It wasn't a big crowd, but most of
the peace activists I know were in it. There were also a couple
dozen people I didn't know well, but most of them were faces I'd
The first speaker was the executive
director of Human Agenda or something like that. She explained
that Human Agenda is a nonprofit organization about a decade old.
Mostly they bring attention to human rights abuses in the farm
country of the central valley, but occasionally they have a
speaker when the occasion warrants it. Human Agenda is also known
for the annual "Hunger Banquet", where they give large groups of
people real understanding of how the world's people eat. Then she
introduced the elected officials present, the two guys from San
Jose City Council. After that she turned the podium over to the
President of Human Agenda.
He said a few words of welcome and
reminded everyone that Human Agenda is sponsoring a Reality Tour
of the farms in the Central Valley in a few months. If you want to
see how it is for the people that do the work involved with
growing our food, join them. Then he turned over the podium to the
woman who introduced Gayle McLaughlin.
Gayle began her talk by saying she
would say a few things about her background then talk about why
she ran and what she has accomplished in elected office. She grew
up in Chicago, where her parents were activists. Her first
political memory was a debate about the death penalty in school
when she was 9 years old. From that she got the germ of her
critical thinking abilities, which have served her well since. She
lived in Cuba in the 1980s and was inspired to move to Richmond in
2000 by Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo. Since then she has been with
the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
The Richmond Progressive Alliance
has been protesting against the pollution coming out of the
Chevron refinery for many years. They also advocate for the
homeless and immigrants. It's an inclusive group, with Democrats,
Greens, Union Members, and a number of other peace and justice
groups represented. Gayle ran for City Council originally using
the slogan "A better Richmond is possible!" She took no corporate
donations. She ran on a slate with another candidate in a
neighboring district, but he got so much negative press that the
corporate candidate beat him. Despite that she managed to get
elected in a tight race after spending $11,000.
After getting elected she worked to
restore city services that had been cut under the previous
management. In 2006 she ran for Mayor as a progressive voice.
Again she took no corporate donations. Since then she has ended
the 12 year period when Chevron self permitted and self policed.
Her team has changed the police culture. Homicide in the city has
decreased 63%. The Richmond police no longer cooperate with ICE on
the immigration raids. There are now former social workers doing
police work. They have introduced programs for parolees that make
it possible for them to transition from jail to work. Richmond now
has many more community gardens and is a leader in solar power
installations. The local minimum wage has been raised to $12/hour.
The city is in much better financial condition than it has been in
many many years.
There continue to be challenges.
They are working on a municipal ID so that local citizens that
can't get a drivers license can show legal ID for voting, spending
money, and getting into bars. A couple of years ago the Chevron
refinery sent out a huge plume of smoke that sent 15,000 people to
the hospital with respiratory problems. Fighting casino developers
on the city waterfront is an ongoing problem. Richmond was hard
hit by the mortgage crisis, and she has got a lot of national
press from fighting the banks on that.
Gayle is now in the last year term
limits allow her as Mayor of Richmond. Looking forward, she plans
to run for the City Council seat she vacated seven years ago when
her term is up. There is still unfinished business that she hopes
to help move forward. It has been a wild ride and she is
very honored to have served her citizens as their Mayor.
The speech was followed by Q&A:
Somebody asked how she had taken the
city from huge deficits to financial health. She explained that
after the oil refinery sent 15,000 people to the hospital and made
everybody else in the city shelter in place they had sued Chevron.
The company had settled for $115 million. They are paying out at
the rate of $15 million a year and that had helped a lot.
Another person asked how the city puts the "inclusive" in their
politics. Mayor McLaughlin explained that they have big public
celebrations of the Latino community on Cinco de Mayo and the
Black community on Juneteenth, and they do many other things to
make sure that every voice is heard on public matters.
I asked if she was thinking about
running for State Assembly. She said probably not. The Richmond
Progressive Alliance is only about a third of the voters, and
Chevron has another third of the voters in their back pocket. Most
of the rest only pay attention when election time comes around,
and at this point she doesn't have a compelling message for them.
Somebody asked her what she would
change in Sacramento if she could. Gayle said she would raise
taxes on the rich and institute an oil severance tax.
The woman in red got the last
question. She explained that she is a local college student and is
working to bring political pressure on behalf of some family
member that has been locked up for being illegal. She asked if
Gayle McLaughlin would sign the petition. The Mayor said yes.
When it was over everybody gave her
a standing ovation. I didn't take a picture because I was also
After the speech a lot of people
lined up to talk to her about other matters. The few minutes I had
with her I used to invite her to bike party, third Friday of every
month in San Jose. For more information check SJBikeParty.org
details the day before.