Trump Team Limits Internet Access for Those Who Need it Most

Miami Herald
By Paul Goodman

In today’s tech-powered economy, functioning without a reliable, high-speed internet connection, known as broadband, is almost impossible. But the Trump administration and the Republican Congress are waging attacks on nearly everything that keeps broadband affordable and protects those of us who communicate online.

The ability to access the internet has become essential in many areas of life. More and more companies only advertise jobs and accept applications online. College and trade school applications have moved online as well. Information on things ranging from business opportunities to essential government services to life-saving emergency alerts often reaches us via the internet first.
But roughly one third of Americans still don’t have access to a broadband connection at home, and in rural areas, it’s nearly half. Those with annual incomes above $75,000 are twice as likely to have broadband access as those earning below $30,000. Latinos and African Americans lag behind other ethnic groups.

In some places, broadband infrastructure simply doesn’t exist. In rural areas and in communities facing economic challenges, broadband companies may not see any profit in building out their networks.

The federal government has helped expand broadband networks via the Connect America Fund — similar to programs that brought electricity and telephone service to rural America. But new Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai has indicated that he wants to put impossible new conditions on this program in soem casesmaking the build-out requirements so high that companies would stop participating — leaving millions with no broadband access.

Cost poses another challenge. The Obama administration spurred real progress in making broadband affordable to the less fortunate. Last April, the FCC expanded the Lifeline program — which for years has made telephone service affordable to low-income Americans — to include broadband access as well.

This simple reform had the potential to bring broadband to millions who most need it for things like education, job searches and applications. Late last year, the FCC approved nine broadband providers to start participating.

And then, last month, in a stunning move, Pai — who opposed the Lifeline expansion — reversed course and blocked those companies from participating.

Pai has yet to make his long-term plans clear, but things look bleak for poor and working-class Americans missing out on the tech revolution. Pai and his congressional allies also want to gut rules on net neutrality that keep your internet provider from giving preferential treatment to the wealthy and big corporations while leaving ordinary Americans to fend for themselves. And they’re moving to shred privacy protections that let people control what personal data internet provider can collect and how they can re-use or sell this information.

These changes may not get headlines, but they have a huge impact on people’s lives.

Oakland’s Uber Problem

Tech-based companies have proliferated across the Bay Area, but Oakland is getting stuck with the dregs of the tech world: Uber.

Oakland community leaders and organizations have tried to persuade Uber to do right by our city as it prepares to move into the former Sears building downtown. Instead, Uber keeps kicking us in the teeth.

Unlike many tech companies, Uber has refused to release its diversity data, giving only a vague response to a recent appeal by Rev. Jesse Jackson. The company seems to barely make even a token effort at corporate social responsibility. And Uber recently agreed to pay a $20 million fine for misleading drivers about their potential earnings.

We’ve asked to meet with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, but so far he won’t find time for us, even though — until public pressure got to be too much — he seemed to have plenty of time to meet with Donald Trump even as Trump declared virtual war on America’s communities of color. He only pulled out of that meeting when it became clear it was hurting his business

New York taxi drivers showed solidarity with airport protesters who demanded an end to Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries by refusing to make airport pickups during the demonstration. When the drivers asked Uber to join, the company continued business as usual. By turning off surge pricing, the company left the impression that it was trying to break the strike, though it insists that wasn’t its intent, leading to a massive #DeleteUber campaign that quickly trended on Twitter.

While Kalanick did condemn Trump’s immigration order, he also defended working with the president, whose popularity in Oakland ranks somewhere between Walmart and bedbugs. Astonishingly, he dared to couch the company’s position as “Standing up for what’s right.” He told employees he was willing to “partner” with Trump — even as Trump attacked immigrants, prepared to take health care away from millions, and viciously condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and efforts to reform law enforcement.

Yes, Kalanick did eventually drop off of Trump’s business advisory council, but only after so many users had taken up the boycott call that Uber had to institute an automated process to keep up with the flood of users deleting their accounts.

More and more voices in Oakland and nearby are telling Uber to stay out of our community, and understandably so.

We have no doubt that if the residents of this diverse and progressive city got to vote on the matter, the vast majority would vote to tell Uber to stay away. In a town that desperately needs equitable development, Uber seems to have no interest in equity and no concern for anyone or anything but its own profits.

If Uber wants to win Oakland’s trust, Kalanick and his subordinates need to make big changes, and fast — not just small concessions under pressure. Thus far, we’ve seen no sign that they will.

Washington Declares War on Communities of Color

Huffington Post

By Orson Aguilar

Anytime a new presidential administration and Congress take office, we see a flurry of new policy initiatives. That’s normal. But what we’re seeing this year is distinctly not normal:

Nearly every one of the proposals coming from the Trump administration and Congress will disproportionately harm communities of color. It’s like we have a target painted on our backs.

Some of these are obvious: For example, whether or not some sort of border wall gets built, a crackdown on undocumented immigrants will mean more fear, stress and hardship for anyone who looks “foreign” – not just Latinos, but Asian Americans, people of Middle Eastern background and others. Mixed-status families, in which some have legal immigration papers and some do not, could see parents and children ripped apart.

But this goes far beyond immigration. Ajit Pai, the new chair of the Federal Communications Commission, has made it a priority to unwind “net neutrality” rules that guarantee open access to the internet. If that happens, things won’t change much for wealthy individuals and big corporations, who will still be able to pay for topflight internet service, but those who can’t afford to pay will be relegated to online slow lanes. When my organization’s telecommunications experts looked at the issue a few years ago, they concluded, “Without net neutrality, the result would likely be a sort of internet apartheid, with the least affluent individuals and companies relegated to the slowest lanes with the least access. This hardship will be felt most profoundly in communities of color and by low-income Americans.”

That’s as true today as it ever was.

Meanwhile, both the Trump administration and congressional leaders seem intent on dismantling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a key element of post-crash financial reforms. CFPB is the only agency whose sole purpose is to keep customers of financial institutions like banks, credit card companies and payday lenders from being ripped off, and it’s already gotten nearly $12 billion in relief for consumers.

While CFPB helps all consumers, don’t forget that the worst, most predatory subprime lenders specifically targeted low-income communities of color, leading to staggering, disproportionate loss of wealth in these communities. If CFPB goes away or gets crippled, these communities will again be on the chopping block.

Attacks on environmental regulations and efforts to combat climate change will hurt communities of color first and worst. These communities have been regularly used as dumping grounds for polluting facilities, and consistently suffer the worst health effects from pollution. Here in California, low-income communities of color have seen real gains in jobs and economic security due to our climate efforts. And while my state will keep pushing forward, a national retreat on climate and anti-pollution efforts will send more black and brown kids to emergency rooms due to asthma and other respiratory problems, and leaving them to drink water tainted by lead and other poisons.

Both the new administration and the majority in Congress have pledged to dismantle the Affordable Care Act as quickly as possible. Indeed, even before Congress starts a formal repeal effort, the White House killed ads that had already been paid for encouraging people to sign up for coverage, before partially backtracking under public pressure.

Destroying the ACA will disproportionately harm Latinos and African Americans, who had the highest uninsured rates before Obamacare and have seen the biggest gains since the law took effect. Once again, many will be hurt but our communities will be the biggest losers.

I could go on almost endlessly. Early indications, including the record of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, suggest that the administration’s education policies will likely hurt our public schools and may be a disaster for students of color, LGBTQ kids and other young people from underserved or marginalized communities. And while the Obama administration made an admirable effort to curb racial disparities in law enforcement, the new regime has signaled an end to such efforts, branding legitimate and needed protests against excessive police violence as a “dangerous anti-police atmosphere.”

This isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a partisan divide. For its first century, the GOP had a long and honorable record on civil rights, from dismantling slavery to providing crucial votes to pass civil rights legislation in the 1960s. And Democrats have been far from perfect over the years.

But in a nation projected to have a nonwhite majority by 2044, this is scary. Van Jones stirred up some controversy when he called the November election “a whitelash,” but it sure feels like Americans of color are under attack in a concerted way that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. But one thing I know for certain: We will resist.

Don’t Let Congress Kill Consumer Protection

Youngstown Vindicator
By Orson Aguilar

Hold onto your wallets, America. Members of Congress and our new president want to kill vital protections that help keep you from being ripped off.

After predatory lending and dishonest practices by banks and other financial firms tanked our economy in 2008, Congress passed major reform legislation — legislation President Donald Trump has vowed to dismantle. A key provision created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal agency whose only job is to protect Americans from being ripped off by banks, credit card companies, payday lenders and other financial businesses.

The CFPB has already secured $11.7 billion in relief for consumers from lawbreakers, the funds including major settlements with Citibank, Wells Fargo, Sprint, Ocwen Financial and Toyota Motor Credit.

In addition, the bureau has created a searchable public complaint system and database to help consumers get answers from companies and information to protect themselves. It’s taken on industries and issues other regulators long dodged, including racial discrimination and other unfair practices in auto lending. And it conducted a series of national roundtables to hear directly from consumers about their most pressing needs.

The CFPB has cracked down on numerous subprime and payday lenders who gave customers incomplete or false information, used illegal debt collection practices, or resold customers’ personal data without permission. These are the exact kinds of practices that helped cause the Great Recession. Before CFPB, literally no one in the federal government had the job of stopping such rip-offs.

Right now, CFPB is creating rules to curb the outrageous practice of mandatory arbitration, in which financial companies force customers who open an account or sign up for a credit card to sign away their right to sue if the company cheats them. These clauses, the CFPB found, affect about half of credit card customers. Big businesses prefer arbitration because consumers generally don’t do well in this process. And these agreements typically bar class-action suits, in which a group of wronged consumers band together to seek relief.

The financial lobby has never liked CFPB, and the lawmakers who do lobbyists’ bidding see this as their chance to kill it. Even if financial reform isn’t completely dismantled, they’ve floated other proposals to weaken these vital protections, ranging from firing the bureau’s outstanding director, Richard Cordray, to taking away CFPB’s independence and putting it under the thumb of members of Congress — who get very large campaign contributions from Wall Street.

If this happens, we’ll all get hurt and the U.S. economy will be in danger of another crisis. Please take a moment to ask your member of Congress to preserve the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a strong, independent agency. You can reach your representative via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121.


Consumer Financial Protection is Under Attack by Phony Claims

The Hill
By Danielle Beavers

Hold onto your wallets, America. Members of Congress wants to kill vital protections that help keep you from being ripped off. Some lawmakers have long had their knives out for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Now, with a seemingly sympathetic president about to be inaugurated, they’ve stepped up the attacks. Some critics—not previously known as leaders on diversity or civil rights—claim that the CFPB has become “a breeding ground” for discrimination that devalues employees of color and women.

As an advocate for diversity—and specifically as an advocate for communities of color—I have to call this out as the nonsense it is.

First, remember that predatory lending targeting communities of color played a huge role in creating the 2008 financial crisis. Congress created the CFPB—over the objections of banking industry lobbyists—precisely to keep such abuse from tanking the economy again.

And it’s working. The Greenlining Institute and other advocates for communities of color remain strong supporters of the CFPB because of its unwavering commitment to issues that most impact diverse communities.

Since its founding, the CFPB has secured more than $11 billion in relief for consumers from lawbreakers, including $1.8 billion in settlements with CitibankBank of AmericaJPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo for illegal credit card practices.

In addition, the bureau has created a searchable public complaint system and database to help consumers get answers from companies and usable information to protect themselves. It’s taken on industries and issues other regulators long dodged, like auto lending, to battle racial discrimination and disparate impact.

It has also conducted a series of national roundtables to hear directly from consumers and communities of color about their most pressing needs and how the CFPB can help.

Such a strong record is tough to attack, so those who want to kill or weaken the CFPB grasp at straws to paint the agency and its director, Richard Cordray, as racist and unfit to serve America’s diverse consumers, dredging up old incidents to make their case.

Like any institution, the CFPB has had diversity challenges. In 2014, incomplete employee performance evaluations and satisfaction surveys published by American Banker revealed racial disparities among staff. These findings gave real cause for concern, but critics fail to mention that the bureau stepped up, acknowledged its failings and took significant steps to rectify the problems.

The CFPB worked with the independent Office of Inspector General to investigate the workplace environment and conducted a series of employee townhalls to solicit feedback from its workers. CFPB also elevated its Office of Minority and Women Inclusion to report directly to Director Cordray.

Bureau leadership has met with Greenlining, the NAACP and the National Urban League to solicit feedback, adopted new policies to eliminate a dysfunctional employee performance management system, and issued Diversity and Inclusion Strategic plans to ensure that agency culture reflects America’s diverse consumers.

In a letter this month, a group of Democratic members led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif) cited these successful efforts and praised the CFPB’s efforts, writing, “It’s clear to us that Director Cordray has made significant strides in upholding our nation’s consumer protection laws and managing the complicated issues of diversity and inclusion at his agency.”

Racial justice advocates know that no agency is ever “perfectly inclusive.” We also know that how agencies deal with diversity—especially when problems crop up or concerns get raised—is the most important measure of their commitment to people of color.

The CFPB had issues in this area and took strong steps to address them. As a result, when we analyzed racial diversity in eight financial agencies that have Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion, CFPB ranked third of eight. The bureau still has work to do, but it’s on the right track.

Complaints about diversity at the CFPB represent a smokescreen designed to distract from the real issue. The CFPB provides vital, long-overdue protection for consumers who used to be at the mercy of manipulation and deceit from financial businesses.

All consumers—especially communities of color who’ve often been most blatantly victimized—need the CFPB to remain strong and independent. Congress must reject attempts to destroy this vital agency.


California Remains a Beacon of Hope

The Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

Last Tuesday’s election results are real, and they mean we have a fight on our hands. Still, California remains a ray of light amid the darkness. More than ever, we need a strong offensive and defensive strategy for California and the nation. Some take-aways from the election:

1. “White-lash” and sexism are real.

Too many voters simply couldn’t accept a woman as their next president. Divisive appeals to white voters by targeting people of color clearly worked. We always knew that a backlash would come as we get closer to 2044, when whites will become the minority.

2. Scapegoating only works when people feel real pain.

Just as we shouldn’t believe the polls, we shouldn’t believe the rosy economic reports issued by Washington. Our changing economy isn’t working for most Americans. Reports claiming that unemployment is at an all-time low should come with a giant footnote stating, “African-Americans not included.” Communities of color have been the canaries in the coal mine, but unfortunately our leaders didn’t listen. Will they listen now that white communities have joined us in the birdcage?

3. Let’s be proud of California.

Californians passed housing bonds, rent controls, taxes on cigarettes, soda and the wealthy, and continued the path to criminal justice reform. In the Bay Area, the soda industry’s massively financed attempt to use merchants of color as a shield backfired. We overturned a ban on bilingual education left over from previous years of immigrant bashing. But we didn’t win it all: Big pharma still won and we didn’t repeal the death penalty. But overall, our plan in California is working and we should feel proud of what we’ve done and where we are going. We no longer fear the initiative process as we once did. We have learned to play the game.

What’s Next?

We need a savvy combination of offense and defense.

On offense, we need to push California to lead on issues of civil rights, economic opportunity, and racial justice. Now is NOT the time to stop. We need to keep pushing to show the country that we have proven solutions — and they work. Let’s be bolder with our ideas. Too many Californians still live in poverty and we still lock up too many people in our prisons.

But we also have to play defense. Millions of Americans are rightfully living in fear. Draconian budget cuts could further exacerbate poverty and inequality. Women’s rights will be attacked and as women they will simply be told to “move to another state.” A Giuliani broken-windows approach could bring racial profiling back to the mainstream. Millions of undocumented people and Dreamers fear deportation regardless of whether they have a criminal record. Muslims are not sure when somebody will attack them or burn their places of worship. The LGTBQ community worries that the tide of recent advances will start to reverse. Hate and harassment could go mainstream as witnessed by several recent incidents around the country.

We have to be ready to play some strong defense and stand by all of our communities when the attacks come. We must hold our state leaders accountable to fight even harder against sexism, racism, homophobia, and inequality. Now is the time to build stronger partnerships with national networks as they prepare themselves for the onslaught. Let’s not be surprised when the attacks come, and let’s remember that an attack on one is an attack on all.

More than ever, we must stand together. In this moment of challenge, let’s not underestimate the strength of our communities.

Tired but ready,


Why Oakland is Worried Over Uber

By Orson Aguilar

Tech-based companies from Apple to Uber generate great wealth while turning whole industries upside down. Today, my town, Oakland, Calif., worries that this is what Uber will do to our community.

Uber will soon move into an enormous new headquarters in a former downtown department store. The hope of many in Oakland is that the city and Uber can create a model for how companies and communities can work together to benefit all. Many of us in Oakland hope the company will work with us to create a true “Uber Oakland” — diverse and vibrant.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that Uber wants to bother.

In every city that becomes a tech hub, we see the same pattern: Some make piles of money, but working people get squeezed. Rents soar for families, local small businesses and community nonprofits. Newly wealthy tech workers and companies move in while longtime residents and community groups get forced out, leaving a city superficially wealthy but hollow.

This odd combination of wealth and devastation, which already rolled through San Francisco and Silicon Valley, is now taking root in Oakland. Already, housing is unaffordable for working people, while commercial landlords jack up rents in anticipation of the tech wave.

So leaders of 20 community groups came together to say, “Enough. Let’s find a better way.”

What might that look like?

First, it must start with dialogue between Uber’s leaders and the community. That dialogue should lead to concrete commitments from this wealthy company to act in ways that will ultimately benefit both it and its new neighbors.

For example, Uber can commit to training and hiring local workers. It can work with local public schools and community colleges to ensure that local residents have a fair shot at jobs with the company — not part-time driving gigs, but the full-time jobs that power Uber’s growth and pay good salaries.

It can commit philanthropic dollars to support local nonprofits and help them stay in a city where many still need the services they provide.

It can work with the local and regional transit systems to ensure that Uber’s services enhance that vital network and don’t sabotage it.

It can commit to contracting with local businesses for the goods and services its new headquarters will require. These local businesses form the heart of our economy and maintain Oakland as a vibrant town with rich ethnic and cultural diversity.

As Richard Marcantonio of the nonprofit group Public Advocates said recently, “The question is: Is Uber willing to drive people, and black people in particular, out of Oakland, or are they going to sit down at the table with the community and try to be part of the solution?”

Keep an eye on this. Your community could be next.

El liderazgo ambiental tiene son latino

La Opinion
By Alvaro Sanchez

En los pasillos de la capital del estado en Sacramento se escuchan apellidos conocidos: Gómez, González, De León, y Rendón, líderes de la asamblea legislativa y nuevos líderes ambientales en una nueva era para California.

Por primera vez en la historia de California, los líderes del Senado y de la Asamblea, Kevin de León y Anthony Rendón, son latinos. Ambos apoyaron ferozmente a sus colegas para promover leyes que combaten la contaminación y la pobreza – en particular, los asambleístas Eduardo García y Jimmy Gómez, quienes introdujeron propuestas para reducir la contaminación e invertir cientos de millones de dólares en comunidades que padecen de alta contaminación y pobreza.

Históricamente, la comunidad latina ha sufrido a menudo de los altos niveles de contaminación del aire, que aumentan el riesgo de problemas de salud. Pero todo está por cambiar.

Los cuatro legisladores entregaron al gobernador Jerry Brown, un paquete de medidas—recientemente firmadas como leyes— que constituyen la política climática más ambiciosa de los EE.UU., y posiblemente del mundo.

Una de las nuevas leyes, AB 1550, escrita por el Asambleísta Jimmy Gómez, amplía y mejora las leyes existentes que California tiene para hacer que los contaminadores pagan por emitir carbono que dañan el aire y nuestra comunidad. AB 1550 utiliza el dinero pagado por los contaminadores del ambiente para aumentar la energía limpia, reducir la contaminación, generar puestos de trabajo e invertir en comunidades con el aire más sucio y necesidad financiera.

Gracias a AB 1550, un mínimo del 35 por ciento de estos fondos irán a programas que benefician a comunidades desfavorecidas y personas de bajos ingresos. Estos programas significan acceso a un transporte limpio, viviendas económicas situadas cerca de tránsito, ahorro de energía, plantación de árboles en zonas urbanas que tienen muy poca vegetación, y mucho más

El Asambleísta Eduardo García propuso otra nueva ley importante, AB 197, la cual combina un mecanismo nuevo para que la asamblea legislativa participe en la implementación de la póliza climática y dirige a la Mesa Directiva de Recursos del Aire (Air Resources Board) a reducir la contaminación de carbono y contaminación local del aire directamente, lo que significa reducciones en las comunidades más impactadas por la industria y la contaminación del transporte.

Bajo la guía de nuestros líderes latinos, California continuará avanzando leyes que limpian el aire, protegen el clima y mejoran la salud de nuestras comunidades, y al mismo tiempo crean puestos de trabajo y oportunidades económicas para nuestra comunidad. Y esto es sólo el comienzo. Seguiremos avanzando porque los californianos—incluyendo los latinos— apoyan fuertemente las leyes que combaten el cambio climático y avanzan hacia una economía vibrante de energía limpia.

Alvaro Sánchez es el director de Equidad Ambiental de The Greenlining Institute, Para aprender más sobre las leyes climáticas en California, visite

Open Letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

The Post News Group

Dear Mr. Kalanick,

When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address on Jan. 12, he said, “Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated. As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise. Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.”

The president’s words must have come as no surprise to you since his former senior adviser David Plouffe is on your board of directors and since his former Attorney General Eric Holder is now your attorney.

Both of these gentlemen have distinguished themselves as advocates and defenders of diversity and equal opportunity for all.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, a technology-driven economy has squeezed workers and disrupted affordable living conditions, even while the overall economy is flourishing.

Here in Oakland this economic disruption has made it harder for a family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for people to remain in the middle class and tougher for workers to live close to their jobs.

The benefits of this technological surge have been very uneven and have led to the biggest wealth gap we have ever seen. Your unwillingness to release your diversity data worries us about your commitment to Oakland’s diverse residents, especially since your advisers have a history seeking diversity through openness and transparency.

The evidence is clear that a tech driven economy is accompanied by some serious challenges, including the displacement of the working poor. That said, we reject the idea that we are powerless to shape the impacts of technology on diverse cities, especially given Oakland’s history of fighting back against policies and actions to disrupt and displace our neighborhoods.

We believe that there’s a great deal we can do to improve prospects for Oakland’s future and its current residents. We propose a three-pronged effort.

First, we recommend a set of basic agreements in the areas of jobs, education, infrastructure, entrepreneurship, housing, community engagement and research. There’s a strong consensus on several areas that can bring prosperity to Oakland’s current and future residents and there is no need to completely “reinvent the wheel.”

Second, we call on Uber to work alongside us to develop new organizational models and approaches that not only enhance productivity and generate wealth for Uber, but also create broad-based opportunity for working-class residents.

The goal should be inclusive prosperity in Oakland, and not just prosperity for Uber’s full-time workers. Your statement on your website saying that “we strengthen local economies” gives us hope.

Third, we request a meeting with you and a small group of us to reach an understanding. And, given that the digital revolution can get you this letter at half the speed of light, we expect to hear from you within three working days.

As you may agree, we believe that technology is delivering an unprecedented set of tools for bolstering growth and productivity that is currently unharnessed.

Together we can create a city of shared prosperity if we learn about each other, find ways to meaningfully collaborate, and together address the challenges brought by a growing tech workforce in Oakland.

If one simple idea can lead to a $65 billion valuation and perhaps the biggest IPO the world has ever seen, then it’s possible for us to co-disrupt and co-develop a road of shared prosperity in Oakland.


Paul Cobb, Publisher, Post News Group
Orson Aguilar, The Greenlining Institute
Sondra Alexander, OCCUR
Chris Iglesias, The Unity Council
Anne Price, Insight Center
Rev. Michael McBride, PICO National Network
Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Jr., Allen Temple Baptist Church
Junious Williams, Board Chair, Oakland Community Land Trust
John Gamboa, California Community Builders
Joe Brooks, PolicyLink
Gay Plair Cobb, Oakland Private Industry Council
Rev. Dr. Gerald Agee, Pastor/Friendship Christian Center
Jae Maldonado, Street Level Health Project
Jane Garcia, La Clinica De La Raza
Zachary Norris, Ella Baker Center
Guillermo Mayer, Public Advocates
Joshua Simon, East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation
Paulina Gonzalez, The California Reinvestment Coalition
George Galvis, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice
Arnold Perkins
National Employment Law Project

Dear Arianna, Help Save Our City from Uber

The Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

Uber is coming to my hometown of Oakland. Will the change this ride-hailing giant brings be good for our town, or a disaster?

As Uber prepares to take over a former Sears department store in the heart of downtown next year, Oaklanders have reason to worry. But Uber could also set a positive example that tech companies nationwide might emulate – if it chooses to.

Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington sits on Uber’s board. As a longtime advocate for social justice, I’m appealing to her to use her influence with the company to uphold the values she has long espoused.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, a technology-driven economy has squeezed workers and disrupted affordable living conditions, even while the overall economy flourishes. The galloping gentrification and displacement crisis that started in San Francisco and Silicon Valley has crossed the bay big-time, and seems to have accelerated since Uber announced its Oakland plans nearly a year ago.

Gentrification doesn’t just impact families. Nonprofit community groups also find themselves squeezed by soaring rents, endangering their ability to remain in Oakland. This, too, seems to be part of the “Uber effect.”

Oakland community leaders are alarmed enough that we recently published anopen letter to UBER CEO Travis Kalanick in the Oakland Post, a community newspaper rooted in Oakland’s African American community. The letter points out that Uber should have at least some understanding of equity and diversity issues, considering that – in addition to Huffington ―  David Plouffe, former senior adviser to President Obama, sits on its board of directors and Obama’s former Attorney General Eric Holder gives the company legal advice.

Our letter to Mr. Kalanick spells out the problem:

The benefits of this technological surge have been very uneven and have led to the biggest wealth gap we have ever seen. Your unwillingness to release your diversity data worries us about your commitment to Oakland’s diverse residents, especially since your advisers have a history seeking diversity through openness and transparency.

The evidence is clear that a tech driven economy is accompanied by some serious challenges, including the displacement of the working poor. That said, we reject the idea that we are powerless to shape the impacts of technology on diverse cities, especially given Oakland’s history of fighting back against policies and actions to disrupt and displace our neighborhoods.

Thus far, Uber’s response to community worries has consisted of feel-good generalizations and reminders that the company will create jobs in Oakland. While that last statement is surely true, it leaves open the question of who will get those jobs and how they will impact communities that already feel under economic siege.

Uber can do better. That’s why we want Mr. Kalanick and his team to meet with us and work out a solid plan to make sure that this famously “disruptive” company brings real benefits to our neighborhoods, rather than forcing families, small businesses and nonprofits out of town. We’d like to see Uber and community leaders work out a set of basic agreements in the areas of jobs, education, infrastructure, entrepreneurship, housing, community engagement and research – agreements that will ensure that Oakland’s working families and small businesses get a fair share of the tech boom that’s turning the local economy upside-down.

Disrupting petrified business models that no longer serve their original purpose may be a good thing. Disrupting the very survival of working families is not.

Uber, are you listening?