OAKLAND, CA —The battle lines are being drawn in Oakland, California. Corporate interests, working closely with city government, are reshaping Oakland from a diverse working-class city into one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. A grand jury recently slammed the Oakland City Council for making multimillion-dollar back room deals to sell off city property without public input. Politicians representing corporations over the people are turning Silicon Valley into “Silicon Bay,” displacing longtime Oakland residents into lower-cost suburbs, or into the rapidly growing homeless encampments popping up all over the city. Students, faculty, and staff at Laney College in Oakland are at ground zero of this battle.
Laney students—as well as some part-time faculty and staff—are part of the less visible but growing homeless population, living out of their cars, or “surfing” on friends’ and family members’ couches. Now, the Oakland A’s baseball corporation seems to be narrowing its sights on Peralta Community College District land, just a block away from Laney, to build a new stadium, with the potential to displace the college that serves some of the poorest and most diverse students in the state.
Founded in 1953, Laney College serves over 10,000 students annually—the majority of whom are first-generation college students, from low-income backgrounds, immigrants, and students of color. The struggle around the A’s stadium puts Laney in the middle of the battle over whose interest Oakland will be remade. Currently, the power of corporate interests is overwhelming the needs of “the 99%” in our community.
As a professor at Laney College, I’m part of a group of Laney students, professors and staff coming together to protect Laney and our city for the community. We are meeting and organizing to stop the A’s stadium from being built next door to our campus because of the traffic, disruption, pollution and intensified gentrification it would usher in. We are bringing resolutions to our representative bodies in the College, seeking support from our unions, speaking at the Board of Trustees, circulating petitions, and informing the community on and off campus.
The potential A’s deal also reflects a national trend by public education leaders to turn to private corporations for funds in the face of government disinvestment in public schools. Paradoxically, the disinvestment is driven by corporations who refuse to pay taxes to educate workers they no longer need. In Oakland, the A’s corporation is making promises to Peralta College leaders to supply desperately needed funds to fix ceiling leaks, update old classrooms, and even add full-time faculty positions to a college where about 70% are part-time and contingent.
Serious improvements are necessary for quality public education. But our college is not for sale, and there is no guarantee that promises will be kept by corporations whose primary goal is profit-making, not community service. Public colleges serve our communities, and should remain publicly funded. Our communities must hold our government accountable to fund public institutions. We need political power to do this. Like the Water Protectors of Standing Rock, Laney students, professors, and staff must come together to defend public education and our communities.