California Calls and the Emerging Majority

by Bobbi Murray on September 28, 2012

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The last weeks of summer are supposed to be a lazy time, but hundreds of Californians have been hard at work throughout August and September preparing for November’s high-stakes elections. California Calls, a statewide alliance of 32 organizations, is behind a mobilization aimed at changing the face of the California electorate and re-shaping the state’s politics toward a more inclusive and progressive vision.

Activists around the state—the Bay Area, Central Coast, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Inland Empire–have turned out tolearn effective organizing techniques to increase turnout in Latino, African-American and Asian-Pacific American communities, low-income neighborhoods and among young voters—California’s real majority. California Calls has been steadily boosting turnout numbers in these communities since its founding in 2003.

In November California Calls is set to turn out 250,000 new and infrequent voters to weigh in on this year’s critical ballot measures.

Older, white, more affluent and conservative voters generally carry the day in California elections. While 2 out of 3 the state’s like voters are white, only one in three voters represent California’s real majority –the people of color that make up 60% of California’s population, according to research by the Public Policy Institute of California.

During recent election cycles the grassroots organizations that make up California Calls have organized local training events– dubbed Camp Calls–to help local community leaders make sense of California’s confusing maze of ballot initiatives and their very real effecton everything from schools to climate change. Camp Calls teaches participants how to convey that information to neighbors and turn them out to vote.

Bay Area coalitions Oakland Rising, San Francisco Rising and Working Partnerships brought together nearly one hundred activists to a Camp Calls at the St. Mary’s Center in West Oakland on August 25. The training was conducted in English, Spanish and Cantonese.

“It was definitely a mix of folks, youth and adults,” say Ken Wang, an organizer for Chinese Progressive Association which mobilizes Chinese-American voters with San Francisco Rising. “There were people participating for the first time in group electoral politics. It was powerful to see.”

In the coming weeks California Calls Action Fund, the 501c4 sister organization of California Calls, is focused on election day and passing Prop 30, which could generate as much as $6.5 billion annually to restore funding to schools. The other goal is defeating Prop 32, the corporate-backed ballot measure that claims to be about campaign reform but that would silence the voice of working people while allowing corporations, Super PACs and wealthy anonymous donors to spend freely to influence elections.

California Calls and collaborators are on target to mobilize 250,000 newly registered and infrequent voters to the polls on November 6th. That could provide the critical margin on Props 30 and 32. A June 2012 ballot initiative to pass a cigarette tax failed by a mere 28,000 votes—less than a percentage point. (California Calls did not advocate either for or against.)

But California Calls has a powerful long-term mission beyond the 2012 elections: to revive the California Dream, the vision that created a great state that became the world’s eighth largest economy through great public universities, community colleges and a public school system that was the envy of the nation. It’s a dream that has been steadily de-funded over the past several decades, with unbalanced tax policies that have drained the public sector.

Says California Calls President Anthony Thigpenn, “We’re aiming to shift the balance of power in our state and show that regular people can wield real power. We are actively building a center of gravity amongst the electorate over time and beyond just one issue.”

California Calls launches the pre-November get-out-the-vote blitz on September 29thwith a statewide phone-calling voter-outreach effort (with real-live people, not robocalls.). Precinct-walking trainings will prepare thousands of walkers throughout California to hit the pavement on October 20thand knock on neighbors’ doors in a massive get-out-the-vote campaign.

“We can provide a tipping point in this election,” says Sabrina Smith, California Calls Deputy Director. “Our long-term vision is to restore the California Dream and bring a broader spectrum of voices into the policy debate.”

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