Out of Left Field: Jackie Fielder Makes Waves

Scott Wiener’s challenger knows the odds are stacked against her, but the progressive activist’s message is resonating with voters.

When Jackie Fielder pulled papers last November to run against Scott Wiener for the state’s 11th Senate District seat — listing a city intersection as her home address, because she was unhoused at the time — few pundits took the then-25-year-old’s campaign seriously.

Then she captured one-third of the vote in the March primaries.

The queer, Indigenous-Latina organizer launched her long-shot bid for Wiener’s seat last November. Running as a democratic socialist, Fielder — a 2016 Stanford graduate and San Francisco State University lecturer — surprised many when she placed second in the three-way March primary, advancing to the general election. According to internal polling released earlier this month by the Fielder campaign, Wiener’s lead has narrowed in recent months, with 38 percent of likely voters backing the incumbent, 27 percent backing Fielder, a third still undecided.

“I started this campaign with no money, no endorsements, and no name recognition,” Fielder says. “At this point, we’ve built a campaign supported by almost a dozen labor unions, a number of progressive groups, and other groups that haven’t historically gotten along but understand that we need change in our legislature.”

The candidate is pitching herself as a more progressive alternative to Wiener, insisting that the former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors can’t truly advocate for his constituents on account of his ties to the real estate industry and law enforcement unions. Fielder prides herself on refusing to accept campaign contributions from corporations, touting her grassroots operation funded by small-dollar donations.

In a conversation with SF Weekly, Fielder reflected on her campaign’s unexpected success and made the case for why voters should place their faith in her with less than a week left in the race.

“At the end of the day, I think some people would much rather have fundamental change to our economy than have [a senator] with experience who’s only using that [platform] to uplift corporate special interests,” says Fielder, who at age 26 has parried many questions about her youth and lack of experience in elected office.

“I’m used to being underestimated,” she says.

Though young, Fielder has accumulated impressive credentials in San Francisco’s activist circles. The Long Beach native co-founded the San Francisco Public Bank Coalition and worked to defeat Proposition H in 2018, which would’ve expanded police taser use. A member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, she’s campaigned against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and crafted a plan to institute an Indigenous Wildfire Task Force as one of her signature proposals.

In addition to calling out her age, Fielder’s detractors have also critiqued her platform — calling it too ambitious and progressive to find traction in the state senate. Countering those arguments, Fielder insists that an incremental approach isn’t enough, especially considering the myriad societal inequities the coronavirus pandemic has exposed.

“Right now, we need someone who can stand up to corporations and special interests and advocate for a district where all people can afford to live here, not just the wealthy,” Fielder says.

Among her proposals: a $100 billion statewide emergency housing fund, the passage of single-payer health care, and disarming and defunding local police departments. Fielder is also advocating for the cancellation of student debt, a Green New Deal for California, and the creation of a state-owned bank.

She’s clashed fiercely with Wiener over housing, an issue core to Bay Area politics. Fielder points to Wiener’s corporate backers — in the first two quarters of 2020, nearly one-third of his campaign contributions came from the real estate lobby — as proof that the senator does not have tenants’ interests at heart. Though Wiener presents himself as a progressive housing advocate, critics say that housing bills he’s authored, like SB 827, would exacerbate gentrification and displacement in California rather than create affordable housing.

Fielder makes the argument that as a renter, she’s better-equipped to fight for tenants’ rights. Last December, she told Teen Vogue that she had been unhoused for several months, couchsurfing, and sleeping in her van while working two full-time server jobs. Fielder’s experience with homelessness helped shape her housing platform, which includes repealing rent-control restrictions, passing the universal right to counsel for tenants facing eviction, and building at least 100,000 units of publicly-owned affordable green housing. 

“[Wiener] is the most real estate-backed politician in California,” Fielder says. “He has to accept a modicum of responsibility for the people that we see on our streets today.”

The senator’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Fielder has earned the endorsement of the San Francisco Tenants Union and the San Francisco Affordable Housing Alliance, in addition to the California Teachers Association and progressive groups like Our Revolution and the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club. Elected officials and community leaders alike have backed her candidacy, including former mayor Art Agnos and Black Lives Matter co-founders Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors.

As a queer woman of color, intersectionality is central to Fielder’s politics. She became heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement while studying at Stanford, organizing for police accountability and teaching in a youth detention facility. Fielder tells SF Weekly that as a senator, she would seek to support Indigenous nations’ right to self-determination and build bridges between tribes and non-Native communities. 

Although her opponent is a gay man, whom she concedes has made “some progress” for the Bay Area’s queer community, Fielder believes she can better advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, pointing to her platforms on health care, housing, and homelessness.

“I push for a lens of equity in everything I do,” Fielder says. “We have to understand that LGBTQ+ people are not just white, wealthy, [cisgender] people, they’re also homeless people, Black, Indigenous people of color who can’t afford health care.”

Some have compared Fielder to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY): both are young women of color from working-class backgrounds. Both identify as democratic socialists and refused corporate contributions in their campaigns. Both are skilled navigators of social media platforms, creating uniquely Millenial online presences. Ocasio-Cortez challenged a powerful ten-term Democrat for New York’s 14th congressional district in the 2018 primaries, winning in an upset victory.

Yet Fielder rejects the comparison.

“I am definitely not the next [Ocasio-Cortez], I am me,” she said in an interview with SF Weekly last year.

Despite entering the final week of the race with a smaller war chest and fewer Democratic Party-establishment endorsements than her opponent, Fielder believes in the strength of her candidacy. When voters are presented with messaging from both campaigns, she says, her platform comes out on top more often than Wiener’s. 

The challenge, then, has been building name recognition during a largely socially-distant campaign, in a district that serves over 900,000 constituents. But for those voters she has reached, Fielder believes that her message of bold, structural change for economic and racial justice is a winning one.

“We cannot pretend like working around the edges is actually going to get all of us [protected],” she says. “We need to make sure that the most vulnerable among us — especially homeless people, especially unemployed LGBTQ+ people, especially Black and brown trans people — have their basic needs met, which is not happening in our economic system.”

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