Alexander Walker-Griffin, 20
Alexander, 20, may not look like a normal politician, with his skateboard and tattoos. But then again, Alex is anything but normal. At age 20, he has already served as student body president of his college, been appointed to the California Community College Board of Governors, and is now running to serve on Hercules City Council.
If you could get a beer with any politician, who would it be?
Oh, man, that’s a tough one. Bernie Sanders. He seems like he’d have very interesting conversations and a lot of stories. I agree with a lot of his political views. From what I've seen from his speeches, he tells it like it is, but in a way that's not degrading to anyone.
How do you get pumped before you go on the campaign trail?
I watch extremely corny videos of different speeches. I like to watch Obama's DNC speech and Joe Biden's DNC speech, I find them very inspiring.
What has been your best experience so far during the campaign?
Just seeing people that are receptive and open to the idea of me running. I know I’m a non-traditional politician because I skateboard and have tattoos. Being 20 years old certainly adds to that as well. But seeing people who are open to the idea, receptive and willing to give their time and listen. Each time someone has been open to hearing what I have to say, it's a pretty good feeling.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about millennials and Gen Z?
I think the biggest misconception people have is that we're lazy and we aren’t hard workers. But I don't take that takes into account the fact that millennials and Generation Z have a harder time than what the previous generation had. For example, the situation with the price of college today. You can't just work a summer job be able to pay off your college tuition that semester. I've had friends who are sitting in thousands of debt right now. To go to a Cal State University is $8,000, which just a couple of decades ago would have been unheard of.
In addition to that, I think there’s a misconception that we're disconnected. When you see marches, and you see movements about health care for all and college tuition. It’s really young people who are leading the way.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
There’s two. One, learning how to kickflip on my skateboard.
Two, being appointed to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. I was appointed last year by the governor and I did not think I was going to get it at all. I almost didn’t even apply to the position because I knew too many other candidates that I thought were way more qualified than myself. But I applied, and six months later in, and 20 interviews later, it all somehow it worked out.
In your own words, what does city council do?
Lays out ordinances, provides the budget to fund different services in the cities such as the police department and parks and recs. And then also plan out what we’re going to use land for. And in general just overall guidance to the city to keep it afloat and going in a positive direction.
What are your potholes in your community? What are the issues you feeling get too easily neglected and need to be addressed?
One is promoting businesses in the city. Hercules is at the intersection of East Bay right up the road from Berkeley. If you're coming from the North Bay such as Vallejo or Napa, the first city you're actually landing in is actually Hercules. And if you’re coming from Central and Eastern Contra Costa County, the first place you land in is also Hercules. And so we're lucky to be in such a good location. And we do have a lot of businesses.
But unlike a lot of cities, our business are hidden away towards the waterfront side of the city, from pet shops to restaurants. But if you aren't familiar with the area you wouldn't know that because they’re behind apartments, homes, and even the corporation yards in the city.
And then improving transportation. Like I mentioned Hercules is at the crossroads of the East Bay, but people have to travel 10 miles south to go to the BART station, then go back North and pass the place they originally started, just to get to the North Bay. And I think that's kind of ridiculous. If we could improve the transportation, we could get more cars off the road.
And then third, education. I went to elementary school, middle school and high school in the city, and we have a very unique school district. It’s separated into the haves and have nots. When I attended school, people on my side of the school district seemed to have a little bit more money as opposed to those who went to Richmond, where people tend to be less fortunate.
I want to make sure our schools are properly taken care of, and that they have programs they need to succeed. I was part of a program called international Hospitality and Tourism when I was Hercules two years ago. That program opened up a world of doors for me, but now it’s gone. To see programs like that leaving our schools is a serious situation because we want our students to be able to compete in the ever growing job market. That's not just America, it’s India, China, the Philippines.
In addition to that, term limits. I think that people are frustrated with politicians they see in office for quite some time. One lady told me that she did not want to see her kids grow up with the same person in office as today.
What do you love most about Hercules?
It’s really diverse. That's one thing that you give you walk around Refugio Valley Park or Victoria Park, and see different demographics coming from all walks of life. It’s a pretty small community, and most people tend to know each other, especially since all the elementary schools funnel into one middle school and one high school.
People grew up with people for years and years, which is exactly what I did. So it's very tight bond. People are aware of what's happening in the city and take pride in where they live, which is why you go to the parks that are pretty spotless, most of the time, really lively.
You mentioned that you’re a little unconventional of a politician, with your tattoos and skateboard. What do you think people’s biggest doubts about you will be, and what do you say to those people who think you're not qualified to run?
Well, I've had that situation come up a couple of times. And I tell them, you just have to give me a shot. You can look back to what I've done on the California Community College Board of Governors, and all the advocacy that I've done for my constituents in that role, as well as being a student body president of my community college. Also I say, don’t let my tattoos let you judge me. Skateboarding is also just like any other sport. But hear me out before you really judge me because I don't think you want someone else that is more concerned about their own priorities and their own agenda versus someone like me who cares about this community. Someone who has grown up in this community.
Who are your mentors?
There's a handful of people, I would say, the chairman of the Contra Costa Democratic Party, Maria Alegria. She's been someone that has helped me out a long way since I first met her a couple years ago. Then also my Assemblyman Tony Thurmond. Every time I’ve been to an event with him, he’s always given me a shout out.
When did you hear the call? At what moment did you realize you wanted to run for office now you needed to run for office?
I think that growing up around politicians was one thing. My dad was the Fire Marshall for Oakland. And ever since I was a little kid, I’d attend council meetings with him. So I was always around politics. Then when I got a little bit older, maybe 12 or 13, I volunteered on Governor Brown’s campaign. And then as I got older, I saw some of the problems in America. I realized that there's really only one way you can we address those problems, at least in my opinion, and that's to sit in the office to address them. It’s one thing to come to an council meeting and speak at public comments, but it’s another to be sitting behind the dais in the decision making process.
Also, being a 20 year old black male, I don't have many role models with tangible goals. For black men, we mostly have basketball players, football players and rappers to look up to. I want to give something back to Black kids, and really any kids.
Fortunately, I grew up pretty lucky, which is not the case for a lot of people in my community. I realized how fortunate I was. I have to give back and make sure that the wrongs of yesterday are corrected by tomorrow and into the future.
How do you think we should get more people involved in local elections?
I think one there needs to be more information put out about when elections are and how to get involved with them. People don't know how go about running for office and people don’t realize there are many barriers that make it harder to run. Fortunately there's no filing fees in Hercules, but there is a fee to have your bio and platform on the ballot. So that's one barrier that prevents a lot of people from running, especially people of color who make less than our white counterparts. Also holding forums to let people know this is how you can get involved and how you join a commission.
But and then also increasing diversity. I think we really need to step up and reach into communities of color. Often times politics is a white guy’s game and politicians tend to not represent the demographics of their area. But most people of color have never heard or county elections office or even thought about getting involved at that level.
What advice would you give?
Have thick skin and ask yourself why you are running. Are you running so you can elevate yourself or using the position as a stepping stone to build up your own personal network and opportunities for yourself? Or do you want to actually help out your community?
In addition to that, get to know and understand the people in your community to make sure that you represent them in the fairest way possible. Even if your political views don't align to them, if your community speaking one way and you’re speaking the other way, at the end of the day you’ve got to speak for your community and what your people are thinking.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.