By Scott Jay
I am former member of the Green Party as well a resident of Oakland since the late nineties. I campaigned for Ralph Nader in Oakland in 2000 and 2004, taking time off from work to support the campaign while hearing endless complaints from Democrats who could not imagine voting for anybody but Gore or Kerry.
Little did I know during this time that there were not only Oakland members of the Green Party, such as myself, but also a group called the “Oakland Greens,” who run for local elections and play a leading role in local Green Party activities. I am no longer a member of the Green Party, but the more I learn about the Oakland Greens, the more I am convinced that they are playing a negative role in Oakland progressive and radical politics.
My introduction and disillusionment with the Oakland Greens came simultaneously, in the last days of Occupy Oakland’s second camp in November 2011. After the first camp was disbanded by a ruthless police response, the second camp was established amid a General Strike call. The camp continued for a few weeks as not only a symbol of the city’s failure to address wealth inequality, racism and police brutality but also as an active assembly place where those the city left behind could organize and fight for their own survival and resistance.
In the middle of efforts to combat the city’s impending second raid, the Oakland Greens stepped in with a proposal. They called on the city to stand down the police response and instead negotiate with the general assembly–even though it was agreed that there would be no negotiations with the city. To many of us, this seemed like a step toward “peacefully” disbanding the camp voluntarily. The problem was, the camp did not want to be disbanded and City Hall had its own plan for a police raid, but the Oakland Greens and their striving for relevance led them to swoop in and attempt to save the day. They failed, as their gesture was ignored by both the city and Occupy.
The Occupy movement, in spite of its swift demise, exposed the failure and inability of much of the established Left to contribute to a genuine challenge to political power. Some of us learned a decade’s worth of political lessons during these few weeks but the Oakland Greens, like much of the Left, learned nothing other than how to grandstand to a larger audience.
My next encounter with the Oakland Greens came a few months later, when Occupy Oakland was in its final days. A group of four people in the Occupy Oakland Media Committee published a web page making vile, racist and snitch-jacketing accusations at a particular individual in Occupy Oakland they did not like. Because of the man’s Palestinian heritage and similar name to another man on a State Department terrorist watch list, the four claimed that these two men were one and the same and asked Occupy Oakland to consider whether our comrade was in fact either an active “terrorist” or a post-imprisonment snitch.
Arab-Americans regularly find themselves on terrorist watch lists, dragged off of airplanes, interrogated and much worse, because of the similarity between their name and somebody else’s. And yet, here were supposed “progressives” using racist State Department tactics against somebody in our own movement. However, these two men are completely different and this grotesque maneuver backfired. The individual accused describes the entire story and its political dynamics much better than I could in this short space.
What does any of this have to do with the Oakland Greens? Several of the people involved in this debacle are associated with them, including Jason Kane “Shake” Anderson who was one of the four signatories of the racist web page. Anderson is the Oakland Greens’ candidate for Mayor in 2014.
Why in the world the Oakland Greens would choose Anderson for their candidate is a mystery. He is not particularly well spoken or well versed in political issues and has been completely discredited in the activist community. His primary contribution to Occupy Oakland was to put his face in front of the camera at every press conference held by the movement, no matter how ill-advised or disastrous. He also attempted to sell t-shirts with Occupy Oakland’s name on them as part of a Local Business Liaison committee, for which he had to apologize.
The only question for progressives and radicals in the Oakland Mayorial election is whether or not to support civil rights lawyer Dan Siegel. Unlike Anderson, Siegel earned credibility when he resigned from Jean Quan’s administration over the police raids on Occupy Oakland and went on to represent activists caught up in the city’s prosecution of Occupy activists with all sorts of trumped up charges, as well as other victims of police brutality. Some of us have concerns about Siegel’s campaign, specifically about his plans for the Oakland Police Department, but he is a serious and respected activist. Anderson is a discredited clown that nobody has taken seriously for some time–until the Oakland Greens attached their name to his and helped him gain the publicity he so desperately yearns with a seat at the Oakland Mayor’s debate. His candidacy’s only purpose is to make himself and the Oakland Greens seem relevant.
Having come under some criticism for Anderson’s nomination, the Oakland Greens responded by doing what organizations always do–they collectively went into defense mode to protect their own legitimacy. Don Macleay, the heir presumptive to the tattered legacy of the Oakland Greens, issued a vacuous statement making no mention of these issues but supporting Shake because “let’s remember that Shake was on the lines, keeping his cool, leading the protests.” Anybody involved in Oakland protests over the last few years would find such a comment laughable, but it sounds good when you are trying to promote your organization.
An even worse defense came later from Oakland Green Samsara Morgan, who helped Anderson and his cohorts attempt to secretly reintegrate into the Occupy Oakland Media Committee. She spreads unfounded accusations against the victim of Anderson’s racist accusations, doubling-down on the scary Arab meme. She eventually says that she has “no opinion regarding the matters” but that “I am personally proud that we have endorsed this candidate.”
Everybody involved in this mess should apologize, from Shake, to Samsara Morgan and Don Macleay, but that is not enough. You cannot claim to be in favor of “social justice” and “non-violence” while defending the use of the racist tactics of the state to attack people you do not like. If they were truly more concerned about progressive politics in Oakland than their own self-promotion, they would recognize the irresponsibility of their actions, cancel their mayoral campaign and take a break from politics for a while. We will all be fine. They will not be missed.
Oakland does not need the Oakland Greens. They are not filling some vacuum that would otherwise go unfilled. If the Oakland Greens did not exist, they would not need to be invented. Since they do exist, they either need to contribute something positive or, at the very least, do no harm, but they have failed even by that meager measure.
They have done so much damage to their own credibility, not to mention to the individual caught in this mess, that there is no point in continuing. The Media Committee scandal should have gone down as a painful but obscure footnote in the history of the Occupy movement, but instead the Oakland Greens have unnecessarily dredged it up because, for God knows what reason, they think Shake Anderson would make a good candidate.
Enough is enough. It is time for the Oakland Greens to pack it up and go home. They should all find something else to do because they are simply not suited for politics.
They have many options. Perhaps they could take up a hobby. I might suggest oil painting or learning another language, at least nobody will get hurt that way. But their grasp of activism is so distorted and self-serving that they should accept that the best thing they could do at this point is disband.
The only position they deserve to be elected into is the dustbin of history.