Lee is running on a platform of healthcare for all and environmental justice, among other people-centered policies.
Recent local elections have demonstrated the importance of community organizing—activists have worked hard to ensure progressive voices are represented in public office. Thanks to the tremendously hard work of Los Angeles organizers, candidates such as Nithya Raman, Konstantine Anthony, and Daniel Brotman won their races in November 2020’s election cycle. Their presence in local politics has amplified the voices of Black, Brown, Indigenous and working-class people.
Although it may seem California’s most important state and local races ended in November, an important special election is on the horizon — with Holly Mitchell’s election to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, there’s now a vacancy in the California State Senate that could and should be filled by a progressive candidate.
That’s where current Culver City Council member Daniel Lee comes in. Lee is running for Mitchell’s spot in District 30 — which includes Culver City, Ladera Heights, Westmont, Crenshaw, Downtown LA, and Florence. A longtime activist and advocate for marginalized communities, Lee believes he can make a substantial impact at the state level.
Born in rural Alabama, Lee’s path to public office was borne from his mother and grandmother’s service to their community. Lee recalls both were always prepared to stand up for justice — Lee’s grandmother took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which inspired Lee’s work with Civil Rights activist Reverend James Lawson and the James Lawson Institute.
Lee’s own journey into social justice began when he was young. “The first thing I did, like in middle school,” says Lee, ”was send a letter to the president after gathering some petition signatures from my teachers and my friends to ban offshore drilling in Florida. Never got a response, but that was sort of my first foray.”
Lee didn’t always see himself serving in public office. After graduating high school, he wanted to enter the entertainment industry. He got into theater, went to film school, and eventually joined SAG after briefly serving in the military to help pay off student loans.
But soon, Lee started paying attention to local politics. He grew upset that “a whole lot of stupid people were repeatedly being elected and running the world.”
His final catalyst for becoming a full time activist was the Citizens United ruling in 2010. The ruling lifted restrictions on the amount of money corporations can spend on public elections, essentially classifying corporations as people with the same rights to free speech as individuals.
The Citizens United ruling inspired Lee to work with corporate power busting organization Move to Amend. He helped pass a Los Angeles City Council resolution in December 2011 that ended corporate personhood and restricted corporate spending on political campaigns.
Around the same time, Lee also got involved with Occupy Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) arrested Lee along with a group of his fellow activists when they raided an Occupy encampment outside of City Hall on November 29, 2011. LAPD arrested a total of 292 protestors that day. The Los Angeles Times ran an image of Lee with four cops accosting him — in an aside, he noted his mom, “really dislikes that picture.”
Through Occupy, Lee began to meet people who cared about environmental racism, police accountability, and gender justice. As he got more involved with progressive circles in LA, he realized it was time to leave the entertainment world behind and dedicate himself to social justice work. He went back to school to get his Master of Social Welfare at UCLA, where he grew even more passionate about community organizing.
Lee began considering a run for Culver City Council while he was at UCLA. He realized the progressive movement needed more than a “messiah” figure in national office — change stemming from electoral politics would require a whole crew of good people running and winning seats on local, state, and federal levels.
Initially, Lee considered running for a position above city council, but he changed his mind after viewing his run through an organizer’s lens.
“If you can’t really win in your local environment, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about higher office,” says Lee.
Lee lost his initial run for City Council in 2016, but he didn’t give up. He ran again in 2018 and won. He became the first African American ever elected to Culver City Council since its inception over 100 years ago.
Lee decided to run for California State Senate because he believes he can make a greater impact at the state level than he can at the city level. He wants to represent the interests of working-class people, especially the Black and Latinx communities that call District 30 home.
Lee is running on a progressive platform that centers six key policy points: healthcare for all, employment and housing for all, public safety as public health, ending environmental racism and the climate crisis, public pension reform, and people-centered economic development.
Specifically, Lee emphasizes his dedication to strengthening renters’ rights, supporting rent control, and getting rid of single-family zoning laws in an ethical way that doesn’t contribute to gentrification and displacement.
Lee also wants to redefine what public safety in California means. In particular, he’s interested in reallocating funds from law enforcement toward important services such as mental health crisis units.
Lastly, Lee is running to address environmental racism in District 30. He advocates for shutting down the Inglewood Oil Field and supporting a just transition for fossil fuel workers, who he wants to train in other fields.
If you’d like to learn more about Lee and his campaign for California State Senate District 30, visit his website at www.danielwaynelee.com.
Knock LA is a journalism project paid for by Ground Game LA. This article was not authorized or paid for by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.