Jewish Journal

A Community Awoken

by  David A. Lehrer

March 5, 2014 | 2:15 pm

Cupertino Town Hall Meeting, March 2, 2014

Community Advocates has been involved in the effort to defeat Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (“SCA 5”), the proposal to remove the ban on racial and ethnic preferences enacted by Proposition 209 in 1996. Our op/ed on the subject appeared in the Sacramento Bee in early February. It offered statistical evidence that the amendment is a solution in search of a problem---minority enrollment, with few exceptions, is doing well at the University of California and California State Universities---on almost all campuses, minority enrollment and diversity exceed what existed prior to ProposItion 209 and without the need for preferences. We suggested that the impact of generating a debate during the November elections (SCA 5 would be on the ballot for voter approval if passed by the Assembly) about the racial and ethnic allotments of university seats could be disastrous.

As tolerant as Californians have become, the brass knuckles argument about which groups are entitled to what percentage of admission seats, and whose record of victimhood entitles them to more or less, is fraught with potentially serious problems and the potential for demagoguery.

The Bee op/ed seems to have been a catalyst for a groundswell of opposition to SCA 5 throughout California. As three legislators observed, "prior to this vote (in the State Senate) we heard no opposition to this bill. However in the past few weeks, we have heard from thousands of people throughout California concerned about SCA 5." 

Last Sunday, Community Advocates was part of a huge town hall meeting in Cupertino, California of Asian American groups (including the Asia-Pacific Public Affairs Alliance (APAPA), Mayer Solidarity Association (UAAFA), the Overseas Chinese Mutual Aid Association and others). The Cupertino Town Hall was standing room only, with hundreds more outside demonstrating their unhappiness with the planned amendment.

The program itself was a balanced discussion of SCA 5, with Sen. Bob Huff and David Lehrer of Community Advocates opposed and UC Berkeley professor Lin-chi Wang and former California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Henry Der both in favor (to varying degrees).

After only a few minutes, it became clear that the audience was passionately opposed to even a hint of allowing preferences (the result of enacting SCA 5)---the bill was not going to win the day in Cupertino. What also became clear is that a community that has not been particularly politically active has been animated to action by proposed policies that will negatively impact their children’s chance for success in this country. 

The Cupertino meeting will be replicated this coming week in Sacramento and soon in Southern California. Other groups are activating their memberships and Chinese language media outlets are focusing heavily on this issue.

I was told repeatedly on Sunday that there is nothing that is more important to immigrant Asian communities than educational opportunities for their children (or, more appropriately, for immigrant Chinese, their single child). They clearly have a visceral reaction to any hint of governmental policies that will limit their children’s educational opportunities.

A message that kept getting repeated on Sunday, and in subsequent press articles, is that the Asian American community does not want to be blindsided again on a matter of such import. They are planning to take lobbying, Sacramento and election campaigns far more seriously than they have in the past; they have awoken.

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