Aimee Allison Campaign Takes Oakland Greens to New Level, Epicenter News Service
OAKLAND – May 17, 2005 didn't produce the results Oakland Greens and progressives were expecting or hoping for, but there was no stopping the celebration at Aimee Allison's campaign head quarters that night. Ms. Allison placed only fourth (garnering 14.2 percent of the vote) out of a field of eight candidates in the special election for the District 2 seat on the Oakland City Council.
The Council seat was won by Patricia Kernighan who had the backing of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and the local Democratic Party machine. However, Ms. Kernighan received only 28.8 percent of the vote, meaning that she'll have to prepare her re-election campaign (an election only eight-teen months away), in the sure knowledge that over seventy percent of the votes cast in the special election were cast for candidates other than her. This despite the fact that the Kernighan campaign greatly outspent all competitors and spent approximately four times the amount of the Allison campaign.
The special election was precipitated by the resignation of District 2 Council member Danny Wan. Mr. Wan, a Jerry Brown ally, left the Council to pursue more lucrative endeavors. Ms. Kernighan was a top aide in Mr. Wan's office.
The enthusiasm at the Allison campaign headquarters was no put on or brave front. Oakland Greens, and others of the Left knew that the Allison campaign took principled radical social change politics to a whole new level in Oakland.
Aimee Allison burst onto Oakland's political scene seemingly out of no where only months ago. An African American woman, 35, with a winning smile, athletic figure, energetic manor, Ms. Allison's extremely articulate speeches are often delivered with great passion.
Ms. Allison routinely introduced herself to constituents as a resister to the Gulf War of 1992. She was an Army medic in a unit that was re-deployed to Saudi Arabia. Ms. Allison refused to go and took a stand as a conscientious objector. The Army was displeased to say the least, but after due process gave Ms. Allison an Honorable Discharge on the grounds of conscientious objector. Ms. Allison would conclude her introduction by pointing out how her stand against that war while still in the Army demonstrates that she has the character to stand up to the powers that be.
Since 1992, Ms. Allison has continued to counsel war resisters who develop their consciousness while in the military. Gulf War resister, Stephen Funk, who served a term in military prison for his anti-war stand, was present at the election night party. Ms. Allison's attorney from 1992, Ann Fagan Ginger, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, was also there.
Demonstrating exceptional oratorical skills, Ms. Allison often electrified audiences with incisive analysis, by boldly speaking the truths few politicians dare to utter, and by her obviously heartfelt commitment to fundamental social change.
Clear class analysis, analysis of racism, of militarism, of the prison industrial complex, of the environmental crises, and other social change perspectives, often find there way into Ms. Allison's remarks. She can smoothly integrate such analysis with her life experiences as a mother, teacher, businesswoman, war resister and Black woman, in explaining her positions on the issues.
Ms. Allison's eloquence and charisma are of no surprise to those who know her. She used her Army grant to attend Stanford University, where she eventually was elected Student Body President.
If Ms. Allison is the perfect Green candidate for Oakland, she also arrived on the scene at a time when the Oakland Left, was ready to make a qualitative leap forward.
A number of key Left forces were important in laying the foundation which the talent-laden Allison campaign sunk its roots into. The campaign in 2004 of Wilson Riles, Jr. (who served thirteen years on the Oakland City Council), against Mayor Jerry Brown was critical. The Riles campaign united the Oakland Left against Jerry “Gentrification” Brown. Mr. Riles served on the Allison campaign Steering Committee.
Oakland's resurgent Tenant's Rights movement was also a key ingredient. Two years ago, tenants won a huge victory with the passage of a ballot measure called “Just Cause Eviction” by Oakland voters. Ms. Allison was the only candidate in this election who campaigned on strengthening rent control. Both Just Cause Oakland! and the Oakland Tenants Union endorsed Ms. Allison.
Years of perseverance and principled politics by the Oakland Greens was also crucial. Having supported Riles' campaign against Brown to the hilt, the Greens had already built an alliance with Riles and his supporters. Months after that election, Riles, who until then was a lifelong Democrat out of the progressive Ron Dellums camp, publicly switched his registration to Green.
When Aimee Allison stepped forward to run, Riles and other veteran leaders of the Oakland Left encouraged her to meet with the Oakland Green Party. All the ingredients came together and Ms. Allison announced that she had changed her registration from decline to state to Green Party.
Greens from around the region lent support to Ms. Allison, including former President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Matt Gonzalez; former Green Party candidate for Governor of California, and recent running mate of Ralph Nader, Peter Miguel Camejo; former Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate and co-founder of Global Exchange, Medea Benjamen; and veteran Berkeley City Council member Dona Spring. Greens flocked to support the Allison campaign.
Greens were able to bring important campaign skills and experience into the Allison campaign. Ms. Allison's leadership, stands on the issues, and ability to build a multi-racial organization, made her a unifying figure for many Greens, progressive Democrats, independents, and even some radicals and revolutionaries.
By election day, just months after launching, the Allison campaign had grown dramatically and claimed to have mobilized more than three hundred volunteers. The campaign also raised enough money to field a professional grassroots campaign operation, with attractive literature and signs (even though much of the staff positions appeared to be filled by volunteers).
The campaign style was to hit the bricks and campaign door to door. Ms. Allison led the way, spending more two hundred hours walking precincts in District 2.
Ms. Allison received two important labor endorsements. The powerful and dynamic Oakland-based long shore union, ILWU Local 10, endorsed her and it was the first time it ever endorsed any Green Party candidate. The influential teachers union, OEA also endorsed Ms. Allison.
Many Left organizations supported Ms. Allison. The local Socialist Unity Network endorsed Ms. Allison, as did constituent organizations of SUN, locals of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy & Socialism, International Socialist Organization, Socialist Party, and Solidarity. SUN organized a house party, with significant support from the ISO, to raise funds for the Allison campaign.
In her concession speech, Ms. Allison declared, “...this campaign is about the next generation...to say the future rests with us, the people, and not with large developers...We see an alternative future and those of us who believe in it know it is possible.”
“What's happening on the national level is unacceptable. We won't accept Bush sucking resources out of our schools, our communities, and our hospitals. Here in Oakland we're not going to accept the consequences of the war...Martin Luther King said that the bombs dropped in Vietnam explode in our streets – it is so true here in Oakland...and Oakland can change and be a model,” concluded Ms. Allison.
As always, what happens next is what's most important. Ms. Allison intimated that she is looking to run again. Will Ms. Allison continue to bring her unique leadership to the Oakland Green Party and draw in other leaders of her caliber? Will she and the Greens be able to continue to play an important role in unifying and being an expression of the many grassroots people's movements currently taking root in Oakland?
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