It has been three years since Occupy built a camp outside of Oakland City Hall. On Sunday night, Mike Wilson, a member of Occupy Oakland, and some of his grassroots comrades gathered around in their old spot at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza to have a formal discussion about whom the group should endorse in the upcoming mayoral election.
And soon one of the candidates they were considering approached. The gatherers heard a distant bark, and then saw a familiar silhouette dashing over the grass. This was Einstein, the only canine candidate running for the mayor’s seat.
He seemed to be immersed in a comfortable and familiar environment. Walking around with his head up, he wagged his black tail, seeking a friendly stroke from his fellow activists, although sometimes, he just wanted to bury his head into his owner Ed Biow’s foot. Einstein is a 10-year-old Catahoula Cur who got involved in Oakland politics when Dan Arauz, Biow’s friend, decided Oakland needed a new candidate. Arauz set up the campaign’s website and social media feeds. Then Wilson and others began volunteering.
Wilson is an Oakland resident who wears many hats: He is now officially Einstein’s campaign manager and political adviser, as well as a carpenter and activist. “We looked at the other mayoral candidates, we found that none of them were working very hard and changing things for the better of the city,” Wilson said in a video posted to Einstein’s Facebook fan page. “They were all thinking about their campaign contributions, which usually come from the most wealthy people. And in order to get those contributions from the wealthy people, they have to appeal to the wealthy, rather than those who need the help of government the most.”
So they decided the dog could do a better job. Einstein is not only an adorable dog, but also a veteran in activism. He was one of the thousands of participants in Occupy Oakland who were tear-gassed by the police. His campaign website states that whenever he hears the name “Jean Quan” he will start barking right away. (For the record, Wilson owns a cat, but he says the cat wouldn’t be as good of a candidate because she never camped at Occupy.) When asked how he communicates with Einstein, Wilson said, “It’s quite easy to communicate with the Einstein. He’s not shy and he never holds back.”
Einstein cannot officially file as a candidate or get qualified as write-in candidate, due to what the Oakland Wiki website calls the “human-centric bias in current election law,” although the site still lists Einstein as an unofficial candidate. Still, according to a flyer that the campaign organizers have handed out to spread the word about their candidate, everyone is invited to chalk their votes for Einstein by writing down “Einstein for mayor, I vote 4 the dog!” on the public streets of Oakland. The flyer contains a QR code that links to Einstein’s website, and Einstein is a very technology-savvy candidate. (When Oakland North launched a mayoral poll, his campaign rallied their supporters on Facebook and Twitter. As of Monday evening, Einstein was leading the poll with 37 percent of the total, and nearly double the votes of the top human vote-getter.)
The planks of Einstein’s mayoral platform are mostly tailor-made for humans, including the creation of a Public Bank of Oakland, a bank that would manage city revenues and pension funds to provide universal services for Oakland dwellers, and ensure that profits generated in Oakland are kept in Oakland. According to Einstein’s website, he also has an anti-surveillance, pro-privacy stance, and opposes the Domain Awareness Center, a planned surveillance hub which aims to integrate public and private cameras and sensors all over Oakland into a $10.9 million mass surveillance system. Einstein argues that the Oakland city government should not be able to collect data on citizens for hypothetical legal purposes. “This is done simply to collect incriminating information that can be used to pressure people to testify in some other instance sometimes in the future. It is also the case that the federal government is trying to buy local politics,” Wilson said.
As an incarnation of Occupy Oakland’s legacy, Einstein is dedicated to bridging the income inequality gap, according to Einstein’s official website. Einstein supports setting a maximum wage requirement—no more than seven times the company’s lowest wage. If a boss wishes to make a higher salary, he or she will have to give out raises. His positions on other issues, including gun control, the health care system, policing and air pollution, are available on his website.
But why run a dog for mayor? Wilson felt that the poor, the unemployed, and people who have been unfairly treated by the police don’t have a candidate in this election. “If it were possible for a dog to be elected as a mayor, what it means is that it will be no human being holding executive power in the city,” he said. “So that will mean that all policy decisions and enforcement of laws will have to be run not by the chief of executives, but run by the people of Oakland.”
In a video posted on the “Einstein for Oakland” Facebook page, Einstein’s owner Biow said, “The real point is that we should all run the city, not one individual human being should run the city. We should all participate in it. It is more of a symbolic action.” (The YouTube video is titled “Better Oakland Be Ruled By Dogs Than Pigs.”)
At Sunday night’s meeting, the Occupy Oakland members didn’t reach a general consensus about which candidate to support, because the 19 participants in attendance fell below their quorum standard of 70 members. But Einstein still received positive feedback from his fellow campaigners. Saied Karamooz, who is also running for mayor, took part in the meeting, and said that Einstein is a continuation of Occupy’s spirit. “It is a continuation of the struggle,” Karamooz said. “It is about going against the traditional politics that serves the powerful and the rich instead of the masses.”
“We all have to acknowledge that for a dog to become the mayor of Oakland is a long shot,” Wilson said. “But it has an influence on the debate. It still has value, it still has importance. No matter what’s the outcome of the election, Einstein for mayor will become Einstein for Oakland.”
This story was updated on November 4 to reflect Dan Arauz’s early involvement in Einstein’s campaign.