Pathway to a More Progressive Sacramento City Council

By James Jay Jackson, Jr. 

What results can we yield from pressuring city council? Sacramento is home to a diverse scene of activist groups for a variety of causes, and the Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) is one of the fastest growing organizations in the area. A consistent tactic used by DSA members, as well as groups such as Black Lives Matter or Housing for Sacramento, has been to fill up the public comment section of city council meetings with supporters.

Out of all the possible results this tactic might yield, the current status of our city council leads me to believe that two possible results are the most likely.

1. The city council will eventually yield to consistent public pressure and introduce measures in accordance with the public's demands.

2. The city council will not budge, will not introduce measures in accordance with our demands and will have to be voted out as soon as possible.

Unless Sacramento city council becomes more willing to work with the activist community, the odds are that the second result will come to pass. There is the possibility that the first one may come true; however, the likelihood that their measures will be consistent and in accordance with our demands is unlikely. Council members such as Steve Hansen and Mayor Darrell Steinberg have already demonstrated their priorities are not on the side of the working class. Both were vocal supporters of the ordinance that banned panhandling, and let us not forget the consistent disrespect Mayor Steinberg shows the organizers and allies of Black Lives Matter Sacramento.

However, public pressure has yielded results. After weeks of housing activists speaking at city council meetings, Mayor Steinberg said he will conduct town halls and work toward introducing rent stabilization measures; however, the Mayor wants any rent control measure to be "means tested." So while consistent public pressure forced Steinberg to yield to us, we can see that any measure he is likely to introduce is going to be watered down and intentionally ineffective.

Recently I took part in a national training call for the DSA's Medicare for All campaign. The training was about getting city councils to declare support for Medicare for All as a tactic to increase the likelihood that a national bill will eventually pass. DSA chapters such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have already succeeded in getting their city councils to pass such resolutions. Both chapters utilized a diverse array of tactics, such as asking members to call city council members and by bringing a large forward facing contingent to speak in favor of the measure. A lot of this work was simplified by having an ally on the city council (i.e., someone to introduce the resolution). This is a possibility for Sacramento activists, but it will only happen with consistent public pressure put upon the city council.

Yet there is still the possibility of getting progressive resolutions passed so long as there is intentional coordination. Council member Eric Guerra recently introduced a measure for city council to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day, which passed. Indigenous activists in Sacramento have been organizing for this for a while, and thanks to having an ally for this cause on the city council, their efforts succeeded.

The measure to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day in the city demonstrates that it is effective to have someone on the city council with the power to introduce the resolution you would like to see. However, considering the current state of the Sacramento city council, that is not likely to happen for measures regarding housing or healthcare. Until we have radical members on the city council who are in touch with the public’s demands, no concessions are likely to be made by the city council without consistent public pressure.

So what are our options if we want to see city council support things like Medicare for All or comprehensive rent control? We can concede some of our demands to them at the cost of getting a measure that will bring tangible change, or we could maintain consistent public pressure until they adopt our policies, or we can replace them in the next election with allies and people who support progressive measures. Let us think tactically as we approach city council, but remember that we are the people, we make the demands, and we should show them no mercy until the demands of the working class are met.