Lead East Bay

Jan 19, 2017

Oakland is nationally recognized both for its significant economic and social challenges and as a hotbed of progressive community activism and innovation. In communities’ effort to lead policy change, public decision-makers – be they in appointed positions or elected office – often make the difference between great ideas and great change. Yet for Oakland’s homegrown leaders who rise through the grassroots to these roles, working in public service can be challenging and isolating. Communities place high expectations on saviors, but fail to provide adequate support and accountability after Election Day. The cycle of hope and disappointment can become self-perpetuating and toxic.

The sheer quantity of both activism and policy innovation in Oakland means that there is tremendous power in developing leaders who can collaborate across boundaries on a smart vision for improving the lives of low- and moderate-income communities, immigrants and people of color. Oakland and the wider East Bay can also benefit from the variety of organizations aware of the power and impact to be had by taking part in governance. All of this means that a collective, rooted approach to leadership is an absolute necessity. Only public leaders who collaborate and are deeply tied with their constituents can ever achieve the power and drive needed to leverage resources to address the East Bay’s considerable challenges.

That is why Oakland Rising and our sister organization Oakland Rising Action are launching Lead East Bay this spring, a program that will identify, recruit and train cohorts of working class people of color to serve in public leadership roles in our city and our region. 

Preparing individuals from underrepresented communities to serve in public decision-making positions is not enough. The barriers to meaningful and lasting partnerships – those that go beyond coalitions of interest around single campaigns or issues – exacerbate these challenges. Absent deep community roots and a network of support and accountability with peer leaders, no decision-maker – no matter how skilled, passionate or principled – can single-handedly build the innovations and political will needed to make change. As a result, public leaders lose focus on the values, goals and communities that brought them into leadership, and become reactive to political winds and paths of least resistance. These shortcomings are not merely due to a lack of skill. There is a pressing need for leadership development programs that target not just promising individuals, but cohorts of leaders and, thereby, the fabric of public leadership in a region. This constitutes nothing less than a paradigm shift. These programs must initiate and steward deep and lasting partnerships for grassroots activists while preparing them to succeed as values-based, goals-driven, accountable public decision-makers.  

We believe that we will increase our effectiveness in helping to move a progressive agenda for the East Bay if we have public leaders who 1) have come up through the ranks of movement organizations in the East Bay; and 2) are not only familiar with the issues facing working class communities of color, but are part of them and are deeply accountable to the residents and organizations that work for racial, economic and environmental justice. 

With Lead East Bay launching this spring, we are looking for people who are interested in any of the following: 

  • serving in a public leadership role
  • serving on boards or commissions across the city and county 
  • staffing candidates or elected officials 

The entire ecosystem of leadership is important – which is why we will focus on all three of these areas.

This work has never been as important as it is now.  We have seen the rise of the extremist right and the implosion of the left’s party structure over the last few months in particular. We know that conservatives have long been building their political power by starting at the lowest levels of leadership, taking over School Boards and City Councils, building a pipeline of leaders who share their extremist values who are now serving in Congress. We have a chance to do the same thing, but in order to create the inclusive and socially just region that reflects our values we must invest in leadership development.

We hope you will support this work. Please feel free to reach out if you would like to know more. Our Political Director, liz suk, can be reached at [email protected]




570 14th Street, Suite 6
Oakland, CA 94612

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Oakland Rising is a project from our hearts for the people of Oakland. Thank you for your contribution!