The Quan Connection at Occupy Oakland
by Daniel Borgström
November 15, 2012
When Occupy pitched tents in the Oakland plaza in October 2011, Pamela Drake was there from the start. She said in an interview, "I was down there every day for about five weeks, attended numerous General Assemblies and some committees." Then she took a job working for Mayor Jean Quan -- who repeatedly sent police to teargas, harass and arrest Occupiers.
Pam left OO at the end of January, but reappears from time to time, most recently at Occupy's anniversary commemoration of October 25th. That was the day, a year ago, when police raided our camp at the Plaza, arresting about 80 of us. It was also the day on which police injured ex-Marine Scott Olsen.
Now, a year later, four hundred Occupiers gathered at the Plaza to commemorate that day. It was a grand reunion of people who'd shared the risks, dangers, challenges and successes of the last year. Twice we'd shut down the Port of Oakland. Repeatedly we'd held meetings, marches and vigils in the face of police violence and intimidation, and here we were on this commemorative occasion, threatened by a repetition of the same repression. Just being there that evening took courage, and engendered a sense of unity, sisterhood & brotherhood. Comrades saw comrades, exchanging smiles, greetings and hugs.
It was about 9 p.m., back at the plaza after returning from the march. The street lights had just gone out again, as they had several times that evening. I was walking up 14th street towards the amphitheater, wondering if these repeated blackouts were part of the war of nerves being played against us by the city officials. That's when I happened to glance off to my right. And there she was, no more than six feet away. Pam Drake. No! It couldn't be her, I thought. She wouldn't be back here. I looked again, peering through the murk.
Then she saw me. Her face froze, and she jerked her head to one side, involuntary body language that silently screamed, "You didn't see me here! You don't know me!"
Yes, it was her, but I wanted to be absolutely certain. So I said, "Hi Pam."
"Hi Daniel." Her voice was tense.
"What are you doing here?" I said.
"What are you doing here?" she shot back.
"I'm part of Occupy," I reminded her.
"Well, I'm part of Oakland," she said.
I said nothing, silently noting only to myself that she wasn't claiming to be part of Occupy.
She added, "I'm just taking a walk, curious to see what's here." Having said that, she disappeared into the darkness.
The next day another Occupier told me he'd also seen her earlier that evening, taking photos of people. She'd gone up to a couple, pushed her camera practically right in their faces, very intrusively. They'd objected, telling her she should ask their permission.
That's Pam Drake. I knew her from the Middle East Study Group that used to meet at the Grand Lake Center. That was back around 2004 and she was then thinking of running for the Oakland City Council. Having decades of political experience, which included having been chief of staff for two councilmembers, she seemed well qualified, and I was hoping to see her on the council. But as things turned out, it didn't happen.
Later, in 2009, she ran for the KPFA board with "SaveKPFA," which was then called the "Concerned Listeners." I and some other KPFA activists were surprised to see Pam in that group. We told her that "SaveKPFA" supported a clique of staff that were working to take over the station; that they had repeatedly cheated in the Local Station Board (LSB) elections. If they were to succeed in taking over the station they would tone down KPFA's radical message, making it into NPR lite.
Actually, Pam had to know exactly what SaveKPFA was up to, and on becoming a board member, she was part of it. When SaveKPFA tried to drive grassroots activist Tracy Rosenberg off the board, Pam went along with that too.
That wasn't the Pam we knew, or thought we knew. I guess we didn’t know Pam, or perhaps more significantly, didn't understand the workings and connections of the establishment left. It was a network of progressives who had in their past done good work in left-wing movements, but over the years found their way into relatively comfortable positions in and around the Democratic Party. Their circle included labor bureaucrats and a number of local politicians including Jean Quan who became mayor of Oakland in 2010. Quan had formerly been a student radical and a Maoist. Many of them still talk the old revolutionary talk.
It was pretty clear that Pam had found herself a niche in the lower levels of the local power structure, and when she showed up at OO in the fall of 2011, it didn’t take much imagination to guess what she was there for. The Dems were at that time working to co-opt the OWS movement and turn it into their version of the Republican Tea Party. However, Occupy asserted its independence and maintained its identity as an adversary to the 1%. Pundits of the corporate media soon began asking, “Has Occupy lost its way?” which seemed to be their way of implying that the proper destiny of Occupy was to become a front group for the Democratic Party.
Mayor Quan may not have wanted to give up so quickly on the co-option of Occupy, but she was under pressure to suppress it. After authorizing a police action, she went on a convenient trip to Washington DC. During her absence, on October 25, 2011, police from 17 agencies raided the camp. Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was severely injured.
There was massive outrage, and the General Assembly of OO called for a general strike, the first such event in more than half a century. Fifty thousand people marched into the Port of Oakland and shut it down. The mayor didn't try to prevent the strike; many of her supporters actually joined in and helped organize it. Even Jean Quan's husband and daughter took part in the demonstrations, as did Pam Drake. Mayor Jean Quan herself apologized for the police action and eulogized the strike.
The mayor's apology notwithstanding, Scott Olsen was still in critical condition, and his injuries seemed likely to be permanent. Mayor Quan had alienated the left. She had also lost the confidence of the town's right-wingers, who launched a campaign to recall her from office. She formed a group to fight the recall, and hired Pam Drake to coordinate it. "Stand with Oakland" was the official name of the group; Pam later described it as "a committee which advises the Mayor on many local issues."
Might some of those "many local issues" have included Mayor Jean Quan's strategies for suppressing Occupy? Pam doesn't say. Nevertheless, while working for the mayor, she continued to be an activist at OO, helping to organize an event as late as January 20th.
During that time Mayor Quan was waging a PR campaign against OO, and the police continued to attack and harass Occupy, causing injuries and making numerous arrests. On January 26th Pam posted an article announcing her break with OO. But there she was last month, on the anniversary of October 25th, lurking in the shadows.
Pam's activities at OO while working for the mayor look like a huge conflict of interest. That's putting it euphemistically; another word comes to mind. But since her job was management level, and since the mayor was a progressive Democrat, it seems to fly under the radar, and nobody seems to be asking questions.
Between the Minutes at KPFA's Local Station Board on December 1, 2012: "Please don't ask any more questions about . . ."
Between the Minutes
at KPFA's Local Station Board
on December 1, 2012
by Daniel Borgström
For seven years I've been attending KPFA's Local Station Board meetings and, on occasion, writing Between the Minutes, a series in which I take up some brief incident which might dramatize, bring to life, or even humanize an otherwise tedious and lengthy board meeting.
Dramatic moments can be subtle, but not lacking, since the board consists of two opposing camps. One of these is the grassroots group, United for Community Radio, which I support. The other is "SaveKPFA," the status quo group with ties to the Democratic Party, and whose membership includes Pamela Drake. Pam is an activist who came to Occupy Oakland last year, then found a job with Mayor Jean Quan who was sending police to attack Occupiers.
Pam's activities looked like a conflict of interest. So I posted an article, "The Mayor Quan Connection at Occupy Oakland," in which I suggested that Pam's SaveKPFA colleagues might care to investigate her involvement and give us a report. Two weeks passed; so far no response. They didn't seem inclined to talk about it; just the same, I felt it might be worth asking them.
The KPFA Local Station Board seemed a logical place to present such a question, but is it proper to ask someone if she's a point person for the mayor in dealing with Occupy? This was a very delicate matter, and deserved to be presented in a way that would be directly relevant to the KPFA board itself. KPFA/Pacifica bylaws has a rule stating that anyone who's a member of government can't be on the board at the same time.
So I attended the December 1st meeting, placed my name on the list for Public Comments, and took a seat in the audience waiting for the session to start. About 20 board members sat around a conglomeration of tables configured into a U-shape. On the left were eight members of United for Community Radio. And on the right were ten or eleven members of "SaveKPFA." Among them was Pam Drake, only two seats from the end of the table, quite close to the audience section. Another of her SaveKPFA colleagues, J.K., sat at the very end, closest to me. He is a famously disagreeable person who seems to take himself very seriously.
The meeting began, the agenda was approved, and after a couple other preliminaries it was time for Public Comments. I was second to speak, and Margy Wilkinson called my name. Margy was the chair, a member of SaveKPFA. I stepped over to the table and picked up the mic.
"This is uncomfortable," I said, and it really was uncomfortable, but I felt it was important to bring it up. I took a deep breath and began: "I understand that we have some rule about being on the LSB and being in government at the same time. Now I understand that Pamela Drake, on the LSB, also works for the mayor, I would like to know in what capacity, what the particulars are."
Pam was sitting only eight or ten feet away from me. I looked at her. "I read this from your own website, and from various newspapers. That's where I got this information." I paused, glanced around at the others and continued. "I'm at Occupy Oakland and Pam is also at Occupy Oakland. And --"
J.K. cut in, "That is a personal attack!" he shouted.
"I --" I tried to speak, but J.K. was shouting me down. "The speaker is attacking an LSB member!" he yelled. Margy called for order, but J.K. went on. Board members are not supposed to respond to speakers, and certainly not interrupt. But this had happened so often that I'd almost come to expect it. Anyway, I had the mic in my hand while all J.K. had was his loud obnoxious voice, so I said, into the mic, "I'm raising a question! I'm raising a question!"
Margy called for order, saying. "I fully intend to allow Pam to respond when Daniel is done. Thank you!"
Momentarily brought into line, J.K. went silent, and I continued.
"This is a question I'd like to raise. As I was saying, I'm at Occupy Oakland. I understand that Pam was quite active there, and that her job with the mayor, whatever it may be. . . I'd like to hear what it is. I think it was as a coordinator of a committee which you define as advising the mayor on various local issues. And I wonder if that includes strategies for suppressing Occupy." I paused and added, "I mean that's a personal concern with me."
"Okay!" Margy cut in, "Okay!"
I started to tell about what happened on January 28th, the day police mass arrested 400 of us, myself included. "I had a gun pointed at me! I would like to know --"
"Okay! That's enough," she said. "I understand. Do you have anything else?" She was laughing nervously; she seemed terribly uncomfortable. "I understand," she said again. "Please don't ask any more questions about Pam. I'm going to ask Pam if she wants to respond. But did you have anything else you want to say?"
This was about the first time a chair ever cut a speaker off during Public Comments at a KPFA board meeting. Public Comments is a forum where people get two or three minutes to address the board. Speakers can say anything on any subject, and though it should be about KPFA, it doesn't have to be. It doesn't have to be nice, polite, or laudatory either. In the past, Margy had consistently respected my right to speak. Today was a first. But I had said enough for now, and I said. "Thank you for listening to my question."
I passed the mic to Pam, who said, "Thank you, Daniel." Pam said that very sweetly.
Margy spoke, "I would like to point out that Pam Drake is--" she paused. "Go ahead Pam. You may respond."
"I do not work for the mayor and that's all there is to it," Pam said calmly. "And I do go to Occupy because I've been very involved with that too. And that's it."
Not working for the mayor? Despite what she had said in her own bio about advising the mayor? Pam's denial surprised me. And her present involvement with Occupy? What could that mean? With all that echoing back and forth in my mind, I hardly listened to the following speaker who spoke for the next three minutes, then lay down the mic, which was retrieved by J.K.
"I have a motion," he said.
"Go ahead J.K.," Margy told him.
"I move that Daniel Borgström be prohibited from addressing this KPFA Local Station Board for the next year."
Huh? I sensed a huge collective gasp from the entire room. This was truly a groundbreaking first. During all the seven years I've been attending KPFA's board meetings, I'd never before heard a motion to ban anyone from Public Comments.
"Do I hear a second to that motion?" Margy said.
For a long instant, I held my breath. The SaveKPFA crowd had a majority and could pass it. Too bad. No, not too bad -- it'd be just great! That would really make my point.
Then I heard laughter. The United for Community Radio people across the aisle from J.K. were laughing, as was the woman sitting next to me. Tears seemed about to start rolling down her cheeks. I realized that I was laughing too.
"Okay! I'm asking for a second to that motion." It was Margy again. But from the SaveKPFA side of the aisle there was no response, only embarrassed silence.
"The motion dies for the lack of a second," Margy announced. "We're now ready for announcements."
AUDIO of the KPFA Local Station Board meeting of Dec 1, 2012
The above segment is about 20 minutes into the audio.
working for, coordinating for, advising, or what?
It seems beyond dispute that Pamela Drake coordinated a committee which worked on behalf of Mayor Jean Quan. The original purpose of that committee was to oppose an attempt to recall the mayor. If it was a political action committee rather than a part of the mayor's administration, Pam's coordinator role may not have violated the KPFA/Pacifica rule which prohibits a member of government from being on the board.
And while Mayor Jean Quan was not popular, the recall effort against her did not have much traction among progressives. Not even Occupy endorsed the recall. So Pam Drake's opposition to the recall was not the issue.
However, according to Pam's own bio, her job included more than just stopping the recall. So the question is: did the "many local issues" on which she advised the mayor include Occupy?
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Newspapers & Websites
Numerous articles in the SF Chronicle and the East Bay Express identify Pamela Drake as coordinator of a committee called "Stand with Oakland." Here are a couple of them.
SF Chronicle Sunday, March 18, 2012
Stand With Oakland coordinator Pam Drake
East Bay Express March 19, 2012
Pamela Drake, a coordinator for the group
The "Full Biography for Pamela A. Drake" (6/5/2012) listing her as a candidate to be on the Democratic Party County Central Committee of Alameda County, states that Pamela "was staff to the effort to elect Jean Quan as Oakland's first woman mayor. She continues to serve as a member of Stand with Oakland, a committee which advises the Mayor on many local issues."
Pam Drake announced her break with Occupy Oakland in an article she posted on her own website, dated Jan. 26, 2012