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 seen before.


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 busy clapping.

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 for details the day before.