Green Jobs – No on Prop 23 coalition

Slightly different take today on the green jobs agenda, as I tell you about the very successful No on Prop 23 campaign that took place in California last November.

What is Prop 23?

Prop 23 was put on the November 2010 ballot, and supported by big oil companies Valero, Tesoro, and Koch Industries. If passed, it would have suspended AB 32, a law enacted in 2006 that is legally referred to as the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The goal of the proposition was to freeze the provisions of AB 32 until California’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5% or below for four consecutive quarters. As the current rate is 12.4%, this wording was seen by then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and others as a wording trick to delay the environmental regulations indefinitely. AB 32 requires that greenhouse emission levels in the state be cut to 1990 levels by 2020, in a gradual process of cutting that is slated to begin in 2012. Reducing greenhouse emission levels to 1990 levels will involve cutting them by about 15% from 2010 levels. The proposition was referred to as the “ground zero” of clean energy policy. If California couldn’t defeat this, it did not bode well for the future of US or worldwide policy on climate.

The coalition

The No on 23 campaign brought together an incredibly diverse coalition of businesses, venture capitalists, community organisations, social justice and environmental organisations. Together, they raised something like $50 million for their campaign (outspending the opposition), and created the result that Prop 23 was defeated by a margin of 2 to 1. Yay!

The message

These diverse organisations and networks were able to come together because they had a common enemy – Texas oil companies – and a common message which focused on public health impacts and the notion that Prop 23 would kill clean energy jobs. The messengers were public health groups and businesses – it was a conscious decision to not run an “environmental” campaign, since polling in California suggested that climate change was not a top issue, and wouldn’t win it.

The method

 The coalition reps we met with talked about waging the “air war” (media, framing the issue etc) and the “ground war” (door-knocking, phone-banking, good old community organising). They did an amazing job of waging the air war, but they believe it was the ground work in low-income communities that actually won the vote. Low-income communities and communities of color are a vast untapped voter base in California, that had the power to swing the vote. You can see this in the stats – the polled white vote in California was 50/50 on Prop 23. People of color, on the other hand, ended up voting 70% no.

– It was important to get in there first. There is good evidence to show that who communities hear from first has a large impact on how they vote. So the No on 23 coalition made a big point of getting into communities way before the oil companies.

– Check out the brilliant Communities United for more of their methods. They told us they had elderly people from the asian communities taking leadership on the issue and talking to their peers. Lots of emphasis on “place-based organising” – meeting people who are already working in those communities, creating coalitions and building campaigns together.

– There was also a lot of work done to “empower the base”. Lots of local media work was done to ensure that the voices from affected communities were heard.

What now?

– The challenge now is to keep the coalition together and build on their success. They need to work out what else they can achieve together – what are they for, in other words, rather than against.

– What can they continue to have win/wins on? What are the areas of overlap that business, environmental organisations and community networks can work together on?

– Having “empowered the base” in many local communities, they also need to capitalise on the dialogue that has been opened around green jobs and environmental justice. Rather than letting the power dissipate, new calls need to be made about bringing jobs into these communities, and identifying what those jobs will be.

Lessons we can take

– The green jobs agenda fits into a much broader set of issues around social justice, environmental justice, environmental racism, poverty, and public health. We dont have to pigeon hole ourselves into just playing this as an environmental or climate issue.

– Community organising, of which there is such a strong tradition in the US, will play a big part in the success of our local campaigns and programmes. As demonstrated by the No on 23 campaign, communities of color are deciding the future of energy policy in California. It is so important to make connections with communities at the beginning and build from there in coalition and partnership, if we want to succeed. So get practicing your canvassing.

– Again, this was another great example of grassroots and policy people working brilliantly together and informing each other. We definitely need more of this in the UK!

Still to come.. the Ella Baker Center and Green for All.. till next time!

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