In summary

A diverse coalition will continue to engage communities on issues of immigrant rights, affordable housing, climate change and criminal justice.

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By Christina Livingston

Christina Livingston is the executive director of Alliance for Californians for Community Empowerment Action (ACCE Action) and the ACCE Institute.

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Luis Sanchez, Special to CalMatters

Luis Sanchez is the executive director of PowerCA Action.

In the weeks leading up to California’s recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned voters that the Republican-led effort was about turning California into Texas or Florida.

Republicans in those two states have made COVID-19 a political issue and, in the process, contributed to unprecedented spikes in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths. When Texas outlawed abortion, the governor’s appeal and his message became more urgent and the stakes very real. 

But, the defeat of the recall showed that California could follow the playbook for multi-racial democracy carved out by organizers in another Southern state, Georgia. With that same playbook, we defeated a right-wing attack meant to roll back the progress we are making in California. In his victory speech, Newsom stated that our values were on the ballot and named economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice as “values where California has made so much progress.”  

Last year, President Joe Biden unexpectedly won Georgia by a margin of less than 13,000 votes. Then, in January, the state elected two Democrats to the U.S. Senate, including its first African American senator. Those victories were a direct result of decades worth of investment toward community-led organizations that work during and in between elections.

For the last few decades, our organizations have been part of a similar effort to mobilize and engage voters of color and young voters.  Our work didn’t start with the recall, and it doesn’t stop now. Throughout the year, we’re talking to voters as partners in the Million Voters Project Action Fund, a group of seven community-driven networks building the political infrastructure needed to build power for our communities. 

We partnered with Newsom’s campaign to mobilize the new California majority to vote against the recall. The statewide victory, especially in traditionally conservative areas like Merced County, Orange County and the Inland Empire show that we are getting results. 

California may be a blue state, but the truth is we are a big state with distinct battleground areas. It’s in these GOP-leaning areas, such as Central Valley, Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego, where our diverse coalition of grassroots groups ran a large Get Out the Vote operation for the Stop the Recall campaign. 

Our long history mobilizing Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander  and young voters using the most effective methods, including door-to-door campaigning and phone calls in multiple languages, paid off. The proof is in the initial numbers. Traditionally conservative areas like Orange County, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Merced all voted No. 

The architects of the California recall thought they could pull one over on our communities. Inspired by Georgia and building our state’s legacy of multiracial organizing, we showed that the best offense against efforts to suppress our votes is to get engaged and make those votes count. When people of color lead, when communities of color are engaged, and when people closest to the problems are part of the solution, democracy wins. 

That’s why we are not taking this win for granted. The work continues. Now that the distraction of the recall is over, we will continue to engage our communities on issues that were at stake for this recall – immigrant rights, COVID recovery and safety, affordable housing, climate change and criminal justice. 

The big takeaway from this election is that Democrats across the country should take note: with the 2022 congressional midterm elections, and the next presidential election looming, it’s time to invest in community building and direct voter contact in communities of color during and in between elections. That’s the way we are going to achieve a true multi-racial democracy, create lasting political power – and win.

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