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Opinion: Worthy of Justice (Part 1)

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~When columnist Leo Bazile began a series of articles examining the morality and all other aspects of the Reparations topic during this 2019 political climate, this column is a theological approach to that topic. ~

The Right Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, testified in June 2019, at Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s House Judiciary subcommittee, at the same hearing as filmmaker and seminarian Katrina Browne.

Bishop Sutton address the theological, political, and economic complexity and intersectionality of the morality of reparations.  Sutton said Americans should avoid quick emotional responses to the word “reparation,” because it could divide us and create resentment and suspicion.  He said just the term reparations accentuates the pain of the inherited mess of slavery that has long plagues this country.  There was an ominous judgement day tone to his words when he said, “None of us cause this brokenness, but all of us have a moral responsibility to fix it.”

The underlying topic of reparations is “justice.”  Let us unpack some of the “mess” in the deliberation of who is worthy of “justice” in the United States of America.

In Christian theology, the doctrine of justification is God’s act of removing the guilty and penalty of sin, while at the same time making a sinner righteous through Christ’s atoning sacrifices.  Unfortunately, this foundational belief is afforded to some and has been denied to others.  Combating those denials is at the core of deconstructing racism, sexism, and homophobia in our country.  Such consideration remains a forever struggle because of the vestiges of oppression, which subtlety and overtly remains.

For example, a deacon approaches the pulpit to pray for a waiting congregation in a Baptist Church located in a traditional Black community.  The African-American deacon prays for the forgiveness of sin, the expression of love throughout the community, and world peace, health, and sustained faith.  But – he never prays for justice.

Is this an oversight?  Does the African-America congregation need justice?  Has the demand for justice become an element eliminated in the mind of the African-American because of centuries of indoctrination?  Have African-American been theologically taught that they are unworthy of justice?

I propose that our theological house of love is built on the solid rock of justice.  Precisely because of the justice and mercy, Jesus wen to the cross as an innocent, because God viewed humankind as deserving of a second chance.

However, the African descendent has been and still is being taught to believe he is unworthy.

Consider, the “Slave Bible” commissioned by British slave owners and used as an early theological teaching text designed to enslave the mind and spirit of the slave and to deter the consciousness and desire for liberation.  The British “Slave Bible” omitted verses form the full Bible, which affirmed all mankind, and which includes African descendants as worthy of justice and the love of God.

Slave-owners wanted to deter revolt by indoctrinating slaves with a polluted gospel, skipping texts such as Leviticus 19: 33-32, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.  I am the LORD your God”; or perhaps Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, the is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  There are many more examples.

In the United States, the concept of everyone being worthy of justice is an element guaranteed under the Constitution, especially detailed in the fourteenth Amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.  No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any persons of live, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

However, the 14th Amendment did not become law until 1868, after the Civil War, some 92 years after the formation of the United States.  Before 1968, African-Americans were considered three-fifths of a human being and unworthy of justice.

On March 6, 1857, Roger B. Taney, Supreme Court Chief Justice, in the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, wrote the majority opinion that the framers of the Constitution never intended that the “class of persons…whose ancestors were Negroes of the African race, and imported into this country, and sold and held as slaves,” could “become entitled to all the rights and privileges and immunities” guaranteed to citizens of the United States.  Taney argued the African descendants were, “of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations,” and were so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

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Advice

Michelle Obama’s New Book Gives Advice on Managing Difficult Times

Author Michelle Obama is a true storyteller, and she uses a “show, not tell” method of writing. Readers are lulled into an entertaining story of life in the White House, or a gossipy snip of Obama’s married life, or a shared memory from her childhood and BAM! the words seamlessly roll over to an easy, do-able tip to survive in hard times. Nice surprise.

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Life and children's games are alike in this way: as in the new book “The Light We Carry” by Michelle Obama, the only way to win is to keep playing.
Life and children's games are alike in this way: as in the new book “The Light We Carry” by Michelle Obama, the only way to win is to keep playing.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer | The Bookworm Sez

Your entire life is like a gigantic game of “Chutes and Ladders.”

Shake the dice, move two steps ahead, and you hit a ladder that takes you to higher places on the game board. Three more squares, and you hit a chute that sends you back to the bottom.

Life and children’s games are alike in this way: as in the new book “The Light We Carry” by Michelle Obama, the only way to win is to keep playing.

Pandemic, recession, political divide, market volatility. For many months, you’ve wondered every morning what fresh chaos you’ll deal with that day. So, what keeps you going? How do we overcome feelings of being “wobbly and unsettled?”

Michelle Obama says she ponders this “a lot.” She thinks about the things she uses to keep her “balanced and confident…moving forward even during times of high anxiety and stress.” She calls them her “personal toolbox” and she shares them in this book.

Most recently, she says, the pandemic taught her the value of having a hobby to relax into, to let her hands work, “my mind trailing behind.” Her early life taught her the value of seeing the difference between real fear and fear of newness and change, the latter of which is surprisingly easy to overcome. Newness offers us “chances to grow.”

“I’ve come to understand,” she says, “that sometimes the big stuff becomes easier to handle when you deliberately put something small alongside it.”

Listen to your body, Obama says, and “pay attention to how you’re feeling.” Collect small boosts and learn to look at yourself in a more positive way. Love your differences and be kind to yourself because it’s “everything.” Be open to connections with others; cultivate friendships you can count on. “Know your own light,” Obama says, and “Share it with another person.”

Be authentic.

And finally, she says, “Tell the truth, do your best by others, keep perspective, stay tough. That’s basically been our recipe for getting by.”

Chances are that at some point in the past nearly three years, you got out of bed one morning and you weren’t even sure why. It’s been a long haul and you’re tired but “The Light We Carry” can get you to the next goal, then the next.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like that kind of a book, though.

Author Michelle Obama is a true storyteller, and she uses a “show, not tell” method of writing. Readers are lulled into an entertaining story of life in the White House, or a gossipy snip of Obama’s married life, or a shared memory from her childhood and BAM! the words seamlessly roll over to an easy, do-able tip to survive in hard times. Nice surprise.

Readers will be further glad to know that this isn’t a cheerleading book. Instead of U-Rah-Rah, it’s U Can Do This, told in a calm, knowing manner. And if that’s what you need in this time of turmoil, let “The Light We Carry” help you back onto the ladder.

“The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times” by Michelle Obama

c.2022, Crown, $32.50, 319 pages.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: Will Progressive Victories Mean a More Democratic, Inclusive Oakland?

The results were a significant defeat for the moderate, pro-big-business regime of outgoing Mayor Libby Schaaf, her corporate backers and the candidates she groomed and promoted as her legacy. The failure of Schaaf-backed candidates may have had a lot to do with the starkness of that legacy.

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Newly elected local leaders, pictured from left: Sheng Thao, Mayor of Oakland; Nikki Fortunato Bas, District 2 Oakland City Councilmember; Janani Ramachandran, District 4, Oakland City Councilmember; Kevin Jenkins, District 6, Oakland City Councilmember; Valarie Bachelor, District 6 Oakland Board of Education; Pamela Price, Alameda County District Attorney.
Newly elected local leaders, pictured from left: Sheng Thao, Mayor of Oakland; Nikki Fortunato Bas, District 2 Oakland City Councilmember; Janani Ramachandran, District 4, Oakland City Councilmember; Kevin Jenkins, District 6, Oakland City Councilmember; Valarie Bachelor, District 6 Oakland Board of Education; Pamela Price, Alameda County District Attorney.

By Ken Epstein

The sweep of progressive-leaning local candidates in November’s elections potentially means a seismic shift toward democratic and egalitarian policies in Oakland as the city seeks to grapple with ballooning homelessness, garbage-filled streets, violent crime, a police department still unable to emerge from federal court oversight, and lack of commitment to building housing that most Oaklanders can afford.

At the same time, the results were a significant defeat for the moderate, pro-big-business regime of outgoing Mayor Libby Schaaf, her corporate backers and the candidates she groomed and promoted as her legacy.

In part, the failure of Schaaf-backed candidates may have had a lot to do with the starkness of that legacy.

While failing to address city needs, Schaaf served as a prominent cheerleader for Oakland A’s owner John Fisher’s exclusive residential development at Howard Terminal alongside a new baseball stadium.

In opposition to many residents, she also backed the closing of many more neighborhood schools, the growth of charter schools, and blocked efforts for greater racial equity in construction in the awarding of city contracts.

Schaaf did not intervene to help stop the closure of Mills College, the historic Oakland-based women’s institution, which would have benefitted from some of the energy she spent leading the charge for the A’s real estate project.

The national political showdown between Republicans and Democrats may also have impacted the results, as progressives and mainstream Democrats across the country joined forces to slow down the so-called Red Wave to a trickle.

While this national energy likely helped fuel Oakland’s progressive tide, the results for city races and the closely watched Alameda County District Attorney’s race may count as among the most important local progressive victories in the country.

According to civil rights attorney Walter Riley, who worked with other local leaders and activists during the election to mobilize progressive voters, that work of mobilizing the community will continue.

“This election was about a vision for Oakland, affordable housing, housing the unhoused, stopping closure of predominately Black and Brown schools, cleaning up the city, crime, and criminal justice,” he said. “The entrenched opposition will be divisive, (and) we will build unity.”

The final results of the election were apparently posted on Monday by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. However, before the election is official, the results must still be audited by the registrar and certified by the Oakland City Council.

Election results:

Sheng Thao, Mayor of Oakland

Sheng Thao, Mayor of Oakland

Sheng Thao Is Oakland’s Next Mayor

City Councilmember Sheng Thao on Nov. 8 squeaked out a victory in her race with Councilmember Loren Taylor, who was backed by Mayor Schaaf. The race was widely seen as a referendum on Schaaf’s eight years as mayor.

Thao won 50.30% of the final vote, compared with Taylor’s 49.70%, beating him by 682 votes out of a total of 113,636 ballots cast.

In a statement released Monday, Mayor-elect Thao said, “I’m also very humbled to be here. Fifteen years ago, I was living in my car with my baby. I’ve been through a lot to get to this moment.”

One of her top priorities is public safety. “That involves doubling down on the violence prevention programs that we know reduce violent crime, addressing root causes of crime by working to create more jobs and educational opportunities, filling vacancies in our police department with experienced and diverse officers, providing real support for victims, and redoubling our efforts to get guns off our streets,” she said.

Thao also pledged to “make Oakland the most proactive city in California on housing and homelessness. We’re going to have an aggressive housing policy that protects renters, fights displacement, and treats our unhoused with the dignity they deserve.”

Pamela Price, Alameda County District Attorney

Pamela Price, Alameda County District Attorney

Pamela Price Will Be Alameda County District Attorney

The election of civil rights attorney Pamela Price as the first Black District Attorney broke the chain of succession of hand-picked white district attorneys who maintained the inequitable criminal justice system that has become increasingly out of touch with county residents in the last decade.

Price’s victory, which will have an impact on the push for criminal justice reform nationwide, will be closely watched by both reform advocates and well-funded supporters of the status quo.

In an email to supporters after the election, Price wrote, “We knew this election was going to be an exclamation point in history for Alameda County. The DA’s office has been an untouched tower of legacy appointed and unchallenged District Attorneys.”

“For the last 10 years, the DA’s office has stood in the way of the progressive reforms ushered in by our California Legislature and endorsed by Alameda County voters,” wrote Price, who was described by the S.F. Chronicle as a “staunch reform advocate.”

Price was behind early in the race but ultimately won 53.14% of the vote, to Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Wiley’s 46.86%.

Valarie Bachelor, District 6 Oakland Board of Education

Valarie Bachelor, District 6 Oakland Board of Education

Progressive Majority Flips School Board

For the first time in almost two decades Oakland will have a school board that is opposed to charter school expansion and willing to stand up to state pressure to close neighborhood schools.

The two progressive winners of the Oakland Board of Education elections, educator Jennifer Brouhard and union organizer Valarie Bachelor, will join Boardmembers Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams to form a majority on the seven-member board against closings schools.

Brouhard, District 2 board member, won 63.89% of the vote. She is joined by Bachelor, District 6 board member, who received 54.23% of the vote.

In the District 4 school board, two progressive candidates split the vote, losing to Nick Resnick, who received 51.25% of the vote.

Progressive-Leaning Candidates Win City Council Races

With victories in three races, the City Council’s progressive alliance is likely to absorb fresh energy and new ideas and may be even stronger than it was in the past four years, according to several observers.

Nikki Fortunato Bas, Oakland City Councilmember for District 2, won reelection with 67.79% of the vote. Attorney Janani Ramachandran won in District 4 with 68.47% of the vote, and Kevin Jenkins won in District 6 with 84.22% of the vote.

Lena Tam, Elected New Supervisor of District 3

Lena Tam, Elected New Supervisor of District 3

Lena Tam Elected New Supervisor of District 3

Lena Tam, former vice mayor for the City of Alameda, was elected to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to serve District 3. She garnered 52.10% of the vote to Kaplan’s 47.90%. Tam had the backing of all three mayors of the cities in the district — San Leandro’s Pauline Cutter, City of Alameda’s Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf — as well as the sitting members of the board.

She is replacing Wilma Chan who died last year after she was hit by a car while walking her dog in Alameda.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: U.S. Grant for New Waterfront Ballpark Would Help A’s Far More Than Oakland

There are numerous examples of sports deals failing to deliver the fiscal returns promised by local governments: the Atlanta Braves stadium, where office buildings penciled in to pay for the stadium were never built; the University of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center left the city $28 million in debt and the Washington Nationals’ failure to build 46,000 square feet of promised commercial and retail space alongside the baseball stadium. 

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Port of Oakland file photo.
Port of Oakland file photo.

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

Once in a generation — if we’re lucky — we see huge federal investment in infrastructure.

Thanks to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mega Grant program, communities across the country have been asked to identify their highest-priority projects in the first round of long-needed transportation investment funding to help make U.S. transit safer, more efficient and resilient to future challenges.

But not all projects hit that mark.

Here in the Bay Area, several major transformative projects have applied for Mega Grant funding and are worthy of this kind of investment. Contra Costa County’s 680 Forward project, for example, would improve mobility along Interstate 680, the backbone corridor for the region’s supply chain and commuters, linking airports, business centers and seaports.

Then, there’s Oakland: Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration applied for a $182 million Mega Grant to help fund what it describes as a “waterfront mobility hub” at Howard Terminal in Jack London Square. In reality, though, the grant would help billionaire Oakland A’s owner John Fisher develop his $12 billion proposal for luxury condos and a stadium far more than it would the public.

The Mega Grant program, which is currently reviewing initial proposals, should reject the proposal.

The problems with such an application are obvious and numerous. First, even if the city got a Mega Grant, Oakland’s City Council would need to approve its use. The mayor has no role in that process and so far, the City Council has yet to see a development agreement or receive the independent financial analysis it requested early this year.

The Council has, however, received an update from City staff that there is nowhere near enough money to finance the project. According to a September informational memo from Assistant City Administrator Elizabeth Lake, the cost to the public would, “significantly exceed the A’s previous estimate.” How much that cost will increase and how the city plans to pay for it is unclear.

Moreover, if a proposal with actual terms is ever presented, it will be after Schaaf and several current Council members are out of office. It is possible — perhaps even likely — given the financial uncertainties, that the new City Council will not approve the project, and if it does, there are multiple lawsuits pending and additional regulatory hurdles to cross.

The Mega Grant criteria appear to require that proposed projects clear the likely hurdles they might encounter along the way. The Howard Terminal proposal does not meet that criterion.

Of course, it is also possible that Fisher, for whom this taxpayer largesse is intended, will still end up moving his team to Las Vegas.

According to a poll last December, 46% of Oakland residents do not support using public money for this project, compared to 37% who do. The poll also found that even among A’s fans, who comprise a 53% majority of the electorate, support is tepid at best.

Oakland residents already have real transportation concerns that the city needs to address: traffic congestion, along with its impact on climate and public health; deferred maintenance of roadways; gaps in the availability of reliable public transportation; the efficient movement of goods through the supply chain, including at the Port of Oakland.

But residents, stakeholders and experts were never asked how they might want to spend a Mega Grant. No hearings; no webinars; no surveys — not even consideration for existing projects in Oakland’s Capital Improvement Plan.

And, ironically, this proposal is chasing transportation dollars for a project that nearly all the transportation stakeholders at the port, including those running container trucks and trains through our city, agree will make congestion and safety situations worse.

In the absence of the independent financial analysis promised earlier this year, port stakeholders commissioned an independent report from Nola Agha, a professor of sports management at the University of San Francisco and expert on stadium projects. Agha’s report concluded that revenue projections for the development are overestimated, project costs are underestimated, and indirect costs are not accounted for.

There are numerous examples of sports deals failing to deliver the fiscal returns promised by local governments: the Atlanta Braves stadium, where office buildings penciled in to pay for the stadium were never built; the University of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center left the city $28 million in debt and the Washington Nationals’ failure to build 46,000 square feet of promised commercial and retail space alongside the baseball stadium.

Here in Oakland, much of the pro forma for the Howard Terminal development relies on revenues from office, retail and high-end condos — all of which have a risky outlook in the post-pandemic economy. These critical elements of the project financing may never get built.

Significant opportunities to improve and build up our region with the help of the federal government are few and far between. Using them to support a private development for which there is no approved development agreement is a bad idea. The City of Oakland’s Mega Grant application sacrifices critical funding for the Bay Area’s real infrastructure needs.

Kitty Kelly Epstein is a scholar, an Oakland resident, host of a radio show and the author of three books on Oakland and urban affairs.

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