In His Own Words Who is Drew Glover and why are Santa Cruz voters trying to recall him?

Santa Cruz City Councilman Drew Glover |

| FEATURED

Interview and Photos by Kyle Martin

An initiative to recall two Santa Cruz City councilmen is on the March 3 ballot, sponsored by Santa Cruz United, a group of residents that organized specifically to recall Drew Glover and Chris Krohn

Glover is a local public advocate for homeless and impoverished people in the region. As a result, he has often come under scrutiny and he is the high-profile target of wrath for a certain segment of the Santa Cruz community. He agreed to an interview with Voices of Monterey Bay in December, following a community organizing event and creative performance feature show called “An Unapologetically Black Art Show” at the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, where he also works. 

The following is the question-and-answer interview conducted by reporter Kyle Martin. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Kyle Martin: What about your life brought you to city council?

Drew Glover: It was not my intention to be on City Council. I didn’t plan to be a politician. I was raised by my mom here in Santa Cruz as a single mother. She came from a really controlling, born-again evangelical household where she wasn’t allowed to do anything — wear pants, go out dancing, anything like that — and so she left home when she was 17 and had a really free spirit. But in raising me, she was always very intentional about respect, justice, love, compassion — but also about diversity and doing good for other people.

Coming from a black kid growing up in Santa Cruz with a white family with white friends and a white teacher with white bosses and all that kind of stuff, I just thought, ‘Okay, well, I’m just different for whatever reason.’ But then when I realized that was because of socioeconomic conditions, that was because of a criminal justice system that disproportionately impacted people of color. That’s from the history of our country based on the backs of slaves, which were my ancestors.

At first it inspired a lot of anger in me. I didn’t really understand how to talk about it. But it was only through my really in-depth study of sociology at Cabrillo (Community College) that gave me the language and the lens and perspective to be able to understand and adequately communicate it in a way that people could hear and relate to.

So, you know, fast-forward: I got hit with testicular cancer at 21, or 20, somewhere in there. That was really intense because it was like, ‘What? I’m this able-bodied and young guy and I have testicular cancer?’ So then I had to go through a year — first it was six months of chemotherapy … And then that put me in the hospital a week at a time, connected to an IV for a week at a time and then I got three weeks off, so constant sickness and all this other kind of stuff. That gave me a really different perspective on life — ‘What am I doing here?’

After I spent a year in Washington doing some work with my mom, I started community organizing here in Santa Cruz. And that was when I really got my first taste of using my powers for good.

KM: This was when? 

DG: This was 2012, approximately. I was at Cabrillo and I … learned that the school wasn’t going to put on the Social Justice Conference, which had previously been an annual thing, but because of budget cuts the faculty wasn’t able to do it anymore.

So I approached my anthropology teacher. And I said, ‘Hey, are you into social justice? because I needed to create a club for social justice’ … and he’s like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’

So, I create(d) what was called the Cabrillo College Justice League, which was a student group that put together conversations and actions around specific issues. We did one that was around conflict minerals in the Congo, we did one around white supremacy and violence in the criminal justice system and we coordinated the next two or three social justice conferences at Cabrillo.

And so (with) my background and event coordinating, I took the social justice conference model and, instead of it just being workshop after workshop, I incorporated live music. So we had bands, there was spoken word and live art, there was a bunch of organizations there with tables and everything. But in that new switch, it required me to reach out to a bunch of organizations in Santa Cruz, and so that’s kind of what helped me come up with the idea for Project Pollinate, which is the nonprofit that I started back in 2014.

So 2016 comes around …  and I’m approached by a sitting city council member (who) says, ‘Hey, you know what? You should think about running for city council.’ And I was like, ‘What? No, what are you talking about? I’m running Project Pollinate, why would I run for city council?’

And he was like, ‘Well, your perspective would be really important and, you know, we could make some change.’ So, without committing to anything, I started going and studying the agenda with him.

The direction of Santa Cruz has been stagnant for a very long time. Ever since the (Loma Prieta) earthquake, there has been a prioritization over for-profit, retail-based development, as well as for-profit housing.

In 1989, after the earthquake, the city was at a crossroads. They could have reinvested in low-income affordable housing using that redevelopment money to support low-income housing, rezoning it and making it so that it was more effective — or they could invest in commercializing Pacific Avenue and focusing on building a lot of hotels and for-profit complexes and stuff like that. So unfortunately they chose the latter, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing the ramifications of right now, which is a generation essentially — 30 years — of policy that’s put profit over people and profit over creativity, profit over, and some could argue, sustainability. But we’re talking more about the transit system there when we’re talking about sustainability. And acknowledging the stagnant political nature that exists in Santa Cruz, that sparked the idea of the ‘Brand New Council.

It was myself, Chris Krohn, Sandy Brown and Steve Schnaar that decided to run together as a slate of four, because there were four seats open in that presidential year. And that would have flipped the council essentially, hence the name Brand New Council.

"There’s a portion of the community that swears up and down that they’re progressive, but they don’t want to look at all of the human rights violations and issues that are facing Santa Cruz." Drew Glover

But my mom died in 2016. She died in October of that year of stage four lung cancer.

It’s like the end of September, and she’s talking about how she’s really tired and dehydrated, and I’m like, ‘Mom, go to the hospital.’ She was like, ‘I don’t want to go to the hospital, they’re just going to tell me come home again.’

‘Just do it for me, go to the hospital.’

She goes to the hospital, I fly up to be with her, and then four or five days later she’s dead.

KM: Up where? 

DG: Washington. Washington state. She was living up there, working on a business with my aunt. That took me out of Santa Cruz for the entire month of October and into November because I needed to be there, I needed to deal with the cremation and all the materials and all that kind of stuff, which in itself was really intense.

But, I ended up losing that election by about 1 percent — about 500 votes. If I had to do it again today I totally would because I was able to be in the hospital room when she passed — because if I had won and not been there when she died, I probably would have never forgiven myself, so I’m definitely glad I made that choice.

There was something they called the ‘Terrazas-Noroyan Effect’ — a saying they kept throwing around — it’s if you run once and you almost win, then you’re almost guaranteed to win next time because you have that name recognition and support. So, I wait until 2016 ends, I get into 2017, the election’s not until 2018, but you know, I’m going to get a head start on this. I start getting things ready in August of 2017. I pull my team together.

Editor’s note: Glover said there he was urged to run again. He ran again and won. He ran with a promise to take up a requirement for landlords to provide a just cause eviction notice to tenants before evicting them from their homes. He said because he took up this agenda item, and because he is an outspoken advocate for homeless people — like those who lived in the now-defunct Ross Camp — a conservative movement in Santa Cruz, and several of his fellow sitting councilmembers, have left him defending his seat on the council. 

And so I come forward with a proposal, a packet, for the agenda for us to talk about homelessness issues. And the mayor, I don’t know if I should even say this, but I have been attacked by the mayor for basically saying there isn’t enough urgency around the issue of homelessness.

But anyway, there was contention with getting those items onto the agenda because of the process, because of the prioritization of them. And so I write the now-infamous piece on Facebook called ‘The Fierce Urgency of Now’… In it, I not only recount my experience walking through the Ross Camp because I had gone there with some volunteers with the Resource Center for Nonviolence to go and deliver socks, food and stuff like that with a representative from the local faith community.

It was unacceptable, it was inhumane and it was just the definition of human suffering right here in Santa Cruz. People living in puddles because they don’t have things to lift them out of the puddles. People with wounds. People needing potable water. Like, how could we allow this to happen? So I tour the camp, and then I write this piece explaining my experience, even with the pictures, and at the end I say that I’m trying to get these agenda items on the agenda. But there are people in the city government, specifically the mayor, and this is where I think she took the most offense.

Editor’s note: He said he asked his constituents in a newsletter to write to the mayor and city council to ask for them to address issues surrounding homelessness. 

Then open up Feb. 12, and that’s when the mayor (Martine Watkins) makes her infamous speech.

She opens up the meeting and, during the mayor’s announcement section, she in one fell swoop calls myself and councilmember Krohn ‘sexist bullies’ in front of the public, in front of everyone at a city council meeting with no warning, no previous attempt to converse or discuss things with us, no anything.

So I’m sitting there flabbergasted in this public meeting after being called — I’m a feminist in the core, my friend. My mom was a feminist. She graduated in women’s studies. She’d bring me shirts and materials from feminist conferences that I’d rock.

That really set a tone for the rest of the time on council.

Myself and councilmember Krohn many times asked the mayor to get together to talk and have reconciliation conversations so we could figure out the problem was and then deal with it. But there was absolute radio silence.

Then I get this report from someone who has gone to a meeting with Santa Cruz Together, and they report back to me and say, ‘Okay, they said they would spend $50,000 to recall you and councilmember Krohn and that you’re two of the most vulnerable ones and they’re totally down to do that…’

The motion I made on Feb. 12 during the homelessness conversation was to agendize the conversations of safe parking, transitional encampments and safe sleeping areas. So they come at the next agenda for us to talk about it, and the community is up in arms … And then the recall petition comes in with the top line being that we voted against closing the Ross Camp.

The language on the recall petition itself is false. I think that should trouble anyone that is paying attention to the situation because the language says we voted against closing the Ross Camp, which is true — that myself and councilmember Krohn, along with two other councilmembers. And this is where things get really weird …

Because if they were going to be recalling people based on their vote to not close the Ross Camp, then they would be trying to recall myself, Sandy Brown, Justin Cummings and Chris Krohn because all four of us voted not to close the Ross Camp.

All four of us voted to not close the Ross Camp. So why just (recall) councilmember Krohn and I?

KM: What reasons do you think you’ve been targeted? Because, I mean, you’ve been targeted.

DG: I would say that I’ve been targeted, absolutely. And it’s, one, because I don’t … I’m not afraid of them. And, two, my propositions could make them uncomfortable.

Also there’s a lot of fear, I think. I think I scare people for a variety of reasons. One, I think that there is definitely an aspect of implicit bias and either unconscious, or very conscious, racism in Santa Cruz. One of the things I always say about our community is that it’s blinded by its own liberalism. There’s a portion of the community that swears up and down that they’re progressive, but they don’t want to look at all of the human rights violations and issues that are facing Santa Cruz. And so not only am I a strong, opinionated black man that is on the council and in a position of power, I am actively fighting for people that are poor.

And with that, and with that battle, it puts people’s profit margins in danger. Now, I don’t want to say that everyone who owns a house in Santa Cruz is worried about their bottom line, or rather, is worried about their profit, because we live in a system — an economic system specifically — that makes it so that people have to struggle. Even people that are buying a home.

But even on the campaign trail in 2018 when we were talking about rent control, I went to this house and I’ll always remember it.

I went to this house on May Avenue and I knocked on the door and it was this person who was visibly a person of color who was a nonbinary person and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, they’re going to be totally on it. They’re totally going to support this because it’s about equity and justice and all this other kind of stuff.’ And they look at me and say, ‘I’m not going to support rent control because I’ve had to work super hard to get this house, and so why should I make it easier for someone else?’

And that was when it was really solidified in my head for me. It was that conversation of, ‘Wow, this person who comes from a traditionally marginalized background of people that have been forced to struggle and fight for their existence is willing to make someone else strive and struggle just as hard because they’ve had to struggle just as hard.’

It’s probably the simplest and most honorable perspective that had ever been presented to me in such a simple way: Take what you need, give what you can.

I went out and did that experiment, whenever I slept outside, and I kept a journal when I was out there. I was doing video journals but it’s kind of, like, not incognito if you’re, like, talking at your phone and explaining your experience when you’re out on the street. So I started journaling and one of the questions that kept coming up in my mind was, ‘Why am I so different? Like, am I different? But what is it that makes me care and other people seemingly not care?’ Or, ‘What is that makes me care and act on that emotion, as opposed to people that say they care, but ‘Not in that park. Not at the beach. Not at the Ross Camp, not anywhere.’ And what is it that makes that difference? Why?

It’s a question that still eludes me. I don’t know what the answer is to that, but I think it has a lot to do with that mental decision, that intentional shift. It’s weird to think about.

KM: It seems like the point that you’ve tried to make here, with what brought you here, is that you want to help other people. And that comes across pretty clear. So one of the last questions that I have, really, is what do you have to say to The Ops? How does what they’re trying to do conflict with what you’re trying to do? 

DG: I wish they would come talk to me, because they’ve never come to talk with me. None of the people that are listed on that list of initial signatories on that recall petition, I wish they’d talk to me, and I wish we could work together. And I wish we could use our energy on something more productive, you know. This is a really big distraction from all of the really important issues.

And instead of putting all of our energy behind (those issues) and trying to figure out how to stop it, we’re going to spend the next three months spending tens of thousands of dollars to fight with each other. And there’s something that seems so wrong about that.

I’ve extended consistent invitations over and over again. But they’ve consistently refused to meet with me.

They say, ‘You won’t listen to me.’

Well you’ve never tried to talk with me. (T)here’s a huge difference between typing and communicating, and sitting down across from each other and looking each other in the eyes and trying to understand each other and where they’re coming from.

But, ‘You can’t control what people do, you can only control how you respond,’ is what my mom used to always tell me.

Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.

GET OUR FREE WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Kyle Martin

About Kyle Martin

Kyle Martin is Fil-Am multimedia journalist born in San Jose, CA who grew up mostly in North Texas around Dallas. After driving his 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee alone cross-country, through the circles of Hell known as the Texas Panhandle and the bottom half of Wyoming, he is now based in the Bay Area. He has experience writing and photographing in Texas, California and elsewhere. Send news tips and restaurant recommendations to kylemartinmedia@gmail.com.