As we enter yet another year of this country spending
billions trillions of dollars and massive human capital attempting to 'establish democracy' in other countries, and another year of continued progress by dedicated, amazing individuals and groups developing innovative programs for civic participation in other countries, I am reminded of how much I wish we could focus some/more of that money, that energy, that knowledge, those resources here at 'home' in our local communities. I wholly support the humanitarian and civil aid the federal government and generous individuals send abroad ~ often, though, I am frustrated that we export so much of our talent and resources, and I am saddened with what is left over here in the U.S., here in Oakland ~ namely, not much.
I just returned to my office, after three business days away, to a mailbox overflowing with complaints and general nay-saying on the local message boards and email lists. Generally, the input we receive from many Oaklanders, particularly on the email lists, is negative ~ I have yet to receive an email free from insults or denigrating tone describing an innovative way to address whatever problem the resident feels should be addressed. Even worse, when we offer information on how the person can actually get involved, say through a community group or Commission or Task Force, the caller almost always says something to the effect of, "Oh, well, I don't have time for that!" or even worse, "What?! You want us, the taxpayers, to do your job?!" It's generally downhill in the conversation from there.
Today's round of derogatory emails was instigated by residents reacting to the news that "California Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata escaped uninjured Saturday from a gun-wielding man who robbed him of his sporty state-leased car at a red light in North Oakland." The usual naysayers (the same people who complain on the email lists for every other topic) are using this incident as the opportunity to tell us, yet again, how incompetent we are, how wasteful we are, and how hopeless we all are here in Oakland.
I'd like to use the incident as the opportunity to challenge, I mean, invite Oaklanders to actually participate in their government ~ to actually apply to a Board or Commission or to join their local Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council and dedicate 2008 to actually doing something locally instead of simply complaining and blaming, something other than simply showing up at the City Council meetings every other week to complain at Open Forum. Oh yes people, I ask you to actually be a part of the solution, not just the problem. I want to put a big ole sign above City Hall that says, "This is not a Complaint Zone ~ it's a Solution Zone, an Innovation Zone."
After I read all of my email, I went through my Agenda Packet for next week, including the 'Boards and Commissions Annual Notice of Anticipated Vacancies for 2008'. I want to ask every Oaklander to read through the Notice, pick your passion, and apply it. There are nearly 30 Boards and Commissions in Oakland ~ from the Commission on Aging (six vacancies) to the Youth Advisory Commission (19 seats will open up in 2008), and everything in between. Many, many residents complain about the City's budget ~ well, there are 11 vacancies on the Budget Advisory Committee. Everyone complains about the lack of services and opportunities for children in Oakland ~ we don't control the School Board or the schools here in Oakland, but we can work together to develop innovative youth programs through the Children's Fund Planning and Oversight Committee. Our Libraries are also in desperate need of resources and creative energy ~ there are nine vacancies on the Library Advisory Commission. Overall, we need innovative entrepreneurship and excitement in bringing jobs to Oakland and connecting Oaklanders to those jobs ~ well, there are 15 vacancies on the Workforce Investment Board. And there is so much more ~ so much to do, so many opportunities to focus local talent and resources right here in Oakland. We especially need local bloggers to get appointed to these Commissions, so they can not only participate but also engage others in local governance!
For me, though, this is my final year with the City of Oakland. My boss just announced her campaign for re-election and I will work with her to make 2008 a creative and productive year, and to try and engage as many residents as I can in consistent, positive civic participation. But the tone of politics in Oakland has gotten to me ~ maybe I just needed more people to say 'Thank You," or fewer people to constantly verbally attack us, who knows. But I see the policy-making and ground-level opportunities in other parts of the country and the world, and the genuine excitement and positive participation of their citizens ~ and I feel I need to be in that type of environment ~ one where my work would be appreciated, challenged in a positive way, and nurtured. So, if you know of any openings, let me know! ~