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Bill Orton
(D-Long Beach)

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My friend, Al, getting the endorsement of LB Mayor Bob Foster

January 30, 2007 -- Below is a speech I wrote for a friend seeking election to the Long Beach City Council. Of course, politics in a local race talk about local stuff, but the reason I post this is that I finally feel as though I've written something that not only does justice to the fine candidate I am supporting, but which also ties together the nature of power with how to put it to proper use. Power is not something we talk about easily, and rarely does a politician discuss it. My friend has the bravery to confront things directly, which is why I support him, and so I am grateful by his kind words and confidence. I also am grateful to someone I only know on a superficial level, Erin Gruwell, who I observed in the political circles during her unsuccessful bid for Congress. I wrote this speech just hours after reading her book, and feel as though her writing helped to free me from the constraints that so often clog the mind of political writers. --:-- Bill


Speech for Al Austin, Jr.

    I'm glad to have the chance to talk here.

    Politics and religion are in many ways cut from the same cloth.

    We deal with ideas, with the mind, with the heart.

    We each of us work amidst what powers the human soul.

    And in some ways we are here to talk about power.

    I dont think the people in this room hunger for power but we each understand it.

    We watch as people aspire to it.

    We grimace and agonize as it is clutched at and abused.

    We rejoice when power properly helps to transform.

    So as we're all here to look at the 6th district, i want to offer up something beyond the kinds of things most politicians say when they're on the path of power.

    This is only a start of talking about what power means and how I plan to use the power which comes from earning the trust of the people to help transform this city, uplift our people and lay out a vision for a better future.

    Power. What is it?

    Well, in my race, this is about a political office.

    One council seat among nine.

    An office staff that works for the people, doing the organizing to ties together a community.

    I know something about that. I've been a staffer. I'm married to a staffer. I've helped pull off job fairs and link people to services and shine the light on issues.

    Part of power is putting the resources to work to help people. I am committed to that.

    And power is about putting the energy of the office behind a vision...

    I give you my word that every ounce of my energy is going to flow into this office to help my constituents.

    My vision is inclusiveness... my vision is empowerment... my vision is hope and opportunity.

    Those are words that aspire to the higher calling of power.

    After all, how does someone GAIN power?

    Well, really, if you look at it, there's only a few paths:
    -- there's HOPE...
    -- there's REASON...
    -- and then there's fear.
HOPE: Lay out of vision that touches on the heartstrings, and lifts people, making them believe that things which seem so far out of reach truly are, in fact, possible.

    Yes, it IS possible for people of all backgrounds and colors and nationalities and religions to work together. I believe that. It may seem like an impossible viewpoint, but in a city as diverse as Long Beach, I believe that our diversity is our strength. It can't be any other way, or the war on the streets will never end.


    Lifting people up.

    Aspiring to the higher calling in each of us.

    Without hope, where are we? Lost!

    Then we have REASON.

    A sensible debate. Laying out the facts.

    Let's look at the facts.

    Long Beach Blvd, Atlantic Ave., Cherry, Orange, Pacific, Pine... all our major north-south transportation corridors... what is the common thread? Dilapidation. Boarded up storefronts. Lost opportunities.

    We can talk HOPE all day long, but until a councilmember convinces four other colleagues that the future of our city depends on the vitality of these transportation corridors, there won't be development.

    Without smart growth along these vital passageways, there won't be an expansion of jobs in our neighborhoods. And without growth and economic expansion, we in the sixth -- and throughout our city -- will continue fighting and scrambling for the crumbs.

    That's a matter of REASON.

    Why should a councilmember from the east side or the beachfront care about the people scrambling at the edges of our economy?

    Because, reason dictates, when the transportation corridors are thriving, young people have hope for jobs... residents have retail districts to buy their groceries, clothing, and other goods. Would-be merchants and entrepreneurs set loose their talents -- and their tax base -- for the good of the community... police see less crime... and people living near these bustling areas feel like the corner is being turned.

    REASON dictates that a vigorous enhancement of our central core is good for the whole of Long Beach. And a vital central city is as essential as a vigorous North and West side.

    Inclusiveness is about the well being of ALL NINE of our districts.

    Hope and reason... those are two paths to power that are honorable. Those paths require more than just promises... they even require more than vision, but without vision the path is dimly lit.

    Then there's another path.

    We've seen so many follow it.

    I only speak of it, but I reject it.


    A path to power? We've seen it. It's wrong. We know it.

    But ask good people if it works?

    It does.

    It's wrong.

    And to defeat the politics of fear, we must talk nakedly about its allure.

    Now, as I speak of power and speak of these three paths, I do so because you here in the Ministerial Alliance know what I am talking about.

    This is a place where minds and hearts meet.

    You know the human soul.

    And like a good minister, politicians are students of the human soul.

    Some twist their way into power by contorting the feelings of others.


    Fear of them!

    Fear of failure!

    Fear of others!

    We've seen it.

    Pete Wilson used it. Not a bad man, but willing to reach into our deepest fears -- THEY KEEP COMING!

    Dwight Eisenhower was correct, that you cannot legislate the human heart.

    But in the path to power, plenty of politicians abuse the heart with words.

    It'd be disingenuous to come this far in my talk and stop at the gate. I gotta go in, and say some good words here about this race.

    I am running FOR office.

    I am not running AGAINST any candidate.

    There are others in this race. Good, decent people are in this race.

    I won't and I cannot tell you who to love. You know your heart, and you love the people you love, because you love them. And I say that's fine... you love the people you love...

    Because look at the people in this race.

    Like I say... GOOD people. DECENT people.

    Each person in this race is seeking power, and the path in politics is measured by the snapshot of an election.

    There is what happens BEFORE the snapshot.

    There is what happens AFTER the snapshot.

    The path to power doesn't end when the picture is taken. That election on May 1st is not the BE-all and end-all... it is only the start. Nine months later, another election takes place.

    Every day in office, that official's phone is gonna ring. Every time you need help, that person is gonna prove what they're made of and who they're in it for.

    I cannot speak for other candidates. And I cannot measure them. That's the beauty of our system... only YOU can measure...

    What I offer here tonight is a yardstick... Something to measure me by.

    Not just for May 1st... And not even for the election after that...

    I do intend to win both, if the people and the Good Lord are willing.

    But victory is not a preordained outcome. It is the result of faith... that others have faith in me... that I live true to their belief in me... and the only way to earn that trust is to talk honestly, to show my vision, to live true to my promise of inclusiveness, and to deliver on the hope that I lay forth, with reasoned ideas, hard work and humility.

    I can talk issues, and I want to, and I will... more and more, as these months pass, you will see the wholeness of my view on how this city can be made better.

    It comes from empowerment... lifting people to believe... bringing them in to the process... making them care, and thus become the agents of transformation.

    It comes from going past the comfort zone of politics... talking issues... that's the stale way certain to put people to sleep right away...

    Issues matter, but alone they are like big, dusty books. Important and unread.

    It comes from waking people up... making them hear... letting them know that hope can be realized... that reasoned debate is on THEIR side... that THEY matter, because without a team there IS no transformation... and without transformation, what do we have? Boarded up storefronts, dillapidated corridors, economic distress, and a sense of hopelessness.

    We have that now.

    It's out there.

    We all feel it.

    And it's wrong.

    The next Councilmember from the Sixth District will be unable to transform ANYTHING without going head-on to what matters... and that is POWER.

    Our Councilmember must focus the attention of the council majority on reasons why a vigorous central city is in the interests of everyone.

    Our Councilmember must use the tools of power -- a staff, economic development, incentivies, partnerships with the private sector, job programs, youth skills programs, vocational education with the LBUSD and the colleges -- all of these tools... all of them are the proper use of power to make life better for the ordinary people of this city.... of this district.

    I give you a yardstick to measure me by, not just for May 1st, and the following election to a full-term nine months later, but to measure me for all of my days in office...

    That yardstick is how shall power be used? How did it come into my hands?

    Measure me by these... That I put forward a vision based on hope... That I offered reasoned ideas and debate to see how that vision could be achieved... and when power was placed as an act of faith in my hands, that I used it to make life better for the ordinary people of our city and my district.

    These things I pledge to you.

    I would be honored to take any questions you have, and honored more so to earn your support and endorsement in this election on May 1st.

    Thank you.

Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.