1st FilAm elected in Oakland to govern by People Power

Oakland City Council Member Nikki Fortunato Bas (center) with her husband Brad Erickson and their daughter Balana. Courtesy NIKKI FORTUNATO BAS
. Bas says fellow social justice activist Mari RoseTaruc (left) encouraged her to run for office.

Adapted from original published with permission by usainquirer.net

OAKLAND, Calif. – The first Filipino American elected to a public post in this city invoked a concept most emblematic of her ancestral homeland at her installation.

When Nikki Fortunato Bas swore in January 7 as representative of District 2 on the Oakland City Council, she heralded People Power thrice in her vow to govern by making decisions not for, but with, her constituents.

She knows about the bloodless revolution that ousted the 20-year Marcos dictatorship, and her recurring phrase embodies the spirit behind her intention to run  for public office.

Bas defines ‘People Power’ as participatory contesting for power in cities. Photos courtesy NIKKI FORTUNATO BAS

“My reference to people-powered government stems more from my work over the past 12 years contesting for power in cities,” Bas explained to this writer.

At the celebration she co-hosted with fellow victors, Bas roused her supporters to stand up and be recognized because they would be working together to confront the three most important issues she gathered from them during her campaign:  Housing, a city budget prioritizing human needs, and services for every neighborhood.

“…As your councilmember, I will have a transparent, accountable government,” she promised some of the 11,273 who voted for her.  “We can grow as a city that is equitable and inclusive. We can do this and we will do this.”

Her clamor for inclusion surprises no one who has known or observed Bas.  In her, Oaklanders who have been struggling quietly but persistently to make ends meet have a champion.  Bas gives them a voice and a whole lot of muscle.

Bas is an avowed progressive, a term coursing through current politics with the stunning upset victories of the under-40 population of color, mostly women, in the midterm elections, notably in the US House of Representatives.

“Being a progressive means leading with values I learned from my parents, immigrants from the Philippines, and from the immigrant women workers who taught me to organize,” she explained.  “Witnessing my parents struggle taught me integrity, honesty and fairness, while organizing with workers showed me the importance of justice, equity and accountability. I will bring proactive, values-based leadership into City Hall.”

The daughter of now-retired Dr. Mauricio Bas and nurse Fe Fortunato Bas who came to this country in the tumultuous 1960s from Cebu and Mindoro to continue their education, Bas was born in New York in 1968.  She attended the University of Virginia, where she earned a degree in Economics in 1990.  The fresh graduate relocated to California shortly after to “connect with the Asian Pacific Islander and activist community.”


Her parents’ beginnings informed the sensibilities of the young Nikki, drawing her toward altruism.


For over two decades, Bas has planted herself in the grassroots movement.  She started as a volunteer  with the Asian Immigrant Women Advocates in Oakland Chinatown, where she sowed her commitment to social justice. Until last year she was executive director of Partnership for Working Families, which describes itself as a “national network of leading regional advocacy organizations who support innovative solutions to our nation’s economic and environmental problems.”


She made her mark earlier while organizing garment workers in Oakland Chinatown. Mostly women and immigrants, they were taking home less than they had earned legally.  With the resources of her organization, Bas stood by them, inspired by their courage and resolve to seek justice against their corrupt employer.  The effort took four years, the outcome favoring the workers.


Bas sets her sights on causes that would lift the lives of her fellow residents.


Much has been said about the “two Oaklands” in allusion to the affluent residential “Oakland hills” and the urban area surrounding it that habitues label the “flatlands.”  Last year two feature films explored the lives of flatlands denizens in the face of the changing landscape and lifestyle, their obvious differences and inner similarities.


The city’s past portrays a fertile ground for political agitation.


“We are rich in diversity, culture and social justice history including the Black Panthers and Chinese civil rights movement,” Bas wants non-Oaklanders to know about the often misunderstood city across the less-popular bridge from its world-famous neighbor.  She assures those discouraged to visit by frequent reports of violence that “Oakland is a wonderful, friendly city full of love.”

Proud residents say “The Town” as emblazoned on Golden State Warriors jersey, while their more prudent counterparts reference the general area known as “East Bay.”

From its flagship here, the social service nonprofit Filipino Advocates for Justice has been serving the community since 1973.  Its programs aim to assist newcomers and protect them from exploitation.  For nearly half a century, FAJ has offered the kind of welcome Bas commends.

Then again even homegrown folks have been vocal with their frustration, expressing disenchantment with the erstwhile administration.  Tech-triggered rent soared along with housing values, displacing already strained residents.  The gap widened between those comfortable and those in need as alienation between populations grew, spurring the Filipina American activist toward a new objective.


To be concluded.