Antioch City Councilmember Tamisha Torres-Walker had no political ambition, but she felt compelled to run for office to advocate for the city’s communities of color. “I just didn't see anybody in the race that was going to be willing to have radical values enough to do what residents actually needed to be done around policing and community investment, such as reducing violence,” she says.
Councilmember Torres-Walker approaches her position as an elected official through the lens of an organizer. She also currently serves as the executive director of the Safe Return Project, a nonprofit focused on addressing the root causes of poverty and the impact that the criminal legal system has had on Black people and communities of color. She was previously incarcerated, which is why it’s been important for her to secure the freedom and liberation of everyone across the state of California who has been directly impacted by criminalization.
Councilmember Torres-Walker believes that her drive to support her community led to her being elected into office. One of the major hurdles she had to overcome during her first campaign was fundraising, she says. The lack of major donors made it impossible for her to hire a communications director or a chief of staff for her campaign, so she relied on volunteers and support from her family members. Despite the lack of funding, her campaign was successful because of the energy her grassroots campaign was able to generate. “[My opponents] raised more money than my campaign, but they didn't really engage the community,” she says. “We did car caravans with bullhorns, music, and balloons to build morale among voters. They had more money, but we were more strategic.”
Once in office, Councilmember Torres-Walker faced the often harsh realities of holding an elected position, especially as the first Black Latina on Antioch’s five-member city council. “For those of us who are frontline community grassroots organizers pushing back against the status quo, people always want us to run for office because they believe we can do a lot for our community in political positions,” she says. “But they don’t tell you about the death threats, and they don’t prepare you for people following you or stalking you on social media.”
People of color account for 73 percent of Antioch’s total population, but only 45 percent of elected officials representing the city, which includes Contra Costa County electeds, are people of color. Councilmember Torres-Walker stepped into office clear on her priorities: to uplift and support communities of color, even if that meant that she wouldn’t be reelected after her first term. During her tenure, she’s supported the creation of a city department focused on reducing gun violence and the establishment of a police oversight board. She also helped pass a new rent stabilization law and advocated for transitional housing options for Antioch residents experiencing homelessness.
Councilmember Torres-Walker has continued exploring how to bridge the gaps that exist in her district and across the region. Cities like Antioch don’t have offices or staff to support policy research, which puts limits on the capacity of elected officials. She also says that spaces for newly elected officials to connect, learn, and grow as policymakers are needed. And more work needs to be done to increase the diversity of local elected officials. Latinx, Asian American, and Pacific Islander populations are very underrepresented among local elected officials in Antioch and the entirety of the Bay Area.
In November 2022, Councilmember Torres-Walker won her re-election campaign by three votes. For her, the work has just begun.
“I am less impressed that Antioch has a predominately Black [city] council and the second Black mayor,” she says. “I am more concerned about what we can do as a diverse body to do something meaningful as it relates to public policy for people of color.”
Learn More: Explore data on the diversity of Bay Area elected officials and how you can support efforts to increase community power in local decision-making processes.
Photos: Felix Uribe