It’s been five years since FutureOakland was launched into the wild (originally at Blogspot.com, then WordPress.com). V Smoothe and I started FutureOakland because we felt that our viewpoint was not being heard in the debate over the future of Oakland during the 2006 election. Dissatisfied with Ron Dellums’ evasive and vague answers to questions, we argued that he did not have a vision for the city and would likely underperform in office. That was just the first prescient observation that would characterize our approach to blogging – and continues here and at V Smoothe’s A Better Oakland.
When we started there was a blog that was a few months old, OaklandFocus, and a blog had just gone under, OaklandNews. A few other one-man blogs came and went during the election cycle, and in the next two years, team efforts launched and faded away. Today there are countless local blogs written by caring citizens, as well as local news sites like OaklandSeen, OaklandLocal and OaklandNorth. Appealing to blog readers has become a staple of local campaigns. Gatherings of bloggers attract business and political leaders as well as those looking for a good time. To some extent, this blog presaged the revitalization of culture and nightlife in downtown Oakland – V & I were downtown DJs when we started this blog and advocating for cabaret reform and downtown’s success were always a top priority. That’s why I started TheDTO.com four years ago, to provide an apolitical outlet for news about downtown. But FutureOakland was always about more than just my own viewpoint.
Following the Deborah Edgerly scandal from its inception, monitoring the polarizing debate over Inclusionary Zoning, and explaining the planning process were efforts this blog made to break City Hall out of its cliquish comfort zone and encourage more people to be involved. I am ready to declare it a success. From Oakland Rising to the Oakland Builders’ Alliance, from Make Oakland Better Now to Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, there are more organizations and people engaged in the city and advocating for changes that benefit residents rather than city employees or contractors. New tools like Twitter, and the growing ease of creating a blog, have increased attendance at Council meetings and demystified the public policy process, empowering residents to voice their priorities to a Council that has been so entrenched for so long that many Oaklanders had simply given up on change.
The increasing engagement of citizens in the workings of local government has not gone unnoticed. The Oakland League of Women Voters is honoring long-standing local bloggers with their annual Making Democracy Work Award. In addition to me and V, the League is awarding Aimee Allison of OaklandSeen.com, Becks of Living In The O, and Zennie Abraham of OaklandFocus. Though we often have differing opinions, we are all dedicated to democratizing the debate over Oakland’s future, by providing information and tools for ordinary citizens to exercise their voice in making of public policy.
I am deeply grateful for this honor, because my blog is definitely a labor of love that is sometimes risky and painful. I don’t think I’ve lost any friends over a post – quite the opposite – but all of the honored bloggers have taken the brave step of putting out unfiltered opinion in public, the product of a great deal of hard work, without much opportunity for compensation. The League of Women Voters is a respected nonpartisan organization that takes similar risks, such as their position on reforming the lobbying ordinance which has, somewhat predictably, upset City Hall’s many lobbyists. Please consider joining the League to support their important work, and joining us at the League’s annual fundraising Luncheon on April 27th – also it will be fun! Details are available here.
So what does the future hold for the award-winning local blog FutureOakland? I will continue to closely monitor City Hall and provide new insights on policies and policymakers, always firmly grounded in evidence, analysis, and the occasional trustworthy rumor. I’ll continue helping to organize blogger parties and build community. I’ll continue to put local news with a spin out in the Twitterverse. And I will continue to deepen my own engagement as I encourage others to be engaged.
My stab in the dark at political activism, in the form of launching a blog one drunken evening, has led to many rewarding friendships and opportunities for involvement. This year I retired as Chair of the City Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, joined the Boards of the East Bay Young Democrats and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and last year I directed policy and media for Rebecca Kaplan’s against-all-odds Mayoral campaign. I wouldn’t have had these opportunities to be deeply involved in the city I grew up in if it wasn’t for this blog – or more specifically, the fact that people read this blog. So thank you for reading this and caring about your community. If we’ve proved anything in five years, it’s that you can fight City Hall – or at least have an impact on public policy even in a big city.