We have mixed feelings after this historic election. We're elated at the record voter turnout that broke down such a monumental racial barrier in electing Barack Obama for President. His bottom-up campaign strategy mobilized tens of thousands who dedicated hours, days, and even weeks and months to the campaign and organized their way to victory on November 4. President-elect Obama's campaign demonstrated that grassroots community organizing is a powerful tool for bringing about profound change.
Community organizing also helped defeat California's Proposition 4, an initiative that would have required doctors to notify parents prior to terminating the pregnancy of a woman under 18. Community organizers helped convince voters to reject Colorado's fetal personhood initiative, which would have amended the state constitution to define life as beginning at fertilization, effectively redefining abortion as homicide. Community organizing was central in protecting South Dakota from a ban that would have outlawed abortion and challenged Roe v. Wade.
And yet, community organizing by the Christian Right was also effective in taking away rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across the country. It's a true shame that on the very day a majority of Americans voted the first African-American into the country's highest office, in California and Florida voters also passed constitutional amendments that eliminated marriage for same-sex couples. In Arkansas voters took away the right of same-sex couples and most straight unmarried couples to adopt children or be foster parents.
In California, election results showed that Proposition 8 was affirmed by people in many regions including the Central Valley, the Inland Valley, and San Diego and Imperial counties. The Yes on 8 campaign was successful in organizing in these areas and included in their efforts was specific organizing in African American, Latino/a and Asian communities.
So, what can we learn from these wins and defeats? Community organizing is important and it works.
The irony of the high voter turnout among African American and Latino/a voters supporting Obama is that, according to exit polling, it is this same demographic that put Proposition 8 over the top.
This result drives home the point that if we are to win progressive victories, we must do more organizing in communities of color, particularly in a state where people of color are now a majority. It also points to the need for more organizing across issues. More organizing in conservative regions of the state and rural parts of the state; more organizing in immigrant communities; more organizing in churches, temples and mosques.
Too many people who are informed, politically engaged and consider themselves progressive on many issues voted for Proposition 8 because they believe same-sex marriage threatens their religious or moral beliefs. Supporters of Proposition 8 successfully exploited homophobia in religious communities and communities of color to turn unprecedented enthusiasm for the presidential race into a win for discrimination. Sadly, many voters did not see past their fears to understand how denying LGBT people rights is cut from the same cloth of discrimination that made Obama's election such a poignant event.
This election shows us a path forward. We saw at least two successful models for progressive organizing in communities of color around sensitive social issues.
In California and in Colorado, communities working to oppose the parental notification initiative and the fetal personhood initiative strategically organized in communities of color, in immigrant communities and in churches. They framed these issues within the context of specific experiences and concerns of their diverse communities, understanding the ways in which gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, age, immigration, religion, and economic status overlap. They built alliances across issues and movements. With labor unions and teachers. With medical professionals and ministers. They built political power with diverse leadership through values-based coalitions and with marginalized communities.
These coalitions have proved that organizing works, even on really tough issues. Building broad based multi-issue coalitions is long-lasting and effective. It is a strategy that ensures that policy campaigns are effective in terms of actually addressing problems in ways that result in meaningful change. We will need these coalitions moving forward. The Christian right is already organizing for the next round of ballot initiatives. A new organization, Personhood USA, plans to assist local groups in different states to put fetal personhood amendments on their ballot by using the petition process.
We have a lot of work to do in the coming months and years. We need to take immediate action to work towards long-term structural transformation so that all families in California and throughout the country are recognized. So that we can all access health-care, live in affordable housing, feel safe in our neighborhoods and find jobs that pay a living wage. It's our hope that having a former community organizer in the White House will move this agenda forward alongside millions of other organizers across the nation.
Judy Patrick is President and CEO of the Women's Foundation of California. Surina Khan is Vice President of Programs for the Women"s Foundation of California.