SAN JOSE — In the process of fighting for her tribe’s federal recognition, Charlene Nijmeh has seen the corruption of the Democratic Party firsthand. Rather than forsaking the party, Nijmeh aspires to reform it so it can once again be the party of the people.
On an overcast Saturday afternoon at St. James Park in San Jose, the chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe officially launched her campaign for the 18th Congressional District seat, currently occupied by Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who is in her 14th term. Nijmeh told a crowd of family, friends and supporters that Lofgren used to represent the community, but at some point during her 30-year tenure, she sold out and stopped listening to the people.
“Together we must stand against the status quo,” Nijmeh said to cheers. “Together we must vote out the old guard, who refuse to move out of positions of power, and allow a new generation of leaders in, leaders who represent the community.”
Nijmeh’s campaign is centered on addressing critical community challenges, spanning housing affordability, economic inequality, public safety, public education, immigration, Indigenous rights and the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip.
“Every year, there seems to be a new crisis, a new war, a new something that robs us of hope, robs our children of their dreams and their future,” Nijmeh said. “We wage and we support wars all over the world while ignoring the real battles at home. The war against homelessness and poverty. The war against crime and violence. The war against inflation and food insecurity. These are the battles at home that must be fought, and they must be fought together. All of us have something to lose when we lose those battles.”
At the same time, the mother of five said entrenched incumbents sit comfortably insulated in Congress, ignoring the struggles of small businesses and families trying to keep a roof over their heads while prioritizing the needs of large corporations and special interests.
“While our quality of life decreases year after year and we struggle to make ends meet, our corporations consolidate and expand, becoming worth more than most countries’ (gross domestic product),” Nijmeh said.
If elected, Nijmeh said she will work for the community as she has worked for her tribe, which includes more than 600 members with a range of viewpoints and beliefs. Nijmeh said she intends to build relationships with people in Congress who will fight with her, adding that now is the time for other community leaders to step up and challenge the incumbents who have been in Congress for too long while failing to reflect the values of their constituencies. Together, Nijmeh said they can “build communities that are affordable for all of us, not just some of us.”
“We will build a better California where we the people are served, rather than the special interests and trillion-dollar corporations,” she said.
Muwekma Councilman Richard Massiatt was among those who attended the announcement rally. He told the East Bay Echo that the time is ripe for a person like Nijmeh to pursue a congressional run because of her commitment to community accountability. Massiatt highlighted Nijmeh’s potential to advocate for the tribe’s federal recognition — an essential step toward reclaiming ancestral remains held by universities that wrongfully took and studied them.
“It’s time for a paradigm shift in the way we think and how we respond to what’s going on in the world and in our community,” Massiatt said. “We are really looking forward to Charlene getting the votes and being a representative for the people.”
Citlalmina Ortiz, director of San Jose nonprofit Centro Aztlan Chicomoztoc, told the East Bay Echo that Nijmeh is the sort of person who should be representing the 18th District, which includes parts of Santa Clara, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties and all of San Benito County. Nijmeh understands the concerns about the exploitation of undocumented people, the displacement of locals, and the dual crises of income inequality and housing unaffordability plaguing the Bay Area, while the incumbent does not, Ortiz said.
“We need new blood,” Ortiz said. “We need people that have fresh minds so that we can move forward in a democratic way.”
To learn more about Nijmeh and her platform, visit charleneforcongress.com.
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.
Photo caption: Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh, a Democrat, announces her run for Congress at St. James Park in San Jose on Saturday, Nov. 18. Nijmeh is running against incumbent Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s seat in the 18th District. (Sonia Waraich – East Bay Echo)