Elizabeth Warren has this great quote, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”
A few months ago, I published a blog post called “Here Lies an Opportunity.” I shared my story as an LBGTQ+, LatinX man in a 62% Black, Indigenous and people of Color (BIPOC) community, yet almost all the top electeds are white. Our five-member San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is all white with only one woman. The leaders who sit around various leadership tables in San Mateo County (not just the Board of Supervisors) do not reflect the communities they represent. It is time to stop talking about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion and actually do something.
The blog post tapped into something many of us were already thinking: We need to pursue meaningful change to increase representation. So, I engaged other community leaders to discuss a potential solution to the proverbial cycle of white elected officials endorsing white candidates. This pattern, called similarity bias, has functioned as a de facto barrier to women, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities and BIPOC candidates running for office.
We mobilized and quickly brought various groups and leaders, like the San Mateo County LatinX Democrats, Stonewall Democrats and the REACH Coalition, together to create the Equity Endorsement Pledge — a pledge meant for past and current elected officials, donors and opinion leaders to consider underrepresented candidates before making endorsements. These endorsements significantly impact elections, often shifting early momentum followed by donations and eventually votes to the candidates receiving early support from current electeds.
The Equity Endorsement Pledge got early support from high-profile electeds like California Treasurer Fiona Ma and Controller Betty Yee, members of the San Mateo County Democratic Central Committee (SMC DCC), and the local dem clubs and organizations, like the LatinX Democrats, Peninsula Young Democrats, Stonewall Democrats and Peninsula for Everyone. The pledge was first drafted by Redwood City Vice Mayor Giselle Hale, drawing from her experience in private sector diversity recruiting. From there, we met with the staffers of our assemblymembers and senators, gathered feedback and incorporated it into the pledge. And the organizing team, including community organizers Heather Hopkins and Dayna Chung, created collateral to explain, in great detail, what the pledge meant and didn’t mean.
A key stakeholder in this process is the San Mateo County Democratic Central Committee; its support is vital to change the systems and behaviors that influence endorsements. For us, that meant drafting a resolution that would be reviewed and voted on by the committee. Most shared our desire to increase representation, but many struggled with the mechanisms for change. One elected SMC DCC member said, “The problem with this is that we’ve had a natural development in the county where things have gotten better, progressively, without any artificial or necessary resolutions.” He told us that underrepresented folks should continue waiting for this “natural development” to continue.
Opponents of the resolution aren’t paying attention to the movement for racial and social justice naturally developing around the country. Too many speak out for diverse representation, not without white fragility making a cameo appearance in the face of real change. We recently heard from columnists from the San Mateo Daily Journal that they didn’t quite get the resolution right. This pledge isn’t about one candidate or one race; it’s about representation.
The final vote on the resolution in the SMC DCC was 15 yeses, three abstentions and 11 nos. Of those who voted for the resolution, the overwhelming majority were women and people of color.
Although most elected officials voted “no” on the resolution, I am inviting them again to sign the pledge to move beyond performative allyship and into true allyship — the kind willing to do the hard work to achieve it.
We will not wait any longer. This is our table, too.
Rudy Espinoza Murray is a Redwood City resident and community organizer on housing, gun violence prevention, and LGBTQ+ and LatinX issues. He is the founder and lead of the San Mateo County Farmworker Affairs Coalition and the corresponding secretary of the San Mateo County Dems.