Residents Take the Lead to Produce A Mayoral Forum of Their Own

Oakland residents pledge to vote

East Oakland residents and mayoral candidates recently came together at the Oakland Speaks for Healthy Development Policy Makers Forum to talk about how to ensure all of Oakland is thriving.

Planning for the evening began in July 2014 when we convened a group of 30 resident leaders for discussions about what Oakland needs to do to attract better paying jobs, improve transit and housing, and promote safety and clean air.

The residents came from every neighborhood of East Oakland. They are teachers, students, advocates, and retirees. They are teenagers and elders. They are black, white, Latino, and Asian. They are different and they have so much in common – the love for their families, neighborhoods and their city. Their passion for Oakland was evident as they attended several meetings and dedicated dozens of volunteer hours in preparation for the forum.

Through the meetings, it was determined that resident leaders would produce a forum so that they could have face-to-face interaction with as many mayoral candidates as possible. But, they were clear about one thing: this wouldn’t be an opportunity for the candidates to speak, this would be an opportunity for candidates to listen.

In order to ensure that they had a broad range of perspectives to inform the forum dialog, the resident leaders interviewed and collected surveys from more than 550 residents from all over Oakland.

Read the compilation of the survey responses in English and Spanish.

After months of preparation, the forum took place on October 22. After a quick pre-event huddle in which the leaders shared messages of encouragement and pride in all their hard work, the forum got underway.

The evening opened and it was standing room only – every seat was filled and attendees lined the wall. Esther welcomed all and reminded everyone of the rules from the evening: be respectful, no cheering or boos, and participate with good cheer. Everyone complied! The evening remained a neutral, festive space to learn more about those vying to be the next mayor.

Then presentations began. The stage was set with a podium in the center, the nine participating candidates seated on the right, and eight of the resident leaders seated to the left. Each candidate was presented with two issue tickets to redeem. When a candidate wanted to respond to a question posed by the leaders, the tickets were collected and the candidate had two minutes to respond.

View more photos from the forum.

Each issue was described and was accompanied by a personal story from a resident leader. One at a time, issue by issue, resident leaders shared powerful personal stories. Karen shared her struggles and eventual triumph in keeping quality, affordable housing. Leon told a story about how it was almost impossible to find healthy food options within walking distance from his home. Marina spoke about her children, their struggle with asthma and poor air quality in East Oakland. Nandika talked about her immigrant experience and how hard it is to find a good job with safe working conditions.

After each personal story, data from the resident survey was projected on a TV screen for all to see. Then the question was poised to the candidates: “Do you want to use your issue ticket to talk about your policy agenda to address this issue?”

The majority of candidates used their tickets to speak about affordable housing and economic development. Only one candidate spoke to food policy and urban gardening.

Throughout the evening audience members were also invited to submit additional questions for the candidates. The goal was to present the questions for candidate responses, but the forum was running a bit over time. The unanswered questions were given to candidates for response via email.

At the closing, when asked, every single candidate committed to attend a post-election forum with East Oakland resident leaders in the spring.

The final act of the evening was a pledge from everyone – resident leaders and candidates – to vote on November 4th. This was a moving demonstration of unity and commitment to Oakland.


Photos by Brooke Anderson

CATEGORIES: Blog, Health Happens in Neighborhoods, People Power