Open Letter to Be Published in Oakland Post this Afternoon
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – Today 20 Oakland community leaders are sending an open letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick calling on him to work with them to ensure that Uber’s move to Oakland doesn’t worsen displacement and lack of opportunity for poor and working class residents. The open letter will be both delivered to Mr. Kalanick and published in this week’s Oakland Post, available in print this afternoon and online Friday morning.
The group is especially concerned by the rapid displacement of nonprofits and low income individuals that accelerated after Uber announced its plan to move to Oakland. Noting that two of Uber’s senior advisors — David Plouffe and Eric Holder — are former Obama administration officials who played key roles in advocating and defending diversity and equality for all, the Oakland leaders believe that UBER has the ability to work with the community to develop a path of shared prosperity and minimize displacement of individuals and community organizations.
The full text of the letter and signatories follows:
When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address on Jan. 12, he said, “Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated. As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise. Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.”
The president’s words must come to no surprise to you since his former senior adviser David Plouffe and his former Attorney General Eric Holder are now senior advisers to you.
Both of these gentlemen have distinguished themselves as advocates and defenders of diversity and equal opportunity for all.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, a technology-driven economy has squeezed workers and disrupted affordable living conditions, even while the overall economy is flourishing.
Here in Oakland this economic disruption has made it harder for a family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for people to remain in the middle class and tougher for workers to live close to their jobs.
The benefits of this technological surge have been very uneven and have led to the biggest wealth gap we have ever seen. Your unwillingness to release your diversity data worries us about your commitment to Oakland’s diverse residents, especially since your advisers have a history seeking diversity through openness and transparency.
The evidence is clear that a tech-driven economy is accompanied by some serious challenges, including the displacement of the working poor. That said, we reject the idea that we are powerless to shape the impacts of technology on diverse cities, especially given Oakland’s history of fighting back against policies and actions to disrupt and displace our neighborhoods.
We believe that there’s a great deal we can do to improve prospects for Oakland’s future and its current residents. We propose a three-pronged effort.
First, we recommend a set of basic agreements in the areas of jobs, education, infrastructure, entrepreneurship, housing, community engagement and research. There’s a strong consensus on several areas that can bring prosperity to Oakland’s current and future residents and there is no need to completely “reinvent the wheel.”
Second, we call on Uber to work alongside us to develop new organizational models and approaches that not only enhance productivity and generate wealth for Uber, but also create broad-based opportunity for working-class residents.
The goal should be inclusive prosperity in Oakland, and not just prosperity for Uber’s full-time workers. Your statement on your website saying that “we strengthen local economies” gives us hope.
Third, we request a meeting with you and a small group of us to reach an understanding. And, given that the digital revolution can get you this letter at half the speed of light, we expect to hear from you within three working days.
As you may agree, we believe that technology is delivering an unprecedented set of tools for bolstering growth and productivity that is currently unharnessed.
Together we can create a city of shared prosperity if we learn about each other, find ways to meaningfully collaborate, and together address the challenges brought by a growing tech workforce in Oakland.
If one simple idea can lead to a $65 billion valuation and perhaps the biggest IPO the world has ever seen, then it’s possible for us to co-disrupt and co-develop a road of shared prosperity in Oakland.
Paul Cobb, Post News Group
Orson Aguilar, The Greenlining Institute
Chris Iglesias, The Unity Council
Anne Price, Insight Center
Sondra Alexander, OCCUR
Rev. Michael McBride, Pico National Network
Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Jr., Allen Temple Baptist Church
John Gamboa, California Community Builders
Joe Brooks, PolicyLink
Gay Plair Cobb, Oakland Private Industry Council
Rev. Dr. Gerald Agee, Pastor/Friendship Christian Center
Jae Maldonado, Street Level Health Project
Jane Garcia, La Clinica De La Raza
Zachary Norris, Ella Baker Center
Guillermo Mayer, Public Advocates
Joshua Simon, East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation
Marvin X, Black Arts Movement Business District
(organizations listed for identification purposes only)
A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute
When Advocates Get Bought Off
We and other organizations (at least those with a conscience) struggle with that question all the time, and I’d never claim the choices are easy. What follows is the story of one group – one I personally wish I could support – that appears to have gotten it spectacularly wrong in the context of a current political campaign.
Here at Greenlining, we’ve long been concerned about the intersection of money and politics. As an organization that works on behalf of communities of color and low income folks who generally tend to be less able to “pay to play,” we often find ourselves opposing moneyed interests. For example, we strongly support consumer protection for telecommunications customers and guaranteed access to affordable broadband. AT&T, which tends not to like regulations that cost it money, just gave $70,000 to Congress’s deregulator-in-chief, Paul Ryan. No doubt it’s sheer coincidence that telecom deregulation is a top Ryan priority.
I could give a hundred more examples. But AT&T is a business; we expect it to support policies that enhance its profits. We don’t expect purported community advocates to advance corporate interests that might harm their constituents.
As a member of California’s LGBT community, I need Equality California, the major state-level LGBT advocacy group, to speak for me. Instead, Equality California’s political action committee has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the California Apartment Association, the California Association of Realtors and other business and corporate interests, and appears to be using that money in a way that has very little to do with LGBT community interests and a lot to do with the interests of landlords and developers.
The amount of money being raised and spent by the Equality California PAC this election cycle is more than double what the group has spent in any recent election. And the majority of it – including a $340,000 ad buy recently reported in the San Francisco Chronicle – is going to attack San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, a candidate for the state Senate in the district representing San Francisco and the northern end of San Mateo County.
I need to pause here for a couple important disclaimers: We know Jane Kim, who was a Fellow in our Leadership Academy many years ago. But Greenlining is nonpartisan, so we’re not endorsing her or anyone else in this race, and nothing I’m saying is meant to imply support for or opposition to anyone. But there’s a principle at work here that’s bigger than any individual election contest.
San Francisco and the greater Bay Area are in the throes of a massive housing affordability crisis, a crisis that directly impacts LGBT residents. Surveys have found that LGBT homeless make up 20 percent of San Francisco’s overall homeless population and half of the city’s homeless youth. Kim has pushed aggressively for stricter affordable housing requirements. Cleve Jones, founder of the AIDS Quilt and protégé of San Francisco’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, wrote recently, “At this point in our history – for LGBT San Franciscans – the most important issue is housing.”
Reasonable people can agree or disagree with Kim’s policy proposals on housing, but it’s beyond question that developer, landlord and real estate interests have a financial self-interest in opposing them. To take hundreds of thousands of dollars from these groups and immediately put a similarly huge amount of money into a campaign that appears to enhance those financial interests creates the appearance – at the very least – of having been bought off.
Equality California’s executive director has justified the ad campaign based on the fact that Kim’s opponent is gay, but again, the organization has never put this kind of money behind any LGBT candidate for any office, anywhere. It sure looks like the group’s stated reason doesn’t tell the whole story.
I can’t read anyone’s minds here, so I can’t say positively what’s going on. But I can say that those of us who seek to represent communities facing inequality or discrimination need to avoid even the appearance that we’re bought and paid for by commercial interests.