Former Vice President Al Gore changed the trajectory of her life, and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders later became the love of her life, San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon said in a recently published TEDx talk.
In a speech titled “How to Turn Advocacy Into Action,” Harmon detailed her path from political activist to mayor, which included living in the woods with eco-anarchists and running unsuccessfully for state Assembly. Harmon delivered the speech at a locally organized TEDx event — which followed the format of the popular TED conference.
After raising the issues of racism, misogyny, homophobia, income inequality and climate change in the first 20 seconds of her speech, Harmon recounted how she was an unlikely fit for public office. Harmon discussed running unsuccessfully for sergeant-at-arms of her 4th grade class and dreaming of living and working as an artist in Berlin.
Later, after Gore and his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, came along and changed all her plans, she took up activism, going so far as joining the eco-anarchists in Texas in an attempt to stop the construction of an oil pipeline.
But, Harmon decided being outside of government was not enough and that she needed to be on the inside, she said. In her 2014 bid for an Assembly seat, Harmon lost handily to then-Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, whom she described as a “gas-station owning, fossil fuel money-taking, longtime politician.” However, the campaign was a victory because, by the end, Achadjian was posing in front of solar fields and talking about renewable energy.
Still, Harmon said she thought her political career was over. But that changed, when she met Sanders, “the man who would become the love of my life,” Harmon said.
“I so admired the way that Bernie had transitioned from activist to elected and loved how he was able to inspire a whole new generation of people to get engaged,” Harmon said.
After listening to Sanders say, “Go home and run for office,” at the Democratic National Convention, Harmon returned to San Luis Obispo and challenged incumbent Jan Marx. Harmon narrowly defeated Marx, winning by 46 votes.
As mayor, her accomplishments have included committing SLO to being a net-zero emissions city, making climate action a major city goal, creating more affordable housing and standing in support of “undocumented people,” Harmon said. SLO’s mayor also listed “creating safe routes for cyclists” as one of her accomplishments, even though the city council’s push for bicycle boulevards has drawn outrage from critics.
Harmon concluded her speech by encouraging viewers to take action when something speaks to them deeply.
“Do the thing you can’t not do,” Harmon said. “This is how we make the impossible the inevitable.”