By: Anabelle Farnham, Communications Intern
Georgette Gomez grew up in the Barrio Logan area of San Diego, California, and has always been invested in helping this migrant community thrive, both through her work in grassroots organizing and, more recently, as a local representative.
Gomez is first-generation Mexican American, and this culture and history are a central part of her identity. A freeway cuts right through Barrio Logan, but instead of letting it divide their community, artists have painted large murals that depict important immigrant stories on the pillars that hold it up over the community park. Gomez describes the murals and the park as an epicenter of her identity and culture, both today and as a child without access to these Chicano/Latinx stories in school. Because of these murals, the park is now officially designated as a National Landmark.
“There’s a lot, it’s not just a park with beautiful colors…for someone like myself, growing up I was really hungry for that, that belonging, that awareness of my own history, not the U.S. history, but the border history.”
The park was not only a location for this art and for family gatherings, but it was also the first place Gomez learned to have pride in her community. It serves as a central location for various rallies and protests, as a place where healthcare workers come to offer services, and where music and art are celebrated. Having grown up in a community so active in organizing and fighting for their own rights, Gomez was predestined in some ways to become a community leader: “I grew up being an organizer before even getting hired to be an organizer.”
While Gomez was in college, she learned of a grassroots organization, the Environmental Health Coalition. This non-profit was doing work in Barrio Logan and, motivated to be involved in the neighborhood and community that had raised her, Gomez found a job as an organizer with EHC shortly after graduating. After a few years of organizing work, she became more involved in EHC’s civic engagement projects encouraging folks in low-income, migrant communities to vote.
“I always wanted to figure out a way to go back to my community and do work; heal my community, make it strong, be able to provide the resources and infrastructure a community should have to live healthy, to really maximize people’s potential as humans.”
This work began to open new doors. A local candidate running for election in the neighborhood that Gomez was organizing in asked her to help him to run his campaign. Gomez considered this choice carefully, but in the end she believed that he was running for the right reasons and with a focus on important issues so she decided to volunteer with him. The candidate, David Alvarez, won the election!
After this campaign, Gomez became more and more involved with the policy side of organizing. She jokes that often the big players in politics, those with a lot of money and power who are seeking more of the like, constitute “the machine.” Although holding this view meant that she had always been a critic of the government, Gomez began to see the power of having the right candidates in office.
In 2016, a City Council seat opened up in a community adjacent to Barrio Logan with a similar resident make-up: low-income, Chicano/Latinx majority, and a dynamic age range. Gomez decided to run for office. The decision was not easy, and it took a lot of consideration for her to know what she wanted to do. With encouragement and support from the people she had worked with, she decided that it was important to take a stand for the issues that she cared about.
“We do so much work electing folks thinking, hoping, praying that they’re going to do the right thing and then you have to do more work to hold them accountable. So then I just said, okay I’m taking one for the team and I’m going to put myself out there.”
It worked: Gomez was elected for a four-year term in council and got to work immediately. She knew that reelection was not guaranteed and wanted to do as much positive work as she could. One of her major focuses was the transit system: having strong public transportation in this community is not only good for the environment, but also connects these families to better jobs and better healthcare without the expenses of a car. It wasn’t long before she was named president of the Council and Chair of the Metropolitan Transit System.
As her four years in this office came to an end, Gomez knew that she could run for reelection. But with the encouragement of her constituents and those close to her, she decided to continue challenging her limits by running for congress.
“I believe that all tools are necessary to be active. And all tools means also government.”
This was the biggest test of Gomez versus The Machine yet: she was up against a millionaire with funding multiple times larger than that to which Gomez had access. In addition, the Covid-19 outbreak hitting in 2020 took out the door-to-door strategy that a grassroots candidate like Gomez relies on in order to gain votes. She lost the election, but despite this loss Gomez remains full of hope for the future.
The purpose of the campaign was not to gain power or money. The purpose was to fight for the things she believes in and the potential of protecting and growing a community of people she cares about deeply. She says of the experience “I learned a lot.”
Today, Gomez is using her 15 years of formal organizing experience to advise non-profits on their strategies for effective action. Perhaps in the future we will see her running for office once again. One thing is for sure: she will continue to fight the odds against The Machine and to stand up for the issues that she believes in.
Photo Credit: David Poller/NBC News
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