In news that will surprise only people who live in deepest darkest Montana, a new report released last night claims the times are a-changing in Orange County. More than 100 people from labor, faith and other groups came together at Buena Park's UFCW Local 324 union hall to discuss this momentous proclamation, titled Orange County on the Cusp of Change and issued as a joint effort by the newly launched UCI Community & Labor Project and the UCLA Labor Center.
Researchers assure that OC just ain't what it used to be. "It's no longer where all the good Republicans go to die, as Reagan said," UCI Community & Labor Project's Hugo Romero chimed at the start of the event. Five cities claim a majority of voters registered as Democrats with another five on the brink of turning blue and Latinos are leading the charge towards a new ethnic majority. Didn't we read the former point in the New York Times back in 2010, and the latter at the beginning of last decade in--of all places--the Orange County Register? Why, yes we did!
Snarkiness aside, the presentation did find some interesting results and took them out of the circle of policy wonks by having attendees break off after the introduction into small groups to learn about and grapple with its contents.
Miguel Hernandez, the new Executive Director of the Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO), led one such session. North OC faces more pollution than its south and coastal brethren--environmental racism, in other words. In a post-industrial OC, a chart showed the trajectory of the economy away from manufacturing to a place where tourism industry jobs play a bigger role and pay on average only $11/hr.
Low wages factors into housing conditions. The Anaheim-Irvine-Santa Ana metropolitan area is noted as the second least affordable home buyer market in the nation. OC placed in the top 5 for large urban centers with the fastest growing income gap between rich and poor.
Those are some of the challenges the report put forth. But what of solutions? Civic engagement, community organizing, political reform, and research are the four focal points. Much kudos are given to Anaheim's ballot initiative to switch from an at-large voting system to single-member districts in order to gain representatives responsive to labor. "It's all connected," Hernandez said. "Are demographics destiny?" he asked.
A panel discussion closed out the night moderated by Voice of OC editor Norberto Santana, the favored moderator for the OC Left nowadays. "I don't see how a community that is more policed is going to be better off," pondered Luis Ramirez, an UndocuQueer Mexican immigrant involved in numerous organizations.
"Mobilizing a population to pressure government is needed," said UCI sociology professor Judith Stepan-Norris. "The politics of Anaheim are very mean-spirited," said Cal State Long Beach Chicano Studies department chair, Los Amigos president, and Scariest People 2012 inductee Jose Moreno. Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva grabbed the mic during the questions period and directed her comment to him on a possible Anaheim council run this year.
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"My challenge to you Dr. Moreno is we'd like to see you step up." Departing from his normal course of cacademic gobbledygook of "entities" and "apparatuses," Moreno offered up a response. "It's the right thing to do. Yeah, that's all I have to say."
Download Orange County on the Cusp of Change HERE.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2