Janelle Jolley 0:06
Hello and welcome to What's Left To Do. I'm your host, Janelle Jolley. We're in the throes of the holiday season, which is only fitting because today we are being treated to a gift. Today's guest is none other than Jane The Kim. I was really surprised during our discussion about her reflections on her mistrust of politicians as a young quote, Rah-Rah Activist, because those sentiments are shared by so many of us today. I was also very surprised that in her view, becoming a politician has only served to radicalize her more. Very, very interesting. So come along and ride on this Fantastic Voyage, friends. Well, you guys are in for a treat! This week's guest...some have called her, or some have said about her, that she puts the super in supervisor. She puts the care in Medicare for All. *Clears throat* One of San Francisco's finest, The Jane Kim. How are you doing?
Jane Kim 1:25
Hi Janelle. I have never heard that before, about super-visor. Okay. I like it! I'm gonna say that that's often said about me.
Janelle Jolley 1:34
Right? You put the super into supervisor. That's right. That's right. Jane, for everyone who is, who may be listening who's not from San Francisco, Jane is one of our progressive bright lights. She formerly formerly served on the city, the Board of Supervisors, that's our city council. She was the Bernie Sanders California Political Director in 2020. She is a political woman about town trying to make sure that we all have a better life. So it is really a pleasure and an extreme honor that you have agreed to sit down with me so thank you, thank you, thank you.
Jane Kim 2:16
No, thank you for inviting me.
Janelle Jolley 2:18
No problem. So I...of course I knew about you before I actually met you in person. I met Jane in person during- do you remember this? During the the Black Folks for Bernie event in the Oakland office when Jane came to visit? Jane Sanders, or the other Jane. And I was kind of- and you were chatting with me like I was- and I was just like, "Holy shit, Jane Kim is speaking to me. Oh, my God!" A couple months later, you recruited me to help work on the reinvestin.us site, the the police accountability platform that you were able to recruit some some very down denizens of SF to make. So it's always been a pleasure getting to know you. But I'm really interested, like, how- in learning several things about you. But starting with: how did how did Jane become Jane? Like, what- tell me about your life growing up. I'm sure there are many stories there.
Jane Kim 3:20
Well, I grew up in New York City. Born and raised native.
Janelle Jolley 3:24
Ok. Which borough? Queens?
Jane Kim 3:26
I grew up in Queens and Manhattan, primarily Manhattan. And raised by immigrant parents. English was really my second language. And I was very much shaped by the experiences of my family. And as a child- and I think this is pretty, not unique, but it's definitely something that is an experience of immigrant children, which is to, as children, to see how your parents who you look up to are treated by other adults in the world. That becomes apparent to you at a very young age.
Janelle Jolley 4:03
How did you perceive that as a child?
Jane Kim 4:05
Well, you can tell that people look down upon your parents. Or that people talk to your parents like children. You can perceive that starting at a very young age. And I think that definitely shaped my politics and how I view the world. Also, growing up in New York City, race and racism was much more in your face. So, you know, going home from school on the bus was always an experience. Yeah, yeah. And...but I also grew up in a very diverse space. And so, you know, I had a lot of friends who were immigrants, I had a lot of friends who were black who were Latinx. In that sense, I'm really grateful to have had that experience at such young age. And, you know, about middle school, there was beginning to, in New York City and in other parts of the country, like LA, there was these simmering and growing tensions between Asian, largely Korean small store owners, and black residents in black neighborhoods. And I remember just being very struck by that. My mom had a store. She had a very different kind of store. She sold clothes. But I grew up in my mom's store. It was my after school program, my summer camp.
Janelle Jolley 5:35
Yeah, that's right. Your first math lab's, like, you know, maybe working at the register counting money, giving people change back.
Jane Kim 5:43
Yeah! I was definitely like, I spent a lot of time in the storage closet. I think reading, drawing, I'm not even really sure what I did.
Janelle Jolley 5:51
Just being a kid.
Jane Kim 5:52
Yeah, just being a kid. And when there weren't people in the store, I would just run around the store. And I was very shaped by watching how hard my parents worked. And also how they came to the United States with very little and how they worked to really, you know, provide for, you know, me and my brother. Yeah, and then growing up, I started become very aware of race and identity. I was always raised to be very proud of who I am - a Korean American, Asian American. And I think that's something that I really, really credit to my parents, especially my mom, for ensuring that I was always proud of being Korean.
Janelle Jolley 6:27
Now, but did that run up against the -I'm asking this because I interviewed Kat yesterday, also a Korean American. And she talked about an experience of her developing a pride in her heritage running up against, kind of, the desire to assimilate and be, or feel, more a part of the society then maybe her parents. Was that a parallel experience for you? Or it was just like, "Naw."
Jane Kim 6:55
Janelle Jolley 6:55
"I'm Korean. This is what it is. I'm proud."
Jane Kim 6:57
Yeah. I- from a very young age, I was very proud of my identity. And maybe it's because I was in New York City and so I- everyone was different, so that space was permitted? And, you know, I was really not a cool kid. Like, I did not have a lot of friends. Like, English was hard for me.
Janelle Jolley 7:14
Because you only spoke Korean at home?
Jane Kim 7:16
Yeah. And social cues were not things that I picked up on. Like, even if everyone was wearing Doc Martens or clogs, like, I was not wearing it. Like, I saw it and it did not occur to me that I should go out and buy the same pair. And so I think that also shaped my experience. Cuz I still remember days, you know, in middle school where I'd walk into the cafeteria, and I didn't know where to sit down. Right, I didn't know where I fit in. And, honestly, that experience very much helped me later on when I got into politics, which we'll talk about later. But yeah, I grew up very aware of race and class. And, you know, homelessness was very visible in New York at the time in the 80s, and 90s. And so I was very aware that adults slept on the streets. I still remember in sixth grade, when I started riding the buses and subways on my own, you know, adults asking me for money. And that experience of being 11 years old, and being asked for money is such a, you know, it's such a stark experience. And so, around that time, I started learning about Vincent Chin, who had been actually murdered 10 years prior. You know, he was mistaken for being Japanese. And he was murdered by a white father and son in Detroit who were, I think, laid off auto workers. And during that time, there was that, you know, the United States versus Japan, car manufacturing. And they saw Vincent, he was actually at a bachelor's party before he got married, and they got angry and upset. And so they followed him and they beat him until he died. And I learned the story 10 years after the fact. But, you know, learning about hate crime, seeing this uprising of tension between Asian immigrants and African Americans, and then, you know, when I was in high school, the LA riots happened. And I was very lucky at the time when I was in school, you know, I befriended a lot of friends of color. And mainly because I fit in more. There weren't a lot of Asian Americans in my school.
Janelle Jolley 9:25
No? Not even Queens? Or, Manhattan?
Jane Kim 9:27
Yeah, no. And so it was, you know, so I started to learn about the experience of my black and brown friends on the subways, being targeted by police. You know, just the disparity and community violence
Janelle Jolley 9:50
How did you, as a young person growing up in that milieu, how did you understand, as a child, how did you understand the tensions between the Asian American community, be it Korean and/or, you know, Chinese, Japanese, whatever. How did you understand the tension between Asian Americans and African Americans as a child? Did you- like, were you...did you understand kind of, like- or were you able to develop an idea of what it stemmed from, why it persisted, and the drivers of it? Or was it just kind of like, "I don't know. I know that there's tension. But I also know that I have black friends at school and that's just how it is." You know what I mean? Like, were you able to make sense of it as a kid? As a child?
Jane Kim 10:36
Hard to say. Because, obviously, I'm looking back in a rearview mirror as an adult. But certainly by high school, I had an understanding of othering. And of people of color. And, by the time I was in high school, I felt a very deep sense of solidarity with other people of color. That, even when there was tension between communities of color, that, you know, we were kind of put in that position. Right? It wasn't- it didn't come from a place of power. Right? And so I started to understand that. And I was very lucky in high school, I had three incredibly progressive female teachers that really took me under their wings. And I still to this day don't understand why, because I was so awkward and quiet. But they really looked out for me, took care of me, identified me. And they saw me as a leader, and they really invested in me. They put me in programs and in leadership conferences, and I learned about, you know, a wide array of authors like Malcolm X and, you know, Leslie Marmon Silko, at the time, Amy Tan. They kind of introduced me to a larger world of writers of color, and to the Civil Rights Movement history. And so by the time I went to undergrad, I was very politicized. And I knew that, from a very young age, that I wanted to go into public service. I didn't call it public service, I didn't really know exactly what I would do. And I certainly never thought I would run for office. But I knew that I wanted to be involved in community work.
Janelle Jolley 12:22
Did you- now, did that desire to be involved in community work, did that just come from your intellectual endeavors from the political figures and books and writings that your teachers introduced to you? Was there an event? Was there kind of like a community background of being political and seeing the strength of organi- like, what was that thing? Was it purely intellectual? Was it kind of intellectual and just kind of experiential, or?
Jane Kim 12:51
No, it started with the experiential. So, all the stories I told you. So, as a young person, seeing how my parents were treated in society, and knowing that they're being treated as lesser, as not as equal.
Janelle Jolley 13:02
And there being no good reason for that.
Jane Kim 13:04
That has an indelible impact, I think, on all kids who watch their parents treated that way, whether they're immigrant kids or kids of color, you see that your parents are not treated as equals. And I think that that is a very...it is an experience that people share. Not all kids have that experience, actually.
Janelle Jolley 13:24
Of course, of course.
Jane Kim 13:25
And then, you know, it's just cumulative. Through eighth grade, like I said, all of these events happening in the world around me, seeing homelessness, seeing race and class disparity. And then through high school, seeing the eruption of race, like the LA riots and Rodney King.
Janelle Jolley 13:43
Jane Kim 13:44
And then when the police officers were acquitted, even at that young age, I knew that that was wrong. Right? And then later, my teachers were able to politicize my feelings, or put words-
Janelle Jolley 13:56
Give you a language for it.
Jane Kim 13:58
Give me a language for it, and also put me in a timeline in history.
Janelle Jolley 14:02
Jane Kim 14:03
Right? So then I started to understand the lineage of which I was entering into, even though, you know, obviously, my ancestors weren't involved in the struggles here in the United States. I, kind of, was dropped into this timeline and I wanted to be a part of it.
Janelle Jolley 14:22
I see. As a child, how would you have understood your class standing versus like your understanding of it now, growing up? Or did you- I mean I know- ah, that's a weird way of saying that. Looking back now, how would you describe your class standing growing up?
Jane Kim 14:39
Oh, I see. Well, like I said, growing up, when I was young, my parents didn't have much. That being said, you know, the way the immigration laws worked post 1965 is that, even if you didn't have a lot of financial resources, you were favored if you had some type of educational degree. So my parents did have their education when they came to the United States. And that already put a layer of privilege on my experience when they came to the United States,
Janelle Jolley 15:06
Because you didn't have to- they didn't have to go through as much of a gauntlet, in terms of immigration because they were educated, or?
Jane Kim 15:12
Yeah, so they were privileged in the immigration system.
Janelle Jolley 15:15
Jane Kim 15:15
And then I think there are just privileges that come with being educated, whether it's a network or, you know, the degree etc. And so- but what I got to see was, I got to see my parents struggle. But I got to see my parents, you know, also do everything that they can to provide for their family. And I also saw- because in New York, everyone is almost side by side, you see people both with a lot less than you, and you also see people with a whole lot more than you.
Janelle Jolley 15:46
That's right. That's right.
Jane Kim 15:47
Right? So that divide- although, you know, now, in retrospect, that income and wealth gap was not nearly as wide as it is today. Which is crazy.
Janelle Jolley 15:58
That's right, that's right. And do you- did you...did you have an appreciation as a child- you know how sometimes, like, you grow up- and for most people, you know, most people's parents have to work for a living to keep a roof over their head, feed the children, blah, blah, blah. Did you have an appreciation of that as a child? Or was it just like, "I have toys and I can play with my brother," you know, "I'm reading books. I'm just maxin'." You know what I mean? Like, was it- did you have a sense of appreciation for the things that you were able to...
Jane Kim 16:37
Yes. And, I mean, what I remember the most was being alone a lot. Because as immigrants, my parents didn't know how to access after school programs or summer camps, so I spent a lot of time in my mom's store by myself. I spent a lot of time at home by myself. And I watched a lot of TV. I mean, you know, the guidance, right? I mean, there were days that I probably watched 12 hours a TV.
Janelle Jolley 17:03
Jane Kim 17:04
Like, I started with the soap operas. I can even tell you: soap operas to cartoons to like, was it syndicated, like the reruns?
Janelle Jolley 17:13
Jane Kim 17:14
And then I would take a break during the game shows because I wasn't into that. And then I'd start again with primetime, right?
Janelle Jolley 17:20
Jane Kim 17:20
But thankfully, I also read a lot. And thankfully my parents, one thing that they were always willing to get me a lot of were books.
Janelle Jolley 17:28
Jane Kim 17:29
So I also read a lot, and I think that was a big saving grace for me. But yeah, I watched a lot of TV.
Janelle Jolley 17:37
It's so funny to think about that now. Like, you know, that's- if parents are- and this is no shade to parents. Parents are very hyper aware of that now, but I watched a ton of TV growing up! That just would not be allowed today.
Jane Kim 17:48
No, it would not be allowed today. No.
Janelle Jolley 17:52
Okay, so you were decently political coming through your high school years, from a combination of your teachers opening you up to this new world of having some historical grounding in how things were the way they were at that time during the 80s and 90s. Rodney King is happening, the LA riots are happening. You know, there's-homelessness was really bad in New York. It's still really bad now, but it was really bad then.
Jane Kim 18:21
And I forgot to mention, I actually spent four years working at the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City.
Janelle Jolley 18:26
Ah, as a high schooler?
Jane Kim 18:27
I started my freshman year and they eventually hired me my sophomore year, part time.
Janelle Jolley 18:31
What was the nature of the work you were doing?
Jane Kim 18:34
You know, I was 15, so I was just doing admin work for them.
Janelle Jolley 18:37
Jane Kim 18:37
I mean, literally, at that time, it was like Lotus 123. I was xeroxing checks, I was logging in into a notebook. I was volunteering at all their food runs. So, we would get in a van and we'd drive around New York City and drop off food at all the sites where people lived. And then eventually, I started doing the summer camps for children who are unhoused.
Janelle Jolley 19:03
Did your parents think that that was an important experience and important work for you?
Jane Kim 19:06
Janelle Jolley 19:06
Or this came from you? You were just like-
Jane Kim 19:08
No, my parents did not get it at all. No, we fought a lot.
Janelle Jolley 19:12
Jane Kim 19:13
Janelle Jolley 19:14
Jane Kim 19:14
I mean, it's normal teenager. Yeah. They didn't get why I did all of this public service. And-
Janelle Jolley 19:22
What did they want for you at that time?
Jane Kim 19:24
They just wanted me to study all the time.
Janelle Jolley 19:26
Jane Kim 19:27
And then I got into Stanford and they were like, "Oh, we didn't realize that all of this stuff helps you." So they saw it later, you know, in the rearview mirror as something that helped me get into college. But I was just very lucky at a very young age to connect to what I felt passionate about.
Janelle Jolley 19:44
I see, I see. Now was it a little bit of a culture shock going from urban-
Jane Kim 19:54
Janelle Jolley 19:55
To like, you know, tawny suburban Stanford?
Jane Kim 19:58
Janelle Jolley 19:59
What was that like?
Jane Kim 20:00
The first day, I was struck by how big the sky is.
Janelle Jolley 20:04
Jane Kim 20:05
I know that's not something that people think of automatically. But I didn't realize that, for me, the sky had always been partitioned by buildings.
Janelle Jolley 20:13
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course.
Jane Kim 20:13
And you could actually look up and you would see, kind of, uninterrupted sky.
Janelle Jolley 20:17
Jane Kim 20:18
And that was what I was most struck by. I came by myself, my parents did not drop me off.
Janelle Jolley 20:24
Jane Kim 20:23
Right, so I came into college by myself, everyone was moving in with their families. I had no one to take me to Target or wherever to buy additional stuff. I really was, you know, kind of taking care of myself.
Janelle Jolley 20:36
How did you navigate that, though, by yourself? You just figured it out?
Jane Kim 20:38
Yeah, you figure it out. And, you know, I think literally on the first day or second day, I walked into the Asian American activity center, and I asked for a job with my work study. And they hired me, which was crazy at the time. So I knew from the get-go, that I wanted to get involved. It was my first time being in a space with a lot of Asian Americans.
Janelle Jolley 21:00
Jane Kim 21:00
Twenty five percent Asian American.
Janelle Jolley 21:02
Jane Kim 21:03
It was one of the reasons why I was excited to come to California. 50% students of color. And, yeah, I was really struck by how big the sky is, how slow people walk.
Janelle Jolley 21:14
Jane Kim 21:14
That people smile and say hello to you, even if they don't know who you are.
Janelle Jolley 21:18
Jane Kim 21:18
And I was very struck, actually, at how separated communities were.
Janelle Jolley 21:25
Jane Kim 21:26
Janelle Jolley 21:26
Did you feel that it was more separated at Stanford than what you experienced growing up in New York?
Jane Kim 21:31
I mean, at least in my school. I, you know, because I had grew up with a lot of friends of color, I was- that was more my norm? And when I went to Stanford, it- just, like our communities of color were more divided.
Janelle Jolley 21:44
Jane Kim 21:46
Socially, yeah. Asian American-
Janelle Jolley 21:48
API was separate mostly from-
Jane Kim 21:50
Yeah, from Black, from Chicano. But, politically, we all worked together. And that was actually my first job, my work study job, which was amazing. Instead of working in a cafeteria, I worked for the Asian American Activity Center as a community building and community organizing coordinator. I mean, my job was to build relationships with other committees of color, and also amongst the huge API umbrella, which is also not always unified, right?
Janelle Jolley 22:16
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jane Kim 22:16
Cuz we all come from different spaces.
Janelle Jolley 22:18
Jane Kim 22:19
And so, yeah, my first year, I got to really get to know the student activist community. Actually, where I met- actually, I don't know if you know, you know, where I met Michele Olivas who now runs United Players, who lives a block away from me.
Janelle Jolley 22:32
Jane Kim 22:32
So we have a long, long history together. Yeah.
Janelle Jolley 22:36
Did you know for sure what you wanted to do when you came to Stanford? Like, when you came college?
Jane Kim 22:42
I knew I wanted to go into community work. Again, I didn't know what that meant. But I immediately knew I was going to be an ethnic studies major. So I was the first to sign up for Asian American Studies, which only became implemented my sophomore year. So I was the first person to sign up and I was the first person to graduate with an official Asian American studies degree from Stanford.
Janelle Jolley 23:06
Was there a...did you experience a kind of...any introspection or curiosity around, maybe, the strata of class you encountered at Stanford? Cuz I presume Stanford was similar to how it is now? You know, people from wealthy families and wealthy backgrounds went there. I assume that to be the case then as it is now? Or did it feel, you know, like, you know, "Some people are a little different in these ways but, you know, we're more or less kind of a homogenous student body." Like, was there a weird kind of Hunger Games class thing going on then?
Jane Kim 23:52
I didn't perceive it. If anything, I think people's wealth was pretty hidden.
Janelle Jolley 23:59
Ah, okay! Really?
Jane Kim 24:00
It was not flaunted.
Janelle Jolley 24:01
Tell me what you mean by that.
Jane Kim 24:03
I wouldn't know, actually, thinking back.
Janelle Jolley 24:07
You weren't acutely aware that like, "My parents had to work for a living and Johnny is fourth generation Stanford. His dad is a hedge fund magnate." You weren't acutely aware of that?
Jane Kim 24:21
You know, I didn't really understand what people's parents did until later. I just was kind of unaware and no one was showing off by their clothing or with cars. Like, that wasn't a thing then.
Janelle Jolley 24:36
I see what you're saying.
Jane Kim 24:37
You know, where it was on your person, where I'm like, "Oh, you have a lot of money." I'm sure if I kind of delved into it, I would have.
Janelle Jolley 24:44
Jane Kim 24:44
But most people I met grew up in California, seemed to have grown up in, kind of, middle class suburbia. That was the general sense I got.
Janelle Jolley 24:53
Okay, alright. Do you have fond memories of your undergraduate college years?
Jane Kim 25:00
I liked college, but, honestly, I was just yearning to graduate and get working.
Janelle Jolley 25:06
Jane Kim 25:07
Janelle Jolley 25:07
You didn't want to linger and just-
Jane Kim 25:09
Not at all.
Janelle Jolley 25:09
Jane Kim 25:10
Not at all.
Janelle Jolley 25:11
Oh my goodness.
Jane Kim 25:12
I was so happy when I graduated.
Janelle Jolley 25:14
Jane Kim 25:14
Yeah. And I was so excited when I started working. Like, I was the happiest.
Janelle Jolley 25:18
You prefer- you were looking forward to graduating, being done with undergrad, to get out in the work world and not party and lose your mind. Not that you did-
Jane Kim 25:28
I had a good time in undergrad and I am so grateful for my experience. And I know that I have an immense amount of privilege from going to an institution like Stanford. And I appreciated it. And I was really happy to join the workforce.
Janelle Jolley 25:46
Okay. What was your - that's interesting. What was your- what did you do initially after?
Jane Kim 25:51
My first job, I served as a fellow for the Greenlining Institute. And that is actually where I met one of the first members of my legislative teams.
Janelle Jolley 26:01
Ah! I think I have a friend who was working there last year. Is it in Oakland?
Jane Kim 26:05
Yeah, they're in Oakland now, but they were in San Francisco when I started. And then, after a year fellowship I decided to take a few months off and go backpacking in Asia.
Janelle Jolley 26:14
Nice. Where'd you go?
Jane Kim 26:17
Everywhere. Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, which was amazing, Vietnam, and of course, you know, I ended in Korea. And then I came back and I was really lucky to get a job at a nonprofit organization that I had admired for a while, Chinatown Community Development Center. And I got a job as a youth committee organizer, and I remained there for six years.
Janelle Jolley 26:39
Question. Now, this is a little inside, not inside baseball, but for people who are not familiar with San Francisco, did you take that job with that nonprofit because you already knew that, in many ways, the Chinese American community in San Francisco is a force. Like, they are a political-
Jane Kim 26:49
No. No idea. No.
Janelle Jolley 27:00
Or looking like, "I need to be elected to City Office."
Jane Kim 27:03
Well, first of all, I had no intentions of running for office, because I was a rah-rah activist.
Janelle Jolley 27:09
What does that mean, Jane?
Jane Kim 27:11
It meant that I didn't trust politicians and elected officials. I always viewed voting as a very disempowering exercise where I was picking-
Janelle Jolley 27:11
Jane Kim 27:19
Not bourgeois, that I was always picking the lesser of two evils. It was never a candidate that I was excited- there was no Bernie Sanders running, you know, when I graduated from college, that I was excited-
Janelle Jolley 27:30
But did you get excited about Jesse Jackson's run in the 80s?
Jane Kim 27:32
I was so young. But yes, I understood the significance of it, but I was so young.
Janelle Jolley 27:37
Okay. You were not as politically mature and developed as you are now.
Jane Kim 27:41
I was in elementary school when it happened. I remember it and the Rainbow Coalition. And, you know, in college, I would meet folks that came out of that. And Jesse Jackson spoke at Stanford a few times, actually. He was great. You know, when I graduated from college, I really poo-pooed on elected officials. I never was gonna run for office. In fact, I turned down several opportunities to run for office at Stanford. People kept asking me to run under the People's Platform, which was the people of color, more progressive platform, and I was just like, "No, that's not me. I'm an activist. I'm an organizer."
Janelle Jolley 28:17
Okay. We 'gon have to sit here. We don't have to park here for a second. Because what this sounds like...what I and many friends, comrades, colleagues, however you want to put that, people I know and love, experience just kind of a distaste of the- a displeasure or distaste of the formal, kind of, political arena. Because, you know, there are- because of just what you see with your plain eyes and the foolishness that you see going on. So... what- dive in more about that. Like, what were the things that maybe... that led to that kind of aversion to being a formal politician.
Jane Kim 29:00
I very much subscribe to Malcolm X's really famous line about Republicans and Democrats. That Republicans are wolves and democrats are just wolves in sheep's clothing. That you can't trust either party, that no one was there for us. And that, you know, I so remember his line, you know, "I have no compassion or mercy in me for a government that pushes people down." And by the way, this is not word for word.
Janelle Jolley 29:00
I know what you mean.
Jane Kim 29:21
That pushes people down and then penalizes them for not being able to stand up under that weight.
Janelle Jolley 29:31
Ah! Help us.
Jane Kim 29:32
Janelle Jolley 29:33
Jane Kim 29:32
So I didn't...I was against the system, I wasn't going to be part of the system.
Janelle Jolley 29:40
Because that meant, to you, if you were to be, at that time, your thinking was, "Because if I'm a part of the system, blank," what? Fill in that blank.
Jane Kim 29:47
I'd sell out.
Janelle Jolley 29:48
Jane Kim 29:49
Because I saw good people go into office, or that seemed like good people that went into office and started kind of like I was, organizers, community advocate, and you just saw them sell out.
Janelle Jolley 30:00
Jane Kim 30:00
Or, that's at least how I perceived it at the time as a young person. I went to CCDC, because they had this incredible reputation as being one of the best affordable housing organizations in the city. When I graduated, a friend who was years older than me that eventually founded At the Crossroads, an organization here that serves young people on the streets, he said, "You know, go look at Chinatown CDC, it's one of the best housing organizations in the city." And so I had been kind of tracking them for a year before a friend of mine told me that there was a job opening there. And I remember being told, like, "You're gonna have a hard time working there, or even getting a job there because you don't speak Cantonese." And, you know, half their staff meeting is in Cantonese. And I applied anyway. And they hired me on the spot, which was great. But they hired me to run their youth program, which was, you know, I could get away with not being bilingual in Cantonese or Mandarin.
Janelle Jolley 30:53
Jane Kim 30:54
And so, I was really excited to work there for that reason. I had no idea what would come out of that. But I know I would have very...very unlikely- I would have probably not run for office, had I not worked there. So the connection that you made is apt. I just wasn't making that connection when I joined.
Janelle Jolley 31:15
I see, I see. What...oh, there's so many questions I want to ask you, but I...okay, okay. So, during that time at CCDC, you became further integrated in the community here, doing the work with that organization, helping with affordable housing in the city. Where...what- was your...was there, at that point, a shift in your thinking, or a shift in your perception, happening then about the benefits, or opposite of benefits, about being an elected official? Like, how did that shape your forward trajectory from that point?
Jane Kim 32:07
Well, being involved at CCDC and being an organizer, you eventually start getting engaged in board of supervisor budget hearings, school board meetings. And it was the first time that I started to see what local elected officials do. I was not really aware of them, in the same way that most people are aware of Congress and the President.
Janelle Jolley 32:29
Yeah. Same going on right now. Uh-huh
Jane Kim 32:31
And when I started going to these meetings, I started to understand the concept of proximity, and how, actually, with local electeds being on the ground, there's actually more of a tangible relationship between the community and those electeds. And I started to meet elected officials who started out as public school teachers, and as organizers, and I saw the good that they were able to do in office. And so, it did change my perception.
Janelle Jolley 32:59
Okay, question, though-
Jane Kim 33:01
But I carved that out just for local. I was like, "Okay, so maybe local is different from national."
Janelle Jolley 33:05
I see. But did you...what you perceived as good, beneficial work that was- or, the work that was able to affect good, beneficial change at the local level, that outweighed the foolery that I'm sure you saw, as well?
Jane Kim 33:22
I mean, it was still a little distant for me at the time, but I started to at least conceptually understand the power that the right people can have at the local level. And what I grew to understand is that, actually, the most important decision that these local elected officials make and, in fact, that any elected official makes, whether they are a member of the school board, their local city council, state legislature, a member of Congress, is that they get to vote on how to invest our money back into our community. Which is what we talked about with Reinvest in us.
Janelle Jolley 33:56
Jane Kim 33:56
So, you know, they're basically a massive foundation. In fact, a lot of my friends would always ask me, like, "What do you do again? What is the Board of Supervisors?" And I had to really think about it, I was just like, "Well, basically I work for a $10 billion foundation." But my board isn't one wealthy family. We're a group of wealthy individuals. It's everybody because everyone pays into this fund. And my job is to invest it back into the community in a way that reflects our values and priorities. And that every budget document is not just a series of line items and dollar signs, but they are an expression of our values and our principles. So how much money do we invest in public school teachers? How much money do we invest in police officers? And in what neighborhood? How much should we invest in parks, streets, social programs, you name it, all of that is reflected in the budget. It is the most important policy document that elected officials vote on. And I increasingly saw how important it was for members of the community to have a seat at that table and to vote on that.
Janelle Jolley 35:08
And that was the shift for you?
Jane Kim 35:11
It was the beginning of the shift for me. Then I ended up- I only worked on ballot measure campaigns at the time because I didn't, again, trust politicians. And I was just like, "Well, at least a ballot measure, it doesn't betray you after election day." That's what I would always say. But electeds would. But then I was, although it took a painstakingly long time, I was eventually convinced to work on this mayor's race.
Janelle Jolley 35:36
Jane Kim 35:37
San Francisco mayor's race in 2003. And I was really reluctant to work on the race, but eventually, so many of my friends were working on it. And I did know Matt Gonzalez at the time, and I did like him. I got drawn into his race against Gavin Newsome.
Janelle Jolley 35:52
Jane Kim 35:54
And I was especially active in the runoff. And, eventually, they asked me to do more and more things, speak at events. I think even do a mailer piece for him. And we barely lost that race.
Janelle Jolley 36:09
What galvanized- what got you over that hump of like, "Electeds will betray you, why even bother?" What got you over that hump, and just like, "Okay, Imma do this, Imma throw down for him."
Jane Kim 36:20
It was a combination of so many of my friends joining the campaign and Matt actually just being a really cool person. Like, I had met him a number of times before he ran for mayor. He was really good to the young people in my program, invited them, spoke to them for an hour. He was always very authentic. And I actually, then I went to a bunch of his debates. And what I was so impressed by was that Matt could talk about taxes, and policies that I didn't often hear progressives talk about. And he was consistent. No matter what community he was in, he said the same thing over and over and over again. And so, I went in and it was an incredible learning experience for me. At the time, Asian Americans were still not a powerful voting bloc. In fact-
Janelle Jolley 37:03
Jane Kim 37:04
No. In fact, I tried to convince...I guess what I'll call a steering committee, to do more outreach in the Asian American community. And what I was often told by really good people, really good progressive people, they're like "Jane, we know that's the right thing to do. But Asians don't vote, so we need to focus on where people vote." And I managed to get a few events for Matt in the Asian American community, but at the time, we were still not considered a powerful force.
Janelle Jolley 37:32
Ah, I see.
Jane Kim 37:33
So after Matt lost and, by the way, he barely lost that race. He won on election day, he lost absentee ballots. The world would be so different today if he had won.
Janelle Jolley 37:44
I was wondering- so, had he won, I mean, it's a moot point. But, had he won, would we maybe be looking at not having Gavin Newsom as the governor?
Jane Kim 37:53
Janelle Jolley 37:54
Oh wow! Wow, wow, wow.
Jane Kim 37:55
Janelle Jolley 37:56
Jane Kim 37:58
You know, few weeks, Matt is incredibly burnt out and exhausted. And he calls me, I think before New Year's, and he's like, "Jane, I want more people to run for office." He's like, "Will you consider running for the school board? In fact, if you run you'll be the only candidate that even works with public school students." And at first, I was just like, "Totally not interested. Flattered you asked," said, "No, no, no, no," several times. And then a group of friends of mine started a group called the League of Pissed Off Voters.
Janelle Jolley 38:28
Jane Kim 38:29
Oh, yeah! I was there the first year, they came out with a book called "How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office." A few of my friends contributed to it. And it was all chapters about young people, people of color, immigrants, LGBT folks running for office, local office, winning or losing, and the impact that they had when they ran. And I was so inspired by that book, I just kind of threw my hat in the ring without really thinking about it. I was like, "Alright, I'm gonna run for school board!"
Janelle Jolley 39:00
Jane Kim 39:01
Janelle Jolley 39:02
Jane Kim 39:02
And there's no way, I think, I could have done that today, actually.
Janelle Jolley 39:07
Jane Kim 39:07
Because I...didn't know any Democratic club. I'd never gone to a DCCC meeting. I didn't even know that existed. I knew nothing. I was an organizer and I thought I knew everything because I was an organizer. I went door knocking every election season. I knew what it meant to organize communities, but I didn't know the political community or infrastructure at all. So I went feet first, got very few endorsements, lost my first race, but had an incredible experience.
Janelle Jolley 39:36
Did it sting? Or did it not sting...or did a not sting because you're just like, "Ah, okay!"
Jane Kim 39:41
I just went in feet first. And I'm really glad I did it that way because had I gone the route that most people go, which is to start getting involved in political clubs and DCCC, there's no way I would have run.
Janelle Jolley 39:53
Jane Kim 39:53
I'd have been disgusted by the process. And so I am glad that I was very naive when I walked into that political process. Now, fast forward two years later, I started getting involved more with labour, and the Harvey Milk club, and, of course, The League of Pissed Off Voters, because now I'm more in the know and people know me. So the second time I ran- and by the way, keep in mind, I was a Green Party member for those races.
Janelle Jolley 40:17
Huh! You were not- you had not come over to the dark side? Which is the Democratic Party.
Jane Kim 40:22
I was a Green Party member for those two races. And so a lot of people couldn't endorse me. But the second time around I got more endorsements, including the Bay Guardian and the Harvey Milk Club.
Janelle Jolley 40:32
Is it because you had switched your party affiliation from Green to-
Jane Kim 40:34
I was still a Green Party member.
Janelle Jolley 40:36
Jane Kim 40:36
Harvey Milk Club was the only, or one of the few Democratic clubs, that would endorse non-Democrats.
Janelle Jolley 40:41
Oh, wow. Okay. I didn't know that.
Jane Kim 40:42
And I was just running for the third place seat, because it was top three. And I remember on election night, we did such a great job. I was like, "Oh, maybe I'll come in second place." And we came in first place out of 15 candidates.
Janelle Jolley 40:58
Woah! That's amazing.
Jane Kim 40:58
In fact, three women of color won for the first time ever in San Francisco's history. I ran on a slate with an African American mother, Kim-Shree Maufas, we went together. And Hydra Mendoza, who then worked for Mayor Gavin Newsome, also won. And it was a big deal. I still remember the Chronicle calling me that night because in October or September, they had featured nine or 10 of the 15 candidates that were running for school board and I didn't make their top nine or 10 candidates. So on election night, they called me and they're like, "Who are you, again? And what do you do?" And actually, at the time, I had just started law school. I actually wasn't going to run a second time. I had just got into law school and I was in my 1L first semester year. And my friends kind of guilt tripped me into running. They're like, "We invested in you, Jane. You have to run. You owe us." And I was just like, "I'm starting law school!" And they're like, "It's okay, we can do this." And yeah, we did it. We came in first place. And, actually winning was harder than losing. Because when I lost, it was just over. When I won, I...the nightmares started, I started losing sleep, I became incredibly anxious.
Janelle Jolley 41:33
Jane Kim 42:09
Because, you know, after you win, and you realize you're about to do this, you're like, "Wow, hundreds, thousands, of people have come before me and tried to reform and change and improve our public school system. Who do I think I am, that I can do this work that other people have tried to do?" And, you know, I just felt a lot of anxiety because I was no longer just an advocate and organizer, I couldn't just go to a school board meeting and say, you know, "A 15 year old was shot and killed on our streets yesterday, what are you going to do about it?" Now the tables were turned and people would ask me, what am I going to do about it? And do I have the answer? Second, I, you know, I didn't think I would enjoy it. I viewed it as a civic obligation, a duty. The school district was 90% students of color, 70%, immigrant, 50% Asian American. And at the time when I ran, the school board really did not represent the families that it represented. And so I felt it was incredibly important as a young Asian American woman that actually worked with public school students, that worked with immigrant families, that that voice be heard. So what happened over the next four years that was truly unexpected for me, is how much I fell in love with the work.
Janelle Jolley 43:31
So you went from, "I ran for the school board as a Green first time, I lost. The second time I run I'm starting law school, what the hell, you know, my friends, you know, put the put the hammer to me, like, "Listen, you got to do this, again." we ended up coming in first of the three spots that there were available." But then it's like, oh- I'm cursing not her- "Oh, shit. Oh, God. This is-okay, this means I have to take responsibility now for what it means to be a public servant in this position. Oh god." And you were, like, you were kind of dreading it. But then turns out like, "This my shit!" Again, this is me cursing, not her. But you ended up loving it even though you started off dreading it. Why?
Jane Kim 44:15
Well, one, I really enjoyed having a seat at the table. And I knew that so many people fought so I could have that seat. That there was, you know, decades of organizers and activists that had literally died so that one day, this very young Asian American woman could run for school board and be taken seriously, right? And so that was one. Two was that, at first I was very struck by the bureaucracy and the rigidness of being part of a government organization. But then I realized that there was actually something incredibly challenging from an intellectual perspective on solving problems inside a box. People always talk about outside the box. What you learn when you're elected is you learn how to make a difference inside the box. It's a very differnt challenge but I grew to really be motivated by it.
Janelle Jolley 45:17
When you say that, do you mean that as an elected official, you have to accept certain constraints? You can't...you have to accept certain constraints, or a certain boundedness to the discussion and the solutions, and you have to make that work, you cannot imagine otherwise? Is that what you're saying?
Jane Kim 45:36
Largely. You can be outside of the box, I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's very hard to be outside of the box in office. In fact, when the private sector, when I was leader on the Board of Supervisors, would ask me how they could help, I would be like, "Well, you know, fund ideas that we have proven can work."
Janelle Jolley 45:52
Jane Kim 45:52
Because when you're investing taxpayer dollars, when you're investing the people's money, you want to invest that money in a way that has a track record of success.
Janelle Jolley 46:03
Jane Kim 46:04
Because if you fail, everyone's like, "Why'd you put my money there?"
Janelle Jolley 46:08
Jane Kim 46:08
Janelle Jolley 46:08
Jane Kim 46:09
And so there's a lot of restraints in government, some don't need to exist, some make sense that they do. And yes, you can be outside the box sometimes, but largely you're inside the box. And it- but there's still a beauty to that. Because you can still do things inside the box.
Janelle Jolley 46:28
Give me an example of you, or some politicians you've observed, working inside the box beautifully. And I'm listening, I'm just turning the heat on and turning the light so we're not in the dark. Go ahead.
Jane Kim 46:42
Oh, interesting. I don't think I've ever thought about it that way. But at the time, the class of 2000 on the Board of Supervisors very much knew how to work within the box. And they figured out how to be creative with Robert's Rules, procedures, motions. I mean, it was just kind of like who had read Robert's Rules, Board of Supervisor rules and the charter more than the other person? I mean, literally, you're poring yourself over existing information that a lot of people don't read. And so, who knows more? Because then you'll find some kind of interesting, kind of, maze that you can work your way out of. But more than anything, it's just like, "Alright, here are the things that are in the box, how can I move this here?" And also, you being in the box also changes the box, right? So...but it is, you know, it's still-
Janelle Jolley 47:40
Tell me what you mean by that, you being - because this is what- here's why I want you to expound upon that.
Jane Kim 47:44
Because you can look at it differently.
Janelle Jolley 47:47
And does that- for leftists, for progressives, I'm not sure which term you prefer, but for us, like, you know, universal benefits for the people- does that actually- us being- if one so chose to be in the box to hopefully change the box, is that something that is real? Or is that just something that we tell ourselves to justify, you know, wanting - I'm not saying you - but just wanting a public limelight? Because I think what a lot of people have trouble with is, you know, like, I have these very plain- well, not plain- I have these very plain English common sense desires for policy. So I'm going to get in there so that, you know, I can help make it happen. But then we see that the box usually changes the person, not the other way around. So tell me, help me and other people who are listening, understand what you mean by you being in the box, changing the box. Do you understand what I'm saying?
Jane Kim 48:45
I do. I was very nervous, actually, that when I won, that politics would change me, and that I was taking a risk by being an office, that I may not come out of it the way I went in. But actually, politics, if anything, has further radicalized me.
Janelle Jolley 49:07
What do you mean by that? Tell me.
Jane Kim 49:09
Or further cemented my feelings about systems. Because when you're in the system, you really see how it fucks people up.
Janelle Jolley 49:16
Jane Kim 49:17
Like, it is very intentional. It's not kind of like, "Oh, it just happened that way." And when I was in the school district, it was very weird all of a sudden being a part of the system because- you know, people talk about racism very loosely as just prejudice. But for those of us that have studied racism, we know it's systematic. It's about power.
Janelle Jolley 49:35
Jane Kim 49:36
Right? It's not just about like, one day, a black person seeing a white person being like, "I don't like you, I'm gonna hit you." Or a white person seeing a black person saying, "I don't like you, I'm gonna hit you."
Janelle Jolley 49:45
Jane Kim 49:46
It's like, what happens after that? Who gets to call the cops? Who runs the police department? Who hires and fires a chief? Right? Who are the elected officials, you know, it just keeps going up and up and up, right? And so it's the system. It's not prejudice, those are two different things.
Janelle Jolley 50:03
It's not just an individual expression of distaste or dislike. It is more endemic than that, yes.
Jane Kim 50:08
And when I joined the school district, I was part of a system that is racist. And that disproportionately pushed out black students, in particular-
Janelle Jolley 50:18
Yeah, that's right.
Jane Kim 50:18
Black students through expulsions and suspensions. The very first vote I took as a member of the school board was in closed session, which I did not know there was closed session, I was a little out of the loop on that. It was closed session before the school board and at closed session what we typically dealt with were expulsions. I was handed a folder and I was told that we had to expel a kid. And I remember sitting there reading it over and being like, "Okay, well, I guess this sounds like based on the school code and the ED code, we gotta expel the student." So I voted for it. But I remember walking out of the room, feeling like this isn't why I ran for the Board of Education. I didn't run so the first vote I took was pushing a kid out of our system.
Janelle Jolley 51:01
Jane Kim 51:01
And so I spent the next four years reimagining our student discipline policy. And bringing in what was at the time a very new concept, something called restorative justice. I was learning it in law school, so it was a great time. And I wanted to bring restorative justice practices into our school district. But I knew that, actually, a lot of the things that I wanted to do on the School Board- I had all these ideas and I got a binder of all the resolutions the School Board had ever passed. This is kind of pre-ish Google. And I saw a lot of the work that I wanted to do had already been passed by the School Board. But none of it got implemented. And I realized that a big part of my work was actually not passing, you know, 50 resolutions a year. But my job was actually to make sure that it happened.
Janelle Jolley 51:53
That's right. Enforcing what's already on the books.
Jane Kim 51:56
Well, also creating resources and an infrastructure that allowed those policies to get implemented.
Janelle Jolley 52:01
I see. I see.
Jane Kim 52:02
So either making sure that it was funded, or that there was buy in from administrators that would actually implement the policy. So I went to all of our schools, I visited teachers, classrooms, principals, families, parents, and the other thing I loved about my job was being able to bring those folks in to a room to be a part of developing policy. One of the first things that I learned was there was one restorative justice in one of our middle schools, Visitacion Valley Middle School, but it wasn't well utilized. And so I asked teachers, "Well, why do you suspend a kid over the restorative justice program?" Teachers were like, "The suspension form is one or two pages. The restorative justice form is seven." And you have to really think about, you know, all the different questions that are a part of that process. And so I immediately understood just from an administrative perspective, that teachers don't have time.
Janelle Jolley 52:52
Jane Kim 52:52
Or they don't feel like they have the time to really engage and rectify the harm that was caused by the students. Because, actually, in most cases, the students did do something that harmed the community.
Janelle Jolley 53:02
Jane Kim 53:03
It wasn't like they were unfairly accused.
Janelle Jolley 53:05
Jane Kim 53:05
Something really did happen. But we weren't focused on all the things that led up to it.
Janelle Jolley 53:11
Jane Kim 53:11
Janelle Jolley 53:12
Jane Kim 53:12
And so I spent four years on this, getting buy in from principals and teachers, I wanted it to get implemented when it passed and I wanted people to want to do it. Because I had the votes needed my first year, but I didn't pass the policy until my fourth year because I want to make sure to actually happened. And also fighting for the funding, as well.
Janelle Jolley 53:30
Are those examples of you changing the box? You doing the work to go out to the schools and meet with families, meet with teachers, meet with administrators to implement the good things that I think you perceived- you know, you got this binder full of policies to be- in order to make sure we actually do them, or actually get the restorative justice practice embedded in the school system. Is that an example, in your mind, of you changing the box?
Jane Kim 54:01
Yeah, because I mean, I understood that I wasn't cramming a policy down people's throats. That part of it was just understanding from a day to day perspective why and how it would get utilized.
Janelle Jolley 54:13
Jane Kim 54:14
Almost as simple sometimes as what type of forms are we providing teachers?
Janelle Jolley 54:19
Sure, sure, sure.
Jane Kim 54:19
Right? I mean, that's what I mean about inside the box. It's like, "Oh, that? You can fix that. Had I known that was the issue...we let's let's work on that." Right?
Janelle Jolley 54:28
Jane Kim 54:28
So that was part of the work.
Janelle Jolley 54:31
How much time do I have with you?
Jane Kim 54:33
We have about 13 more minutes.
Janelle Jolley 54:35
Okay. Here's big questions. Well, one small question. When was it- when did you make this switch from Green to Dem and why?
Jane Kim 54:44
I re-registered as Democrat when- after Obama won the primary
Janelle Jolley 54:50
Jane Kim 54:50
Janelle Jolley 54:50
Jane Kim 54:53
I early endorsed Obama.
Janelle Jolley 54:55
Jane Kim 54:55
In 2007 when nobody thought he had a chance of winning.
Janelle Jolley 54:58
Jane Kim 54:59
I was actually torn between him and Edwards at the time.
Janelle Jolley 55:01
Jane Kim 55:01
But I had a lot more friends working for Obama. And at the time, it was such a big deal. Like, they even sent out a press release that I had endorsed him, which is so funny to think back on retrospect, because I think two months later, I was definitely not a big deal in this campaign.
Janelle Jolley 55:13
Jane Kim 55:15
I was really inspired by seeing this incredibly charismatic and engaging black leader who I knew was a moderate Democrat. I had no kind of-
Janelle Jolley 55:26
You weren't fooled like the rest of us.
Jane Kim 55:29
I didn't think Obama was progressive. I thought that he represented something that was very important for our country to achieve. I knew he was smart, I knew he would be a thoughtful leader. But the change I was hoping for was not...his policy agenda. It wasn't in his policy agenda, he was not the most left candidate running then.
Janelle Jolley 55:49
No, he was not.
Jane Kim 55:49
And Edwards, who was the most left candidate, would pale in comparison to the Warren and Sanders of today.
Janelle Jolley 55:55
Yeah, that's right.
Jane Kim 55:57
And so- but I thought that because he was so inspiring and inspired so many young people in particular, that he would activate young people to get engaged in their community, run for office and push for policy, and remain organized and engaged.
Janelle Jolley 56:12
Jane Kim 56:12
That's what I was hoping for from the Obama presidency. And I think, to a certain extent, that happened.
Janelle Jolley 56:18
Jane Kim 56:19
Not as much as I would like.
Janelle Jolley 56:20
Jane Kim 56:20
But to a certain extent it happened. I wish he kept the organizing and kept funding the organizing beyond the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaign. But I wasn't disappointed by Obama because I got exactly what I thought I was gonna get.
Janelle Jolley 56:21
Huh. Okay. That's interesting.
Jane Kim 56:23
And at the time, I kind of thought, "Well, you know, national politics is different from local." We can push in San Francisco in a way that maybe we can't push in Washington DC yet. But anyway, I fell in love so much with my work, I decided to run for a full time elected position and run for Board of Supervisors.
Janelle Jolley 56:55
So here's what I want to try and...these are very big questions.
Jane Kim 56:59
By the way, I still love Obama. Even though we differ.
Janelle Jolley 57:03
Jane Kim 57:03
I do, I do. I still- I just can't help it.
Janelle Jolley 57:05
Why? What do you mean you can't help it?
Jane Kim 57:06
I just love him as a human. Not Obama, the policy person. Obama, the human
Janelle Jolley 57:12
But he's not a human.
Jane Kim 57:13
Janelle Jolley 57:14
No! You- what?
Jane Kim 57:18
I...you know, we don't we don't agree. We don't-I don't agree with Obama on a number of his positions, but I-
Janelle Jolley 57:24
After the night of the long knives this year, you can still say, "I love Obama the human?"
Jane Kim 57:29
I do. I do.
Janelle Jolley 57:29
What are you saying?
Jane Kim 57:34
Janelle Jolley 57:35
We'll get back that.
Jane Kim 57:36
We'll get back to that.
Janelle Jolley 57:36
We gonna have to- ugh- over some Pinot one day. Okay. Here's...big questions. What- if you were to...if you were to have something actionable, or tangible, or prescriptive, for someone who is looking out on our political landscape completely disgusted, completely dejected, "I don't know where to start. Everything's terrible. Everything's really bad." What would you say, particularly in the lens of where their efforts, or where their time or energy, would be best spent? Is that within the realm of electoral politics? Is it outside of the realm of electoral politics? Is that a false binary?
Jane Kim 58:17
Yeah, we need people everywhere.
Janelle Jolley 58:19
Tell me why you say that. Because what I-
Jane Kim 58:22
Everyone plays their role.
Janelle Jolley 58:23
What I hear people saying in my head, and this is really just Janelle in her head, is like, "There's no room for us in the electoral realm in order to affect change." Look at what happened this year.
Jane Kim 58:34
We have to engage in the electoral realm. We just don't have a choice.
Janelle Jolley 58:39
Why do you do that?
Jane Kim 58:44
So, I will say that after 12 years in office, I think the thing that surprised me the most is that, if anything, I believe in government and governance now more than ever.
Janelle Jolley 58:56
Jane Kim 58:58
Well, no. No, not sure. I mean, because when you're in office, you kind of see all that's awful too?
Janelle Jolley 59:04
Jane Kim 59:05
There were great things, by the way, too. There's some amazing public servants. And there's some terrible ones.
Janelle Jolley 59:10
Jane Kim 59:11
But, if anything, I thought I would become more cynical, and there's a lot to be cynical about.
Janelle Jolley 59:16
Jane Kim 59:16
There's a lot to be cynical about. But, two things. One, I remember when I was fighting for this tiny little supplemental appropriation for the school district, when we found out that we were- we were coming out of recession, and we actually had more revenue than we thought we did, and I knew our public schools needed the money.
Janelle Jolley 59:35
Jane Kim 59:35
And we had been cutting them so much every year. And I couldn't even get eight votes to get a veto-proof majority for a mayor who already publicly said that they don't support the supplemental. And the crazy thing is, it was one of the few times The Chronicle and The Examiner supported me. Like, they both came out with editorial supporting the supplemental appropriation.
Janelle Jolley 1:00:01
Jane Kim 1:00:01
I didn't get the eight votes. The mayor vetoed it. And I remember just crying in my office. I was like, "Wow, this was like...I thought everyone would support more money for schools. Like, how could you vote against it?"
Janelle Jolley 1:00:13
Jane Kim 1:00:13
And I remember talking to Tom Amiano, because he was the author of Proposition H, which is the Public Education enrichment Fund, which actually got us these additional revenues for our public schools. Incredibly needed, they fund our librarians, our art teachers, our PE programs, our restorative justice program, janitors, toilet paper, I mean, the things that we've always needed in our schools. I remeber talking to him, and I was just like, "Tom, why? Why did this happen?" And he just- he was on the phone and he goes, "Jane," he's like, "those motherfuckers are the same. The always been." And I was just like, "Tom, that's not what I want to hear from you! I want to know that things are gonna get better, not that things are gonna stay the same." And he just responded very simple and he said, "Well, we do this work because we have to continue to hope."
Janelle Jolley 1:01:05
Jane Kim 1:01:08
And I really hung on to that. And I remembered actually, in high school, hearing Cornell West speak at my local Y, and how he talked about how there are optimists and prisoners of hope. Optimists see the evidence in the world around them and they believe that things are getting better. And he said, "I'm not an optimist." He's like, "But prisoners of hope see the evidence in the world around them and they see that the world is not getting better, but they remain committed to changing those conditions and evidence." And so, I think that really expresses how I feel, which is that I continue to believe that a democratic institution and governance is the right infrastructure.
Janelle Jolley 1:01:47
Jane Kim 1:01:49
But we have to be a part of it. And...we can't ever give up. I mean, we just can't. Too many people are depending on the system to work the right way. And people are depending on us to fight for a seat at that table. And to be there.
Janelle Jolley 1:02:09
I understand. I'm not fussing at you. I understand what you're saying. But what would you say to someone who just- who has- who just would barf at the idea of using their time and talents in the electoral realm? Where else outside or adjacent to- would you say like, "Okay, if electoralism isn't your thing, think about getting involved here." Because I hear what you're saying, it's like- because it is a dialectic. We need elected officials to legislate things like Medicare for All into existence, that-
Jane Kim 1:02:40
But it doesn't happen without the activists and organizers. Elected officials can't do that by themselves. And I learned that as an elected. Just because I am progressive doesn't mean that legislation is going to pass. It passes because there are organizers and activists on the ground that push my colleagues and me, and also kind of give me quote unquote, cover to do this work because it's what people want. Because I could push Medicare for All and my colleagues and voters might be like, "Nobody wants that." But if there are organizers and activists being like, "Yeah, we want that and Jane's actually not doing enough." Right?
Janelle Jolley 1:03:16
Jane Kim 1:03:16
That's an important part of that struggle. And so I don't want everyone to go into electoral politics. I want people to understand the role that it plays. But we need folks everywhere. We need folks that are pushing, we need folks that are negotiating, we need folks that are running for office, we need everybody at the table.
Janelle Jolley 1:03:34
So don't- so is your, is what you're saying, don't be so provincial about like, the thing you could be doing. Just find something plugged in somewhere because it'll take all of us.
Jane Kim 1:03:44
I- yes, very much so. I don't think that, you know, that even everyone has to dedicate their paid career to this work, but we should all be engaged because it's our community. And we have to stop viewing this work as altruistic. It's not just about...others. I mean, we do this work for ourselves. Like, I am better off, I am safer, I am happier when all of my neighbors have after school programs to send their children to, can afford to go to college, can get the health care that they need and deserve. I am better off in that situation. And I will feel safer in my community, my neighborhood, if all these things happen. So, yes, I believe in big government. I believe in a strong foundation of which we give to everyone so that there is more equity. It's why I fought for tuition-free city college.
Janelle Jolley 1:04:41
Jane Kim 1:04:42
And why I'm so proud of the work that we were collectively able to do. There was a huge group of folks that came together for that. And we won that.
Janelle Jolley 1:04:50
Jane Kim 1:04:51
We're now the only city in the country to have made community college tuition free for all of our residents, regardless of age, income or any type of-
Janelle Jolley 1:04:57
Jane Kim 1:04:58
GPA prerequesite. And that is incredibly important. And as as elected officials, one of our jobs is to keep rethinking policy. Because at one point in the mid 20th century, we made a very expensive and radical decision to fund a free and universal K through 12. public education system. Can you imagine trying to do that today?
Janelle Jolley 1:05:22
I literally have this argument-
Jane Kim 1:05:23
It would never happen!
Janelle Jolley 1:05:24
Or social security or any of these things.
Jane Kim 1:05:26
Yeah, it would not happen!
Janelle Jolley 1:05:26
Yeah, that's right.
Jane Kim 1:05:27
But we take it for granted.
Janelle Jolley 1:05:29
Uh-huh. We do.
Jane Kim 1:05:29
So when people are like, "Oh, I don't want to pay for rich people to go to college."
Janelle Jolley 1:05:34
It's like "First of all, shut up because you sound stupid."
Jane Kim 1:05:36
And, or, "I don't believe in handouts." But I'm like, "Okay, so you want to get rid of K through 12 education? Because that's one of the biggest government handouts, A. And B: do you want to make public schools means tested?"
Janelle Jolley 1:05:47
Jane Kim 1:05:48
Like, should Mark Zuckerberg have to pay for his kids to go to public school, if, for example, he was sending his kids to public school? No, we would never expect that. So why shouldn't we expand that notion to K through 14, or K through 16? Because, by the way, also, in the mid 20th century, a high school diploma was enough to get a middle class job.
Janelle Jolley 1:06:09
Jane Kim 1:06:09
And, actually, our middle class grew in the 60s and 70s. And let's take race out of that picture. The middle class in America was larger than the upper and low income classes in America. And a strong and large middle class is very important for our democracy.
Janelle Jolley 1:06:26
Jane Kim 1:06:26
And a free and universal K through 12 education really grew the middle class. And now we're in 2020, 70%, of all jobs require some type of post secondary degree, training, certificate. So we've got to expand on that social compact.
Janelle Jolley 1:06:41
Jane Kim 1:06:42
And, by the way, when people complain about paying for rich people's kids to go to college, well, I say, "Well, we need progressive taxation to ensure that those who are benefiting the most from society's infrastructure, pays the most."
Janelle Jolley 1:06:58
So, yeah, their kids should go for free. Yeah.
Jane Kim 1:07:00
Janelle Jolley 1:07:01
That's it. Last question, cuz I know you have to go. And you're gonna cuss me out after I turn this off. Would Jane of her mid 20s, 25-year-old Jane, who was a part of the Green Party, who was afraid of getting involved or becoming an elected official because she didn't trust them, what would she say about Jane now?
Jane Kim 1:07:21
Janelle Jolley 1:07:22
Mm, c'mon, tell the truth!
Jane Kim 1:07:24
I don't know! I hope that that Jane would be proud of... I think she would be proud. And relieved. Because our skepticism is just a way to protect us. And not feel that hurt and pain later. We we all want the system to work.
Janelle Jolley 1:07:45
Jane Kim 1:07:46
We all want society to work out for folks. So I think there would, if anything, be a sense of relief that maybe this can work?
Janelle Jolley 1:07:53
Jane Kim 1:07:54
Janelle Jolley 1:07:55
Jane Kim 1:07:55
Because, if anything, that was a defense mechanism on my part, to not feel disappointed.
Janelle Jolley 1:08:00
Jane Kim 1:08:00
To not feel betrayed, to not be hurt, because I knew it. "I already knew before you did it to me, I knew you were gonna hurt me. I knew you weren't going to take care of me."
Janelle Jolley 1:08:07
Mm-hm, mm-hm, mm-hm. I see, I see. That makes sense. Oh, that was good. That was a biggie, because I think that's exactly what- and I'm not saying do get involved in electoralism or don't, I think that's up to the individual. But I think a lot of what is- a lot of what underlies that aversion or that skepticism is just the desire to not be disappointed- and be disappointed, or fear of disappointment in self about not being able to deliver on, you know, on the things that you value, that you hold dear, that you are very serious about, that you're very focused on. I think that that's- I think you just hit on something that a lot of people...
Jane Kim 1:08:49
And I do want to end on this note. I mean, first of all, I don't want to make anyone run for office, it's a tough job. That being said, we need more people, more good people that are grounded in community to run for office. And we need more people to be heading departments and agencies, that are principals. We need them up and down the line. And we need good people in the private sector. The private sector has a huge role to play because, as policymakers, you know, we put, kind of, laws on the books, but obviously, you know, we as a society and committee, we breathe life into these policies and laws and make them real. What I am really comforted by is just...the change that I have seen over the last twenty years.
Janelle Jolley 1:09:37
So you have seen a change?
Jane Kim 1:09:38
Well, A: let's talk about the Asian American community in San Francisco.
Janelle Jolley 1:09:41
Sure, sure, sure.
Jane Kim 1:09:41
When I moved here, not considered a power base, now an incredibly powerful force. You don't see any campaign that doesn't have lit in Chinese.
Janelle Jolley 1:09:49
Jane Kim 1:09:50
That hasn't hired Chinese-speaking organizers.
Janelle Jolley 1:09:53
Jane Kim 1:09:53
So I think that is huge. The Asian-American community has both grasped and taken on that power and is now one of the most consistent voting bases in San Franciso, in the space of 20 years. Granted, it was, you know, 170-year process to get there.
Janelle Jolley 1:10:09
Jane Kim 1:10:09
You know, unlike many places in this country, Asian Americans have been in San Francisco since the beginning.
Janelle Jolley 1:10:13
Jane Kim 1:10:15
But, two: I am incredibly heartened by the immense footprint that Bernie Sanders has now had in electoral politics. And granted there, obviously, that wouldn't have happened without all the people.
Janelle Jolley 1:10:29
Jane Kim 1:10:30
That...was hungry for that agenda.
Janelle Jolley 1:10:31
That's right, that's right.
Jane Kim 1:10:32
And donated, you know, $27 or $19.
Janelle Jolley 1:10:36
Their money and their time. Mm-hm.
Jane Kim 1:10:38
And so, in 2020, Senator Sanders was often the top fundraiser in the Democratic Party for the primary, every quarter, right? Based off of donations under $20.
Janelle Jolley 1:10:50
Jane Kim 1:10:51
And here in California, we won 47 out of 53 congressional districts.
Janelle Jolley 1:10:55
Jane Kim 1:10:55
We came in first place.
Janelle Jolley 1:10:56
Jane Kim 1:10:57
And we didn't just win San Francisco and L.A., which I think people were like, "Oh, that's more progressive." We won in Central Valley.
Janelle Jolley 1:11:02
That's right. Inland Empire.
Jane Kim 1:11:04
Inland Empire, San Diego, Orange County. We won in areas that we weren't supposed to win.
Janelle Jolley 1:11:09
Jane Kim 1:11:09
And so, actually, I do think that people are more hungry for a economic redistributive agenda.
Janelle Jolley 1:11:17
Jane Kim 1:11:18
And they are tired of a system that has veered so wildly to support the powerful and the wealthy. By the way, that's always been the case. I mean, you even see that when you walk into a kindergarten or first grade classroom. The bullies do have more power, right? And so we do have to come together to be a check. Because otherwise the bullies will run governance and government. And that's what we're seeing today. But I am very heartened by that race. It was an honor to have a presidential candidate to fight for that I 100% believed in.
Janelle Jolley 1:11:54
Jane Kim 1:11:55
That did not exist for me when I was younger. So to have a candidate that was saying everything that I wanted to hear, was incredibly empowering. And, you know, fast forward eight months to November, I was-
Janelle Jolley 1:12:08
Jane Kim 1:12:09
I know, I know. Things were not always great at the national and state level. But at the local level, I was tracking about 50 candidates that ran on a platform that talked about a Green New Deal, tuition-free college.
Janelle Jolley 1:12:23
Medicare for All.
Jane Kim 1:12:23
Medicare for All. And 40 of them won. And there's probably more, I mean these were just the races I was tracking. Forty local candidates often were outspent and still won their local water board, school board, city council, or supervisor race. And two thirds of those candidates were women of color.
Janelle Jolley 1:12:41
Jane Kim 1:12:41
Two thirds were women of color. In fact, almost all of the candidates that I was tracking were people of color. And I think what that means in the state of California is a good thing, because 1: we're building our bench. Because these are the folks that will run for legislature and Congress later on.
Janelle Jolley 1:12:57
Jane Kim 1:12:58
And two: 75% of California voters under 25 are people of color.
Janelle Jolley 1:13:04
Jane Kim 1:13:05
The majority come from refugee and immigrant backgrounds.
Janelle Jolley 1:13:08
Jane Kim 1:13:08
So our voting base is only going to grow
Janelle Jolley 1:13:11
If we keep our eye on the ball, we don't keep taking each vote for granted.
Jane Kim 1:13:16
Janelle Jolley 1:13:16
And we have a political program that's affirmative and speaks to the needs of these people.
Jane Kim 1:13:20
That's right. And, by the way, Bernie outright won voters under 45 in California.
Janelle Jolley 1:13:26
Jane Kim 1:13:26
He won more voters under 45 then Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Bloomberg combined.
Janelle Jolley 1:13:32
Jane Kim 1:13:25
And so that base is just going to continue to grow. So...I believe we have, progressive movement has, a really big future ahead of us, if we continue to engage and organize. And not, again, not everyone has to be in electoral organizing, but be active, organize in your community, serve, volunteer. Like, you don't have to volunteer at an election, just volunteer at your local community-based organization or neighborhood center.
Janelle Jolley 1:13:38
We need to be better at building- this is what Holly was saying- we need to get better at building durable organizing capacities, or capabilities, so that we don't just drop off after an election and we're able to come together, congeal, and be a forcing function.
Jane Kim 1:14:14
We should be using VAN and PDI year round, not just for elections. We should be going door to door for COVID testing. We should be going door to door with services.
Janelle Jolley 1:14:24
Jane Kim 1:14:25
And food. So we're not just coming by to ask for your vote, we're showing up. We're building community. We're like, "We're a community, we're in this together."
Janelle Jolley 1:14:33
Yeah, that's right. Can we- are you working on- are you- do you know of any efforts about, kind of, maybe open sourcing isn't the right word, but open sourcing VAN and PDI?
Jane Kim 1:14:41
I don't. I was hoping- I think you need to tell me more about that, Janelle.
Janelle Jolley 1:14:45
Yeah, yeah. Alright, yeah, we'll talk. From what I understand, there are efforts to do that, which I'm extremely excited about. Because it's like, because then we can find something to organize around and utilize these tools and build from there.
Jane Kim 1:14:59
You know, when I was on the Board of Supervisors, and I was the only supervisor to take this position, I typically voted against licensed software contracts, and really pushed for open source software within government. They've been talking about this and implementing this in different parts of Europe, like Germany.
Janelle Jolley 1:15:20
Jane Kim 1:15:20
I do think that there needs to be a greater awareness on the significance and importance of this issue. And also, we save tremendous amounts of taxpayer dollar.
Janelle Jolley 1:15:29
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I'm with you. And I think, from what I hear, the chatter, there are efforts to do just that that I'm extremely excited about. Because I don't like how restrict- or, prohibitive it is to have use of these tools. And I think that that's one thing, not the thing, but one thing that really can- we can leverage to benefit, not just here in San Francisco or California, but across the nation. So we'll...we'll talk about that.
Jane Kim 1:15:57
Thank you for having me on.
Janelle Jolley 1:15:58
Thank you so much! You have no idea. This is- I'm never this good, like not getting all up in somebody's- I'm like, "We got to hit all these things before she has to leave." But-
Jane Kim 1:16:09
Well, I just also have to have to say that I'm grateful to Senator Sanders for so many reasons. But the other is that I got to meet you!
Janelle Jolley 1:16:15
Yep! Okay. She is- she's real good at being real sweet, just like this. She thinks she's slick! One of the things that I'm most grateful for, I got to meet and be in community with people that I know that I will know forever. Some of these people get on my nerves, because they convinced me to do things like run for ADEM. And I'm like, "Why? No. Don't ask me, ask somebody else." But we're- it's it takes all of us, so I'll throw my hat in and we're going to do the best we can. And it's not going to stop or start here. This is creating a better future is a lifelong commitment, so I'm happy to be doing that with people like you.
Jane Kim 1:16:54
Thank you, Janelle.
Janelle Jolley 1:16:55
Thank you! All right. I hope you enjoyed that. And surely this will go down as What's Left to Do's shortest episode because Jane is booked and busy honey! I had to grab her for that hour. But seriously, please check out some of our other episodes and like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We've got some really great guests planned for 2021. And, until then, we'll see you next week.