Editor’s note: Nestor Castillo is an award winning columnist with El Tecolote.

Having fled the brutal political persecution of El Salvador’s civil war, pursuing a life in the political realm was likely the last path Nestor Castillo’s parents wanted him to follow. 

Now running for Hayward City Council, Castillo says his yearning to understand the conditions involved in their decision to flee was a significant influence on his campaign. Castillo’s approach to his candidacy, while akin to the Latin American tradition of socialtist politics, emphasizes not only the local but the global issues that the most vulnerable communities in society face as well as our role in eradicating them.

Inspired by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and Alexandria Ocasio-Cotez’s victory as the U.S. Representative for NY-14, Castillo saw an opportunity for himself as a democratic socialist to, as he puts it, “Find ways to strengthen and bolster local democratic institutions and participation.”

Nestor Castillo, the son of Salvadoran migrants who fled the civil war, is running for City Council in Hayward. Courtesy: Nestor Castillo

“We need to include folks who have been excluded from the democratic process like immigrant communities, the formerly incarcerated, people of color and others who have been historically excluded,” he says.

The intersecting issues that Castillo centers his platform on include Public Health and COVID-19, Housing for All in Hayward, Economic Justice for All and Public Safety & Justice for All.

He and his campaign team approach the pandemic in a way that they feel isn’t being addressed, specifically in terms of strengthening city institutions and social safety nets. Considering the statistical fact that the primary demographics most severely impacted by the pandemic in terms of health and income are Black and POC communities—Castillo proposes an increase in minimum wage and guaranteed sick leave, for example, which would help keep folks in particularly precarious economic circumstances safe from infection and transmission.

Castillo and his team have also not only proposed an expansion of testing but an increase in access to primary case and mental health services to the community. 

“On the basic level, we’re dealing with a pandemic which is a big enough concern but what we’re also dealing with are the repercussions of an economic system that’s failing us as well as a healthcare system that for most people is tied to their employment status,” he says. “That puts a large majority of people at risk of not having access to healthcare in the first place, so we need to make sure that we find ways to guarantee that right to healthcare at the municipal level.”

The two other progressive candidates running for Hayward City Council—Lacei Amodei and Elisha Crader—are both long time tenants rights advocates. So when it came to Castillo’s approach on housing for all, he chose to emphasize another less acknowledged alternative model to the issue—community ownership and land preservation.

“This is a way to preserve the existing stock of affordable housing in perpetuity,” he says. “Often in local government, there’s this push to build, like we’re going to build our way out of this crisis. From what we’ve seen, because of the market mechanisms that we abide by, we can’t build enough affordable housing because we’re often building more market rate housing alongside it.”

Hayward has yet to experience gentrification in the same way that the South Bay, San Francisco or Oakland has. In some ways, Castillo says Hayward is just experiencing the beginning phases. Implementing community land trusts, limited equity cooperatives or things like COPA (community opportunity to purchase act), in which tenants have the first right of refusal, would do the work of preservation.

On the topic of economic justice, Castillo emphasizes the importance of not only incentivizing the small businesses in Hayward but worker owned cooperatives and micro businesses as well. “The vendor on the street corner is just as valuable as our small businesses that may appear to be ‘more legitimate’ with an actual storefront,” he says. “We want to make sure that we have a diverse local economy because a diverse economy means a stronger economy.”

Nestor Castillo, the son of Salvadoran migrants who fled the civil war, is running for City Council in Hayward. Courtesy: Nestor Castillo

One of the most potentially controversial positions taken by Castillo lies in his stance on public safety. The months of national outcry for real accountability and justice from our country’s criminal justice system has weighed on him heavily and has sparked an interest in exploring alternative models of safety like restorative justice—a model that prioritizes rehabilitation and victim-centered justice.

“When we continue to throw money at a punitive system that places majority Black and Brown folks behind bars and commits violence towards these communities—whether it be direct violence through police brutality or structural violence which stunts their potential to grow into prosperous communities—then we need to rethink what public safety can look like,” he says. “The restorative justice model is just one alternative to that.”

Castillo proves his consistency in this stance through his campaign’s fundraising. He and his team have taken the “No Police Money Pledge,” which communicates to voters that Castillo’s actions in office will not be influenced by the Hayward Police Officers Association (POA) funding. Police unions like the Hayward POA typically keep true accountability and justice out of reach by way of providing legal protection for some of the force’s most corrupt and violent officers.

He and his team were happy to take this pledge and are proud to see the effective campaign they’ve managed to run solely on grassroots funding.

“We rely strictly on donations from residents of the community—people who support the progressive movement who believe in our vision,” Castillo says.

Navigating the run for Hayward City Council during a global pandemic and social uprising has been challenging, but Castillo emphasizes that it’s in times of great difficulty when action is most needed.

“If anyone ever finds themselves inspired to run for office, they should,” he says. “I encourage folks to find ways to get involved, even if it’s not in electoral politics. Get involved in your communities, don’t wait until the conditions are ideal to do so and if it feels like it’s the hardest time for you to get involved, that likely means now is when your community needs you the most.”