This is the second post of a three-part series on the current racial equity and social justice landscape in California by John Kim, Executive Director of Advancement Project California.
Since his inauguration, with each new tweet and executive order, President Trump is sending a clear message to the American people. It is not a reassuring homily on how we need to come together and heal as a nation. The message this President is sending isn’t about how he is ready to govern on behalf of all of us. No, his message is more like (to reference the Godfather) — fish wrapped in newspaper.
More than 100 days into his presidency, this administration’s game plan is clear — to stoke a national mood of scarcity and anxiety, point the finger at a few ready-made scapegoats, and unleash only the most aggressive and punitive arms of the Federal government while starving the rest. Like any good reality TV show, this game plan was designed to project the illusion of strength, despite a lack of true leadership behind the curtain and no substantive progress for “the average American.”
All of this to divert attention from the wholesale fleecing of our economy and environment to benefit the president and his friends.
But, despite how transparent the charade or incompetent this administration has proven to be, the game they are playing is sowing real fear and real hurt for many communities right here in our backyard.
Since the election, much has been said about California as the leader of the resistance to this administration’s hateful rhetoric and policies. Yes, there are many reasons why California is well positioned to take on this kind of leadership. But there are also some perils we should consider.
First, let’s take a look at why California needs to be a leader in this fight.
California has the size and politics for it…
As the most populous state in the Union and the 6th largest economy in the world, we certainly have the size to take on this challenge. California has long been a net contributor to the Federal government with our tax dollars, meaning we send more of our tax base to D.C. than we get back in Federal support to the state.
And, we are a solidly blue state whose statewide elected and legislative leadership has already stepped up in this fight.
California has been here before…
As I mentioned in my first post after the election, California has seen this kind of fear-based politics before with the last major wave hitting in the 1990s with a series of regressive statewide propositions like 187, 209, 227, and 21.
We saw the fear in the eyes of our immigrant communities, we saw the over-criminalization of our youth (particularly youth of color), and we saw the inevitable collisions and disintegration of our civic society that this brand of politics creates.
California was built for a moment like this…
California has long been a bellwether for the rest of the nation — from how we tackle our most intractable issues, to our demographics, to our technological innovations.
Even the founding of our state government was designed to push the Federal government to act. It’s been said that our first state constitution was written in 1849 by a ragtag group of pioneers and bandits. The entire process was an improvisation orchestrated to pressure the Taylor Administration and Congress to act on the question of statehood for California. So, it is in our very nature to be the masters of our own destiny and to push America into the future.
But, sitting right behind all those good reasons for California to lead the resistance, there are some very real perils that we need to take seriously.
First, there is the danger of getting carried away with how truly progressive California is and how well things were working out for all of our residents before the election — especially for low-income communities of color.
Yes, we are a solidly blue state, but we are far from being a blue paradise.
There are so many communities and families in this state that have yet to feel the full benefit of all this progress and innovation. We still boast higher levels of child poverty than any other state.
California continues to struggle with severe racial disparities in educational achievement, incarceration, and overall health outcomes. And if we all become too preoccupied with lifting up California as a model for the rest of the country, some may become less inclined to acknowledge and address the issues and needs that still need work.
We aren’t a model for the rest of the country, yet. There is still so much more we need to fix.
Another very real danger is that by picking this fight with the administration, we run the risk of locking ourselves into what can be an all-encompassing binary relationship where we are merely playing defense. If we are not careful, this constant state of anxious reaction can sap our collective energy and undermine the trait that has made California what it is today — our constant drive to innovate and reach for the next big thing.
After all is said and done, I believe the answer is clear, that California must lead the way.
This administration represents an existential threat to all the progress we’ve made over the past 25 years, and too many of our families and communities are in their crosshairs for us to not to step up at this moment.
But we should be careful to see this as an “AND” moment and not an “OR” moment for California.
So yes, let’s get on the frontlines of this fight AND not forget that leaving any community behind means we all get stuck in the past. Let’s continue to build up the power of the most marginalized AND further expand our movement beyond the traditional allies.
I believe we can only lift up California as a model for the rest of the nation BECAUSE of how truthful and rigorous we are about the problems we still face.
In the end, our success in this moment requires us to be bold and to tap into that spirit of innovation that has made CA what it is today.
Stay tuned for the final part of the series which will be posted on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.