San Diego Activist Running For Congress, Challenging Rep. Juan Vargas
Aeiramique Glass Blake is a San Diego community organizer and restorative justice consultant who is entering the world of politics. She launched her campaign as a Democrat to represent the 51st Congressional District via Facebook on Jan.17.
Blake said her experience as an activist has prepared her for the role and the seat currently held by Democratic Representative and longtime incumbent Juan Vargas.
Blake founded Generation Justice, a youth-lead organization advocating for criminal justice reform. In June, Blake was arrested after several days of sleeping outside of San Diego City Hall. She said she was protesting the criminalization of homeless people. A month later, she and other youth activists bound themselves to a fence outside of a for-profit Otay Mesa detention facility to protest family separations at the border.
Blake sat down with KPBS Evening Edition host Ebone Monet to talk about her decision to run for Congress. Here are the highlights of that interview.
Q: What are the issues that matter to you most?
A: For me, criminal justice reform is huge. I worked in the mental health field in juvenile justice for a long time, and one of the things we had a huge issue with was really fighting against the racial disparities when it comes to young people, and when it comes to people of color in general. Black and brown folks are in jail way more than anyone else. When we talk about not only the criminal justice system, but how the school-to-prison pipeline contributes to mass incarceration, that hits home for me because it affects not only me, but those around me and the young people that I work with every single day. I would also say that immigration and working on immigration reform is huge for me. Not only because the community that I come from is deeply affected by it, but I know that we need to find a humane and comprehensive way to deal with immigration justice and a comprehensive reform when it comes to the border issues. So those things are heavily on my heart. I come from being raised by, not only my mother, but my grandmother, and seeing what health care in my own health issues (was like) and seeing the cost of health care and the lack of resources when it comes to women’s reproductive services and rights. Those are huge issues because they directly affect me and those I love and work with every single day. And I know that people in our community are deeply affected every single day.
Q: Why would running for the congressional seat be the best to deal with these issues?
A: I believe in knowing your flaws and knowing your strengths. A lot of the work that I do, and sit on boards and advise many public officials and people in positions of power. I not only advise them, but I also hold them accountable. I move in a space and am allowed to move in a space because the community trusts me. I am transparent. They know who I am. They know that I’m going to show up for them. I know how to speak in spaces where there are people in the positions of power, and also be that liaison for the community and that community's voice. So I felt like Congress because of the ability to change laws and write laws or introduce laws was huge, but also that piece of Congress that holds people accountable and shares power with the president and the Senate is huge. And so my ability to hold people accountable and to come from that place, Congress is the position in government that is directly voted in by the people. The people know me, and I want to be a voice for the community in a position of power.
Q: When you said you knew you’d run for office and you just wanted to wait for the right time ... We’ve seen more women than ever being elected. Were you inspired by any of those surprises? What led you to know that now was the right time for you?
A: I think you see everything in your life has added up to this one point. With losing my mom, my mom was 49 years old, and I announced on her 51st birthday that I would be running for the 51st Congressional District. This was something my mom and I talked about for years. And then seeing Alexandria (Ocasio-Cortez) and a lot of the other women who were elected into office was not only moving and touching, but to see women of color being voted in for the first time, which is moving for me. And I think that everything does come with timing. I did feel like it was the right timing, not just because they were elected, but because we were in such dire need with people in the positions of power and really changing the power structure.