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Observe Democracy in Action: Oakland Style

Join Our Observer Corps

By Liz Hartka

Most of the time when we read the news about what’s going on in City Hall, the issue in question has already gone to the City Council and been voted upon. But prior to a vote, a piece of legislation - especially one involving revenue - will have been developed and hammered out in one of the committees or commissions supporting the City Council. The Observer Corps (OC) is the LWVO’s eyes and ears on these committees and commissions.

The OC is an important arm of LWVC’s Action (as in advocacy) Committee. OC members attend agency meetings and report back to the Action Committee on topics of interest to the League. Action members discuss and learn about what’s going on, and escalate issues to the LWVO Board as appropriate.

Lately, the stressed city budget and potential impacts on various programs has been front and center in most discussions. Here are some issues the OC is following:

  • Funding – or lack of it – for Democracy Dollars (Measure W) came up several times before the Public Ethics Commission and during budget discussions. There seems to be broad support for Democracy Dollars, but funding is a challenge.

  • The Public Safety & Services Oversight Committee (SSOC) decried the decrease in funding for violence prevention programs.

  • The School Board discussed implementation of Measure QQ (youth vote for OUSD Board members) at its meeting on 5/24/2023.

  • Funding for homelessness programs continues to be of major public interest in Oakland.

  • Vacant seats on various commissions (e.g., Planning, SSOC) continue to vex too many of these bodies.

For me, attending the SSOC and Budget Advisory Commission meetings offers a continuing education about local government. There is a learning curve associated with each group – they have their own specific mission, goals, strategies, acronyms, and personalities. But if you’re interested in group dynamics, it’s a fascinating – and sometimes sobering - opportunity to observe Oakland’s democracy in action. Contact me at to learn more.


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