Long Beach is a progressive city until it’s not.
Along with the majority of California voters, Long Beach did its part on election day to support some but not all of the social justice propositions on the ballot. Final election results will be certified by December 11, 2020.
Early returns the day after the election show Los Angeles County Measure J received 57% support in Long Beach. It will fund alternatives to incarceration and access to capital for various underserved communities. Prop. 17 approval was 67.6% for restoring voting rights for the formerly incarcerated. With 65.3% voting no on Prop. 20, Long Beach voters prohibited imposing draconian sentencing practices.
However, California voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop. 16, which would have repealed a 1996 ballot measure (Prop. 209) that banned affirmative action. Government entities will not be allowed to address diversity in hiring by considering “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”
Long Beach voters narrowly supported Prop. 16 with 51.4% of the vote. On one hand, slightly over half of the population supporting affirmative action seems progressive. On the other hand, after a summer of protests for racial justice, why didn’t a larger majority of Long Beach voters support reinstating equity in government decision-making?
According to Ballotpedia, only $1.2 million was spent to oppose the measure raised from Californians for Equal Rights, Parents and Students for Racial Equality, and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc.
In contrast, $19 million was spent to raise awareness about the proposition. Analysts claim people were confused about what exactly Prop. 16 would mean; there wasn’t enough time to educate the citizenry. Maybe.
Maybe Long Beach voters in particular have reached the limits of their progressiveness. Voters are embracing equality while rejecting equity.
Equality means everyone has the same access. Equity means some people receive extra support because they’ve been historically and disproportionately discriminated against. The problem occurs when progressive people support equality and not equity.
Restoring the right to vote after completing a prison term (Prop. 17) and rejecting the reclassification of certain misdemeanors as felonies (Prop. 20) extend equal rights. Most voters did not change their behaviors or reflect on their privilege in order to support these opportunities.
Prop. 16 is different. It would demand that government decision-makers concede that their color-blind policies favor white men. It would necessitate the creation of pipeline programs to ensure the underrepresented are considered for government jobs. It would require colleges and universities to admit underestimated students without top GPAs or the support of private tutors, and give them a chance to succeed at our top higher education institutions.
When Long Beach streets filled with protesters and social media posts were flooded with black squares, many people said they were in solidarity with Black lives, but the test of that solidarity is actually doing the equity work. Justice and privilege cannot occupy the same space.
The real test for Long Beach will be what happens next. When will a culture of opportunity be institutionalized in Long Beach? How much responsibility will the Long Beach Office of Equity take for enforcing the Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative? Will the Citizen Police Complaint Commission be reformed? Will Mayor Robert Garcia and the newly elected City Council take affirmative action to address systemic racism, police brutality, and social injustice in our city?
Long Beach doesn’t need equality. We need equity, and it starts with knowing the difference.
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