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We, the People, Beat Chevron in Richmond, Calif.

Dave Ransom  |  Issue: January 2015

On election day, Eduardo Martinez and his friends and supporters beat Chevron 5-0 in a major test of the power of We, the People, against the increasingly exposed American oligarchy. They got themselves elected to the Richmond (Calif.) City Council, where they are now the overwhelming majority.

They won despite Chevron’s throwing more than $3.1 million into the campaign behind its own candidates — perhaps the largest amount a corporation has ever put into a municipal campaign.

Martinez was one of three grassroots council candidates fielded by the Richmond People’s Alliance (RPA), a volunteer group that over the last decade has called Chevron, the city’s major employer, to heel.

Canvassing the city to turn out the vote, the RPA and its allies SEIU and ACCE (the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment), got their whole slate elected, plus their candidate for mayor and an ally. Only one Chevron supporter is left on the council.

For decades, Chevron ran the city as a company town through a subservient city council. That ended when RPA organized and got members elected. After Gayle McLaughlin, a member of RPA and the Green Party, was elected mayor in 2006, the council began turning the city around.

With McLaughlin’s leadership, Richmond has been challenging Chevron in court over a 2012 refinery fire that sent thousands of residents to the hospital. And it is pioneering the use of its powers to challenge Wall Street mortgage holders and keep people in their homes.

With its $3 million, Chevron covered the city with billboard ads and flooded people’s mailboxes with fliers, bought air time, hired door-to-door campaigners, and set up a battery of false-front campaign committees. “It was kind of frightening,” one past member of the city council told the Contra Costa Times.

It was overkill, and Richmond was too well organized for it to work. “At various polling places, people would shake my hand and tell me they saw the Chevron mailers attacking me and that I had their support,” Martinez told the Times. “They were tired of the garbage.”

El pueblo unido . . .

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