Ami Chen Mills wants to “bring climate and resiliency leadership” to Santa Cruz County. She is a climate advocate, mental health educator, social justice and pro-democracy radio show and podcast host, author of three books, journalist and mother of two. She says she can bring new forms of dialogue to our political processes.
I am not a career politician.
I am a mother, investigative journalist, mental health educator and national nonprofit director who has lived in Santa Cruz County for nearly 30 years.
Eight years ago, I watched with alarm as the ochre sea stars dissolved and died in masses at Mitchell’s Cove. I used to take my two children to see the stars there when they were young. Through my research, I learned the stars were dying of “wasting syndrome,” exacerbated by a heating ocean, caused by fossil fuels. I also learned we were losing kelp beds along the Northern California coast, as well as the giant sunflower sea star, and more.
I dived into climate science, and, combined with my advocacy skills, have brought engaged attention to the climate crisis in our community, in Congress and globally. You might know me as this kind of advocate.
But I am also a deep listener and skilled at human relations.
For six years, I served as a resiliency trainer and member of a leadership team for Santa Clara County’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Services. I worked throughout the Santa Clara County system to help employee teams and clients in the county jail, juvenile hall, work furlough programs, correctional ranches and sober living environments get past rigid, negative ways of thinking and tap innate mental health, resiliency and wise decision-making.
This work was so profound and effective, I launched a national nonprofit to bring the same training to at-risk, high-crime communities in Charlotte, North Carolina; the poorest regions of the Mississippi Delta; and migrant communities, schools, restorative justice programs and therapy clinics in Des Moines, Iowa. We achieved inspiring outcomes in civic engagement and community cohesion, decreased stress and depression and increased academic achievement. I worked with both police and residents to connect with our common humanity. This led to decreased violence and property crime in project neighborhoods.
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Santa Cruz County needs visionary, noncombative leadership. I know how to work with people and find common ground. I seek to tap creative thinking and solutions not currently within our field of vision.
Our nation and community face multiple crises now: of civic dialogue, of democracy, of climate and supply chain disruption. This includes creeping challenges to food supplies — even here in abundant Santa Cruz County. And we continue to navigate the vagaries of COVID-19.
Youth are suffering from climate anxiety and grief. Adults are, too.
We must engage in innovative solutions, like regenerative agriculture and rewilding projects, which draw carbon back into healthy soils and natural areas so that rather than fear the future, we participate in making it better. Local solar microgrids can help us gain independence from Pacific Gas & Electric. A youth climate corps will involve our young people in meaningful climate work across the county.
We should be a national model of climate solutions.
Homelessness — along with what I call a “housing emergency” — demands thoughtful, diverse solutions; those who are unhoused will not simply disappear because people wish them away.
For nine months, I served on the city’s homelessness advisory committee. I will work with and engage in dialogue with advocates and neighbors to create shelter, housing and real solutions across districts, according to the varying needs of those without shelter. We need workforce and “missing middle” housing desperately. As a journalist and communicator, I will share what I know and learn with you about these issues.
Our county needs inspirational, practical, forward-thinking leadership to ensure our community is resilient to water-level rise, wildfires, drought and more. Our fresh water supplies must be protected into the future. As important, we must be psychologically and even spiritually resilient.
That means leaning into our gratitude for our remarkable and beautiful community. That also means, as we face these crises, we learn to bend so that we do not break; to come together, so that we do not come apart; and that we accept difficult new realities – while also knowing we have creativity, resilience, compassion and strength in unlimited supply.
I believe I can lead our county with heart as we navigate difficult times. I will implement best practices and innovative solutions across challenges so we are a beacon for our youth and for communities nationally.
Ami Chen Mills is a mental health educator, former national nonprofit director (Center for Sustainable Change), a climate activist and investigative journalist. She is also a mother of two teens and lives near UC Santa Cruz. She is the author of “The Spark Inside: A Special Book for Youth” and “State of Mind in the Classroom: Thought, Consciousness and the Essential Curriculum for Healthy Learning,” as well as a recent essay on climate and mental health in the book “A Life Less Serious.” She has lived in Santa Cruz County for nearly 30 years. Find her campaign site here.