Reshaping the Politics of the Golden State

In California we care about the presidential race that dominates national political discussion, but we have also set our eyes on another prize -- building an enduring movement to re-shape the politics of the Golden State.

Here's what movement-building looks like: On a recent Saturday morning in California's Central Valley, as temperatures climbed into the 90's, individuals, families, a teacher with high school students in tow all began arriving at Myrtle Avenue Elementary School in Weedpatch, about 10 miles outside Bakersfield.

They were there for a get-out-the-vote education workshop organized by my Dolores Huerta Foundation, one of 31 organizations that make up the statewide get-out-the-vote alliance called California Calls.

During recent election cycles, California Calls' local member organizations have organized workshops dubbed "Camp Calls" to help community leaders make sense of California's confusing maze of ballot initiatives and their very real effect on everything from schools to climate change.

Some who showed up to Weedpatch drove for miles from Arvin, Bakersfield, and Lamont. They probably could have used the Saturday morning to sleep in but instead they showed up at 8:45 a.m. -- for an event with a 9:30 registration time. They sipped coffee and munched on egg, bean, potato and chili burritos as they waited.

"I believe people are worth fighting for," said Maria Guadalupe Villaseñor, a 26-year-old victim's services advocate. "Educating and outreaching on these issues is important because these issues do affect us one way or another."

Villaseñor notes that you can see the lack of public investment in the crumbling roads and overcrowded schools in the Central Valley.

"When you go to Arvin or Lamont or Weedpatch you shouldn't think this is some second-tier country you're visiting," she said.

Weedpatch became famous in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath and remains a classic Central Valley farm worker town of battered strip malls and sub-standard housing for those who tend and pick the crops that consumers buy in air-conditioned grocery stores.

We are currently, through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, building people-power in the Central Valley to win dignity and opportunities for our families, but the fight is by no means over.

California Calls is building on this people power by stitching together dynamic local organizing from the border to the Bay, from Weedpatch to Los Angeles and into a powerful movement for a renewed California. In three years, we've boosted voter turnout among Latino, African-American and Asian-American communities, low-income neighborhoods and among young voters -- California's growing majority.

The Weedpatch training was just one of many that California Calls has organized during the past few weeks. Hundreds of neighborhood leaders participated in similar sessions in Fresno, Oakland, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Bernardino.

California Calls is now mobilizing legions of new and infrequent voters for the November elections to pass Prop 30 and move the state away from yearly budget gridlock and cuts even more devastating than those of the past few years.

Our state has suffered revenue drain since the approval of Prop 13 in 1978. While the electorate supported it to halt soaring property tax rates, they may have not foreseen some of the major consequences of Prop 13. The measure locked into place tax breaks for corporations. It made it nearly impossible to raise the funding for schools and colleges that made the California Dream possible by supporting innovation and an educated workforce. On the other hand Prop 30 would raise $6 billion in new revenues and put us on the right track toward funding California's future.

The California Calls alliance is determined to move enough newly registered and infrequent voters to the polls to create a winning margin.

The other California Calls target: defeat Prop 32, a ballot measure that claims to be about campaign finance reform but which would silence the voice of working people while allowing corporate, Super PAC and wealthy anonymous donors to dominate the election debate.

On Nov. 6, California Calls is prepared to get 200,000 newly registered and infrequent voters to the polls and -- joining with other organizations -- hit the 250,000 mark. That's enough to provide the critical margin that means life or death for a ballot measure.

Voter mobilization can create a vital tipping point in this election. It's another step towards our long-term vision -- restoring the California Dream by bringing a greater spectrum of voices into the policy debate. California calls us to do so.