By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
In 2000 OBGO Held Its First ‘Coming-Out’ Community Forum
Grassroots activism has been in the air in OB of late, with a definite spike last year during the campaign to have the OB Community Plan approved, but it also has been seen this year around the Plan at the Coastal Commission. Prior to 2014, however, there had been many a lean year in terms of genuine local activism across the village, many a moon had passed without throwing shadows on such OBcean activity as petitions and community mobilizations.
And that’s the way grassroots activism is, it comes and goes – like the tides that lap OB’s beaches and cliffs.
Coincidentally or not, there has been some talk – also of late – of a former OB activist group. It was mentioned in an article about ‘why SeaWorld can’t build a hotel at its current location’, and it’s also been longingly mentioned at some meetings of another group, the OB Citizens Against Privacy Abuse.
We are referring, of course, to a group that was so ‘grassroots’ that it had it as part of the group’s name – the Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization (OBGO). This was a group whose meetings were in the form of a large circle, a group that returned progressive activism back to the village.
And today – December 1st – is the 15th anniversary of one of the high tide marks of OBGO’s history – within OB’s modern history of grassroots activism – since the beginning of the millennium, at least.
It was December 1, of the year 2000, when a couple of hundred OBceans packed the OB Woman’s Club, with standing room only. It was the first large community gathering organized by OBGO, and spreading the word about the event had been going on for nearly 3 months.
The town hall type meeting had been organized by OBGO because the new group believed that OB at the time was facing some urgent issues, around tourist hotels coming to Mission Bay and OB being made into a tourist center, around Mission Bay and SeaWorld problems, around the old toxic landfill next to SeaWorld – around quality of life and the local environment issues.
Donna Frye made a rousing speech at the meeting. This was before she was on the City Council, and she was then heading up STOP – Surfers Tired Of Pollution. This author spoke, as did a number of others on the myriad issues – including an inspirational talk by Gregg Robinson (now on the County Board of Education).
This kick-off event was a significant success for OBGO – shown in the many new faces that appeared in the following bi-weekly public meetings held by the group at the OB Rec Center.
For about five years, OBGO thrived, having been formed by a small group of activists during the late Winter and Spring of 2000, and over the next months, widening its reach substantially to include many others. In the beginning, it all came down over several weeks, where a number of Green Party activists met up with local progressives and leftists and decided to form a political network for the community to take on crucial issues that were emerging.
The founders included Colleen, Kip, Marc, this writer, Dan, Susan, Dave, and Devon. The group formalized itself in the summer, stating that it was internally democratic and activist oriented. The group declared:
“We are for:
- Protection of the Environment;
- Human Rights, Labor Rights and Civil Rights,
- Diversity and Tolerance.”
OBGO had a type of short manifesto on its first leaflets:
“Ocean Beach is a beautiful community; we love it and we want to maintain its unique small village atmosphere, but we understand that the quality of life here is being threatened.”
On the flip side of this particular leaflet, OBGO stated it was concerned with the following issues:
- High rents,
- Beach and Bay pollution,
- Mission Bay Park and Naval Training Center,
- Displacement of Local businesses,
- Old city toxic dump,
- Voltaire Park, and
- the inclusion of northeast Ocean Beach.
For about half a decade, then, OBGO brought back grassroots activism to the streets of Ocean Beach – a community known for its activism in “the heydays of the sixties and seventies”.
The group grew from a handful, to a wide network, to an organization whose activists made up a majority of the members of the OB Planning Board and a significant number on the Peninsula Community Planning Board as well.
It was the group that forced the City to deal with the Mission Bay landfill, suspected then of leaking toxins into the waters surrounding it. It was the group that touched off the “Keep Starbucks Out of OB” campaign – that became known literally worldwide.
Now, not everyone was in love with OBGO. It made a number of enemies, particularly within parts of the city bureaucracy, with SeaWorld, with certain merchants, with Starbucks. And even today, certain folks in the village don’t hold it in much esteem or even don’t condone the term “activist”.
Plus OBGO was not always successful in the many issues it took up. Clearly not with a single-issue focus, it did succeed, however, it pressuring the city around the old industrial Mission Bay dump, it educated the community about the city’s plans to ring Mission Bay with hotels – forcing OB to become merely a stop-off for tourists, it enlivened the issues, the meetings and the elections of the OB Planning Board, it helped to hold community forums about Exxon coming into OB.
OBGO took on George Bush and it took on the Iraq War. It held demonstrations at the foot of Newport against the war. The OB Planning Board – with its OBGO-majority – even voted against the war in the Fall of 2002, months before it began, and years before the entire nation came to oppose it.
When a well-known homeless man was shot and killed by San Diego police, OBGO mobilized the community, calling for an investigation, and for restraints on police shootings.
When after years of trash and neglect, OBGO adopted a corner of vacant land on Voltaire Street and made it into a garden and park. Plus, members of OBGO published a paper version of the OB Rag for a while.
Obviously, on the surface at least, OBGO failed in its efforts to get Starbucks to close or move out. But the world heard about the campaign and boycott that it and the Committee to Save OB sponsored. To this day, many locals refuse to enter Starbucks. But truth be told, many merchants on Newport became tired and frustrated at OBGO’s many noisy protests outside the Seattle-based coffee store.
In addition, even though OBGO helped to re-invigorate the at-times moribund OB Planning Board, it did fail in having several measures pass that were put to a community-wide vote during the Board’s annual elections, particularly with one that would have banned certain large, corporate entities.
It also failed to make a dent in getting public utility bills lessened – one of its very first issues. OBGO also had little effect on a pending sale of the old Strand building, and could not do anything about rising rents across the community.
Yet, it had a deep and lasting impact, OBGO did. Ask a former member of the OB Grassroots Organization about it today, and a broad grin will certainly cross their face.
Editor’s note: Welcome to our newest column, Progressive San Diego! We received an email from Dave, a reader in Liverpool, UK, who’s visiting San Diego later this year. He had one simple question: What are some progressive places to visit?
That got us thinking. There’s nothing really available online that’s broad and comprehensive with regard to San Diego’s progressive history and locales — a directory of sorts. We want to change that.
And so each month we will feature a person, place or thing that has done something to contribute to our important cause and culture. Given our time and resource restraints, each feature will be short and sweet, or pulled from other sites with permission. Please feel free to add information in the comments. We would love this to be organic and ever evolving.
If you a suggestion for a feature, or want to submit an article of your own, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Progressive San Diego” in the subject line.