Ami Chen Mills and Lynda Marín disagree with Lookout’s endorsements and insist we need more emphasis on diversity. They say the Santa Cruz community needs to do more to elevate progressive voices and openly discuss “issues of class, wealth, poverty and the forces of gentrification that create a homogenous, increasingly wealthy and, therefore, mostly white society.”
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As women of color and leaders for social, racial and environmental justice here in Santa Cruz, we are disappointed by the Lookout endorsement of no on Measure N (the empty home tax) and of Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson for Santa Cruz County Supervisor.
It would be hard for the two people on your editorial board — one of whom is new to this community and both of whom are white — to understand the political climate in this city and district that we, as progressive women of color, find ourselves in. We wish you had chosen no endorsement or a dual endorsement, given your formative status.
While this community might view itself as “progressive,” our history includes the violent exclusion of the Chinese community — led by the publisher of the Santa Cruz Sentinel in the 1800s. More recently, the highly contentious recall of a young, Black man and champion of the unhoused created pain for many in the Black and unhoused community along with their allies.
While issues regarding the treatment of women were ostensibly part of this recall, the introduction of the political action committee Santa Cruz Together (SCT), led mostly by wealthy, white homeowners, developers and landlords in Santa Cruz, has created a political force that is clearly not about racial justice, women’s rights or economic justice.
We applaud Kalantari-Johnson’s activism to support the women of Iran and her impressive grant-writing work. But one cannot lift up race and support for women without also engaging issues of class, wealth, poverty and the forces of gentrification that create a homogenous, increasingly wealthy and, therefore, mostly white society. By opposing solutions like N (nearly $50,000 donated to SCT to defeat N by the California Association of Realtors) and configuring new election districts that diminish the voices of the working class, renters, students and Latinx individuals, the current Santa Cruz City Council majority establishes gentrification as “the norm.”
Kalantari-Johnson is the chosen candidate of SCT. Both championed the map that diluted the power of students, the Spanish-speaking community and UCSC, which make up a much more diverse community than Santa Cruz generally, and who care most deeply about impending climate chaos.
When the current council majority is challenged on behalf of the unhoused (composed of more people of color, as well as LGBTQ+ people and Indigenous than the wider society), it becomes indignant, angry and self-righteous. If we speak up — about campaign finance or ethics violations, about wealthy and real estate backers, about real racial equity at all — we are subject to accusations of being “negative” or “divisive” or “attacking” candidates.
We know three women on the council identify as women of color, but identities do not necessarily lead to a politics of inclusion and social justice. It is unfortunate that the most reactionary segment of our community backs these women.
The SCT-supported council majority has attempted to silence the two progressives now on the council by limiting discussion of motions and blocking “amendments” during public council meetings, as well as by keeping them out of behind-the-scenes meetings and off the council agenda. If you attended such meetings when concerns of these members were shut down, you might not use the phrase “consensus-builder” to describe your preferred candidate so assuredly.
By ignoring or silencing meaningful critique at the structural and systemic level, a mostly white and increasingly wealthy community can pat its own back for its “diversity” and “liberalism,” for supporting “women of color,” while ignoring the real power dynamics behind our politics
Justin Cummings is a Black man, a renter and someone who supports the empty home tax. He has stood up for the unhoused. Cummings also has far more to say about the climate crisis than Kalantari-Johnson and, as a biologist, understands what we face — as the Mississippi River dries up along with the Colorado, and supply chains, including food production and transportation, are increasingly disrupted.
If your candidate gets elected, we hope she separates herself from the exclusionary politics of her backers. We recognize self-discipline is needed to resist the will of those who generously fund candidates’ campaigns. Nevertheless, consensus-building must involve all of us and cannot happen when righteous indignation and exclusion are the response to critique.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “there can be no peace without justice.” The kind of peace Lookout seems to be striving for is the self-satisfied peace of the wealthy and comfortable in our community over the very valid concerns of those who suffer, and stand to suffer, far more.
Lynda Marín is a climate and social justice activist living in Santa Cruz.
Ami Chen Mills is a climate and social justice activist living in Santa Cruz. She ran for the District 3 county supervisor seat in the June primary.