A Black Lives Matter organizer said she plans to reverse the dwindling population of Black lives in Oakland if her bid to become the city’s first African-American mayor is successful.
“Watching what has happened to Oakland over the past four years—housing prices, a police department that has been involved in the brutality of Black bodies, and the disrespectful way this current administration has treated people impacted by its policy—convinced me to run for mayor,” Cat Brooks told NewsOne in a recent interview.
Racial disparities in quality of life indicators for Black Oakland residents were spelled out in a report over the summer. The forces of gentrification have altered the ethnic makeup of neighborhoods in the formerly majority-Black city, leaving many longtime residents homeless.
“As rents go up, Black people are being pushed into the streets or out of the city they’ve called home for years,” the 42-year-old running as a Democrat noted.
A path to political victory over incumbent Mayor Libby Schaaf is very realistic, she said. As Tuesday’s election rapidly approaches, polls have indicated that Brooks is in an uphill battle. But the lifelong activist said she believes scores of undecided voters and those overlooked in polls have connected with her transformative vision and will help her win.
“Polling doesn’t account for the ground game,” she said, pointing to come-from-behind victories for Andrew Gillum and Ayanna Pressley, the Democratic gubernatorial nominees from Florida and Massachusetts, respectively. “They’re not talking to the people our 700 volunteers are mobilizing.”
Her top priorities include ending Oakland’s homelessness crisis, which has caught the attention of the United Nations, and stemming gentrification’s mass displacement of longtime Black residents.
Brooks has also been instrumental in organizing memorable protests in the Bay Area against police brutality targeting Black people. Her resume includes halting a San Francisco-bound train full of Black Friday shoppers and a blockade of the Oakland police station, in which a Black Lives Matter flag was unfurled above the building.
“I think it’s in my DNA,” Brooks. “I was raised in a very politically conscious household, where my mother was on the front lines of the domestic violence movement. And I’ve always had a strong opinion about right and wrong.”
Originally from Las Vegas, Brooks moved to Los Angeles to become an actress in her early 20s and said she couldn’t help but get involved in community organizing. After moving to Oakland in 2006, she had a watershed moment when a white Bay Area transit officer killed Oscar Grant, an unarmed Black man, in 2009. It was a catalyst for her activism against police brutality.
“I can’t explain how or why, but I was just done with the hemorrhaging of Black bodies at the hands of law enforcement,” she said. “I wasn’t clear about what that would mean for my life, but what ultimately ended up meaning was that would be my primary focus.”
While activism will always flow through her veins, Brooks said she wanted to add policy making to bring about change.
Homelessness and affordable housing were at the top of voters’ minds, according to a recent poll. A United Nations inspector called conditions in Oakland’s homeless camps “systemic cruelty.” Approximately 68 percent of the city’s homeless population was listed as African-American.
Gentrification has caused housing prices to skyrocket, and new housing development has ignored the need for affordable houses. Since 2000, Oakland has lost 30 percent of its Black population, which was once 47 percent.
“African-Americans are at the bottom of every single indicator of equality in quality of life reports,” Brooks said.
The Bay Area has quickly become the third most expensive place to live in the United States. There has been a domino effect in which increased housing prices in neighboring San Francisco forced families to relocate to Oakland.
That was in stark contrast to Oakland’s proud Black history. The city was once a top destination from the 1940s for African-American families fleeing the South. By the 1950s, it was known for its music scene. It’s probably best known for nurturing the Black power movement led by the iconic Black Panther Party of the 1960s.
Brooks said she disagreed with the policy of selling public lands to the highest bidders, who typically end up building apartment complexes with rents well beyond what’s affordable for most families. Instead, policymakers should offer public lands to nonprofit developers who will create affordable housing, she suggested.
In addition to advocating passage of Proposition 10, a ballot measure that would allow cities and counties to expand rent control, she called on the new businesses that open in those communities to value diversity in hiring and to pay employees living wages.
While the mayoral candidate called the city’s development a good thing, she said it came with an asterisk.
“It has to happen through the lens of equity,” Brooks insisted.