Win or lose, new progressive candidates in Marin County are proving that people need not bow to traditional politics to make a difference for marginalized communities.
San Rafael resident Samantha Ramirez, a youth educator, entered the political limelight when she began fighting to curtail Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations in Marin. This year, with a few choice profanities, she criticized the Board of Supervisors for rejecting a “sanctuary county” ordinance.
While receiving pushback for her remarks, she is unapologetic about speaking her truth of what it was like to grow up amid Marin’s racial inequities as a daughter of immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras.
“There is a huge disconnect,” said Ramirez, 31, who ran for the Area 1 seat on San Rafael Board of Education this fall. “So I turned that anger and frustration into something positive and decided to run.
“For me there is a huge need for representation,” she said. “There is a need for people with different experiences, skin color and backgrounds that need to be represented in leadership spaces.”
Galvanized by passion, a handful of like-minded candidates fanned out across Marin to run on progressive platforms in the Nov. 3 election.
Those who won were Fairfax City Council candidate Chance Cutrano, 27; Sausalito Marin City School District candidate Lisa Bennett, 58; Sausalito City Council candidate Janelle Kellman, 47; and Marin County Board of Education candidate Felicia Agrelius, 25.
Ramirez lost the race to Gina Daly but managed to draw 43% of the vote.
“I’m not dwelling on, ‘Oh, I didn’t win,’ because just by running I showed what so many people feel is real,” she said. “And there was this overwhelming amount of support from the community in terms of understanding why we need people of color, bilingual people and low-income people represented.”
In another school board race, Brandon Johnson, a Black graduate of Sir Francis Drake High School, vied for a spot on the Tamalpais Union High School District board. He campaigned to abolish student resource officers, increase diversity among staff and implement an equitable, multicultural and inclusive curriculum.
While Johnson lost, he finds comfort in the network of like-minded people he met during his campaign. He also finds comfort in the knowledge he gained that he can pass onto other progressive candidates who have been marginalized because of the race, culture or income.
“We need people that were in these positions in the rooms where the decisions are made, advocating for these specific issues,” said Johnson, 33, of Forest Knolls. “I knew that I was an underdog and that is part of the reason why I ran — I want to make sure some of these issues at the forefront of folks’ minds.”
While Robbie Powelson lost the Marin Community College District board election, he is said he is still committed to helping people who are homeless, particularly the anchor-out community of Richardson Bay and people camped out in Novato and Petaluma who are being pushed out by law enforcement and city officials.
“Unfortunately, a lot of things that are viewed as legitimate are extremely unhealthy and toxic to our communities,” said Powelson, 26, founder of the TAM Equity Campaign group. “I think elected officials give a lot of credence to racists and segregationist organizations in our communities that restrict housing and that really harms people.”
Powelson said he was arrested on trespassing allegations in Petaluma on Friday while trying to help people move their belongings out of their shelter. The belongings were going to be destroyed, he said.
“We were there to help people and document the police,” he said. “We are shining the lights on them and that’s what makes them nervous.”
Powelson said he was released the same day, adding that the people were camped out on private property because the city forced them out of public spaces. He said the tide is turning.
“I feel like people who’ve been standing up are those who know what it’s like to be on the bottom side of the boot,” he said. “There has been more hope and of a sense of possibility that we can actually change things for those who experience the negative aspect of our county’s power dynamics.”
Argelius, who won a county board of education seat with about 58% of the vote, said she decided to run to address equity and achievement gaps.
“Being progressive means that I recognize that this country was built through the enslavement of Black people and genocide of Indigenous people,” Agrelius said. “And that I must actively confront racism, homophobia, transphobia and other systems of oppression in everything I do.”
Ramirez and Johnson were her inspiration, she said.
“They are both brilliant leaders who taught me about staying grounded in my values and authentic through the campaign,” she said. “Knowing they were running encouraged me to be brave enough to step up as well.”
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