Special to the Vanguard
SACRAMENTO, CA — Hundreds of community leaders, advocates, and organizers representing labor, faith-based, Black, AAPI, Latinx, women and youth organizations held a rally for increased voting rights at the state Capitol, as part of the launch of the California Grassroots Democracy Coalition. Representing millions of Californians, the coalition is embarking on a multi-year campaign to expand the electorate to better reflect the state’s diversity.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 82 percent of California’s adults are eligible to vote, but only 64 percent are registered to do so. As a result, elections in California tend to exclude younger, lower income, less educated and renting residents. Leveraging its voter engagement expertise with communities traditionally ignored by mainstream political campaigns, the California Grassroots Democracy Coalition will promote legislation that expands the electorate, builds up civic education, voter registration, and turnout in underrepresented communities.
“For decades, grassroots organizations like ours have worked year-round, mobilizing voters, organizing immigrant communities, providing legal services, running advocacy campaigns, and building multi-racial, multi-issue coalitions,” said Stanette Dixon, Volunteer Coordinator from Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement. “We are coming together to advance a new vision for California’s democracy and dismantle racist barriers to civic participation that marginalize BIPOC, naturalized citizens, young, low-income, and low English proficiency voters.”
Amy Hamblin, Policy Advisor for NextGen Policy affirmed that voting rights and democracy reform are critical to unlocking progress on affordable healthcare, housing, higher education, criminal justice reform, and climate action. “I’ve served as an international election observer and I know by international standards, the US is an outlier as far as putting the burden on the individual to register to vote. Most advanced democracies put the burden on the government to make sure eligible individuals are registered to vote. There’s no reason that voter registration should be an impediment to someone exercising their constitutional right to vote.”
Vu Nguyen, from the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, spoke of organizing the nail salon community and the power of helping California’s most disinvested communities have a political voice. “Our democracy is only as strong as the people who can participate in it. The more barriers that eligible voters face on their way to the ballot box, the worse off we all are.” Nguyen described nail salons, grocery stores, manufacturing floors, and farm fields as spaces where people feel less empowered and where pro-democracy reforms and community responsive policymaking could make the most difference.
Representing the labor community, Luis Aleman from the Orange County Voter Information Project, spoke of unions and the importance of giving workers a voice in the workplace. “Voting gives citizens a voice in our democracy and a say in the conditions of our society. Right now, the 4.7 million eligible unregistered voters in California cannot make their voices heard. We must register every one of our unregistered neighbors to finally give power of the people in all of our communities.”
Gun Violence Prevention leader Julius Thibodeaux, Executive Director for Movement 4 Life, spoke of his lived experience as a person who was formerly incarcerated and the importance of
investing in the development, health and well being of youth in American urban centers. “In 2020, California voters restored voting rights for more than 50,000 people who are no longer incarcerated. But that’s only the first part of the step: now the work begins to get folks informed, registered, and returning to the ballot box every fall and spring election.”
This year, the Coalition sponsored SB-846, a bill that provides a path to 100% voter registration, in line with similar legislation passed in Alaska, Delaware, DC, Colorado, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Co-written by Senators Caroline Menjivar and Monique Limón, the two-year bill seeks to include 4.7 million eligible unregistered voters who are disproportionately Asian American, Black, and Latinx citizens, in upcoming elections by automating their eligibility at the DMV.