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The Black Activist Running to Be Oakland’s Next Mayor Has a Plan to Win—Even If She Loses – Mother Jones

The Black Activist Running to Be Oakland’s Next Mayor Has a Plan to Win—Even If She Loses – Mother Jones

YouTube/Cat Brooks for Oakland

It’s a day in early August when Cat Brooks begins knocking on doorways in West Oakland. On this sleepy, sun-drenched block of Victorian bungalows, Brooks is comfortable. The high-profile native police accountability activist and former radio host purchased a modest, two-story grey home close by after she moved from Los Angeles a decade in the past.

It’s no coincidence that is the place she landed. The neighborhood has lengthy been an avatar for each the regular and seismic modifications which have disrupted black communities throughout the nation. Within the 1960s, it was the nationwide headquarters for the Black Panther Celebration for Self-Protection, a storied western outpost for black migrants from the South, however extra just lately it’s the “new edge of Silicon Valley,” a place of any variety of macro and microaggressions centered on race and sophistication, together with hovering rents and neighbors calling the police to log noise complaints towards black church choirs.

“This,” says Brooks, hopping out of her black SUV with an armful of fliers, “is home”—as if the whole lot round her has one thing essential to train the remainder of the world, and she or he’s been particularly chosen to assist facilitate the lesson. That’s why she’s operating for mayor of Oakland and for bringing a sure sort of community-led change to Metropolis Corridor.

She faces an uphill battle. It’s a crowded area—10 individuals are operating for the workplace and the incumbent, Libby Schaff, has out-raised everybody. As of August, Schaff’s marketing campaign struggle chest totaled greater than $315,000, whereas Brooks had raised slightly below $50,000. However what Brooks lacks in cash, she is making an attempt to make up for in power: Her marketing campaign says it has 400 volunteers, and she or he’s gotten a slew of outstanding endorsements, together with Oakland metropolis councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who completed second within the 2014 mayoral race; Black Panther Get together co-founder Bobby Seale, who himself ran for mayor in 1972; and the California Nurses Affiliation. And there could be a gap for Brooks with a sure slice of the town’s left and minority voters. Nationally, Schaff is seen as a progressive who even made headlines for brazenly defying Donald Trump on immigration. However within the insular world of radical Bay Space politics, the present mayor is eyed by some black progressives and Democrats with suspicion for not doing sufficient to stave off the landslide of gentrification that’s remaking the town.

Later, as she marches from door to door within the multicolored models of a housing undertaking, with Arabic wafting from one unit and Vietnamese from one other, Brooks arms every resident a paper saying a barbecue at a small park across the nook that upcoming weekend. There shall be free meals and face portray for teenagers, she tells them. However above all, she says she needs to register individuals to vote. And when you can’t vote? That’s advantageous. Come, seize one thing to eat, hang around together with your neighbors.

“This is a long game, not a short game,” Brooks informed me earlier that day at her marketing campaign headquarters, tucked away in a again workplace of a small constructing downtown. The lengthy recreation is that this: She needs to construct a base of Oakland residents who’re robust and loud and arranged sufficient to meaningfully problem individuals in energy. Even, and particularly, in the event that they’re led by her. Brooks, who typically works with Black Lives Matter, represents a new chapter for black activists whose calls for fall outdoors of the Democratic mainstream. Her message doesn’t revolve round, or typically embrace, resistance to Donald Trump, as a result of he’s merely a symptom of a illness that has ravaged communities of colour since their starting. Oakland is a metropolis during which Democrats have lengthy held energy and, in that sense, it’s a research in simply how inclusive and responsive a metropolis could be to the calls for of its most ardent black activists, who’ve pale a bit from the nationwide highlight because the peak of the Black Lives Matter motion in the course of the Obama years. However with some elements of the nation bracing themselves for a so-called “blue wave” in November, Oakland reveals what can occur as soon as that wave washes ashore.  

Identical to her neighborhood, Cat Brooks is a research in re-invention. Born Sheila Polk in Las Vegas to a white mom and black father, her childhood was a firsthand lesson within the real-world impression of racial inequity. Her father struggled with substance abuse and went to jail when Brooks was eight, and she or he and her mom moved round typically, struggling to discover secure housing. Whereas she’d ultimately take after her mom—an activist who labored to convey consideration to home violence—she initially inherited her father’s love of the stage. He was the primary black stagehand with a outstanding unionized present on the Vegas strip, and after he went to jail, what helped Brooks ease the uncertainty was theater. She studied theater throughout school, incomes a bachelor’s diploma from the College of Nevada at Las Vegas. She educated in London earlier than shifting to Los Angeles to pursue appearing profession full-time.

“This is a long game, not a short game.”

However she wanted a job to pay the payments, and in 2002 landed a gig as a communications coordinator with a group referred to as the Group Coalition, a corporation that fights a vary of coverage battles in South Central Los Angeles, together with punitive policing practices. Brooks fell in love with the fast-pace and intimacy of the work—a land-use marketing campaign right here, a re-entry program for ex-offenders there. That work led her to Oakland in 2008, to work for an schooling non-profit. 

Then on New Yr’s Day in 2009, Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old black man, was shot and killed by a white transit officer earlier than a crowd of onlookers. Brooks quickly discovered herself swept up within the work of making an attempt to deliver nationwide consideration and native accountability to the case, staging protests on the Bay Space Speedy Transit station the place Grant was murdered and she or he was typically entrance and middle for the media. It was round then, when she was apprehensive about pissing off her employers together with her more and more seen activism, that she adopted in public the identify Cat Brooks, a mashup of a childhood nickname “she-cat” and the stage identify “Brooks” that she’d used to register with the Display Actor’s Guild. Quickly, the identify caught.  

She co-founded a group referred to as the Anti Police-Terror Venture, which took on Grant’s trigger and, later, different victims of police violence. The group began peer counselor trainings, equipping residents with the instruments to reply to emergencies in order that they wouldn’t have to name police. It has lengthy been a loud and perpetual thorn within the aspect of native authorities, disrupting regional board conferences and dealing with allies to shut down the West Oakland BART station on Black Friday in 2014. Earlier this yr, not lengthy after Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man, was shot and killed by police in close by Sacramento, Brooks allotted with any notion of police reform, bluntly telling CNN: “Policing as an institution does not work for communities of color across the country.” 

To listen to her inform it, her life was completely superb earlier than she determined in Might to upend it and run for mayor. Since these early days following the Grant capturing, Brooks has grown in each her profile and her position as a progressive energy dealer. The Anti Police-Terror Challenge continues to be round, and it was the individuals affiliated with the group who first planted the seed that she ought to run for mayor. She had just lately been named government director of Justice Groups Community, a coalition of organizations that do speedy response work after situations of police violence that was based by Patrisse Cullors, who helped begin Black Lives Matter. Brooks had additionally written a one-woman present, Tasha, based mostly on the story of a black lady named Natasha McKenna who was killed by police in Virginia, which was incomes constructive critiques and awards for native performances. And her morning drive-time radio present on KPFA, “UpFront,” had made her one thing of a native movie star. However the concept somebody like Brooks seize the formal levers of energy gathered a sense of urgency after collection of scandals rocked Oakland in 2017: The Oakland Police Division turned embroiled in a intercourse abuse scandal through which a number of officers have been reported to have trafficked a younger woman; a devastating hearth killed 36 individuals throughout a social gathering at a warehouse the place many individuals have been dwelling, underscoring the area’s housing disaster; and as rents rose, makeshift cities expanded underneath freeway overpasses, pushing the homeless inhabitants to some 2,000 individuals.

Requested why she lastly determined to leap into the race final spring, Brooks tells me now, “Because I can’t turn right without running into a crane and left without running into a tent.” 

Within the months main up to the 2016 presidential election, most of the activists in Brooks’ orbit have been reluctant to publicly endorse candidates, even on the native degree, preferring as an alternative to agitate from the surface, because the highlight of the Black Lives Matter motion shone brightest. “Sometimes you have to put a wrench in the gears to get people to listen,” Alicia Garza, a Black Lives Matter co-founder, stated in an interview concerning the community’s choice on the time. Now, two years into a Trump presidency that’s brazenly hostile to their calls for, a number of the black activists who rose to prominence doing police accountability work and shunning politics-as-usual have turn out to be actively engaged in electoral work as an organizing technique, placing themselves on the within in a method that was largely unthinkable simply two years in the past. Garza, for instance, launched a new venture, the Black Futures Lab, which incorporates a program to determine and practice progressive political candidates. In a current speech in San Francisco, she gave perception into her motives, noting the “inability of democracy to tend to our needs.” 

“I can’t turn right without running into a crane and left without running into a tent.” 

The solely reply, she argued, was for black ladies to run. “America spends so much time shaming black people for not voting,” Garza informed the gang, noting how dependable of a voting bloc black ladies have been for the Democratic social gathering throughout many years. “But really we should all be ashamed of how few black women are making decisions and allocating resources while we continue to ask black women to save us.” 

The floor is shifting as we speak, very similar to it did within the early 1970s, with a sure set of radical black activists placing assets into electoral politics. “With the Black Panther Party in particular, there was a decision among Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown to shift its resources to running toward local office in the Oakland area,” says Ibram X. Kendi, director of American College’s Antiracist Analysis and Coverage Middle and writer of Stamped from the Starting: The Definitive Historical past of Racist Concepts in America. “That was seen as an extension of activism from their standpoint, and there are certainly parallels in which you have people who were protesting on the street or demonstrating on the street and now some of those same people are running for office.”

For Brooks, the marketing campaign is much less about seizing energy than constructing a mass of individuals to assist confront it. “It’s one thing to be on the outside and be like, ‘Oh, forget that. I’m not doing all those politics,’ but then you’re mad when they pass legislation banning barbecuing by the lake that targets black people,” she says, referring to the viral BBQ Becky incident by which a white lady was filmed calling the police on a black man who was barbecuing close to Oakland’s Lake Merritt. “And I don’t mean to minimize it to something like that. But there are people inside City Hall that are making decisions—in all city halls—that are about our lives and they don’t care very much about our lives.”

To that finish, even within the wave of progressive candidates operating for workplaces throughout the nation, Brooks stands out. As a longtime group organizer, she is well-versed within the language of the novel left; police abuse in black communities isn’t “brutality,” it’s “terrorism,” therefore the Anti Police-Terror Venture’s identify. And she hasn’t shied away from staking out hard-line positions on a few of the metropolis’s most divisive points. As an activist, she fought to reduce the roughly $1.three billion Oakland police price range in half; if elected mayor, she says she would use that cash as an alternative on early childhood improvement, and psychological well being and job coaching packages. She helps a moratorium on privately run and publicly funded constitution faculties, which is consistent with the Black Lives Matter coverage agenda launched in 2016. She additionally needs to home the homeless in Metropolis Corridor and develop group land trusts through which residents create nonprofits to purchase land and hold housing costs reasonably priced. She says she is prepared to go to jail to shield undocumented residents in Oakland.

When requested what makes her totally different from different radicals who’ve run just lately run for Oakland mayor—Jean Quan, Oakland’s mayor earlier than Schaff, was reportedly as soon as a member of a Maoist Communist Staff Social gathering within the 1970s—Brooks solutions, “I don’t know if anyone has come into it with the same level of cadre accountability.” She says, repeatedly, that she solely selected to run as a result of “the people” needed her to. She is, briefly, the kind of progressive native candidate who’s prepared to shake up the system exactly as a result of she has spent a lot time outdoors of it. “I’m not running to put my bullhorn down,” she informed her Fb followers in early October, a sentiment echoed in her marketing campaign advert. “I’m running so you’ll pick it up.”

Black Lives Matter has an official coverage of not endorsing political candidates, however some members admit they could have to revisit that place. “She’s one of our own,” says Black Lives Matter member Melina Abdullah, a professor and chair of Pan-African Research at California State College, Los Angeles, who additionally occurs to be an Oakland native. Abdullah notes that even regardless of the group’s official place, members have enthusiastically supported Brooks’ marketing campaign with money and time.

“Nobody’s ever voted their way to freedom.”

The hope is that, if elected, Brooks might be to Oakland what equally politically aligned mayors like Chokwe Antar Lumumba has been to Jackson, Mississippi, and Ras Baraka has been to Newark, New Jersey: an organizer who can use elected workplace as a area to enact significant, community-driven change.

“If we look at black politics, there’s always been a need for both an outside and an inside strategy,” says Abdullah, of how Black Lives Matter is now approaching each politics and protest. “Nobody’s ever voted their way to freedom.”

Typical knowledge says that Brooks is a lengthy shot to win, however thanks to ranked selection voting, the place voters rank their prime three decisions and second- and third-place finishers typically wind up in a run-off, victory is feasible. Considerably complicating issues, Pamela Worth, a civil rights lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for district lawyer, can also be within the race and will siphon off some progressive help, notably since she has ties to a political motion committee that’s funded by billionaire George Soros. However Brooks’ objective, whether or not or not she wins, continues to be the identical because it was 10 years in the past when she was calling consideration to Oscar Grant’s demise: to arrange black individuals. She needs extra volunteers, extra voter registration events, extra motion. And if she doesn’t win? That’s nice. It’s an organizing technique in an arsenal of many, all aimed toward uniting the town’s most disenfranchised to struggle for his or her collective good. 

The most necessary factor is that “we have a base,” she says, “that we’ve had enough conversations and we’ve touched enough folks that we can mobilize, that we can continue to engage, that we can continue to fight for a progressive Oakland [because] I want that same base banging on our doors if I’m sitting in that seat.”

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