CA-32: Help Send A Community Organizer To Washington
by Todd Beeton, Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 11:30:26 AM EDT
I think the thing that made me proudest about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's endorsement of me on Wednesday was when he spoke of my record as a "coalition builder" and a "community organizer." Community organizing is precisely how I started out back in college when I got active in campus and community activities and joined the movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. It is precisely that spirit of organizing people to work together to a common goal, to build coalitions of people who may have conflicting interests, that I want to take to Washington, DC.
My activism continued beyond college when in 1985, a powerful bloc in Monterey Park were pushing for English-only signs in the city and English-only books in the library. They even got a resolution passed in the city council saying that only English should be spoken in the city. That was the last straw. So, I joined a multi-ethnic coalition -- made up of Asian-Americans, Latinos and whites -- to defeat the resolution and we were successful. It was out of that movement that I ran for city council.
A couple years later I first met Hilda Solis as we were both fighting to redraw the political boundaries so that the San Gabriel Valley was not divided. I was in an Asian-American coalition, she was in a Latino coalition and we sat down and talked and realized we had much in common that we should fight for together. So we went as a unit up to Sacramento to testify and as a result, we were the only community group that got what we wanted. It just shows the power of what coalitions can do.
That spirit of coalition building continued during my time in the state assembly when there were several bills where I really had to build consensus in order to get passed. One such bill that I carried was AB805, the Heat Illness Prevention Act, which imposes minimum workplace standards on employers to prevent heat-induced illness for workers who work outside in the summer. To make my point about the importance of such legislation, the coalition supporting the bill, chich included the United Farmworkers and the AFL-CIO, and I held a meeting with the governors office in the central valley in 100+ degree weather for over 2 hours. We made our point and that bill was passed and signed into law later that year.
Even now, as I run to replace my friend, my mentor and the greatest community organizer I know, Hilda Solis, in Congress, I am using my community organizing skills to build support for my candidacy. We knew from the outset that winning the California Democratic Party endorsement was a crucial step toward winning this seat and we also knew a sitting state senator would prove difficult to beat in an endorsement race, so what did we do? Organize organize organize. We got our folks out in force the day of the endorsement meeting, providing a lunch for delegates prior to the meeting where over 400 people showed up. The lunch turned into a grassroots rally and we had stand-by proxy voters waiting up to 3 hours just to see if I would need them to vote for me or not. It was a truly "people powered" campaign. In the end, Senator Cedillo saw he'd been out maneuvered and so pulled his voters at the last minute, preferring to get zero votes.