Jovanka will bring people power from Richmond to the California Assembly

by June Goodwin and Ben Schiff

State Assembly District 15 candidate and Richmond City Councilperson Jovanka Beckles brings the noise at the March for Our Lives in Richmond, one of 800 youth-led marches for common sense gun control on March 24.

What does Jovanka Beckles want? (Call her Jovanka – everyone just calls her by her first name.)

Two-term Richmond City Councilperson Jovanka is a leading contender for the open California State Assembly District 15 seat being contested by a dozen candidates.

Jovanka wants “power to change the laws, to change oppressive, corrupt and racist policies … Politics impacts everything … We have to put ourselves at the table. If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” She wants your vote and your support June 5 (and again in November) so she can take your causes to Sacramento.

Interest in her is broader than just the East Bay. Jovanka is one of those progressives the whole country is watching. She’s proud to be the first candidate nationwide endorsed by Nina Turner’s and Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution.

Ms. Turner, the president of Our Revolution, and Sen. Sanders have been tirelessly traveling the U.S. advocating the return of governance to the people, the taming of corporate domination. On Saturday, April 28, Ms. Turner will join Assembly candidate Jovanka and lieutenant governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin at a Berkeley rally for the progressive cause. The next day, Ms. Turner will visit area Black churches, raising the flag of people power in the East Bay.

Our Revolution President Nina Turner – Photo: Daily Kos

Like all Our Revolution candidates, Jovanka doesn’t take corporate donations – she’s the people power candidate in the 15th District race. And there’s a wide variety of people in her district. The district stretches in the north from Pinole to Hercules, west and south to Richmond, El Cerrito and Albany, includes all of Berkeley, some of North Oakland, and encompasses Piedmont and Montclair. It includes some of the East Bay’s grittiest industrial areas and some of the plushest. The 15th District mirrors the U.S. in its economic variation and its ethnic diversity.

Jovanka has a track record of amazing success as a two-term Richmond City council member and part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance that wrested control of the city from the tight grasp of the Chevron Oil Co. Accepting no money from corporations, her hands and mind are free to represent the voters. In Richmond with her colleagues, she successfully fought Chevron with its oil refinery fire, its ongoing environmental pollution and industrial safety hazards, gaining tighter regulation, greater corporate responsibility, and continuing City oversight after decades of Richmond’s decline as a ravaged company town.

A progressive woman of color and a lesbian with a wife and family, she’s all about people power: She doesn’t work from the top down but listens acutely and responds to her constituents. She’s the only one of the 12 District 15 candidates free of establishment party politics.

Jovanka wants “power to change the laws, to change oppressive, corrupt and racist policies … Politics impacts everything … We have to put ourselves at the table. If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” She wants your vote and your support June 5 (and again in November) so she can take your causes to Sacramento.

Most politicians consult the powers-that-be and the lobbyists and then formulate positions. Jovanka starts with peoples’ needs and then seeks solutions. With no corporate money, she says, “I am not beholden to any corporation, just the people.” People in need know to seek out Councilperson Jovanka.

“Here’s an example of how I work” Jovanka says:

“In Richmond, we have a flow of citizens returning from prison. When the idea of establishing Safe Return in Richmond was presented to me, I was excited about it and encouraged it. I didn’t start by talking to politicians or lawyers or experts.

Jovanka and Congresswoman Barbara Lee confer at the Stonewall Democratic Club Oakland Pride Breakfast.

“A woman returning from prison to Richmond met with me and told me about the needs of formerly incarcerated people. I was impressed with the passion of the organizers. I have been an advocate since then.

“The idea behind Safe Return was to loop in others with first hand experience and to teach them how to do the research on what returning citizens most need to be successful back in the communities they left. In addition to research skills, individuals are taught how to organize and advocate for themselves. This successful program continues to develop and it has grown into a non-profit run by one of the individuals in the original cohort.

“We were the first city in the state to issue a municipal identification card that enabled residents without state driver’s licenses or ID to get library cards, to avail themselves of city services. It also allowed the formerly ‘unbankable’ immigrant community members to safely bank and to provide identification to law enforcement if necessary.

“That’s how I work. That’s how I have always worked.” Her attention to the people who need help, instead of first to the corporate moneyed interests, is her objective at the state level too. “In concert with others, amplifying the voices of the people. I’ll work for affordable housing, universal heath care, and environmental justice. That’s why more than 35 East Bay and national groups endorse me.

“In Sacramento, I will work to dismantle the prison industrial complex.”

Jovanka wants to end private prisons and the bail bond system. In fact, she is out front on the issue of criminal justice reform in this 12-person race.

“These issues represent the civil rights movement of our time,” she says. “This is where we speak truth to power and dismantle the injustice of our Black and Brown neighbors living under the constant threat of ‘driving while Black.’”

Jovanka wishes former Black Panther and educator Ericka Huggins a happy birthday at her birthday party.

Her critics feared that progressive politics meant abandoning municipal order. Campaign scare tactics and a $3 million Chevron-funded war-chest failed to stop the Richmond Progressive Alliance from continuing its innovative policymaking in the Richmond City Council.

Gun violence in Richmond has significantly declined during the Alliance’s time dominating the Council, according to Jovanka due to “our community policing model and collaboration with community groups like CeaseFire and the Office of Neighborhood Safety – which has gotten national attention. I fully supported opening a reentry center to support returning citizens.”

When the youth led the March for Our Lives on March 24 calling for gun control, Jovanka said, “I applaud them, I join them, I support them in this as I always have, when it comes to their rights to be safe and free.”

Crime, gun violence and the need to intervene early is why Jovanka entered politics in the first place. In an interview by the Teamsters Union, to which she belongs, she recalls:

“One night, my wife and I were returning from a wedding in Napa where I was the DJ, so we got home late. As we were pulling in, two young men walked up our driveway. They pulled out a gun and we were then victims of a home invasion. Our 17-year-old son was in the house and didn’t hear any of this, as the men walked around with a gun to my chest with my wife sitting in the living room.

“It was the most traumatic event of my life. By the time they got to our son’s room, they put the gun to his head and demanded to know what gang he was in and if he had any drugs. He didn’t do any of that. He had his guitar and his video games, that’s it. The men looked around my son’s room and said, ‘It must be nice to be loved.’ At that time, I told them, ‘You got money and laptops; you can turn around and walk out now.’”

Jovanka and her wife, Nicole Valentino, jump the broom at their wedding in 2013.

Jovanka and her wife Nicole Valentino decided they needed to do more politically to help people.

Her commitment to people isn’t only a political position. Even as she campaigns, Jovanka is a full-time Contra Costa County mental health worker for children, a wraparound specialist who works with the whole family to help the child.

“Children can’t heal if their families don’t heal,” she says. In Sacramento, she hopes to pursue legislation that extends those services that people so sorely need. She strongly supports free pre-school, free childcare, and free community college and university. She supports the sanctuary bill, as a large portion of AD 15 residents are immigrants or children of immigrants.

Working to help needy children, seeking to extend Richmond’s reforms as a councilperson, and now campaigning for Assembly, Jovanka’s commitments are clear, her energy astonishing.

Sitting around Jovanka’s dining room table in a modest house with solar panels on the roof in the low foothills of Richmond feels like family. Except this is where the people’s revolution is happening.

Fifty-five must be the new 35 because that’s how young Jovanka looks. She has what may be the world’s most genuine smile. It’s not a plastic politician’s smile, it’s the smile of your close friend or your sister, totally connected.

She won’t allow any photographs on this day, claiming “bags under my eyes” after a stressful day at her job. However, she’s got to be the liveliest tired person imaginable. She listens as if her life depends on it. She talks as if our lives depend on it.

Her commitment to people isn’t only a political position. Even as she campaigns, Jovanka is a full-time Contra Costa County mental health worker for children, a wraparound specialist who works with the whole family to help the child.

Her profound concern for the degradation of our environment stems from her work with children.

“When families check off the boxes describing their problems, one box they all check is asthma. All the kids I deal with have breathing problems. Richmond and all of District 15 needs to worry about the environment. In Richmond we have Chevron and its emissions and its fires.

A woman of the people, Jovanka poses with Amalgamated Transit Union Assistant Business Agent Eric Darby (left) and ATU member Nathaniel Arnold.

“Further down in Oakland, we have the freeways, the port, the dust, including the dust that might be made a lot worse if coal starts being moved through the port. I have a record in Richmond of promoting the green job sector and working to tighten pollution regulations.”

Jovanka’s avid work to improve the environment has been endorsed by four environmental bodies – Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) Action, California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) Action, California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) Action and the Sunflower Alliance.

She advocates moving toward clean, renewable energy from wind, solar and hydropower. Plus many more positions which you can find on her website:

Jovanka was born in Panama. She lived with her grandparents while her parents moved to the United States to establish lives here. At 9 years old, Jovanka joined first her father, and later her mother and stepfather, who was in the Air Force. She was raised in Missourri and Florida, where she lived on military bases.

She still misses the tropical climates of Panama and Florida. Most of all she yearns for the humidity. You read that right. The humidity, she says, adding that her hands are always getting too dry in California’s semi desert climate. Many people deliberately move to California for the lack of humidity, but not Jovanka.

Bright eyed little Jovanka was 2 years old in this picture taken in Panama City.

She recalls her childhood in both countries fondly, saying, “I think everyone should be able to have that same feeling of community support and safety for their families.” As a Black Latina immigrant, living in many communities in the U.S., Jovanka grew up in a bilingual, multicultural family, learning to respect and value differences. She stands up for people across ethnic, regional, economic, cultural and gender divides.

She’s tough. The story of the defeat of Chevron money in the Richmond City Council by the Richmond Progressive Alliance reads like a thriller or, as Steve Early in his 2017 book “Refinery Town” calls it, “a cage fight.”

And Jovanka was often the person attacked because of her “out” LGBTQ positions. But she spoke back. Her insistence on defending gay rights in the face of vicious attacks has led to whispering that she’s hard to get along with, but this is far from the truth. Steve Early, who watched it all, says, “She radiates … relentless good humor and palpable sincerity … [and] had always been responsive to victims of bias in any form.”

She’s soft but tough. At the March for Our Lives she dashed to hug fellow marchers.

Over the longer haul, she and her fellow progressives have racked up a long list of accomplishments improving life in Richmond including directing the police department to become a national model in community policing, raising the minimum wage which will rise to $15 an hour by 2019, becoming the first city in the nation to “ban the box” in City employment to lessen discrimination for returning citizens, passing rent control to become the first new rent control city in California in a generation.

Those are just a few of the improvements which have drawn national attention and praise for Richmond. Jovanka plans to take her experience to Sacramento: Consult those who need help first, develop policies, then negotiate legislation.

Over the longer haul, she and her fellow progressives have racked up a long list of accomplishments improving life in Richmond.

She’s standing upon what she calls “My People-Powered Platform.” Jovanka has detailed explanations on her website,

With people power, we can build and retain affordable housing, create a single-payer health insurance system, fix our broken tax code – closing the tax loophole for corporations. And we will reform a broken justice system and ensure that LGBTQ and other rights are protected.

What does Jovanka want (besides humidity)?

People power! Take back the government from the corporations and from the lobbyists, for the good of all the people, not just those who already benefit.

June Goodwin is a retired correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor in Africa and Reuters newswire editor, now living in Oakland. Ben Schiff is a retired Oberlin College professor of international politics now living in Oakland. They can be reached at and, respectively.