Thursday, June 09, 2011

D-Day: Oakland Budget Meeting June 8, 2011

The mood was jovial --the council chamber full--minus Mayor Quan, more members present than at the last budget hearing Thursday, May 26. Larry Reid was keeping time at the 15 minute open forum, where comments were about the union and the library closure, an item take off the agenda that evening.

I remember when we had more than a minute to speak at council meetings. The etiquette has shifted and changed. Like I said, council was happy --making jokes and poking fun, but no citizen got more than their minute to speak unless the extra time was given to translator when comments were in another language, most often Spanish to English.

Children and adults spoke--at one point all the library supporters stood and cheered--so many kids were present! I think that was a high point of the afternoon. It was downhill after that with Reid offering condolences to a dozen or so persons who died recently, like Mark Curry's dad. Council member Desley Woods also spoke about the senior Mr. Curry and the fun times she shared with him at the Comedy in the Park summer event she co founded with Mark. She also plugged her 3-on-3 basketball tournament coming up soon.

I picked up a lot of stickers this afternoon—a red heart with Oakland Library in the center, and three others: Fair Share, Silenced, and I Love Oakland Arts. On my jacket I wore a button with American Teacher inscribed. During the Open Forum children spoke about the Hacienda House and the Oakland Museum of California. Union Reps spoke about the proposed cuts to salaries and benefits there and within the City of Oakland—the Fair Share stickers referenced the unfair pass given to police and fire fighters, both groups city employees.

In the balcony children wore the silenced sticker across their lips—when asked what I meant, I responded: Silenced means our voices are ignored and that the elected officials are not representing our interests.

Outside kids were running around in the amphitheatre on the surrounding lawn. Signs: Save Our Libraries occupied the stone seats--upside down and sideways.

My comment was item 9.7 (?) --on the proposed Parcel Tax for Libraries. My vote was no with a comment. When I left we were two pages away from that section. This is what I'd planned to say:

Just one day after the 67th anniversary the invasion known as D-Day, strategically Oakland is sending a message to its citizens that June 7, 2011 is also a day we will look back on and mourn the loss of our citizenry for generations to come.

Normally when one looks at bombs being dropped, one sees the environmental impact and residual impact of such deadly, and in my opinion, unnecessary, way to address conflict—I am going to bomb you off the face of the planet –is what we think. This attitude doesn’t do much good considering how interconnected and interrelated we all are in our global community.

The budget will be read in a couple of weeks (June 28) and unless some major miracles happen we’ll just have four libraries (out of 18) left standing, like empty monuments one visits on vacations— scenario A says that most of the electronic services like e-books will also be cut along with a budget for new materials.

The African American Museum and Library, at Oakland, an institution which is unique to this region is also on the cutting floor. Libraries are really integral to one’s community—this is how community is built, through information and shared experiences. Libraries are one of the most successful institutions for convening such gatherings of people who might not speak or get to know one another without this vehicle or service not to mention the books, films, CDs, DVDs, and magazines which support and develop critical thinking and patron interaction with ideas.

D-Day is when the US bombed Normandy and today we are bombing Oakland. Who will be present to count the bodies shelled and shocked when July 1, 2011 rolls around? Perhaps with the new digital radios the police and fire department will be able to communicate with the mayor’s office and keep us posted on the list.

AAMLO is a repository of a period in this city’s history that is no long visible—the black families that built Oakland, a time when one could find black businesses and a vibrant black district which has disappeared as black economic enclaves have disappeared throughout this country. AAMLO is an opportunity to celebrate that presence for the children who are looking for their faces in the history of this city as well as the nation.

I am a trustee for the Northern California Center for African American History and Life. Many of the founders have made their transition or are hitting the 100 landmark. The archives for this unprecedented collaboration between a private entity and a city department belongs to the Northern California Center. It is a treasure the Northern California Center has shared with Oakland residents since AAMLO has been open.

AAMLO is often called the Schomburg of the West. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a branch of the NY Public Library; however, even though the NYPL is facing a proposed crippling $40 million dollar cut, they are not closing the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. And there are other parallels between the African American Museum and Library at Oakland on MLK Jr. Way and 14th Street and the Schomburg Center on Malcolm X Boulevard, in New York, NY. Harlem, like Oakland, was once home to a majority black population, now just like here at home —West Oakland, East Oakland, downtown Oakland, like Harlem, is gentrified to the point that black people have been pushed elsewhere—Antioch, Bay Point, Pittsburg . . . Pinole, Mountainhouse . . . Fairfield

I can envision a time when the only black people one meets might be those in a book, on a screen or in a newspaper especially if the new caste system, the new F-word or felons continue to be hoarded and carted away for 25 years to life. Michelle Alexander speaks of this in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This trajectory or targeting of certain people and demographics: black, brown, immigrant, Indigenous, poor— those who cannot read and the undereducated, is intentional.

Today is a sad day in the City of Oakland history. What is to say that promises made with this proposed tax won’t backfire like the ones made when Oakland voters passed Measure Q? Measure Q is supposed to secure fund for libraries through 2024. I am a property owner so I feel tax cuts, those proposed and those in effect already; however I never see any concrete benefits for these tax initiative in my neighborhood— East Oakland below International past High Street before 73rd turns to Hegenberger.

I am a trustee for the Northern California Center for African American History and Life. I am a former Library Commissioner and member of the board for the Friends of the Oakland Public Library. I am also the founder and presenter of the longest running program to date in Oakland Public Library history, the African American Celebration through Poetry, which Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011 marked its 21st anniversary.
I remember when there were black history programs throughout the Oakland Public Library system. My eldest daughter, who will be graduating from Cal State East Bay this week participated in a program at the Martin Luther King Jr. Branch when she was four. She recited a poem about Harriet Tubman, from Elouise Greenfield’s Honey I Love, and Other Love Poetry. “Harriett Tubman didn’t take no stuff, wasn’t afraid of nothing either. She didn’t come into this world to be a slave and wasn’t going to stay one either. . . . .”


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