We are just over two months from the election, and an issue is weighing on my heart to such a degree that I just have to address it. I’ve avoided answering, or being direct, for political reasons. And in doing so, I have sacrificed my principles, or rather what I know to be right.
When I first started thinking about running for Camarillo City Council, I honestly was on the fence for a long time. Not only am I a pretty busy person, but I wasn’t sure that the demographic of the district in which I live would be very amenable to the issues in our city that are important to me. Issues that I know I have the capacity and ability to effectively organize around as a leader that is out front and accomplished, but may not be representative of the values of my district nonetheless.
I am a staunch advocate of public health and safety. Before, and after, the onset of the pandemic. I believe that the pandemic absolutely could have been handled better by local leadership, but I also think our community (as in the average you and I of it) could have done much more to crush the virus with our own city- and resident-driven initiatives. Our kids could be in school in person; our businesses could be more open. Instead, we are in a mess, and Camarillo was a part of that.
I believe in a lot of things that are seen as relatively proactive and forward-thinking that could change our city for the better. These are things like: public and battery charged solar energy, climate change mitigation, affordable housing for all income levels so people can afford to live AND work in our city, public transportation, city-wide beautifying initiatives, public WiFi, livable wages, bike paths that are raised and out of the road, roundabouts, expanded public transportation that actually works around the needs of the entire community, Blue Zone Project, senior services, farmworker education and support programs, community programs for publicly offered tutoring and student support, expanded food banks, community events that don’t just make money for investors and the people that run (*ahem*…embezzle… from…) them, but that honor the rich tradition of our city and its values… I could go on for days, but I think you all get my point. I believe in a future for Camarillo that is much bigger and much brighter for all of our nearly 70,000 residents, and if elected would work tirelessly to make these things a reality.
I also believe that Black lives absolutely and 100% do matter.
Many of the earliest conversations I had after making the decision to run for office had the same theme: “as great as it would be to run a social justice campaign right now, you just can’t do it… people don’t want to hear that Black lives matter in Camarillo.” And it’s true: many don’t, and for me – a resident of Camarillo – this is one of the saddest things I have ever had to say, or hear.
But I believe that we still all have the capacity to grow from here.
Several voters at this point have wanted to know if I believe that ALL lives matter. They want to know if I believe that, or if I know about Black Lives Matter the movement and its origins. To be clear: I understand the need to ask this question, but it’s uncomfortable to answer because I know the divisive position on this issue in our community. Many hear that my children and I did attend a faith-based and peaceful vigil after the killing of George Floyd, and they shut the conversation down, immediately and from that point on. Nothing I say from there is worth anything to them: I have lost their vote. Full stop. On an issue that doesn’t really have to do with being on a city council; and yet at the same time has everything to do with it.
Both my opponent and I have said that Black lives DO matter. He said it multiple times in city council meetings prior to the week when everything hit the fan and our city became indelibly divided.
The difference between he and I, though, is that I don’t back down on humanitarian issues, changing my position when the votes become contingent on it. What my opponent did that day, when he proposed a resolution that All lives matter, was divide our city. All lives are not lynched on live television; or shot 7 times in the back. Black lives are. That night divided our city over an issue we should have been out front on; and opened the door for the just over 1% of Camarillo that represents the Black community to be subjected to the hate and divisiveness that came from that night. Good and reasonable people whom I respect very much went on to say things I never, in all my life, ever imagined them saying. Believing in conspiracies that aren’t just conspiracies, that are dangerous for our community. That are dangerous for our public safety and front line workers.
Back the Blue became the city mantra, and to be clear: I do Back the Blue. In fact, there is more evidence to this in that I am the founder of the Village at the Park Neighborhood Watch group – the biggest impact any average resident of a community can take to support our police is to volunteer to engage in community policing alongside them.
What does not Back the Blue is what happened that night at the City Council.
Our city is not safer when people are divided, and a community and its supporters are dismissed. Our city is not safer when we fail to look at the pulse of the nation, and prevent what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake by having a leadership on the city council that has the fortitude and gumption to delegate the education and initiative for change, if needed, and to make movement towards validating that there is no room for racism against Black people in our city. It doesn’t matter if you personally have experienced it: we should have taken a stand as a community that there is no place for it here. Again: full stop.
If we’re being honest, it’s hard to believe that all lives matter to anyone given the situation in our city right now anyway.
If ALL lives matter, why does Camarillo rank worse than the national average on income equality?
If ALL lives matter, why have we not addressed the fact that disabled individuals unable to utilize the limited CAT services are forced to ride their electric scooters and risk their lives in our poor excuse for bike lanes, just to pick up their medications from the pharmacy?
If ALL lives matter, why are we shelving solar battery backup projects when people’s homes are being subject to rolling blackouts that in some cases their jobs and lives now depend on?
If ALL lives matter, why do we not protect our police and our vulnerable population and our nurses and doctors by wearing masks and socially distancing, and having leadership that is aggressively out front on making sure the public connects those two dots?
I wonder if any of us really has a clear definition of what All Lives Matter means, just as we seem to have lost what the principle behind saying that Black lives do matter involves. All lives do matter in many ways, and we need to move into a space where we – as a community – can make actionable public policy that is a reflection of that.
Fundamentally, what we are doing here as a community is getting lost in semantics and fighting over something that is doing nothing. Who would it really have hurt to say that Black lives do matter in a resolution? Or as a city to instead convene a volunteer task force to assess and make recommendations to the council? What about convening a forum with councilmembers, police, and other community leaders from the faith and education communities to educate and keep the conversation going – something every other city in our county did, but Camarillo? The Black community is considered a micro-minority community, that is to say that they represent such a small portion of the community (1.26%, to be exact), that at some point we have to ask ourselves: why? Why don’t people in the Black community want to live here? All things that could have been addressed in a different way; instead we turned into a miniature culture war in a community that is supposed to be better than this. A community that is better than this.
It is tempting to believe we missed the opportunity, but I have to hope that we can somehow come together, stop fighting, and do more.
I say that this may be the thing that very well loses me the election because I am in a relatively conservative district, where Back the Blue and All Lives Matter signs and flags are everywhere. But I have to believe that we can all rally around the fundamental truth of public safety and Camarillo’s commitment to inclusivity.
I believe in a community that has the ability to grow and to have conversations and to move on, together – safer and more unified. We don’t really have to fight about this. We just have to say we’re going to do more and learn more and grow as a city.
I hope you will support my candidacy, because if we stop arguing about things like this we can really start doing the work our city needs. All lives do matter. Black lives matter too.