by Margaret Rossoff
Table of Contents
- Advantages at the outset
- Strategic assessment of forces
- The evidence
- Plan B
- Guide to Acronyms
Many activists have expressed interest in an account of how the No Coal in Oakland campaign was organized. This article is a response, but is not a history. It is structured thematically rather than chronologically, and the many amazing activists and organizers are not identified by name. Some of our initiatives came from organizations and some came from individual activists, but this account does not attempt to credit them, as every idea became a shared project. Unlike just about every document during the campaign, this is not a collectively written piece. It was significantly improved by careful readings by several people, for which I am very grateful, but I am responsible for all errors and omissions. I expect—and hope--others will be writing their own accounts from a variety of perspectives.
I have included many links for documents referred to in this account. For general background about the campaign, go to NoCoalinOakland.info. A guide to acronyms is at the end of the article.
No Coal in Oakland's campaign was focused on persuading the members of the Oakland City Council to ban storage and handling of coal at a bulk export marine terminal to be built on City-owned land. This would effectively prevent the transport of coal through Oakland and other cities along the rail lines as well as the shipment of coal overseas.
Our campaign to get the council members to vote for the ban had several components. The primary ones were:
- Direct lobbying with council members.
- Outreach to Oakland residents, including particularly West Oakland residents and participants in community groups. This was intended both to influence elected officials through popular opposition, and because we saw our campaign as part of building the larger movement for environmental justice and to contain climate disruption.
- Insuring that evidence of the dangers of coal was adequately documented and presented to the council, including rebutting misleading claims by the developers.
- Exploring other routes that might also lead to keeping coal out of Oakland.
This article focuses primarily on the first two aspects of our campaign.
Advantages at the outset
Our campaign had several advantages.
- We were trying to stop a fossil fuel project in advance. It is generally easier to prevent new infrastructure than to shut down, or even block the expansion of, an existing facility. Oakland residents were not already employed in the coal industry, nor had it sponsored our Little League teams.
- There was a clear path to our goal. The City Council had the power to prevent coal from being stored at the terminal on City-owned property based on health and safety grounds, as spelled out in the Development Agreement. We just had to convince them there was “substantial evidence” of “a condition substantially dangerous to …health or safety” of “occupants or users of the Project, [or] adjacent neighbors.” (http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/ceda/documents/report/oak055211.pdf)
- Coal already had a terrible reputation. A widely recognized imperative to close existing coal-fired plants, including a national campaign by the Sierra Club, provided context for our local struggle. The local dangers of coal dust escaping from railroad cars and the exacerbating effects of burning coal on climate disruption were intuitively obvious to people we spoke with. Of course, we needed to amass scientific data to justify the ordinance banning coal, but in our community work we were building on a pre-existing narrative.
- The community of West Oakland, where the terminal will be located, was already identified as experiencing disproportionate adverse health consequences. This historically African-American community was undermined by “urban renewal.” Now industrial facilities, diesel traffic and proximity to freeways contribute to pollution in an area with high unemployment, widespread poverty, limited access to healthy food, and increasingly unaffordable rent. The resulting disparities in the rates of asthma and other medical conditions, and in life expectancy, would be further intensified by the additional burden of a coal facility.
- People could participate easily. A supporter could contribute by simply signing a petition or sending an email to their council member—or could get much more involved in the campaign. We had a range of activities for supporters to join at any given time as extensively as they wished. See below for a discussion of our many tactics.
Developers and operators
Initially the face of the pro-coal forces was Phil Tagami, the President and Chief Executive Officer of California Capital and Investment Group (CCIG), the developer chosen to build the marine facility at the former army base. Tagami was known for the renovations of the Rotunda Building in Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza, opposite City Hall, and of the nearby Fox Theater—both projects relying on public financing while garnering private profit. He is also politically well-connected, having served on the Port Commission, the state Lottery Commission, and other public agencies. He has close ties to Governor Brown, with whom he owns property. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/jerry-brown-remains-silent-on-coal-as-his-financial-ties-to-developer-are-exposed/ )
He was also known for standing at the doors to the Rotunda Building with a shotgun when Occupy Oakland took over the plaza. (http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Developer-with-shotgun-scared-off-Oakland-rioters-2324498.php)
His initial assertion that the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) would not involve coal is documented in his own newsletter and in conversation reported by Council Member Dan Kalb. (See quote from newsletter in http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/07/06/oakland-mayor-port-developer-in-dispute-over-plan-to-ship-coal/ and Kalb’s report in http://www.insidebayarea.com/breaking-news/ci_28499049/oakland-city-council-have-public-hearing-exporting-coal.)
Initially the City signed a development agreement for the Oakland Army Base (OAB) with Prologis CCIG, a joint venture. On February 16, 2016, the scope of CCIG and its principal, Tagami, was reduced. The City now has lease agreements with several different tenants, for projects that include a trucker facility run by OMSS (Oakland Maritime Support Services) and two recycling firms, CASS (Custom Alloy Scrap Sales) and CWS (California Waste Solutions), as well as the marine terminal CCIG is developing.
Negotiations between Tagami and Utah coal interests became public in April, 2015, through a Utah newspaper article. (http://www.richfieldreaper.com/news/local/article_e13121f0-dd67-11e4-b956-3ff480cc1929.html) Around this time, the public learned that Terminal Logistics Solutions (TLS), headed by Jerry Bridges and Omar Benjamin, would be the operators of the terminal. TLS is located in the Rotunda Building where Tagami also has his office. Bridges and Benjamin, who are both Black, are former executive directors of the Port of Oakland. Their leadership roles gave TLS the appearance of a home-grown enterprise run by people of color. They have used their credibility in the community to attract support for the coal project, claiming that the facility would generate jobs, and that the community's health and safety would be protected because both OBOT and the rail cars would be completely enclosed. This local front for the project is deceptive: evidence suggests that the majority voting share in TLS is controlled by Bowie Resource Partners, the coal company behind the proposal to ship coal through OBOT, whose mines are non-union. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/who-owns-tls/)
In 2013 Bowie proposed shipping coal through the Port of Oakland, which rejected Bowie’s proposal in early 2014. (http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2014/port-of-oakland-rejects-proposals-to-construct-new-coal-export-terminal) Bowie soon looked for an alternative way to get coal from mines it owns in Utah to overseas markets to compensate for plummeting domestic demand. When the former army base was decommissioned in 1999, part of it was ceded to the Port of Oakland, part to the City of Oakland. Tagami had already obtained general approval to develop a bulk commodities terminal on one corner of the City-owned waterfront and, at some point in 2014, it appears that Tagami decided to do business with Bowie rather than keep his promise not to ship coal through the new facility. The plans were hatched in secret, but when news of Tagami’s betrayal of the public trust broke in April 2015, Tagami and his collaborators at TLS suddenly found themselves in hot water.
Under the guise of a local minority business, TLS had lunch with the staff of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) and offered them twelve cents per ton of coal shipped through Oakland if they would support the proposal. (http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2015/09/21/buying-support-for-coal) With no apparent sense of irony, they suggested the money could be used to fund a health center. Of course WOEIP staff refused, and in fact they became important mainstays of the opposition to coal, continuing their long history of fighting pollution in the West Oakland neighborhood. (woeip.org)
TLS also met with a number of Oakland pastors and offered them financial support linked to coal. This divided the clergy; a number of them became spokespeople on behalf of TLS. While some clergy repeated the claims of TLS that OBOT would provide jobs, others, outraged and disappointed, joined the opposition to coal. (http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/coal-money-divides-oaklands-churches/Content?oid=4673334)
The situation within organized labor was complicated. Years of negotiation went into the Project Labor Agreement for the OAB site, which may account for some of the concern within organized labor that opposition to coal would unravel a great deal of work. In August, 2015, the Teamsters Joint Council No. 7 sent a letter to the City Council outlining their concerns that banning coal would jeopardize the entire project. (https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/350bayarea/pages/2409/attachments/original/1439593522/Teamsters_letter-coal.pdf?1439593522)
The Laborers sent members to the September 21, 2015 City Council hearing to support the speakers in favor of using OBOT for coal. Although Building Trades unions did not officially support or oppose the plans, some opposed the resolution against coal passed by the Labor Council. They may have been concerned that the terminal would not be constructed without a commitment to coal, which would deprive their membership of potential jobs.
The pro-coal forces hired a lobbyist, Gregory McConnell, whose office is also located in the Rotunda Building, and a law firm, Stice & Block LLP. The McConnell Group is a lobbyist for businesses. Pro-coal clergy set up an “Ecumenical Economic Empowerment Council” and some pro-coal entities created “Jobs4Oakland.” Neither of these groups has a web presence.
This was the opposition we faced. (A discussion of how we combatted their propaganda is in the section on Tactics, below.)
To the extent that the developers had any support in the community, it was because some people trusted the pro-coal clergy and because people were motivated by the jobs claim. At Oakland City Council hearings on both September 21, 2015 and June 27, 2016, the developers brought in supposed supporters, who were paid to attend. In September these included laborers who ceded their time to pro-coal speakers; some didn’t speak English, some were themselves opposed to coal and some had no idea what the issues were. (http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2015/09/21/live-oakland-city-council-hearing-on-coal) In June a loud group recruited by Jobs4Oakland, primarily African Americans angry about racism and lack of jobs, came with placards and chants, disrupting No Coal in Oakland's mini-rally before the council hearing and then heckling and jeering NCIO speakers until finally escorted from the council chambers.
NCIO and BACEG
The group that would eventually be known as No Coal in Oakland started when several environmental justice activists began meeting, initially calling ourselves Oakland Fossil Fuel Resistance. We were concerned about the potential dangers of shipping crude oil by rail through Oakland as well as the threat of coal, which soon monopolized our attention. We were quickly joined by the Sierra Club’s conservation coordinator who brought in one of the founders and directors of WOEIP. After initial meetings in a back yard and a garage, the group began to meet at the Sierra Club (SC) office in Berkeley but soon moved to the WOEIP office in West Oakland.
NCIO met weekly for fifteen months, with generally fifteen to twenty people present. These included community members and environmental justice activists from the Sunflower Alliance, 350EastBay, System Change Not Climate Change, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the Environmental Caucus of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), Western Service Workers Association, and California Interfaith Power and Light (CIPL); and the staff from WOEIP and SC. We worked closely with labor activists and clergy opposed to coal, creating joint committees for these efforts.
NCIO attracted people with long histories of political organizing in a wide variety of contexts, who between them had deep and broad knowledge of Oakland politics, successful campaign strategies, environmental justice struggles, legal analysis, environmental science, labor organizing, and more. The group included members who were vehemently anti-establishment and cynical about the possibility of success with the elected council, along with a couple of people who had served as elected city officials. We included at least one Republican and quite a few socialists working together, deeply religious people alongside atheists, and a few folks with histories of past conflict who focused on our shared goal. Our passionate commitment generated mutual respect within the campaign and widespread appreciation for the campaign.
Several NCIO members worked on the campaign without pay for the equivalent of full-time jobs (or more) and many others donated many hours on a regular basis. As a result, the group was able to quickly respond to developments, investigating and analyzing issues as they came up. This included, for example, getting specific information on the number of potential jobs and who would get them; challenging the covered cars claims; and exposing the connections between Tagami, TLS, Brown, and Bowie.
WOEIP offered us space for our weekly meetings (frequently with snacks to sustain us) and storage for our literature and placards. Rooted in the West Oakland community, their staff has years of experience with local environmental justice struggles and were involved from the outset in negotiating jobs and community benefits connected to the conversion of the army base. They shared their first-hand knowledge of this history as well as insight into the people and institutions involved. In addition to learning a great deal from them, NCIO benefited from the respect for WOEIP held by both Oakland politicians and environmental activists.
The SC provided many resources, including the organizing work of the Bay Area chapter’s conservation coordinator in the initial months of the campaign, as well as help from interns, volunteers and other staff. SC’s financial support including funding the five hundred yard signs and some of the expenses of community events. They initiated and paid for a poll of Oakland likely voters and planned the community debrief held after the September 21, 2015 council meeting. SC provided publicity including: email blasts to people who signed our petition; coverage in their chapter newspaper, the Yodeler; and support from their media coordinator, particularly for the significant press conference we held on February 16, 2016.
The SC and WOEIP staff in NCIO are also members of the Bay Area Coal Exports Group (BACEG). Other members of BACEG are Earthjustice, CBE, San Francisco Baykeepers, and Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). BACEG predated the Oakland coal controversy. It is also concerned about coal in Richmond (a relatively small amount is shipped out of a private terminal there, Levin-Richmond Terminal, and is transported through the city in open rail cars) and in Stockton. Through the SC’s national campaign, Beyond Coal, they are also connected with efforts in the Northwest and elsewhere.
BACEG’s role in the coal campaign included legal action and organizing expert testimony. Four organizations within BACEG (SC, APEN, CBE and Baykeepers, represented by Earthjustice and SC attorneys) sued the City, asserting that shipping coal required a new Environmental Impact Report. (http://content.sierraclub.org/environmentallaw/sites/content.sierraclub.org.environmentallaw/files/2015-1002%20Petition%20for%20Writ%20of%20Mandate_0.pdf) (The suit was dismissed without prejudice, which meant it can be refiled should the developer later apply for permits to store coal at OBOT and the City fail to conduct an environmental quality review.) BACEG mobilized expert speakers to provide testimony about the dangers of coal to the council (as well as oil, which was briefly considered by the City Council) and they drafted a proposed ordinance.
NCIO met much more frequently than BACEG, and was focused solely on the Oakland campaign. BACEG consists of non-profit organizations with paid staff, while NCIO, with the exceptions of the overlapping members, is composed of unpaid activists, mostly from Oakland. The relationships between NCIO, SC and BACEG included cooperation and complementarity, and also areas of conflict. NCIO grassroots activists wanted to be represented in BACEG’s meetings, but were not included. Multiple centers of leadership led to some unnecessary duplication of effort and became particularly problematic when there were differences about strategic direction (for example, relationships with Utah activists, when and how to pressure Governor Jerry Brown, whether to oppose a proposed review of evidence by an environmental consulting firm). At such times, tension over who was in charge of the campaign, along with poor communication, exacerbated the underlying political differences.
NCIO early on identified the need to recruit labor support. NCIO activists experienced in other political struggles recognized this is a crucial sector—both to spread the word about the campaign and to put pressure on council members. The early letter from the Teamsters that supported coal underscored this. NCIO participants included representatives to the Alameda Central Labor Council, activists in several unions, and two retired labor lawyers. In addition to understanding the lay of the land in the labor movement, these folks had strong ties to other labor organizers. The alliance that recruited labor against coal was based on pre-existing relationships of trust and respect.
Labor opposition to coal was led by three unions: California Nurses Association/National Nurses Union (CNA), Service Employees International Union Local 1021 (SEIU 1021), and the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 10.
The ILWU, which would represent the workers handling coal, had already indicated their refusal to touch the stuff when Bowie made its previous proposal to the Port of Oakland. Their spokespeople spoke eloquently at council meetings, rallies, radio programs, and newspaper interviews, debunking the jobs claims of the developers and highlighting the health dangers of coal; they also brought their members to several council meetings and rallies.
CNA and SEIU organizers played the major role in persuading the Alameda Labor Council (ALC) to take a stand against coal. This was the first time the ALC engaged in a debate on climate change and their resolution was one of the great achievements of the campaign. (https://www.scribd.com/document/281846981/ALC-Revised-ResolutionOnCoalExports-FIN-19-18-15) The meme of “jobs versus the environment” has a long history (think spotted owls). Pro-coal forces exploited this ready-made narrative, which fit neatly with the appalling unemployment rate in West Oakland. It was critical that the Labor Council, an umbrella organization for over 100 unions with over 100,000 members, voted and acted to oppose coal. They understood that the job claims were wildly inflated and that handling coal would endanger workers and residents. The ALC Executive Secretary-Treasurer addressed the City Council at its June 27 hearing, urging the ban on coal. In addition 19 unions signed our letter to the Mayor and City Council opposing the use of OBOT for coal, while two other unions sent their own letters to this effect. Several sent representatives who provided testimony at Council hearings or met with council members. (One activist’s account of mobilizing labor against coal can be found at http://ecology.iww.org/node/1374.)
In the wake of the decision to oppose coal, the Alameda Labor Council has formed a Climate and Environmental Justice Caucus. (https://ecology.iww.org/node/1699). The coal campaign is proud of its role in catalyzing environmental activism by local labor forces.
NCIO did not have preexisting relationships with the faith community comparable to our ties to labor, but we realized this was an equally important constituency for the same reasons—getting out the word and influencing council members.
Early on, we had the support of a prominent Black minister from a large church, but he became focused on police brutality issues and was not able to spend time on the coal campaign. Another pastor organized a series of meetings, hoping to unify clergy against coal; when many of them instead became active supporters of coal, he was discouraged if not broken-hearted.
Meanwhile NCIO activists contacted progressive clergy and recruited some, but we were stumbling in the dark. Fortunately, through our environmental justice connections, we got in touch with California Interfaith Power and Light (CIPL) and their local affiliate Alameda Interfaith Climate Action Network (AICAN), interdenominational groups that organize religious institutions to address climate change. They began to work closely with us and to reach out to clergy in their network. Meanwhile, a pastor in West Oakland became distressed to see his colleagues, with whom he had united on other issues in the Black community, speaking on behalf of coal. He took up the cause of recruiting ministers opposed to coal and had great success, including persuading both of our early allies to reengage with the effort to stop coal.
When she learned about his outreach to clergy, an NCIO activist introduced this pastor to our group. In October he began holding monthly evening meetings at his church, bringing in clergy, community members, and NCIO activists for updates and discussions. Although the three lead people in the NCIO faith outreach effort (an NCIO organizer, CIPL staff, and the West Oakland minister) did not know one another before the campaign began, they quickly developed mutual respect and collaborated well.
Their efforts culminated with three events on February 16. The first was a press conference which generated a widely circulated photograph of many faith leaders and others active in religious communities standing in opposition to coal.
(Photo by Tulio Ospina)
Speakers at the press conference, which was well reported, included representatives of many denominations: Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Jewish, and United Church of Christ, with support from others including Catholic, Islamic, interfaith, and Native American groups. (http://postnewsgroup.com/blog/2016/02/19/clergy-warn-dangers-coal/)
Following the press conference there was a prayer vigil organized by AICAN. Meanwhile, a number of clergy went into the City Council meeting and spoke together during Open Forum to express the significant opposition to coal among the many faith traditions in Oakland.
A third constituency NCIO identified as an important source of allies was the business community. Our outreach to this group was less well-organized and was not lent urgency by a need to combat a pro-coal voice. Still, we obtained significant support from businesses, including speakers at council meetings and signers of our letter to the Mayor and City Council. Thirty-four businesses signed our letter, as well as 24 real estate agents recruited by one NCIO activist working in that field. Probably the most effective speakers from the business world were the representatives of green industries, particularly solar, who spoke of choosing Oakland because of its environmental commitments and indicated they might relocate if coal were shipped through the city.
Along with the focus on these strategic sectors, NCIO reached out throughout the city. We concentrated on West Oakland, where OBOT will be located, which is already impacted by environmental pollution and resulting health disparities, but we also campaigned throughout the city. We understood that council members in every district needed to know where their constituents stood—and we wanted to make more people aware of environmental justice issues and of our capacity to organize together and win these battles. Although our immediate goal was to prevent the use of the OBOT terminal for coal, many of us saw this campaign as part of a broader effort to mobilize for social and environmental justice.
Our community outreach efforts are summarized below in the section on Tactics.
The success of our outreach efforts was apparent in a February, 2016 poll commissioned by the Sierra Club, in which 47% of respondents indicated that they had already heard about the issue. Once they got background information, 76% of those polled opposed coal shipments and many indicated this issue would affect their votes for council members. This was a scientific poll of 400 likely voters. http://www.sierraclub.org/node/30698) A larger but unscientific poll was conducted by State Senator Loni Hancock in support of her legislative efforts against coal. She invited people to email responses to a series of questions, and 92% of the respondents opposed coal. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/senator-loni-hancock-92-of-constituents-oppose-oakland-coal-export-terminal/)
Elected officials and community leaders
NCIO also reached out to elected officials in nearby jurisdictions, and some of them reached out to us. Eleven East Bay Area mayors signed a letter to the Oakland City Council (http://nocoalinoakland.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mayors-Letter-on-Coal.pdf), 25 officials signed our letter to the Mayor and City Council, and seven spoke at the June 27, 2016 council meeting preceding the vote. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/11-east-bay-mayors-condemn-oakland-coal-plan/)
Because of federal pre-emption of rail traffic decisions, communities have no control over the nature of goods shipped by train through their neighborhoods. If the Oakland City Council blocked coal at the terminal, there would be no risk of coal transport through their communities, so our neighbors strongly supported our efforts.
Our letter was also signed by 23 community leaders, most of them political activists in a variety of venues.
Another source of support for the coal campaign was the pre-existing climate justice movement, in which many NCIO participants were already active. These groups provided publicity, forums for presentations, financial donations, testimony, phone bankers, canvassers, and enthusiasm for our efforts. The campaign against coal occurred in the context of the work of these groups and provided an inspiring victory for our allies. Many of them came to our celebration after winning the council vote.
Parents, teachers and mentors helped us reach young people, whose testimony at the City Council was always effective in emphasizing what is at stake for future generations. We spoke to some classes, and supported high school students creating a related video project. Young people, who will inherit the earth we are trying to save, were moving speakers at meetings with council members, at meetings of the council, and at rallies.
Health professionals were natural allies in the campaign against coal, and the California Nurses Association played a prominent role in our labor organizing. Doctors and nurses organized 200 colleagues and several major associations (representing over 25,000 members) to sign letters of opposition to coal.
A vital role was played by public health professionals who testified at hearings and submitted written evidence. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/health-care-leaders-speak-out-against-coal/ ) Most impressively, nine prominent public health professionals, working independently without remuneration from the City, produced a report for the June 27, 2016 hearing, endorsed by even more of their colleagues, documenting the health and safety risks of shipping coal. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/public-health-experts-expose-coal-hazard-protection-fallacies/)
An important part of our strategy was to identify the positions of each of the council members and who would be most likely to influence each of them. This analysis shifted over time and was complicated by the fact that the City Attorney instructed them not to announce their positions before all the evidence was submitted to the council. It seemed clear from the outset that two council members strongly supported a ban, others were uncertain, and one or two opposed a ban. For a discussion of how we addressed this, see below.
Gene Sharp, who has written extensively on this subject, has identified 198 methods of nonviolent action, including 54 forms of “nonviolent protest and persuasion.” (http://www.mapm.org/documents/198_nonviolent_methods_2007.pdf) The No Coal in Oakland campaign used at least 22 of these 54 methods.
Very early in the campaign, we created two documents that were crucial to building the movement. One was a petition we used as an outreach tool. People who heard about the threat of coal could do something small but immediate by signing the petition. If motivated, they could take petitions to get additional signatures from family, friends, co-workers, etc. Canvassers took the petition door to door, signatures were gathered at farmers markets and events, and copies were available whenever we tabled or spoke about the campaign. The petition was also accessible on line. Contact information went into the SC data base and was used by SC for emails and phone banking to inform people about council meetings. Over 3,000 people signed this petition. Other organizations (notably CREDO) created on-line petitions as well, but our campaign did not have access to their data.
The other document, a letter to the Mayor and City Council, was collectively written.
(https://docs.google.com/document/d/18PvxxHL3k3IjSpP4QKgpYjAgGVMg8r2geEBnwbFxQ-Y) Eventually 221 individuals and organizations signed on, tangible evidence of the extent of support for our campaign. Those who were invited to sign may have been more likely to do so when they saw how extensive the support was. A data base collected contact information about the person who authorized the sign-on and the campaign member who connected with them. This list was used in the last weeks of the campaign to encourage one more round of contacting council members; to garner endorsers for the rally held two days before the council vote; to ask allies to publicize the rally and council meeting to their own email lists; and in some cases to request donations.
The petition indicated the extent of popular opposition to coal, while the letter to the Mayor identified important organizations and public figures supporting a ban. Both were expected to have impact on the council members. These documents were delivered during council hearings, but as the lists continued to grow it is not clear that the final versions ever did reach them.
A third document was a petition to be signed by West Oakland residents only. With 532 signatures, it was delivered on June 27, 2016, as a reflection of the sentiment in the community that would be most impacted by the potential coal shipments. This petition could have had many more signatures if we had started using it when we first began canvassing in West Oakland, as many West Oakland residents signed our city-wide petition. (https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/350bayarea/pages/2409/attachments/original/1453319488/West_Oakland_Sign-on_Letter.pdf?1453319488)
In addition to the petitions, a major outreach tool was a trifold flyer with background information about the issue as well as information about how to identify and contact the council member representing an Oakland resident's district. This was a convenient source of facts for supporters.
We had a basic handout that was frequently updated to announce specific events—council meetings, rallies and community activities. This flyer provided some background information, encouraged people to show up, and indicated how to connect with the campaign. (One example: http://www.sunflower-alliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Revised-Flyer-June-25-27.pdf.)
(We used a union print shop for large orders, and indicated “labor donated” when we printed a few copies of a flyer.)
Another form of outreach was phone banking, which took place at crucial times to mobilize support at council meetings.
NCIO created an email group for “internal” communications. With some misgivings, we relied on Google technology for our email group and for documents we wanted NCIO activists to be able to access. We used this email list to circulate the agenda and minutes of our weekly meetings, enabling people to keep abreast of campaign developments even if they didn’t attend a meeting. We shared news and did some brainstorming about tactics. This email list was remarkably focused on the campaign, avoiding trolls or dogmatists who often undermine on-line discussion groups.
Little dreaming what a formidable task this would turn out to be, a dedicated activist agreed to post NCIO information on a page on the website of the Sunflower Alliance, a climate justice organization in the East Bay closely allied with our objectives. (http://www.sunflower-alliance.org/campaigns/no-coal-oakland-campaign/ ) This page grew to include links to NCIO documents, the official record of testimony to the City Council, and media reports including articles, blogs and radio interviews. It was—and remains--an invaluable reference source.
The NCIO website was not launched until March, 2016, but it immediately became an essential repository of information and analysis. It is hard to imagine how we managed so long without it. (NoCoalInOakland.info)
A Facebook page and a Twitter account were created at about the same time, further improving our communication capacity.
We also benefited from the on-line presence of many allied organizations that spread the word about our campaign. Notably, over a dozen organizations publicized the June 27, 2016 council meeting to their email lists, reaching thousands of people (although probably many received multiple mailings).
We began door-to-door canvassing in West Oakland very early in the campaign, informing people of the issue and inviting them to a meeting at a local Catholic church that was attended by about 80 people, about half local residents. Throughout the campaign, such outreach generally received a positive reception, the main shift being that at the outset we were telling people about something they hadn’t heard about, and over time more people were aware of the issue
We had a speaker after services in a West Oakland church, who spoke in both English and Spanish, distributed flyers and obtained 45 signatures of congregants supporting banning coal. We spoke at several other churches throughout the city.
We tabled at farmers markets, street fairs, an indigenous powwow, and two well-attended West Oakland events at City Slickers Farm and the People’s Community Market. On National Night Out in August, 2015, many of us visited gatherings in several neighborhoods.
We also attended events with likely supporters, such as showings of the film “This Changes Everything,” handing out literature and sometimes speaking about our campaign. Many of us showed up for a Bernie Sanders rally on May 30, 2016, where we did extensive leafletting and distributed some of our yard signs. We staffed a booth at the November 21, 2015 Northern California Climate Mobilization rally, where we distributed literature and collected petition signatures. Next to the booth, a community artist silkscreened and gave away copies of a No Coal in Oakland poster he designed that quickly became our logo and an enduring image of the campaign. (See black-and-white version below.)
In addition to participating in community events, we organized our own. Besides the kick-off meeting in St. Patrick’s Parish, we set up community meetings in four council districts. We held an intersectional teach-in in December, described below in the section on diversity. We organized a community picnic at DeFremery Park in West Oakland in May, providing food and music and mobilizing people to speak up against coal. We held rallies, a well-reported press conference, and a prayer vigil. (A video of our June 25, 2016 rally is at http://nocoalinoakland.info/videos/ .)
Another form of community visibility was the NCIO yard sign. The process of producing this was challenging as we had varied opinions about the design and limited understanding of the technicalities involved in printing them. When the yard signs became available, we organized strategic distribution—placing more signs in the districts of undecided council members, surrounding the homes of council members when we could locate them, and identifying sites with high traffic and maximum visibility for placement. With the help of many supporters, 450 of these signs cropped up throughout the city in the final six weeks of the campaign.
The owner of the Grand Lake Theater has often used his marquee for progressive political statements. During the course of the campaign he several times posted calls for the City Council to ban coal.
As noted and included above, a local artist created a striking design which was silkscreened and distributed at the November Climate Mobilization rally. In a black-and-white version, this became an identifiable logo for NCIO, appearing on our flyers and yard signs.
Another branding for the campaign was the red tee shirt the Sierra Club is using nationally for its “Beyond Coal” campaign. This identified our supporters at council meetings, in some cases contrasting with tee shirts by the opposition promoting their (probably fictitious) organizations.
Very early in the campaign, in May, 2015, allies oriented to direct action staged a theatrical event outside the Rotunda Building where Phil Tagami’s office is located. This was beautifully timed on Bike to Work Day, when hundreds of bicyclists came through the plaza. We held up banners and distributed literature (although, unfortunately, the flyers arrived rather late). The demonstrators bicycled in pulling carts of charcoal, spread a tarp surrounded by hazard tape and dumped the loads—creating a cloud of dust. Several people spoke about the dangers of coal. The entrance to the Rotunda Building was filled with police officers, as Tagami had asked the mayor to protect his property from us.
At one point a large number of SEIU Local 1021 members, in their union tee shirts, stood in front of the police officers—arguably an act of street theater.
Another theatrical event was a dramatization, “The Embodied Story of Coal,” held before the council meeting on February 16, 2016. Signs hand made by young people enlivened rallies. Our dramatic banners appeared at rallies and on one occasion on a freeway overpass. The weekend before the vote, our demonstrations included placards with portraits of people photographed at previous demonstrations.
(See other photographs at http://nocoalinoakland.info/no-coal-gallery/.)
Singing and music-making was an element of many of our rallies. One unusual incident involving music took place on June 27, 2016, when we asked people to gather briefly at 4:00 pm before heading into council chambers for the crucial vote. Occupella, a small group of women singing movement songs, began to perform for the gathering crowd. Then a large number of people arrived who had been organized and paid by pro-coal forces, apparently misled to believe that excluding coal from OBOT would eliminate potential jobs for them. This group, carrying placards and chanting loudly, drowned out our music. As the two groups milled uneasily about each other, another group arrived, members of UNITE HERE Local 2850 (representing workers in hotels and related industries). Fortuitously, the unionists showed up pounding on drums. Thanks to their unexpected but timely arrival, the opposition to coal won this non-violent acoustic contest.
In addition to our own media outreach, as indicated above, NCIO benefited from coverage in the progressive and establishment media, as evidenced by the extensive links posted on the campaign page. (http://www.sunflower-alliance.org/campaigns/no-coal-oakland-campaign/#media) Initially media repeated inaccurate information from city officials, including that the City had signed away its authority to protect the community from dangers like coal. Our efforts were critical to educating the City Council, the press, and the public.
Activists were contacted by reporters for interviews and quotes, and spokespeople appeared on several radio programs. We placed OpEds and used letters to the editor to respond to distorted coverage. The Oakland Post, the East Bay Express, Earth Island News and Race, Poverty and the Environment were among the media that reported in some depth about our campaign.
Connecting with allies
The sectors we identified to influence council members were in many cases also allies from other struggles. We reached unions, community groups, and faith organizations not only through their leadership but with direct contact with their members. Of course the environmental justice movement groups and activists were natural allies. To different degrees, each of these allies provided us with support-- addressing the council, canvassing, phone banking, helping to organize rallies, and providing publicity, funding and other resources.
The way to win this campaign was to get the City Council to pass an ordinance banning coal and apply it to the OAB development, based on Paragraph 3.4.2 of the Development Agreement. We needed five votes out of eight in order to pass the ordinance. Accordingly, a major thrust of our campaign was direct lobbying of council members.
Throughout the campaign, our outreach literature encouraged people to email, call, write or visit their council members. We have no idea how many people responded to these appeals, but it seems that the city officials heard from a lot of opponents of coal.
We also took a strategic approach to lobbying, identifying as best we could who on the council were our definite supporters, who were undecided and who were likely to oppose a ban. This assessment—which we reviewed periodically—was challenging because most council members were not forthcoming about their positions. The City Attorney had instructed them not to take a stand, apparently based on the concern that their decision needed to come after evaluation of all the evidence submitted. We analyzed the views of council members based on what they did say to us in open conversations and what we could glean from people who had less public interactions with them.
While many different people, some not connected with NCIO, were involved in meetings with council members, we made an effort to strategically identify which constituencies would have most impact on particular members. We were fortunate that many campaign supporters knew the backgrounds of the council members and some had close connections to members or their staff. This enabled us to assess how to influence them most effectively.
At times we put together large delegations of constituents to meet with a council member, while at other times we had a smaller group with a more targeted purpose. Based on our assessments, we organized or encouraged labor folks to meet with one, educators and students to meet with another, clergy to meet with a third.
Besides meeting with individual council members, we frequently addressed the council in its meetings. Whenever coal was on the agenda, we mobilized large numbers of people to attend, to speak, to cede their time to other speakers, and to fill the chambers with supporters of the ban.
When coal was not on the agenda, we made use of the Open Forum period in City Council meetings, a chance for residents to address the council for one minute on a topic not up for consideration that night. Our goal was to continually remind them that we were expecting an ordinance banning coal.
After a few Open Forums at which individuals spoke, we encouraged several specific constituencies to appear as a group. Some of our allies who are parents, teachers, and mentors organized a contingent of young people to come and speak; the council president was clearly moved by the voices of children and teens, extending the Open Forum time period to accommodate them. Another important Open Forum constituency was the faith group that spoke on February 16, 2016. As mentioned above, a contingent of health professionals, in their white jackets with stethoscopes, also had a powerful impact.
Since City Council meetings are televised, livestreamed and archived on line, our speeches at council meetings reached not only those in attendance but many others.
Response to the opposition
The major arguments of the pro-coal forces, and our responses, are briefly summarized with links to other documents:
- Pro-Coal Claim: OBOT would provide thousands of jobs for the unemployed residents of West Oakland. NCIO Response: The jobs claims were grossly exaggerated, as OBOT itself, a highly mechanized facility, would only generate 117 jobs, and these would be for members of a union with a long waiting list for new members. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/the-mythical-12000-jobs/)
- Pro-Coal Claim: Coal transport and handling would have no environmental impact because of the use of covered coal cars and a fully enclosed domed facility. NCIO Response: We documented that covered coal cars are not in operation anywhere in the U.S., that the Federal Railway Authority has not evaluated their effectiveness for preventing leakage of coal dust during transport, and that covering cars could lead to fires or explosions. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/tls-deception-on-coal-dust-exposure-uncovered/)
- Pro-Coal Claim: Utah bituminous coal is low-sulfur, and therefore “cleaner” than the China coal it would replace. NCIO Response: We argued that we need to support a transition to renewable energy, and that any coal burned in China would still increase climate disruption and return pollutants to Oakland, undermining the state’s climate goals as well as local health.
- Pro-Coal Claim: Without coal, OBOT will not be feasible. NCIO Response: We pointed out that the developers themselves claimed that 15,000 possible commodities could be shipped. They argued or implied the whole OAB development would be threatened, an argument that lost any credibility when the rest of the OAB development was separated from Tagami’s project in February, 2016. We had been mystified that the operators were not looking at alternative commodities, until we learned that TLS is a front for Bowie Resource Partners, the coal company that has no interest in any other commodity. If TLS abandons OBOT, we expect another use can be found for the property, probably one that generates more jobs and certainly one with safer jobs.
- Pro-Coal Claim: Poverty is a greater threat to health than coal. NCIO Response: We do not contest that poverty exacerbates health problems. This is one of the reasons to oppose shipping coal through a neighborhood already burdened with health disparities.
We responded to these claims at various points in the campaign. We combatted the coal proponents' inaccuracies in our verbal testimony to the council and written documentation backing up our position. When the City Council received a letter from the Teamsters Joint Council No. 7, in August, 2015, we promptly sent a rejoinder to the city officials and the union. (https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/350bayarea/pages/2409/attachments/original/1440684410/TeamstersResponseLetter-8-25-15.pdf?1440684410)
At the September 21, 2015 hearing which the pro-coal forces paid laborers to attend, we distributed a flyer about jobs without coal and several activists engaged in conversations with the laborers.
On March 24, 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle printed an opinion piece from Michael McClure, a CCIG partner, which was filled with misrepresentations. The Chronicle published our letter rebutting his falsehoods; we also sent a thorough refutation to the City Council and mayor. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/developers-op-ed-piece/)
Late in the evening of May 22, 2016, we learned that the developers were holding a press conference at 11:00 the next morning. One of our supporters quickly drafted a response to the distortions in the press release, with some input from others in the campaign. She and two more campaigners distributed this rebuttal to the media as they arrived for the press conference. This was a remarkable example of a rapid response from an individual within the campaign.
None of these lies quite prepared us for the colorful mailer that the pro-coal forces (identified as "Jobs4Oakland") sent out to Oakland residents the weekend before the June 27, 2016 vote. Besides the familiar lies about jobs, the mailer implied the national Sierra Club Board was all white (excluding the pictures of Black members and other people of color) and included logos of supposedly supportive unions that in fact did not endorse the mailer (several located in the Seattle area). The mailer was egregious enough to lead one council member to issue a press release condemning the inaccuracies. NCIO put together a flyer refuting the mailer, which we distributed at the June 27 hearing. (http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2016/06/27/oaklands-anti-coal-activists-decry-deceptive-mailer)
A key weakness of the campaign was racial diversity. Although people of color were involved, some very critically, the overall composition of NCIO reflected the current state of the environmental justice movement in the Bay Area. This was particularly challenging because the visible pro-coal forces were almost all African-American.
We did have significant leadership from African-Americans—on our coordinating committee, working with faith leaders, among the support from labor and attending our weekly meetings. Many who spoke out against coal were Black leaders of unions and religious congregations. Based on responses to our outreach, we knew we had the support of most West Oakland residents. However, we did not bring out the Black community in significant numbers to rallies or council meetings. This was particularly apparent at the June 27, 2016 meeting when the pro-coal forces paid dozens of African-Americans to show up.
One way we attempted to address this was through intersectionality. The SEIU organizer spearheaded a teach-in for the coal campaign with other social justice activists, held on December 8, 2015. We had encouraged people to show up on this date, which was to have seen the council take further steps toward an ordinance, only to find out that that the Council would merely entertain a status report that nothing was happening yet. We built on the publicity we had already begun to instead bring people to a nearby union office, where we held panels with presentations regarding displacement/gentrification, the Fight for 15/minimum wage, police brutality/Black Lives Matter, and coal. Over a hundred people heard the presentations, which were followed by questions from the audience and cell phone calls to the council members.
NCIO committed to restricting our group to the coal issue, despite the sympathy we had for related social justice issues. But many of us were involved in these other struggles before and during the coal campaign. Some of us helped launch the campaign to place three initiatives on the Oakland ballot, regarding improving the rent control ordinance, raising the minimum wage and establishing an empowered civilian police oversight commission. NCIO members wore our coal campaign tee shirts while supporting housing activists at council meetings. The two campaigns coordinated our presence at a council meeting where housing issues were hotly contested and our health professionals were speaking during Open Forum.
The pro-coal developers’ arguments had a significant racial subtext. At the June 27, 2016 hearing it was evident that the developers capitalized on the righteous anger of African-Americans about injustice, turning that anger toward us. Their narrative was that the opposition to coal consisted of white environmentalists, not necessarily Oakland residents, the kind of people who gentrify the city and are indifferent to the unemployment of its residents. Ironically, their lobbyist, Greg McConnell, was known for his lobbying in opposition to renter rights and a higher minimum wage, causes generally supported by those fighting the coal threat.
Because of our long-time Oakland roots, personal histories working for social justice, and our collaborations during the coal campaign, many of us were indignant at the attempt by the pro-coal forces to portray us as gentrifiers indifferent to the plight of poor people of color. However this claim had visual credibility given the absence of a substantial presence of people of color, and particularly of Black people, at our City Council appearances.
NCIO’s organizational structure developed as we went along. Our weekly meetings were always open, and the group that became active was self-selected. As we identified projects, we created committees to get that work done.
By November, 2015—halfway through our campaign!--it was clear that the weekly meetings needed to be supplemented by a smaller group that discussed issues in advance and planned the agenda. We chose as members of the coordinating committee (CC) seven people who were active on the different projects. The CC generally met in a weekly conference call. Initially this call was open to everyone in NCIO, but the logistics of managing discussions over the telephone led us to encourage non-members to listen without speaking. Periodically we invited particular people to join the call because of joint projects. The recommendations of the CC were brought to the general meeting for adoption or modification.
We attempted to be accessible and transparent throughout the campaign. The agendas and minutes of our weekly meetings were sent out to our discussion group. Our email address (NoCoalinOakland@gmail.com) was on all our literature and we responded promptly to emails.
We realized after a few months that we would need to raise money for campaign expenses, chiefly printing costs (except when making just a few copies, we used a union print shop). In August, 2015, we set up a GoFundMe site which raised over $6,700 over the life of the campaign (but other organizers should check out alternative crowd sourcing sites, such as YouCaring, which take no commission or a smaller percentage as their fee). A large fundraising effort through our MailChimp list generated generous responses in the last weeks of the campaign, as did the buckets we passed during the June 25, 2016 rally. Not counting the anonymous contributions at the rally, over 100 individuals made donations to NCIO of between $10 and $250.
We applied for three grants and received two, from CREDO and the Center for Environmental Health. Besides the support from WOEIP and SC within NCIO, we received financial donations from eight organizations supporting our work (half were environmental justice organizations, along with a church, two union locals and a progressive political organization).
A crucial component of defeating the coal terminal was presenting the City Council with “substantial evidence” regarding health and safety dangers. I am not going to cover this here except to note that NCIO’s involvement included
(a) research leading to our own submissions for the September 21, 2015 hearing,
(b) recruiting experts to provide testimony and written evidence for that hearing, and
(c) liaison to the independent panel of public health scientists who wrote a report for the June 27, 2016 vote.
(a) Our major submission on September 21, 2015, can be found at: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/350bayarea/pages/2409/attachments/original/1445119795/Comment_-_No_Coal_in_Oakland_with_Hyperlinks.pdf?1445119795
(b) All documents related to the coal issue, both those submitted to the City and those written by city staff can be found at the City’s website at http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/CityAdministration/d/NeighborhoodInvestment/OAK038485.
(c) The report of the independent panel is at: http://www.humanimpact.org/news/health-risks-of-coal-transport/
There were two other reports, one by a public health expert (Zoë Chafe), hired by the council member sponsoring the ordinance to ban coal, and one by an environmental consulting firm (Environmental Science Associates, or ESA), hired by the City and working with the City staff. (These can be found at http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/ceda/documents/report/oak059408.pdf [Chafe] and http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/ceda/documents/report/oak059404.pdf [ESA].)
Together, all these documents provide the “substantial evidence” that justifies the City’s authority to ban coal under the Development Agreement.
Although we focused on winning the ban by the Oakland City Council, we pursued several possible back-up plans.
Two NCIO activists visited Utah in August, 2015 to discourage the Community Impact Board (CIB) from investing in Oakland and to connect with activists in the state. They met with people from the Sierra Club, Peaceful Uprising, and Canyon Country Rising Tide. They presented the CIB members with documentation of the opposition to coal in Oakland, making the point that this was not a wise investment, and they connected with a supportive state senator. Later in the campaign two Utah activists visited and attended one of NCIO's meetings. At the June 27, 2016 hearings, three Utah residents addressed the council.
Because the CIB investment was legally suspect, a Utah attorney representing local interests submitted a letter brief to the Utah State Attorney General, with support from us. NCIO cosigned another letter brief from the Center for Biological Diversity’s attorney regarding the unconstitutionality of the CIB investment proposal.
(The Utah actions currently face legal scrutiny initiated by groups in both Utah and California, with participation by NCIO members. See http://nocoalinoakland.info/call-for-federal-investigation-of-oakland-coal-terminal-financing/.)
California State Senator Loni Hancock drafted legislation regarding coal exports from California, which NCIO heartily supported, including leafletting at the California Democratic Party Convention about the legislative bills and the Oakland campaign. (For information about this, see http://sd09.senate.ca.gov/news/2016-06-27-sen-hancock-bills-responding-proposed-oakland-coal-export-project-pass-first.)
One of her bills was passed and signed by Governor Brown. It will stop state funding for any future proposed coal terminals. It is not relevant for OBOT, which has already used public money and from this point on will raise private funds. (http://sd09.senate.ca.gov/news/2016-08-26-gov-brown-signs-ban-state-funding-coal-related-projects)
NCIO was interested in pressuring Governor Jerry Brown to take a stand, since he poses as a climate champion while maintaining a business partnership with Phil Tagami and silence about the coal threat. At the Vatican he declared that to avoid catastrophic climate change, we must keep 90% of the coal in the ground. We contacted him before the Paris talks held in December, 2015, with a letter signed by people who might influence him and a personal email from a Jesuit with whom he went to high school. Brown never responded.
Several months later the San Francisco Chronicle began to target his silence with a couple of prominent articles. Beginning April 10, 2016 they consistently included him in the “Bad Week” column that appears in the paper's Sunday Insight magazine. Their first item declared: “Governor, alleged champion of climate-change action: We're reserving a spot in 'Bad Week' until you take a stand on that plan to ship millions of tons of coal through Oakland." They continued in this vein even after the City Council vote.
We organized a statewide call-out to Brown on April 25, 2016, inviting allies to contact him to oppose coal in Oakland and to support Loni Hancock’s legislation. (http://www.sunflower-alliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Brown-Call-Out-email-with-info.pdf) When Brown visited San Francisco on June 2, NCIO members demonstrated in front of the building where he spoke and handed out flyers about our coal campaign.
Brown’s first statement about coal in Oakland finally came when he signed Senator Hancock’s bill on August 26, 2016, alluding with approval to the Oakland ban.
WOEIP staff, who are active in both NCIO and BACEG, are exploring federal remedies under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. (http://nocoalinoakland.info/does-the-coal-plan-violate-federal-civil-right-law/)
NCIO has made preliminary contact with staff and elected officials at agencies that are involved in funding the OAB project to discuss our concerns about public money going to a facility storing and shipping coal. We succeeded in getting the Alameda County Transportation Commission to withhold funds for shoring up the wharves where OBOT is to be built until the coal issue is resolved.
On June 27, 2016, the Oakland City Council voted 7-0 (with one member absent) to pass an ordinance prohibiting large quantities of coal in the city, along with a resolution applying this ordinance to the OAB property. (http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/ceda/documents/report/oak059403.pdf)
On July 19, 2016 a second reading was incorporated into a long consent calendar item. The whole package passed by consensus so quickly we didn’t even have time to applaud!
At this point the developers may follow through with their threat to sue, and the campaign may need to continue on the legal front.
AICAN: Alameda Interfaith Climate Action Network
ALC: Alameda Labor Council
APEN: Asian Pacific Environmental Network
BACEG: Bay Area Coal Exports Groups
CBE: Communities for a Better Environment
CC: Coordinating committee of NCIO
CCIG: California Capital and Investment Group
CIB: Community Investment Board (Utah)
CIPL: California Interfaith Power and Light
CNA: California Nurses Association
ESA: Environmental Science Associates
ILWU: International Longshore Workers Union
NCIO: No Coal in Oakland
OBOT: Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal
OAB: Oakland Army Base
SC: Sierra Club
SEIU: Service Employees International Union
TLS: Terminal Logistics Solutions
WOEIP: West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project