Saturday, June 24, 2017

Councilmember Guillen Held Court at Market Today

Fight the Power
Fight the Power (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Oakland Councilmember Abel Guillen held al fresco office hours at the Grand Lake Farmers Market today, and why would he do that unless it's an act of public engagement in the battle over the market's future? When I asked, he confirmed that most of those who talked with him about the market this morning supported AIM, the current managers.

This is not surprising. If you're at the market, you have already self selected. Your presence suggests de facto support for the market as I'm sure Councilor Guillen well understands. Thus, I like to think, he would have avoided the market if his agenda was anti-AIM. I like to think the community is speaking, and he is listening.

But who knows? One of the four women who were key players in the fight against Trader Joe's nearly 20 years ago, and who is now anti-AIM, buttonholed Guillen and told him (he said) that she was the one responsible for saving the park and establishing the market back in the day.

The One.

This boast upsets me not because it's self-aggrandizing and inaccurate, a historical insight of which I am confident because I watched my own wife spend days, months and finally years (and money sad/sad emoji) talking to locals, talking to neighborhood merchants, creating petitions and spending hours on the phone working off those petitions urging people to come to public meetings and otherwise Fight the Power. I am not saying that my wife was first among equals when it came to saving the park and creating the market, but I am quite comfortable saying she tied for first.

But I don't feel the need to say this apropos of nothing in the middle of casual conversation. My wife can take care of herself. However, I am upset with others minimizing or actively ignoring her role - and, as I've just said, of several other women - because if Guillen believes this particular woman was a community powerhouse then (the sine qua non, the straw that stirred the drink) he might believe she is a community powerhouse now and speaks for many against the market, an imagined past serving as a lens that distorts the present.

Thus, rather than keeping my mouth shut as I usually do and letting others build heroic narratives of their distant lives - for we all need something to keep us warm at night - I feel the need to say no no no. Four women did good work back in the day. And that was then and this is now. Today, Councilor, do your own research and your own listening. He said city staff were working on a proposal regarding a new AIM lease, so I hope they are researching and listening.

A note: Why don't my wife and I give the names of those with whom we contend in this battle for the future of the market? I was a journalist for 16 years and have been a journalism professor and freelance writer for 25 more. One of the big changes in journalism in this century is the rise of the Internet, which means - among other things - that when one does a name search today, obscure blog posts and news stories (sometimes, as I have personally witnessed, stories from college newspapers about juvenile antics) appear to the potential embarrassment of the person referenced. Thus, we name no names, though if you click a few links and otherwise pursue the story, you can easily find out who is on the other side of this argument in which my wife and I are engaged.

But we have to live with these people when this is over. I am trying to save the market in its current state, not gratuitously attack and embarrass anyone.


  1. Hoo boy. As one of the 4 organizers I remember the Davey and Goliath fight just saving the park BEFORE we put in a farmers market. The councilmember for Dist 2 at the time met a strip mall developer in Las Vegas, if memory serves correctly & made plans to turn that spot into a Trader Joe's and then promised a community person a ticket office on the building somewhere to sell concert tickets thinking that would lock in community buy-in. Neither were to be denied...but we persisted, despite the weird (at times) community politics.Yup, it was a lot of work, but we pulled it off thanks to four sets on boots on the ground. Big hearts, big ideas, different strenghts.

    A special shout out to my Oakland buddies from the hamlet of Crockett, way up North along the Carquinez Strait. X o x 0 x 0 Nancy Rieser

  2. Thanks for you kind words J. Michael. I'm glad that you did not resent the time and thousands of dollars I spent to help save our park all those years ago. And now in 2017, I'm hopeful that AIM's highly successful Grand Lake Farmers Market will have its 'lease' renewed. And, appreciate you and your work, much of it done behind the scene. Lucky me and our neighborhood has benefitted from your input! eydie

  3. Nancy, You were the neighborhood powerhouse behind all the effort that went into saving Splash Pad Park from developers and for actually getting the farmers market up and running. If the park had not been threatened, I never would have gotten to know you. Working with you and others to save the park was a good thing not just because of the outcome, but because I got to know Oakland and our neighbors. A better world starts with a better city and a better city starts with better citizens. eydie