Workers made their way from their offices at noon on the day after the national elections to the sunny courtyard of the Alameda Street building that houses, among several groups, The California Endowment and Community Partners. They were heeding a call from Dr. Bob Ross, president of TCE, to join in a brief unity rally. Ross shared his thoughts with an eye to acknowledging obvious disappointment and shock at the election outcome, but also offering a reflection that pointed ahead, to the future.
Ross noted that he’d thought when he came to California in the early 90s, the place was ripe with opportunity. He then watched with no little shock as the virulently anti-immigrant Proposition 187, the dark spawn of former Governor Pete Wilson, passed at the ballot box. “But look at us today,” Ross said. “We’ve made real progress in this state.” He mentioned a host of improvements in health care, social services, treatment of immigrants, and the general quality of life. “We’re maybe 20 years ahead of the rest of the country,” he said, and maybe we’re a model for what the country can become. After all, it’s been said again and again that “as goes California, so goes the nation.”
I appreciated Ross’s focus on the long-term, a welcome relief from what, at the moment, feels like a vast platter of disorientation served up cold to many in America and a vast electoral majority in California. A lot of what can only be regarded as profound humanitarian progress – 20 million more Americans with health care coverage than prior to the Obama Administration’s signature insurance push, for example – now seems destined for history’s garbage bin. Politics and sheer numbers may put the brakes on radical downsizing, but change has been promised and the new administration will move mountains to make good on such a red-meat campaign pledge.
In social sector situation rooms nationwide, and within supportive hubs for progress-seekers, like ours, the weeks and months ahead will be a time for strategizing, prioritizing. Where to strengthen bulwarks, erect barricades, draw red lines, protect successes, and plan new ways of advancing the cause of human caring and a society that works for all, not just for political, economic and civic elites. Because so much in the campaign was left deliberately vague by the winning candidate, there is no telling what policies will take shape, what whims will be indulged, what will be ignored outright. That makes stakes high in the guessing game that often accompanies the arrival of any new President, but this one more than most because a firm center of what truly matters for the country remains difficult to detect.
Dismiss the great power of the office to advance a sweeping agenda, we will not. Underestimate the next President’s intense need for adulation and acclaim, we cannot. Leave to chance that a concern for the common good rests in true and caring hands, we must not. Now, vigilance becomes our close and trusted friend.