Students Make a Difference in California Primaries

by Angela Arboleda, Senior Field Organizer

Photo Courtesy of Angela Arboleda
NOW President Patricia Ireland (top row, center) attended a rally in West Hollywood with L.A. NOW members.  Ireland and Senior Field Organizer Angela Arboleda (top row, far right) also worked with students to get out the vote in the March primaries.

On March 7 NOW and NOW/PAC continued making headway in the Victory 2000 Campaign, electing at least one new feminist woman to Congress and sending more to the general elections in November. Thanks to the work of both national and local activists, the California primary was important organizing ground for women's rights. Activists also pushed to defeat the anti-lesbian and gay initiative, Proposition 22.

Once again in the primary, NOW witnessed the strength and vitality of young activists. High school students from the San Fernando NOW and Los Angeles NOW chapters put in many hours on the elections. College students from the University of Southern California (USC) and UCLA played key roles in electing NOW/PAC's endorsed candidates as well as working tirelessly to defeat Prop. 22.

The USC campus, usually seen as conservative and apathetic, was so well organized that the school's Student Senate passed a resolution stating that the university was against the hate-filled Prop. 22; deans and faculty ran a full-page ad in the school paper; and at the suggestion of earlier NOW organizers, students had registered to vote where they go to school. Members of the Women's Student Assembly and the USC Student Senate organized a rally in the final weeks before the election that featured NOW President Patricia Ireland and mobilized over 200 students, faculty and staff to get out the vote against the proposition.

"I was so excited to see student groups working in coalition with the Board of Chaplains, administrators, faculty and staff to fight this denial of equal rights to lesbians and gays," asserted Ireland.

NOW sent two full-time organizers to California last October to prepare the turf for the primary. A month before the elections, Senior Field Organizer Angela Arboleda, working out of the Los Angeles NOW office, mobilized the base to get out the vote. Ireland and Action Vice President Elizabeth Toledo campaigned in California in the fall and spring, working with chapters, campuses and other allies.

The Sunday before the election NOW organized a rally at West Hollywood Park, where Ireland kicked-off the final days of election organizing and urged people to vote NO on Prop. 22. NOW/PACs' endorsed candidates Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl and Amanda Susskind (42nd Assembly) attended the rally and encouraged supporters to intensify their work as they closed in on Super Tuesday.

Three feminists in greater Los Angeles triumphed in their primaries: Hilda Solis, 31st Congressional district, Sheila Kuehl, 23rd state Senate district, and Jackie Goldberg, 45th Assembly district. Solis' victory in the primary assures her election in the heavily Democratic district.

The primaries weren't entirely successful for civil rights supporters. Prop. 22, also known as the Knight Initiative, passed with 60 percent of the vote, amending the California constitution with 14 words that validate and recognize marriage only between a man and a woman.

"Unfortunately, Prop. 22 passed, but it was not an effective wedge issue as Solis' opponent learned when he switched sides and tried to use it against her," Ireland observed. "His attempt to use the issue of the abortion procedures ban against Solis was equally unsuccessful."

Solis had an uphill battle as she challenged Matthew Martinez, a 12-year Democrat incumbent. But her leadership as a state Senator-reducing domestic violence, fighting for reproductive rights and promoting gun control-gave Solis enough leverage to win the election by a considerable margin, 69 percent to 31 percent.

"This November, we hope to see other great California candidates- Jane Harman and former Long Beach NOW president Gerrie Schipske, who also won their primaries-join Solis in Congress. We can count on these women to fight for our rights," said Toledo.

NOW/PAC's effort to elect more feminists to office continues with the Political Institute at the National NOW Conference in  Miami Beach, Fla., this summer (see registration form). The Political Institute is designed to provide NOW activists with the tools to return to their communities and elect feminist candidates to all levels of political office.

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