Jonathan Parfrey wears several hats: executive director of Climate Resolve, president of the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters and a commissioner at the L.A. Department of Water and Power. Election Day morning found him up early gathering climate-change documents in advance of a public DWP hearing. He remained unfazed by volatile election scenarios painted by pundits.
“I relied heavily on Nate Silver as my online therapist,” Parfrey said. “He kept fixing my head so I could function.” (Silver’s dry polling metrics, carried in his New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight, consistently predicted the presidential race to be a walk-off for Obama.)
Parfrey would vote that day at the L.A. Job Corps Center on Broadway.
“The volunteers were under 87 years old!” he marveled. “It’s refreshing to see younger people participating in the electoral system.”
While unhappy over the failure of Measure J, which would have extended a city sales tax for transit projects, to win the required two-thirds majority to pass, Parfrey was clearly in high spirits over the election results.
“It’s a great affirmation of a mature progressive coalition and keeps us on the path to a clean, renewable environment,” he said. “Romney would have killed the EPA’s rules governing mercury, not to mention control of fugitive methane gases and frakking.”
But Parfrey was most excited by the proactive policies he believes we can expect over the next four years.
“Here’s what’s going to continue to happen under Obama: The EPA will continue to control greenhouse gases. Obamacare health-care reform will move forward – which will be a tremendous plus for the economy. The wind-power tax credit has a good chance of continuing. The Department of Interior has a strong program to streamline large renewable power projects on Southwestern lands. And there will be a better chance now of stopping the Keystone Pipeline.”
Did Parfrey see a cherry on top of all this good news?
“With California having a super-majority,” he laughed, “the GOP is truly a rump party.”
The Reverend Jim Conn has seen more than a few elections in his long career as an activist — enough to know that the work of real social change requires more than victory at the ballot box.
“I am kind of a realist,” said Conn, founding minister of the Church in Ocean Park, a former mayor and city councilmember of Santa Monica and a founder of that city’s renter’s rights campaign. “I used to get thrilled. I don’t get thrilled anymore but I felt really good that the majority of the country wanted to move forward.”
Conn is particularly satisfied with the passage of Proposition 30 and the defeat of Proposition 32, as well as the successful effort to reform California’s onerous Three Strikes law. On the other side of the ledger, he thought more people would vote to end the death penalty.
One result that did not surprise him was the defeat of Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of genetically modified food. “I would have been shocked if it had won,” said Conn. “There are vast stretches of the state that don’t eat very well, and what they are eating isn’t as important as being able to eat. There are also vast stretches where if you don’t have beef on the table every night you have failed as a person. The vote showed it’s a coming issue but it will take some time to carry.”
While some observers will interpret the election results as a mandate for action on economic inequality, Conn is not so optimistic. “I think the country is very divided,” he said. “I think the election for many of us hinged on that question and I think the division is indicative that there are lots of people who think about things other than economics, and the rich and the poor, and the reasons why middle-class jobs are disappearing. Everyone is wringing their hands about the middle class but no one was saying we have people who aren’t paying their fair share. And the ‘poverty’ word was hardly mentioned in this election.”
What this means, said Conn, is that progressive economic legislation will continue to have a tough time in Washington. President Obama may succeed in getting the rich to pay more taxes, but Conn doesn’t expect any sea change in the fundamental balance of power between employers and workers. “I don’t see any way around the kind of hit-your-head- against-the-wall dynamic we have been seeing,” he said. “It’s a really difficult time for workers in this country.”
On a more positive note, Conn is heartened by the broad, diverse electorate that was key to Obama’s victory. “The national coalition that the Democratic Party represents is the future. You can’t elect people to national office on the basis of racism and animosity. Those appeals are not going to win in the long run, and that’s what was critical about this election. The clock could have rolled back and instead it rolled forward.”
Jeane Barrett works as a firefighter and belongs to both Los Angeles County Firefighters Local 1014 and the county lifeguards’ union.
“I come from a family of staunch Republicans,” she said. “My dad’s here with me now and there’s a Romney-Ryan sticker on his car outside. So I’m very torn because I’m a union member who grew up in a self-made, business-oriented family.”
Nevertheless, Barrett spent Monday walking precincts in Carson trying to get registered Democrats to vote the next day.
“I’m not really at ease canvassing,” she said, “because I don’t enjoy people coming to my door. It’s strange when I think of it, because that’s what we do for a living – we walk into people’s homes to help them and that’s also what we’re doing walking precincts.
Barrett sounded pleased, if not overwhelmed, by Tuesday’s outcome.
“It’s going to keep it ‘business as usual,’” she said. “If Prop. 32 had passed there would have had to be more membership involvement [to make political change.] I appreciate my union and what they do, I’m happy to pay them to do that work for me. Unions are different than they were 20 years ago. Issues were more simple then – today there are so many multifaceted propositions.”
‘Amelia Niumeitolu was in tears Tuesday night. The veteran Long Beach community organizer, who runs a multimedia production company, ‘Aikona, with her husband, was at the victory party for Measure N – one of three minimum-wage ballot measures around the country, all of which passed. “It was an evening of celebration and gratitude,” said Niumeitolu. “I am so happy for our community and all the hard work. This is another stepping stone for a living wage for even more folks. It represents so many possibilities for the American Dream.”
Measure N’s huge margin of victory – it drew 63 percent support – was a testament to small ‘d’ democracy, she said, and to the changes afoot in Long Beach, where grassroots organizing has not always had an easy time: “Long Beach is a very special community and we all have faith that people have power, and we are taking it back.”
Niumeitolu sees the victory for the living wage in Long Beach as part of a larger narrative. “It was a wake-up call, because I witnessed that the same hard work that happened here was reflected in the election of the first openly gay Senator in Wisconsin, the election of the first Hindu American member of Congress in Hawaii, in the passage of Prop. 30 and in having President Obama reelected. All of us had to go through hell, it was a very hard journey, but it was so worth it, and all of us would do it all over again because we had each other.”
So what’s next? More of the same. “Our power,” she said, “is not in the propositions only, or the president or elected officials, but in all the actions that brought us to this point. We were working before the last four years and during the four years. Today we are back at work.”
Mark Gold, the former longtime executive director of Heal the Bay, prefers doing his voting in person and showed up at his Santa Monica polling station early Tuesday morning, finding it crowded but “surprisingly calm.” He had a 40-minute wait.
“We always used to drag the kids with us, to show them what voting was all about,” he said, though today his children are too big to do that sort of thing. Another change for Gold is a new ability to keep away from TVs blaring election returns and predictions. On Tuesday he remained with his students at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. They were working on a research project until 8 p.m. “Then I was glued to my iPad,” he said, admitting that these days he eschews election night parties in favor of a more private viewing of the returns.
“I’m happy with the State of California’s results,” he said. “Prop. 30 passed, meaning there won’t be severe cuts in our education system – everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. It wouldn’t have only been the K-12 and U.C. systems that would have been affected. There would have been cuts at the state Environmental Protection Services, the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Water Resources.”
Like most enviros, Gold heard Barack Obama’s reference to the danger of a “warming planet” during the President’s victory speech.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Gold said of the President’s win. “With the Obama administration there’s hope that the environment will be on the agenda.”
This year voters had about as much chance of hearing about climate change in the presidential debates as earlier Americans had of hearing FDR talk about polio. Why weren’t the words “warming planet” uttered by either candidate during the long race for the White House?
“I hate to sound cynical,” he said, “but it probably didn’t poll well in the swing states. Look, Obama’s been treading water in the last few years as far as the environment is concerned. He now has the opportunity to do something, but there’s no guarantee he will.”