs). From what I’ve read so far, the Alt-Right openly-racist/white-supremacist perspective looks something like this:

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How I’m Voting

An AC Transit bus that helped deliver seniors to the polls in the 1990's,

An AC Transit bus that helped deliver seniors to the polls in the 1990’s,

This year I’ve decided to share how I’m voting, as an experiment. Sometimes I just ask my wife how she’s voting, and copy her (since we agree on most political issues, and she always does the research), but this year I actually did the research myself. I’ve tried to make notes that get to the crux of the issue, at least from my own perspective. My bias is generally liberal, leaning libertarian on personal freedoms, leaning social democrat on economic policy. I’m more of a pragmatist than an idealist, and for political decision making I favor an empirical approach (what has worked before in similar situations/environments).

I don’t expect anyone to agree with all of my choices, but maybe some readers will find the information to be helpful in making their own choices (somewhere out there is my perfect “mirror-image” voter: one who makes the opposite choice in every category). I hope you find my notes to be useful, even if you end up voting a different way. Let me know in the comments.

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… – Winston Churchill

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What the Oakland Police Department is Doing Right

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OPD has had its share of problems. The painful, disturbing legacy of the Riders. $57 million paid out to alleged victims of police abuse between 2001 and 2011. Poor handling of Occupy Oakland in 2011. A very recent sex scandal where multiple officers paid for sex with a minor, followed by the resignation of police chief Sean Whent and, in quick succession, two interim police chiefs.

Pretty bad stuff.

But in the last couple years, Oakland crime has dropped significantly, especially homicides, but also robberies and assaults. Officer use of force is down 75%. Citizen complaints against police are down 50%. Something is clearly going better.

I recently attended a community meeting with Mayor Libby Schaaf, and learned a few things:

  • Though Oakland’s police-to-crime ratio is still one of the lowest in the nation (if not the lowest), our police department is much better staffed than it was a few years ago. Oakland police are responding to more crimes, doing so much faster, and most importantly, interacting with the community more and thereby preventing crime (through visibility, familiarity, and information sharing).
  • OPD has changed many of its policies to reduce the chance of violent escalation. For example, foot chases and car chases are abandoned more quickly in exchange for slower perimeter capture strategies. This slows everything down and reduces the chance of injuries and casualties for officers, suspects, and bystanders.
  • Oakland police officers are trained to interact appropriately with people suffering from mental illness, thereby making things safer for everyone involved.
  • OPD works directly with Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt (a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient) to understand, deconstruct, and counter inherent racial bias as it pertains to police work.
  • Another interesting policy: Oakland police officer are trained to inform suspects that personal searches are voluntary and may legally be refused. Does any other police department do this?
  • Last but not least, Oakland is effectively implementing the Ceasefire program, which I’ve written about before.

In many ways, OPD is on the forefront of being a progressive, forward-thinking department, committed to social justice. While there may be a long way to go, Oakland police culture is changing for the positive. And crime is dropping.

So when do we get a new police chief? Apparently (after a long community input process) the job listing went public on Friday. Schaaf is confident we’ll get a strong pool of applicants.

After a multi-decade rough patch, I’m cautiously optimistic that our police department is headed in the right direction, getting the resources they need to do their jobs, and doing their best to protect and serve all our residents (not just the wealthy white ones). Thank you to the hardworking police officers of Oakland.

Congratulations to Oakland Teachers and OUSD! What’s next? Reform Prop 13.

Emerson Elementary school auction -- a fun night, but I'd rather have $240,000 from Prop 13 reform.

Emerson Elementary school auction — a fun night, but I’d rather have $240,000 from Prop 13 reform.

Four months ago I wrote about the ongoing contract negotiations between Oakland public schools teachers (represented by OEA) and the Oakland Unified School District. I was very happy to learn that last week the teachers ratified a three-year contract with a 67.5% vote. It’s done! Congratulations to all the teachers, the union, the district, the superintendent, and the school board. The teachers received a significant pay raise. The contract also includes the following (copied from the press release):

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Emerson Elementary Fund Raisers — Help Some Great Kids!

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This is a short appeal to help Emerson Elementary, the local public school my daughter attends (and where my grandmother also attended). Here are two opportunities to support schools in Oakland that could use your help:

1) Emerson School Auction

Last year I had a great time at this event, and this year we have even bigger donations from local businesses. Kia is helping to organize this one, so I’ve had a sneak peek at some of the loot that is going on sale. Mind blown. This is going to be a fun event with good wine flowing at very reasonable prices, and lots of great stuff to bid on.  Also the venue Omni Commons is amazing and has a fascinating history (it was built in 1934 as an Italian-American community center, but was also a nightclub for many years). Bay Area folks I hope to see you there! Readers I haven’t met please introduce yourself if you attend. You can purchase tickets HERE.

2) Ride For A Reason

This bike ride from Oakland to Sacramento started off as a protest but has become a huge fundraisers for six OUSD schools (Claremont Middle, Edna Brewer Middle, Emerson Elementary, Oakland International High School, Oakland Technical High, and Westlake Middle School).

Here is Kia’s donation page — you are a HERO if you donate.

The funds raised from both events will support music and art programs at Emerson, and many other activities and programs the PTO supports. Ideally California would fully fund its public schools so parents like me wouldn’t have to scramble like this, but we’re not there yet. Public schools (like public fire-fighting and public emergency services) are a foundation of civil society. Schools like Emerson Elementary accept some of the least privileged kids in the city of Oakland, and these kids deserve to experience quality instruction not only in the “fundamentals” but also in art, music, poetry, and other great programs these events help fund.

Thank you in advance for your support!!

OUSD Teacher Contract Negotiations (and Cronyism at the Top?)

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As a parent of a child enrolled in an Oakland public school, I’ve been paying close attention to the ongoing teacher contract negotiations. Next week will be the 2nd week of teachers at my daughter’s school (Emerson Elementary) using “work-to-rule” as a means to protest the low salaries Oakland teachers receive as compared to neighboring districts.

OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) teachers have been working without a negotiated contract since 2008. From OUSD’s Collective Bargaining Agreements and Salary Schedules page, you can view the last full contract as well as the imposed contract implemented by the school board in April 2010 after several rounds of failed negotiations.

OUSD is offering teachers a 10% raise over three years (letter from current superintendent Antwan Wilson). The current average OUSD teacher salary is around $55K (starting teachers make around $40K). This may seem high to people outside of the Bay Area, but average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Oakland is around $4,000 a month. In other words average apartment rent in Oakland is approximately equal to 100% of average OUSD teacher after-tax income. Clearly Oakland teachers are underpaid. The statewide average is approximately $68K, while the neighboring city of Alameda pays an average of $65K.

[Correction: upon closer examination the link to Oakland rents includes neighborhoods with 10 miles of Oakland, which includes San Francisco. Oakland average rent is probably closer to $2500 — still very high for OUSD average teacher income]

To both attract and retain qualified, experienced, and talented teachers, Oakland needs to offer teachers higher salaries.

Negotiation Status

As of today OUSD and OEA (Oakland Eduation Association — the teacher’s union) have failed to reach an agreement. Here is the statement from the OEA. At issue are not only teacher raises but also Special Education class size caps and caseloads, student to counselor ratios, and benefits. The same page includes links to latest proposals from both OUSD and OEA.

Especially contentious is Article 12, which governs the rules for filling vacancies and assigning teachers. The district is pushing for changes that would reduce teacher job security and remove the role of seniority in placement and transfer rights.

Accusations of Cronyism

Jack Gerson of classroomstruggle.org has accused OUSD superintendent Antwan Wilson of hiring his pals from Denver with bloated salaries (including a husband-wife team), creating unnecessary new administrative positions, and giving all administrators pay raises that far exceed what OUSD is proposing for teacher raises. Reading Gerson’s post severely undermined my confidence in Wilson, and also the board that hired him.

Wilson states that he plans to “trim Central Office” but that does not seem to include the salaries of top administrators. What does this style of “pad the top, chop from the bottom” budgeting style really mean? According to Gerson:

So if Wilson is cutting the central administration budget, much of the cuts are likely coming from the lower paid administrative support. This would be a repetition of what Randy Ward did in 2003 – 6 when the state came in. He brought in all kinds of Broad Foundation graduates and residents at the high end (Troy Christmas; Jonathan Klein; and many others) and promoted some ambitious locals, while laying waste to central services — eliminating central copy services, almost annihilating maintenance (electricians, painters, window repair, etc.) and thus forcing schools to buy services from the likes of Kinko’s. Randy Ward made other cuts “away from the classroom” — of clerical, cafeteria, custodial, and other essential school classified staff positions.

Even if there is some central office fat to trim, and even if Wilson and his Denver team are a completely qualified and necessary team of brilliant administrators and deserve every penny of their sky-high salaries, Wilson should have deferred his own raise and the new top brass hires until a fair contract with the teachers was secured. It just looks bad.

I’d like to invite Oakland School Board members James Harris (President), Jody London (Vice President), Roseann Torres, Aimee Eng, Nina Senn, Shanthi Gonzales, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, and Antwan Wilson himself to respond to Gerson’s accusations, and either justify the administrative pay raises and new positions, or roll them back.

My Own Position

Originally I was sympathetic to points on both sides of the negotiations. Obviously teachers deserve a contract and a significant raise, but I can also understand the desire of the district to push for more flexibility in hiring and transfers, even if this comes at the cost of some job security for some teachers.

However in light of revelations regarding salary padding and fat new (and potentially unnecessary) administrative positions at the top, I believe the school board and the superintendent have lost all moral authority.

I don’t pretend to understand all the intricacies of the complex OUSD budget, but from what I can tell the teachers have put forward a reasonable proposal, which as a parent I fully support (I’ll be at Emerson later today to join an after-school protest supporting the teachers) .

The fault doesn’t lie entirely with the district; the district budget is closely tied with the state budget, and California lawmakers leave money on the table every year with absurdly low oil extraction taxes. Still, the district should move quickly to reach an agreement with OEA, and forget about changes to Article 12 for now.

Get the teachers the raise they deserve, and do it soon.

Let The Board Know

If you are an OUSD family member and you’d like to support the teachers in their negotiations, you may wish to send a “valentine” to the school board and the superintendent. A sample email and the board member’s addresses are below:

Jody.London@ousd.k12.ca.us
Aimee.Eng@ousd.k12.ca.us
Jumoke.Hodge@ousd.k12.ca.us
Nina.Senn@ousd.k12.ca.us
Roseann.Torres@ousd.k12.ca.us
Shanthi.Gonzales@ousd.k12.ca.us
James.Harris@ousd.k12.ca.us
Antwan.Wilson@ousd.k12.ca.us

“Dear school board member: This Valentine’s Day we are asking you to show our teachers that you love them by giving them the modest raise they are asking for – without contingencies. As an OUSD parent/member of the OUSD community, we want to attract and keep the best teachers, and we think the teacher’s request for a contingency-free raise makes good sense. Happy Valentine’s Day!”

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