Do you know someone who makes democracy work?

One of my favorite things about Oakland is how full it is of awesome people trying to make it a better place.

This city has so many challenges that it would be totally understandable for its residents to write off fixing it as hopeless. Trying to make a difference, especially when working with City government, can be tremendously frustrating, and sometimes seem futile. So I’m constantly amazed at all the people who persist, year after year, in their efforts to improve things.

The immense satisfaction that comes from doing something meaningful is, of course, its own reward. Still, Oakland’s hordes of do-gooder volunteers often labor with little or no formal recognition.

So if you know someone who does great work in Oakland, here’s an opportunity to get them some much-deserved thanks for their efforts. Every year at their annual luncheon, the League of Women Voters Oakland honors hard working community leaders with the Making Democracy Work award. Here’s more information about the awards from the League:

Each year, the League of Women Voters of Oakland celebrates community leaders — individuals and organizations that have envisioned a way to improve Oakland and have mobilized others to work with them to effect a change that has benefited the broader community. These awards will honor two such individuals and/or organizations that have, in the League tradition, worked to make Oakland strong, vibrant, and equitable. 2010 award winners were Barbara Newcombe, co-author of Paper Trails: A Guide to Public Records in California and Oakland Neighborhood Law Corps. The “Making Democracy Work” awards are conferred at the annual All City Luncheon scheduled for April 27th 2011 at Scott’s Pavilion at Jack London Square.

Nominations are open to any Oakland resident or organization that is contributing or has contributed to our community in a significant and meaningful way. If you would like to nominate an individual or organization for an award, please go to to download a nomination form. Nominations are due by January 18.

If you want to nominate someone for this year’s award, just download this form (PDF), and fill it out. You’ll provide a brief statement indicating why you think this person or organization deserves recognition and send it back to the League by Tuesday, January 18th. The award committee will review all the nominations before selecting this year’s winners, and the recipients will be honored at the League’s annual luncheon on April 27th.

7 thoughts on “Do you know someone who makes democracy work?

  1. MarleenLee

    Critical in making democracy work is ensuring open access to public records. Despite Ms. Newcombe’s co-authorship of a book on the CPRA (which costs around $15 on Amazon) and past work trying to improve access to police records (, the City is still unable to comply with the most basic requirements of public records access. It has no formal policies and procedures on public records access. It fails to provide regular or consistent training to City Officials. Members of the City Council are consistently some of the worst offenders. Worse yet, the League gave an award to a branch of the City Attorney’s office, which is complicit is depriving public access to documents. The City Attorney’s office is actively defending the City in my lawsuit that seeks to ensure compliance. Yes, citizens do feel that trying to improve democracy can be futile. Where has the League been in trying to support my efforts at improving access? Supporting open government requires far more effort than publishing a book or giving an award to those that conspire with the offenders.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    I’m glad you asked, Marleen! The League of Women Voters has been working for a number of years on getting the City to revise its records management policies and to create a comprehensive records management program. Initially, this concept was met with strong resistance by a number of Councilmembers, but thanks to the persistence of the League, the City Council finally agreed last year to undertake such an effort, and it is currently in progress.

  3. MarleenLee

    I’ve been hearing the old “we need a records management system” and “we’re in the process of hiring a new records manager” for years now. As far as I know, nothing has improved. And while this may be part of the problem, it is by no means the main problem in my opinion. Practically all of my requests relate to documents that are recently generated, and finding the documents is not the issue. The issue is that nobody wants the responsibility of looking for them and compiling them within the mandatory timelines. (Moreover, how long could it possibly take to implement a records management system? This is not like sending a rocket to the moon!) I keep waiting for that “immense satisfaction” from doing “something meaningful,” but it remains elusive.

  4. livegreen

    V, How does the LOWV define equitable?

    Does it use the dictionary definition: “fair to all parties as dictated by reason and conscience”.

    Or the Oakland activist definition, which is financial, and is more along the lines of “take from those who have and give to those who don’t.”

    Or does it use another? I would usually assume the Dictionary definition, except we live in Oakland.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Marleen –

    As I said before, there was a lot of resistance to the new records management program, but thanks to the unrelenting pressure from the League of Women Voters, the Council finally approved the creation of one this summer. The lack of a records manager has also been a problem for the City, but again, thanks to the League’s advocacy, we do have an excellent one now.

  6. Helen

    Some of the other groups that have been honored in the past include the San Antonio Neighborhood Network, a group that promotes neighborhood leadership within the San Antonio neighborhood, and the Next Step Learning Center, which promotes adult literacy in West Oakland.
    Look at individuals and groups who are doing good things in your community, who are making democracy work, and think about whether they should be thanked for what they are doing.