1st FilAm elected in Oakland to govern by People Power

Social justice activist Nikki Fortunato Bas (foreground) defeated the incumbent to become Oakland's first FilAm City Council Member.
The New York native moved California immediately after college graduation to be closer to API and activists.

OAKLAND, Calif. – District 2 is where Oakland’s first elected Filipino American City Council Member Nikki Fortunato Bas and her husband Brad Erickson, a lecturer at San Francisco State University, and their 14-year-old daughter Balana make their home.  They thrive among working families and individuals of various backgrounds and share hope for a bright future there.

Staking claim for the diverse residents of her town.

“I decided to run because I love Oakland’s community, diversity, and rich cultural heritage, and fear that displacement, gentrification and growing inequality are threatening our very identity as a city,” Bas told this writer. “The #BBQBecky and #JoggerJoe incidents (Ed: Residents who were white called police to complain about residents who were black for engaging in ordinary activities.) at Lake Merritt are wake-up calls for all of us. We must come together to build an inclusive, just and equitable city, and we need independent leaders, rooted in our communities, who will take action. It starts with acknowledging that housing is a human right and prioritizing housing solutions for all Oaklanders.”

Her vision is simple:  “An Oakland for all of us…governing together with a set of values that we promoted – equity, inclusion, and community participation.’ All of us’ means that I will represent you whether you voted for me or not,” she declared after swearing in en masse with fellow new council members  Sheng Thao (Dist. 4) and Loren Taylor (Dist. 6) before City Clerk Latonda Simmons.

She recounted the focused steps she took to listen to constituents and hearing a common refrain of feeling “left out.”

“We feel the real threats of growing inequality, displacement and gentrification produced by systemic racism and unchecked corporate influence,” she mirrored their apprehensions before enunciating her recommendation.  “These are problems we can solve if this council along with the rest of our city government –  all lead together with a set of values that prioritize equity and real democracy.”

She spelled out her plan to curb the housing crisis in an op-Ed (Prioritizing People in our Housing Policies, Oct. 18, 2018) in the East Bay Express, also an endorser:

“First, we must prioritize the development of 100 percent affordable housing projects. Second, we must set requirements for at least 25 percent affordable housing on new development and pass robust community benefits agreements. Third, we must generate new revenue such as charging private, market-rate residential and commercial developers the true cost of their infrastructure burden. Oakland taxpayers should not subsidize profitable, market-rate development. Finally, our council must pass a Public Lands Policy today, not tomorrow, not in three years, but now.”

Her oath-taking remarks reinforced her campaign pledge.

“Oakland’s housing crisis is out of control and we need experienced, compassionate leadership that recognizes housing is a human right.  The need to improve and increase affordable housing and provide options for the growing homeless population requires a champion who can bring residents, developers, and housing advocates together—and collaborate with the county and state—for win-win solutions.””

In his endorsement, Assembly Member Rob Bonta, the first FilAm elected to the California State Legislature, lauded her as a “deeply-rooted District 2 resident and citywide leaders who has fought tirelessly for working families and the needs of Oakland residents.”

Bas received 53.70% of total votes to defeat Guillen, who got 8,291 or 39.49%.

The winner represents a demographic that includes working mothers, single, heads of households or “unsheltered,” in her lingo.

“Many work in low-wage industries like retail and restaurants and we must ensure they know their rights to minimum wage and paid sick leave. Women who work in industries like hotels are subject to sexual harassment and assault. Oakland voters passed Measure Z in November to help address this.”  She referred to the measure requiring hotels to provide employees with an emergency contact device such as a panic button to report crime, violence or threatening behaviors.  It also sets a minimum hourly wage for hotel workers of $15 with benefits or $20 without benefits, and imposes workload restrictions.

Her empathy comes from a deeply personal place.

In a campaign video, she talks to activist Rebecca Solnit about flying to New York to join thousands of women protesting in front of Trump Tower to denounce Pres. Donald Trump’s “boasting about sexual assault.”  She said she disclosed her own experience as a sexual assault survivor at that moment “for my daughter, for children and other women.”

Hers was among the voices demanding policies to deter sexual assault everywhere when she spoke at the 3rd Annual Women’s March Jan. 19 at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater (see sidebar).

Co-sponsors Black Women for Political Action and the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center quote Coretta Scott King in seeking to  “activate our communities and publicly proclaim our commitment to create new homes, new communities, new cities, a new nation.”

The Oakland action simultaneously occured with sister marches around the country in a show of solidarity.  To Filipinos, that would be People Power, a concept Oakland Council Member Nikki Fortunato Bas espouses.