Another look at Olague

Yes, the mayor appointed her -- but look closer and you may find something to like about the D5 supervisor

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OPINION As Election Day nears, the chaotic contest for supervisor in District 5 represents a critical decision for progressive voters in the district — and for activists across the city.

The campaign for Julian Davis, the original first choice of many left/liberal activists, has imploded and is now in free-fall. The repercussions of the board's vote on Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi continues to reverberate, nowhere more than in District 5. And respected progressive advocates who had worked together for decades are now estranged, even as our city faces urgent challenges of great complexity.

I don't know Davis or the other candidates in District 5, but I sat down with Supervisor Christina Olague last month after she received the endorsement of the San Francisco Labor Council. It was our first meeting, and as I rode the Metro to Civic Center I was, frankly, not expecting much. Like many San Franciscans, I could not help but be skeptical of anyone appointed by Mayor Ed Lee. I had heard of decisions made and votes cast by Olague that troubled me. I was not expecting to like her, but friends of mine in the labor movement encouraged me to speak with her directly and I'm glad I did.

I started to like Olague as we walked from her office to find some lunch. Before we got to a restaurant I was already asking her questions about some of the tougher choices she's made. We didn't agree on everything, of course, but I was struck by her candor, her common sense, and pragmatic progressive values.

Christina Olague grew up in a migrant labor community in the Central Valley. She survived the often-brutal working conditions and poverty that define the lives of some of the most cruelly exploited workers in the United States. She became active in politics early in life, put herself through school, and moved to San Francisco, where she became a familiar figure in the city's grassroots community.

As a Latina, and as a member of the LGBT community, Olague's life experiences shaped her politics and basic values. Her candidacy is important in a city that seems every day more destined to become an enclave reserved exclusively for only the very wealthy and most privileged.

I endorsed Olague several weeks before she cast her vote on the struggle between Lee and Mirkarimi. I would have continued to support her regardless of her vote that day. But the bitterness of that controversy, and the nature of the scandal now surrounding Davis, underscore the need for progressives to heal, to repair our alliances and to demonstrate political leadership grounded in respect for all our communities.

The UNITE HERE International Union represents hotel, restaurant, casino, food service and laundry workers throughout the US and Canada. The majority of our members — the people I work for — are immigrant women. In our union we stand together: LGBT and straight, brown and black and white, immigrant and native-born. In all our actions we seek to build power for working people and to strengthen the broader movement for peace and social justice.

San Francisco has seen many changes in the 40 years since I first hitchhiked here as a youth from Arizona. While the political landscape has certainly altered, I reject the notion that the city's voters have moved irrevocably to the right. I do believe that progressive activists must do better in communicating our values and our vision for this beautiful and unique city we all love. I think Olague could be an important part of that process.

On behalf of the members of UNITE HERE Local 2, and as a longtime organizer for LGBT and worker rights, I ask my many friends in District 5 to take another look at Christina Olague and to consider casting your vote for her on November 6.

Cleve Jones is a longtime activist and the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt

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