By Jim Miller
Sarah Saez is best known locally for her work on the heroic United Taxi Workers of San Diego (UTWSD) campaign. As labor leader Richard Barrera noted after their big win in 2014:
The victory by UTWSD comes five years after drivers, improperly classified as independent contractors and without NLRB recognition, came together and organized a strike to protest their wages, benefits and working conditions. Despite constant harassment, retaliation and intimidation by permit holders and dispatch companies over the last five years, and despite obstruction by public agencies, these workers stuck together, fought back against injustice, and prevailed. It reminds and teaches all of us that a union is not formed by formal government recognition, it is formed by workers standing together to fight for justice and a brighter future for their families.
And the Taxi Workers’ victory was about more than just their own struggle in that, as I observed at the time, it “provided a good example of precisely how [a] new kind of workers’ movement can succeed.”
Saez, the Program Director for UTWSD, put it this way:
It’s about reaching out with the intention of listening and learning from workers and our community and giving them the support they need to inspire and lead movements . . . Trusting their vision, creating genuine partnerships with the community and nontraditional workers and fighting for issues that are going to fundamentally change people’s lives is how we build power, deepen solidarity, and win.
After the Taxi Workers’ big victory, the struggle has persisted with their ongoing efforts to form a taxi drivers’ collective, build power, and give a voice to their community.
Saez continues her work with the UTWSD and is deeply involved in the community in a host of other ways. Most recently, she has decided to run for City Council in District 9 where she lives and works in City Heights.
1) Bernie Sanders was in town last week. I know you are a big fan of what Bernie Sanders is doing in the Presidential race. Why do you admire his campaign? What lessons does it hold for local politics?
I’m absolutely a fan of what Bernie Sanders is doing through his Presidential race. I think the most significant thing about Bernie’s campaign is that it’s truly grassroots. Instead of having fundraising dinners that cost thousands of dollars just to attend, Sanders has instead been holding free rallies where tens of thousands of people, especially young people, are waiting in line for hours to hear him talk about what our country’s future could be.
One of my favorite slogans of his campaign is, “Not me, Us”
One of my favorite slogans of his campaign is, “Not me, Us”, which is a testament to his truly people-powered campaign. It’s not about one person, Bernie Sanders, it’s about a movement that is built upon many other movements from Civil Rights and Occupy to the Black Lives Matter movements. His issues are our issues and instead of fighting for incremental change, he’s calling for bold solutions, revolutionary change that is only possible if people come together, organize and fight for it.
The lesson this holds for local politics is that if this is possible on a national scale, it’s definitely possible at the local level. We have to engage people around the issues they care about—those issues that can fundamentally change their lives. We’ve seen it on a smaller scale in the taxi industry when hundreds of drivers came out to fight for policy reform. I believe organizing at the grassroots level, bridging communities, holding town hall meetings, engaging people in the process of government will help move San Diego in the direction in which we need to go.
2) You are running in a crowded field against a few other progressives with decent records and platforms. What makes you stand out?
First, I want to say I think it’s amazing that so many people from different parts of our community are standing up and running for office. When we have uncontested races it doesn’t give our communities a choice and that makes people feel like government is something they have no control over when in fact it belongs to all of us.
As a woman of color, worker, renter, and one of many university graduates with student debt, I also understand what it means to struggle to make ends meet.
I think what makes me stand out from the other candidates is that I have dedicated my education, career, and life to advocating for social change. As a woman of color, worker, renter, and one of many university graduates with student debt, I also understand what it means to struggle to make ends meet. Since the age of 16, while in high school and throughout my Bachelor’s degree, I worked in the restaurant industry. Prior to earning my Master’s degree at the University of San Diego in Nonprofit Management, I was an AmeriCorps volunteer living off food stamps for the second time in my life (the first time was when I was a child). I’ve witnessed profound poverty as a hospice worker in the Dominican Republic and worked in solidarity with farmworkers from Immokalee, Florida. For the last decade, I’ve taken what I’ve learned from my own struggles to help lift others out of poverty. It’s my education, my struggle, my commitment to others, my roots in the community, my ability to organize by connecting with people and my unapologetic advocacy and organizing for social change that distinguishes me from the other candidates.
3) Citywide, the composition of the City Council is at stake with the possibility that the Democrats either maintain the majority or lose it. Two questions: 1) If the Democrats keep the majority, what should be the first priority of the council? 2) If the Democrats lose the majority, how do you see the role of the opposition? How would you contest Republican rule from your seat on the council?
We have to ensure that our communities are aware and educated about the issues that the council does and does not take up.
Whether we have a Democratic majority or we lose it, the number one priority for me will be organizing our communities around civic engagement. I say this because no matter what, we need people to push from the ground up to make our government truly representative. We’ve had a Democratic majority and even a supermajority at one point but we need to push for more. There are so many things I think should be the priority of the council but first and foremost I would want to ensure that we find progressive revenue solutions that ensure that money is being spent in the communities that need it the most while working to increase transparency and accountability in regard to the process. I believe a citywide community benefits agreement is also necessary to ensure workers are hired locally which will also increase the money that goes back into our local economy through small businesses. I’m hopeful that we’ll pass the minimum wage measure, Proposition I, in June and we’ll be able to continue taking even more steps to improve the quality of life for working families.
If we lose the majority, this work is even more critical. We have to ensure that our communities are aware and educated about the issues that the council does and does not take up. The City Council is supposed to be non-partisan. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, your job is to do what’s best for the city of San Diego and the people who work hard every single day to make sure we have the ability to operate sufficiently. I will do everything in my power to find common ground but when common ground cannot be met, there is nothing more powerful than an informed electorate with the ability to fight back at the ballot box if our elected officials are not representing us.
4) Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, please join us! If you want to get involved you can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out our website at www.votesaez.org and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SaezD9. We’re going to need as many people as possible involved in this campaign in order to ensure that all of our communities voices are being heard. Thank you so much!