In summary

In the wake of the election, our first order of business must be an economic stimulus, and then we need to invest in a green and just recovery.

By Mary Creasman, Special to CalMatters

Mary Creasman is the CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, mary@ecovote.org.

2020 has been a year like no other. We’ve endured a lot this year, and it isn’t over yet. But we’ve learned a lot about our democracy, the regional power-building we need to do, and the work that lies ahead. 

More than 150 million people voted nationwide, and a surge of young people of color turned out around the country. In California, more than 17.5 million people voted. That’s 3 million more than in 2016, although this number is still less than 70% of eligible voters. 

America elected a president, and our first woman of color vice president, who put a climate justice agenda front and center in their campaign. And Californians voted out candidates and incumbents who were backed by Big Oil, sending climate justice champions to Sacramento.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. When the California League of Conservation Voters conducted polling earlier this year, we found that California voters believe that the environment (73%) and climate change (64%) should be priorities for our state. Concern about the climate crisis is especially high among younger voters with 76% of 18- to 29-year-olds rating this issue to be a priority.

This data confirms what we’ve seen for years – the public is ahead of their leaders on the environment and climate. They want courageous action and leaders who will work for their families, not oil and gas interests.

So, what comes next, now that we survived the grueling 2020 election cycle? Here are two things that we should be calling for immediately from our elected officials – both in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.: 

First, California took necessary steps to make it safe and easy to vote during the pandemic, from mailing every registered voter a ballot, to adding ballot drop boxes and extending voting times. These changes worked and should be adopted and expanded permanently moving forward – for example, why not mail every eligible voter a ballot? With same-day voter registration paving the way, this is a clear way California can set an example for the country and significantly move the needle on getting to a full and inclusive democracy. 

Second, we need to turn wins at the ballot box into lasting policy change in Sacramento and D.C. The most recent legislative session was incredibly disappointing, especially in a year when families have suffered economic devastation, wildfires, toxic air quality, extreme heat, rolling blackouts and a respiratory pandemic. Legislators in Sacramento kicked the can down the road on climate action. We were heartened that the governor took action this fall with several much-needed executive orders but there is more to be done.

Our first order of business must be an economic stimulus, both statewide and on the federal level. We need to invest in a green and just recovery, and climate action can do that. We can advance racial justice, protect public health and create good union jobs at the same time. 

And here’s the thing – this work will only happen from the bottom up. Elections, policy victories and real change will be won in states and communities first. If we invest in building regional power, resourcing frontline organizations and innovating bold climate justice solutions – we will be able to hold leaders accountable to strong action at every level, export proven policies nationally and globally, and build the foundation for future electoral wins. 

This moment is an incredible opportunity to rebuild not just our economy, but our organizing and advocacy work to center justice and create long-term transformation. States will continue to be on the frontlines of change even with a Biden presidency, and California in particular has to be a part of any serious conversation about realizing a just climate future. 

When California acts, it changes global markets, creates new benchmarks nationally and redefines what’s possible on the journey to our 2030 climate deadline. 

But a brighter, more just future isn’t promised; it can only be realized with a deeply participatory democracy that demands visionary and courageous leadership from our government. That’s our path forward. 

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