19-Year-Old Starbucks Worker Challenges Democratic Establishment

My old friend John Laesch introduced me to an effective former volunteer who had worked for his campaign and who is now running for an open seat in the Santa Cruz area, Joe Thompson. Joe is running a youth-centered campaign in a district where well over 40% of voters are 29-years-old and younger. And yet, young Californians-- their lived life experience and greatest concerns-- are severely under-represented at all levels of California government. An experienced progressive activist already, Joe has built a campaign around issues that most intensely engage younger voters: affordable housing, environmental Justice, and workers' rights.

He's a 19-year-old barista and student and Starbucks Union organizer for the State of California. He's been leading the charge statewide to unionize Starbucks, including filing the first store in Santa Cruz at just 18-years-old. "I know that people are struggling," he told me last week. "I know that our community needs help and I know that true change is not only possible but it’s imperative."

The newly redrawn 28th state Assembly district is a logical place for a strongly progressive Union Organizer fighting for the interests of working families instead of a corporate shill fighting for the billionaires. Santa Cruz county is Bernie country. In 2016 Bernie took the county with 55.3% and in 2020 Bernie won again-- 41.7% to Biden's 23.9%, Elizabeth Warren taking 16.4%. In Santa Clara County, Bernie also won-- 33.4% of the vote to Biden's 27.0% with Warren getting an additional 13.7% of the vote.

Joe has 3 establishment opponents in this race, two conservative Democrats, and one far-right conservative Republican. I asked him to talk about his race, which he's done below. I'd also like to ask you to contribute to his campaign here or by clicking on the state legislative thermometer on the left. Joe's main opponent is Gail Pellerin, the establishment-backed candidate. This conservative Democrat in a Bernie-oriented area tried to steal the election by coordinating with the incumbent, making a backroom deal, and waiting until the very last minute for him to announce he was retiring and for her to announce her candidacy-- clearly planned and coordinated, an old political machine trick which made it extremely hard for other candidates to file on time with just 72 hours before the deadline to file the necessary paperwork. Against all odds, Joe got enough signatures and filed the right paperwork to get on the ballot-- a heartening big win for progressives in the area. His other Democratic opponent, Rob Rennie, is only running for state Assembly because he got redistricted out of his supervisor district and switched what he was campaigning for. Both of these candidates are detached from the regular working and middle-class struggles of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties. 'I’m running a grassroots campaign focused on issues and uplifting the labor movement," said Joe. "We need a candidate who meets the moment, who understands union and contract fights and can build a broad coalition of people to mobilize and organize people in their jobs and outside on the campaign trail."

Uplifting The Labor Movement

by Joe Thompson

This is the year of the labor movement. With unthinkable victories at Amazon and Starbucks, we need a leader who meets the moment of this momentous labor movement.

The thing about leadership is that people want their leaders to be brave, fierce, and fight for the 99% not the billionaire class.

I got my start in organizing as a Union Organizer for Starbucks. I successfully led the first store in the State of California to file for a union election. Since then, I have helped Starbucks across the State file for union elections, with 12 stores filing for elections in the Golden State. I started talking to co-workers about the union at the start of September; after months of organizing behind the scenes we, at Ocean and Water, filed on January 21st. Ballots will be mailed out from the National Labor Relations Board on April 19th, and the vote count will be on May 11th. I plan to win the first store in California to have a union and I plan to use that energy and momentum to win the primary election for State Assembly District 28. I’ve taken on a billion-dollar corporation and won because Starbucks is disorganized and lacks the support of partners (workers). We will continue to win and fight for unions not only in Starbucks but for all workers.

The moral of this story is not that I will help win a union for my friends and coworkers but that I am a fighter. I am committed to workers' rights and fighting against the corruption that exists not only in our workplaces but in our democracy. I am supported by the people who know me not because we agree politically but because I am transparent, and upfront about the issues I care about, and although we may disagree, I always support my policies backed up by facts. I was a debate kid in high school, so I’m used to arguing both sides but no matter what I always fact-check myself and others to get to the truth.

That’s what the establishment can’t stand about The Squad, progressives, and anyone bucking the party apparatus. American voters revile those who won’t tell the people what they think.

A classic example of this crippling Democratic political plague is how this conservative, Democratic candidate Gail Pellerin, entered the race. The incumbent dropped out right after the filing deadline and endorsed Gail after a backroom deal was made. It is public knowledge that the incumbent gave Gail a few days' notice, and the plan was that no one would run against the establishment candidate because establishment candidates always win. Well, I believe in democracy and I believe that the people, the constituents, and NO ONE else should decide their elected officials. The other Democract, careerist Rob Rennie, was redistricted out of his county supervisor race, and like every other politician, he decided to run not for his community but for a better office.

California has had its share of politically lukewarm Democratic candidates-- structured by the State party for perceived winnability, not leadership or democratic values. I have been told I’m too young, too inexperienced, and too progressive but I am running to prove them all wrong. Why do we keep electing the same politicians and expecting different results? The reason: Money. We need to get big money out of politics and create a true democracy.