California at a Crossroads: Social Strife or Social Unity?

Social Justice, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

California at a Crossroads: Social Strife or Social Unity?


California at a Crossroads

In these economic hard times, California voters must either choose opportunities for all -- and social peace -- or deepening struggle between competing groups and continued, growing violence. Public policy and recent and proposed ballot initiatives show that Californians are making the wrong choice.

* Proposition 184, by mandating permanent imprisonment for third-time felons irrespective of the nature of their offenses, promises a massive increase in California's law-enforcement budget at the inevitable expense of desperately needed funding for education.

* Proposition 187 scapegoats undocumented immigrants rather than offering a rational and compassionate immigration policy. Prop. 187 completely fails to deal with the causes of illegal immigration and inflicts its severest penalties on children, depriving them of health care and education.

* The so-called California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), proposed for the 1996 ballot, seeks to halt a generation of slow but significant progress toward the full inclusion of women and minorities in the benefits of our society. CCRI blindly denies that there are continuing social problems caused by racism and sexism.

Chronic tuition increases and cuts in financial aid threaten access to higher education and quality employment for all but the privileged few, while crippling California as a global economic competitor in a period of rapid technological innovation.

The 1994 election highlighted a choice that must now be made between two paths for California and the nation. One leads to a society whose people are healthy, well educated, and gainfully employed, the other, to a society whose men and women, whose ethnic and racial groups are trapped in endless struggle over dwindling resources. One alternative will address the real needs of the people for medical care, education, and jobs, the other will continue to fan the flames of prejudice and resentment, promising to maintain order only through a growing law-enforcement apparatus. The 1994 elections suggest that we are making the wrong choice. Even as Americans seem to have lost the ability to imagine any sort of truly hopeful future, they appear to be rushing headlong toward condemning so many of their children -- our children -- to live in an anti-utopia of poverty and despair.

In 1994, California's voters defeated a plan for universal health care, but approved Proposition 187, a simplistic response to the subtleties of illegal immigration. Voters also adopted Proposition 184, which mandates costly life sentences for all third-time felons, no matter what the character of the felony, violent or not, thus threatening to bankrupt the state for years to come. In the state and the nation, politicians won elections by promising both to slash welfare, health care, and education budgets, and to boost spending for police and prisons. The so-called California Civil Rights Initiative, an anti-affirmative action measure, is shaping up to be the most divisive issue of the 1996 statewide and national elections. In the following pages, we will examine these political developments in the light of the two alternative future paths between which citizens must now decide.

Sunset on the California Dream

By 1990, following years of booming economic growth, California had surpassed most countries in income and output, with a gross domestic product of $700 billion. From 1979 to 1988, the state added 2.6 million jobs. Average income per capita rose 18% in real terms from 1980 to 1990. California had taken over as the principal engine of U.S. economic development. Indeed, the state's electronics and aerospace industries were trumpeted as a source of national renewal and a sign of American innovation and entrepreneurship at their best.

However, weakened by fiscal mismanagement and political gridlock, and devastated by the base closings and military contract reductions that followed the end of the Cold War, the state economy came crashing to its knees in the recession of 1991 to 1994. …

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