On Thursday, August 21, over 200 people piled into Oakland’s City Hall to listen to 12 mayoral candidates answer questions from residents, who submitted questions to Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #oakmtg.

The Live Forum was split into two parts, the first half consisting of questions that had been previously selected, and the second half of questions that were submitted live throughout the forum, both online and by those in City Hall.

Over the course of two and a half hours, candidates answered questions regarding how the mayor should deal with gentrification, create job stability in Oakland, how to ensure trust between the community and those in power, and how to promote transparency in City Hall, among others.

Jean Quan (left) and Rebecca Kaplan (right) at the forum. Three candidates were randomly selected to answer each question, and were given 60 seconds to respond

Jean Quan (left) and Rebecca Kaplan (right) at the forum. Three candidates were randomly selected to answer each question, and were given 60 seconds to respond.

But what made this forum unique was not necessarily how the questions were answered, it was how the questions were selected, using the #oakmtg hashtag. According to a press release by Tonya Love, Thursday’s live forum marks the first time that social media has been used as “an integral part of a forum or debate for mayoral election.”

Twitter has been used to raise awareness about important social issues by activists around the world, from the 2011 Arab Spring to the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. But by organizing an event where candidates sitting at City Hall answered questions from residents on Facebook and Twitter who may have been unable to attend the forum for a variety of reasons, #oakmtg took social media participation to the next level.

Tonya Love, 37, introduces the forum. “I am a resident of Oakland,” she begins. “I am also a frequent tweeter on the #oakmtg hashtag.”

The hashtag was started in 2007 by Echa Schneider, and has grown in popularity in recent years. Oakland resident and health and policy advocate Tonya Love has been actively using the hashtag since 2010, when she wanted a way to raise awareness about the 2010 mayoral election. This year, she worked with around 9 other volunteers to organize the first #oakmtg Live Forum.

For Love, the hashtag provides an outlet to spread information without being as time-consuming as operating a blog. It also helps connect and engage the community by providing online media coverage on local issues.

“Twitter tells you things a lot faster, and they will give you the lowdown” Love, who tweets under username @tdlove5, explains. “One of the criticisms that #oakmtg seems to have is that we’re too critical, or too watchdog. But I think that’s important because there’s no restraint, and people don’t feel like they have to censor themselves.”

Love also stresses the importance of #oakmtg being a tool used by residents, which is different from being an official group or organization. “It allows people the opportunity to be more free in their opinions,” she says. “We don’t have to worry about if we’re offending someone, or if we’re going to lose funding. These are just citizens of Oakland who have a stake in what happens in the meetings.”

The benefits of using social media to ask questions at the live forum were apparent to Michael Lubin, who has lived in Oakland for 34 years and regularly attends city council meetings. “The questions were less biased,” he said, after the forum ended. “There was less ideological baggage attached to the questions than there have been in other forums.”

The forum was covered live on KTOP, and streamed live on the KTOP website. Search the hashtag #oakmtg on Facebook and Twitter to see what people posted during the event, and check out the Oakland Wiki to find out more about the history of the tag.

In a separate event to engage the community with the November election, Oakland Local will also be hosting a series of interviews to see what the you, the residents, have to say about our city’s next mayor and what you think they need to change. If you’d like to contribute, please email editor@oaklandlocal.com with your opinions, questions, or comments.

2 Responses

  1. Pablo Marx

    While it may have been useful to have a social media component, the forum itself was incredibly boring. There was no there there.

    It was bizarre that a question was only asked of three randomly selected candidates, instead of all the candidates. I watched on Public Access for 30 minutes and heard only 5 candidates speak. Yes it’s problematic that there are many candidates and limited time, but all the candidates should be given an equal amount of time and an equal shot at answering all the questions. Randomly choosing respondents and shutting out some candidates is not the answer. Why not hold two forums, each with 7 or 8 candidates who are asked the same questions?

    Or allow the audience and viewers and social media addicts to vote candidates off during the forum, narrowing the field. That way, obsequious know-nothings like Libby Shaff and smugly vacant Rebecca Kaplan and semi-incoherent buffoons like Charles Williams and Nancy Sidebotham could be eliminated early. Voters would be spared the worthless pronouncements of empty-headed corporate tool Bryan Parker and deranged vigilante Patrick McCullough and the self-promotional preening of Occupy Oakland’s self-appointed and discredited spokesman Jason/Shake Anderson.

  2. OaklandNative

    I am skeptical about this format. The audience would be relatively small and selective. There are many people, especially older people, in Oakland who do not really use Twitter or even Facebook.


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