By Michael Sainato
In Richmond, California, a city of just over 100,000 people outside of San Francisco, Chevron has poured millions of dollars into local elections to try to instill politicians who represent their company’s own interests. In 2014, the Oil Company spent over $3 million in a City Council race, but lost against a grassroots coalition of progressive candidates who disavowed corporate campaign donors in favor of progressive policies. Chevron was the city’s largest employer and taxpayer at the time, but their presence often came at the expense of Richmond residents. In 2012, the city sued Chevron for a fire at its oil refinery in the city that sent thousands of employees and residents to the hospital for respiratory problems. The company took drastic measures to try to assert its influence over the town, including establishing its own media outlet, the Richmond Standard. In a time when corporations are gaining increasing influence over government in this country, the grassroots progressive victory against big oil in Chevron offers a seed of hope in a political revolution that was boosted by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Presidential Campaign.
In the wake of this momentum, two-term mayor of Richmond and former City Council Member, Gayle McLaughlin, is running for Lieutenant Governor of California in 2018 to try to spread the grassroots success she helped lead in Richmond across the state.
“I’m the first corporate free council member to serve on the Richmond City Council and also the first corporate free mayor. I ran four campaigns, two for council and two for mayor until I termed out. All of them were ran and won without a dime of corporate money. I’m also a co-founder of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, the RAP,” said Gayle McLaughlin in an interview with me. Since 2003, the Richmond Progressive Alliance has served as a beacon of progressive hope, offering an opportunity for candidates to run without the aid of corporate campaign donations. “We came together, irregardless of party affiliation, some were progressive Democrats, some were Green, some were Independents and some had no party affiliation and we decided to come together based on our values.”
In addition to defeating Chevron backed local politicians, the progressive alliance helped pass a citywide minimum wage of $13 by 2018, passed the first rent control measure enacted in California in three decades, reduced crime through community policing and creating opportunities for youth, helped create a community choice energy program that has enabled 85 percent of Richmond residents to obtain their electricity from renewable sources, and as a sanctuary city, Richmond has led lawsuits against the Trump Administration to fight for the rights of immigrants.
“After we’ve made all these accomplishments in Richmond, especially after this past November election, we got a super majority on the city council, when the whole country shifted right, we shifted further left. People were reaching out to us, cities, communities, organizations saying, ‘How did you do it?’ They wanted to know. So we were going out, going around the state and even outside of the state giving presentations. I was doing a lot of them, and it soon became clear to us that our message could travel further. We’d have a larger stage, a broader, a louder microphone if we ran a statewide campaign. So, I decided to run for lieutenant governor to use that larger stage and that bully pulpit to spread the message of building local political power with progressive alliances and running local candidates. That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s what this campaign is essentially about. Going around the state, encouraging others to do like the RAP did and form their own alliances and run their own candidates,” McLaughlin added. In addition to her own campaign, former Richmond City Council member, Richmond Vice Mayor, and Richmond Progressive Alliance Member Jovanka Beckles is running for California State Assembly in 2018. Beckles’ own accomplishmentsinclude a Ban the Box initiative that prevents the city from discriminating against job applicants who were previously incarcerated. “Today, we have five council seats as of this past November out of seven that were run without any corporate money. That’s five out of seven, a super majority on the Richmond City Council. So, it can be done. We did it.”