Dear Friends and Allies~    Yesterday, Oakland’s City Auditor released a report certifying that Oakland Rising did not misuse public funds we received for Rank Choice Voting Education in 2010.  These unsurprising results are a victory for Oakland Rising and progressive electoral formations across the country that are committed to educating, identifying and mobilizing low income, immigrant and communities of color to exercise their voice by casting their vote on the issues that impact their lives.  It affirms that non-profit 501c3’s have the right to engage in non-partisan, non-candidate, high-impact electoral education and mobilization.  It also affirms that political attacks and fear-based tactics employed by some politicians will not work to dissuade poor, people of color from voting when the community is mobilized to have their voice heard.

Specifically, the Auditor’s report marks the conclusion of a 10 month audit and investigation into an erroneous claim filed by Don Perata supporter Darrel Carey who alleged that Oakland Rising used city funds to resource Oakland Rising Action Fund’s (our 501 c4 sister organization) independent expenditure campaign to support Jean Quan for Mayor.  These false claims and accusations were aimed at Oakland Rising only 3 weeks before Election Day in an attempt to derail both our 501c4 and 501c3 campaigns talking with low income, immigrant and communities of color living in the flatlands. Ultimately the Action Fund’s campaign was successful, despite being outspent $1000 to $1 by Oakland’s Police Union and the Prison Guard’s Union.  Oakland Rising Action Fund turned out just over 3,000 voters on Election Day, serving as the tipping point to secure the Mayor’s seat for Jean Quan.

Oakland Rising actively began to support Ranked Choice Voting on Jan 5th, 2010.  Even though Oakland voters supported Ranked Choice Voting at the ballot in 2006 by a 69% Yes vote, it became clear that community pressure was needed to move it through government bureaucracy into actual usage.  Mobilizing 6 dynamic speakers from our core four partner organizations (Asian Pacific Environmental Network, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Causa Justa :: Just Cause),  we urged Oakland City Council to implement Ranked Choice Voting for the 2010 municipal elections.  In a 6-2 vote, Oakland’s City Council approved an MOU with Alameda County to definitively move forward with Ranked Choice Voting elections starting in November 2010. During the Council’s discussion on the item, Oakland Rising’s testimony was highlighted as key in pushing decision makers to vote yes.

On May 13th, 2010, Oakland Rising partnered with good-government organization, the New America Foundation and the League of Women Voters to host the panel discussion: The New Era of Politics: Campaigning with Ranked Choice Voting. With 78 attendees from community organizations, foundations, elected officials’ offices and campaign consultant companies, a group of diverse experts explained how RCV changes the campaigning landscape. Oakland Rising’s panel presentation alerted candidates that a multi-lingual approach that addressed the needs of low income, immigrant communities of color would be the key to victory in close races.

In August our core partner, CJJC, was awarded the largest City of Oakland RCV education grant, which was split between Oakland Rising, APEN and CJJC to conduct voter education. In our shortest field campaign ever, 15 Oakland Rising daily team members talked with 9,543 Oakland voters to make sure that they: 1) knew we would use a new voting system to elect our local decision makers, 2) understood that they would need to rank their choices and 3) understood how the votes would be tallied. Oakland Rising also sent a reminder post card to every voter that we talked with during the RCV education campaign.

To complete our RCV work, Oakland Rising held a RCV training-of-trainers for 32 community members who participated in an engaging and interactive training on how RCV votes would be cast and counted in mid-September, committing to spread the word in their neighborhood and church communities.  Oakland Rising was the leader in the field of Ranked Choice Voting outreach and education in East and West Oakland, creating multi-lingual, accessible individual voter outreach and materials that gave simple yet comprehensive information.

Ultimately, the RCV education efforts of Oakland Rising and our core partners paid off, with 99.8% of ballots cast being correctly marked, and 72% of Oakland voters ranking choices for three candidates, according to a study released by FairVote.  Voter turnout amongst people IDed by Oakland Rising was 5% higher than the county turnout average.  And the work of our 501c4 organization, Oakland Rising Action Fund, emerged as the tipping point in electing a truly progressive Mayor for our City. 

In conclusion, the unsurprising findings of the Auditor’s Report showing that Oakland Rising was in full compliance with 501c3 rules demonstrates that social justice organizations must continue to do this important, high-impact work.  It is a reminder that clear 501c3 and 501c4 community-based strategies are a threat to the status quo of electoral politics because of their effectiveness. We hope that this victory will embolden social justice organizations all over the country to experiment with power building strategies that lift up and support the democratic participation of low-income, immigrant and communities of color.

Deep gratitude for our core partners in this battle:  Causa Justa :: Just Cause, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, New America Foundation, Fair Vote, League of Women Voters, and our fiscal sponsor Movement Strategy Center.