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Union Backed School Board Candidates Finish Strong Against Billionaire Supported Candidates

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Mike Hutchinson, who is poised to win the District 5 School Board election, speaks at a protest against NewSchools Venture Fund outside of an invitation-only fundraising dinner for the organization at Oakland’s Marriott at City Center on May 8, 2019, a few months after the Oakland Educator Strike. NewSchools Venture Fund is a billionaire backed organization that has invested in Oakland Charter Schools. Photo courtesy of Rex LC and East Bay DSA

As final votes are being tallied, three Oakland School Board director candidates backed by the Oakland Education Association who ran on platforms against privatization, cuts, and public school closures hold significant leads poising them to win against candidates who, backed by political action committees, spent between two to three times more money on their campaigns.

District 1 candidate Sam Davis, District 3 candidate VanCedric Williams, and District 5 candidate Mike Hutchinson, have each thus far secured between 10-13% more votes than their opponents Austin Dannhaus, Maiya Edgerly and Leroy Roches Gaines.

Dannhaus, Edgerly and Gaines received major campaign donations from PACs including Go Public Schools and Power2Families, which are funded in large part by billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Alice and Jim Walton, all of whom have encouraged the development of charter schools.
“I knew, even years ago, the only way to counter money power is with people power,” said Hutchinson.

Starting in 2012, Hutchinson began fighting school closures when he founded Oakland’s Public Education Network in reaction to school closures that included Santa Fe Elementary, a school he had attended.

In 2016, Hutchinson ran for School Board on an anti-school closure and anti-privatization platform but only secured about 16% of the vote. Hutchinson claimed years of hard work by himself and other public school advocates helped shift the narrative by 2020 against both the ideas that school privatization is beneficial and that public school closures are needed or inevitable. In 2020, the message of his campaign resonated more with voters.

From 2004 to 2019, Oakland had closed 18 public schools and in 14 of the closed sites, charter schools moved in.  The student population of the 16 closed schools was mostly Black. School board members claimed closures were financially necessary to best serve students, and pushed an agenda to close 24 more schools in 2019.

At the same time, Hutchinson, advocates, and OEA united to assert that the closures were strategic and came from underfunding and under-supporting schools that served Black and Brown students.

OEA Vice President Ismael Amendariz said the union had been focusing on problems around teacher retention issues like low teacher wages compared to nearby districts. But they shifted their focus in 2019 to cuts to OUSD and closures of schools by showing that School Board members who were pushing for the 24 closures had their campaigns funded by GO Public Schools.

Since pro-charter school funded Board members were pushing cuts, and school closures in recent history often meant charter schools taking over closed public school sites, they claimed the push to close schools was about privatization instead of financial necessity.

Amendariz said the union made an effort to make issues of billionaires pushing privatization more apparent to people during and leading up to a seven-day Oakland educator strike in late February and early March of last year. Hutchinson said the public was well situated to reject the privatization efforts as Pres. Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who are unpopular in Oakland, pushed a similar agenda.

East Bay Democratic Socialists of America were strong supporters of the strike, claiming that the push to spread charter schools, which do not allow unions, was funded by billionaires who wanted to break up labor organizing that could raise wages while improving working conditions and benefits which would drive up taxes on billionaires.

“In the build-up to the strike we had memos, we had education about who was buying our School Board,” said Amendariz. “When we were doing actions during the strike we were very intentional about where we were doing the actions and what was the messaging. That’s when people started to realize there’s something wrong here.”

A teachers’ strike in January 2019 in Los Angeles had similar anti-charter messaging that helped make Oakland’s strike more legible to the public. Hutchinson saw parallels between the two strikes in terms of “who the unions made the target of their strikes.”

“On day two of the L.A. teachers’ strike, UTLA marched on The California Charter School Association headquarters,” he said. “On day two of the strike in Oakland, OEA marched on GO [Public Schools] headquarters.”

Mona Treviño, who has been a parent activist since 2015 and worked with Hutchinson on his campaign said that although public consciousness against schools closures and privitization has recently shifted, “there have been waves of resistance in the last 10 years.” She pointed out battles to stop the closures at Santa Fe, Tilden, Maxwell Park and an occupation of Lakeview Elementary School during Occupy Oakland.

With Hutchinson, she and other advocates have spoken regularly at School Board meetings against closures and cuts. Organizing around legislative issues like the fight for AB 1505, a bill passed in October 2019 that helps give local school boards the power to deny approving charter schools, also has helped to educate voters.

In the months leading up to the strike, non-OEA sanctioned actions by teachers and students helped get themselves, the public, and the union to discuss and consider the issue of budget cuts and closures by laying the groundwork for a strike where issues of billionaire-backed privatization were more clearly addressed.

The school board chose to approve the closure of Roots Middle School  January 2019, but not before Roots students, teachers, and parents showed up at School Board meetings to speak out against its closure.

Students were at the forefront of the actions, wielding signs against budget cuts and closures, speaking out, at times though sobs and tears, in public comments against the board choosing to close their school. At one point students convinced the board to engage in a restorative justice circle to discuss the closure, transforming the regular format of the board’s meetings.

“You closing down Roots, to me, is like putting me up for adoption,” said former Roots student Tenai Harris, addressing the School Board. “Roots made me who I am.”

After the School Board announcing its decision to close the school, parents and students decided to boycott attending the school on February 1. Treviño said around 80% of students did not attend school that day. The activism stemming from Roots helped put the issue of closures at the forefront of people’s dialogue during the strike.

In December, 2018, Oakland High School teachers called in sick en masse to protest the lack of a contract with the district, a lack of nurses, too-large class sizes, and low wages. The strike was not sanctioned by OEA and was, in part, a reaction to what teachers perceived as a lack of union action. Oakland High teacher Alex Webster Guiney said at the time that the union was “moving too slow.” On Jan. 18, 2019, teachers and students at four other OUSD High Schools, and a middle school joined Oakland High to stage a mass walkout and march to protest the same issues.

The teacher-led actions soon lead to a student lead sick out, organized by students at Oakland Technical High School, where students from six different Oakland High Schools called out sick on Feb. 8, 2019, and rallied in support of the same demands. Looking back on the sick-outs and walk-outs, OEA Vice President Becky Pringle said that they helped organize high schools for the upcoming seven-day union sanctioned strike.

“Before the strike I didn’t have any awareness of union politics or School Board politics,” said Webster Guiney. “I just knew we didn’t have a contract, we hadn’t had one for 20 months, and our union wasn’t doing anything as far as I could tell.”

At that time, new union leadership coming into OEA was planning for the sanctioned strike. During the strike, and just after, when parents, students and teachers at Kaiser Elementary School repeatedly protested the school’s closure at board meetings, OEA, Hutchinson, and other advocates found it easier then they had in the past to educate the public about the privatized interests involved in school board elections.

“We went on our own little learning journeys,” Webster Guiney said. “People really started to see…there’s a concerted effort to take over Oakland schools.”

During the strike, Hutchinson was regularly at marches, pickets, and protests speaking out against public school closures and charters moving into public school sites, drawing a firm line between him and board members. None of the incumbent School Board members eligible to run for re-election this year chose to.

Hutchinson drew parallels between his campaign and Carroll Fife’s, an organizer who has worked diligently for housing for all in Oakland who recently won District 3’s City Council race.

“Both Carroll and I are organizers who have been on the front lines for years around all of these issues,” he said. “I’m really proud that it shows that in Oakland we have a by-any-means-necessary, inside-outside approach to politics.”

With the message more legible to the public, OEA-backed campaigns found it easier to talk to voters and drum up volunteers. Hutchinson had around 100 volunteers who worked almost 10 Saturdays in a row— missing one day due to wildfire smoke—doing phone calls and walks through his precinct to engage with voters.

In District 3, OEA helped phone 12,000 voters to support Williams, who opposes public school closures, against Edgerly, whose campaign received more than $100,000 from Go Public Schools and over $50,000 from Power2Families.

While three union-backed candidates are poised to win their races, one candidate backed by OEA, Ben Tapscott of District 7, looks poised to lose as he has received about 4.5% fewer votes than Clifford Thompson, whose was funded by Go Public Schools and Power2Families. This means the Oakland School Board has a narrow majority of candidates whose campaigns were backed by billionaires.

Still, with strong public support against closures and the privatization of schools and a new round of School Board director elections coming in 2022, OEA and public school advocates are hopeful.

“People don’t like billionaires and they trust teachers,” said Amendariz. “Bernie Sanders and Trump helped drive that point well. Voters are going with teachers.”

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Bay Area

Popular Chief LeRonne Armstrong Placed on Administrative Leave During Investigation of Police Misconduct

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing. “We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

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In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies,” said Armstrong, speaking at a press conference

By Ken Epstein

Refusing to accept administrative leave during a police misconduct investigation, OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong fired back with a press conference of his own this week, organized by a high-profile corporate public relations and communications firm.

“I should be the chief of police and remain in my position,” he said. “I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies.”

Mayor Sheng Thao placed Armstrong on administrative leave with pay while his role in an officer misconduct cover-up scandal is investigated by internal affairs. The case involves a highly paid police sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run automobile accident in San Francisco and is accused of later discharging a gun in an OPD freight elevator and disposing of the shell casings by throwing them off the Bay Bridge.

At a press conference Monday at the office of PR consultant Sam Singer’s office in Emeryville, Armstrong did not blame Mayor Sheng Thao for placing him on leave but instead denounced federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, who oversees the police department and evaluates its reform efforts as a representative for the federal court that has overseen OPD for two decades.

In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“This to me, clearly, is a last-ditch effort to destroy the credibility of me…and to make the community believe that Oakland police is involved in some shady business,” he said.

He blasted Warshaw’s “ulterior motives,” accusing him and his team of seeking a reason to continue to be paid over $1 million a year to oversee the department, which was potentially set to exit from federal oversight at the end of May.

“It’s hard to say a mayor who’s been in the seat for just a couple of weeks would be able to push back against a monitor at this point,” Armstrong said, adding that some city officials might be “intimidated” by Warshaw’s team.

City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement that her office agreed that the recent report on OPD deficiencies “revealed failures that call into question the integrity of (OPD’s) internal investigation processes.”

Many observers and police accountability activists are saying that the present scandal and subsequent community uproar over Chief Armstrong is best resolved by removing police misconduct investigations from OPD and instead turning the cases over to an independent civilian body.

Defending the department’s internal investigation, Armstrong said the investigation that was conducted was “consistent with the findings that were presented to me.”

“To work and get to this point and have it taken away from you hurts. It doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts my community because every day I come into this job to try to make Oakland better,” he said. Prior to this incident, Armstrong has been widely praised for helping make significant reforms at OPD and paving the way for an end to federal court intervention.

Armstrong said the sergeant involved in the case, who was identified in the media as Michael Chung, was placed on leave following the shooting incident, but that the chief was unable to review the case because Warshaw had taken over the investigation.

Sergeant Chung, one of Oakland’s most highly paid employees, received total pay and benefits of $492,779.77 in 2021, including regular pay of $160,828.84 and overtime pay of $276,959.38.

Armstrong, who has deep ties in the Oakland community, was born and raised in West Oakland, California, and was a graduate of McClymond’s High School. He joined the OPD as a police officer in 1999, after spending four years with the Alameda County Probation Department. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing.

“We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that, under our administration, that we take these findings seriously and it’s important that we look at taking the corrective action that is needed to make sure that we stay on track to make sure that we get out of the federal oversight,” she said.

“My belief is that, by holding ourselves accountable, we can be safer and a more just city,” Mayor Thao said.

At a federal court hearing Tuesday, Judge William Orrick, not addressing the criticisms of Warshaw’s role, said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the findings of the outside report conducted by attorneys hired by the City of Oakland, which revealed “significant cultural problems” that still exist after 20 years of court oversight.

The oversight began as a result of the negotiated resolution to a civil rights lawsuit in the Riders scandal in which plaintiffs alleged that four veteran officers, known as the ‘Riders,’ planted evidence and beat residents, while OPD turned a blind eye to the police misconduct.

“This is the third time since I’ve been overseeing the implementation of the (settlement) that the city has seemed to come close to full compliance,” Judge Orrick said, “only to have a serious episode arise that exposes rot within the department.”

Mayor Sheng Thao said she takes this case seriously, not a minor fender bender as some have dismissed it, and that said those involved will be “disciplined appropriately.”

“This particular misconduct is serious because it provides fertile ground for other misconduct to thrive,” she said at the hearing. “I will not tolerate toxic subcultures that try to demonize or deter officers who do the right thing.”

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Arts and Culture

IN MEMORIAM: Autris Paige

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

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AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.
AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

August 17, 1938 – January 12, 2023

AUTRIS T. PAIGE was the youngest child born to Estella and Overton Paige in Sugar Land, Texas on Aug. 17, 1938.  He passed away on Jan. 12, 2023 in Oakland after a brief illness.  He was supported and comforted by his longtime companion Donna Vaughan.

Mr. Paige grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

He served in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1971, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, appearing in Candide at the Los Angeles Music Center and at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. He appeared with Ray Charles and the American Ballet Theatre and performed in several musical theatre productions on Broadway including Lost in the Stars; Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope; as Walter Lee in Raisin; and in Timbuktu with Eartha Kitt.

Mr. Paige has also sung with the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and with the San Francisco Opera. Other opera companies in which he performed include the Seattle Opera and the Glyndebourne Opera in England. He was featured in the PBS film and award-winning EMI recording of Porgy and Bess as well as the recording of the opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

When he returned to Oakland to “retire” he met Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams, Founder and Director of Today’s Artists Concerts (now Four Seasons Arts), who auditioned Paige and invited him to perform on his series. Mr. Paige began a new phase of his musical career.

He appeared many times under the auspices of Today’s Artists Concerts/Four Seasons Arts in New York’s Alice Tully Hall and in venues around the Bay Area in their Art of the Spiritual programs. He was featured in his own Spiritual Journey in 2009. His recently released solo CD, Spiritual Journey, based on this program, has received critical acclaim.

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

In 2011, Mr. Paige was featured in Four Seasons Arts’ annual W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial Concert with the Lucy Kinchen Chorale and later with soprano Alison Buchanan. In 2013, he performed his Spiritual Journey II in Berkeley with pianist Othello Jefferson. A second CD entitled Classics and Spirituals was released in September 2013. Pianist Jerry Donaldson of Oakland was a frequent collaborator with Mr. Paige, performing throughout the Bay Area.

A Celebration of Life for Autris Paige will take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 11:00 a.m. at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco.

A repast will follow the service.

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