I am seeing Kate Harrison for City Council signs all over town and frankly, it has me concerned. It’s not that I have so much against Kate, it’s that she’s not what we need. To me, she represents too limited a view of what progressive should mean in Berkeley. To me, she represents those who own homes and are vocal in taking what we have come to see as the “correct” stances on issues, but she has nothing real on the line. In Berkeley, the housing prices will keep going up under Harrison’s policies. With increased prices comes increased homelessness and displacement. Nothing about that affects Harrison, though. It does affect people who are trying to make a go of it in Berkeley, poor people and middle-class people who have all but lost hope of ever owning their own home in this city.
I support Greg Magofña because he is in this race for all the right reasons: his own ability to stay in the community that raised him is on the line. Despite his impressive history of direct service, community organizing, and working in Berkeley politics on behalf of similarly vulnerable people, his efforts have not been enough to buy him the security of owning a home here. Like other young adults of color in this town, he rents his apartment, and he remains one paycheck and an eviction notice away from not being able to make it here. Our housing crisis puts him in crisis.
I am endorsing Greg because when he talks about the critical issue of housing in Berkeley, it is not hypothetical to him. And because he spends his days and his personal time deeply connected and committed to the people among us who span the economic spectrum, many of who are struggling mightily, just as he is, just to remain here.
Let’s unpack this idea of ‘progressive.’ If progressive means setting policies and practices that support, equip, and provide opportunities for poor and working-class people to progress beyond the trap of poverty, I think Greg is the true progressive.
The question at hand is this: Do we want to remain a polarized community that houses only rich homeowners and poor people? Do we assume that the poor should remain poor? Or do we want to provide a spectrum of housing opportunities to help working class and poor people to progress beyond poverty?
Simply creating low-income housing is only an adequate solution if we want to maintain a stagnant poor population. Progressive policies and practices need to be designed around strategies that help the structurally disadvantaged to progress beyond disadvantage.
Greg knows the importance of creating pathways out of poverty because he has lived it. His dad joined the Coast Guard to escape extreme poverty and lack of economic opportunity and to care for his mom and recently born sister. Greg started working at 16, as soon as he was old enough to have a work permit. He is the first in his family to go to college. While he struggled to balance a full-time workload with part-time jobs and work-study, he graduated from UC Berkeley in 2007 with a BA in political science with the help of his family, friends, student loans, and Pell Grants.
After college, Greg, in turn, worked to create opportunities for other economically vulnerable families. For instance, as a member of the Housing Advisory Commission, he was involved in allocating funds from the Housing Trust Funds to support affordable housing development. He also founded a housing-advocacy nonprofit. He worked to end short-term rental abuse and has been involved in allocating money from the Housing Trust Fund.
Greg knows that housing along the economic spectrum is what it takes for families to come out of poverty; these are the kinds of policies that ensure that Berkeley remains a welcoming community for all.
Especially for those of us who have the security of owning homes in District 4, and for those of us who, like me, have white skin and the unconscious blinders that come along with white gaze, it can be tempting to vote for someone who reminds us of ourselves. Someone who talks the talk we like to hear come out of our own mouths, but who at the end of the day cannot possibly understand what life is like for people in Berkeley who don’t walk through life as comfortable as many of us do in District 4.
This accomplished young man is worth listening to and worth getting to know. If you are willing to open yourself to a new voice, a real progressive who has skin in the game, come to Greg Magofña’s launch party on Monday at Tender Greens from 6-7:30 and hear for yourself. Greg is Berkeley’s future, that is, if we are wise enough to chart ourselves a course to remain a diverse city that is home to people across the economic spectrum.