Welcome to the first part of my 5 Part Series: The Infection Was Initially Mild: My Small Town City Council Run, the Toxic American Pandemic Response, and What Both Mean For the Future Of the Country.
You can also read the entire series now, download it in entirety in PDF format, catch the disclaimers in the Introduction, listen to it on Text to Speech (I have to warn you it’s a little awkward), or watch the Text to Speech on YouTube.
Also, more resources, videos, updates, and Pay What It’s Worth links can be found there too!
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I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I think to myself at least once a day: remember that time I ran for city council? I don’t think that way to myself often about many other things. But on the city council run, I do.
This isn’t to say that I am in absence of thought about random things that happen in my life on a daily basis. It’s to say that when I think about it – the city council run, it comes across my mind like a surprise. Over a year later, and I still am in shock that I did such a thing. In fact, the further time gets from the election, itself, the more ephemeral it becomes. Like a passing daydream, or a nightmare that reoccured for a period, and was traumatic enough to remember but not significant enough to keep in the forefront of my mind.
I – a stay at home mom of three kids, who writes part time, here and there; is in a graduate program in political philosophy, also part time; and, who is generally misanthropic and a little agoraphobic – ran for city council. Put myself in front of the entire city (in actuality, only one district) and asked for people to elect me – me, of all people – to lead for four years.
It’s just such an overtly bizarre thing to think about because it was probably a bad idea. Had I been elected, I am certain I could have done a good job in fulfilling my campaign promises, and bringing order to a community that has become completely disordered through the course of the pandemic. The truth is, I’m still doing that now, for having just run.
But I also would have had to button up my mouth, and play politics in a time when the last thing leaders should be doing is engaging politically.
Me running for city council, in reality, was tantamount to the time I believed that I could design a village of chicks out of neon-colored deviled eggs. To make matters worse, I used bits of black olives and carrot shavings for the eyes and beaks, and positioned them upright in uncooked white beans; and in the middle of setting the whole thing up, decided I would use guacamole in the filling for half of them, and make little signs for them to hold on toothpicks that said “chick me!” I’m not sure just what I was thinking at the time, but it was surely rooted in some level of temporary insanity; and in the end, it looked, and felt, like vomit.
Remember that time I ran for city council?
In 2020, I ran for city council in my small, wanna-be rural town. I say it’s “wanna-be rural” because the concept of the old days, flannel shirts and cowboy attire, and phrases like “all the fixins” are pervasive to our culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Backwoods rural communities and the middle of nowhere seems like a pleasant experience two years into a pandemic that has relied entirely on communities working together, when no one wants to do anything for anyone but themselves. The purpose of pointing to these qualities, though, is in highlighting some of the consequence, and the fact that it’s simply not true. Positioned just 50 miles north of Los Angeles, with a citywide population of just over 70,000 people, we are anything but rural. No, with an airport, growing community needs, and a Starbucks on every corner, we are urban-suburban sprawl. Still, many locals equate flannel shirts, backyard BBQs, and American flag-bedazzled Fords with a rural community; one where anyone can openly shout racial slurs at passers-by, and everyone knows everyone else. One where “it ain’t your business” is a community motto. Where community leaders are meant to handle miscellaneous things like missed trash pickups, and spray paint on signs in town; but ultimately the only other expectation is that they protect the townspeople from other governments (county, state, etc) reigning on their parade. Many of them long for the “good old days” that existed in other places of America, things that this community has never really seen.
At least 59% of people living in this city are living on generational wealth; this is to say they work blue collar jobs (or, in some cases, no job at all) and have homes entirely paid off decades ago. 76% live in homes owned by another entity (such as a private landlord or property management company). Approximately 30% are involved in conspiracy groups, mainly QAnon. Unsurprisingly, a good chunk of voters in my district – comprised of some of the wealthiest homes in the city, alongside those of less good fortune – do not want affordable housing, or people of color, living anywhere near them.
Ag and 4H is big (nothing wrong with that); as is the county fair and country music (I suppose these both get a pass too). Military families from the nearby naval base make up a substantial portion of our city, and Patriotism is codified in the fabric of our community, so much so that when people hear a jet overhead, someone immediately posts in the town Facebook group for moms: ”that is the sound of freedom!”
Religion is a big thing around here, with more churches than I can even count, and the average conversation with a neighbor always inevitably turns south when someone in the group randomly blurts out “isn’t God amazing?” Again, nothing wrong with religious groups, but in many circles it turns into a pass for unsavory and unethical behavior if you simply add some trite, colloquial religious phrase to the end of it. “Oh, Darrel shot off his brother’s big toe at the range the other day because he had one too many Coors? That’s too bad. Blessing be to the Lord our God it wasn’t his whole foot.”
On that note, perhaps the most notable thing about our community (at least in my view) is that the gun store is a hallmark of our So Cal town, so much so that there is regularly a line out the door, and the city celebrates it at the annual wine walk.
Now I say all of these in a blunt and overtly descriptive way, and some has a pejorative connotation to it. This was one of my first problems: my frank way of stating realities came across as an affront to a lot of people. Perhaps that was for good reason. Politically a really stupid move, I philosophically believed we as a community should be confronting some of these things that could tease out the best parts, while leaving behind the antiquated and divisive ones, the things that actually harmed each other, to grow into a better community. (This was, in the end, not exactly a winning strategy.)
Remember that time I ran for city council?
We are divided into districts, and in my district there is a special brand of non-partisan voters that decide every single election. During the campaign, I precinct walked my entire district (flyering and doorhanging, only, because of the pandemic), and I cannot think of a single street that was absent a Trump 2020 flag. Each election, both of the major political parties seem to claim these non-par voters as their own, but the truth is they are the anti-establishment and anti-party voters who liked Trump because he wasn’t your normal politician. This view has not changed for them, in spite of all the chaos that comes with it.
In truth, I only needed around 4,800 votes, plus 1. My district, in fact my entire county, has had a static presidential election year voter turnout around 80%. With only one other opponent in a race that is albeit easier to win when there are several options, 50% of that plus 1 would still win me my race. As it turned out, likely due to many people in my district being Conservative and/or pro-Trump, but knowing that in California this would be a waste of a vote, we only had a 67% voter turnout, and of that I only turned out 22% of them. A wet noodle of a result, if you ask me.
On the larger scale, my county is nestled in a more conservative swath of Southern California. It would be generous to call it purple. Here we have a lot of elected officials that are even branded as Democrats, and I believe they’re just so ineffectual and dysfunctional, the Republicans won’t even take them. A great example of this is my state assemblywoman. Originally a city council member in a neighboring town, this woman uses the Democratic Party like my ex-boyfriend that used me for rides to school. She has less interest in the Democrats or social justice, or any of their claimed causes and policy positions, than probably the Libertarians do, and yet she runs as one time and again. To be honest, it isn’t even exclusive to how she uses the Democratic Party, either. She uses closely aligned racial and cultural groups too, with zero interest in truly advocating for them. During the election I ran, she was at a candidate’s event I attended hosted by the local Islamic center. In response to the question on what she intended to do to fight Islamaphobia in and around the community, her response was: “I don’t know, but I always like your food!” When she decided to run for state legislature, she was pretty handily elected – a “just to the right of the center Democrat in a red pantsuit” is what I like to call her. Even further evidence to this Conservative underpinning is not only in her voting record, but the fact that out the door she endorsed my opponent – a right wing Republican, described by some in the community as “a miniature Donald Trump.” (Miniature in scope of office, and just because he is really a small, small, very small man.)
In the presidential elections, we usually go about 60% to the Democratic nominee, and last year was no different. However, every other race down the ballot – from governor to water board – is more of a mixed bag. Our local elections are non partisan, but this is neither a genuine designation, nor an accurate reflection of what powers control our grassroots community initiatives. The political party affiliation is either quietly known, or something people are overtly aware of: there is rarely an in between.
The average voter though doesn’t even know that our local elections are technically non-partisan. This is something I learned fairly early on in the campaign. I did manual texting until the very end, and an explanation for my voters about what non-partisan meant, and how our city council seats were technically run in that manner, was needed so frequently that I ended up creating a note in my campaign phone that I could copy and paste it from. Just because you run non par, though, never meant you actually had to be non par. My opponent and I both took endorsements (and money) from our respective political parties. Him the GOP, I the Democrats. The thing I failed to get out ahead on, though – perhaps one of my earliest failings – was that in reality I’m politically all over the place. The Democrats just sort of fit at the time. In truth, I disagree with both the Democrats and the Republicans more often than I agree with them.
At the end of the day, my opponent again masterfully manipulated my own messaging to portray me as a leftist radical that would turn our city into one where people were shackled by socialism, forced to wear burlap sacks and live in a communal shanty while paying allegiance daily to a dark Stalin-esque overlord. While he signed a fair campaign promise to not smear his opponent, he told people I – his opponent, just a mom – wanted to defund our police department and turn the city into a crime-ridden cesspool.
This was my second major failing: as I did when I first got into politics out of college, I lived on my own fantasy island where people had educated political and philosophical discussions, and then chose candidates based upon whose ideas made the most sense. And, that people that agreed to fair campaign practices campaigned fairly. Stuck in my esoteric realm of academia and childish naivety, I let him control my message with his rumors and identity politics before even making my first campaign appearance.
This failure of mine, and masterful manipulation of his, was even displayed on his signs: he was the independent and loyal candidate; I the partisan hack with a a secret agenda. Never mind the fact that he contracted with a local political consulting company that is exclusively by and for Republicans, and I hardly had the support of any local Democrats, the party simply endorsing me (I assume) because of an absence of any other options – none of this mattered, because most voters barely even knew there were local elections going on, let alone had the sense to check his campaign contribution filings to see who he was sending money to for the management of his campaign. Nevertheless, when he and I were in front of our largest audience – the 55 and over neighborhood located in the center of our district – he manipulated the elderly by telling them that he was “Independent and Loyal” while I was a part of a Democratic conspiracy to sneak my way into local public office. I sat in disbelief – in the same way I sit in disbelief when I think about the entire candidacy today, as he said right into the camera for these Bettys and Berts to watch on their closed circuit television station. And while I moved to correct this glaring lie immediately, it was clear that the damage was done. They never hear the truth, they only hear what was said first.
In any event, I ran. I lost. The decision to do so was precipitous, my family and I still feeling the disastrous social consequences of the choice. Here I am, more than a year later. I learned a lot of lessons, but more importantly I am still left – in many ways – bewildered that I did the thing at all, that it was real and serious and – most importantly – resulted in the most eye-opening and lesson-filled year of my entire life.
Remember that time I ran for city council? To be honest, I’m not sure I could forget.