Part 1: The Wizard of Oakland

Oakland has a lot of inequalities. Our neighborhoods are largely stratified around racial and class lines. Low-income communities of color live in dilapidated conditions, waiting for the time when development dollars start flowing into the community, only to find the process starting as soon as the neighborhood begins to be gentrified.

Every election cycle we elect progressive leadership and expect that the new leadership will help to end the structural inequalities inherent in the system. It rarely does. And then we blame our elected officials and throw our hands up on disgust at what we perceive as their insensitivity and lack of action.

But do you really understand why this happens? We have narratives about big money in politics, the effect and influence of big business, the corruption of our politicians. I don’t want to suggest that these aren’t a problem. These things exist. But while you are paying attention to the antics and actions of our political leaders, someone else is hiding behind the curtain, pulling the strings that influence the process and driving the policies that help to create more inequalities in our community: the voters.

But not all the voters. Not you, voter who only turns out every four years on a presidential year and then calls it a day with regards to your civic duty. Not you, voter who registered in 2012 so you could make a historic decision to vote for our first black president. Not even you, voter who turns out to every election cycle, but has never had a face to face conversation with your councilmember.

The voters I’m talking about know that they have to turn out for every election. They understand that voting in itself is not the thing that drives change. Voting, as they see it, is just the price of admission. It’s what allows you to walk up to an elected official and say “I voted, and now you have to listen to me. And if you don’t listen to me, I vote in every election and will make sure I and my friends won’t vote for you again.” And our elected officials listen.

In Oakland, these frequent and likely voters tend to belong to a wealthier, less racially diverse class of people. Many have a tendency to engage in fear-based politics and support more conservative policies such as the DAC, stop and frisk, gang injunctions, and youth curfews. They meet with, call, or email their city officials on a regular basis. They help drive gentrification by actively using the city government to target small businesses and residents that they perceive as “undesirable” with the goals of raising their property values and creating a city that accommodates their tastes and desires. The City Councilmembers and other local officials likely know them by name and they exert an incredible amount of influence on local government.

They organize, effectively, efficiently, and often. That is their right as the voting citizens of Oakland. It’s your right, too, but are you exercising it? Do you know how to? The problem with local government is not that one part of our community is active and involved. It’s the part that isn’t.

A friend recently told me that oppression = giving your power away. That’s exactly it. You have power in local government. More power than you even realize. You can change laws, influence major decisions and bring more attention and resources to your community. You just have to know how and you have to engage. If you don’t engage, you are left coping with the policies of those who are engaged, living in a world crafted to accommodate their interests.

I’ve walked in the halls of power. I’ve seen how the process works and how it often works against the interests of low-income communities of color. My life’s goal has always been to uplift and empower these communities. To that end, I’ve left my position in City government to take what I’ve learned and give it back to the people.

I’m consulting to make a living. However, I also will be setting aside 5 hours of my week to offer training and services on a donation basis to low-income folks to help them understand how their local government works. My minimum requirement to do a training is that each person I train has to promise to teach 5 people what I teach you.

I’m starting the hashtag #each1teach5 and will tweet out information about my efforts and those of the community.

Follow me at @HellaLuvOakland to see our progress.

To sign up for a training, you can email me at Dannette(at)

I’ll come to your home, church, or local meeting place. I’ll come to the local liquor store, if that is where folks feel comfortable meeting. I will be creating some civic engagement tools that will be open-sourced and posted on my personal website. I’ll also be contributing regular blog posts to Oakland Local that reflect some of my observations on city government and local politics.

You can ask for a general presentation or one specifically tailored to your interests. My goal is to work with and empower folks in low-income communities, many of whom may not read Oakland Local or even have access to the Internet, so any help spreading the word would be much appreciated!

If we can get enough people educated and active, we can start a chain reaction and start creating a government that works for all of us. I’m ready for that. I think you are, too. I look forward to working together to create an Oakland that we can all hella love.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. 
For guidelines, see For more information on posting to Community Voices, see The word on Oakland Local’s Community Voices posts.

One Response

  1. r2d2ii

    I admire and applaud your commitment to helping the oppressed and neglected among us to influence Oakland’s government to be more responsive and effective.

    But I think you are very wrong in your characterization of much of the current effort to make Oakland better and more truly progressive.

    The bottom line is that Oakland’s government is largely insular–our elected officials live in a world of their own, essentially disconnected from the often-stark reality of life in too much of this city. In other words, the Mayor and Council DO NOT listen to us, no matter what our ethnicity might be or how righteous or thoughtful our comments and suggestions. Ask around in your contacts among Black organizations, Asian community groups, Hispanics or white groups largely from the hills. City Hall listens to its citizens only a tiny amount of the time. I don’t think it’s bias so much as simple stupidity, lack of education, ignorance, lack of compassion and narcissism among our electeds. But, then, of course we elected them.

    I hope you can convince more and new people to vote in Oakland and vote much more thoughtfully than most of us have in the past.


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