Speaking to the Anger Beneath the Postcard?
It should come as no surprise to anyone who ventures outside San Diego’s hermetically sealed and relentlessly marketed image of itself as a carefree paradise by the sea that the reality of our city is quite different than the happy fantasy. A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) confirmed this recently when it released a report that noted of America’s Finest City, “45% of San Diegans fall into an auspicious category: people who work full time and still struggle with poverty.”
The local news coverage of this report understandably focused on the poverty numbers and how here and elsewhere in California, people are losing faith in the American Dream. Digging deeper into the report, we also learn that working Californians suffer great housing insecurity, feel disposable as employees, have negative workplace experiences, and aren’t sure they’ll ever be able to retire. While these are all noteworthy and grim details, several other things, buried toward the end of the study, give some signs of hope but also present a central challenge.
More specifically, worker organizing has huge support in California. As the PRRI report states, “support for organizing among workers is robust across different racial and ethnic groups, but there are varying degrees of intensity. More than eight in ten (85%) Hispanic Californians, more than seven in ten black (77%), and API (71%) Californians, and more than six in ten (64%) white Californians to say that worker organizing is important.” And looking to the future, younger Californians are even more likely to support worker organizing than their older neighbors.
…residents of the land of endless summers aren’t in a mellow mood when it comes to income inequality and its effects on political power.
When it comes to economics, it appears that there is a fair amount of class consciousness in the Golden State. In fact, the residents of the land of endless summers aren’t in a mellow mood when it comes to income inequality and its effects on political power.
As the study outlines: “Most Californians see American political and economic life as catering to the wealthy while being unresponsive to people like themselves. More than three-quarters (76%) of Californians agree that the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy.” Thus, it would seem that any progressive populist worth his or her salt would have fertile ground to do big things in California if only they could manage to channel this sentiment in a productive fashion.
In fact, despite our left coast image, one wonders why more has not been done to help working-class Californians with what would seem to be a huge opening for bold policy.
That’s where one last element of the report comes in and presents progressives with a big but not unsurmountable challenge. In sum, Californians, working Californians in particular, are not civically and/or politically involved:
Most Californians do not report engaging in civic or political activities in the last 12 months. Less than one-quarter (24%) have signed a petition. About one in ten say they have commented about politics online (12%) or contacted a government official (11%). Even fewer report attending a protest or rally (7%), serving on a committee for a civic, nonprofit, or community organization (6%), sharing their opinion about local issues at a public meeting (5%), or contacting a media organization—such as a newspaper or live radio show—with a letter, email, or a phone call (4%).
Maybe then we can move from saying no to Trump to saying yes to a bolder political vision that speaks to how a truly democratic society can provide economic empowerment for everyone.
In addition to this, the study shows how wealthier, college-educated whites are more likely to be involved than poorer workers of color. Hence our politics continues to serve elite interests more than those of ordinary folks despite the desire for worker organizing and anger at a system that favors the elites. If California really wants to live up to its reputation as headquarters of the resistance, it would behoove progressives to do everything they can to give struggling working Californians not just the motivation to vote against Republicans but also some reason to believe that engaging in politics and civic life can transform them in concrete and tangible ways.
Maybe then we can move from saying no to Trump to saying yes to a bolder political vision that speaks to how a truly democratic society can provide economic empowerment for everyone. That just might make more people think that their voice actually matters.