I spend a lot of time trying to encourage people to pay attention to what their local government is doing. Oakland is full of energetic and politically active people working hard to make a difference on the State and Federal levels, and I think that’s awesome, and would obviously never suggest that they stop doing so. But I also think sometimes that the strong level of interest that so many Oaklanders take in fights going on in Sacramento or Washington comes at the expense of awareness of local issues.
That’s not to say that there’s nobody in town aggressively following local issues and trying to make a difference right here at home. Oakland is blessed with a fair number of people who have been doing so for many years, and I am proud to know many of them. But it’s undeniable that when you start watching or attending lots of local meetings, you pretty quickly get used to seeing all the same set of faces over and over and over again.
I’ve always thought that part of the problem is that even once someone does decide they want to work to help get Oakland back on the right track, they aren’t sure how to even go about getting involved. I am working with Becks and dto510 on a project that I hope will help address that problem at least a little bit, and hopefully I’ll be able to say more about that soon. But if you’ve been finding yourself increasingly angry and frustrated with the direction our local institutions have been taking (and I know, from reading all these comments, that many of you are), and you think you’re ready to do something about it, you don’t have to wait for me to help you out. Today, I’d like to highlight two local groups that can help you get involved, each of which conveniently has an upcoming opportunity to participate.
First, if you aren’t already a member of the League of Women Voters, I strongly recommend you join today. The League is a wonderful organization devoted to voter education and good government advocacy – work that is absolutely essential to any well functioning democracy. The League isn’t out there campaigning against taxes or for candidates or things that necessarily seem particularly sexy and exciting. But they are out there, working hard to make your government work better – their tireless advocacy for improved citywide records management is just one example. The League also sponsors monthly educational discussions about local issues, and it just so happens they’ve got one coming up on Monday!
I know a lot of you guys are interested in OUSD issues, and I often get requests from readers to write more about them. I’m not going to do that. I think that OUSD issues are really important, but I also understand that, like the City and the transit agencies I try to follow, they are also very complex. I’m pushing my limits of what I can reasonably handle just trying to keep up with the issues I already cover, and there is simply no way that I would have the time to give the school district coverage of a quality I’m comfortable with. (If you are looking for education coverage, BTW, you can find it in the Oakland Tribune, Tribune education reporter Katy Murphy’s blog The Education Report, The Oakbook, and the Great Oakland Public Schools blog.)
Anyway, for those of you are concerned about how OUSD is going to be dealing with their current funding crisis, I highly recommend attending this month’s League of Women Voters Hot Topics meeting, which will be devoted to a discussion of OUSD and the School Board. They describe it as follows:
The excellence of Oakland’s schools directly ties into the health of our city. Youth who graduate from high school with skills to continue their educations, fill jobs, and contribute to their neighborhoods will not be adding to our national reputation as a top-tier crime scene. What is the role of our school board in promoting OUSD student achievement? How does our school board support effective principals and teachers and personalized learning environments for OUSD students? LWVO invites its members and the larger community to attend this gathering. School Director and LWVO member Jody London will join us in a discussion of issues.
Education geeks should mark their calendars for the event – next Monday, January 26th, 6:30 to 8 PM at the Redwood Heights Community Center (3883 Aliso Avenue).
Even though they’ve been around like 1/100th the amount of time the League has, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably familiar with Make Oakland Better Now! a newer, somewhat more aggressive, good government advocacy organization formed this summer. At a meeting earlier held this month at City Hall, MOB Now! invited Oakland voters to hear a presentation from budget director Cheryl Taylor about Oakland’s budget situation and options, then hosted a lively discussion among attendees about what the City Council should be doing to address the deficit. The Council will be making a decision on how to close the remaining $9 million of the City’s FY 2009-10 expected deficit in a few weeks, and, well, there aren’t a lot of options left.
There’s no doubt at this point that whatever balancing measures get taken, they’re going to be unpleasant. But which of a series of distasteful choices should the Council go with? MOB Now! founders, not content to just sit around and complain from home about being unhappy with whatever cuts get made, are determined to make a strong push for the adoption of their budget positions – whatever those end up being.
And that’s where you come in. Make Oakland Better Now! has posted an online survey soliciting feedback from Oakland residents on what type of budget reductions they think the City should be making. Eliminate Neighborhood Service Coordinators? Eliminate services for seniors and the disabled? Get rid of the Neighborhood Law Corps? Stop funding the Oakland Museum? Close the Oaklanders Assistance Center? And if there were to be a tax on the ballot, what would you want the money to go to? Police? Fire? Human services?
Like I said, none of the options are pretty. But these are the choices we have to make, so you might as well hold your nose and decide which one you hate the least. So go, take the survey now, and help MOB Now! put together their budget position. And if you decide you’d like to help them advocate for that position once they get it together, well, contact them and let them now. I’m sure they’d be thrilled with all the help they can get.