For the Bay View’s election recommendations, see Bay View Voters Guide: It’s time to claim our political and economic power

by Malaika Kambon

“Water follows the contour to chart its course
“While consummate military tacticians capitalize upon
“The enemy’s mistakes and weaknesses to achieve victory” – Sun Tzu

Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles approaches Richmond Progressive Alliance headquarters for a meet-and-greet to kick off the big fundraiser featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders on Oct. 16. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles approaches Richmond Progressive Alliance headquarters for a meet-and-greet to kick off the big fundraiser featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders on Oct. 16. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

As Chevron Corp. tries to kill the world, one tiny corner of the world is fighting back.

We learned on Aug. 6, 2012, just how many of us live under Chevron’s shadow when a huge toxic mushroom cloud from Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond, looking for all the world like a war zone in Afghanistan – or Ferguson, Missouri – ripped a hole in the fabric of the universe, sending 15,000 Richmond residents to the hospital.

Said mushroom cloud then jumped on a thermal wind and for over five hours, rode it all over the Bay Area, spreading gaseous waste in its wake.

So even though Chevron has a website disguised as a community news source, let’s not get it twisted: Chevron is the enemy. It is the enemy of clean, breathable air, of people’s self-determination to be healthy, of community control of our destinies. Chevron is the enemy of a livable wage, of community investment, of affordable accessible health care, of formerly incarcerated people working, and of a free and fair electorate.

Chevron doesn’t care. But the city of Richmond does care. So they sued Chevron. This has angered Chevron, so it’s spending $1.3 million in an attempt to buy out the power of the people.

But the grassroots people of Richmond care about their city, and they are fighting back. Team Richmond, comprised of Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez, continue to rise to the occasion. Running for seats on the 2014-2015 Richmond City Council, Team Richmond has battled everything from sexist, racist harassment, public slander and misinformation to Chevron trying to buy out the city elections.

Jovanka shares a big hug with longtime Richmond resident Miss Betty. Most Richmond residents can easily identify with Jovanka, whether they are Black, Latino/a or lesbian. She is all that – and progressive. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Jovanka shares a big hug with longtime Richmond resident Miss Betty. Most Richmond residents can easily identify with Jovanka, whether they are Black, Latino/a or lesbian. She is all that – and progressive. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

But on Oct. 16, 2014, in a rousing, packed standing-room-only fundraiser that started at the Bobby Lee Bowens Progressive Association office and flowed to a capacity house in the Richmond Auditorium, people were literally hanging off the balconies and out the door in a wildly enthusiastic overflow crowd, where support for Team Richmond and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders literally brought down the house.

Sen. Sanders, also known as “the only independent member of our U.S. Senate,” in the words of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, came all the way from Vermont to support Team Richmond and its fighting constituency.

And support them he did! There was a roundtable discussion at the office, filmed by UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism, followed by a meet-and-greet. People walked in off the street to talk with their candidates, eat good food, shake hands, break bread with and get their photos taken with a U.S. senator – and the mayor, vice mayor and retired public school teacher who is also an influential voice for Richmond’s Environmental Justice Coalition in Richmond. These are the people who comprise Team Richmond in their 2014 bid for the Richmond City Council.

Holding Daud Abdullah’s powerful mosaic are partners Nicole Valentino and Jovanka Beckles and the artist. – Photo: Malaika Kambo
Holding Daud Abdullah’s powerful mosaic are partners Nicole Valentino and Jovanka Beckles and the artist. – Photo: Malaika Kambo

Folks coming in off the street ranged from Miss Betty, who has lived in Richmond for decades and who enthusiastically greeted Jovanka Beckles, to well known human rights attorney Ann Fagan Ginger to Richmond’s 18-year veteran mosaic artist Daud Abdullah, whose history of transforming the ordinary into works of art is legend. He recently received a grant through the Neighborhood Public Art grant project to decorate most of Richmond’s 300 trash cans and has decorated cans in Oakland, too.

On this night, he brought with him a beautifully done mosaic piece of an American flag with the words “I WANT A GOVERNMENT THAT IS NOT FOR SALE” written in it.

Obviously, Chevron is being out-matched, out-maneuvered and out-gunned in the face of the successes of the Richmond Progressive Alliance candidates. Their successful programs of raising the minimum wage, banning the box so that formerly incarcerated persons can work, demanding clean air and community investment from Chevron, keeping Doctor’s Hospital open, saving homes from foreclosure, taxing corporations, protecting the environment are now legendary and are spreading across the U.S. as role model accomplishments to inspire other cities.

Chevron’s response to this is public slander, a really big mushroom cloud of toxic contagion, no real safety measures against a repeat performance of that, and billions of dollars of what can only be as termed an anti-Richmond smear funding campaign!

The grassroots people of Richmond care about their city, and they are fighting back. Team Richmond, comprised of Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez, continue to rise to the occasion.

Quiet, soft-spoken Eduardo Martinez is a powerhouse. He didn’t speak for very long, but then his 25-year track record of “Building a City for Our Children” as a city councilman, a man of the people, a retired schoolteacher and fighter for Richmond’s environment speaks for itself.

Richmond turned out to see their hometown heroes and potential presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, literally packing the big Richmond Auditorium to the rafters. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Richmond turned out to see their hometown heroes and potential presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, literally packing the big Richmond Auditorium to the rafters. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Next up, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said, “There is no place like Richmond to experience the blatant evil that is Citizen’s United with the Chevron Corp.!” To a captive audience, she discussed things like the decay inherent in a “dysfunctional, market driven system,” the need for unity of will and purpose on a national level, and moving forward into the 22nd century to stop the corporate corruption of Chevron (and corporations like Chevron) when they bring their pants full of money to drown out every bit of opposition to itself. The applause when she spoke of these things rocked the foundations of the auditorium.

Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, named Outstanding Civic Organizer and Woman of the Year by Contra Costa College in 2014, received a standing ovation of several minutes when she was introduced. Leading the fight in fierce battles – and victories – on several key issues, she is most fiercely respected for uniting Richmond residents into a force that even Chevron has to respect.

If there had been an election held that night in the Richmond Auditorium, Richmond would have had Team Richmond on its City Council and one new mayor named Tom Butt.

Jovanka took the stage, poised, thanking all, assuring that persons with disabilities were comfortably seated before remarking that MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow ran an eight-minute TV segment on Oct. 13 entitled, “Big Money Chevron Muscles Local Government Election,” discussing Chevron’s attempt to buy off Richmond city government and install their very own company agenda talking heads.

It is fascinating for this reporter to note that Chevron, in its efforts to defeat a powerful movement, has bought its very own Negro-for-mayor and thrust him bodily into the upcoming Nov. 4 elections! His name is Nat Bates. He whines when he doesn’t get enough speaking time, and is rabidly homophobic. Political satirists and other pundits have had a field day with his antics.

The stars came out in Richmond on Oct. 16: Eduardo Rodriguez, Gayle McLaughlin, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Jovanka Beckles and Tom Butt. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
The stars came out in Richmond on Oct. 16: Eduardo Martinez, Gayle McLaughlin, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Jovanka Beckles and Tom Butt. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Unlike most spry 83-year-olds, Bates is in his dotage. With 35 years as a Richmond City Council member and two terms as Richmond’s mayor in the ‘70s, Bates sits firmly in Chevron’s lap as a mayoral candidate, atop its seemingly limitless pocketbook.

Turn back the clock and circle the wagons, the Jurassic period has returned! Chevron has given this doddering relic $1.3 million in campaign funding, has plastered photos of his younger visage over all the billboards in the city of Richmond, and has sicced him on those whom Chevron wants out of office. At $1.3 million, he’s probably the most expensive slave in the history of the city!

This is dirty pool, even for Chevron – scraping the bottom of the plantation to find the most amenable puppet, one who will sit and stay on command! The man claims he cannot even remember how he votes on key political issues from one year to the next.

Maddow’s piece starts out, chillingly enough, with the comment, “As a general rule, you do not want the skyline of your city to look like this,” pointing to the giant mushroom cloud that formed over Richmond and the Bay Area during the 2012 Chevron oil refinery explosion.

Jovanka Beckles brought to the attention of the already pumped crowd that “Citizens United is the Supreme Court decision that says corporations are people and they may spend as much money as they want on political campaigns, and what we’re seeing going on in Richmond is what is going on nationally on a broader scale.”

Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles speaks to a standing-room-only crowd at the Richmond Auditorium. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles speaks to a standing-room-only crowd at the Richmond Auditorium. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Suffice it to say that as the evening continued, the City Council member running for mayor, Tom Butt, spoke of holding Chevron accountable, community policing, and veterans’ rights. And Sen. Sanders spoke of building a better world, in which the people hold corporate Goliaths like Chevron accountable – and win! – instead of depending on, in Mayor McLaughlin’s words “a hypocritical, health care budget cutting, chicken hawk Republican!”

Team Richmond spoke of “the movement that is happening right here at ground zero in Richmond,” that is being supported on a national level when a U.S. senator comes to town to support a tiny city fighting for its political life against corporate power politics.

If there had been an election held that night in the Richmond Auditorium, Richmond would have had Team Richmond on its City Council and one new mayor named Tom Butt.

Nov. 4 is days away. The power of the people is winning. Even though Chevron is trying to put the big fix on, the sprint to the finish line is near. The victory flag is in sight. All power to the people!

Malaika H Kambon is a freelance, multi-award winning photojournalist and owner of People’s Eye Photography. She is also an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) state and national champion in Tae Kwon Do from 2007-2012. She can be reached at kambonrb@pacbell.net.

5 COMMENTS

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