Commentary | A salute to local heroes

Newly re-elected City Councilwoman Jen Cavenaugh delivered the following remarks at the Dec. 7 council meeting.

As you all know, 17-year old Greta Thunberg (TUNE-berg) gained worldwide notoriety when she spoke at the UN’s Climate Emergency Event. Though speaking to our response to climate change, a year later, her observations are equally salient to the global health, environmental, economic, and social justice crises we face. 

With incredibly sincerity and passion of purpose, she tells us:  

“We will be watching you.  People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. You say that you hear us and that you understand the urgency. … The eyes of all future generations are upon you… The world is waking up and change is coming.”

As we’re all well aware, the challenges we face are not happening “out there”, they are happening right here in Piedmont, to all of us. We are all holding so much right now. Everywhere people are exhausted. 

It’s especially challenging to reconcile two conflicting thoughts in our hearts and minds at the same time. On the one hand, our entire community is in crisis; and yet in this very moment there are bright lights among us that give us hope and optimism. I look to the future and everyday I am inspired by our local heroes who are tackling issues head-on. 

Tragically, last month Piedmont lost a father, husband, and business leader in David Perez due to Covid. His family and friends are in our hearts and thoughts as they continue to mourn his passing. And our case counts keep rising and those in the hospital are there without their loved ones.

In this same moment, Piedmonters are an integral part of the solution.

  • Sharon Filler, Rob DeBare, Maryann Tucker, Aaron Goldfarb, siblings Tom and Burny Joseph, and so many more frontline healthcare workers are risking their lives everyday to keep the rest of us healthy.
  • Dr George Rutherford, a UCSF epidemiologist, while working on solutions to this global epidemic, also counsels our school district on how to reopen our schools safely. 

Before the pandemic started, there were over half a million people who were unhoused in the U.S., 20% of them in CA alone. That number has drastically increased this year. These people are our neighbors.

  • In this same moment, Piedmont architect Rob Kelly along with Ken Li and his band of Piedmont Community Service Crew HS students contribute to the effort to build 26 Tiny Houses in Oakland for unhoused youth.
  • Housing experts Irene Cheng, Sara Karlinsky, and Jill Lindenbaum are developing new ways of imagining housing solutions in Piedmont to help address the housing availability and affordability issue. 

Our teachers are working double time and yet remote learning is barely adequate for many. Our kids’ education and social emotional development is clearly suffering.  

  • In this same moment, Wellness Center nurses Carol Menz and AmyJo Goldfarb are lending an ear and a virtual hug to support our students’ mental health.
  • Teachers such as Kim Taylor are teaching students to use their voices to effect change and address social justice issues

Our planet and many species of plants and animals face extinction. Our planet is crying out for relief through unprecedented wildfires and erratic weather patterns.

  • In this same moment, Piedmont sustainability leaders Susan Miller Davis, Brett Byers, and Margaret Ovenden role model how to reduce our waste and minimize our environmental footprint.  
  • Lyman Schaffer, our former Public Safety Committee chair, single-handedly educated countless neighborhood groups on disaster preparedness so we can all work to keep ourselves and our neighbors safer. 

People of color continue to experience racism and discrimination. Social unrest has erupted in response to the violent killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in June, and countless other black people in the Bay Area and throughout the country. No community has been untouched by these injustices. 

  • In this same moment, courageous students such as Harmonee Ross, Anjuli Turner and other members of the Black Student Union have shared their stories and ideas of how we can become a more inclusive and welcoming community.
  • Piedmont High alums, including Maya Guzdar, Nina Adarkar, Anna Campbell, through their POPS organization are raising funds to support Oakland organizations that fight for educational equity.

Our community is filled with talented, generous, hardworking community leaders, doctors, teachers, business professionals, and everyday citizens with so much to give.  It’s clear that Piedmonters have passion, resources, and a genuine desire to make the world and our community a better place. 

And I know we are ALL doing everything somewhat differently these days and contributing in our own ways to help our neighbors and each other through this crisis and to keep each other safe. And for that I thank each and every one of you for making the effort. 

I know our city is poised to provide a bright future for Piedmonters and we take our role in the greater region seriously. The good news is that we have the right leadership in place. Our new Mayor Teddy King loves this city and has years of experience working with government at all levels. She is well-suited to lead us in this moment. My colleagues Tim Rood, Betsy Andersen, and our newest colleague Conna McCarthy are hard-working, talented, and collaborative. Together, we are ready to move our city forward.

But the real work is done by our highly-skilled city staff, led by our city administrator, the unflappable Sara Lillevand. I can’t think of a better team to rise to this challenge. They, along with countless volunteers, have demonstrated their determination, creativity, and compassion in rethinking community traditions and responding to changing health rules, while striving to deliver the highest quality service Piedmonters deserve.  

Greta, and future generations, I ask that you keep watching. We also know change is coming. We are positioned to be the positive change-agent that’s required, ready to deliver a brighter future. 

Working together, I know we will do all we can to make you proud.

Thank you.

2 thoughts on “Commentary | A salute to local heroes

  1. So beautifully put!
    Jen, we are truly lucky to have you as one of our city council-members. You work tirelessly for our community.
    It is such a privilege to live in such an outward looking community that truly care about the greater good. I also want to give a special shoutout to our teachers and school counselors who are working tirelessly to support our kids.

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