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Reflections on 2011: Best Local NGO

December 14, 2011
East Bay Express


Happiest and Most Honest Reunion: the release of the final two "Iran hikers," Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal. In their press conference when they returned to the US in September, they condemned the treatment given to prisoners in Iran. When they had complained to their captors, the jailers taunted them with references to US actions at Guantanamo and the clandestine CIA prisons. While spotlighting Iran's actions, Bauer had the courage to say: "We do believe that these actions on the part of the US provide an excuse for other governments, including the government of Iran, to act in kind."

Most Heart-Wrenching Local Story: The deaths of kids in local violence. Three weeks ago one-year-old Hiram Lawrence Jr. was shot in the head as his dad, Hiram Lawrence Sr., was holding him in a parking lot at 7th and Willow streets in West Oakland. Hiram Jr. died on December 9. He was a beautiful little boy.

Most Heart-Wrenching National Story: The situation facing female veterans, who are more likely to be attacked by male soldiers than by the "enemy." Constantly sexually harassed by a military whose brass lets it go on, these vets leave the military at a time when they are unlikely to find work or meaningful support. And they have to live with the reality that the deaths and injuries to their comrades were truly in vain; this psychological fact caused Vietnam War veterans no small amount of personal pain and anguish that affected society for many years. PTSD will be an epidemic among these women.

Interesting East Bay Trend: Occupy Oakland has generated productive discussions among Buy Local advocates and the occupiers. The East Bay has one of the few small business communities that truly feels a greater kinship to their neighbors than to their business profits. These "indie revolutionaries" have energy and passion with great potential. In conversation with the occupiers, fascinating activity is possible.

Second Interesting East Bay Trend: The East Bay is back as an incubator for political ideas and activity. The East Bay's wonderfully rich and diverse local population, a harbinger of future demographics for much of the country, provides a fertile field for the generation and testing of new ideas. The energy of Occupy Oakland/Berkeley/Cal has elevated the East Bay to its previous preeminent spot for creative political work. As an example, nearly two thousand people, hungry for ways to understand and change the world, attended a conversation with populist professor Cornel West and old-leftist Carl Dix in which everything was on the table.

Best Local Union (1): The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, headquartered in Oakland, continues to be bold and creative on behalf of its members. It does its work in a way that stresses the links between things that are good for its members and society, as well — not always an easy task.

Best Local Union (2): The East Bay chapter of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). With a sterling progressive history, it's faced with navigating the shoals of defending its members, standing tall politically, and resisting the kookiest ideas of some of the occupiers. It is a difficult task, and they have done it quite well in 2011.

Dumbest Union Battle: The fight between state health care unions — the SEIU-UHW and the NUHW — continues. (Disclaimer: I have friends in both camps.) The NUHW has succeeded in stopping a re-vote at the huge Kaiser unit after its humiliating election defeat, hoping that time will weaken support for SEIU-UHW among the workers. The finances of NUHW are precarious, but through donations from liberal friends and unions who dislike the SEIU-UHW, they are surviving. The SEIU-UHW, on the other hand, continues a top-down strategy that often baffles even backers. And its "my way or the highway attitude" often rankles. But both groups believe they have the best interest of workers at heart, contain some extraordinary worker-leaders, and are committed, smart, and good organizers who are not letting go. Stay tuned for more of the same in 2012.

Toughest Union Issue for 2012: A number of unions whose members' pensions are being targeted by the so-called "cat-fooders" do have members who have been able to secure pension amounts that are out of whack with what seems fair. A union's primary job is to advocate for its members, but if the interests of members and the public do not intersect, then problems follow. Courageous union leaders will have to address this.

Best Local NGO: Oakland Institute. There are many to choose from (and this is based on my limited personal knowledge), but Anuradha Mittal and her folks at the Oakland Institute are affecting international policy on questions of the use of African land. Corporations and nations, using green-washing language, are stealing land and water from traditional African farmers for the purpose of profit and political influence.

Biggest Fig Leafer: Dean Christopher Edley Jr. of UC Berkeley Law School. First, he became the Torture Dean for his impassioned defense of the right, under the rubric of academic freedom, for Torture Lawyer John Yoo to provide the landscape for undeniably evil conduct. Now, UC President Mark Yudof has appointed him to the fig leaf commission to review the violence against peaceful protesters at Cal, UC Davis, and other schools. Wonder what the report is going to say?

Worst Governmental Body: Oakland Police Department. If you wonder why, just search for "Gammon Oakland police" on our paper's website.

Sorriest National Governmental Figure: Attorney General Eric Holder. He has refused to criminally prosecute thieving bankers, while backing the dumb attack on the medical marijuana industry in California. At a time in history in which state attorneys general are some of the brightest spots in governmental authority, he is a joke.

Most Important Under-Recognized National Commentator: Glenn Greenwald. His columns in Salon should be required reading for everyone. In particular, his well-researched pieces, often on national "security" issues, are solid and uncompromising. Unlike many on the left, he is willing to criticize Democratic politicians. He recently took on liberal think tank Center for American Progress for arguing that the assassination of an American citizen in Yemen was one of the many "successes" of Obama foreign policy. His journalistic work showed that other than the "terrorist" label, neither the government nor the backers of the assassination could provide evidence to back up this dangerousness. Greenwald has done some of the best work on WikiLeaks as well, emphasizing the importance of courage for those who stand up and are counted. Honorable Mention goes to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone for fantastic writing on the banksters.

Most Interesting Local Media Story: Watching the local print/online media. From the obscene salaries paid to the honchos of groovy new nonprofit media outlets to the financial machinations at the Bay Area New Group, the odd denouement of the SF Bay Guardian/SF Weekly battle, the departure of reactionary Phil Anschutz from the SF Examiner, and the rants of the Oakland-haters at the SF Chronicle, there was always something interesting to watch in local media in 2011.

Best International Figure: Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. Yes, the anti's have succeeded in publicizing his significant personal flaws, but transparency is the fear of the International Vampire Class. Shining lights on their lies and machinations is crucial.

Stupidest Ideas (Factual): All of those put forward by the loony tunes crop of Republican presidential candidates. But you have to admire Ron Paul for his consistency and the parts of his libertarianism that challenge the elite.

Stupidest Ideas (Rationality): The continuing ability of Americans to blame their fellow 99ers for the ills of the country, instead of the elite and their defenders in the national Republican and Democratic parties.

More Worrisome Aspect of Our Species (Criminal Issue): The sexual abuse of youngsters by coaches is out of hand. Recent revelations also appear to be just the tip of the iceberg. Our paper has written about the epidemic in the swimming community. And now we see it with macho football and basketball coaches, too. What is up with these sick men?

Most Worrisome Aspect of Our Species (Rational Issue): Our inability to see and think long-term. I hope this has to do with the ADD of our current world, engendered by the speed of modern society and the dysfuntionality of a political system controlled by the elite. But I am not sure.

Most Worrying National Trend: Authoritarianism. In the 21st-century struggle between government and personal political rights, the Obama administration has picked up where Bush and his cronies left off, giving authoritarianism a left veneer. Using the rubric of endless war, any restriction on needed governmental transparency or free-speech rights becomes valid. For example, in a decision to allow the City of Boston to move against the Occupy Boston encampment, a judge wrote: "Little in the way of expression is outlawed under the United States Constitution, but an act which incites a lawful forceful response is unlikely to pass as expressive speech." Say what? Given the willingness of law enforcement to use forceful responses, and the willingness of courts and legislatures to approve nearly anything they do as "lawful," this attitude should give everyone pause.

Saddest Upcoming Sight: Watching East Bay liberals shill for Obama in the next election, claiming that he really wants to do right, but the obstructionist Republicans will not let him. Remind, me, why did he and the Democratically-controlled Congress re-up the Bush tax cuts for the rich? Why have the wars gone on for so long? Is Iran next? But, hey, he is so much better than the other guy, right?

Best from Jean Quan: Working to keep the Athletics, Warriors, and Raiders in the East Bay. For all the bad that comes from mega-sports teams, they are one of the few things that bring all the classes and cultures in a community together.

Worst from Jean Quan: Her bumbling on Occupy Oakland — 'nuff said.