As a Latino community leader, I’m deeply disturbed by the Silicon Valley Organization’s growing trend in weaponizing identities of people of color against candidates they oppose. Their recent usage of a black-and-white image of Black people apparently at a riot in South Africa to imply that a vote for San Jose City Council District 6 candidate, Jake Tonkel, could lead to riots locally, is more than just anti-Black and racist.
It is about an organization that veils its prejudice under the banner of “business interests” and uses racist tropes as campaign tactics to stoke fear among white moderate to conservative voters. The SVO uses these tactics to support candidates for public office that they can then rely on to vote for policy positions that in turn negatively affect the livelihood and well-being of low-income people and people of color.
This includes voting on a host of policy issues ranging from affordable housing, public safety, educational equity, workforce standards, public health and more. If a business treated customers of color the way the SVO advocates for policies that run counter to the equitable treatment of people of color, it would’ve been out of business in an instant.
Over the past 10 years, the SVO has successfully helped elect a number of candidates—Republicans and Democrats alike—the majority of whom are white and lean moderate-to-conservative, which is reflected in their voting records.
The SVO endorsed and supported two Republican candidates that ran against a Latina, Sylvia Arenas, and a Latino, Sergio Jimenez, both of whom now serve on the San Jose City Council. In both instances, the SVO used altered and darkened images of the now council members in campaign materials that sparked community outcry.
Though the SVO denounced and apologized for the altered images that darkened the council members’ complexions, the organization and its leadership never really assumed accountability for its anti-Latino/a actions deflecting responsibility and blaming campaign consultants instead.
In this most recent case, the SVO is shifting blame to its consultant, San Francisco-based Storefront Political Media headed by its Principal Eric Jay. While things seem different this time around, given that SVO President Matt Mahood was placed on administrative leave and then resigned, the problem of racism within the organization runs deeper than its main head.
We should be wary that Mahood was scapegoated by an organization that will protect its PAC members, its vice president and its political staff at all costs. Not to mention, its protection of individuals and organizations, like the mayor and the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, who have been complicit and embedded in these attacks—even raising money for the SVO PAC.
More than one person at the SVO and its political action committee arm thought using these images was a good idea.
It is clear that the SVO is an organization Machiavellian in nature—win at all cost and protect your own at all costs, even if it means stoking racial fears to do so.
In this day and age, within the diverse region we live in, and in the context of a national racial justice movement, it is simply unacceptable that some within the SVO—not just Mahood—thought it was appropriate to move in this direction.
It will take more than public apologies and diversity, equity and inclusion trainings for the SVO staff and board of directors to mend the trust broken among communities of color, communities who support businesses through their patronage.
The SVO should no longer be entrusted to be the voice of the business community in Silicon Valley. It should be dismantled. We can start by rebuilding its entire board of directors and inviting small-business owners of color to the table.
The SVO’s current board of directors is predominantly composed of representatives who are white, male and represent the interests of big business stakeholders.
Until a chamber of commerce that truly represents and upholds the diversity of Silicon Valley’s business community is built, all current and past SVO-endorsed candidates—including San Jose council members Johnny Khamis, Chappie Jones, Pam Foley and Lan Diep—should publicly denounce the organization’s racist tactics, rescind their endorsement and return contributions from them.
To not do so would be to condone and be complicit with this type of racist behavior.
And it’s not just these San Jose council members and other lawmakers who’ve benefited from the SVO and its support that need to speak out against these racist acts. It is SVO PAC donors—both individuals and businesses alike—that have enabled the organization to fund these campaigns in the first place.
This includes big business contributors like PG&E, Comcast, the Sobrato Organization, Berry Swenson Builder and various commercial property developers and smaller businesses like Republic Properties, Airfield Supply, Crema Coffee Shop and San Jose Water Company, just to name a few.
They too need to speak out and commit to investing in community-based organizations that work with low-income communities and communities of color.
All voters, not just voters of color, should deliver the one message SVO will understand: defeat all of their endorsed candidates at the ballot box on Tuesday, Election Day.
Half of the ballots are still out. There is time to turn the tide back in favor of justice and equity and in support of people of color.
Mario B. Lopez is a community advocate having supported progressive causes and candidates who champion diversity, equity, and inclusion. He previously served as Chapter Director for the New Leaders Council of Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].