Diego Cardona: It’s time for a fresh new voice on city council

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      Campaigning for public office has changed my life.

      I’m young, I’m an immigrant, and I grew up in the foster care system. I work at a neighbourhood house with marginalized youth, and am the spokesperson for Fresh Voices, an organization dedicated to making our province a more welcoming place for newcomers. I’m not a traditional candidate for public office.

      I moved to Canada as a child after my father was murdered by guerrilla fighters in Colombia. My mother, my sister, and I escaped the violence of my country and settled here in our new home of Vancouver.

      My mother died from leukemia shortly after we arrived. My smart, beautiful, resilient little sister and I were devastated, and placed into the foster care system in our new home country. Once I was old enough, I started the process to become her legal guardian. I have experienced the foster care system firsthand, and I can tell you it needs changing. My advocacy is one of the reasons that British Columbia’s former representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, endorsed me for city council. It’s her first political endorsement, and I’m honoured to receive it.

      I’ve also joined a political party. Our campaign team works hard to include and amplify the voices of marginalized communities. Vision Vancouver has benefited from the time and talent of my networks—newcomers bring a different lens to the way we do politics. For all the “political machine” talk we hear about our local parties, it’s gratifying to watch grandmothers teamed up with students knocking on doors and talking politics for the first time in their lives. We are engaging folks in a new way, bringing them into the political process.

      Early on, our campaign team warned me about some of the forces I’d be up against.

      My opponents in the NPA are running an oil and gas lobbyist (side note, Vancouver media—is anyone going to ask this guy about his stance on Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion?), and he’s… well, slick. Now that we have a new government in Victoria, there are a lot of unemployed conservative political operators with time on their hands, and they have set their sights on Vancouver. This election, there are also a number of parties on the left that could make the NPA come up the middle and win the seat.

      I was prepared for the daily “politics” of running for office. What I wasn’t prepared for was some of the racism I’ve experienced during this campaign.

      After I announced my candidacy, I was invited to an interview at the CBC. While I was on the bus headed to the studio, a man approached me and told me that “I haven’t lived here long enough” to earn his vote. Fair enough, I thought… but I also internalized his comment, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. I’m a Canadian citizen. How long do I have to live here to earn his vote?

      Some other gems from the campaign trail: 

      • “You should be grateful you get to live here”
      • “Why don’t you go back to your country and then tell us how bad Canada is?”
      • “This kid has zero Canadian experience. He wants to represent us at City Hall?”
      • “You don’t look like a refugee!”
      • “Build the wall!”

      Those are just the ones we can publish. Our campaign team has assigned a volunteer to spend her time deleting hateful comments from our Facebook page. It’s a real problem, and these comments aren’t being made by anonymous trolls. These are real people.

      On bad days, I question my resolve to seek public office. On good days, these comments inspire me to knock on more doors and meet more Vancouverites.

      It’s made me double-down on my work in our communities, because I know we can’t afford to give an inch to the forces of xenophobia, racism, and fear. I won’t stand for it, and neither should you. Vancouver is better than that. When we hear racist statements, we have to call them out.

      Last month, thousands of people converged at Vancouver City Hall—the very place I’m trying to get elected—to protest a group of white nationalists who were supporting a Trump agenda of hate and fear. Mayor Gregor Robertson stood up against them, and that day solidified my resolve to run with the Vision team, who showed up en masse.

      I’m running for office to build a Vancouver where everyone is included. This campaign isn’t about me—it’s about us. We have a solid platform, filled with policies that are achievable, and will make a real impact on people’s lives, particularly when it comes to tackling the affordable housing crisis.

      On October 14, I am asking for your vote. I am asking for your support. In exchange, I promise to stand up for you—and to represent you—every single day at Vancouver City Hall. Please vote for Diego Cardona and your Vision Vancouver education team.

      Together, we can do this.

      Diego Cardona is a community organizer and Vision Vancouver’s candidate for the October 14 by-election, together with his colleagues on the Vision Education Team.