Wednesday, April 11, 2007



Yesterday I introduced you to a friend of mine, Joshua Grossman, in the first of a 3-part effort to help focus on grassroots progressive activism. As I explained, Joshua will be joining us for a live blog session at Firedoglake on Saturday at 11am PT. Meanwhile, here's the fascinating second part of the series Joshua wrote for us: THE SECRET IS STOCKTON.

The fact of the matter is that Blue California is mostly quite blue and Red California is quite red. But there is a thin strip of politically semi-arid but not yet desert land, like the Sahel region just to the south of the Sahara in Africa, which we can call Purple California. This land could be fertile terrain for political progressives, as long as it received a modest irrigation flow of money and political expertise. This land is called Stockton.

With a working class population bolstered by some ancestrally Democratic Okies (though not as many as settled in the southern Valley) during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, San Joaquin County was traditionally Democratic – though quite conservative. Over the last 2-3 decades Republicans gained greatly in registration numbers and actual votes. This happened because working class Valley residents felt abandoned as the Democratic party, especially under Bill Clinton, moved away from its FDR/Truman tradition of carrying the banner for working class people. This led to  Valley residents’ innate social conservatism asserting itself and impelling Valley voters, almost by default, to the Republican party. But now affordable housing-starved San Francisco Bay Area residents are moving in droves to the parts of the Valley nearest to the Bay Area, especially San Joaquin County. Enough people have moved to change the politics of San Joaquin County and restore a Democratic party registration advantage among San Joaquin County voters, although it’s a quite narrow one. The people moving from the Bay Area to San Joaquin County, especially the Democrats, are much more progressive on average than long time residents.

The harsh truth is that the overwhelming majority of San Joaquin County elected officials who are Democrats (still a minority of elected officials in the county) have horrible voting records from the perspective of progressives. But there are progressive opportunities. The finely balanced partisan registration margins in San Joaquin County overall mask dramatic differences within different parts of the county. The rural areas and the smaller incorporated cities, especially Lodi, are still quite Republican. Stockton is by far and away the largest population center of San Joaquin County. Stockton itself has a fairly strong Democratic voter registration advantage.

But there’s not anyone doing partisan electoral work from a progressive perspective on the ground in Stockton. California coastal progressives from places like the Bay Area need to think strategically. We shouldn’t be channeling scarce resources to the sparsely populated Gold Country Congressional districts of Herger & Lungren, however much their stench offends our nostrils. Those districts are just too Red.

On the other hand, Stockton just elected a very progressive Latina lesbian to the city council in a harsh race where she was viciously attacked by the old boy power structure. Of the five supervisorial districts in San Joaquin County, one is strongly Democratic and one strongly Republican with the other three closely balanced (two with a narrow Dem advantage/one with a narrow Republican advantage). The predominantly Democratic supervisorial district is the one that includes most of Stockton. This supervisorial district in turn is at the core of the 17th state Assembly district represented by Cathleen Galgiani and the 18th Congressional district represented by Dennis Cardoza, both of whom are fairly wretchedly reactionary Democrats. Fortunately Galgiani will be pushed elsewhere (one hopes to political oblivion) by term limits. By percolating her up through the political ranks, our progressive member of the Stockton City Council COULD wind up being a progressive member of the U.S. Congress. But it won’t happen by accident, and – quite possibly – not without our help.

Bay Area progressives need to scour Stockton and link up with indigenous activist groups who A) have their act together, B) are progressive & C) are angry with the right wing pro-developer, pro-big-agribusiness, pro-corporate mentality that’s resulted in the San Joaquin Valley (including San Joaquin County) having a variety of negative social indices more like those of a third world country than those of the Bay Area. These groups don’t have to currently be engaged in electoral work. They do need to be dedicated to community organizing – year round, not just in election season. With the credibility gained by doing the hard, dirty work of organizing poor people around getting a stoplight at an intersection where a kid has been hit by a car, etc., i.e. Saul Alinsky-style organizing, these indigenous organizations are the only ones who are in a position to command the respect of the socially/economically disadvantaged and understandably cynical communities that they work in. We should be funding them to hire people who have great experience in both community organizing AND nakedly electoral work as well.

It would take a tremendous amount of work, some expenditure of resources as well as time to take over the Stockton City Council. But it could be done and it would provide a tremendous beacon of hope for progressive organizing in San Joaquin County which in turn would provide a tremendous beacon of hope for progressive organizing in the entire San Joaquin Valley.

California’s coastal progressives ignore the Valley at their peril. It’s rapidly growing while the Bay Area’s population is essentially stable. Without combating Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Valley so that it doesn’t become their 21st century equivalent of what Orange County represented for the right wing in the 1980s and ‘90s, California will slowly but inexorably slide from being a blue state to being a purple one overall. That’s because the other rapidly growing parts of California, the Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino lean to the Republicans and carry increasing heft in California politics as they mushroom in population and Los Angeles stagnates along with the Bay Area.

Maybe I shouldn’t say the secret is Stockton, but rather that the solution is Stockton!

If you want to help make Stockton the solution, please go to the Progressive Kick ActBlue page. As a 527 organization, Progressive Kick can take contributions of any size from a dollar to $10 million. (If you work in a social change nonprofit you have to be an optimist, at least for the long haul.)

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At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, Stockton is very weak on grassroots, progressive activism. The problem is that the majority of progressive voters are commuting to the bay area, and dont have a whole lot of time for political engagement. That leaves the old-boy conservatives to stay in town and engage in the process.

The few groups we do have (Sierra Club, Campaign for Common Ground) are not very progressive, but at least they are trying.

Stockton may be the answer, but we're so far from a solid infrastructure that we may still need to wait a few years for change.


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