Photos by Jennifer Emerling
Asking for Radical Change
“You will lose, and I can guarantee that.”
That was the message sent to David Paredes via Zoom as he spoke before the Fresno County Democratic Party Central Committee.
David, who is running for Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) Trustee Area 5 against Democratic incumbent Carol Mills, was present at the virtual central committee meeting seeking support for his campaign. The individual who messaged David claimed that he was consulting for Mills.
“Getting that type of message when you are just a young person of color who is trying to run and do good for our community, it kind of shakes you up a little bit,” said David, who is 24 years old.
David didn’t let the message discourage him from running. He and his campaign team canvassed every weekend leading up to Election Day. His entire team is in their 20s, with his Community Outreach Coordinator being the youngest at 20 years old and his political consultant being the oldest at 26.
David never thought of himself as someone who would run for public office. That changed when the pandemic hit and his plans to be a substitute teacher were derailed. He decided to look into the FUSD trustee Area 5 race and the current incumbent Carol Mills. After doing research, David felt that Mills was not serving the community as best that he hoped for, and he decided to ask around to see who was going to challenge Mills. Instead, everyone he talked to encouraged him to run, and they all pointed to his organizing work with community youth.
David is running a grassroot campaign against an incumbent that has major political clout and more resources than him. Mills even received the endorsement of Fresno Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer. In essence, David is running against a political Goliath.
But Goliath still sees David as a viable threat. In a statement to a conservative news organization, Mills attacked David saying that he supports “voting communist” and “looting local businesses.”
David attributes these attacks to people feeling uncomfortable when the community asks for radical change. The radical change he refers to is giving youth access to restorative justice and mental health services, fighting for environmental justice and achieving equity for community youth.
“Maybe some of the things we are saying are actually right because for so long our communities have been the ones to feel the uncomfort, who have felt that our voices aren’t being heard,” he said.
David did score a major upset against Carol Mills when the Fresno County Democratic Party endorsed him over her.
David understands the obstacles he faces as a young person of color, and the Zoom message he received in that meeting is a reminder of those obstacles. He decided to use that message as a way to motivate himself while he canvassed. He actually has it saved on his phone lock screen.
On election night David will know if his calls for radical change resonated with FUSD Area 5 residents.
It is not just about being older
“When I moved back, one of the first things I heard was that one of the programs [The Doctors Academy] I was in high school got cut recently, and I know that it was such a huge help to students getting to college,” said Jaspreet Nagra, 22, who is running for Selma Unified School District Trustee Area 2.
Selma Unified decided not to continue to fund the The Doctors Academy program back in July. The program has been around for about 10 years.
Jaspreet teamed up with other alumni from the program in an attempt to figure out a way to save the program. They reached out to Selma school board members without much success.
Jaspreet felt things didn’t add up, and she also felt that more could have been done by the school board to save the program. That is when she decided to look into Selma school board members’ seats.
At first, she encouraged people on social media to run for seats that were up for re-election. But then she realized that she was more than capable of running herself.
One of the challenges she has encountered running for school board has been how people view her because of her age. People make assumptions about her experience.
“I might have just been a student, but that doesn’t mean I am new to any of this. I have seen what is needed in underserved communities directly. I have spoken to students on an individual level,” she said.
She also says that, “It is not just about someone who is older, someone who might have been in politics for a while. You have to think about what someone can bring to the table.”
She has also been attacked on social media where she was called a “communist” via a post on the News Around Selma Facebook page. The post has since been deleted.
Jaspreet didn’t take it personally since it wasn’t the first time something like that happened. She focused her attention on talking to people and making sure they have accurate information about her.
She recounted a story about talking to a Trump supporter who was at first apprehensive about Jaspreet’s party affiliation to the Democratic Party. By the end of her conversation, she won over their vote.
These incidents haven’t fazed Jaspreet, who has seen overwhelming support from other young people.
“A lot of people are really excited to support someone younger, someone that they might be able to relate to more,” said Jaspreet.
Young people who aren’t able to vote yet have reached out to her to help through phone banking and canvassing, not just from Selma but from across the Central Valley. All of this has made her feel grateful and excited about her race.
“Regardless of what happens, I think it’s really cool that so many young people are stepping up, and I hope it starts a new era,” said Jaspreet.
Young People Are Stepping Up
David and Jaspreet represent the progressive youth movement that is taking shape around the nation.
Gen Z and Millennials are looking for candidates who reflect the same values they have. They are willing to support these candidates and are also willing to step up to run if the situation calls for it.
In Delano, Salvador Solorio, 24, is running for city council and sees himself fighting for the working class people of his city. He also has the support of many young people from his community.
Veronica Vasquez, 43, who is also running for Delano city council, said that half of her campaign team are made up of young people.
Jennifer Hidalgo, 32, who is running for Modesto city council, said young people were among her first supporters. Her lead volunteer coordinator is only 16.
Jose Gurrola is running for re-election for mayor of Arvin. He is only 27 and fighting big oil in his city.
These are only a few examples of how young people are getting involved locally. It is quite possible for the Central Valley political landscape to change, but only if young people come out to vote.
In Fresno County alone, there are 154,000 registered Gen Z voters, which is more than any other age group.
On election night and the days that follow, we will know what kind of impact young people made on the 2020 local election.