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IN THIS ISSUE – “Californians Are Counting On Us to Make the Right Call”
- New Poll: Californians Split On Pandemic Trajectory; Give Gov. Newsom High Marks, But Not His Budget or Taxes
- Legislative Dems Reject Newsom’s Budget Cuts; Plan on More Federal Aid
- Legislators Attempt to Restore Budget Secrecy
- Ballot Measure to Increase Commercial Property Tax on Fall Ballot
- Traffic Jams May Return As Pandemic Side Effect
- Racial Justice & Climate Change, A Conversation
- Schwarzenegger: “I’m Ready to Listen and Work to Make America Better Every Day. Are You?”
FOR THE WEEK ENDING JUNE 5, 2020
Capital News & Notes (CN&N) harvests California legislative and regulatory insights from dozens of media and official sources for the past week, tailored to your business and advocacy interests. Please feel free to forward.
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Public Policy Institute of California
Californians are split on the pandemic’s trajectory, and less than three in ten believe restrictions on physical activity in their area should be decreased. Governor Newsom’s job approval has increased since earlier this year—and most Californians approve of his handling of the pandemic—but his recently released budget plan gets mixed reviews. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Pandemic Views Split
Asked where they think the US stands with regard to the coronavirus outbreak, 48 percent of Californians say the worst is yet to come, 46 percent say the worst is behind us, and 6 percent say they don’t know. Across racial/ethnic groups, 69 percent of African Americans say the worst is yet to come, as do 53 percent of both Asian Americans and Latinos, and 41 percent of whites.
As the issue of gradually lifting “shelter in place” orders continues to generate much discussion, less than three in ten Californians (28%) want restrictions on physical activity reduced in their local area, while 46 percent want about the same number of restrictions and 25 percent want more restrictions. Less than one-third across all regions want fewer restrictions (31% Central Valley, 29% Inland Empire, 28% San Francisco Bay Area, 27% Los Angeles, 27% Orange/San Diego).
Asked about the prospect of state governments easing restrictions, a majority of Californians (58%) say their greater concern is that states lift restrictions on public activity too quickly, while 38 percent say their greater concern is states not lifting restrictions quickly enough.
A strong majority of Californians are very concerned (24%) or somewhat concerned (34%) about getting COVID-19 and needing hospitalization. The share saying they are very concerned is largest among lower-income Californians (30% annual household income under $40,000, 22% $40,000 to under $80,000, 17% $80,000 or more), and there is also variation across racial/ethnic groups (30% African Americans, 29% Latinos, 23% Asian Americans, 18% whites).
Across all regions, at least one in five Californians say they are very concerned about getting COVID-19 and needing to be hospitalized (26% Inland Empire, 26% Los Angeles, 23% Central Valley, 21% Orange/San Diego, 21% San Francisco Bay Area).
More than one-third of adults (35%) report that they or someone in their household have been laid off or lost their job due to the coronavirus outbreak, and half (51%) report someone in their house having work hours reduced or pay cut. Some groups have been hit harder than others.
Those in households with annual incomes under $40,000 (47%) are much more likely than those making $40,000 to under $80,000 (34%) and twice as likely as those making $80,000 or more (22%) to report a job loss. Also, job loss is higher among Latinos (49%) than among other racial/ethnic groups (35% African Americans, 34% Asian Americans, 24% whites).
Newsom Favorable Rating High
Nearly two-thirds of Californians (65% adults, 64% likely voters) approve of the job Governor Newsom is doing. This is an increase from February (53% adults, 52% likely voters), which had been Newsom’s highest approval rating as governor. Across partisan groups, 86 percent of Democrats, 49 percent of independents, and 27 percent of Republicans approve of the governor’s performance.
Solid majorities approve of how the governor is handling the coronavirus pandemic (69% adults, 69% likely voters), and majorities also approve of his handling of jobs and the economy (59% adults, 57% likely voters). Despite the various challenges presented by the pandemic, most Californians (58% adults, 56% likely voters) say that things in the state are generally going in the right direction.
“Governor Newsom is receiving high marks for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and most Californians are surprisingly upbeat about the direction of the state,” Baldassare said.
Governor’s Budget Support Weak; Tax Increases Opposed
Facing a multibillion-dollar deficit due to a steep decline in projected state revenues, Governor Newsom in mid-May released his revised state budget proposal for 2020–21. Opinion is divided on the revised budget, with 43 percent favoring (40% likely voters), 43 percent opposing (46% likely voters), and 14 percent saying they don’t know or haven’t heard anything about the budget (15% likely voters). Across partisan groups, 48 percent of Democrats, 31 percent of independents, and 26 percent of Republicans approve; 38 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Republicans oppose.
Asked whether Governor Newsom should have included tax increases in his budget plan, only one-third of Californians (32% adults, 34% likely voters) say he should have. Solid majorities (60% of both adults and likely voters) say that tax increases should not have been included. Across partisan groups, Democrats (43%) are much more likely than independents (29%) and Republicans (14%) to say tax increases should have been included.
Democratic leaders in the California Legislature announced a unified budget plan they said attempts to avoid “overcutting” as they face a projected $54.3 billion deficit brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, and Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, announced the deal 12 days ahead of their June 15 deadline to adopt a budget.
It rejects about $14 billion in cuts Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed last month, in large part by relying on expected aid money that Congress has yet to pass.
The legislative plan proposes spending more from reserves, borrowing more money from internal accounts and delaying spending reductions until later this year. It’s similar to a plan the Senate Budget Committee passed last week.
Both houses of the Legislature must vote on it, and Newsom would have to agree to it for it take effect.
“Our economy has been pummeled by COVID-19, but thanks to a decade of pragmatic budgeting, we can avoid draconian cuts to education and critical programs, or broad middle-class tax increases,” Atkins said in a written statement. “Californians are counting on us to make the right call at the right time.”
The legislative plan relies on Congress passing an economic stimulus package for state and local government by Oct. 1. If that money doesn’t materialize, the plan would impose $7 billion in so-called trigger cuts.
“The key budget goal is preserving programs serving those who are most vulnerable. Nevertheless, all the budget plans being discussed acknowledge the possibility that more difficult cuts will be necessary, due to COVID spending needs and weak revenues,” Rendon said in a statement. “This will be especially true if Washington, D.C. doesn’t step up.”
Newsom’s plan, in contrast, includes $14 billion in cuts that would take effect if Congress doesn’t send more aid by July 1.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, Newsom’s office had projected California would accumulate a $5.6 billion budget surplus, enabling lawmakers to continue building reserves while expanding some social services.
In January, he proposed a $222 billion spending plan. His scaled-down revised budget, released last month, called for $203 billion in total spending.
His plan to close the deficit includes 10 percent spending cuts for California universities, $8 billion in spending reductions for K-14 schools and temporary pay cuts for public employees. He has appealed to Congress and the Trump administration to provide aid to avoid many of those reductions.
Rather than cut now, the Legislature’s plan relies first on the “strong likelihood” that federal assistance will materialize, said Assembly Budget Chairman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco.
The Democratic lawmakers’ proposal largely preserves funding for K-14 schools and higher education and even expands programs, like providing new Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented seniors beginning in 2022. If Congress doesn’t send more money, the lawmakers’ plan would pull back some of the funding for K-14 schools and universities, although by a smaller amount than Newsom’s proposal.
The Legislature is asking state public unions to give some concessions because of the deficit, but unlike the governor, lawmakers are not setting a 10 percent target for savings. Instead, their plan says they’ll reevaluate after unions and the Newsom administration make agreements.
Both plans by the governor and Legislature’s would change certain business tax rules to generate about $4.4 billion in revenue.
Ting said he anticipates a deficit for several budget cycles, and believes the Legislature will have to modify its budget during the fiscal year as the state’s finances become clearer.
“As long as COVID-19 is around, we are going to have to keep adjusting,” he said.
By law, lawmakers must adopt a budget by June 15, but can make additional changes through so-called trailer bills after that deadline.
“With today’s progress in the Legislature, we’ll continue our discussions to achieve an on-time agreement that balances the budget, reduces the structural deficit, sets the stage for recovery, and advances our efforts for federal support to maintain core services,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Newsom’s Finance Department.
On Monday, Newsom declined to weigh in on the Senate’s proposal, but said his office was negotiating collaboratively with both houses of the Legislature. He said he’s confident they’ll reach a deal ahead of the deadline.
“All I can say is I appreciate the collaborative spirit,” he said. “I appreciate the work that the Senate is doing, the support that the Assembly is giving to this process. We continue to have very robust and very positive conversations.”
Although Republican leadership has not yet officially weighed in on the Democrats’ new plan, they criticized Newsom’s proposal in May for relying too heavily on federal money. Opposition from Republicans likely won’t sink the deal because Democrats have large majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
Four years ago, despite fierce opposition from Democratic politicians, California voters passed Proposition 54, a constitutional amendment requiring the Legislature to be more transparent.
Nearly two-thirds of the state’s voters backed Proposition 54, which requires final versions of legislative bills to be in print and online at least 72 hours before final votes. It also requires the Legislature to make audiovisual recordings of its meetings and place them online within 24 hours.
It was aimed at the insidious practice of drafting bills in the dead of night, especially “trailer bills” to the state budget loaded with special interest goodies, and enacting them before anyone had an opportunity to know what they contained.
Lawmakers didn’t like the new law and have connived to get around it whenever they could. And now, a newly drafted constitutional amendment would not only undermine major portions of Proposition 54, but give legislators new authority to act secretly. They could even bar the public from their meetings, whenever the governor declares an emergency — such as the one Gov. Gavin Newsom has decreed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ostensibly, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 25 would allow legislators to attend legislative meetings and cast their votes on bills remotely, via webcasts or other electronic means, which sounds superficially plausible.
However, if enacted, it would go much further. It would allow proxy voting — a controversial practice now being employed in the House of Representatives — and give the Legislature authority to avoid posting videos of proceedings “if compliance is not practicable under the circumstances of the state of emergency.”
So, one might say, maybe all of those procedures might be warranted were a major calamity to befall California. But ACA 25 doesn’t require the emergency to apply statewide, but “within the state, or parts thereof…”
Therefore, were sparsely populated Modoc County in the northeastern corner of the state to have a wildfire serious enough for the governor to declare an emergency, the provisions of ACA 25 would kick in and the Legislature would be free to operate in secret.
Farfetched? The history of the California Legislature tells us that its members will fully exploit every opportunity to avoid transparency and thus accountability. Proposition 54 was written precisely to stop hide-the-pea procedures, such as misusing budget trailer bills.
The two men largely responsible for enacting Proposition 54 in 2016, former Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee and wealthy physicist Charles Munger Jr., are blowing the whistle on ACA 25, saying it “guts the provisions on transparency in the California Legislature that the voters enacted by passing Proposition 54.”
“The notion that it would be possible for legislators ‘through the use of technology and without being physically present in the State Capitol,’ to ‘attend and vote remotely in a legislative proceeding,’ without it also being possible to record the proceedings and post them on the Internet within 24 hours, is a palpable absurdity,” they wrote in a letter to legislative leaders.
“That the mere existence of ‘a state of emergency declared by the president of the United States or the governor’ would justify excluding the public from legislative proceedings, eliminating the right of the public to record them, or relieving the Legislature of its obligation to record and post its public proceedings, all in violation of the California Constitution, is also absurd,” they added.
Absurd indeed. ACA 25’s chief author, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, a San Mateo Democrat, and other legislators who have signed onto ACA 25 should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting the pandemic to undercut legislative transparency.
California Secretary of State
Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that an initiative became eligible for the for the November 3, 2020 General Election ballot today.
In order to become eligible for the ballot, the initiative needed 997,139 valid petition signatures, which is equal to eight percent of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2018 General Election.
A measure can become eligible via random sampling of petition signatures if the sampling projects that the number of valid signatures is greater than 110 percent of the required number. The initiative needed at least 1,096,853 projected valid signatures to become eligible by random sampling, and it exceeded that threshold today.
On June 25 the Secretary of State will certify the initiative as qualified for the November 3, 2020 General Election ballot, unless it is withdrawn by the proponents prior to certification pursuant to Elections Code section 9604(b).
The Attorney General’s official title and summary of the measure is as follows:
INCREASES FUNDING FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS, COMMUNITY COLLEGES, AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SERVICES BY CHANGING TAX ASSESSMENT OF COMMERCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL PROPERTY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.
Increases funding for K-12 public schools, community colleges, and local governments by requiring that commercial and industrial real property be taxed based on current market value. Exempts from this change: residential properties; agricultural properties; and owners of commercial and industrial properties with combined value of $3 million or less. Increased education funding will supplement existing school funding guarantees. Exempts small businesses from personal property tax; for other businesses, exempts $500,000 worth of personal property. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Net increase in annual property tax revenues of $7.5 billion to $12 billion in most years, depending on the strength of real estate markets. After backfilling state income tax losses related to the measure and paying for county administrative costs, the remaining $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion would be allocated to schools (40 percent) and other local governments (60 percent).
The proponents of the measure are Anthony Thigpenn, Carol Moon Goldberg, and Benjamin McBride. They can be reached c/o Lance H. Olson of Olson, Hagel & Fishburn, LLP at (916) 442-2952. The address for Olson et al., LLP is 555 Capitol Mall, Suite 400, Sacramento, CA 95814.
National Public Radio
Many city dwellers, trying to maintain social distance, are continuing to avoid public transit. If they replace bus or subway trips with car rides, congestion could grow dire.
Eve Strother, a lawyer in Boston, says she won’t be getting on the T anytime soon. She’s worried about being close to people who refuse to wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines. “It’s kind of scary to not know how your commute will go,” she says.
Strother feels much safer in her car.
Some cities in China have already seen rush hour traffic significantly worse than before the pandemic.
“We could really see an outcome from this where we have crushing gridlock,” says Corinne Kisner, the executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. The organization recently released a guide for cities on how to adapt to the ongoing coronavirus crisis and the recovery ahead.
Normally, cities would respond to growing traffic by trying to boost rides on buses or subways.
“Being able to move more people in the least amount of space has been the mantra of transit agencies around the world,” says Tiffany Chu, the CEO of transportation planning software company Remix. “And now all of a sudden with COVID, because you have to socially or physically distance, that mantra just no longer holds up. And it’s mind-boggling for people who’ve been working in transportation for decades.”
There’s no silver bullet to solve this problem, but one key strategy is to push more people to travel by bike, foot or scooter instead of by car.
Cities like London and Paris, which have already committed to supporting bicycle travel, have accelerated their plans to build bike lanes to help reduce future pandemic-worsened traffic jams.
In the U.S., in contrast, many cities have so far focused on urgent needs during the pandemic shutdowns, instead of the crowding that may come after. Cities from Oakland to Boston have taken street space previously reserved for cars and used it to reduce crowding and promote social distancing — from expanding sidewalks to using parking lots as dining spaces.
But some of these measures, particularly “slow streets” or “open streets” reserved for non-car traffic, could also help replace car trips and reduce traffic in the long term.
Seattle, which blocked through traffic on some roads and dubbed them Stay Healthy Streets, was the first major U.S. city to announce it would make the pandemic-induced changes permanent.
“The support and the positivity we got in just the first few weeks of putting these out meant that it … was pretty easy to say, ‘Let’s make this permanent,’ ” says Sam Zimbabwe, the director of Seattle’s Department of Transportation.
The streets were meant to support both recreation and travel needs, he says, but as more people resume daily travel, “the transportation aspects will probably grow in importance,” he says.
Seattle was building on an established network of greenways and bike paths, and many cities have similarly used existing plans and policies as a launching pad.
“I think cities have been really proactive and sort of standing up projects and initiatives essentially overnight — or within a week or so,” says Zabe Bent, the director of design at the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “Open streets, shared streets, bike lanes … projects that can can just be moved forward a lot faster because there are fewer people traveling on our streets by car.”
Meanwhile, public transit remains crucial — particularly for communities hardest hit by the coronavirus. Many essential workers live far from their workplaces and don’t have access to a car.
Transit, an app that provides public transit data, surveyed users who kept riding transit during the crisis. People of color, low-income riders and people who work in food service or health care were disproportionately likely to keep taking transit during the pandemic.
“I think some of the rhetoric I’ve been hearing in the transportation world — and I don’t think this is intentional — is almost painting transit as sacrificial … [that] it’s not going to be safe for a long time; we’ve all got to get on bikes,” says Lynda Lopez, an advocacy manager at the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago. “I think we need to realize that public transit is a core part of how people move, especially in communities that don’t have other options.”
Safety measures, from masks to extra cleaning, can help keep transit as safe as possible for essential riders — and vulnerable transit workers. Kisner, of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, says cities can also increase the frequency of buses or trains, add bus lanes and redesign their bus routes to better serve essential workers who rely on transit services — not just 9-to-5 office workers.
“A lot of transit systems haven’t really changed their network design in, frankly, decades,” she says. “It’s been a very slow and gradual process.”
Now, moving slowly isn’t an option for cities that want to keep up with a world transformed by the coronavirus.
Tamika Butler is the head of California planning and equity and inclusion at Toole Design, a consulting firm that helps cities with transportation planning, especially for biking and walking. She says community input is essential as cities are moving with unprecedented speed.
“There has to be a balance between answering the call and doing what folks need while still not re-creating processes that continue to exclude people,” she says.
Done properly, she says, this is an opportunity to address the underlying inequities that have long shaped American cities, and not just keep streets moving, but make them more accessible — and safer — for everyone.
New York Times
This week, with the country convulsed by protests over the killing of a black man named George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, we decided we’d talk to leading black climate activists about the connections between racism and climate change.
A clear theme emerged from those discussions: Racial and economic inequities need to be tackled as this country seeks to recalibrate its economic and social compass in the weeks and months to come. Racism, in short, makes it impossible to live sustainably.
Here’s what three prominent environmental defenders had to say in interviews this week about how the climate movement can be anti-racist.
Sam Grant is executive director of MN350.org, the Minnesota affiliate of the international climate activist group 350.org. He was among the first climate activists to call for the prosecution of the police officers implicated in the killing of George Floyd.
A few days later, leaders of national and international groups issued their own statements of solidarity, including the heads of Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, followed by the World Wildlife Fund and the World Resources Institute.
Mr. Grant called it “a positive signal to build on” but he said he wasn’t convinced that the solidarity would be sustained. “It’s not been the norm that mainstream environmental organizations have ever had our backs,” he said.
Does climate change seem like a faraway issue to address right now?
“I believe part of our challenge as an organization focused on the climate crisis is to honor what’s primary for people and through dialogue and through relationships, help people see the connection between that issue and the broader climate crisis,” he said. “So it’s not choosing this or that. Or this, then that. It’s this and that.”
In Minneapolis, his staff has been cooking for protesters and providing first aid to those injured.
“Police violence is an aspect of a broader pattern of structural violence, which the climate crisis is a manifestation of,” he said. “Healing structural violence is actually in the best interest of all human beings.”
Robert D. Bullard is a professor at Texas Southern University who has written for more than 30 years about the need to redress environmental racism. He welcomed the statements of support this week from the leaders of big environmental groups but he lamented that the vast amount of donor money still goes to white-led environmental groups.
“I’d like to see these groups start to embrace this whole concept of justice, fairness and equity,” he said. “Those statements need to be followed up with a concerted effort to address the underlying conditions that make for despair.”
The rich, he went on, have a bigger carbon footprint than the poor, but it is the poor who are more likely to be people of color in this country and who are often most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
“If it’s going to be too hot to work outside, we know who’s going to be affected,” Dr. Bullard said. “If we’re talking about urban heat islands, we know who can’t afford to run their air-conditioners 24/7.”
“Climate change is more than parts per million and greenhouse gases,” he added. “The people who are feeling the worst impacts of climate, their voices have got to be heard.”
Heather McGhee is a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group, and the author of a forthcoming book called “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”
She laid out reasons mainstream environmental groups should use this moment to lay out an anti-racist program. The first is strategic: Public opinion polls show that African-Americans, along with Latinos, are, on average, more concerned about climate issues than whites.
Then, there are the substantive issues. “It’s essential to have anti-racism baked into the goals that even white-led organizations are pursuing because both political racism and environmental racism are drivers of our excess pollution and climate denialism,” she said.
An anti-racist climate movement, Ms. McGhee said, should be led by “a real multiracial coalition that endorses environmental justice principles” and its goals should seek to uplift the most vulnerable. That means, she said, the creation of green jobs, rather than cap-and-trade policies that allow companies to keep polluting in communities of color as they have been able to do for decades.
“Success is measured by the improvement in the environmental and economic health of the people who have borne the brunt of our carbon economy.”
“This conversation is a police brutality conversation on top of a Covid-19 conversation, and it all adds up to a devaluation of black life,” Ms. McGhee said. “That’s what climate change is as well, because of environmental racism. We’ve got to divest from systems that are killing us and costing us, and invest in our people and our planet.”
I immigrated to America in 1968. I had dreamed about coming here from the moment I saw images of the United States in elementary school. To me, the photos and film of towering skyscrapers, huge bridges, wide freeways, and Hollywood represented a land of limitless opportunity. I decided that this was where I belonged.
America was in the middle of a race to the moon, and at the end of 1968, we watched brave astronauts launch into the skies above in the first manned Apollo flight. Their mission seemed to prove that this was truly a country without limits.
But in 1968, as a new immigrant, I was shocked to learn that the country I had dreamed about since childhood wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t even close.
Protesters took to the streets to raise their voices about the disastrous Vietnam War, about racist policies all over the country, about women’s inequality. A racist lunatic, George Wallace, ran for president on a platform of keeping many Americans down, segregated from the opportunities that brought me here. Two great voices of hope, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, were silenced by evil assassins.
On Saturday, we watched brave astronauts launch into space once again. And once again, our streets are filled with protesters who are fighting a system that limits them.
The past few days have brought another brutal reminder that America isn’t perfect. I still believe that we are the greatest country in the world, but we are at our best when we look in the mirror, face our demons, and cast them away to become a little bit better every day.
The protesters we see in the streets don’t hate America. They are asking us to be better. They are asking on behalf of our fellow Americans who no longer have a voice: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many others.
When I watched the horrible video of Floyd’s death, the first thing that I thought of was the video of Eric Garner losing his life for the crime of selling cigarettes. These weren’t dangerous criminals on the “most wanted” list, but these incidents are not nearly as rare as they should be.
It has to stop. It will take all of us standing up. It will take better training for police officers. It will take the majority of police officers, who are good, pushing for change. But it has to stop.
This isn’t an attack on police officers. It is a criticism of a broken system. My father was a police officer. I have always rooted for police officers. But you can be a fan of something and still see the wrong within it. And it is clear that something is very wrong.
My friend Erroll Southers, who has spent his career in law enforcement and served in my administration’s homeland-security department, wrote today: “I still get nervous when I receive the unexpected phone call at an odd hour, hoping my son, brother or relative has not become the next hashtag.”
Think about that. Erroll Southers is a professor at USC, a former FBI agent, an upstanding man in every sense of the word, and because of the color of his skin, when his phone rings in the middle of the night, his first thought is that his son or brother might be the reason for the next march.
I can’t even fathom that experience. If my kids FaceTime me late at night, it brings me joy, or maybe if they’ve been at a party, a laugh. It is completely unjust that for much of our population, those family calls bring anxiety.
It’s wrong, it’s unfair—and that’s why people are marching today.
It is our duty to listen to them. We can’t ignore the issues of inequality in this country. No one can claim with a straight face that black and brown kids in the inner cities get an education equal to what kids in the suburbs receive. No one can deny that minorities find themselves on the wrong end of our justice system in unequal numbers. No one with a heart can watch these murders and not feel deep sadness, anger, and even guilt.
It is very easy to see the burning buildings and destroyed businesses and look away from the meaning of the protests, or discount them entirely. Believe me, I hate riots as much as anyone, and the violence needs to stop now. Burning businesses and cars didn’t bring meaningful change after Watts or 1968 or the 1992 riots, and it won’t bring change today. These vandals only distract from the important message of the protests.
But we as Americans can’t let the smoke obscure the very real issues we must confront.
It isn’t easy work, looking in the mirror. As patriotic Americans, we want to believe that our nation is beyond racism. As individuals, we don’t want to believe that we harbor subtle stereotypes and prejudices. But it is important work, because the greatness of America doesn’t come from the status quo; it comes from our constant struggle to live up to our promise.
This, to me, is not a political issue. It is a patriotic issue. When Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” our country certainly didn’t live up to that promise. But generations since have pushed the boundaries, bringing equality closer and closer to reality. That is the American story, and we must remember that it’s a painful story for anyone left out of the promise.
When I moved here in 1968, I thought I was coming to the greatest country in the world. I was. I didn’t know much about the nation’s inequality then, but I’ve learned a great deal since. That knowledge doesn’t make me love America any less, but it does make me want to fight for our country even more. I’ve tried to do my own small part, supporting after-school programs in our inner cities and, when I was governor, settling a long-standing lawsuit, to ensure that all students had qualified teachers, textbooks, and safe, clean, and functional schools. But today, I know that we can all do more.
“Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, sound, and solid blueprint,” Martin Luther King Jr. told a group of graduating students in 1967. We need a proper, a solid, and a sound blueprint for fixing our country.
We didn’t get here in one administration, and we can’t fix things in one administration. When we built the interstate highway system, we made a plan. We knew the work would take decades, we knew it would be hard, but we did it anyway. If we can do it to make our roads better, we can do it to make our society more equal.
Patriotism isn’t just the blind love of our flag. It is the work we do to improve our country for every American. I want the unlimited opportunity that drew me here in 1968 to exist for every American, regardless of skin color.
And the next time we send a rocket into space, showing the world that we can soar past the limits of our atmosphere, I want every kid in an inner-city school to see it as a symbol of the possibility that lies ahead for them, instead of a symbol of an America that doesn’t belong to them.
We can do better. We have to be willing to listen, to learn, to look in the mirror and see that none of us is perfect. We have to be willing to see one another as Americans, and not as enemies. We have to be willing to sit down and do the hard work of reform without worrying about stupid party lines.
I’m ready to listen and work to make America better every day. Are you?