By Alice Towey and Ted Lam
More than 150 activists joined TJ Cox and his family on December 9 to celebrate his nail-biting win of the California District 21 (CA-21) Congressional seat, called nearly a month after the election. The party, crammed into the Alameda home of Mary McFarland, a tireless organizer from East Bay for TJ, included several Indivisible East Bay members.
IEB was part of the Congressional District 21 (CD-21) Action Coalition steering committee, made up representatives from many local progressive groups brought together by the amazing Kook Huber in early 2018. Several of us from the CA-11 United team represented IEB at the celebration: Alice Towey, Matt Blackwell, and Ted Lam and his son. Although most of us at the large gathering hadn’t met many other people there in person, we’d emailed, texted, messaged, and Slacked one another for most of the year as we worked to get TJ’s message out to CA-21 voters. And many IEB members phone and text banked, postcarded, and canvassed for TJ in the Central Valley from the March before the primaries through October.
TJ, Kathy, and their two teenage sons arrived early and were mobbed by well-wishers. Eventually, they made it into the living room where East Bay for TJ leaders spoke about the hard work that went into the campaign. Chills went up and down our spines as, one after the other, speakers spoke movingly about why they got involved. On a lighter note, a running joke during the party was that one woman, Carol, would finally get her husband Jim back: Jim spent nearly a year and a half in CA-21, laying the groundwork for the eventual Democratic candidate. On one of the living room tables was a picture of Carol holding a sign: “Free Jim!”
When TJ got the mic he opened on a humorous note. He said that since his was the final Congressional race called, he was asked to speak to the entire House Democratic caucus, and joked that with his election the Republican delegation from California could now fit in his wife Kathy’s 7-passenger minivan. He also mentioned that his late win allowed him to score a great office — since soon-to-be former Representative David Valadao waited so long to concede, his office was not in the pool to go to incoming House members, so TJ gets Valadao’s spacious office with a great view.
Turning serious, TJ spoke about some of his motivations to run for Congress, including his wife Kathy, who as a pediatric physician feels that health policy must change at the federal level. He spoke about climate change, immigration reform, and the need to bring safe, clean drinking water to all Central Valley residents. TJ said that he wants his future constituents to see themselves reflected in their representatives, and announced that he got a commitment from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to visit his district in 2019.
At the party our CA-11 team chatted with Dave from the San Leandro group Kitchen Table Resistance. We vividly recalled Dave and his wife Jen canvassing in Mendota over Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, when Dave wore a green Leprechaun jacket! Dave gave us the backstory about the hard work he and his friends in Kitchen Table Resistance put into canvassing in CA-21, including developing (and spending a lot of their own funds to print) flyers in English and Spanish to inform voters about TJ in the first weeks of the campaign. We all reflected that this was way before the “professionals” got their act together to support TJ’s campaign.
Matt and Alice even got a chance to speak personally with TJ! When we congratulated TJ on his victory, he looked around at all the people there and commented that it was a team effort.
Leaving the party, we all had the same thought, “What a journey and what incredible friendships we made along the way!”
Alice Towey is a Civil Engineer specializing in water resource management. She lives in El Cerrito, where she and her husband Matt Blackwell are active in Indivisible CA-11 United.
Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible CA-11 team.