The people of California have moved to the left of our elected leadership, but our agenda is barely being heard in Sacramento.
By Jane Kim, Special to CalMatters
Jane Kim is state director of the California Working Families Party.
Californians have expressed a lot of interest in the Working Families Party, a party for the multiracial working class, fighting for a nation that cares for all of us.
Since taking on my new role last month as the first state director for the party in California, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about our goals.
Here is one that keeps coming up: Why does California need a working families movement when California is already so blue?
Let’s look at one startling example. California is the seventh-largest oil-producing state in the country, yet has zero rules buffering active oil and gas wells from our homes and schools. More than 7 million residents, 14% of California’s population, live within 1 mile of a well, according to an analysis by the nonprofit FracTracker Alliance.
People who live near oil and gas drilling sites are at greater risk of asthma, respiratory disease, premature births and cancer. And drilling disproportionately affects Latinx, Black and Asian American and Pacific Islander residents – in total, people of color make up nearly 92 percent of the 1.8 million people who live in the most environmentally burdened areas, according to the California EPA’s tool CalEnviroscreen 2.0.
In fact, new fracking permits have accelerated under Democratic leadership while wildfires and smoke choke our communities. And the California Democratic Party refuses to stop taking money from Big Oil.
California is also a state with the highest number of billionaires and the highest poverty rate in the nation. During the pandemic, California billionaires grew richer by $503 billion while millions of Californians filed for unemployment. Research shows that extreme wealth inequality decreases ladders of opportunity for working and middle-class Americans, worsens overall health outcomes and leads to an overall decrease in population satisfaction and happiness.
The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is not inevitable; it is a policy failure.
California voters are thirsty for a new generation of progressive candidates and elected leaders who will be accountable to working families, not big corporations and the wealthy. We saw this in March 2020 when California voters overwhelmingly supported Bernie Sanders and an unabashedly progressive agenda.
Sanders swept 47 of 53 congressional districts in California – he won the progressive enclaves of the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and he resoundingly won historically conservative areas in the Central Valley, Inland Empire and San Diego. Sanders also won more voters under 45 than all other Democratic candidates combined.
The people of California have moved to the left of our elected leadership. We support a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, tuition-free college and criminal justice reform. But this agenda is barely being heard in Sacramento today.
This is why more than 40 community and labor organizations came together to build the California Working Families Party. A Democratic majority isn’t enough – California needs a Working Families majority.
To be clear, the Working Families Party is a different kind of party. For us, a party is more than a ballot line. It’s a political home for people who believe that government can fight for all of us, not just some of us, and are committed to using elections and campaigns to make that vision a reality.
The Working Families Party has chapters in a dozen states, and we are growing fast. You may not see a Working Families Party line on the California ballot, but you will see Working Families Democrats running for office at every level of government, from school boards to Congress.
California has a real opportunity to lead for the nation – because we are not just a progressive electorate, we are also a wealthy state which can afford to enact policies other states can only dream about. And we can show what happens for millions of Americans when we provide health care, tuition-free college and boldly address climate change.
That’s the California we want to build. Let’s get to work.