“The way that we push forward is by investing in organizing”: an interview with Jackie Fielder

When you think about political figures associated with Stanford, it’s easy to think of a few archetypes: mainstream Democrats like Senators Dianne Feinstein or Cory Booker, national security bureaucrats like Condoleezza Rice, or big political donors like Tom Steyer or Peter Thiel. It’s harder to think of radical, progressive politicians that have come out of Stanford.

Jackie Fielder could change that. The 25-year-old alum of the class of 2016 is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, running for state senate in the 11th district against Scott Wiener, a long-entrenched figure in San Francisco city politics. Her campaign focuses on environmental and racial justice, economic inequality, and fighting the housing crisis and the forces that have abetted it. The Stanford Sphere talked with her about these campaign issues over the phone last week.

The Stanford Sphere: How’s the campaign going?

Jackie Fielder: It’s strange. Because of the pandemic, we have largely operated from our houses. All of my campaign team was quarantining and it’s only just recently that we’ve been able to actually distribute literature myself in person at farmer’s markets.

Sphere: What have you learned about the conditions of the district based on campaigning during the pandemic?

JF: Our district is ground zero for income inequality. There are 75 billionaires who have amassed billions more to their wealth. And then there are folks who are food insecure going hungry at night in 2020 in the modern United States of America. This is all happening in our district and these two cases can be literally down the street from one another.

I grappled with being frustrated at our state government for not doing enough to make sure the wealthiest pay their fair share so that the mass majority of people, who are unemployed and struggling right now to keep their head above water, have food on their table.

Sphere: Some of the major issues that you have put at the center of your campaign include environmental and racial justice. How do you see kind of the intersection between those two focuses, and how would you bring those ideas together in the state senate?

JF: Displacement has affected this district for decades and it’s largely a matter of the powers that be not prioritizing housing for low-income people, working-class people. Those folks are then being displaced to the exurbs and are now having to drive a couple hours to work in the urban centers, which contributes to our climate emissions. And their homes are also being caught in the cross-hairs of our wildfires.

It’s also low-income communities of color who are disproportionately affected by fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s those children whose lungs are filled with particulate matter and smog. I grew up with asthma being in a low-income community near the freeway in Southern California. And this is the case for millions of people in California.

Race and class have everything to do with climate change, in that it is frontline communities who get hurt the worst, especially when we’re talking about indigenous and rural communities whose livelihoods depend on the survival of our ecosystem. They are the canaries in the coal mine. It’s plain as day for anyone, but especially now in places like San Francisco, where we experienced an entire day of darkness in the red sky, that we are running out of time to fight climate change.

Sphere: You mentioned indigenous people being especially affected by climate change, and I know that your heritage is also that of an indigenous person. How has your heritage as an indigenous person influenced your political values and what would you do to kind of address the history and ongoing patterns of state-sponsored violence and displacement against indigenous people in California?

JF: I’m the descendant of a couple of tribes in the Dakotas, not a descendant of the tribes in California. So I see myself as an ally to California tribes as they struggle with, as with hundreds of tribes across this continent, being recognized as sovereign nations and having their rights as such respected in that way. And so I simply seek to continue to use my platform to ensure that tribes have a voice when it comes to state policies that affect them in any arena, but especially in land management. To me, it’s important that indigenous people have a seat at the table.

Sphere: What are your thoughts on bringing indigenous people into land management? Especially on how that relates to the climate.

JF: Many tribes already have their own land — they practice land management, they practice prescribed burns. They have climate adaptation plans. They just don’t have as many resources to collaborate with the state on them. And so I seek to to bridge that gap and be a facilitator of that relationship.

Sphere: On a separate but related issue of land in California: you’re a renter and you’ve made that an important part of your campaign. How do you see being a renter affecting your values and political priorities and how would you work to fix the housing issues within California?

JF: So, California has a population of 40 million people. 18 million of those people are renters. There’s only one renter in the entire California legislature. So my approach to housing is different from the current trend and that I have three goals: keep people in their homes during the pandemic, build affordable housing and prioritize the needs of our communities before the profits of real estate developers.

The real estate lobby, through the California Association of Realtors, the California Apartment Association, and so many other special interest groups, have a hold on our policies in Sacramento because they pour millions of dollars every single year into political campaigns as well as ballot measures that infringe on the rights of tenants.

I want to implement a $100 billion California housing emergency fund over 10 years, expand rent control and tenant protections, implement universal right to counsel for anyone facing eviction, a vacancy tax to open up homes at lower prices, an anti-displacement act to reverse this placement, a rental registry and landlord advising system to actually enforce tenant protections and last, but certainly not least, eliminating exclusionary zoning and wealthy enclaves.

For me, the private market, as we saw in the recession, is never going to provide the housing that we need because we need housing allocated according to our needs, not to the profit motive. To me, that means expanding the public sector’s involvement and making sure that we meet those goals. It means committing funding. It means ensuring that the wealthiest individuals and corporations in our state pay their fair share so that we have the financing and funding mechanisms to do that.

As a co-founder of the San Francisco public bank coalition, I’ve been fighting for a financing structure that mobilizes public funds and public investments to bring down the cost of constructing and financing affordable housing.

Sphere: In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of like democratic socialists in local government. Think of figures like Julia Salazar in the New York state Senate, or Dean Preston in San Francisco city government. How do we build on the successes they’ve had over the past few years? How do we keep building more robust local movements on the left?

JF: I am a firm believer that organizers actually set the bar for what’s politically possible. Dean Preston and Julia Salazar have been amazing champions for tenants and for working class folks, but their victories would not mean much without the field organizing that has been done on the ground among tenants rights groups, especially homelessness rights advocates; without those folks pushing all of our governments to actually reset the structures of inequality that define our society. So the way that we push forward is by investing in organizing.

Sphere: To wrap this up: how did your time at Stanford shape your development as an organizer? Stanford often feels like a very elite and almost apolitical environment to a lot of people, so what’s your advice for someone at Stanford who actually wants to make political change for good?

JF: Well, when I was a sophomore, that was when the Black Lives Matter wave around the murder of Michael Brown took off, and that really politicized me. I spent a lot of my time focused on community service in the realm of tutoring and also leading campus tours for low-income students. I also worked in a youth detention center and at another remote satellite high school, basically [teaching in] a legal rights program. So a lot of my most formative time was spent with student organizers around Black Lives Matter around the Stanford NAACP chapter and other social justice initiatives, mainly having to do with direct service.

So for me, it was a time to delve into and get to know how these inequalities affect people’s everyday lives. Organizing campus tours helped me become the organizer I was before I ran for office. But certainly, having a degree in public policy, where my professors were part of the Hoover Institution, gave me an insight into how the powers that be understand their power; how they understand economics and resources and the world as it is; and how they can perhaps justify the inequality that we see today.

Interview by Jacob Kuppermann

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