Last November, Oakland voters overwhelmingly voted YES on Measure W, also known as the Oakland Fair Elections Act, to create a more transparent and accountable government. Measure W establishes the nation’s second-ever Democracy Dollars program, an innovative and proven method that will help Oaklanders get results from local government on the things that matter most – from affordable housing to quality schools and community safety. A recent survey of likely Oakland voters found that many residents don’t donate to local campaigns because they simply can’t afford to. Less than 1% of Oakland residents donated to political campaigns under the old system.
In June, Bay Rising and Oakland Rising worked together to organize an event at First Friday to hear from Oakland residents and what they thought of Democracy Dollars. Our mission was to inform Oaklanders about Democracy Dollars and ask for their support in securing funding for implementation.
Following our event at First Friday the City Council approved increased funding to hire a Democracy Dollars staff position to implement Democracy Dollars for the 2026 election and add discretionary funds for the Oakland Public Ethics Commission. While it wasn’t the initial outcome we had hoped for we know that Oakland is facing a historic budget deficit and are proud that our organizing and engaging with the community encouraged the City Council to take the necessary steps to support Democracy Dollars being implemented in the future.
At the event, our passionate team, consisting of Claire (Bay Rising’s DOTS fellow), Cal (Oakland Rising’s DOTS fellow), and Zoe (Bay Rising’s Organizing and Training Manager), set up a lively booth to engage with attendees, spread the word about Democracy Dollars, and ask people to attend a budget hearing to advocate for the city to fund Democracy Dollars in the 2024 budget.
To add some fun and flair to the event, we also offered an interactive photo booth experience, complete with a sparkling gold backdrop. The photo booth printed photos out with the Democracy Dollars logo so that Oaklanders could have a keepsake and be reminded of what Democracy Dollars is when it is implemented in the future. Our photo booth attracted over a hundred participants, with approximately 198 people joining in the fun and taking memorable snapshots. It was heartening to see diverse groups, especially young individuals and families with children, showing particular interest in the photo booth.
Throughout the three-hour event, we had the opportunity to speak with over 200 people. As attendees approached our booth, we provided them with a quarter-sheet handout that outlined crucial information about Democracy Dollars. For those who expressed support for the program, which was the majority, we encouraged them to participate actively. By scanning a QR code and providing some basic details, they could send an email to their City Councilmember expressing their backing for Democracy Dollars. In total, 51 individuals filled out the action form, making a significant impact with their voices and reaching city council members.
Interestingly, we discovered that some attendees were already familiar with our organization, Oakland Rising, recognizing our banner and shirts. This reinforced our belief that our work is recognized and respected in the community. Moreover, it was evident that while a few individuals knew about Democracy Dollars, many were unaware that the program still lacked funding in the proposed budget.
The event served as a powerful reminder of Oakland residents’ unwavering desire to see Democracy Dollars implemented in our city. The overwhelming support and engagement we received further fuel our determination to make this program a reality.
Overall, the event was a resounding success, and we are already excited about the prospect of organizing similar initiatives in the future. Together, we can make Democracy Dollars a transformative reality for Oakland.
“Real, transformative democracy takes time. Years of grassroots organizing and coalition building made the passage of Measure W last November possible. Thanks to these same community organizers, volunteers, and champions on the City Council, including Council President Bas and Council Member Fife, we were able to get funding for Measure W during one of the toughest budget sessions in Oakland’s history. We will continue to advocate for a fully funded Democracy Dollars program so that every Oaklander gets results on the issues that matter most to our communities,” said liz suk, Executive Director of Oakland Rising.