“We Deserve to Not Only Survive, but to Thrive”
Jackie Fielder is a democratic socialist running for state senate in California. In an interview, she explains how her activism for public banking, affordable housing, and indigenous rights led her to run for office, and how she found a political home in the Democratic Socialists of America.
- Interview by
- David Palumbo-Liu
For Jackie Fielder, who just announced her bid for a seat in the California State Senate, cutting to the root of the problems facing her state and country requires following the money: “Just look up specific companies and see the campaigns they’re financing. Then see which bills those elected officials either push through or water down through the legislative sessions in any given year.”
Fielder is a young, twenty-five-year-old queer woman of color who is part of a wave of progressive and radical political activists who are running insurgent campaigns.
She is running against an incumbent, Scott Wiener, with impeccable liberal credentials in a city whose elected leadership prides itself on being impeccably liberal. The problem is that, at best, this political machine has made only incremental improvements or enacted stop-gap measures; at worse, it has continued an ongoing capitalist feeding frenzy that has destroyed much of what made the San Francisco Bay Area a place of cultural vibrancy and political possibility.
Fielder is running to represent District 11, which covers the northern San Francisco peninsula, the consolidated city-county of San Francisco, and northern San Mateo County. In the 2016 primary, Wiener lost to progressive civil rights attorney and San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, who was thirty-eight at the time, but he won the general election by 2 percent of the vote.
But much has changed since 2016 and Donald Trump’s election. Today, we’re seeing a groundswell of support for candidates who are addressing the disparities that have so riven American society. That energy was seen in the remarkable success of radical Chesa Boudin’s campaign for SF district attorney. It is no coincidence that Fielder’s campaign has attracted activists from Boudin’s.
David Palumbo-Liu sat down with Fielder to learn why she is running and what she hopes to bring to the state legislature.
Why are you running? And why are you running now — what is the urgency behind this campaign?
I’m running because we have an affordability crisis in California, and although people in elected office are making some moves, nothing has changed. I’m running because we have an increased law enforcement response to homelessness when we need to end homelessness with housing and with mental health services. I’m also running because we have twelve years to mitigate climate change, and we are off track in California for achieving our goal of reducing our emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
I’m running because as a service worker, educator, and community organizer who, despite graduating from Stanford with two degrees and working as a lecturer at a state university, I am someone who’s experienced housing insecurity myself. The rent is too damn high, and the planet is too damn hot. It’s time for new leadership that is not afraid to make sweeping changes and talk about inequality and actually put money where its mouth is.
But on the surface, many people would look at your opponent and say, “What’s wrong with the job he’s doing? Isn’t he very serious about housing and all this?”
[Scott Wiener and I] are really different in the sense that we’re accountable to different communities. Being an organizer, a young Latina, and a Native American person in the world in my generation, I am accountable to people from Standing Rock to my family in Southern California, who are working-class people — mailmen, secretaries, and white-collar workers.
I am accountable to my coworkers, who are also in the service industry. I’m accountable to my friends who are working in public schools, or social workers, or organizers themselves. I see that we’re all looking to the future with a lot of fear, or doubt, or pessimism, and we get overwhelmed, and I’ve felt that this past year.
The way in which I’m different from my opponent is that I see the need for change. I didn’t see myself in politics, but we’re in a time in our country’s history where there are plenty of progressive people of color vying for seats that they never imagined for their communities.
I was just endorsed by the San Francisco Tenants Union. I don’t accept any money from developers or luxury real estate developers. I don’t accept money from police unions, the fossil fuel industry, or from PG&E. And that is going to make it so that I’m accountable to the people rather than corporations and special interests once I am a state senator.
Tell me more about the kinds of support you’ve gotten, what other kinds of support you’re looking for, and the particular situation in San Francisco in which new kinds of political coalitions are forming.
My earliest endorsements in my campaign have been from the San Francisco Young Democrats; the San Francisco Tenants Union; San Francisco Berniecrats; Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club; cofounder of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza; founder of Sacred Stone Camp, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard (a civil rights icon in the indigenous #NoDAPL movement); Tara Houska, tribal attorney and indigenous rights activist; Nick Estes, professor at the University of New Mexico; a number of community people in San Francisco — namely, organizers, and tenants’ rights advocates, and environmental justice advocates — and LGBTQ leaders.
Here in San Francisco, people are ready for progressive candidates. They’re ready for people outside the establishment. I get questions about whether I have enough experience, but I don’t understand what good experience is if one is leveraging that power to put a rubber stamp on the status quo — which, for California, is unaffordability, an epidemic of homelessness, and passive approval of our inaction on climate change.
You’ve been involved in DSA, a campaign for a public bank, Standing Rock, housing rights. Tell me a little bit about what you did in all those areas and what kinds of values and ethos you see running throughout all of them?
The first event that politicized me was Black Lives Matter, when I was a sophomore in college. We took over the 101 Freeway. That was my first protest ever, chanting through the streets of Palo Alto. The moment I got out of college, I was keen to get involved in the Bay Area activist, organizing, or political scene, and I found that there was plenty to do on the end of police policies.
I learned a lot about Oscar Grant and the families that Oscar Grant’s family have connected with through their own pain and struggle for justice. [Oscar Grant was a twenty-two-year-old black man murdered by a security guard while riding on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train on New Year’s Day, 2009.]
I saw how many millions of dollars police unions pour into state legislative races, including the assembly and senate, and I saw very clearly how that affected bills when they finally got to the legislature. They would get watered down. That’s what we’re seeing still, five years after the apex of Black Lives Matter.
That’s when Standing Rock was going off in my ancestral territories of the Dakotas. My grandfather was born and raised on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, went to boarding school in Pine Ridge, which has a really dark history.
My grandmother grew up on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which is where the Dakota Access Pipeline ends in northwest North Dakota. Both of my grandparents passed before I was even old enough to be interested — my grandma passed when I was two, my grandpa passed when I was fourteen.
So when this movement came around, I found a ton of people like me who had been alienated or disconnected from their family history, and for the first time in generations, we saw an indigenous resistance in physical form in one location, and to no one’s surprise, there was a concerted, militarized law enforcement response and violent crackdown on unarmed water protectors there — indigenous and nonindigenous.
I saw that happening at the end of 2016, around the time Donald Trump got elected. I was studying for the LSAT, but when he was elected, I thought to myself, “Why the heck am I studying law when this guy doesn’t have to?”
Around that time, I was trying to see how I could support Standing Rock. I went for a day just to drop off some donations, but I went home and thought, “There’s something I could do from afar.”
I wasn’t sure what that was until I saw Seattle had this gigantic movement focused on getting their city’s money, which amounted to billions of dollars, out of Wall Street banks that were financing the pipeline, which turns out to be all the Wall Street banks we know of — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank.
I saw that, got in touch with them, they supported me and my motivation to bring it into San Francisco. So a month later, we got the Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution, which is a nonbinding intention saying we’re going to divest our $10 billion from Wall Street. But I’m not satisfied with symbolic moves. I actually want that money divested.
We’ve spent the past three years focused on finding ways to reinvest the $12 billion budget of San Francisco. It makes sense to a lot of people here that we need to be in control of our own finances and our own investments. We’ve gotten this bill passed called AB 857, working with our assemblyperson, David Chiu. Now all California cities have the option of having their own public bank.
But we’re trying to make San Francisco the first in line next to Los Angeles to actually apply for a public banking license, so we can divest all of that money from Wall Street and reinvest in things like affordable housing, renewable energy, reducing student debt, public infrastructure, and keeping small businesses open that keep closing.
That’s been our approach for the past three years. Public banking will always be my passion. It’s in a good enough place now where I feel like I can actually speak to the issues that I’ve been facing myself and that my communities have been facing here, namely displacement and unaffordability and the weight of the economic system on our shoulders.
It’s literally physically painful to work several jobs at minimum wage and try to organize for a better world. I have students at San Francisco State who are leaving with so much debt, a handful of them are unhoused or housing-insecure. We deserve better, plain and simple.
How do you see yourself as part of a very significant historical moment?
I am inspired by other people who have seen the odds, seen the money stacked up against the people and in favor of the status quo, and have still thrown their hat into the ring to say, “This is not acceptable for a developed nation. This is not acceptable for the wealthiest country in the world.” And I’m saying that for California.
To have 157 billionaires, to be the sixth-largest economy in the world, it’s absolutely unacceptable for anyone to have to commute an hour and a half for their job. It’s unacceptable to have wildfires up and down the state, and legislators are hemming and hawing about how we’re going to reduce our climate impact over the next twelve years that the IPCC has given us, which is even itself a conservative estimate.
We have to face the music as far as climate change, which at this point is irreversible. We’re going to have it. Maybe not all of us US residents in our lifetimes will have to emigrate elsewhere, but people already from Central America and other places around the world are migrating to countries like Europe and the United States because they are experiencing climate disaster, as well as US intervention and legacies of Western intervention in their own countries for our own economic benefits.
Every action that we have here — whether that’s buying a laptop or solar panels or a specific piece of clothing — has effects elsewhere in the world. It doesn’t just come from a vacuum. There’s a saying in Lakota, mitakuye oyasin, which is, “We are all related.”
That’s been my philosophy with following the money from the pipeline to our own bank accounts. We are all connected financially, socially, spiritually, economically. We’re connected, and that also means that people at the bottom can’t be oppressed without our own permission. It’s time to seize the moment.
Finally, what drew you to socialism?
Mainly, my own political coming into being has been guided by a philosophy of following the money. That’s what I did when I approached policing policies. I tried to understand who benefits economically from racism and police violence in a militarized police force. Clearly, it’s private prisons, and it’s all of us who benefit from Victoria’s Secret or license plates made by prisoners or those of us who experience wildfires.
From an indigenous perspective, sharing, cooperation, and slowness is the way that we survive, so anything opposite of that, which is fast, greed, individualism — it’s just not working out for us.
I got involved with DSA San Francisco when I was recruited to manage the campaign against Proposition H, which was in June 2018. The Police Officers Association in San Francisco put a measure on the ballot that said that they were going to write their own use-of-force policy when that’s the job of the police commission. I was recruited by DSA to run that campaign, because I already had some experience with police policies and organizing. We unified a lot of the city to beat that measure, even with its confusing ballot language, and we won, by something like more than 60 percent of the electorate.
From there, I joined DSA, because that was the group that was pushing for the campaign. Since then, it’s been a great place to enact direct action, specifically around #NoTechforICE to draw attention to the tech companies who are contracting with ICE and Border Patrol, whether that’s Palantir, Microsoft, Salesforce, or Amazon.
We also did an action last year during the fires to hand out masks to unhoused people in conjunction with Mask Oakland and a lot of other organizations, like Bay Resistance. We stepped in where the city and the state were not. We planned the distribution point to be City Hall so we could bring attention to the fact that the city hadn’t opened its biggest shelter to unhoused people when they were breathing in all this smoke. Right before we arrived, the city opened up its biggest shelter.
DSA was one of the homes for the Our City Our Home (Prop C) campaign last year, which was a small tax on the wealthiest corporations in the city — corporations like Square or Salesforce — to fund supportive housing and mental health services for our unhoused neighbors. My opponent [Wiener] was on the side of the SF Chamber of Commerce and the founder of Twitter in being against Prop C. Still, the city passed it by 63 percent. My opponent was also in favor of the police’s use-of-force policy and Taser measure; Wiener and the Republican Party sided with the police union on that one, and they lost.
My involvement with DSA has been an extension of my own people’s beliefs — namely, indigenous people and Mexicanos — that we have to rely on each other to survive, that we deserve not just bread, but also roses. We deserve to not only survive, but to thrive. This means joy and leisure time and all the things that make the human experience worthwhile.
For me, that looks like single-payer health care, a $20 minimum wage, expanded labor protections, free childcare, free and quality school from pre-K through college, and increased teacher pay. All of that is necessary for people to not only survive, but to thrive, and not only the wealthy should be able to do that.