By now, you guys have probably all heard that the Oakland City Council voted last night to reaffirm their support for the Oakland Airport Connector (all present but Rebecca Kaplan and Nancy Nadel voted yes, Desley Brooks was absent). They attached a few conditions to their support, which would be good ones if there was even a remote reason to think BART would comply with them, but of course there isn’t. It was, to say the least, disappointing.
What’s that thing they say? You can’t fight City Hall? That’s wrong. You can totally fight City Hall. You just have to get used to losing a lot.
I’m pretty much accustomed to it at this point, and I wish I could say that it gets easier over time. So far, for me, it hasn’t. Losing sucks. Losing something you care deeply about and have worked incredibly hard for really sucks, end of story.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes, maybe not all the time, and maybe not even most of the time, but sometimes, you win. And when you do, it feels so unbelievably good.
I say all this because after last night’s vote, the first thing I thought about, even before I started feeling all crushed and depressed about the Airport Connector and about how little most of the Council appears to understand transportation or transportation funding, was all those people who I know are not in the regular habit of writing to the Council or certainly of making calls about things, who got up and did so for this. A significant number of readers either CCed me on their messages or wrote to me about sending messages to or calling the Council about this, and many mentioned that it was the first time they ever had done so, but that they just felt so strongly about this that they were compelled to speak up.
And much more than I’m disappointed about the Council’s decision on the Airport Connector (which is a great deal), I’m terrified that those people will be discouraged by the experience or think that their voice doesn’t matter and not want to do it again. Please do not feel that way. Your voices were heard. You took something that everyone thought was a done deal and made it a huge issue, made the other side fight with every ounce of strength and influence they could muster, and made this vote a very tough one for everyone on the Council. You should all be so proud of yourselves.
But sometimes, even when you do all that, you lose. That’s just how it goes. You do the best you can do, and sometimes, your best just isn’t good enough. And all you can do is resolve to do better the next time.
I know I have many readers who have been doing all this far longer than I have (in some cases, longer than I’ve been alive), and I am hoping that some of them will chime in and offer some words of encouragement as well. And in case they don’t, let me share with you what one of them wrote to me on Monday.
Sometimes I think my 9th grade Civics teacher would be proud, other days I claim I must have missed the class where he explained it is all a sham and the deals are done for completely corrupt reasons with no concern for the public.
We all have those days. But in the end, it is worth it. As frustrating as all this often is, the person who wrote that doesn’t stop, no matter how many of those bad days there are. And I don’t want any of you to either.
The entire reason I devote basically all my spare time to this blog is because I want people to understand and become engaged with their local government. If you are unsatisfied with how your City is run, you can and should do more than yell at the TV or the newspaper, or bitch about your frustrations to your neighbors. You can change things. It is not something that is going to get done overnight, or in a week, or in a month. It is hard and it takes persistence and fortitude and the willingness to keep trying in the face of often seemingly overwhelming obstacles and frequent disappointment.
But it is worth it. Oakland is a wonderful city full of amazing, generous people. It also, like everything and everyone, has many flaws. That’s not a reason to throw your hands in the air and give up hope. It’s a reason to work hard to make it better.
So I want to extend my deep appreciation to everyone who sent e-mails and made phone calls and came to speak at meeting after meeting demanding something better for Oakland over the last nine months. Particularly, John Knox White, Becks, dto510 and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who have labored tirelessly on this issue, and done an almost unimaginably amazing job despite near-insurmountable odds and near-endless frustration. I encourage all who wanted a better project to send a note to them thanking them for their work.
And for all of you who dipped a toe into the waters of local government activism for the first time on this, I offer my sincerest gratitude to you. Please don’t be discouraged and let this turn you off from being involved in the future. It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast. But together, we can make a better Oakland. Because remember, sometimes, you win.