In the months since a parent-led group started trying to unseat them from office, San Francisco school board members Gabriela Lopez and Alison Collins have kept quiet about the recall.
But that changed this week, when Lopez and Collins each spoke out at an event in the Mission about being attacked for driving social change. The duo struck a similar note as District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who is also facing a recall and has framed the efforts against him as reactionary.
At the progressive Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club event, Collins urged her supporters to fight back against the recalls facing her, Lopez and Boudin.
“All of these recalls represent people who are coming in and they are changing things,” Collins said. “They are sharing power in different ways. Even though we all are in different roles, what’s the same is that we are actually trying to share power with communities that are traditionally marginalized.”
The comments appear to mark the first time Lopez or Collins have publicly addressed the recall head-on since organizers began collecting signatures in February to unseat them and a third school board member, Faauuga Moliga. Unlike Moliga, Lopez and Collins have not defended themselves against the recall.
The San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education drew national attention during the pandemic for taking on a series of controversial issues while students were stuck learning from home. The board sought to rename schools named after problematic historical figures and undid the merit-based admissions policy at the prestigious Lowell High School.
In recent weeks, recall efforts ramped up. Organizers say they have surpassed the minimum signature counts needed to get the recall on the ballot for each of the three school board members after hiring paid signature gatherers instead of using only volunteers.
After collecting only small donations at first, the effort also has begun accepting contributions of up to nearly $50,000. It has recieved sizeable donations from the tech world, including $49,500 from investor David Sacks, $10,099 from Initialized Capital co-founder Garry Tan and $10,000 from Grow SF founder Sachin Agarwal.
This week, Collins drew a line between the current backlash against her and Lopez and other tumultuous political moments in history such as the civil rights era. She asked the audience to imagine the controversy leaders like Harvey Milk would have generated had he been on the school board or served as mayor today.
“We can’t let people scare us,” Collins said. “When I see certain people getting upset, I know I’m doing the right thing. If it’s people that have power and don’t want to share it, there’s people who want to make decisions without being inclusive, of course they are going to get upset.”
Lopez, president of the Board of Education, said she was not only being attacked because of her accomplishments and the community she represents, but because of her racial and gender identity as a young woman of color. She characterized the backlash as sexist, ageist and racist.
“The people who are behind this don’t know us, they don’t know our work, they don’t know what we’ve been doing, they don’t know what we are dedicated to,” Lopez said. “They hear what’s out there and they recognize this is an opportunity to bring down someone who is me.”
Boudin also appeared at the Milk Club event but focused only on the recall against him and did not align himself with either school board member. Collins endorsed him during his 2019 campaign for district attorney, but Lopez supported another candidate, Leif Dautch.
Reached by phone, school board recall organizers Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj pushed back on any notion that their efforts are reactionary. They framed their recall as apolitical — and in fact a response to Lopez and Collins focusing more on politics than helping children.
“From day one, the campaign was a campaign to get politics out of education,” Raj said. “What we saw consistently was a pattern where the school board leadership focused on a lot of political stunts and symbolic gestures like trying to rename schools, and doing that ultimately badly.”
Looijen and Raj condemned racist or sexist attacks against Lopez and Collins, and said their campaign has kept it clean. They said the incident where someone posted a video of them burning a piece of paper featuring pictures of Lopez and Collins with swastikas on their foreheads predated the recall.
“In our campaign, if we saw anyone doing anything like that in our Facebook group we would delete it immediately and kick people out,” Looijen said.
The school board recall organizers have until Sept. 7 to gather 51,325 each for Lopez, Collins and Moliga. As of Wednesday, they say they have collected about 58,000 signatures in support of recalling Lopez and Collins and some 55,000 signatures for Moliga.
Because some of the signatures are expected to be invalid, the campaign is still looking to gather around 70,000 as a buffer.
Earlier this month, the first of two efforts to recall Boudin failed but a second remains underway. Based on the significant funding supporting the second effort, political consultants have predicted that the recall will get on the ballot next year.
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