by Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles

After the Richmond City Council meeting of July 1, I experienced one of the most intense and hostile encounters I have had to endure as a public official and in my entire life for that matter. Since then, there has been at least one news report and a series of deliberate misrepresentations of what took place that night.

The Contra Costa Times’ Eye on the East Bay’s reporting on Richmond’s Juneteenth Parade featured Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles: “Beckles, who is of African descent and is the first openly gay councilwoman in the city’s history, rode in the bed of a pick-up truck decorated with wood panels to look like a locomotive. With the title ‘Freedom Train to Progress,’ Beckles stood tall and pumped her fist to the incendiary rhythms of Public Enemy’s iconic ‘Fight the Power,’ the theme song of the 1989 Spike Lee film ‘Do the Right Thing.’ Yellow flags with the words ‘freedom’ and ‘progress’ jutted from the faux smokestacks and whipped in the wind. … Powerful song and powerful imagery. Well-played, councilwoman.”
The Contra Costa Times’ Eye on the East Bay’s reporting on Richmond’s Juneteenth Parade featured Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles: “Beckles, who is of African descent and is the first openly gay councilwoman in the city’s history, rode in the bed of a pick-up truck decorated with wood panels to look like a locomotive. With the title ‘Freedom Train to Progress,’ Beckles stood tall and pumped her fist to the incendiary rhythms of Public Enemy’s iconic ‘Fight the Power,’ the theme song of the 1989 Spike Lee film ‘Do the Right Thing.’ Yellow flags with the words ‘freedom’ and ‘progress’ jutted from the faux smokestacks and whipped in the wind. … Powerful song and powerful imagery. Well-played, councilwoman.” Watch a video clip at http://jovankabeckles.net/photos/Juneteenth.MOV.

It is not my intention to respond to false accusations raised or dignify the insults with a response. They are politically motivated and come from people who have made clear that there is no low they will not sink to in order to get their way. This is evident in their attacks on me as a progressive, as an African American Latina, and as a queer identified woman.

When I discuss issues of substance, I am interrupted. I am attacked personally with racial and homophobic slurs by individuals and groups who are threatened by a progressive agenda to provide opportunities for building and enhancing a community that can and will transform Richmond for the better for everyone.

They attack because they have no program for Richmond. (Kenneth Davis, who led the hostile encounter on July 1, is a competing candidate for City Council – ed.)

It saddens me that a handful of people and two council members would, through their actions, sabotage programs to help the formerly incarcerated, youth, immigrants and public health.

It is common knowledge that Richmond Council meetings have gotten so bad that many people have stopped attending or watching. Or worse, some see them as entertaining melodrama in the way of reality TV shows.

I regularly hear from constituents that they will not come to council meetings because of what has become an accepted pattern of harassment and insults both from the dais as well as in the audience. They no longer see council meetings as a place where their concerns can be voiced.

Some people have even said they were fearful of leaving the chambers alone after having been verbally attacked for statements they made. I am especially concerned for all of our young people. When LGBTQ youth came to be honored by the Council, they were taunted, disrespected and made to feel unwelcome.

I am intent on doing something to change that poisonous atmosphere.

It is common knowledge that Richmond Council meetings have gotten so bad that many people have stopped attending or watching. Or worse, some see them as entertaining melodrama in the way of reality TV shows.

On July 1, I had an item on the agenda to direct staff to explore how to bring order and decorum back into the council chambers. The item is designed to explore how to most effectively create a space in which more of the public can feel welcome to come to meetings to express their concerns. (That proposal was passed at the next meeting; see below – ed.)

I believe passionately in the hard won right of free speech, and I would never propose something that would limit the right to speak based on an individual’s point of view. But, free speech does not cover acts of disruption of meetings that prevent public members from participating.

Neither does it cover actions of bullying, threats and personal intimidation. In fact, the First Amendment does not protect these “fighting words.” The U.S. Supreme Court has held that “insulting or ‘fighting words,’ those that by their very utterance inflict injury personally or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are among the “well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech the prevention and punishment of [which] … have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem.”

The only way to reclaim the City Council and the chambers is to demand that the elected officials and residents who participate in the public process be accountable.

I believe passionately in the hard won right of free speech, and I would never propose something that would limit the right to speak based on an individual’s point of view. But, free speech does not cover acts of disruption of meetings that prevent public members from participating. Neither does it cover actions of bullying, threats and personal intimidation.

So, I need you to tell your stories. I can continue to speak on your behalf. But, when you don’t speak up for yourselves, it just gets written off as politics. I invite you to let us know that you expect and insist that the attacks and abuse of both public officials and audience members end and that respectful decorum is reinstated.

You can write the council members at:

Additionally, Contra Costa Times Letters to the Editor can be sent to wcletters@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, also a member of the Richmond City Council, works full time as a mental health specialist for Contra Costa County. She was born in Panama City, where she grew up in a bilingual, multicultural household. Her parents moved to the United States in1972, and she has lived in Richmond for the last 13 years. She can be reached at Jovankabeckles@gmail.com.

What motivates the bigoted bullying?

At its July 15 meeting, the first after the highly contentious July 1 meeting, the Richmond City Council, following more dissention, “finally voted to approve Beckles proposal, asking city staff to explore options for addressing council rules on handling disruptions,” according to KTVU, with only Councilmember Corky Booze voting no. Booze is usually aligned with Richmond refinery owner Chevron, which, before the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s successful challenge, ran Richmond like a company town.

Chevron running slick campaign to control Richmond” is the title of an op-ed by David Helvarg published by the San Francisco Chronicle on July 18 that begins: “If the Supreme Court is right that corporations are people and money is free speech, then Chevron is the biggest loudmouth in Richmond, where I live.” Helvarg is executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation and policy group.

“If the Supreme Court is right that corporations are people and money is free speech, then Chevron is the biggest loudmouth in Richmond, where I live.”

“Chevron wants to get rid of our Green Party mayor and progressive City Council majority because they’ve challenged the company on property taxes and pollution. That’s why in 2012 Chevron spent $422,000 backing a single candidate for one of the seven council seats that pays $16,830 a year. The company wants to return to the days when the council majority was known as the ‘Chevron 5.’

“In August 2012, there was a fire at the refinery. I took pictures of the billowing black column of smoke while 15,000 other people went to local hospitals complaining of burning eyes, nausea and trouble breathing. …

“Now Chevron wants to assure me that things are better, and we should all be ‘Richmond Proud.’ That’s the name it’s given a multimillion-dollar PR campaign of billboards, T-shirts, tote bags, mailers, robo-calls, highly publicized charitable contributions, a local newspaper it created, and TV ads. Phase one of the campaign was all about being proud of our parks and waterfront and youth opportunities, which all expanded under the progressive City Council that Chevron wants to get rid of.

“Then I attended a Richmond Planning Commission meeting on the company’s billion-dollar refinery modernization plan, which the City Council could vote on this month. A contingent of folks showed up in blue and white T-shirts reading ‘A Modernized Refinery. Another Reason to be Richmond Proud.’ I couldn’t help noticing that while 80 percent of the folks in the pro-Chevron shirts were white, 69 percent of Richmond’s population is not.

“I couldn’t help noticing that while 80 percent of the folks in the pro-Chevron shirts were white, 69 percent of Richmond’s population is not.

“Now in PR phase two, the billboards, TV ads and mailers are telling us how good this plant modernization will be for Richmond. Unfortunately, the $1 billion for the refinery upgrade will not be spent in the part of the facility that caught fire but on a hydrogen plant that will allow the company to burn higher-sulfur-content petroleum from places like Iraq. This could increase air pollutants 24 percent and greenhouse gas emissions 16 percent, by one reading of the company’s environmental impact report.

“Chevron, which will probably make barrels of extra money burning this ‘sour’ oil, insists there will be no net increase in pollution, thanks to new and innovative approaches like carbon trading. But even reducing greenhouse gas emissions from an oil refinery is like reducing gun violence at the Colt firearms factory. It misses the point.

“Richmond has double the childhood asthma rate of Marin County just across the bay. California is experiencing a historic drought and forest fires linked to climate change brought about by carbon pollution. It’s become a product liability issue. Chevron’s product, used as directed, overheats our planet.

Most Richmond voters – especially youth, people of color, queer people, immigrants and progressives generally – feel a special kinship with Beckles and are expected to vote to keep her on the council in November.

“When I asked the company how much it planned to spend in this fall’s city elections (that would include phase three of their media blitz), I was told the company hadn’t decided yet but would support candidates committed to public safety, job creation and other boilerplate.

“Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin didn’t mince her words, however. ‘We get all their pollution not only in the air, but they pollute our elections, too. If they’d reduce their emissions and withdraw from our elections, they’d be respecting our health and democracy.’”

Bigoted bullying seems to be the part of the plan to restore a Chevron-controlled City Council that is aimed at defeating Councilmember and Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles. Most Richmond voters, however, are not easily fooled, especially since the August 2012 Chevron refinery explosion and fire demonstrated Chevron’s indifference to the people of Richmond.

Most Richmond voters – especially youth, people of color, queer people, immigrants and progressives generally – feel a special kinship with Beckles and are expected to vote to keep her on the council in November.

Jovanka Beckles Juneteenth Parade Richmond 062814

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. I’m confused. I’ve read several “articles’ posted in this “National Black Newspaper” but I’m not really seeing anything that resembles news. I see blogs and editorials but they’re not posted as blogs or editorials. Is it the policy of this “newspaper” to mislead their readers into thinking that the opinions expressed here are factual?

    I mean, when I see: “Most Richmond voters – especially youth, people of color, queer people, immigrants and progressives generally – feel a special kinship with Beckles and are expected to vote to keep her on the council in November.” this would suggest that there is some empirical data that would back up this claim. Otherwise, isn’t it just someone’s opinion? And since Vice Mayor Beckles’ name is affixed at the top – suggesting that she wrote this in its entirety – is this statement her own opinion? Kind of self serving, isn’t it?

    Where’s the credibility in what’s posted here? Why should anything posted here be believed?

  2. Everyone here should know that Don Gosney is paid to delivery Chevron friendly opinions to the Richmond community via both “The Richmond Standard” and social media.

    It’s also pretty rich for someone of Gosney’s resume to complain about the newsworthiness or credibility of another website when he cannot seem to properly defend the credibility of the rag he works for himself.

  3. An editorial message with a name is acceptable news just not what some want to hear. Did not know that Don was on salary however.

  4. Ellen and Pat – we’ve all participated in discussions on The Real Rich wherein Don and Felix admitted that they (along with Bea and several others) are paid to write articles for Radio Free Richmond (I misspoke when I said Richmond Standard – that is an entirely different Chevron fronted news org, and only Mike Aldax seems to work there), and it also came out on the board and via Tom Butt’s eblast that Radio Free Richmond is funded by one of Chevron’s PR firms. If you would like to search for the evidence yourself, please check the board, it is all there in black and white. It came out under a post headed “Cartoon: Richmond’s Foreign Policy.”

    • Now the line has been crossed. Mercy can disagree with me (and Felix and Bea) six ways from Sunday (as she frequently does); she can write vile things about us on a personal level and she can wish us into the lower regions of Hell but this gives her no right to tell lies about us.

      When you go online and write falsehoods about another person—and do so with the intent of defaming them—it’s libelous and actionable.

      Such is the case here when Mercy Garetz has written “Everyone here should know that Don Gosney is paid to delivery Chevron friendly opinions to the Richmond community via both “The Richmond Standard” and social media.
      It’s also pretty rich for someone of Gosney’s resume to complain about the newsworthiness or credibility of another website when he cannot seem to properly defend the credibility of the rag he works for himself.”

      She furthermore writes: “we’ve all participated in discussions on The Real Rich wherein Don and Felix admitted that they (along with Bea and several others) are paid to write articles for Radio Free Richmond…”.

      These are clear and definitive statements and are not based on anything that any of the three of us have written that would substantiate these claims.

      As a matter of fact, I have written time and time again that I have NEVER been in the employ of Chevron. To that matter with the exception of sports related articles and photos I have sold to publications all over the world, and with the exception of having worked for my union, I have not been in anyone’s employ since I retired on August 1, 1998.

      I think that now would be the time to walk back the libelous statements and offer a sincere apology to all three of us for writing and posting lies about us on the Internet. Let’s not forget that by using the Internet to post these lies, this is no longer a local issue—it’s federal.

      And does she really know of my resumé that gives her the right to question it or defame it?

    • You should perhaps find out the truth, before you comment on what I say. I HAVE NEVER RECEIVED ONE DIME FROM CHEVRON, NOR HAVE I EVER WORKED AT THE REFINERY. NOR HAVE I EVER BEEN PAID FOR AN ARTICLE, NOR RECEIVED ANY COMPENSATION FROM THEM. THE ARTICLES I WRITE ARE MY OPINION, AND CONTRARY TO YOUR DELUSIONS, I BELIEVE IN DEMOCRACY. However, I do have enough sense to understand that Chevron is an integral part of the city and as such deserves to be respected. ALSO,85% of the air pollution in our city is from trains and diesel trucks. Instead of blindly following people who don’t know what they are talking about, learn the facts. Also, your beloved gail & jovanka’s pay is 37% Chevron money. so in their blind hatred of Chevron, let’s see them return almost $6,000 per year.

  5. What do you do when they say “No”?

    The recent US recession showed its effects on the poor as well as middle class. And now interest rate hikes is almost destined to continue with what the recession started; perpetuating a more troubled economy for many in the middle and lower classes. The financial crisis aided and ran juxtaposed of another important and urgent crisis; the issue of; Is It Gentrification or Blatant Racism? And in the African American community the financial crisis left gentrification undaunted with its departure. You hear and read about urban renewal/development, gentrification or whatever name it decides to give itself from Brooklyn, New York to San Francisco, California, But you hear little about dealing with the consequences: relocation, affordable housing, and job creation and of course at the top of the list, competitive and up to date income for the average worker.

  6. By the time I graduated from high school, I was familiar with, within a five mile radius, at least a dozen athletes who had played professional football (as well as other professional sports), and had grown up with half a dozen more who would make it shortly after graduating. So you have low income to middle income class neighborhoods sending out young athletes who end up making six figure incomes or more, but the neighborhoods that they come from seldom change. It takes only a fraction of that money to bring about change, and if money alone were the issue, there should be drastic changes to neighborhoods that basically remain untouched. But with a better understanding from the average citizen in those neighborhoods of how the financial statements work (the interpretation of financial statements) of those young athletes, whose profession takes up most their time and energy, they could understand and also aid in the helping and managing of those resources. Without a doubt, knowing how to help in investing (at least knowing the integral and basic elements of investing) and getting back a greater rate of return on those investments would help immensely. The multimillion dollar contracts that they helped sign would make a major difference in the changing of those neighborhoods rather than seeing those monies head off in a direction other than where they were initiated.

  7. Current Proposals of Privatization: (of the Social Security Fund) It would be like paying them twice I remember being in my room while working in Iraq as a truck driver for Haliburton Corp., it was either 2004 or 2005, reading the commentary of Presidents Bush’s proposal on the privatization of social security as a solution to its’ future weakening. Many advisors and experts on the affair noted that with the difficulty of investors making wise and prudent decisions, it would be like paying them twice, if we gave them the money to invest rather than deduct it and put it into a social security fund. They insinuated that it would be like giving the money that they would fell to invest wisely, which would be easily lost, with a fail rate for personal investing at 95 percent. And we would be trying to come up with the funds to give a then and now ready to retire group of senior citizens without any money in a Social Security Retirement Fund. The loss of that money given to them rather than deducted and placed in a social security fund, would be due to, as I stated above, to the lack of information that the average citizen would have on the valuation process of securities which they invested in from the market and the businesses that issue those stocks.

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