Giving Compass' Take:
- May Lin, Jennifer Ito, Madeline Wander, and Manuel Pastor share lessons from California's success in advancing integrated voter engagement.
- How can these lessons be applied in your state? What work remains to be done in California?
- Learn more about advancing democracy through philanthropy.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
In 1994, voters approved Prop 187 in attempt to block undocumented Californians from accessing public benefits. The state’s electorate also passed a draconian “three strikes” law that sent nonviolent offenders to a life in prison and fueled mass incarceration. The list of unsavory ballot measures goes on: In 1996, Prop 209 ended affirmative action. In 1998, Prop 227 banned bilingual education in schools. In 2000, Prop 21 made it legal to try juveniles as adults.
Of course, the demographic shifts, political polarization, and economic anxieties that fueled this series of “racial propositions” in California are the same that we are seeing nationally. But California has shifted dramatically and so may offer instructive lessons for a nation uneasy with change. Structural reforms—around term limits, redistricting, and fiscal governance— and changes in political leadership certainly helped shift the political calculus. But remember that while it may been political opportunists who proposed the “racial propositions,” it was voters who passed them. And so of equal importance in California’s dramatic shape-shift has been a patient and disciplined approach from leadership of communities of color who got tired of getting beaten up at the ballot box and got organized—and from a set of funders who supported the work and studied their approach.
It began modestly. In 2009, eight grassroots organizations launched their first statewide voter engagement program with a collective goal of contacting 100,000 voters. Fast forward ten years: there is a “Million Voters Project” (MVP) aimed at organizing a bloc of one million consistent voters that brings together seven statewide and regional community alliances that together include 93 affiliates deploying members and leaders in 26 counties working multiple election cycles and year-round. At this scale, the alliance can tip elections not only to defeat harmful initiatives or to protect gains but also to put forth bold proposals.
There are four themes from the Golden State IVE story that we think are relevant for Californians and non-Californians alike—and that we hope are easy to remember given its appropriate acronym: vote, organize, transform, and engage (VOTE). Taken together, these themes capture why groups employ IVE as a power-building strategy, what they are able to accomplish by harnessing IVE as part of their broader movement building, and the nuts and bolts of how they implement IVE. We think that this frame offers different pathways to expanding the IVE ecosystem depending on an organization’s particular goals and priorities— and that this may be a helpful lens through which to read the full report:
Vote: A focus on tipping points, turnout, and technology in order to have decisive influence on closely-contested electoral outcomes and to leverage that influence for bolder proposals that reach beyond what is winnable and towards the kind of change that is needed.
Organize: A stress on rooting the work in an ecosystem of local grassroots organizing groups committed to developing leaders to engage voters, recruiting voters to become members, and bridging local-state work.
Transform: A vision for governance by transforming who votes, the issues they vote on, and redefining notions of citizenship and civic participation among those who are or have been excluded from voting.
Engage: A commitment to engaging voters year-round and between election cycles, engaging the most impacted communities and constituencies, and not only addressing issues that they care about but also challenging beliefs and biases that divide communities.