Running the race: DioCal helps pass Prop 47

At the 2014 Convention, the Diocese of California overwhelming approved a resolution endorsing Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. On Election Day, the proposition passed with 58.5% of the vote statewide and a stunning 79% of the vote in San Francisco County. The voices and votes of Episcopalians were joined with those of Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Protestant sisters and brothers from every part of California.

This is an historic achievement that will replace mass incarceration with restorative justice by reducing felony sentences for non-serious and nonviolent crimes — such as drug possession — to misdemeanors. In doing so, California will permanently reduce incarceration. In the first year of effect, more than $100 million of state spending will shift from prisons to K-12 school programs for at-risk youth, victim services, as well as mental health and drug treatment services.

During the Prop 47 campaign, students spoke about the importance of shifting resources from incarceration to education if they were going to have a chance at a college education or a living wage job. Prop 47 represented a second chance at life for formerly incarcerated individuals and / or their family members, by being able to shed the burden and stigma of a felony conviction. Immigrants, still waiting for immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, spoke repeatedly of the impact Prop 47 would have on reducing deportations by shifting certain felonies to misdemeanors. Prop 47 will go a long way toward addressing the root causes of crime and reducing recidivism among offenders.

DioCal members worked to pass Prop 47 in collaboration with PICO California — a faith based community organizing group — and its network of 19 local community organizations in California. Some DioCal congregations hosted briefings on the proposition, and members participated in phone banking and canvassing events to get out the vote. PICO California groups alone contacted more than 159,000 new and infrequent voters, particularly voters of color (85%) and young people (34%). They identified and worked to turn out 104,000 #YesOn47 voters via statewide phone banking and local canvassing efforts. In all, PICO groups contributed more than 8,000 volunteer shifts and invested approximately 18,000 hours of time in this unprecedented grassroots campaign. In addition, Bishop Andrus, DioCal clergy, and lay leaders met with politicians and other civic leaders to secure support for Proposition 47 and, in some cases, to minimize opposition.

The success of the Proposition 47 campaign provides a solid foundation and an organizing model for the Diocesan Urban Peace Collaborative. So much more can be achieved when people work in collaboration with others and cultivate grassroots power. Bishop Marc often speaks about the baptismal promises giving “legs” to the Creed we profess. Community organizing not only gets the Christian faith up on its feet, but also enable running “the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

*The Rev. John Kirkley is the rector of St. James, San Francisco.

[Photos: Prop 47 briefings at the San Francisco Muslim Community Center (top) and St. James, San Francisco (bottom). Photos courtesy of San Francisco Organizing Project/Peninsula Interfaith Action.]