Aimee Allison: Antiwar, Progressive and Green
The following is an article I wrote a year and a half ago, when Aimee Allison first ran for City Council in the special election of 2005.There's a special election going on here in Oakland. It's for District 2, where I live, and I ran into a couple of friends who were walking precincts for Aimee Allison, the Green Party candidate.
Good to see a Green in the race. On line I found more about Aimee Allison. According to one article, Interview with a Gulf War Resister, written before the present war in Iraq, Aimee had been a stateside army medic, with part of her training at a VA hospital. While she was there, she "saw quads and paraplegics who were veterans, whose lives were shattered by war." Three years into her military career she filed for conscientious objector status.
I'm an ex-GI myself (4 years of USMC), and I know the tragic truth is that for soldiers in any well disciplined army it's easier to face enemy bullets than risk your commander's wrath. Aimee did the right thing; fortunately, it turned out well for her, and she received an honorable discharge. She eventually became a high school teacher, and, in working with students, she counseled them in alternatives to joining the military to pay for college. She was a history teacher, and in her classes she used Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States as a textbook.
This is a person who lives her beliefs, speaks truth to power. Recently I attended a rally where Aimee was one the speakers. The demonstration was in support of IRV (instant runoff voting), which was approved by voters last year. The problem is that Diebold, the manufacturer of the voting machines used here in Alameda County, is dragging its feet on installing the necessary changes in its equipment. In addition to the delays, Diebold is also attempting to grossly overcharge the county.
The speakers included county supervisors and city council members from San Leandro and Berkeley as well as other elected officials. Three candidates for the Oakland District 2 council seat spoke: Aimee Allison, Paul Garrison and Peggy Moore. Only three of them? That struck me as more than a bit strange. There are eight candidates in this race--where were the other five? I got the impression that these three candidates were the only ones who took the IRV issue seriously. And maybe they are also the only candidates who take this election itself seriously, seriously enough to show up at events, and talk with concerned citizens about this and other issues.
Aimee is a speaker who explains things well and holds your attention. Before the rally I spoke with her briefly; she impressed me as kind and gentle, as well as determined and competent. She's about 35, of the generation that came of age during the First Gulf War. That was in 1991--hard to believe it's already 14 years ago!
Among the people at the rally, I again encountered my friends, Cathy Green and Randy Armstrong, the ones who'd first told me about the Aimee Allison campaign. Cathy and Randy are activists I know from the Lake Merritt peace walk and other progressive activities. After the rally I asked them about their experiences in the campaign and how they've come to be part of it.
"We met Aimee Allison in March when she was doing a precinct walk on our street," Cathy told me. "The first thing that really impressed me about Aimee was that although we were total strangers she didn't try figure out what we wanted to hear, and then adjust her message to get our support, as politicians typically do. She didn't try to sound centrist. She had a bold message and was not afraid to take radical stance. She began talking about working on resisting the war here in Oakland by opposing military recruitment in schools, and through actions the City Council could take. She also said she didn't support tax dollars being spent on trying to persuade people from other areas to move to Oakland, and the City Council could do a lot more to support affordable housing. Since we're renters, like the majority of Oaklanders, this is important to us."
One of the local concerns Aimee discussed with Cathy and Randy was regaining local control of Oakland public schools, and environmental justice issues related to schools. "Of course Aimee didn't know that I have a degree in environmental studies, and that I did my masters thesis on that very topic--environmental justice and local air pollution problems. So I asked Aimee some pointed questions to see how well she knew the subject. I was very impressed by the depth of her knowledge. She talked about the nearby Lake Side Elementary School which gets a lot of air pollution from Highway 580. Plus, the main building is crumbling, and a lot of its schoolrooms are in trailers, like too many of our local schools. Also it's a dangerous location for children because of the heavy traffic. I think it's great that Aimee is concerned about these environmental health and quality of life issues that haven't been addressed much by local politicians, with the exception of Nancy Nadel."
"Aimee was extremely articulate, well informed, able to explain complex concepts and make them understandable." said Randy; he also pointed out, "It's important to be opposed to war, but a progressive candidate has to have other issues as well, and really know them."
"Meeting Aimee completely changed our attitudes about this election- we went from ignoring it to feeling excited and hopeful," said Cathy, "We decided to go to the next forum and hear all of the candidates speak. There was a broad range of candidate stances--some pro-developer, pro-big box stores, pro-gentrification, as well as candidates who are community activists. But, most of the candidates spoke in very general platitudes, and were clearly just trying to say what they thought the voters wanted to hear. Aimee stood out: she wasn't afraid to put her progressive ideas out there. She talked about her peace activism, and how she would go to Sacramento and fight to bring back control of local schools, as well as pay teachers a good wage, support independent business instead of bringing in more big box retailers, and improve Oakland for its current residents instead of promoting gentrification. When a question came up about campaign contributions, Aimee was the only candidate who said she was not accepting any developer or corporate donations. All of the other candidates gave pretty much the same answer: 'I own my home, and have no other assets, so I don't anticipate any conflict of interest.' Not one of the other candidates discussed their campaign contributions at that forum.
"There were also some candidates who viewed the City Council as a part time job, and intended to continue their current outside job if elected. Aimee stated that, if she is elected, the Oakland City Council will be her only job and it will get her full attention.
"After we heard Aimee speak at the forum, we were so impressed we decided to volunteer for her campaign."
Although Cathy and Randy have been activists for some years, the electoral campaign is new to them. "We've never precinct-walked before." Randy said. "It's actually enjoyable to knock on people's doors, talk about progressive politics and hear the opinions of fellow Oaklanders."
"At first many people, even activist Greens, groan and act weary when you say the words 'Oakland' and 'election'," said Cathy. "But when we talk to them about Aimee's ideas, people light up. You can see them get interested and excited about the potential of someone who's actually going to represent them instead of the mega-corporations and developers. We've had long conversations with some of these people, and they end up doing most of the talking. People have strong opinions about what's going on in our city. I don't think people in Oakland are apathetic: they're discouraged. People are really upset about the direction our city's government has taken. They're angry that developers are getting tax breaks, and developing housing for affluent people rather than for the people who already live here. They want something to be done about the schools NOW. They want Oaklanders to have decent jobs and housing. Oaklanders are much more progressive than the current city council."
"Aimee's working really hard to invite people into the campaign, and she's gotten some good people," Randy told me. "People working for Aimee really believe she can make a difference, so they're very motivated. They're constantly reevaluating what they're doing to reach voters, and they give us a lot of encouragement."
For decades now, ever since I first started voting, I've always been registered as a Democrat. This week, after talking with Cathy and Randy, I went to the courthouse and reregistered as a GREEN. I'm casting my ballot for Aimee Allison.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
"Aimee Allison: Interview with a Gulf War Resister":
Aimee Allison on Instant Runoff Voting
The Aimee Allison website
Aimee Allison, the Army & the Tribune
A letter to the editor, printed in the Oakland Tribune on May 4, 2005
In her otherwise informative column on Oakland's special election, Peggy Stinnett writes that city council candidate Aimee Allison "dropped out" of the Army. That is a poor choice of words. Nobody just "drops out" of the military. Not even officers (except for Bush) can just walk out when they feel like it. For us "peons," as we enlisted men used to call ourselves in the Marine Corps, about the only way out was to apply for Conscientious Objector status. But by doing so you might incur the wrath of your commanding officer--who has the power to make your life very, very unpleasant.
Filing for CO status takes skill and perseverance as well as courage. Aimee Allison eventually received an honorable discharge, which shows that she was able to win the respect of people who probably didn't share her views. These are qualities that can make her an effective city council person. I'm voting for Aimee Allison.
Oakland, District 2