Reclaiming the California Dream
Episode 8 -Where Do We Go From Here?
Hey everyone. It’s been a while since we’ve done this. Welcome back to the Reclaiming The California Dream Podcast. This is going to be our debrief and final episode…could be final. Who knows. That doesn’t mean that the work stops here, but definitely the purpose of this podcast, which was focusing on Schools and Communities First, i.e. Proposition 15 in the California ballot elections. Really, to recap, we wanted to highlight stories of community members, teachers, students, researchers, those who really benefit from public services and public funding. And our goal was to hopefully change some hearts and minds of California voters, which is a lot of people, but we were hoping to kind of educate people in terms of why it’s so important that we pass Proposition 15. By now, Lan, we know that Proposition 15, unfortunately did not pass. So California voters voted no for Proposition 15. So as I mentioned, I’m here with Lan and she is the communications manager for AAPI FORCE and I’m Raymond Luu, I’m the producer, and also program manager for Project by Project San Francisco. So Lan, first thing I want to ask you is since the start of our little episode here, our little show here and I listened back to the first episode in terms of why we are here. When you think back at that time, what are your thoughts? What are your feeling? What are you, what’s your just gut reaction?
So I will share about when I learned that Proposition 15 did not pass and what was going on in my mind at that time. So on election night, I’m sure a lot of folks had a lot of things going on. We had a big presidential election top of the ticket. So there was a lot to worry about top of the ticket and all the way down throughout California, there were a lot of really important things on the ballot. We were looking at what would happen with the House of Representatives and the Senate on the national level. So there was a, it was a stressful time on election night, but I think within our coalition, we expected Proposition 15 to lean towards no, at the beginning. So on election night when it was leaning no, that’s what we had expected because … Due to what was going on with the presidential election and the rhetoric around vote by mail ballots, we had expected that a majority of Republican voters would want no on 15.
Right, cause they were voting in person at polling places.
So with the results that were coming in earlier, those would be skewing towards Republican which would align with no on 15. And then over time, our expectation was that the vote by mail ballots, which would lean more Democratic would be yes on 15. So we kind of expected that on election night it would lean towards no, and kind of hoping that throughout the next coming days, it would lean closer towards yes. And even, you know, cross over for yes on 15.
Right. There would be a surge of support fly in. Even then I think if I recall it was about a day after election night, on top of me checking the presidential election, I kept Googling California ballot elections. And, you know, the, the Associated Press was showing the results there. And my first reaction was like, oh boy. But I had reached out to you to say, “hey, it’s not looking good.” And to your credit, you still gave good hope. And you said, it’s still not over yet. Ballots are still being counted and we can somewhat see how the mail-in votes may change that. For me, I think it was a little conflicted for me in the sense of I couldn’t help, but kind of be somewhat joyous of Joe Biden winning the election, at the same time, the reality hit that, you know, Joe Biden, isn’t going to all of a sudden produce and create money and fund our schools and public school systems. It was digesting that and really coming to grips to say, what does this mean? And these are questions that I still have not answered to this day. What does this mean? What can be done? But before we actually get into all of that, do you want to touch upon just your experience connecting with folks and campaigning for Schools and Communities First?
So before I dive into my experience working on this campaign, I want to speak a little bit about my personal connection to Schools and Communities First. As I was listening to all the podcast episodes, I really enjoyed hearing from all of these different community members sharing what the proposition meant to them. And I wanted to share a little bit about what it means to me outside of my work as communications manager for AAPI FORCE. So throughout my life I’ve always been very interested in education. I’ve had a lot of different jobs roles as an educator, teacher. And at some point in my career, I do plan on transitioning to being a full-time teacher. And I was thinking like how perfect this role was for me being the communications manager of AAPI FORCE during this time when we’re passing Prop15. And I was just thinking about this future where you know, this beautiful future, where I would start teaching and I wouldn’t have to buy my own classroom supplies and my students would have access to laptops and everything that they need to strive. And just knowing that the work that I did for Prop 15 led to that future.
And so when I learned that Prop 15 didn’t pass, I was very heartbroken. Heartbroken for the students, throughout California, specifically, these students of color, the students in rural communities, the students in farm worker communities, and the teachers who are oftentimes coming from marginalized backgrounds themselves. Definitely feeling very heartbroken, but throughout the experience campaigning for Prop 15, I also have a lot of hope for the future.
So I hopped on a couple of phone baking sessions, myself as a volunteer. And one of the memories that really stands out to me was speaking to a community member in the South Bay of California. I remember looking at the city and it was like a city, sort of a wealthier city. And I was a little worried. I was like, Oh, maybe he won’t support Prop 15, he’s from a wealthier area. And in talking to him, I had these assumptions that I would need to convince him that it wouldn’t impact him, if he was wealthy. I don’t know what his status was. So I had my spiel ready. I was like, this is why Prop 15 won’t impact you. You should vote yes. And he said, “hey, even if it does impact me, even if I do get taxed more, that’s okay with me, I’m still going to vote yes because I believe in this issue and I believe in funding our broader community.” And that just brought me so much hope that this person was willing to, you know, even though Prop 15 would not have impacted that person, it brought me hope that this person was willing to make a sacrifice if needed for the greater good. And I believe that there are more people like him out there than there are people who are, you know, the selfish billionaires.
Right. That’s a really powerful experience. And, you know, as a society and as a community, it’s really our collective responsibility to ensure that future generations are allowed the same access, especially for marginalized communities. You know, from my experience, you know, when I got connected with your guys’s organization and the campaign it made sense to me personally, it was just like, yeah, of course. But that’s also because I’m a somewhat progressive liberal. So what really kind of turned the page for me in terms of allowing me to grow a little bit as a person was hearing, and then also speaking with some folks who are on the episode, people like Eunice and people like Kathee and people like Huanvy and people, you know, hearing your conversation with EJ who brought in just a world of knowledge and just completely opened my eyes.
And I went down this, to EJ’s credit, I went down this rabbit hole of looking at the California tax revolt. I looked at what his, his research cohort did, the Roots Race & Place. It digs deep into the racialized institutional dispossession in the Bay Area. And that’s just in the Bay Area. So a lot of people think like, Oh, you know, we’re pretty progressive, we’re pretty liberal over here, right. But there are a lot of institutionalized policies that were set back in the, you know, from 1920s to like all the way up until 1978 when it was kind of memorialized, which was by way of Proposition 13. And a lot of people don’t realize the Bay Area wasn’t progressive, hasn’t always been progressive, right. There was a point in time when over here where a lot of white people were here wanted to, to protect their assets and their homes. And so they made sure that the influx of Chinese Americans coming in, who are the oldest communities of color that kind of settled here in the Bay Area, they made sure that they, they were separated and segregated. So learning about all of that, but also hearing the personal stories in terms of Eunice’s, you know, day to day and some of her struggles to create curriculum in the midst of a pandemic, but also thinking like, where’s my funding gonna come from and why is my funding going with to get cut? And if it is going to get cut, how do I kind of work a way around that while providing a positive environment for our students? So all of that allowed me to not allow me, but really forced me to take a personal hit when Proposition 15 did not pass.
Yeah. I want to talk a little bit about what you said earlier regarding California being this progressive like haven. After the election, I saw a lot of, a lot of opinionated tweets on Twitter posting about how California is this horrible place with racist people who don’t care about working class people. And I think I kind of agree with both sides. I think that oftentimes we give the state of California too much credit, when, you know, given what happened in the seventies, we had the Tax Revolt, which impacted people of color. We had the governor, Jerry Brown saying that he didn’t want Southeast Asian refugees coming to California. So our state does have a history of racism, but I also want to acknowledge that what happened during this election, isn’t fully the fault of Californians and of the Californian people. I truly believe that Californians would want higher taxes either for themselves or only for billionaires, if it meant a brighter future for everyone.
And I think what went wrong was that people were disinformed. There were a lot of people of color who were homeowners. And just because you’re a homeowner does not mean you’re a billionaire, right? We have middle-class homeowners. We even have like upper low income people who manage to own homes and like squeeze in a lot of families under one house. So we have people of all different backgrounds who are homeowners, people of color, who are homeowners, who believed that Prop 15 would hurt them and would hurt people of color by raising residential property taxes, which Prop 15 would not do. So because of the disinformation that was spread by the opposition, which outspent us by at least 20 million, we’re not sure how much yet. But who outspent us to spread these lies via, you know, mailing pamphlets, advertisements, etc.
And the advertisements weren’t saying, you know, like we love billionaires, let’s protect billionaires. The advertisements were saying, we want to protect low income people of color. So I believe that Californians weren’t voting no on 15 to protect billionaires, but they were doing so because a lot of them thought that Yes on 15 would harm people of color. So one thing that our coalition is really trying to bring awareness of is that the greatest threat to our democracy are these corporate billionaires. And we saw that with theYes on 22 campaign as well. So the Yes on 22 campaign was to make Uber drivers, Lyft drivers, DoorDash drivers, keep them as independent contractors rather than employees. And yes, on 22 would take away the right of drivers to unionize and also harm them in a variety of other ways. And people voted Yes on 22, I think it was like 70% of voters voted Yes on 22 because the campaign spent $200 million to say that Yes on 22 would help people of color and people genuinely voted because they thought that that would help low income people of color. So I think that the results of this election isn’t necessarily that Californians are bad people who love billionaires, but I think what happened was billionaires have the power to sway voters, to spread disinformation and to lie to voters. And I think that what this tells us is that we need to pass more stringent laws to prevent this from happening and making sure that our democracy is not being led by corporate billionaires.
Yeah. That’s a good point. And I felt that was where it was a lot of misinformation. I think I, you know, I took advantage of directly working on his campaign with you and your organization and with Project by Project, I took the time to read through the entire ballot, not every single clause I actually read through in terms of like, this is what it’s trying to do, and this is how the funds would be allocated. And also the estimates in terms of how much tax revenue would be put towards I think it was like 40% towards K through 12 and community schools, I guess one silver lining or our small glimmer of hope is that I read on CalMatters that in certain counties and local areas voters voted yes to, you know, increase education bonding, also read Arizona and Oregon just passed a similar bill in terms of taxing wealthier people, I don’t know the details of it, and putting it towards school funding. Again, these are Oregon, you can kind of like, okay, but Arizona you’re like, Oh, wow, that’s typically a red state now blue, but you know, definitely there’s blueprints out there that I think California voters just will need to continue educating folks. One question I would want to ask for you is that one of the common criticisms that I heard from other voters was, you know, in terms of oversight, one argument was how do we ensure and hold our state legislators or state budget and allocation to do those education systems and to those schools, because a lot of people were concerned, those funds may be mishandled or that money mismanaged.
That’s a really great question. I definitely empathize with that person. I understand where they’re coming from, but I also want to contextualize this notion of, you know, how, how do we know if our tax dollars are being properly managed? Because that rhetoric comes from the neoliberal tax revolt that was started in California in the 1970s and later popularized by Ronald Reagan on a national level. And today continues to be pushed by Donald Trump, as we see with like his defunding of the United States Postal Service. So it’s this rhetoric that is pushed by conservatives to justify cutting public spending to spread fear that we shouldn’t tax people. And we shouldn’t spend that taxation on services that will benefit low income black and Brown people because it’s not going to benefit black and Brown people. It’s just going to pay supervisors more money. I believe that there’s not a lot of truth behind it. And it’s spread by conservative folks to, as a way to hold on to their money rather than be taxed.
So this happens with a lot of policies where it’s like, we’re going to get money and it’s going to go to the community, but that is so vague. So I think what, what that shows us is that elections are not perfect. You can’t just organize and vote for propositions every two years, every four years, but it is an everyday thing. And I think the beauty of what our community organizations do is that they not only mobilize around elections, but they mobilize year round at city council meetings at County supervisor meetings. And that’s where these budgets get voted on. So you have to organize, you have to bring the community to these budget hearings. You have to protest, you have to write letters, you have to make public comments and say, “Hey, this is where my priorities are. I want money towards schools. I want money towards public health services. I don’t want money towards, you know, these things that we don’t like,” and it is a year round thing. And I think that I hope what people walk away with from this election is that we can’t just do this every two years. We have to be doing this every day and paying attention on local levels, which happens every day, every week, and get involved.
So I want to ask, where do we go from here? Loaded question, give us at least me some statement of hope.
So I’ll talk a little bit about the pandemic. I think if Prop 15 had passed the time we would have, by the time we would have gotten the revenue from that, the pandemic would have been over. Hopefully.
That’s true. Actually at this point. Yeah. Who knows.
Hopefully that there would be a vaccine by then fingers crossed. But that doesn’t mean that the ramifications from the pandemic would be over. Like the economy across the country and across the world and in state and local communities are tanking right now because businesses aren’t able to function. People aren’t working, they’re unemployed and that’s going to have impact for decades. So we believe that Prop 15 was a way to help recover from the pandemic by putting money into education, by putting money into public services, to increase our public transit, to increase public programs like mental health programs, et cetera, et cetera, like that would impact that would have a marvelous impact on the economy and help us recover.
But without Proposition 15, we’re going to have to find ways to generate that revenue. So just because Prop 15 did not pass, that doesn’t mean that, you know, we’re never going to have any money again, we’re all gonna, you know, have another great depression, but it just means we have to be more creative and keep working on generating revenue. And what that looks like is, you know, holding our elected officials accountable, making sure that they are instating bold and courageous leadership to find ways to generate new revenue, whether that looks like defunding the police and, and taking the money that would go to the police and putting that into our education or putting that into our public health system, or raising income taxes, you know, like Prop 15 was only for property taxes. And it was only for a certain property; it would only impact certain properties. And there were a lot of exclusions. Hence why Mark Zuckerberg played a very large role in funding our campaign was because Facebook would not be impacted. There were many, there are many other ways to generate revenue, like raising income taxes on billionaires, et cetera, et cetera. There are many ways to generate revenue that we need to explore. And I believe that Californians are ready for that. We showed that with the slim margin that we had for Prop 15. We had, as of today, I just checked today. We had about 17 million votes cast for prop 15. And we lost by a 600,000 vote margin. That is a very, very slim margin. And that shows that Californians are ready for change. Like people believed that prop 13, which was the proposition that Prop 15 was trying to reform, people believe that prop 13 was untouchable.
It was seen as California’s like favorite proposition. It would never be changed. We were wasting our time and wasting money on this campaign, but we got really close. And I think that that’s a, that’s an accomplishment and that’s a celebration and that, yeah. And that’s a good sign that we’re ready. We were ready to go from here. We took, we spent a lot of time calling voters, you know, making this podcast sharing stories that show people what it looks like when budgets are not, you know, funded when, when public services are not funded. Oftentimes that seems really abstract to people. This idea of like budgets just mean that supervisors get paid more. I think that we did a really fantastic job of changing that narrative and showing that when communities don’t have revenue, these are the people who suffer. And this is why we have to change that. And that work that we did, didn’t just go away because we didn’t win this proposition. We built a foundation that will allow us to have future victories and make these changes to generate revenue and close these inequities for our communities..
And hopefully we’ll change their minds and hearts to be able to say, now I understand the importance of public funding. And again, it’s continuing education and moving in this direction of having commercial properties or big businesses pay their fair share. And who knows like folks who we’re seeing now a lot of more people of color participating in their public service, running for office. And those folks can really make an impact on our communities in our state communities, in our local communities. And let’s hope that the work continues. I know for me, it’s continuing to listen and to produce stories and, and hopefully convince some people, but also holding myself accountable and making sure that I pay attention to stuff that are happening around my immediate area area and seeing if there’s ballot initiatives that are going to help communities of color and marginalized communities. For me, it definitely showed. And from the numbers that you shared, the power of network and the power of community is real. It may not have gotten us over the hump for now, but I think it’s a momentum that is really building for the future.
And that momentum will very much be needed. What we’re seeing right now, we’re recording this in November. So the pandemic is spiking once again, with cases with deaths and, you know, we’re entering a very scary and a very dark time and we’re gonna need to recover from that. So there’s going to be a lot of battles that we have to fight to make sure that folks have food to eat, to make sure that they have money for rent and make sure that they have employment to make sure that small businesses don’t go out of business. So there’s, there’s a lot to be done. And I want to thank everyone for being a part of this movement. Like thank you to everyone who has shared your story on this podcast. Thank you to everyone who has listened to this story and shared our work on social media. Thank you that everyone who volunteered for us and phone banked and thank you to just like the random people who answered the phone and said, “This is a cool proposition,I’ll totally vote yes.” I believe that you know we have challenges ahead of us, but I believe in the power of California. And I believe that Californians know how to look out for each other and that, you know, in the future, we’re going to, we’re going to take care of each other and we’re going to be okay.
Lovely. I will, let’s end it on that happy note. And that hopeful message that you shared with us again, thank you, Lan for all the work that you do and giving me an opportunity to connect with the community. And I really want to thank you and your organization on behalf of Project by Project San Francisco. I think you’ve educated a lot of our members and they, you know, the conversations that we’ve had have been really proud of the work that we’ve done, not the result that we wanted, but again, it does not invalidate the work. I think initially in the, in the first joint call that we had, I was a little bit more visceral and I was like, there’s no moral victories. I was a little bit still saddened by it. But after, after having some time to reflect, I was like, okay, I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t discount all the stuff, all the good things that has happened. So thank you again, Lan. So if folks listening on this episode want to stay connected and follow the work that we’re doing, you can follow us on Instagram. That’s @pbpsf we also have an LA and New York chapter, and you can also find us on Facebook. That’s facebook.com/projectbyprojectSF and Lan please share how people can stay connected with AAPI FORCE.
Yes. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @aapiforceef. That is our handle across all social media outlets. And our website is aapiforce-ef.org.
Awesome. Thank you everyone.