Opinion: The Buffy Wicks we know: Progressive champion who gets results

She got into grassroots politics because of her outrage over the lack of health care in this country. She has organized for unions. She worked to elect Barack Obama.

Like any good organizer, Buffy Wicks introduced us to her grassroots campaign for Assembly District 15 with her personal story. Here’s what we learned.

In 2003, sporting her nose ring and bullhorn, Buffy was a leader in the Bay Area protests against the Iraq War. The week the war started, she got a call from her friend – he needed her to pick him up from the clinic in the Mission District. He had just tested positive for HIV.

Buffy arrived at the clinic and sat with her friend as they learned about t-cell counts, viral loads and treatment options — the biology of survival.

When they got into her car, he turned to her and said, “I don’t have any health insurance.”

Scared and angry, Buffy’s mission came into focus. While her country was investing billions in a war she felt was unjustified, it was failing to provide for its own citizens at home.

Inspired by his universal healthcare and anti-war message, within a few weeks, Buffy moved to Iowa to work for 2004 Presidential candidate Howard Dean.  She joined hundreds of others who trudged through the ice and snow of Iowa in January spreading Governor Dean’s message. It was a radical message. He unapologetically bucked the Democratic establishment, fought the party over its support of the Iraq War and for failing to make social services and equal rights a central pillar of the party. While Dean didn’t make it into the White House, his campaign and the people who stood with him forced their fellow Democrats to see that Americans deserved a country that looked out for ordinary working people. They showed the value of running on a bold progressive vision built on solid grassroots organizing.

When the Dean campaign ended, she joined the United Food and Commercial Workers as a leader in the “Wake-Up Walmart” campaign, a union-driven effort to confront corporate labor practices that left millions of working-poor without health insurance. She traveled the country by bus, rallying against Walmart, educating communities about the harm Walmart stores were doing to their communities and neighbors. For her efforts, Walmart executives begrudgingly labeled her “Buffy the Walmart Slayer.”

In 2007, when she was once again inspired by a presidential candidate who made health care a priority, Buffy joined the upstart and very long-shot presidential campaign of the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.  In California, Buffy worked with her longtime mentor, Marshall Ganz, to develop the campaign’s national organizing model right here in the East Bay. Many of us got our first taste of this different approach to organizing at Camp Obama in Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco that Buffy led. The first person grassroots campaign propelled an unlikely candidate into the White House.  After the election, Buffy went to work for the new president as his deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement under Valerie Jarrett. There she put her organizing skills to work once again mobilizing the progressive base to help pass the Affordable Care Act.

Almost seven years after sitting with her friend in that clinic, Buffy sat with President Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House and watched as Congress voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act. As the last vote came in, the room erupted with applause– and Buffy knew her friend would no longer be considered uninsurable because of his preexisting condition. Because of that vote she’d worked so hard to make happen, 20 million Americans, including five million Californians, got access to health insurance.

She went on to partner with Planned Parenthood, SEIU and the Center for American Progress to start a national women’s economic initiative. In California, she organized parents to fight for more funding for public schools, pass the tobacco tax and enact better leave policies for new moms. Her work has directly benefited thousands of residents of Assembly District 15.

Buffy Wicks, who grew up in a trailer in a small Sierra Nevada town, has been a leader in the progressive movement for 20 years fighting for labor, education, healthcare and economic equity. She’s earned the endorsement of both her former bosses, President Obama and Governor Dean, because she is bringing those same values, ideas and strategies to our campaign for Assembly District 15. Her grassroots victory in the primary was the result of organizing, specifically 161 house parties, over 500 volunteers, 35,000 doors knocked – all the while refusing corporate contributions. It’s a hardworking grassroots campaign that we are both proud to support. Ultimately, it was her strong progressive platform that turned neighbors into organizers and mobilized over 500 volunteers to take action.

The progressive movement has both the opportunity and responsibility to deliver for the people of California. Buffy is the woman who can lead the way. She has the skills to organize progressive groups around legislative priorities, the reach to enlist leaders like Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris (both of whom have endorsed her) to go the last mile to help our cause and communities, and the ability to unite the Legislature behind bold progressive policies.

Because what is the Legislature other than just another group of people to organize for progressive change – something Buffy’s been doing her whole life.

Buffy Wicks is the progressive champion we need in Sacramento to get things done.

Vincent Casalaina is the former northern vice chair for the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party, and is a delegate to the California Democratic Party for AD15. Dianne Martinez serves as a Council member for the City of Emeryville. She is also a delegate to the California Democratic Party for AD15.