I composed this communication just before election Tuesday – so the outcome will be decided by the time you see this. But the key point of this letter reaches above and beyond who is, or is not, President-elect of the United States. It is about California, and Californians in this moment of our nation’s political and civic history.
It is not hyperbole to observe and state that we are indeed a divided nation. This election did not create the division as much as it has revealed it. The fault lines are manifold, but let’s just say that the main crevice is the matter of inclusion versus exclusion. Who belongs, and who doesn’t. The Trump-Clinton battleground has revealed and lifted exclusionary and zero-sum game policy approaches, as a path that too much of America appears willing to choose.
Over the past decade, California has moved decidedly towards a path of inclusion. I am proud of Californians this year, especially our young people who registered to vote and showed up at the polls in record numbers. I hope that young people know how important their vote was and how important their fight to change the criminal justice system, for LGBTQ equality, immigration reform, health for all and more. Their fight may not ultimately prevail in the U.S. Congress but they reveal what California and the nation will look like in ten or twenty years from now.
We’ve witnessed this kind of transformation before.
I relocated from the East Coast to California in the early 1990s. I thought I was moving to a place of possibility, but found California in an “exclusion” moment: it was a post-Prop 13, anti-immigrant, Prop 209/anti-affirmative action policy environment, with a Three Strikes and You’re Out bumper sticker mentality that led to the building of 22 new state prisons at the same time that only one new University of California campus was opened. Racial divisions were laid to bare in the aftermath of the Rodney King police beating and the OJ Simpson trial.
This was anything but the Golden Years for our great state.
Since then, we Californians have evolved (we can argue over whether it is purely a demographic phenomenon, or whether some burning-bush enlightenment moment is responsible), and we now watch the rest of the nation struggle with the adolescent crisis of exclusion and divisiveness that California went through twenty years ago.
We had our Ferguson, we had our “build a wall” moment; California has been there, seen that.
This is not to say California has solved, or is close to solving, the matters of institutional and structural racism and the politics of exclusion. But the demographic, political and civic math tells me we appear to be two decades ahead of the nation. I don’t know if a new President, whomever is elected, can lead our nation through this ugly, divisive mess. I do know that California is singularly and uniquely positioned to, paraphrasing Gandhi, “be the change the nation needs to see.”
I don’t consider myself an over-the-top, frothing cheerleader for California exceptionalism. But the proof points of California sending a powerful and compelling message about the promise of an inclusive America are already in force. The combination of political and civic leadership from Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature in recent years have set precisely the right tone – and whether they are leading or following voters is debatable, and I’ll leave that argument in the hands of the political scientists.
But the proof points are as follows: on a broad front of policy battles about inclusion and “equity”, we are leading.
In health care, California has led with the most inclusive implementation and execution of the Affordable Care Act in the nation.
In public education, our Governor pushed for the Local Control Funding Formula, which for the first time offered a public education financing approach that prioritized disadvantaged and immigrant children in needy schools.
In criminal justice, the combination of the passage of Prop 47 and policy proposals from the Governor and legislature has delivered a powerful counterpunch to the legacy of Three Strikes and You’re Out – we are swapping out racist, hyper-incarceration policies and moving to emphasize prevention over punishment as the smarter on crime framework.
On immigration, state policy moves have established that whether the issue is driver’s licenses, education, health care, or overtime pay for farmworkers, dignity-humanity-inclusiveness is the preferred choice.
And with a dose of Jerry Brown fiscal pragmatism, California’s economy and budget have not slid into the abyss. Au contraire, our state’s fiscal balance sheet is now better than most states.
Sixteen days after we choose a new president, American will gather around the table for Thanksgiving. More than ever, we need to celebrate the holiday’s tradition of comity, unity and family. The Trump-voting uncle must find common ground with his Clinton-voting niece. Together, we can remember what truly makes our nation great: our shared values of freedom, democracy and justice. Our country needs a break from the politics that have exhausted our nation over this last election and moment for all of us to focus on bringing our nation together and build solidarity with each other.
Together, we can be the change our nation must see.