Rochelle Swanson, after a two year hiatus from the council, announced last month that she is going to run in the 5th District, which represents all of South Davis plus Aggie Village in Downtown. She served two terms on the council from 2010 to 2018, and now she is back.
What caused her to think about coming back, she told the Vanguard in an interview over Zoom was “these unprecedented times.”
In 2018, she decided not to run, in her words, because “I was stepping back to focus on my youngest son getting through high school.” That son is a member of the historic class of 2020 … part of “a very unique 2020” for Davis High.
“At that time I said if there was a time and a reason that would take my unique capabilities and skills – I would come back and serve the community,” she said.
When COIVD hit there was great concern about the economy, the city budget and that started her thinking about the possibility of joining the race. After all, she was on the council during the serious cuts in the Great Recession.
It wasn’t just the tragedy of George Floyd. There was the tragedy of Ahmaud Arbery. And the tragedy of Breonna Taylor.
“On the one hand I was heartened that not just the country, but the whole world was paying attention,” she said.
This hit her hard. The realization that Ahmaud Arbery was the same age as one of her sons.
She said, “I couldn’t stand on the sidelines.”
Rochelle Swanson has three sons. The older two from her first marriage are mixed race and look Black. She has experienced racism in Davis – the n-word in shaving cream on her lawn nearly 20 years ago. She experienced unconscious bias towards her sons in the schools. As well as dealing with the police.
“There are assumptions that are made. I know what it is like to to have gone to an IEP at your son’s school and realize the teacher’s recommendations change because you don’t look like your kid.” she said.
After the tragedy her sons told her, “Not all voices are being heard.” She said, “That let me know that my choice to raise my sons here was the right one. They haven’t experienced a lot of what happened.” She added the even though they have had troublesome interactions with the police and the community, it’s not as bad here.
“[Here in Davis] we talk a good game on paper,” she said, but “We certainly are a community like many others that has bias.” And we are in her view in a state of denial that manifests itself in statements like “because I have a certain political affiliation” or “I have friends that are Black.”
Her sons say “they’re glad they grew up in Davis.” She said, “They haven’t felt targeted per se” and they “feel safer here than anywhere else” because of who they are.
At the same time, she said, “It’s different when I go somewhere with just him (the youngest son) and versus when I go with my two oldest.” She has noticed a different treatment that she believes is clearly rooted in racial issues.
“But the world is changing these days.” she said. “It’s not just about not being racist, but calling it out.”
As time has passed, Rochelle Swanson said that she is more and more convinced that she is doing the right thing by coming back.
“I’m not naïve,” she said. “I know what I’m getting into. I know the sacrifices. I know what it’s like for your 30 minute shopping trip to turn into a three hour conversation.”
She also believes it’s important to engage all the voices – and she believes the South Davis voice has been missing from the discussion.
“We’ve made some headway on community engagement, but we still have a long way to go,” she said. “There’s a certain perception that only politically active people can get in the game. I want to change that.”
One of her clear goals is to get more voices to the table. In the next year the council is going to have to address that. But one thing that having district elections does is put a South Davis voice on the council – one that has been missing on key past decisions.
She also noted, “There have been a lot of decisions that have been made absent the voice from South Davis.”
Rochelle Swanson made the point that while she has had lots of conversations about having the seat filled, as well as the need for a representative from South Davis, she went on to say, “To a person, I didn’t hear anyone discuss what the issues were in South Davis.”
“Nobody said anything about the district,” she said.
So for Rochelle Swanson, this was a calling. She said, “I didn’t want to sit there the second week of November, and think, that person doesn’t represent my concerns and doesn’t represent South Davis and Olive Drive.”
She noted that things have now lined up for her better than during her prior tenure on the council.
“I have the time to dedicate,” she said. Unlike in 2015, she doesn’t have a job that is taking her all over the country. Her kids are now grown and will be out of the house. Her job these days consists of working from home.
She noted that being on council is not just about staying up until midnight on Tuesday and reading thousands of pages in preparation for that meeting.
This is a challenging time. She mentioned that her work now consists of digital engagement instead of face-to-face engagement, and that is the new world we face. She believes there are opportunities to tap into funding and other options that can help the community overcome current challenges.
But that takes being forward-thinking and aggressive.
“We have to be proactive, not reactive,” she said. And of course her past work – whether it was ten years ago on DSIDe or more recently on G-Sac – she knows what’s out there. She said, “There’s a real opportunity for us and this region.”
With respect to whom she will be running against, Josh Chapman, owner of Armadillo Records and the past president of the Davis Downtown Business Association, has filed all the paperwork for the 5th District, and Connor Gorman, a UC Davis Grad student frequently seen in public comment in Council Chambers, has requested and received Nomination documents from the Yolo County Election Office, and some other candidates may also emerge between now and the deadline to file, which is one week from today on August 7th in the 5th District.
The deadline to file in District 2 and District 3 is August 12th because those two districts have an incumbent candidate, which District 5 does not have.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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