On Tuesday Cori Schumacher, three-time women’s longboard world champ and vocal surf community gadfly/activist, won a seat on the Carlsbad City Council, a coastal town in North San Diego County. Carlsbad is a politically conservative ‘burb, and Schumacher, an outspoken LBGT activist, was a surprise victor, buoyed in part by her prominent role in opposing Measure A, a plan to develop a chunk of Carlsbad’s coastal zone. I called her after election day to find out why she’d run, what she hoped to accomplish, and to ask what surfers can do when confronted with uncomfortable political realities.
JH: What made you want to mix it up in local politics?
CS: A couple years ago, a developer named Rick Caruso came to town and spent millions trying to woo the city into building a 600,000 square-foot mall on the edge of one of our lagoons. After our own city council refused to let us vote on the project, a grassroots movement rose up in response. I got involved in the effort to allow the community to vote on the project and continued to stay involved as the measure progressed (That was Measure A – Carlsbad rejected the developer’s plan in February, 2016). So many people were critical, saying we weren't going to win, but we just kept plugging away, and after we defeated the project, people I'd worked with in the community asked me to run for city council. I took some time to think about it and make sure my heart was in the right place—and I chose to run. I chose to build my campaign on a platform to bring transparency to our local government and ensure more meaningful engagement from the community on all development projects that are coming down the pike. And also, because I didn't want to be just an oppositional candidate, I crafted an economic position that focuses on clean and green tech for Carlsbad.
What was the mood of the campaign?
Measure A had really divided Carlsbad. There was a lot of fighting and hostility, so I wanted my city council campaign to be something hopeful and something in which to celebrate who we are as a city, rather than launching into negative spin and attacking incumbents.
Carlsbad is a very republican area. As a liberal democrat, openly LGBT surfer, everybody told me that I didn't have a chance in hell. But our campaign reached out to everybody, even to the people who thought the development would have been great.
When you were competing as a pro surfer, did you ever imagine yourself as a politician?
Not in a million years. I'd always been one of those people who are typically critical of the political system and it wasn't until I watched the system work for us here in Carlsbad that I realized that the system does work if you have good people involved and if the people come out to vote. What we're seeing nationally this week is a good example of that. Half the people didn't even vote. There's a ton of work that needs to be done. So the challenge I was presented with was: do I continue to be an activist that screams at the buildings where policies are made? Or do I get in there, get dirty, and try to make a change from the inside out? I never saw myself here.
What kinds of things do you feel like surfers need to be aware of in the San Diego area, and in California as a whole?
Development here is going nuts. Developers are throwing down lots of money and trying to influence the Coastal Commission – we need to work with them [the CCC], because there is a lot coming down the pike with local coastal projects. Also, we need to consider climate action plans and sea level rise studies. Coastal communities all throughout California are being asked to craft plans for what to do in 50 years when sea levels rise. And those plans are being made now.
What would you say to surfers who have been inspired to act after the recent elections? What’s the average surfer to do?
The best thing you can do is look up your local democratic party or your local republican party – whatever your political preference – and go to a local club meeting and just sit there and listen. If you become a member of these clubs, you can actually vote on the policies and the bylaws. You can join the county-level party, and can become a part of how policy gets shaped for the party itself, and then you can move up and become a delegate, helping to choose who gets put in front of voters in elections. It's easy to do, it doesn't take much time, and the amount of power you get from those meetings, and from raising your hand and voting, is tremendous. Show up to your city council meetings. Go to planning meetings. It's far more powerful than just sending checks to the organizations that you care about—although that is obviously also very important.
Ignoring society’s problems, ignoring politics, is exactly how we've gotten to where we're at. As a nation, we're now defined by the things we've ignored. So now it's our job to confront it and get engaged. And not sit there and complain and rail against the system but to get involved. To get in there and get your hands dirty. It's my job as a surfer to let other surfers know that our voices are so incredibly powerful. We spend as much time in the water as we do out of it, and it's so important for us to be the voice of the ocean that we love and care for, and for the environment that defines us. There's no other group on this planet that can be a voice for the ocean as well as we can, so it's important for us to speak up.