What exactly is the left/progressive case for recalling Quan?
Take it as a given that her initial attempt to crush Occupy Oakland was wrong and caused enormous harm, and likewise she blew the budgeting process1. Quan has been unable to unite diverse Oakland interests, failed to make decisive policy, and failed to make even one inspiring public speech about either Occupy Oakland or the issues which probably trouble longtime Oaklanders a bit more: our endemic unemployment, entrenched violent crime problems, or the slow collapse of our city’s most basic services.
In light of these failures, there is an understandable anger. Well in truth, most of the anger from activists and those who work for social justice has come from the Occupy Oakland world, as the rest of the city’s progressive and radical left is a bit burned out on raging at failed mayors. But OO can’t get enough rage. Remember this?
Hard to see in the dark, but this was the night Quan tried to come address the GA. I wasn’t there so feel free to correct my wrong impressions, but I get the sense of an irate crowd shouting at her and then physically chasing her back into City Hall. Or here’s something more recent, starting about 4:20:
Yes, I’m very impressed with all this angry at Jean Quan. I hear you angry people of Occupy! You’ve made your feelings completely clear! But to spell out my concern, there seems to me something problematic in these scenes.
Here’s a crowd which, while absolutely diverse in race, age, and gender, is still dominantly young and white, and contains all the usual gender dynamics one finds everywhere else in the world. To put an even finer point: young white men who find themselves screaming at and physically threatening an Asian-American woman several decades older than themselves might consider examining their behavior choices. Not to say an older Asian-American woman should not be held accountable, but the sort of accountability meted by an angry mob isn’t the sort I’m most excited about.
If you think I’m over-reacting to the racial and gendered aspects of this, I’d be curious to hear theories of why Quan continues to be followed and physically threatened, even when out of town, while Jerry Brown got a pass on this:
Or perhaps someone can explain how these signs, which as far as I can tell are only being put up around the Laurel and Dimond neighborhoods where Quan lives, are just totally free of issues related to gender and physical intimidation:
So that’s Occupy on Quan I guess, or one thread of it, since of course no one person represents the will of the amoeba-like and ostensibly leaderless movement.
And here’s where that radical-edged rage crosses paths with a more mainstream approach to disapproval of elected officials: the recall. Or I should say, recalls which are being spearheaded by some helter-skelter combination of wingnuts and pro-development/downtown-centric/right-wing activists.
It’s not clear exactly what a progressive or even radical would hope to gain from the project. We don’t have to look far to find a somewhat recent example of progressives actively supporting a right-wing recall campaign of an ineffectual supposed leftist, and we all know how that turned out. For anyone concerned with Oakland beyond Occupy I wonder, who exactly, given that Perata got the most 1st choice votes in the last election and there is no magical radical leftist visionary waiting in the wings, do we think would replace Jean Quan?2
Let’s put it this way: Is risking the near certainty of a more regressive mayor a worthwhile tradeoff for punishing Quan for her decisions around Occupy? Or her general inability to pull our city of this cycle of crisis and growing despair?
From a purely pragmatic view, while Quan isn’t much on good speeches, she’s been quantifiably better than her predecessors. It’s refreshing for example to have a mayor who shows her face in East Oakland, instead of pouring everything into dubious downtown development or just checking out altogether. Quan’s taken concrete action to move the city away from cronyism. She took a pay cut, works 7 days a week, and unlike any Oakland mayor in my lifetime, she actually walks out of City Hall and tries to engage with those of us who live out here.
Faint praise to be sure. But given the state of Oakland (incidentally, the same state as every post-industrial US city at the moment), you know what I don’t want the mayor to be working on right now? You know what I don’t want Oakland to spend one dime on right now?3
Yes, Quan screwed up – in the same ways that previous mayors have. And by other measures she is more democratic and principled than previous mayors. What is a mayor anyway? What impact does the mayor have and how do you measure it? Crime for example went down under Jerry Brown, then up under Jerry Brown, then, down under Ron Dellums – who nearly everyone agreed phoned in his entire tenure as mayor4. What can a mayor actually do about entrenched sociopolitical and economic problems, like a city’s murder rate, when crime, both violent crime and property crime, is so closely linked with an economics that is essentially out of the hands of local elected officials? As always those with the real power are secreted away somewhere far from Oakland, pulling the strings on Wall Street and in DC, while the wardens of our local municipalities are left to receive the people’s understandable rage. And as always, these local leaders screw up, and do the wrong thing and cause harm. Yes, let’s be angry. And sure, let’s vote for someone else next time. Voting is one tool that costs very little to utilize, so why not?
But if we’re radicals, why are we wasting time on some back and forth with our local figurehead? One of the most exciting aspects of Occupy is it’s commitment to setting up it’s own institutions, parallel, better systems based on creative, spontaneous action and radical mutual aid. We aren’t waiting for a mayor, no matter how progressive, or left, or radical, to solve a problem for us, and nor should we.
If you’ve lived in Oakland for more than a few years, you know the reality that we have been underfunded and underdeveloped for more than 40 years, that our school system is near collapse, jobs are non-existent, murder and gun violence are epidemic, our roads don’t get fixed, our bus services have been slashed, our parks aren’t maintained, more than half of high school students don’t graduate, and even if they did graduate, college is unreachably expensive and there are no jobs anyway, and we’ve basically been stepped on, stereotyped, ignored, battered, bruised, and tossed into the estuary. A recall election is an absurd side-show to the real problems of the city. And if you want real change, you’ll have to look farther than a recall election to achieve it.
1In what looks to have been a bluffing attempt to force a parcel tax, which failed, she threw our libraries under the bus.
2For those who hoped Kaplan would win the last election I ask, where has Kaplan been these last few months? She released exactly one statement and made one speech about OO. Did she propose specific actions on the part of City government? Did she participate in a GA? Did she take any kind of progressive leadership role? If so, I missed it. This is not meant to be a particular jab at Kaplan, who, like everyone on the Council, would be considered a progressive by any widely-held standard. But Kaplan, who has been working her way up the political ladder from the AC Transit Board to the At Large seat on the council, is likely eyeing Sandré Swanson’s seat when he terms out and can’t afford to tarnish her image by fraternizing with dirty occupiers. In any case, while she may be opportunistic enough to run given a special election, there is no reason to think she would be more progressive than Quan in her actual policy making, although she would clearly be more charismatic and dynamic in the figurehead portion of the role. So if you want a more exciting figurehead, she’s your woman.
3And yes, that is the most inappropriate stock photo one could possibly use to represent City of Oakland employees who will be getting laid off.
4And speaking of race and perceptions of mayoral performance, Jerry was elected to State Attorney General despite this crime spike at the end of his term, and Dellums was not given credit for the crime reduction during his.