Joe Thompson for Assembly District 28: We need to empower young people to vote

Union organizer Joseph Thompson outside Starbucks' Mission Street location
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Joe Thompson is the youngest candidate ever to run for a California Assembly seat. They are 37-40 years younger than their opponents and say the legislature is bogged down with old-fashioned thinking and ideas. They say they’re a voice of change and youth, and the right person to combat climate change and big business. They’ve fought to unionize a Santa Cruz Starbucks shop, where they work as a barista, and are ready to take on bigger issues in Sacramento.

Most people don’t know or care much about their state assembly member.

I was the same way until a few months ago. The reason? California has no legislators like me.

I’m young — just 19 — engaged and enraged about climate change and the plight of workers and young people across this country.

I’m the youngest candidate to ever run for this office. If elected, I will become the youngest legislator in Sacramento.

We have only three years to avoid the worst climate change-induced problems on our planet. We need to stop reelecting the same politicians who caused and then systematically ignored the problems.

They don’t represent us and they neglect the issues we care about. I hope to change that; through my people-powered campaign, I hope to engage a generation of new voters.

I’m a barista at our local Starbucks on Ocean and Water streets and, since November, I have been organizing a union with my coworkers so we can have a voice on the job and democracy in our workplace. On Wednesday, we celebrated a victory: We became the first unionized Starbucks in California.

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I’ve also started working to help stores across California and other states unionize. Next up: a fair contract for all workers.

I am the only candidate who has taken on billionaires, billion-dollar corporations, and the largest union-busting firm in the U.S. And I won!

Our political system is broken. It’s not supporting working-class people, it’s not working for renters, it’s not working for students. It’s not working for anyone except the political elite.

Too many have been neglected for too long by establishment politicians who care more about donors and bank accounts than representing workers.

I was born and raised in Lincoln, California. When I was 15, I started paying my own bills, gas, food and other purchases. At 16, I was working as a busboy at a local pizza place and as a barista at Starbucks after school. I also played football and won debate championships. I know how to multitask.

I come from a working-class, Hispanic background; my family is deeply rooted in this community. My great-grandfather was a union electrician with the railroad, and I feel proud to continue his legacy. My first-hand, lived experience in a multiethnic family helps me understand the importance of advocating for economic and racial justice.

While canvassing in Santa Cruz, I have talked to residents facing eviction, renters struggling to make payments, and families unable to afford first homes. The California Democratic Renters Council has endorsed me because I am the only candidate taking a strong stand on this problem.

I’m a UCSC student and I know how hard it is to find housing. Students attending college should not have to be sleeping in their cars or on friends’ beds, or commuting hours to get to campus.

I’m running to give my generation a voice, hope, and a chance to fight for true change. At UCSC, I’m studying environmental studies because I care about our planet and want to be part of the solution. Across the world, young people are making a difference on climate change, and California — so often at the forefront — needs young leaders to create policies establishment politicians have failed to implement.

We have three years to fight climate change. We also need to address the local housing shortage and start addressing inflation, decreasing wages, food insecurity, affordability and health care.

Joe Thompson with activist Angela Davis at a Juneteenth event in San Francisco in 2020
(Via Joe Thompson)

I am the only working-class candidate who isn’t taking corporate money and who’s dedicated to fighting for workers. I’m 37-40 years younger than each of my opponents in this race.

Young people need better representation, a voice that understands our struggle and the struggles of many residents in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

Voting for me is a vote for equality. Although about 37.5% of Californians are aged 18-39, we are the least represented group in the state legislature. There is not a single State Assembly member born after 2000. With that large of an age gap, it’s no wonder up to 9% of UCSC students are homeless or living without stable housing.

Students are being crushed by debt and plagued with accepting low-paying jobs in order to make payments. Meanwhile, chancellors across the UC system are getting huge raises (UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive just got a $100,000 raise).

My generation is understandably angry, distraught, and wondering: What should we do?

The answer is simple. Vote.

We have power. We represent a huge portion of voters, and we recognize that the electoral system is inherently broken.

Voting for me is a vote to change that inequity.

Joe Thompson is a barista at Starbucks who is leading the fight to unionize stores across the state. They are a first-year UC Santa Cruz student studying environmental studies with a concentration in policy. They are a California native who grew up in Lincoln. Find their campaign site here.