Two days after the election, Jackie Fielder headed to Santa Cruz to surf for the first time in months. Now 26 years old, the democratic socialist organizer had just waged an aggressive campaign to unseat incumbent state Sen. Scott Wiener.
While Wiener claimed a resounding victory, Fielder garnered 41 percent of the vote as of press time. She made a strong showing for a first-time candidate who launched her campaign less than a year ago and advanced from the primaries shortly after.
In the process, her insurgent campaign inspired progressives locally and nationally. She mobilized roughly 2,000 volunteers and built an energized base for her and her allies to tap into when pushing policies.
“I get emotional thinking about how many organizers we have to look forward to who were volunteering and organizing with us and see what they do in this district,” Fielder told the San Francisco Examiner during her trip to Santa Cruz. “I can’t tell you how many people who have never volunteered for a campaign and decided that this was the first campaign they would support. We had so many young people come into the fold as well.”
The question has now become: What’s next for an organizer who rallied youth support?
At a post-election event hosted by the think-tank SPUR, David Latterman, a longtime political analyst who worked on the Wiener campaign, questioned whether Fielder would leverage her stature to run for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.
Fielder just moved to District 8 and could challenge Supervisor Rafael Mandelman from the left when he is up for re-election in November 2022.
“Does she take on Raffie? She clearly likes to go after incumbents,” Latterman said. “Raffie is up in two years. Maybe she takes a shot at him?”
Fielder laughed off the notion in her interview with the Examiner. For one, she said her new residence in District 8 is temporary.
But she did not rule out running for office again, depending on how things play out.
“I’m open to it,” Fielder said. “I gotta find what my next steps are personally but for our movement, there’s so much to be done. Who knows what’s next, whether that’s in two years or four years for me.”
Every campaign this election season had to contend with unforeseen circumstances that impacted the entire globe. But the pandemic, economic crisis and wildfires made it even more difficult for grassroots candidates in California to get out their message.
Fielder, an Indigenous, Latina and queer organizer who was a leading advocate for San Francisco to establish a public bank, had to switch tactics when the pandemic struck.
Instead of knocking on doors to reach voters and combat the massive spending that other candidates benefited from, she had to rely more on phone banking and dropping off literature. Her campaign also gave out hand sanitizer.
Still, she managed to garner key endorsements from the likes of the California Teachers Association and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.
Her campaign picked up enthusiastic support from young voters as well. Of voters reached under 30 years old, 82 percent pledged to vote for her while 92 percent of voters under 25 said the same, according to her campaign.
Her pledge to reject contributions from real estate, oil and other special interests attracted the attention of 16-year-old Joanna Lam.
Lam, who decided to volunteer for her campaign, came to learn a lot about local politics and the logistics of running a campaign.
“There’s a bunch of my friends who are just like me, motivated to do more,” Lam said. “I didn’t realize how phone banking could be so impactful.”
The Lowell High School student has since started watching more Board of Education meetings and hopes to get more involved. She also works with a newly launched youth activist group called the Sunrise San Francisco Youth Hub.
Supervisor Dean Preston sees Fielder as part of a growing movement of activists challenging incumbents. Preston himself was a tenant organizer who challenged now-Mayor London Breed when she sought re-election as District 5 supervisor in 2016. He later defeated her appointed successor, then-incumbent Supervisor Vallie Brown, in a narrow race last year.
Preston said Fielder believed Wiener “needed to be challenged” because of his establishment connections in San Francisco.
“At a certain point, if you feel like someone’s not representing your district well, whatever level of government, and others aren’t going to challenge them, you either do it or you just complain about it,” Preston said. “When you look nationally and regionally, there are a lot of folks who don’t fit the type of the past who are running for office.”
Wiener has said that he welcomed the challenge.
“No one is entitled to an easy re-election,” Wiener told the Examiner on election night. “Having an opponent makes you a stronger elected official.”
Her campaign opened him up to criticism from the left on issues such as criminal justice reform, another realm of organizing for Fielder.
But Wiener pushed back on the notion that he and Fielder were radically different. He complimented her proposal to establish an Indigenous wildfire task force and said he would support it should it move forward with Indigenous leadership.
While Fielder is unsure about her political future, she is eager to support other progressive candidates running for state office.
She also wants to get back to pushing San Francisco to establish a public bank. That is, after she’s done cleaning her house, reconnecting with friends and tying up loose ends for the campaign.
“I’m just so honored to have the opportunity to do this,” Fielder said. “Maybe next time we’ll be successful. I think we’re just at the beginning.”
S.F. Examiner Staff Writer Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.