Anthony Rocha, 19
Anthony Rocha for Salinas Unified High School Board
At 19, Anthony Rocha has already served on multiple city commissions and is dedicated to local government. He aims to give young people a seat at the table by running to be a member of the Salinas Unified High School Board.
What was the best advice you received before you ran for office?
When I first decided to run like most people I started calling former and current elected officials. I did this because not only did I want to get their endorsement but I wanted to get advice on how to deal with everything a campaign throws at you when you are the candidate. One person that I called was my good friend Delaine Eastin. She had been the underdog in the 2018 Gubernatorial Primary and she has a wealth of knowledge and experience. Having served on a City Council, in the State Assembly and as the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. I just knew I had to give her a call. When we spoke she gave me a piece of advice that I will never forget. “There is a lot of dark dirty money in politics; stay true to yourself and never forget where you came from”. That has been my guiding star throughout this campaign. As long as I remember why and who I am fighting for then it is all worth it.
You’ve served on multiple commissions. For people who aren’t engaged in local government, what is a commission? How do you join one? What projects have you been able to pursue on your commissions?
A Commission is usually a citizens oversight committee for a specific department within a local municipality. For example I served on the Salinas City Library and Commission which is a oversight body for the Library and Community Services Department. One of the most important things I was able to do on that Commission was ensure that the remodeled library would be designed in a way that was putting the needs of our youth and community first. I advocated for a community room and for more programs for youth in the library and made the motion to choose the design that I felt best fit the needs of our community.
Who are your greatest mentors?
I have many great mentors but three women have been instrumental in my development as a political candidate and as a human being. Regina Gage, took a chance on me when I was barely out of High School and looking for employment. She had decided to run for County Supervisor and needed a Campaign Manager. I had very little campaign experience but she offered me the position. She taught me so much and truly empowered me to be the best I could be. I also learned how to be strong and resilient from her. Seeing her take on the political establishment and challenge one of the good ole boys with such a fearless attitude truly inspired me to run myself. My other mentors include Salinas Union High School District Trustee, Kathryn Ramirez someone who has been the driving force behind educational equity in Monterey County. She not only serves as a School Board Trustee but as a member of the Board of Directors for the California School Boards Association and the California Latino School Boards Association. Kathryn has taught me a lot about what it means to be a underdog and how that isn't a bad thing. She introduced me to so many people and taught me so much about campaigns. Last but not least Jyl Lutes, she was one of the first people to take me under her wing when I first got involved in local politics. Having served as a City Councilwoman and School Board Trustee, she has so much knowledge and has taught me so much about public policy and how to get things done.
What issues are being neglected in Salinas Union High School that you think need to be addressed?
There are some serious issues that are being neglected in the SUHSD. The most pressing issue is a lack of college readiness programs. It is not good enough to just have high graduation rates especially when you have low college acceptance rates. Schools in Trustee Area 5 have a 31% rate of students meeting the UC and CSU requirements to get into college. That is affecting our community in profound ways.
What first got you interested in politics and government?
The need for people like me to have a voice. I didn't like the way things were going in my community. Too many people my age were being shot and killed and I felt our schools were not taking it seriously. I started attending community meetings, school board meetings, and city council meetings. I quickly learned why youth aren't a priority, because youth aren't at the table. So I made it my mission to show up and give youth a voice.
Salinas has a high crime rate, frequently dubbed the "youth murder capital of California". What initiatives should the district pursue to reduce violence in your community? How do we address trauma in schools?
The SUHSD needs to play an active role in reducing violence in our community. I currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace a nonprofit organization that brings law enforcement, local municipalities, school districts and community based organizations together and tries to find solutions to violence in our community. The SUHSD is the only major school district who does not have a representative attend these meetings. As a School Board Trustee, I would advocate for a more collaborative approach to reducing violence that would include parent education, quality after school programs and a strong alternative education program that allows for students who come from non traditional backgrounds to succeed. A key component to reducing trauma in schools is having all staff and teachers participate in trauma informed care trainings. Our staff and teachers set the tone for our school environment and we have to ensure our staff and teachers are not creating more trauma but instead being a resource for students who have experienced serious trauma in their lives.
Where were you the moment you realize you wanted to run for office?
The moment I realized that I wanted to run for office was when I organized students from my High School Everett Alvarez, to speak up and express our concern over the inequity that was going on our school district. Other schools had quality livestock programs that included well kept barns for animals while our school had what seemed to be a wooden shed that had no electricity and was next to the county jail. About twenty students showed up and were ready to address the board. The trustee who represented our school was absent and when I attended the next board meeting and approached her to try and talk about our proposal she said she was too busy to talk. At that moment I knew I had to run for School Board and it just so happened to be that the Trustee who represented my school was also the Trustee who represented the district Live in. So I decided to run.
You're heavily engaged in your city government. How do we get more young people involved in local government and civically engaged?
The number one way to get young people involved is to offer them a seat at the table and not a seat at the kiddie table and say “one day you can be like us” but a real seat at the table. Young people are smart, passionate and ready to lead they just need to be given an outlet to express their frustration and work towards changing the political system.
What doubts do you think people have about you as a candidate? What do you say to people who think you're too young to run?
There were doubts about my “viability” and ability to fundraise. Those doubts quickly went away as I was able to raise over five thousand dollars and was able to snag key endorsements from the Democratic Party, Unions and Prominent elected officials over my opponent.
What advice would you give to other young people running for office?
My advice to young people is stay true to yourself, stand tall and keep on keeping on. It is a tough uphill battle for young candidates but we need to go through it in order to make it easier for the next young person who decides to run. It may not feel like it now but we are making history as ballot breakers.