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This is What Democracy Looks Like!

About 600 people poured into San Bernardino Valley College’s auditorium on Saturday to see Eloise Gomez Reyes sworn in as representative for California’s 47th Assembly District.

Although the Assemblywoman was officially sworn in by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on December 5, a community event was organized to allow residents to relish Reyes’ “historic” victory.

“It’s a celebration of not only my win, but of your win,” Reyes said. “You have won. Congratulations.”

Penny Newman was asked to speak at the event.  Here are her comments:

This wasn’t supposed to happen!   Today wasn’t supposed to happen.  A local girl, from the IE,  daughter of immigrants, wasn’t supposed to take on Chevron with its millions of dollars – and win.

The communities of the IE weren’t supposed to have their voices heard over the demands of Big Oil.

We weren’t supposed to challenge the powers that be – to stand up and say this isn’t right and we demand good representation.

No – this wasn’t supposed to happen.  But thank Almighty God it did!

As a result we have a new Assembly woman Eloise Gomez Reyes!

We have a new champion for us!  We have someone that will meet with us; who knows us; who will stand up and fight for us!

A year or so ago I asked Eloise to be on a panel to receive testimony from residents living next to a PCB contaminated site.  To hear from city workers who had been ordered to clean up the PCB contaminated sludge with no protective gear. To hear from a worker that was ordered to go down in a hole of chemicals with no respirator,  and who have all suffered horrendous health problems as a result.

Eloise listened closely – she validated their stories – she offered advice and council,  she honored their experience.  It was that authentic empathy, innate intelligence, heartfelt interaction that sold me on Eloise.

Ad 47 is one of the most polluted areas in the state. The BNSF railyard has the highest cancer risk of all railyards in the state; there are three cancer cluster and a 47% asthma rate for children at the local school.  To represent this district and not stand up to Big Oil is disgraceful.

When many of us became convinced we needed new leadership we approached Eloise to run for the seat.  She didn’t volunteer – she listened, she thought and then she stepped forward and took the challenge.  I don’t think any of us understood the battle we were getting into.  Who would have thought that Big Oil would have pumped tens of millions of dollars into a local Assembly race – but they did.  Who would have thought we’d have to battle the party establishment.  But we did.

Despite the outside opposition, Eloise rose to the occasion. She confronted the opposition with truth, dignity, fierceness and calm.  Her campaign inspired youth, challenged labor, coalesced community into one heck of a fighting machine. From heroic Sen. Leyva who took a lot of abuse in Sacramento,  to our friends in labor- the UFCW 1167, and SEIU 2015, our community partners  Sierra Club, CCAEJ and the everyday people of the district – we won!

But we didn’t just win a seat in the Assembly – the IE won new respect!  Our communities won their voice!  We demonstrated that committed people in coalition, fighting for what is right in a strategic manner can win no matter the power of the opposition.

Eloise knows that power can corrupt – even with the best of people – so she has taken steps by creating a community advisory group to bring people of the community together with expertise in varying areas – health, education, restorative justice, environmental justice homelessness, etc. – to listen to their council; reconnect and stay grounded and allow us to hold her accountable.  That is true leadership;  that is what representing community is about;  that is what our communities deserve and that is what Eloise Gomez Reyes is all about.

I stand here on this dais with two of my (s)heroes – Sen. Connie Leyva and Eloise.  I have never been as proud to be a woman in the IE than I am today.  Thank you Sen. Connie Leyva and Thank you Eloise for taking the challenge we presented to you.  And to the rest of

The state – to the other elected officials from the residents of the IE – we demand representation that speaks for us.  THIS is what democracy looks like!



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