Within an hour of the polls closing last week, the Associated Press declared that the attempt to recall California Governor Newsom had failed badly, and headlines announced, “Newsom Survives Recall.” Those headlines missed the point. Newsom didn’t just survive: He and legislators got a mandate from voters to be bold and think big -- about racial justice, environmental justice and building a future of real economic opportunity for all.  

The governor agreed in his election night speech. California voters didn’t just say no to the recall: “We said yes to diversity; we said yes to inclusion; we said yes to pluralism; we said yes to all those things that we hold dear as Californians and, I would argue, as Americans: economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice … all of those things were on the ballot.”  

He was right. Our state has made significant progress toward a more just society and economy, and the California recall election was a desperate attempt to roll it all back. But Californians don’t want to go backwards, we want to move forward.

This is no time for half measures. It’s time to be bold.

While this recall was a waste of our tax dollars foisted on us by moneyed special interests, it proved something we already knew in our gut: Californians believe in science. Californians believe in equity. Californians believe climate change is an emergency. Californians understand that racial justice and economic justice are essential ingredients of progress. Californians understand that the right to vote is sacred. 

And, as confirmed by exit poll results, this election taught us that voters of color mean the difference between a victory speech and a concession. 

So now we have work to do. 

First, we must address our generation’s redlining head on. Redlining and racial inequality aren’t dusty relics from a bygone era. They’re here with us today, holding Black and Brown communities back and harming our whole state.

Just as The New Jim Crow sharpened our understanding of mass incarceration, we must see how redlining lives on as the ongoing systemic denial of services and resources based on racial identities have created an ever-widening racial wealth gap. As Gov. Newsom said, racial, social and economic justice are intertwined and we can only prosper together when we tear down the tired practices that deny access. 

At The Greenlining Institute, we’re driving towards a future where communities of color can build wealth, live in healthy places filled with economic opportunity, and are ready to meet the challenges posed by climate change. And we’re calling on California’s leaders to answer the mandate from voters to realize this vision.  

Today, Governor Newsom signed landmark climate justice and climate resilience funding, approved by the Legislature earlier this morning, marking a good start to address the ways climate disasters disproportionately devastate frontline communities. We challenge lawmakers to envision climate-resilient communities that are not only equipped to respond when crisis hits, but have the economic protections and social supports to thrive every day. 

To be sure, California is leading the way on many critical social justice issues, but without intentional, bold action to address the way redlining still impacts our communities, the state will continue to see disparities widen and equity slip further away. Lawmakers in Sacramento could take a huge step forward by passing SB 17, which would create a statewide Office of Racial Equity to identify and eliminate racism in state policy and address inequality in state programs. 

California faced a test Sept. 14. We didn’t just survive, we sent a message to our leaders: Think big. Be bold. The future awaits us if we’re brave enough to embrace it.


Debra Gore-Mann is Greenlining’s President and CEO. Follow her on LinkedIn.