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Indigenous organizer to challenge former SF Sup for State Senate seat

Political campaigns—whether local, statewide or nationwide—are categorized by a calculated, wonkish style of promotion. One that often leaves out or overlooks the desires of working people as being too uninformed to be trusted. Jackie Fielder’s state senate challenge to Scott Wiener is flipping this notion on it’s head. 

Fielder is a Mexican-Indigenous organizer who works as a server when she is not lecturing at San Francisco State. She worked with the NODAPL protests in 2015 before championing public banking here in the city. Her work as co-founder of the Public Bank Coalition led to a bill proposed by District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer to establish a second Municipal Banking Task Force. 

Fielder’s goal is—like her platform—lofty. She hopes to win the March 3, 2020  primary election on the back of her all-encompassing platform: “affordable housing and ending homelessness, a green new deal for CA and economic justice.” 

In an interview with El Tecolote, Fielder talked about how she went from the frontlines of organizing to the trenches of a state senate campaign in less than a month. “I obviously didn’t plan on getting into the political realm until this year when I was working some serving jobs to support my income as a seasonal lecturer. I’ve just been feeling the crunch for housing,” she said. 

This crunch is not just something she postures on at campaign events, but is something she is living. Having to couch surf for the last few months due to being unhoused and housing insecure, her experience with the brutality of housing problems in the Bay Area is one of the key factors in differentiating her political movement from that of other San Francisco politicians. 

California State Senate D11 candidate Jackie Fielder addresses her supporters during her campaign kickoff party at El Rio in San Francisco on Dec. 6. Photo: Heidi Alletzhäuser

The dramatic change she proposes is primarily focused on income inequality and the litany of issues that come along with it. Fielder believes income inequality is not dealt with enough in Sacramento. 

“A lot of people are for these great ideas like single-payer healthcare and mental health services and ending homelessness but when it comes to actually finding the resources and funds to make it happen, I don’t see a lot of movement there,” Fielder said. “And no one’s talking about income inequality.” 

Her frustration comes from personal experience but is not unsubstantiated. With California’s economy having climbed to the fifth largest in the world, it is really no surprise the golden state is also home to 157 billionaires. At the core of Fielder’s campaign is her fight for equity and equality for all Californians, not just the ones who can afford it. 

Fielder talked about Labor issues as a distinguishing example of the flaws within California politics. 

“There are state legislators that have a perfect score card with the labor orgs, not all but specifically on labor specific bills they have voted correctly,” she said. “But what is not encapsulated in that scorecard is all of the issues that really hit workers, such as affordable housing, healthcare, childcare and education.

“As far as I’m concerned, there is way too much charter school money, real estate money in legislature and California state politics for there to really be anyone who has a 100 percent score for workers.” 

This kind of interconnected platform for the people is what Fielder has championed in her organizing and is championing in her campaign. She supports repealing Costa Hawkins and the Ellis Act and is not taking money from charter schools or real estate interests. She supports “gig workers rights to form a union and get all of those same benefits as union workers,” in regards to AB-5 but is reserving full support for the bill until talking with gig workers themselves. 

Another flaw she pointed out of the Sacramento style politics is the willingness of politicians to voice support for an issue without following through. She sees the discourse around affordable housing as a good example. 

“You’re supposed to be able to rent a house for 30 percent of your income, for me that would mean paying $1,000 a month in rent, which we know in SF and District 11 in general, that’s rarely possible for one person,” said Fielder. 

Fielder spoke with excitement and pride about her previous work with the Public Bank Coalition and the grassroots movement behind it. From her perspective, public banks are “a necessary step for cities to be able to provide affordable housing, renewable energy, public infrastructure, reduce student debt and keep small businesses open.”

This is a revolutionary viewpoint on politics and how they should operate regarding capital. It’s often a foregone conclusion that special interest money is inextricable from politics, that it is simply part of the process and working people have to simply grin and bear it. Recent victories by Chesa Boudin and Dean Preston, along with Fielder’s State Senate campaign, challenge this notion about money and politics. 

“They won because people saw that they were the obvious challenging candidates who are not going to go the usual route of establishment politics and making deals with big real estate or with police unions, and they won,” she said. 

San Francisco is experiencing as close to a political upheaval as possible in a city that, nationally anyway, is still on the far left end of the spectrum. Progressive and leftists voices are challenging and winning against the established political machine. The fervor and excitement of a grassroots political movement is playing out on a national scale, as well with Senator Bernie Sanders’ popular presidential campaign. 

Fielder feels political labels are “unhelpful” and she recognizes that a core set of issues is really the driving factor behind her support. Judging by a packed, 200-person campaign kickoff on Dec. 6, she may be right. 

Her campaign differs from Wiener’s in many ways, but the most telling distinction may be how she described her supporters and potential supporters. 

“If they are people that are feeling the crunch, whether they’re unable to find housing or unable to find one job that pays enough…if they fear for future generations ability to breathe clean air and drink clean water and eat from fresh soil, then they are absolutely the people I want to talk to.” 

Story by: Ian Firstenberg

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