“We must lead”
By: Antonio R. Villaraigosa
As the threat of Donald Trump’s policies become all too real, Californians are uniting as never before. We have now seen millions marching to defend our health care, defend a woman’s reproductive freedoms and defend the very right of millions of Californians to stay with their families rather than face arrest and deportation.
As we fight against Trump, it is necessary to also pause and reflect on what we are fighting for. While it is appropriate that we defend our progressive values, it is equally necessary that we work even harder to make progress for the many Californians who are still being left behind. We must make progress on improving our schools, improving access to an affordable college and lifelong learning and improving our infrastructure so it will spur and allow our economy to grow.
Because we need to do more than stop Trump, we need to keep California moving forward.
We should be proud of our progress, but the last thing we can be is complacent. We must act now, and we must act boldly.
As a former mayor, I know that action at the local government level – the closest government to the people – can have the quickest and longest lasting impact.
For the first time in many generations, our middle class is shrinking. We have more wealth as a state – but also more poverty – than any state in the nation. More often than not, those in poverty are Latino. We do not need to look very far to realize that many of the communities being left behind are Latino neighborhoods and many of our most challenged schools have students who are predominantly Latino.
This growing inequality is threatening the very fabric of our society.
Economic inequality has grown because our policies have not kept pace with our economy. As in other states, California has lost many good-paying jobs and replaced them with jobs that pay low wages.
The truth is, in today’s economy, having a job is often not enough to ensure those things all Californians want for our families – an affordable place to live in a safe neighborhood, basic health care, child care and good schools for our children and the chance for a secure retirement for every family.
At precisely the moment Latinos have become the largest ethnic group in California, the promise of a better life is growing farther and farther out of reach for a growing segment of our society.
If the recent election taught us anything, it is that where there is no hope, people will act on their fears. The erosion of economic opportunity gives space for the politics of fear.
So now, California must lead. And because Latinos will soon be the majority of this state, we must lead. We must help this state to become a national example of how to build a successful 21st Century Economy that creates middle-class jobs. We must work to preserve the fundamental notion that anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules can meet the basic needs for themselves and their family.
Californians remember that voters lashing out amid economic anxiety is nothing new. As a state, we have gone through this before.
I was first elected to the Assembly in 1994 on the heels of a deep recession that plunged our state billions of dollars into debt and sent unemployment sky high.
That economic upheaval helped give rise to a politics of demagoguery, division and the scapegoating of immigrants. That culminated with Proposition 187 and the elimination of bilingual education and affirmative action.
But during my six years in Sacramento, including three as Speaker of the Assembly, I worked with leaders from both parties to find common ground to find solutions to the problems facing our state.
We created a children’s health care program, which extended coverage to three quarters of a million kids across the state. When the federal government stripped public support for legal immigrants, I helped bring people together to ensure those benefits were covered here in California.
At that time, Latinos were a minority – fighting to protect our families from very Trump-like attacks. We should all remember that we were not alone then. Asians, African Americans, Filipinos, the LGBT community, progressive and liberal whites and even conservative whites stood with us because they understood that we embraced and embodied the American dream.
Now that we are soon to be the majority, let’s always remember that moment. We endured because we were not alone.
We stand at a moment of great change and a time of great anxiety. But we have been here before and have persevered and prospered. As a leader in our community, your voice is needed like never before in our history. I look forward to standing beside you as we fight together, community by community, to defend our communities and make sure that no voice in California goes unheard.
Antonio R. Villaraigosa served as a Member of CA State Assembly, Speaker of the Assembly, and then served on the LA City Council before becoming the 41st Mayor of Los Angeles. He is now a candidate for Governor of California.