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Prop. 30 passed because of a little known grassroots coalition

Mercury News
December 7, 2012
Susan Lubeck

Within a day or two of the Nov. 6 election, headlines about the effects of Proposition 30 appeared: community colleges adding classes to accommodate 20,000 more students; UC taking off the table a midyear $2,400 tuition hike; parents and teachers relieved of an additional three- week public school furlough. California had backed away from its own fiscal cliff, with voters taxing themselves to further the common good.

Given that polls in the final weeks showed support for the proposition slipping badly, what accounts for its solid approval? The untold story is that Proposition 30s margin of victory was delivered by Reclaim California's Future, a coalition of grass roots, interfaith and labor organizations around the state.

This coalition put together the largest community-led voter mobilization effort in the state's recent history to reach 1.3 million new and unlikely voters. The groups did it with old-fashioned organizing and newfangled tools. They grounded their message in deeply held American values.

Christians, Muslims and Jews spoke as one, reaching out to congregations, clergy, friends and family. Union members and community activists volunteered thousands of hours. The coalition reached tens of thousands of new immigrants, communicating in their languages of origin.

The margin of victory for Proposition 30 can be attributed to the 1,372,042 conversations with individual voters, by phone or at their doors, who traditionally stay home on Election Day. It can be attributed to hundreds of thousands of likely voters engaged through email, Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler and YouTube. If just 55 percent of Proposition 30 supporters identified and counted by the coalition actually voted, Reclaim California's Future contributed 4 percent of the total Yes vote. Anyone who doubts this should compare voter turnout from 2008 to 2012, which saw significant increases in voters who were young (7 percent); people of color (8 percent); and those making under $50,000 a year (12 percent).

By passing Proposition 30, we averted devastating budget cuts that would have caused immediate suffering and increased inequality for years to come.

Congress now faces the same question: Given that the top 2 percent have benefited from the economy while inequality has risen dramatically throughout the United States, Congress must allow the temporary tax cuts to sunset for these top income earners -- those making more than $250,000 a year.

Notwithstanding attempts to distort the meaning of the recent elections, Congress and the President got a clear mandate to allow tax breaks for the wealthiest to expire, especially given recent studies showing that tax breaks for the wealthy neither grow the economy nor cause capital flight As California so often finds itself leading the nation, the passage of Proposition 30 is a bellwether, with hopeful implications for the whole country.

Not only did this election free us from the stranglehold that reactive anti-tax ideology has had on our state; it heralds a future in which the electorate will reflect our diverse population.

Our democracy and our prospects really are stronger when large numbers of us leave cynicism behind and engage in the unglamorous -- but at times thrilling -- work of phone banking, letter-writing, door knocking and talking to our neighbors about the pressing issues facing our communities. Through the old-fashioned work of democracy, we can stop peering over the fiscal cliff, thereby restoring fairness, and creating a vibrant future for all.