March 23, 2016 1 Comment
Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) is at the forefront of showing that people power can beat money power. People can make their lives and their communities better, healthier, and happier.
RPA began in late 2003 when a group of community activists in Richmond, California became tired of having their goals thwarted by people in decision-making power. They decided to run for City Council,
Rather than individual campaigns, they ran a slate of candidates. Greens, Democrats, and independents ran together as candidates struggling for the environment, for equality, for justice, against police brutality, for immigrant rights and many other great causes.
Richmond was a “company town” and the company was Chevron, the largest corporation in California. Chevron had established an approach of funding candidates, and a habit of not being held accountable for pollution, or for paying its fair share in taxes. The corporation’s relatively small charitable contributions to the city did not offset what it should have paid in taxes. The RPA ran for office, and shook up Chevron’s cozy relationship with city government.
Chevron money was of course out of the question for the new brand of candidate that the RPA nurtured, but they went even further. They rejected contributions from all large corporations. Some rejected contributions even from small corporations, and that policy evolved over the years to the higher bar which required that candidates pledge not to accept any corporate donations at all, not even from small corporations.
Becoming candidates did not stop them from remaining activists. RPA supporters believed in and built both council/board/decision-making power and grass roots/neighborhood/street power. They developed structures, organization, and a platform of ideas that resonated with residents as well as with several concentric circles of general support.
Two candidates ran in 2004 and one won a seat on the City Council. This victory demonstrated how important it was to have even a single person at the table who represented people power rather than money power. Ideas were brought forward that in the old days would not have made it to the council’s agenda. Other resolutions that had stalled moved forward, especially when Richmond residents attended the meetings and rallied in the streets. The decision-making of all councilmembers became more visible and accountable. For its first dozen years, the RPA never had a majority on the city council, and yet major shifts happened, such as decreasing pollution, and making Chevron pay more of its fair share in taxes.
All in all, from 2004 to the present, the RPA has run candidates in 13 races for city council and mayor and won eight of them. They took strong positions on three measures and won two.
The most inspiring win of “people power” over “money power” was the election of 2014. Chevron poured $3,000,000 into the race — unheard of in a town of 100,000 people — against three RPA candidates and two other non-Chevron candidates. In those five elections, Chevron money lost, lost, lost, lost, and lost.
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And that is the “Richmond Progressive Alliance in 500 Words.” Read more below, you’ll be glad you did. RPA website is HERE. Also, Gayle McLaughlin is writing a book, so watch for that!
(1) “How did the RPA get started?”, by Juan Reardon, an article about the first years of the RPA, with initial organizing documents, and campaign and event flyers.
(2) “Communities Fight for Community Control Over Corporate Power,” by Mike Parker, published in Social Policy magazine, details RPA history from 2003 to present.