11 December 2008

Ms. Foundation Grantees Achieved Important Electoral Victories

Grassroots organizing was not only key to electing our country's first African American president last month, but an essential ingredient in local and state efforts as well. With the election not far behind us, we wanted to take a moment to congratulate our grantees who employed innovative cross-issue, cross-constituency and community-based approaches to campaigns for progressive, and against regressive, ballot measures initiatives across the U.S.

Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) led a bilingual, social justice and coalition-driven campaign to oppose Colorado Amendments 46, an anti-affirmative action measure, and 48, which would have assigned "personhood" status to a fetus and severely undermined women's reproductive rights.

Amendment 46, the so-called "Civil Rights Initiative," was defeated by a mere 28,000 votes; while the margin of victory isn't huge, it marks the first time voters have rejected such a ban (similar ones have passed in recent years in California, Michigan and Washington and one passed this year in Nebraska) and points to the success of door-to-door grassroots organizing efforts undertaken by groups like COLOR. We hope this sends a signal to the sponsors of affirmative-action bans that they're ability to dupe voters into thinking they're voting for instead of against civil rights is on the wane.

Amendment 48, on the other hand, was rejected handily by Colorado voters by a 3:1 ratio. COLOR's strategic approach deserves much of the credit: COLOR conducted grassroots outreach to Latina/o voters and the only Spanish-language media campaign addressing the initiative; they made strategic connections between 46 and 48; and they built partnerships with key labor and racial justice groups across the state. Their campaign expanded the base of opposition to Amendment 48 and brought organizers and constituencies into the fold who weren't used to thinking about reproductive justice as "their" issue.

COLOR's partnership with another Ms. grantee, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), was also critical. COLOR and NAPW, a national voice for pregnant women's rights, joined to produce and distribute English- and Spanish-language materials for outreach and education, including op-eds that were widely published throughout the state, and to deliver messages that framed the issue as one of birthing rights and familial health. NAPW also partnered with local groups to-successfully-oppose an anti-abortion ballot measure in South Dakota. See their New York Times letter to the editor and YouTube video about how these initiatives, including California's Prop 4 (see below), would have threatened the rights and health of all pregnant women, including those going to term.

In California a number of our grantees, including ACCESS/Women's Health Rights, ACT for Women and Girls, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ), California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the Dolores Huerta Foundation and Young Workers United (YWU) worked to successfully defeat Prop 4, the third "parental notification" ballot initiative to hit the state in four years. These groups built on the relationships and strategies that they had developed during past campaigns, including targeted outreach with distinct messages that would resonate in communities of color, immigrant communities and among youth. And many worked in partnership with statewide coalitions to ensure the voices of people of color were present and to insist upon building and mobilizing a broader base against this and future regressive measures.

Simultaneously, understanding the connections between issues and the combined threats ballot initiatives posed to their constituents, groups like ACRJ and YWU led cross-issue, grassroots efforts to oppose California propositions that aimed to increase the criminalization of youth, low-income people and people of color-Prop 6, which was rejected, and Prop 9, which passed-and to fight against the well-known Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

Finally, in Milwaukee, WI, Multi-State Working Families Consortium had a big win: they succeeded in placing a paid sick days initiative on the ballot, and won. [Read coverage of the win in the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel] The Consortium, a network of coalitions from 11 states, has had a good year: they won the passage of paid family leave in New Jersey and paid sick days in Washington, DC and have seen bills move through key committees and legislative bodies in other states. They've also put together a Valuing Families at Work agenda [PDF] for candidates and elected officials, an indispensible resource for President-elect Barack Obama and his economic advisors as they design and implement an economic recovery plan, which must place the security of women, families and communities at the center.

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