OPINION: Why a Jovanka Beckles victory is crucial

on November 2, 2018

“We the People,” says the preamble of the American Constitution. But for years, this apparently democratic phrase has mainly meant upper-class predominantly white citizens.

Tuesday’s elections in the 15th Assembly District might change the meaning of who “We the People” really are in the Trump era. The race is a microcosm for the larger political battles in the United States, with possible echoes for decades to come.

Buffy Wicks is the traditional candidate, a white woman born in California and raised in a trailer-park. She has a political science and history degree from the University of Washington. Clear spoken, smart and articulate, she used to be a protester against the Iraq war, until she became a politician and participated in both of President Obama’s campaigns.

She has been endorsed by the traditional power centers in the Democratic establishment, including Obama himself. In 2016, she led Hillary Clinton’s campaign to victory in the state of California, earning the nickname: “Buffy, the Sander’s Slayer.”

Now, less than one week before the election in which she is herself the candidate, she has raised $1.4 million in donations, according to the California Secretary of State. The amount is three times what has been raised by her opponent Jovanka Beckles, who has collected less than $500,000.

Beckles could not be more different. She’s lesbian, black and a Latina immigrant, a working woman who has never stopped advocating for civil rights. She immigrated at age 9 from Panama, and holds a job as a mental health professional. She does not have the personal wealth to stop going to work to fight her campaign.

Her team is small: only nine people are on payroll and the rest are volunteers. Her wife, Nicole Valentino, manages her campaign. Richmond has been her hometown for the past 20 years. Endorsed by Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar, Beckles is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and her campaign has been supported by the group locally and nationally.

Her city itself is an icon of grassroots organizing through the Richmond Progressive Alliance, known as the RPA. This alliance won a majority of Richmond City Council seats in 2016, toppling the political power structure in the city that had long been close to Chevron Corp., the biggest oil refinery in California located in the heart of the city. Supported by the RPA, Beckles has been on the city council since 2010.

Beckles’ punchline slogan is catchy: “Corporate free, people powered,” and she means it in a impressively coherent way. Not only she does not accept any corporate donations, but as a city council member she has also been at the forefront of workers’ and minorities’ rights, along with the RPA. It led Richmond’s effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; eliminated the box that people had to check on housing applications if they had criminal records and got the city to adopt one of the first rent control measures in 30 years.

In this race, the underlying question for voters should be: Who better represents what “We the People” means in 2018?

Win or lose, the challenges that Beckles faces as a candidate reflect the structural inequalities that independent socialist candidates face when running for office. They have far less money. A total of $1,425,633 is being spent to support the candidacy of Wicks, about three times the $478,897 fueling the effort to elect Beckles. Like Beckles, many socialist candidates do not have the personal wealth to be able to campaign full-time and lack the support of well-established party structures. Ultimately, such inequalities serve to exclude them, or, as in Beckles’ case, make it very hard for “We the People” to rise to positions of power.

Both candidate’s platforms are very similar and can be deemed “progressive” in a place where that concept has changed over time. Today, California is the free-market haven steeped in the ideology of Silicon Valley: a mixture of the libertarianism and unrestrained corporate power that enabled the growth of internet companies.

In this context, both candidates call for the state to become 100 percent reliant on renewable energy, adopt a single-payer healthcare system and expand public education. But they differ on the essential question of how to solve the area’s housing crisis.

The flip-side of the tech boom are steeply rising rents and increasing homelessness. To confront the problem, we are in this election offered the choices of the free market versus benefactor state. This battle of ideologies is embodied in the choice we have to make on how to vote Election Day on Proposition 10, a ballot measure which would allow cities and towns to impose rent control locally. Beckles fully supports it. Her goal is also to push for building affordable housing on public property paid for with public funds. Wicks, on the other hand, opposes Proposition 10, saying that it “will stop construction and development” of the houses that people so desperately need.

Wicks’ argument is flawed. The East Bay does not need more construction sites. New developments target wealthy people who can pay for housing at a market rate. Displacing and evicting lower-income people who can no longer pay the rents to make as much of a profit as possible is the essence of gentrification. This particularly hurts communities of color.

All you need to do is talk to people around the Bay Area to understand that some serious government intervention is needed.

“They are pushing us out to make money out of our homes and neighborhoods,” says Mara López, a waitress from North Oakland who I met recently on a bus. “The rents are too damn high.”

In other words, the housing problem is not about development but about long-term and affordable housing for minorities who are being pushed out of their communities by rising market prices. The invisible forces of Adam Smith cannot solve this one.

Tony Samara, the program director of Housing at Urban Habitat, an Oakland-based organization that works to overcome structural inequities, argues that it’s no surprise that Wicks shares the position of real estate developers who oppose local rent control. Her contributors include many of the same billionaires who created the housing crisis. Indeed, Silicon Valley billionaires like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman are part of the effort to get Wicks elected. So have corporate trade associations and real-estate groups, like the California Association of Realtors.

“They see housing as a commodity that is traded for profit instead of treating it as a basic human right,” he said in an interview.

Referring to the grassroots organizing of the RPA, Bernie Sanders has written that “to change U.S. politics, we need more cities like Richmond, California.” Will he say the same about California if Beckles wins the race?

Rather than a political party, her candidacy seems to be part of a larger movement in a country that has been afraid of socialism since the Second World War. If she sits in the California State Assembly, she might not have the required votes to pass her proposals, but she will be a powerful dissenting voice to represent the majority of people living in the East Bay rather than the few wealthy and privileged.

Indeed, if Beckles wins, her victory would reflect a century-long battle to overturn power structures that have been falsely deemed as democratic in favor of more grassroots, people-over-profit people and policies. “We the People” would be more empowered to act on behalf of the people.

Gisela Perez de Acha is a student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. This is her opinion and not necessarily that of Richmond Confidential.

20 Comments

  1. Richmond Son on November 2, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    ” …Not only she does not accept any corporate donations …”

    This is patently false, Beckles has been accepting money fromthe California African American PAC which include the SEIU United Healthcare workers, Tesla, Facebook, a Chevron PAC, PG&E, Disney, the California Charter School Association PAC, Eli Lilly, Sempra Energy of St. Louis, Calpine, the California Real Estate PAC, the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Young’s Market Company of Tustin, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, Charter Communications of St. Louis, and others.

    • Donald Goldmacher on November 2, 2018 at 10:30 pm

      Please stop distorting the facts. As soon as she learned who this political action committee really consists of, she immediately denounced it. And she did not take the money, they spent the money on her behalf, ostensibly. Now why would she accept any money from Chevron knowingly. Obviously she would not, since she has been fighting Chevron For the past eight years. So please get your lies straightened out.

      • Richmond Son on November 4, 2018 at 2:24 pm

        Sounds like I hit a nerve, ‘my lies’ – that’s hilarious as I’m stating a truth. In her own words, “I disavow corporate spending on my behalf …” Well, turns out she ‘just’ discovered one of her donors is funded by corporations, billionaires, and special interests after it had already been publicized. If a pillar of Beckles’ campaign is to not accept corporate money, why didn’t she perform due diligence to determine the origin of the funds? Either she didn’t want to know or she didn’t bother researching. And that level of detail should be a concern to voters. Spread your disparagement elsewhere, Donald.

    • Matt on November 3, 2018 at 8:21 am

      She recently disavowed this money in a statement here: https://www.jovanka.org/jovanka_rejects_new_pac_spending

  2. Eugene DeChristopher on November 2, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    I’m a Wicks supporter who voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016. I voted RPA all the way until now. With all the vitriol that I’ve received from Beckles supporters you’d think I support Trump. It’s unfortunate and dispiriting that Buffy Wicks is faulted for being an articulate, highly educated white woman. Do you fault President Obama for being an articulate highly educated black man? Is being from Panama more sanctified than being from a trailer in the Sierra foothills? I think many progressives who support Jovanka and Bernie have become sanctimonious, self righteous and narrow minded.

    Mendaciousness is widespread this political season. It’s disillusioning seeing it coming from fellow progressives.

    Buffy Wicks has my vote because she will be the most effective at the practice of government.

  3. Graciela Rodriguez on November 2, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    This is a really good opinion piece. Thank you for voicing what others have feared. Richmond Confidential is a great service to the community

  4. Damama on November 2, 2018 at 9:25 pm

    I know at least 20 people, including myself, who were avid Jovanka fans. We no longer are. She has managed to totally alienate us – some by calling people names, some by refusing to answer any hard questions, some just by ignoring them and blocking them on social media. I can’t vote for someone who belittles other people for whatever reason. By the time you’re mature enough to run for office, you should be mature enough not to call people stupid, idiot, entitled, racist, a liar, etc. etc. The list goes on. This is not someone I would feel comfortable to represent me. Tony Thurmond is so much more my style. The kind who speaks softly and carries a big stick (which he rarely uses anyway).

    I’ve spoken enough with Buffy that I feel like, without putting labels on her, that she will be able to bring up our concerts and push for things that will help ALL of us in Richmond, including those of us who are evil white people who live our own homes (but couldn’t afford to buy it now) and think retirement would be a lovely idea sometime in our 70’s, because we’ll need those extra ten years of income to survive. We’re not starving, we’re not homeless, we’re not drug addicts. But we need representation, too. I don’t think Jovanka wants to represent people like me. I feel strongly that Buffy can represent everyone who lives in Richmond, from the homeless child to the landowner. And I think she’ll do a great job.

  5. Sandra Davenport on November 3, 2018 at 8:29 am

    Can someone name one legislation that Jovanka authored while 8 years in the city council? (Other than the space-minds debacle?) She can’t answer this because there are none that she initiated in 8 years. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her because her campaign has no funds? Hmmm Excuse me…isn’t that inherent in democratic socialism, which she espouses? Jovanka is the queen of three word phrases that could be t shirt slogans (“Landlords are evil; people over profit”) sounding hip and tough with no substance whatsoever. Wicks has the knowledge and tools to solve real problems and to work with others. The state already thinks Richmond is nuts/crazy. If Jovanka gets in our image is down to below zero. Plus, nothing will get done. Wicks is able to represent ALL of us, not just those who Jovanka “thinks” is deserving.

  6. Deborah Bayer on November 3, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Obama endorsed Buffy Wicks, but Jovanka is endorsed by Barbara Lee. Good enough for me. Go Jovanka!

  7. Mr Reed on November 3, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    You know that Richmond Confidential is owned by Chevron right? This is a hit piece against Wicks.

    • GT on November 7, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      I was under the impression that the Richmond Standard is owned by Chevron. Richmond Confidential is a nonprofit that is part of the journalism program at UC Berkeley.

  8. Mr Reed on November 3, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    Plus your conclusions about housing are demonstrably false. Rent Control DOES NOT help less well-off folks get more housing.

  9. Chris Broglio on November 3, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Make no mistake, Buffy Wicks is a corporate democrat supported by other corporate democrats. She is just more another Hillary clone that the Democratic National Committee and the democratic elite are supporting. She is being groomed for bigger things like senator, governor, or maybe, dare I say, even the presidency. She is being supported mostly by the white liberal elite in this district, yes I mean you white Berkeley and you white Oakland. So a victory for her is just business as usual for Democrats in this district.

  10. Richmond resident on November 3, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    Richmond desperately needs to attract new businesses. We don’t even have a grocery store. Our image is that of a dangerous place where no one who is able to move would live. We’ve had very little new housing built, so businesses won’t even consider moving here because there is no where for the employees to live. Jovanka has said many times that she will only agree to build low income housing. That’s important, but it’s not going to mean much money for the city, and it will do nothing to attract the business we do desperately need.

    She has proven over and over again that she is unwilling to compromise. She wanted rent control in Richmond so much that a poorly written law with flaws was put on the ballot. She was one of many who said those flaws would be addressed after it passed. So after it did pass, I wrote to her and asked her how those flaws would be addressed. That’s a good question, she responded. She said she’d get back to me. That was nearly a year ago, and I never heard another word from her.

    Instead, the rent board decided that if someone was evicted from their rental, for any reason, the owner would have to pay the tenant as much as $16,500 as a “relocation fee.” So if you are renting an in-law in your backyard, and your son needs to return home and move back in, you have to pay. If there’s a flood and the renters have to move out so repairs can be made, you have to pay.

    A lot of my friends who have lived here are getting older, and thinking about retirement. Their plan was to rent out their home and move into a smaller place, but now they are afraid to rent their home out. They are simply afraid that they couldn’t afford it.

    The first two times Jovanka ran for an office here in Richmond, she was elected by an overwhelming majority. But during the primary in June, she got less than half the number of votes that Buffy got – in her own home town she couldn’t win. It’s because the people who live here have seen the crazy stuff she has done, and we want no more of it. There are a million stories about Jovanka belittling someone, screaming at them, basically bullying them – because she didn’t like the way they voted. She gets bored during city council meeting so sometimes to pass the time she plays video games on her phone. If people ask her questions on Facebook or twitter too much, she blocks them.

    To people who don’t live in Richmond, all they know is that Jovanka calls herself a progressive. Berkeley loves the thought of voting for a progressive, as does Albany and El Cerrito. Why can she no longer win a majority of votes in her own hometown? It’s because of all the people like me who thought she was so wonderful and campaigned for her, voted for her, told all of her friends to vote for her – and to repay us, she used us as stepping stones to try for something bigger and better.

    I hope everyone who reads this will vote on Thursday. But I hope you will think long and hard about what kind of person you want representing you. Do you want someone like Tony Thurmond, who always had time to talk to his constituents, and introduced legislation that will help everyone, not only the “disenfranchised” who are the only ones Jovanka wants to help. Or do you want someone who will introduce legislation to regulate”space weapons” that control your brain and your thoughts? Do you think kids should be vaccinated again terrible debilitating diseases? When asked that question, Jovanka spent 30 seconds talking around it. Yes or no.

    Again, please vote, and when you do, be informed.

  11. Chris Broglio on November 4, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Here is a quote from the above article …….” stepping stones to try for something bigger and better” just who is going to do that? Like the man said “follow the money.” All that money from special interests for Buffy. They could care less about about our assembly district and the people in it. Vote Jovanka

  12. Louis Segal on November 4, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    Wick’s came to the East Bay in the spring of 2016 as a Bernie-slayer, working for HRC. She’s accepted lots and lots of money from corporate interests in support of charter schools, watered down health care programs, and watered down rent control. Walk downtown in any East Bay and West Bay town and you’ll find lots of building and little affordable housing. What’s wrong with this picture. I think Jovanka is the real thing, home grown and authentic and principled. I think Wicks is an import from the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. Why she is here, dictating our politics, poisoning the discourse with hit pieces by her corporate allies is an open question. But Jovanka speaks for me and the East Bay I was born and grew up in.

  13. Bryan Lane on November 5, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    >Buffy Wicks is the traditional candidate, a white woman born in California

    Heavens, we don’t want one of THOSE people in the Assembly!

    Beckles’s letter to the city council about mind control is shocking. She’s either mentally ill, ignorant, or both. I know she’s said she was only expressing sympathy for some woman who believes it, but seek out the letter–Jovanka clearly believes it. This alone is a reason to vote against her, no matter what your politics are.

  14. Obama Clinton on November 7, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    I am glad that Beckles lost, because her backers made hysterically nasty attacks against Wicks, including attempting to tie her to Barack Obama and Hillary>>>>>two leaders that are widely respected in the East Bay.

  15. John Knox on November 7, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    Buffy is a very effective progressive and will accomplish a lot in the legislature. We are fortunate we have her, and not her rigid, ideological and ineffective opponent. Watch what happens in the next few years — I predict you will see Buffy Wicks emerge as an important and effective progressive voice in Sacramento. The bonus is we also got rid of one of the most dogmatic and difficult Richmond city councilembers, and the RPA lost its majority. win win, I say!

  16. Lisa Bird on November 8, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who can’t stand JB. Actually, neither one of those two were my candidate in the primary, but I’m tired of ideological purity. Wicks is a pragmatic liberal. They’d both vote the same way, for the most part, but Wicks won’t get in fights with everyone she meets. JB is my neighbor and she’s been doing that for years. Sick of her. It’s hilarious to call Wicks a politician like it’s an epithet. JB has been running for office ever since I’ve known her. And yes, to the person who posted about the awful rent control law–which I voted for btw. I was going to rent my house at cost to a teacher or non-profit worker when I leave, until I realized that bit about the $16K.

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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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