In the midst of an historic race, the public is listening to marginalized voices like never before, and Candi CdeBaca is one of the voices that is rising to the top. Born and raised in District 9, CdeBaca is aiming for a chair on Denver’s City Council, and if she wins, she would be the first ever LGBTQ woman of color to do so.
As co-founder and executive director of Project VOYCE, a youth development and civic engagement organization, she has seen the waves of change wash over the city and is now proposing solutions and demanding an abrupt change in the direction that Denver is headed. Her campaign is rooted in intersectional representation and preservation of economic and governmental integrity, and while the pace of the city seems ever-changing, CdeBaca is certain that some things can remain intact.
What made you decide to run for city council?
It was catalyzed by both living three blocks away from I-70 and being sucked into activism out of necessity because of my students at the nonprofit. They did an action research project to study why students weren’t engaging in extracurricular activities, and what they found was that most students didn’t want to engage, because they didn’t know if they were going to be in the neighborhood in a month or two. We realized that the root of disengagement was the housing insecurity that was being experienced in the neighborhood.
What issues do you see that are important to tackle?
The three prongs of my platform are housing and wages, traffic and pollution, and accountability and transparency. A lot of people would want to talk about each one of those things separately, but you can’t talk about housing without wages or traffic without pollution. We’re making sure there are complete conversations being had about the issues and root causes.
It’s really that intersectional approach to city building. We have to understand that, when we lift up the most marginalized groups in our society, everyone benefits. Everyone wins. Trickle-down economics do not work; they have failed over and over, and we have proof, but we know when we lift up the bottom, everyone benefits. Denver is a boom-and-bust town, and we’re following that pattern right now and have the opportunity to steer the ship in a different direction. It’s going to require us to wake up and pay attention to do that.
How do you hope to help women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals if you’re elected?
There has never been an LGBTQ Latina on Denver City Council, so I would be the first. My entire career as a social worker and a community activist has been devoted to lifting up the voices of marginalized groups. From the Women’s College at DU, to working for the federal government for people with disabilities, to working in our community with immigrant populations; it’s in my DNA to do that work. This is a lever for change that I’m trying to press to see how far we can go in advancing the rights of marginalized groups.
If we don’t have true representation, we’re never going to have policies that lift up our community the way we want them to.
What are some of the things you will make happen if you get elected?
One issue is that our city doesn’t allow its employees to collectively bargain; that’s been a hot topic now with the teacher strikes. For me, that’s top-of-the-line. Also, a lot of our development is coming at the expense of residents; the burden is not appropriately on the shoulders of the corporations; it has been shifted unfairly.
Denver got rid of the inclusionary housing ordinance in 2016, and I would like to reinstate that. I would also like to implement racial equity programs or assessments at the city level, to make sure we are preemptively analyzing racial impacts of all programs, policies, and initiatives prior to implementation. Pay equity for women is a huge issue in the city as well; that’s something we have data on and have not effectively acted on.
How has the campaign journey been for you?
It’s hard, especially for someone like me, to be running, an LGBTQ woman of color coming from an impoverished background. There is a reason there are not more of us in these positions. It’s rigged; the game is set up, and if we don’t stand up to help each other, we are never going to have true representation. If we don’t have true representation, we’re never going to have policies that lift up our community the way we want them to.
What do you think are some of the biggest issues facing queer and marginalized folks today, and how can local government help?
I feel like there are layers to the LGBTQ community, and I am happy that people are starting to take a more intersectional approach, because for a gay, white man, it’s a very different scenario than it is for a transgender, black youth. We often are not acknowledging the bigger issues of racism and classism, and in the LGBTQ community, it’s the same issues as the broader community. I think we just have to take a leadership role as a group that’s really experiencing multiple types of oppression and to stand up for our peers who are being oppressed.
What do you want to see your district and the city look like in five to 10 years?
I would like it to be a more liveable city. I think that, right now, we are losing our character, our identity, our cultural richness and diversity that people moved here for. I want to see diversity economically, socially, racially, ethnically, but also affordable communities. I want us to be able to shift our behaviors from using cars to public transit, but that can’t happen until we have functional ecosystems where you can walk to the things you need to get to every day. Right now, because of environmental racism and because of concentrated power and wealth, we have concentrated resources. I would like to decentralize resources so that every neighborhood has equal access to what they need. I would like to see a cohesive plan for our city, for our streets, a more connected street grid, a plan for city we want 100 years from now, not just until the next election.
Photos by Gem Reul