By Darin T. Wesley
In Oakland, most electeds claim to play nice. But with whom? At whose expense?
As rents skyrocket and affordable housing becomes a distant dream, local politicians make nice with big developers, venture capitalists and rich tech companies – partnerships that leave residents literally outside in the cold.
As more families lose their homes, the representatives they elected to represent them smile widely while cutting deals with deep pocket investors responsible for making the Bay Area the most expensive place to live in America.
Those who dare question the game are framed as contentious. They are ostracized from political power circles and smeared outside of them. This is politics as usual—a game of life or death for many, and one that Oakland’s public servants happily play by the rules.
Not Desley Brooks.
Brooks is a politician who has always been a passionate advocate for our community. Anyone who has witnessed her hold court during a City Council meeting could not deny her vocal, unyielding approach to her legislative duties.
A licensed attorney, Brooks was in-house counsel for several departments at both federal and state levels before being elected to represent District 6 in East Oakland. It’s a sound bet that those around during her trial days would describe her pursuit of justice back then in a similar way.
No matter the role, throughout her career Brooks has been a staunch advocate for the interests of those she represents, bravely challenging those that oppose.
She doesn’t often seem concerned with nice—that much is true. Her focus is lasered in on what’s right. During her 16 years on the Council, Brooks has challenged City Hall from within, refusing to play politics in an arena of closed door deals.
Instead, she’s worked to foster an open-door policy with residents.
She has a long list of accomplishments:
- Backing legislation to keep tenants and homeowners safe from eviction and foreclosure;
- Organizing free legal assistance at Eastmont Mall for Oakland residents;
- Backing Oakland’s Prompt Payment Policy ensuring nonprofits are paid on time;
- Sponsoring the new Department of Race and Equity, created to end systemic racism in the City of Oakland;
- Helping pass an historic Cannabis Equity Ordinance, winning rights for those from neighborhoods most devastated by War on Drugs to participate in legal cannabis industry;
- Backing measures to increase police accountability;
- Sponsoring concerts, food giveaways and other activities in neighborhoods that get little attention from City Hall.
When decisions are made that affect people’s livelihoods, she makes sure the community pays attention and participates. She extends her political power beyond the walls of City Hall, attending local meetings to hear concerns directly from the community.
These methods have helped make Brooks’ reputation as an advocate well known in Oakland.
What’s lesser known is how those efforts often find her pitted against the interests of other Council members and government officials.
Big developers and others set to gain from rampant speculation see Brooks’ adherence to the needs of her base as an obstacle, and Brooks herself as a contentious nuisance rather than a valued voice.
District 6, full of Black and Brown families with little economic power, don’t often figure in political big money games, even as a bargaining chip.
As most government representatives reach up for the next rung on the political ladder, Desley Brooks has time and time again chosen to reach back to her community.
Brooks has consistently risked political gain in favor of public good.
She has sacrificed personal comfort for good public policy and taken plenty of hits along the way.
Despite big opposition, Brooks continues to fight for her district, granting her constituents exactly what they voted for: a seat at the table.
D. Wesley is a freelance writer and native Midwesterner who loves hiking, cooking and living somewhere it doesn’t snow.