09 December 2008

Moving upstairs

  • Dec 9, 2008

Moving upstairs

The non-profit I work for is government financed.

We were trying to expand both our size and range of services for the
community, (not to mention securing better working conditions for the
employees), and many people had been working behind the scenes on this
project for a couple of years.  When I started 2 years ago it seemed
little more than a vague idea, but at each new meeting updates showed
it was coming closer and closer to a reality.

And then

Last week

I was invited to a last minute meeting, which I was told was very important.

At it we were told that the city (the smallest of 3 funding sources for
the project, but a vital component w/o which it could not happen) had
decided, unilateral, to rescind the (as yet unofficial) offer to back
the project, using the funds for a smaller, independent, temporary,
substitute instead.

The federal grant has been pending for almost 3 years, and is due to expire at the end of this year.
We were informed of this change early last week.

Not 'literally' last minute, but about as close as possible.

We had exactly THREE DAYS to prepare, between the sub-committee meeting
where we learned of the potential change, and the general city council
meeting where it would be voted on.

This is not an over-dramatization.  We had one chance to get it done, and get it done right.
If we did not convince the city council, the city funds would be
eliminated, which would mean we would lose the half-million dollar
grant, which would mean we would lose the half-million dollars of BART
in other words, this one meeting would decide if it happened or not.

Our campaign began the next morning.

It involved, of course, fliers, posters, handouts.
It involved speaking in person to every single patron of our services,
calls to every cycling advocate and supporter in the area, connections
with the downtown business association, the Sierra club, allies in

It involved secret meetings, letters and calls to the city counsel and
mayor's office, and countless, constant, emails between the primary
strategists involved.

The technical details about the workings of official political meetings were shared, so we would all know what to expect.

We recruited people who use our services to offer their support in person.

After getting home around 10 or so from a meeting, I was up at
5:30am to open the shop the next morning.
After work at 2, the rest of the day involved preparations for that evening.

6:30pm, co-workers and allies began trickling in.
At 7, as we walked to city hall, others joined us along the way.

Several popular things were on the agenda that night.

New members were being sworn in, which involved ceremony and speeches.
Many people were present to protest the hiring of John Yoo (the guy who
wrote the 'enemy combatant' laws in order to circumvent the Geneva
convention guidelines for treatment of prisoner's of war) by UC

The council hall was full.
We were made to sit in the hallway downstairs.

As our supporters showed up to join us, we passed out signs, and waited
to be let in one by one as people there for other reasons left.

We were #28 on the agenda.

We expected to be there all night, waiting.

As an information item, we would be allowed 3 speakers, 1 minute each, and no vote would be taken at that time.

A council member moved that it be changed to an action item.
The mayor recognized that many people there were for our project, and asked just how many there were.
About 4/5th of the room stood.
The mayor moved it on the agenda to be addressed after the first
information item (a report by the financial analysis department.)

The city staff, which had come up with the alternate plan, gave their report.
They were grilled some on the numbers, and it seemed we at least had a chance.
Our line of people waiting to speak, from the manager of the project,
to the director of BART, to long-time patrons of the service who had
given up their cars only after finding out about us, went to the back
of the room.

It was a long night.

We won.

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