For Immediate Release—May 16, 2012
Oakland Council Sends a Message to City Volunteers: Dissent Not Welcome
In a meeting going to nearly midnight last night, the Oakland City Council voted to not reappoint Michael Siegel to his volunteer position on the city’s Civil Service Board. Siegel, an outspoken supporter of the Occupy movement and one of a handful of lawyers who worked to defend Oakland residents against controversial gang injunctions in East Oakland, had served on the board since 2009. Established in part to combat cronyism, nepotism, and corruption in City employment, the Civil Service Board was ineffective for decades, with insufficient participation to even conduct meetings at some points. Siegel, appointed by former mayor, Ron Dellums, has been part of a new group of board members that provided a consistent presence, heard worker appeals, reviewed City policies, and provided oversight. The staff of the Board unanimously supported all the members up for reappointment last night.
Community members that spoke on behalf of Siegel’s reappointment at last night’s meeting consistently questioned whether resistance to his reappointment was retaliation for his political views and activism. Councilmember Libby Schaaf spearheaded the opposition to Siegel’s reappointment, although refused to state any reasons for her opposition. Councilmember Pat Kernighan joined Schaaf in blocking the reappointment but offered only vague reasoning for doing so, citing “one incident” that caused her to question Siegel’s judgment, without elaborating. Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Jane Brunner strongly condemned Schaaf and Kernighan and joined members of the public in questioning their motivations.
“I can’t help but feel that this vote was ‘pay-back’ for all the great work of the Stop the Injunctions Coalition over the last two years. We, as a coalition, won various battles with the Council — putting pressure on the policy in general, preventing new injunctions, raising awareness about the waste of public funds and the ongoing, intractable problem of police abuse — I guess some of these folks felt the need to make an example of me,” said Siegel of the Council’s decision. “Never mind the work of the CSB or the need for volunteer Board members to hear worker appeals. Schaaf,et al. were out for some sort of vengeance, perhaps wanting to teach a lesson to other folks who might challenge the status quo.”
“Oakland is sending louder and louder messages to its residents that political dissent is not welcome in our city,” noted Rachel Herzing of Stop the Injunctions Coalition. “Flying directly in the face of the struggles for free speech and self-determination that have made Oakland what it is today, a chill is being placed on activists and advocates through injunctions, stay away orders, increased police presence and violence during demonstrations, and creation of barriers to civic participation. While each incident taken separately may be easily explained away, taken together, a true pattern of silencing dissent is emerging.”