A Bay Area Journalist's First-Hand Account Of How Mayor Jerry Brown Screwed Over Oakland On His Way To Sacramento



J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Oakland Unwrapped Column
UrbanView Newspaper
March 1, 2000

Supporters of Measure D say we ought to vote for it because we've tried everything else, and that worries me. Worries me a lot.

Measure D would allow Mayor Brown to appoint three members to the School Board, joining the seven we currently elect in District elections. It is a dilution of our democratic rights, and think we ought to always be very, very skeptical of any plan that dilutes our democratic rights. It took too much sacrifice to get them in the first place.

There are times, perhaps, when we need to limit our Constitutional rights. Wartime is one, though not always. President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, but that was probably an acceptable solution because the union was full of Confederate spies and sympathizers and the country close to dissolution. War was also used to excuse the internment of Japanese American citizens and the stealing of their property during the 40's. In that case, the means did not justify the end.

In the case of our school board, the Mayor does not even have the threat of armed conflict to enduce us to limit our right to vote.

There's no doubt that Oakland schools are in a mess. Former school board President Noel Gallo says the board was in the process of turning things around in the last year, and Mayor Brown is just jumping on the bandwagon to take credit. I disagree. Without the Mayor's pressure, Carole Quan would almost certainly still be Superintendent. And Carole Quan was not the leader we needed to turn the schools around. So bless Jerry Brown for that.

But to say that the Mayor was right to come in and shake up the school establishment does not mean that he ought to be running the show. Even John the Baptist didn't advertise himself as the savior, just the guy who stirred up the waters and made the way ready for the coming.

But even if the schools were in complete disarray, I would not support Measure D. I'm sorry, friends. I lived through a time, not very long ago, when some people...my people...did not possess the right to vote, or whose vote was rendered meaningless by law. I have met some of the people who were beaten by troopers on horseback on the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965 during the march to win black voting rights in the South. I was in Alabama in 1966 when white race terrorists beat up elderly African Americans who attempted to vote for the first time in their lives in the Freedom Elections. 16 years later, in 1982, I remember the bitter fight to get the South Carolina State Senate to open itself up to black members. The last black South Carolina State Senators had served a hundred years before. They were run out of office in a storm of violence, some of them assassinated on public streets during daylight hours. Too many American bodies lie rotting at the bottoms of Southern rivers, too many heads broken, too many homes burned, too many years spent in jail, to think that giving up a portion of our voting rights is an acceptable solution to our problems.

Americans are fond of saying that it is our right to vote that separates us from much of the rest of the world, makes us a more enlightened nation, makes us better. If we choose to dilute our democratic rights in order to enhance the education of our children, what will we really be teaching them? And that worries me.