This blog was written by one of our volunteer organizers in Redwood City. If you would like to contribute a story to the SV DSA blog, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grassroots organizing hits different in Redwood City. If you live or work here, then you know that’s not a controversial statement.
I moved here when I was fifteen, on the ass-end of a traumatic experience with my mother that left our family devastated and with nowhere else to turn. My dad was a single father suffering from PTSD, a janitor at the Palo Alto Veteran’s Hospital. Just to give you an idea of how we lived at the time, the only towels we had in our apartment were the towels that my dad stole from his job at the hospital. They were these tiny white and blue rags, meant for cleaning up messes. I remember desperately wanting my dad to buy “real towels” so that I could actually get dry when I was done showering. That was, among other things, a very embarrassing part of what it meant to be a teenager who was poor and working class in Redwood City.
Shit got realer than just towels, though. While living in Redwood City, I struggled with food insecurity, an issue which contributed to a chronic illness that I was unable to receive treatment for until I had better insurance (read: until I had money). Bay Area wealth was all around us, it just wasn’t for us. And it made me angry.
I was fortunate enough to find a way out of my circumstances. I went to school in Berkeley and I saw first-hand what popular uprisings looked like. I saw how Berkeley kids reacted to racist and fascist ideas, and how they fought back. The rage in that community was an antidote. Contrary to how the media likes to paint these kinds of uprisings, there was something about it that felt healthy to me. As I walked through the rubble of what used to be a Starbucks on my way to class, it hit me: I wished Redwood City was like this. I wished Redwood City was passionate and unwilling to bend. The Redwood City that I knew was asleep at the wheel.
Turns out I didn’t know Redwood City as well as I thought I did.
Redwood City is awake. Redwood City is more than awake.
Go to any city council meeting and see for yourself. In the public comments section, you’ll hear the voices of people who are pushing back against narratives that say we must continue to fund a bloated police budget and be fiscally conservative only when it comes to affordable housing and other life-affirming services. When Redwood City Jail Support and the Hood Squad alert the community about the inhumane conditions that human beings are experiencing within Maguire Jail, people take to the streets in the downtown area, banging on drums, chanting, making noise, and refusing to let the city rest. When the San Mateo County Coalition for Immigrant Rights tells people about how Sherriff Bolanos is continuing to collaborate with ICE, even during a pandemic, people call for him to resign. At rallies, local artists like Jose Castro are painting murals and speaking up about how the North Fair Oaks community has been the target for police harassment.
In the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd, these activists in Redwood City are coming together to make their demands about defunding the police and prison abolition heard. From the democratic socialists of Silicon Valley DSA to the pissed off neighbors of RWC for Racial Justice on Nextdoor, people are sick of the same old bullshit. We’ve shown up at the RWC City Council’s virtual listening session to speak up about our police department’s anti-black and anti-brown violence, and people are finally starting to listen. Electorally, we even have a chance at getting a seat at the decision-making table through an elected representative of our own, a queer nonbinary person of color who is running for RWC’s District 3 City Council seat. Lissette Epinoza-Garnica, unlike some of our current city council members, is not funded by big tech or big real estate. This is someone who actually wants to fight for the working class.
Maybe you’re thinking there isn’t a point in trying anymore. 2020 seems to be spiraling out of control, with the fires in San Mateo County and Santa Cruz having recently displaced residents and filled the air with toxic smoke. COVID-19 is still a spectre hovering over our community, so what can you do?
A lot, actually. A single person, even in times like these, can make a huge difference. One of the best ways to get involved in Redwood City organizing is to join the Redwood City SV DSA working group, which was inspired by national Black Lives Matter organizers in June 2020. The Redwood City SV DSA has the backing and resources of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, a chapter which stretches from here in Redwood City down to San Jose. As a working group, we have the ability to focus solely on Redwood City issues and to coordinate with local activist groups like RWC Jail Support, the Hood Squad, and SMC Defund Coalition. We’ve also compiled a comprehensive petition requesting that the City Council defund and descope the Redwood City police department, and have met with city staff and council members to discuss our requests. Much of the work we do is developing strategies for interacting with city council, especially during city council meetings. We meet every other Tuesday evening, and you don’t have to be a DSA member to join us; check out SV DSA’s event calendar for upcoming events.
If you’re interested in seeing us in action, the next RWC City Council meeting is going to be held virtually on Monday, October 26th at 7PM, when the city council will be discussing the revised budget. If you would like to get in touch with city council members about your opinion about the issues affecting Redwood City, you can email them directly and let them know how you feel. You can also speak up at the city council meeting itself, and if you cannot attend, the meeting will be documented via live-tweet by volunteers on SV DSA’s Twitter.
There are more ways to get involved with the work we do in Redwood City. Lissette Espinoza-Garnica has been endorsed by the SV DSA, so by showing up, you can help show support for a candidate that is running on a platform built for working class people. Another way of showing support for Lissette is to sign up for campaign volunteering opportunities (textbanking, phonebanking, and lit drops). It is possible to socially distance and self-isolate while volunteering to fight for working class people.
Another thing local activists are doing right now is keeping an eye on the rise of the far-right in our city. A “blue lives matter” protest was being organized in association with the Fox News-famous Redwood City landlord personally responsible for writing the threatening letter that convinced our spineless city council members to back down about the Black Lives Matter street mural. This person is also known to send intimidating letters to the employers of at least one person of color who spoke out against the blue lives matter protest on social media. At the event, a counterprotester and local organizer in favor of Black Lives Matter was pinned to the ground and arrested after being accused of jaywalking while facist ideology was being spewed just yards away.
The landlords and police officers who organized it or attended are not going away. We need to be aware of this kind of white supremacist behavior in Redwood City, this ideology centered around the unfounded idyllic notions of police as a public safety force and the concept of private property as more valuable than human beings. We need to recognize how big tech companies are protecting this ideology at the expense of black and brown lives. Black and brown lives won’t matter in this city until black and brown people feel safe from the violence and the intimidation.
There is plenty of work to be done, we just need people who care enough about this city to turn out and show up. In addition to working with the Redwood City SV DSA group, you can help by donating directly to the local black and brown led organizations whose people bear the brunt of systemic inequality. Check out RWC Jail Support and the Hood Squad for their mutual aid efforts. To learn more about the history of these kinds of issues, check out the Nextdoor group that hosts an online forum and book club that meets Sundays at 7PM. Check out the calendar of SV DSA events about issues that affect black and brown people, like housing, crisis pregnancy centers, and more.
In the words of an organizer who spoke to the crowd in front of Maguire Jail on August 28th, 2020, “It is a revolutionary act to care about other people.” Are you ready to do some revolutionary acts in your own city?