The RPA continues to act more like a gang or a cult than a group of free thinkers. Rumors of an RPA internal schism continue to circulate as the founders struggle to enforce discipline. It appears that the old guard, largely old, white lefties and firebrands Andres Soto and Juan Reardon are gnashing their teeth as the RPA millennials begin to wander off the reservation.
With three of the five RPA City Council members voting against the RPA Steering Committee adopted policy on North Richmond Annexation, RPA Co-founder Juan Reardon exhorts his colleagues to enforce discipline in the ranks and threatens, “Councilmembers who explicitly go against the votes of the RPA SC [Steering Committee] and membership on key issues should not receive further electoral support from the organization or the activist members. The RPA is a membership organization. They are either with the RPA or not.”
Reardon’s definition of democracy is that which the RPA Steering Committee ordains, warning, “We make important decisions through a process that is very democratic, and we expect all members to follow these democratically made decisions. This expectation also applies to the RPA members who are in the City Council.”
Reardon harked back to Jeff Ritterman, who also broke ranks with the RPA power structure, and ultimately decided to give up politics, possibly because of the immense pressure to toe the party line. Obviously referring to Ritterman, Reardon warned, “Some years ago, an RPA councilmember dismissed the RPA recommendations on key issues which were part of the core of the RPA values. This councilmember voted against the City employees’ union, voted also to re-zone light industrial the North Richmond open shoreline, and voted to cut a deal with Chevron inferior to what we had fought for. This was wrong.”
In February of 2012, another RPA co-founder, Andres Soto lectured Oakland progressives on wedge politics and recalled the struggle to make Jeff Ritterman “accountable:”
Define issue in the community that will create a wedge, between the Progressives and the other guys. And we call them the conservatives, even though they started adopting the language of "progressives", calling themselves progressives, but we continue to frame them as conservatives. It's not a rosy road all the way: Sometimes our own people disappoint us, and we're having right now an issue with city councilman Jeff Ritterman on how do we make him accountable. So these are some of the lessons that I think folks need to consider when you bring up progressive alliance, but in the end I think the model that we have shown in Richmond is this is how you change political paradigm in the community. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NogNNYwr... starting at 07:15
Two months after Soto's comment, at the peak of his influence and effective work for Richmond, Councilman Ritterman announced he would not run again, and would largely disappear from Richmond politics. See http://richmondconfidential.org/2012/04/... And http://www.mercurynews.com/2012/12/14/ri...)
While the spats are burned in the public memory, those close to Ritterman say they belie the councilman’s skill at consensus building. “He knows how to cut a deal, he can compromise, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that,” Butt said. Ritterman said he was never more conflicted than during and after the Chevron negotiations. It was his political allies who were most skeptical of the deal, he said.
“I had to keep everyone, including the (Richmond Progressive Alliance), at arm’s length during those secret negotiations,” Ritterman said. “Some progressives, maybe most, were not in favor of a deal with Chevron, but I was not willing to risk bankruptcy, and I felt that if the deal was a good one, everyone would eventually embrace it as the practical solution.” (http://richmondconfidential.org/2012/12/...).
Although Soto chastised Ritterman for playing a part in settling a Chevron tax dispute through mediation, RPA co-founder Gayle McLaughlin now lauds the settlement as one of her accomplishments: “…forced Chevron to pay on average an additional $7.5 million in taxes per year for 15 years.”
Following is Juan Reardon’s email to RPA members:
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Juan Reardon <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 10:59 AM
Subject: [rpa-sc-discussion] We need to build a better, more democratic RPA
To: RPA-SC-Discussion <email@example.com>
We need to build a better, more democratic RPA
Democracy has been an RPA key value since day one.
We created this organization because Chevron ran Richmond like a feudal lord. We created the RPA to be democratic and to defend and build democracy.
Over the years our organization has taken steps to expand our democratic nature. In recent years we became a membership organization and the general membership assembly is the ultimate decision making body. We also formalized bylaws and a steering committee elected directly and periodically by the members.
We make important decisions through a process that is very democratic, and we expect all members to follow these democratically made decisions. This expectation also applies to the RPA members who are in the City Council.
Having all members follow the democratically voted policies and recommendations makes the RPA a more democratic organization, and obviously a stronger one.
There are hundreds of issues that come up for a city council vote regularly. We expect the councilmembers to hear from all interested parties and vote on those items as they see best.
However, when it comes to matters of fundamental importance to the RPA, which are brought-up and voted on by the RPA Steering Committee and/or General Membership, we expect the RPA councilmembers to adhere to the recommendations and preferences of the RPA.
Some years ago, an RPA councilmember dismissed the RPA recommendations on key issues which were part of the core of the RPA values. This councilmember voted against the City employees’ union, voted also to re-zone light industrial the North Richmond open shoreline, and voted to cut a deal with Chevron inferior to what we had fought for. This was wrong.
Following the RPA democratically voted recommendations only when it is not inconvenient, or when friends or other advisors are not opposing them, is a serious problem. It damages and weakens the resolve of RPA activists when they see that their democratically discussed and voted positions are dismissed by those we elected into office.
Not one RPA councilmember can say that they got into office by themselves. It was the collective efforts of the RPA who put them there.
We need to build deeper into our collective thinking the understanding that a democratic progressive movement needs democratic loyalty to advance its goals.
We will always have differences of opinion, but in the key junctures and issues all members of the organization must follow the decision arrived by the democratic process.
The RPA cannot do much immediately when an RPA councilmember chooses to ignore the democratically voted recommendations on key issues and go on their own way.
Nevertheless, all potential RPA candidates must be made aware during their candidacy exploration that this is the RPA expectation, and that the RPA as an organization, and the RPA members as individual activists, will take into account how this expectation was fulfilled, when subsequent endorsement and campaign processes come up.
Councilmembers who explicitly go against the votes of the RPA SC and membership on key issues should not receive further electoral support from the organization or the activist members.The RPA is a membership organization. They are either with the RPA or not.
If this common-sense understanding has not been clear to all RPA members till now, it is time that it becomes clear, so that in the future we avoid tragic situations like the one mentioned of our former RPA councilmember years ago, and other situations which may come to mind.
All the 2018 city council candidates must be made clearly aware of this expectation, and of the consequences of not fulfilling it.
The RPA cannot be an organization used to get into office and ignored and dismissed afterwards.
Co-founder of the RPA
14 year member
Chair of the RPA Outreach Team