[This book shows how California recovered from the grim, racist
1990s by creating community and labor political coalitions that
revitalized the state and put it on a problem-solving oriented,
progressive path. ] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 CALIFORNIA TODAY, AMERICA TOMORROW  
[https://portside.org/2018-06-06/california-today-america-tomorrow] 

 

 Felicia Wong 
 May 30, 2018
Boston Review
[http://bostonreview.net/politics/felicia-wong-california-today-america-tomorrow]


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 _ This book shows how California recovered from the grim, racist
1990s by creating community and labor political coalitions that
revitalized the state and put it on a problem-solving oriented,
progressive path. _ 

 , 

 

_State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and
Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future_
Manuel Pastor

ISBN: 978-1-62097-329-5
The New Press

Fifty years ago, Joan Didion famously wrote that California is “a
place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in
uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but
ineradicable suspicion that things better work here, because here,
under that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.”

Today, the state still holds that place—part burden, part hope—in
the national imagination. California is Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the
Grapes of Wrath, paradise found and lost
[https://thenewpress.com/books/paradise-lost]. And in the chaotic and
despotic Trump era, California’s headline-making #Resistance
politics seem to serve as just one more chapter in its romantic
self-telling.

In Governor Jerry Brown’s own words, California is “at war
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2018/03/12/california-gov-jerry-brown-says-trumps-upcoming-visit-should-focus-on-bridges-not-the-wall/?utm_term=.1d805d126ac6]”
with the President of the United States. Brown, legendarily
peripatetic but nothing if not politically savvy, was responding
specifically to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lawsuits against the
state for what Sessions deemed “radical extremist
[https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/07/politics/jeff-sessions-california-sanctuary-cities-lawsuit/index.html]”
attempts to protect undocumented immigrants.

But the war goes beyond immigration, with Trump pronouncing that the
nation’s most populous and most prosperous state was “totally out
of control.” Trump declared that Brown—who is now serving his
fourth term in office; he also served 1975–1983—had done a
“terrible job” and that California’s sanctuary cities teem with
criminals. Trump also said the state has the highest taxes in the
nation—actually, New York does, followed then by Connecticut, New
Jersey and Illinois—and that “people are going to start to move
pretty soon.” Brown responded by thanking the President for the
shout-out.

It was political theater at its finest.

But California’s politics today are far more than just narrative
romance or ego-boosting Twitter wars. As Manuel Pastor argues in his
new book, _State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent
and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future_, the state’s
battles have been hard-fought and its victories hard-won ever since
Didion’s _Slouching Towards Bethlehem_.

Pastor, professor of sociology and American studies & ethnicity at the
University of Southern California, is a long-time Californian. While
many other political commentators have told California’s story as a
tale of charismatic gubernatorial leadership, or of the technology
giants’ economic wizardry and world domination, Pastor’s analysis
is far more nuanced—and far more useful.

Most importantly, Pastor is the rare political observer who sees
through the senselessness of the seemingly perennial question: “Does
our country have an economic problem or a race problem?” Of course
it is both.

Our economic policies are racial policies. Whether the issue is wages,
health care, education, or policing, politicians take actions that
either include or exclude people of all nationalities, ethnicities,
and backgrounds through rules, laws, and day-to-day decisions. What
really shapes outcomes, Pastor shows, is the larger social compact
within which we make those rules.

[section separator]

Consider, for instance, my own family history. As a second-generation
Californian and a child of 1970s Sunnyvale, I can attest to the
central importance of the state’s compact and its beliefs about who
belongs and who does not.

My parents were born in the United States shortly after their parents
landed at Angel Island. They grew up in Oakland’s Chinatown and went
to UC Berkeley for an incidental fee of $84 annually. They bought a
tract house for $21,000 in 1961.

Pastor refers to stories such as mine as the California Dream of the
1950s and 1960s. That dream, Pastor says, emphasized a “commitment
to create platforms of opportunity for both those who were already
living in the Golden State _and _those who were still to come.”

In 1959, Governor Pat Brown (Jerry’s dad) signed a slew of bills
during his first legislative session, all funded by the biggest tax
increase the state had seen in years. The state invested in physical
infrastructure such as the California Water Plan and the California
Freeway System—both backbones of suburban growth—and, through the
famed Master Plan for Higher Education, in the University of
California, the California State University, and the community college
system. This was a blanket commitment
[https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/from-master-plan-to-no-plan-the-slow-death-of-public-higher-education]
to the state’s young people: if you wanted a college education, you
could get one.

California’s “dizzying descent” began in the late 1970s,
however, when Howard Jarvis, the Last Angry Man
[https://www.salon.com/2013/09/15/the_california_tax_protest_that_inspired_the_tea_party/],
led a now-infamous white suburban tax revolt. Proposition 13 locked in
low tax rates for homeowners who had already gotten theirs. The
descent reached its nadir in the 1990s, when Californians and their
leadership turned against immigrants and “the racism of [the
state’s] own residents got the better of them.” By 1994, Governor
Pete Wilson won re-election with a grainy 30-second ad showing
“illegals” running across the southern border, the voice-over
intoning “they just keep coming
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLIzzs2HHgY].”

In short order, voters approved the “racial propositions”: banning
affirmative action; creating a three-strikes policy that required
minimum twenty-five year sentences regardless of whether the third
offense was violent; mandating
[http://www.metroactive.com/papers/sonoma/02.17.00/proposition-0007.html]
that the justice system try to sentence 14-16 year olds (the
“superpredator generation”) as adults; and perhaps most notorious,
Prop 187, which banned health care and public education for
undocumented immigrants and required that the state’s teachers,
nurses, and doctors report those whom they suspected of illegal
status.

[section separator]

Even to those of us who lived through them, California’s racialized
1990s feel distant today. So, too, do the economic and budget crises
of the 2000s—driven in large part by Prop 13 and other limits on
taxation and exacerbated by the implosion of the state’s
debt-riddled
[https://newleftreview.org/II/66/richard-walker-the-golden-state-adrift]
housing market after the 2008 financial collapse.

Change can seem sudden—and inevitable—in retrospect, but today’s
California is perhaps best represented by the joint statement issued
the day after Trump’s election by State Senate President Kevin de
Leon and State Assembly Chair Anthony Rendon: “We will not be
dragged back into the past. We will lead the resistance to any effort
to shred our social fabric or our Constitution.”

Leaders such as de Leon and Rendon, both from immigrant families, make
plain the importance of demographic change in California—and may
serve as a preview of the United States in 2050. In 1980, the
state’s non-Hispanic white population was 67 percent. By 2000, that
population dropped to 47 percent, and by the 2010s, leaders of color
had come of age, drastically impacting local politics.

But as Pastor emphasizes, demography alone is not destiny. As
environmental advocate Roger Kim points out: “Yes, demographic
change can work in our favor but you have to do the hard work of
investing in the infrastructure to make it so. . . . California
doesn’t look like this by chance; there was an incredible amount of
work that went in.”

Community and labor union organizers learned from the grim, racist
1990s to forge coalitions with politicians and with one another. This
newfound political action came from all quarters: labor leaders such
as Maria Elena Durazo, strategists such as Anthony Thigpenn, community
organizations from the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) and
the Los Angeles Alliance for the New Economy (LAANE). Organizations
pioneered a year-in, year-out approach to civic engagement that
ensured that electoral, voting work met community organizing on equal
footing. As Thigpenn has said, “There were no shortcuts. We just had
to dig in and build institutions.”

Today, that work appears to be paying off. Over the last ten years,
the state has moved away from its infamous sprawl and towards
regional, diversified economic growth. Much of that growth is
drastically uneven—when cost-of-living is combined with income
levels, for instance, the state’s poverty rate is the highest in the
nation
[https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2018/01/18/states-highest-poverty-rates-calif-fla-la-ny-az.html].
But the large number of low-wage jobs in retail and fast-food has led
to a growing number of worker organizations focused on improving life
for the “working poor,” from organizing port workers to fighting
for a $15 per hour minimum wage to closing the commercial property tax
loophole in Proposition 13.

Moreover, the recent wave of political action has meant reaching
beyond the urban, coastal base. Following a “fishhook strategy,”
(so-called because of the hook on the map, going inland from the coast
to suburban and then rural parts of the state), a coalition of
Democratic funders and advocates decided to invest long-term, building
organizations in conservative strongholds such as San Diego, the
Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino, and Orange County.

Today, even the parts of inland and southern California once
considered the most conservative—the parts of the state that were
home to the Goldwater campaign, the John Birch Society, the
evangelical Christian right, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan—are
now at the top of Democrats’ 2018 target list. Operatives are
tracking
[http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-pol-ca-california-congressional-race-rankings/]
more than a dozen California House districts that could flip from red
to blue. The politics remain complicated, with plenty of conservative
and religious
[https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/27/us/politics/franklin-graham-evangelicals-california.html]
pushback, but the state has fundamentally shifted and is actually
doing what can seem impossible: integrating dramatic demographic
change.

[section separator]

National leaders seeking to learn from California shouldn’t imagine
that change was easy. Politics were—and are—still political. In
the 1990s, Democratic officials and movement activists disagreed on
how to respond to Prop 209’s attacks on affirmative action.
Community-based environmental justice organizers continue to make
peace with mainstream environmentalists, working to support a
cap-and-trade policy that some view as still too market-based. And
while all Californians today might agree on the state’s desperate
need for more housing, the Silicon Valley pro-housing YIMBY coalition
(“yes in my backyard”) and public housing advocates certainly
disagree on whether private development or social housing should lead
the way. Make no mistake: California is not utopia.

But the state’s politics have moved forward. In perhaps the biggest
reversal of all, voters have rejected the state’s long history of
anti-tax fervor. In 2012 Proposition 30
[http://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/what-has-proposition-30-meant-for-california/],
a tax increase on the wealthy to fund public education, won by 11
points. Jerry Brown received credit
[http://www.newsweek.com/2016/04/22/jerry-brown-saves-california-447559.html]
for the win and ensuing budgetary success, but as Pastor notes, the
governor’s original instincts were far more moderate. He was pushed
towards a winning, more progressive tax formula by a coalition of
left-leaning organizations. By 2016, on the same night that Trump won
the presidency, Californians voted
[http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/trailguide/la-na-election-day-2016-proposition-55-income-tax-1478277671-htmlstory.html]
to extend the higher tax rates on the wealthy.

It may well be that the damage we see to our institutions and to our
collective trust is far worse under the Trump administration than it
ever was in California’s bleakest days, but Pastor’s book, in many
ways the culmination of a career studying the positive-sum
relationships between economic growth and social equity, still offers
pragmatic lessons for national politics.

Among them: offer up a compelling, practical economic vision
[https://www.amazon.com/Rewriting-Rules-American-Economy-Prosperity/dp/0393353125];
do not move to the middle, move the middle; fund for the long term;
know that sometimes compromise—between business interests and
activists, between the private-sector and those who want more public
goods—is smart and necessary; and understand that speaking directly
and strategically to identity interests can both mobilize supporters
and claim the moral high ground so important in politics. 

Most fundamental, however, is the larger social compact within which
we make our rules and policies. California’s fortunes only rise when
“Californians realize that what is at stake . . . is not just the
size of the deficit or a specific set of policies but the outlines of
a new social compact that includes everyone.”

California today is both majority people of color and the world’s
fifth largest economy. The state’s resurgence shows that ordinary
people can in fact change their basic political beliefs. More
inclusion is pragmatic, possible, and in fact essential as we seek to
make real the promise of our national democracy.

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