I and my congregation are active in faith-based community organizing through Peninsula Interfaith Action, a member of the PICO network. I went to Sacramento this spring as part of a PICO CA meeting of faith leaders with Governor Jerry Brown. He really wants to pass Prop 30, without which automatic cuts kick in that will be even more crippling than our current state of affairs. After much study about which of the three original revenue-raising initiatives we should support, PICO had promised him that we’d do voter registration and get-out-the-vote among new and less-than-likely voters, bringing thousands of people into the process who are likely to vote for Prop 30. We had already helped with the negotiations that took one of the competing proposals off the ballot. Unfortunately, the sponsor of the third, Molly Munger, flatly refused to compromise or take her initiative off the ballot, which reduces the chances of either it or Prop 30 to something of a long shot.
So Governor Brown really, really needs our organizing. And it was a buoyant meeting. We asked some tough questions, and he answered them with grit and ended with a passionate call to action. He spoke our language, literally–we all know he went to seminary, just like us, and he spoke to us about being the state’s prophetic voices. I knew he was a skilled politician who knew how to tailor his message to the audience, but I also felt a warm sense of connection. I was fired up to help get out those votes.
So when I learned today that he’d vetoed another piece of legislation strongly supported by PICO, the TRUST Act, I felt betrayed. The thought of working for Prop 30 made me feel like a sucker. He let us down and he’s still going to count on us to hold up our end? He probably calculates that we’ll work our butts off for Prop 30 anyway because our communities need it. The hell with him. Let him get it passed without me.
Then I realized I was thinking in terms of friendship instead of alliance. My US history teacher in school loved to quote whomever-it-was and say, “Nations have no friends, only allies.” Organizing, also, for all it is about relationship-building, is also clear-eyed about self-interest. People and politicians are guided by their perceptions of their own interests, and when they unite, it’s because they think it will further those interests. PICO isn’t working for the governor’s ballot initiative because we’re pals with the governor; the relationship we have with him is an alliance. Aside from wanting the initiative to pass because it’s necessary, we have made a promise to the governor because if we make this promise, and we deliver on it, and it makes a difference, then we will have more influence the next time we try to get something through. (We’ll also have more voters on the rolls who are affected by draconian immigration policies.) The trust we are building is not the trust between friends, but the trust between allies: you help me reach my goals and I’ll help you reach yours. To make the alliance stick, we need to show that we’re powerful enough to be of real help.
So I’m going to pull myself out of my snit and work harder to pass Prop 30. I’m just not going to feel as warm and fuzzy about it. That’s probably just as well, as the warm fuzzies were always an illusion. And if we register lots of voters who not only help pass Prop 30, but are exactly the people who wanted the TRUST Act to pass, then next time, maybe we’ll have the clout to say, ” . . . and if you don’t back this other piece of legislation that we want, the deal is off.”