Students and faculty from Foothill and De Anza have been given the opportunity to be politically active in their communities through a group known as Faculty Association Political Action Committee (FA PAC). The PAC groups together student volunteers and faculty to work on local and statewide political issues and conduct voter outreach through phone banking.
For the San Jose mayoral election, FA PAC has chosen to endorse candidate Cindy Chavez.
Nicky Gonzalez Yuen is one of the co-founders of FA PAC and the current internship supervisor. He is also a political science professor at De Anza and he said that participating in this election is as important as ever.
“I think that if we’re gonna have any kind of future in the community college system in California, we have to train up citizen activists,” Yuen said.
Student volunteers are also working on campaigns around affordable housing in Cupertino and the re-election campaign of California House Assemblymember Alex Lee.
“We started the internship program with the purpose of being politically effective as a labor union,” Yuen said. “We are trying to have broader reach politically in the Foothill-De Anza district, but also in regional and statewide affairs.”
Yuen says having students involved with a mayoral election in a city as large as San Jose is great experience to get started in political activism.
He also said that he and Chavez have had a working relationship for over ten years. Chavez was the only candidate to ask for an endorsement from FA PAC. During his time working with her, Yuen said that he was impressed with what Chavez had accomplished and her work ethic was one of the reasons the PAC chose to endorse her.
Yuen was able to see Chavez’s work ethic in action when he worked with her on a campaign to raise the minimum wage in San Jose in 2012.
Chavez, at the time, as the head of the South Bay Labor Council, was approached by a group of San Jose State students and De Anza alum who wanted to raise the minimum wage from $8 per hour. The council worked with the students to poll around the city and collected data that showed if they could increase the minimum wage by $2 that they would be able to get 60 to 70 percent of the vote.
Upon hearing this, Yuen said Chavez gave the campaign her full support which included a large amount of resources from the South Bay Labor Council.
“We endorsed Cindy because she gets the job done while empowering regular people to have control over their communities,” Yuen said.
The campaign won enough support, and in November of 2012, the minimum wage was officially increased to $10 per hour in the city of San Jose.
“A $2 increase doesn’t sound like a lot since we are doing so much better now,” Yuen said. “But, at the time, this was the single largest minimum wage increase in the history of the country.”
Miriam Rodriguez, 19, is an intern with FA PAC and student at Foothill College. She has spent the past year facilitating weekly meetings to rally support for Chavez. Every Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. , she helped train student volunteers on phone banking using a tool called CallHub. One of the policies that Rodriguez said that she hopes Chavez will continue to fight for if elected, is affordable housing.
“Not just affordable housing for community college students, but for people who have lived their whole lives in the Bay Area and are now having to move to places that are more affordable,” Rodriguez said. “Just the fact that rent for a one bedroom apartment is around $2,000 is so bizarre.”
While FA PAC has endorsed Cindy Chavez, local newspaper The Mercury News has chosen to endorse candidate Matt Mahan instead. Mahan, just like Chavez, said that he wants to lower the cost of housing. But topics surrounding policies of labor is where The Mercury News editorial board is skeptical of Chavez.
The Mercury News editorial board said that they applaud Cindy Chavez for her fight for fair wages but fear that Chavez’s fight would cause San Jose to reduce its police force, severely cut library hours and park maintenance work.
Beyond her work with raising the minimum wage, Yuen and Rodrguez said Chavez will make a great mayor because of her existing connections to the city’s vast communities.
“She’s a very practical, effective political leader who is grounded in the lives of working class people,” Yuen said. “She really believes that regular people should have power.”
As of Tuesday June 7, two contenders — Chavez and San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan — appear to be front-runners for the runoff election in November. Chavez received the most initial votes so far with 33,596 votes, while Mahan has received 27,751 votes according to San Jose Spotlight.
Rodriguez said she was inspired by Chavez’s campaign’s message concerning equality in a city so diverse.
“One thing that really stood out to me was her campaign slogan, ‘City of Equals,’” said Rodriguez. “Along with something she said in one of her speeches, ‘The area code you live in should not affect the lifestyle you have.’”