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Oaklanders Celebrate May Day with Caravan, Vacant Home Art Installation

Hundreds of workers and a coalition of over 25 Bay Area groups celebrated May Day in Oakland with a car / bike caravan, block party, and an art installation that explored ways of opening and occupying vacant housing units.

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Cherri Murphy (center), of Gig Workers International, speaks to a crowd of protestors on a flatbed truck at the Lake Merritt Bart station in Oakland. Photo by Zack Haber on May 1st.

Makayla Walker waves a Black Lives Matter flag during a caravan to celebrate May Day, also known as International Workers Day, in Downtown Oakland. Photo by Zack Haber on May 1st.

Hundreds of workers and a coalition of over 25 Bay Area groups celebrated May Day in Oakland with a car / bike caravan, block party, and an art installation that explored ways of opening and occupying vacant housing units.

The celebration started as about 80 vehicles and about 40 people on bicycles gathered at Lake Merritt’s Bart Station. Standing on a flatbed truck behind a red and white sign that read “MAY DAY WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE,” Minister Cherri Murphy, with Gig Workers Rising, was the first to address the crowd.
“Welcome to May Day 2021…as we unite low wage workers, fight against police violence and killings, and demand housing for all!” she said.
The flatbed truck then led the caravan on about a five and a half mile route through Chinatown, Downtown Oakland, then stopped outside Oakland’s Whole Foods Market, stopped again by Lake Merritt, then returned to downtown. Vehicles and bikes had signs attached to them in support of workers, Black life, housing for all, and against police violence.
Some bikers had signs which read “EVERY WORKER NEEDS A UNION.” An activist named Makayla Walker stood up putting her body outside of a car’s sunroof while waving a large flag that read BLACK LIVES MATTER. A UHAUL truck had a large orange sign attached to it which read “from OAKLAND to KABUL, DOWN WITH CAPITALISM.”
Drivers in the caravan honked their horns loudly. The honks were at their loudest when the caravan stopped outside of Whole Foods Market. As vehicles blocked a road to access the market, Nell Myhand, co-chair of the California chapter of The Poor People’s Campaign, stood in the flatbed truck and addressed the caravan and grocery shoppers.
“We’re here outside of Whole Foods…to say that we’re in solidarity with Amazon workers in Bessemer and Amazon workers around the globe because 15 dollars an hour and a union is a modest demand,” said Myhand. “What we really need is a living wage, which here in the Bay Area is 30 dollars.”
Organizers of the caravan chose the site because Jeff Bezos, currently the world’s richest person, founded and is the CEO of Amazon, which owns Whole Foods Market. Workers in an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama recently lost their vote to unionize, but those that led the unionization effort say Amazon illegally interfered with the process. In her speech, Myhand also said that all workers, including those who do unpaid care work, deserve a living wage, safe work environment, and dignity.
Hashid Kasama, a worker from Fresno and member of Rideshare Drivers United who makes ends meet by doing gig work delivering groceries for the app based Instacart company, spoke outside of Whole Foods in support of The Protect the Right to Organize Act. The proposed legislation, widely known as The PRO act, would expand the right to unionize to many app based gig workers. Such rights were limited in California after the state passed Proposition 22.
“I am boldly requesting all of you in the audience to please tell your co-workers, friends and family to support The PRO-Act by any means necessary,” Kasama said. “My son needs to eat and I, as his father, need flexibility. But that doesn’t mean I have to lose my rights as an employee.”
After speeches ended outside of Whole Foods Market, the caravan stopped on Lake Merritt Blvd just east of Oakland’s central branch library and next to a patch of grass that serves as a popular hang out location for the city’s residents. Rachel Jackson of The People’s Strike Bay Area spoke out against police killings there.
“In the devastation of COVID,” she said, “one thing that never stopped is murders by police concentrated in communities of color and the neighborhoods where so-called essential workers live.”
Jackson specifically mentioned Breonna Taylor, Dante Wright, Tyrell Wilson, Miles Hall, and Mario Gonzales, who all died during interactions with police.
After stopping by Lake Merritt, organizers encouraged caravan participants to independently move to a vacant home in the Lower Bottoms neighborhood of West Oakland as the last stop for the May Day celebration. At that location, participants ate food and listened to speeches and DJs in front of the vacant home. House the Bay, an organization that works to get people off the the streets and into empty housing, helped organize the event. A purple and white sign draped out of the home’s window read “LIBERATE HOUSING.” The front door was unlocked and people entered and exited.
The home is owned by Sullivan Management Company (SMC) East Bay, a company owned by Neill Sullivan, who organizers said they consciously targeted. The anti-eviction mapping project has shared data showing Sullivan purchased over 350 properties after the 2008 foreclosure crisis and served over 350 eviction notices in a six year period ending in 2016.
A small plaque outside the home explained that the project was an art installation called “what you’ll need to get in and stay” that aimed to “take a closer look at tools and symbols of vacancy and squatting to deconstruct our fears around attaining homefulness.” Literature was given out for free to share information about extralegal methods of entering, occupying and securing vacant homes.
Inside the house, activists had written messages on walls against profiting off of housing by keeping homes empty. One section of wall writing near the home’s entrance described the home’s history, claiming it was owned by a Black family from 1978-2011 until Sullivan purchased it for $100,000, then repeatedly took out reverse mortgages on the home and profited off of the interest while leaving it empty.
“Organizing around housing is very much part of what makes working class lives livable” said a person involved with opening the art exhibit in the vacant home. They asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation.
“This action was to demonstrate we could do it and to share skills with people,” they said. “The goal is to get to the point where it’s not outside activists but it’s everybody cracking houses on their blocks.”

Business

Emergency Federal Drought Relief Available

Farmers and ranchers interested in a disaster loan can apply on the USDA website. Small, non-farm businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private nonprofits can apply for the loans by contacting the SBA at 1 (800) 659-2955 or by email. Hearing impaired individuals may call 1 (800) 877-8339.

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The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously May 18, 2021, to declare a local emergency and acknowledge the imminent threat of disaster and the severe effect on dairies and ranchers in West Marin.
The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously May 18, 2021, to declare a local emergency and acknowledge the imminent threat of disaster and the severe effect on dairies and ranchers in West Marin.

Marin and all other California counties to be eligible for assistance

Courtesy of Marin County

As California and the West Coast enter their third year of drought, Marin County and the state’s other 57 counties have been declared primary disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The dry conditions are bad news for Marin’s farmers and ranchers, but the disaster designation status makes available emergency loans for agricultural businesses.

Additionally, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering Economic Injury Disaster Loans to non-farm small businesses that do business directly with farmers and ranchers, such as truckers and suppliers of agricultural equipment or services. Eligible businesses may apply for disaster loans through Dec. 8, 2022.

Farmers and ranchers interested in a disaster loan can apply on the USDA website. Small, non-farm businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private nonprofits can apply for the loans by contacting the SBA at 1 (800) 659-2955 or by email. Hearing impaired individuals may call 1 (800) 877-8339.

“We want to raise awareness of the financial opportunities this drought designation provides because it may help some of these small businesses hampered by our continuing severe drought conditions,” said Marin County Agricultural Commissioner Stefan Parnay.

The federal commitment to assist businesses because of drought-related hardship extends to 23 other western states in addition to California. Small non-farm businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private nonprofits of any size may qualify for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses that could have been met had the drought not occurred.

In July 2021, the State of California added Marin to its list of counties falling under its state of emergency for drought and record-breaking high temperatures statewide. Governor Gavin Newsom made the drought official in 50 of the state’s 58 counties. Since then, state agencies partnered with local water suppliers to promote conservation tips through the Save Our Water campaign.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously May 18, 2021, to declare a local emergency and acknowledge the imminent threat of disaster and the severe effect on dairies and ranchers in West Marin. It also made the County eligible for California Disaster Assistance and other forms of state funding and resources. The local declaration cleared the way for state authorities to aid response and recovery efforts available to the County, water suppliers, farmers, impacted businesses and residents.

Marin Water, the municipal water district serving the majority of water customers in the county, and the Novato-based North Marin Water District (NMWD) are staying in contact with the County about drought conditions. Both water districts have declared water shortage emergencies and enacted mandatory conservation measures. Marin Water serves more than 191,000 customers in central and southern Marin. NWMD serves a customer base of about 64,000 in and around Novato and parts of coastal West Marin. For localized details, see the water rules webpages for Marin Water and NMWD.

Marin residents have been asked to support local agricultural producers who have been affected by the drought right on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 numerous Marin ranchers had to import water by truck to keep their animals alive while also reducing their herds. With far less vegetation for grazing because of the ongoing drought, animals are eating imported feed shipped from other states at extremely high costs to the ranchers. Additionally, a few Marin crop producers had to import water by truck to keep crops alive and fallowed approximately 150 acres, or about 50% of the 300 crop acres in the county.

“As the region enters its third year of drought, this season is going to take a significant toll on our agricultural industry,” Parnay said.

The Board of Supervisors last year approved $150,000 in drought relief funds for the agricultural industry and another $250,000 for general drought relief needs to augment other state and federal aid.

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Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌

California Will Be First State to Break Down Black Employee Data by Ethnic Origin

Recently, disaggregation of Black data has been a top priority for some Black lawmakers and advocates supporting reparations for Black descendants of American slavery in California. In January, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), introduced AB 1604, the Upward Mobility Act of 2022, legislation that will require the state to breakdown the data of state employees by ethnic origin.

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Disaggregated data refers to the separation of compiled information into smaller units to clarify underlying trends and patterns.
Disaggregated data refers to the separation of compiled information into smaller units to clarify underlying trends and patterns.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

When Gov. Gavin Newsom presented the annual May revision of his budget proposal for the next fiscal year, he announced that California will establish new demographic categories when collecting data pertaining to the ethnic origin of Black state employees.

Kamilah A. Moore, the chairperson of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, said the breakdown of data is “amazing news.”

“California will become the first state in the nation to disaggregate data for its Black population by ancestry/lineage,” Moore posted on her Twitter page on May 13. “This will assist the task force in our efforts to develop comprehensive reparations proposals for descendants.”

Disaggregated data refers to the separation of compiled information into smaller units to clarify underlying trends and patterns. Newsom’s actions are similar to a bill authored by then-Assemblyman Rob Bonta.

In September 2016, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1726 into law that required the state Department of Public Health to separate demographic data it collects by ethnicity or ancestry for Native Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Islander groups.

Recently, disaggregation of Black data has been a top priority for some Black lawmakers and advocates supporting reparations for Black descendants of American slavery in California. In January, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), introduced AB 1604, the Upward Mobility Act of 2022, legislation that will require the state to breakdown the data of state employees by ethnic origin.

The Assembly Committee on Appropriations is currently reviewing the bill.

AB 1604 promotes mobility for people of color in California’s civil services system and requires diversity on state boards and commissions. Newsom vetoed AB 105 last year, the legislative forerunner to AB 1604, which Holden also introduced.

Shortly after he was appointed chair of the Assembly Committee on Appropriations in January, Holden reintroduced the legislation as AB 1604.

Holden, a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said AB 1604 will give the Reparations Task Force more accurate data to utilize in its study and deliberations. The bill was passed by the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement on March 14.

In a written statement released in October last year, Newsom said he vetoed AB 105 because “the bill conflicts with existing constitutional requirements, labor, agreements, and current data collections efforts” but found disaggregation useful for dissecting data about California’s workforce.

As stated in his 2022-2023 May revision of the state budget, under the section titled “State Workforce Demographic Data Collection,” Newsom proposed the separation of Black employee data beginning with the state’s 2.5 million-plus employees.

The Department of Human Resources (CalHR) will work with the State Controller to establish new demographic categories for the collection of data pertaining to the ancestry or ethnic origin of African American employees.

The collection of this data, the document states, “continues CalHR’s duties to maintain statistical information necessary for the evaluation of equal employment opportunity and upward mobility within state civil service.”

In March, the nine-member Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans decided with a 5-4 vote that lineage will determine who will be eligible for reparations.

The May revision also includes $1.5 million in funding for the Department of Justice to continue supporting the work of the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans

Supporters of disaggregation say it will serve as a key tool for the task force as it enters its second year of studying slavery and its lingering effects on African Americans.

The state’s reparations task force will recommend what compensation should be and how it should be paid by July 2023.

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Bay Area

SoCal Group Holds Black-Themed Commencement, Presents Scholarships for Local High School Grads

The Buffongs say 694 students signed up for the Black graduation event their company held in conjunction with the Cooperative Economic Empowerment Movement (CEEM) and a myriad of other sponsors. In addition to celebrating the students’ achievements, the Buffongs say the event held at the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona introduced members of the class of 2022 to culturally significant career, social and civic opportunities.

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More than 670 Black graduates from various high schools come to a special graduation at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona on May 13, 2022.
More than 670 Black graduates from various high schools come to a special graduation at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona on May 13, 2022.

SoCal Group Holds Black-Themed Commencement, Presents Scholarships for Local High School Grads

By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

This past weekend in the Inland Empire, a San Bernardino couple welcomed hundreds of African American high school graduates from the region for a joyous multi high school, Black-themed graduation celebration.

“Sometimes we have students doing magnificent things and nobody sees them,” said Keynasia Buffong, co-founder of Buffong Consultation Solutions, the company that organized the celebration honoring graduates from various high schools in the area.

Keynasia Buffong co-owns the firm with her husband Jonathan Buffong. The couple wants to expand the mass graduation event to all regions in the state.

“When you come into your community, we see you. We recognize you,” Kaynasia Buffong continued.

The Buffongs say 694 students signed up for the Black graduation event their company held in conjunction with the Cooperative Economic Empowerment Movement (CEEM) and a myriad of other sponsors.

In addition to celebrating the students’ achievements, the Buffongs say the event held at the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona introduced members of the class of 2022 to culturally significant career, social and civic opportunities.

Black Greek organizations attended the weekend-long event as well as the first Black valedictorian of Beaumont High School where African American students make up a little under 7% of the student population.

“We got a chance to give away $27,000 in scholarships,” said Keynasia.

Both Buffongs are educators and student advocates in California. They have been hosting the graduation event appreciating Black students for over 11 years.

But the Buffongs say celebrating success always comes with a reminder of the challenges Black students face.

According to the California Department of Education, at 72.5%, Black students had the lowest high school graduation rate among all other racial or ethnic groups at the end of the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

Jonathan said one of their goals is to help graduates transition into the next stage of their academic life, whether that be a four-year university, community college, trade school, or employment.

“Sometimes they don’t know where to go or what to do,” said Keynasia. “There’s mentorship and sponsorship and we aim to have both.”

For the scholarship awards, the Buffongs are not just looking at grades but the full context of the graduates’ lives.

“Whether it’s COVID, deaths, family or health issues, disabilities, we’re looking for things to support them on so we can get them to the next level,” said Jonathan.

Outside of academic and career success, the Buffongs spoke about the importance of Black cultural exposure through education and traditional practices such as the Black national anthem and a libation ceremony.

The libation ceremony is performed by an elder in the community as a way to honor one’s ancestors. It is significant in various African cultures as well as other cultures around the globe.

The Buffongs say their next step is to look into more internship opportunities and figure out how to help curb the high numbers of Black high school graduates who leave the state to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

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