In downtown Los Angeles, the largest city in Southern California has become a bastion for progressive politics. From raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2020 to protecting LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination and violence, the City of Angels is home to more than three million people of diverse backgrounds, including those from historical Asian and Latinx foreign national communities. However, despite some progress, many problems still persist in America’s second largest city including rising housing prices, higher living costs, and increasing homelessness.
One candidate is running to represent California’s 34th Congressional District, a Democratic majority area, and wants to bring a progressive grassroots voice to Washington, D.C. this November in the form of an alternative third party choice. Kenneth Mejia, a 27-year-old account from the district’s downtown area, is running a diverse young grassroots campaign against the current incumbent Democratic congressman, former state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez. If elected in the fall, he will become one of the youngest people ever elected to the Congress since William C.C. Claiborne of Tennessee was elected at the age of 22 in 1798 and Elise Stefanik of New York was elected at the age of 30 in 2014.
Running as a Green Party candidate relying on small donations, Mejia has a bold progressive platform that includes a “Medicare for All” single-payer universal healthcare system, the cancellation of all student debt, tuition-free and debt-free public higher education, a public funded job guarantee program, a guaranteed universal basic income, a $15 federal minimum wage, and support for worker-owned companies. Mejia believes that these specific policies will combat neoliberal policies and powers held by both Democrats and Republicans.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING! PLEASE SHARE! 💚
We made it to the General Election on November 6, 2018! I will post more later tonight but know WE MADE HISTORY! A Green in #CA34 is going 1 on 1 with a Corporate Dem, a FIRST!
— Kenneth Mejia (@25forcongress) June 6, 2018
“It is basically, at the end of the day, the policies and legislation in place that still empower and maintain and sustain the 1%,” Mejia said in regards to his own personal definition of neoliberalism. “On the outside, you look like you are fighting for the people, but really the policies that you pass and maintain, which is always seen from the Democratic Party, always end up benefiting the one percent versus everyone else.”
Throughout his own explanation of the term, Mejia used the Affordable Care Act as an example of a neoliberal policy where despite expanding healthcare coverage, millions of people nationwide still lack access to affordable healthcare and the law itself is seen as providing large tax subsidies to the private medical companies, especially the insurance industry.
Mejia believes that his campaign and grassroots campaigns across the country that are becoming driven by young people, especially people of color and women, are increasing. There are several reasons for this, including the current Republican presidential administration and the conservative majority in Congress, a deep dissatisfaction with establishment politics from the two major parties, and a lack of representation for current and future members of the national electorate.
“A lot of the ideas that the youth are bringing, especially those in their early 30’s or below, are very big reasonable changes and solutions that we need,” Mejia told CMN.
This is not the first time the Sylmar native, who graduated at the age of 20 from Woodbury College and became a certified public accountant in California at 22 years-old, ran for any public office in his own community. In 2016, during the state’s primaries held in June, Mejia ran as a write-in pro-Bernie Sanders candidate for the Democratic nomination against Xavier Becerra. In the spring of 2017, when Becerra’s district seat became open after being appointed by Governor Jerry Brown as the new attorney general, Mejia ran as a Green Party member for the first time. However, he failed to qualify in the top two primaries when Gomez and local attorney Robert Lee Ahn advanced to the special general election in June of 2017.
If elected during his third attempt, he could become the progressive third party’s first congressional representative on Capitol Hill. However, if not elected in November, Mejia said that he would still continue to stay active in his own community, especially combating the housing crisis, and build up a grassroots political presence for the third party in his district. Ideally, by 2020 and beyond, Mejia wants to see another young candidate, especially either a woman, an LGBTQ+ individual, or another person of color, to run as a Green Party candidate.
“For all the young people, my advice is to stay grounded in your principles,” Mejia said when asked about personal advice for younger candidates in the near future. “When you run, you want to sort of stay grounded in your principles, and your morals and ethics.”
Mejia is not the only Green Party candidate who advanced to the upcoming November elections in California. 30-year-old University of California Berkeley and Stanford University alumni Dr. Rodolfo Cortes Barragan is running against a longtime incumbent, Democratic Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, in California’s 40th Congressional District in Southern Los Angeles County. Many districts in Southern California are in play between both political parties over the control of the House. However, with rising disaffection towards the partisan duopoly that has dominated the country for more than 100 years, third parties and independent candidates will grow their presence for many years to come. Mejia’s candidacy, in particular, appears to reflect this rising interest in grassroots campaigns that are becoming more geared towards younger and demographically diverse generations who face many challenges ahead as urban centers like Los Angeles grow in size and demand.
There are 156 Green Party government officeholders in 19 states nationwide as of April 2018.
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