Ying Ma: California vs. ‘wokeness’ – here’s how believers in equality fought back and won

The early days of the Biden administration have offered “racial justice” and “racial equity” as the new buzzwords for all the govt department. 

These are the marching orders governing every part from immigration coverage to Cabinet nominations to affirmative motion in larger training. Worshipping on the altar of wokeness and identification politics will likely be required for the following 4 years.  

But those that imagine in equality for all relatively than particular remedy for some ought to not despair: Just final November, a wildly profitable marketing campaign in California beat back the “equity” onslaught in a most unlikely landslide victory.  


The effort defeated Proposition 16, a measure that sought to overturn a poll initiative handed in 1996 – and adopted as a part of the California state Constitution – that prohibits racial preferences in public training, contracting and employment. In a state the place Biden defeated Trump by almost 2 to 1, the No on 16 marketing campaign, for which I served as communications director, won by a 14-point margin.   

Winning the general public debate was key to our success, and the substances that made it potential could also be informative for others preventing wokeness and identification politics in the Biden period: 

Moral credibility  

The racial fairness agenda shamelessly consists of racial intimidation, and the backers of Prop 16 weren’t shy in partaking. Riding the momentum of final 12 months’s Black Lives Matter protests, they known as for the repeal of equal alternative in California. Anyone who dared to say in any other case was branded a racist – simply as anybody criticizing the Biden-Harris “equity agenda” now dangers the identical.  


No on 16 president Ward Connerly dared to say in any other case. A Black man with a proud multiracial heritage, he reminded Californians that the notion that “all men are created equal” is a basic American precept enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, reaffirmed in the Gettysburg Address, and celebrated in Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  

Ward Connerly was a University of California regent from 1993-2005. (ACRI)

As Prop 16 proponents known as for racial bean counting and proportional illustration to handle alleged systemic racism, Connerly, born in segregated Louisiana, proclaimed that whereas particular person racism will all the time exist, the system is now not racist.  

Connerly, the chairman of Proposition 209, the voter referendum that ended racial preferences in California almost 25 years in the past, has a protracted observe file of preventing for equality in the state and throughout the nation. That didn’t cease our opponents from smearing him as a racist and our marketing campaign as consisting of White supremacists. Their sleaze failed to stay. 

Appealing to all voters 

Not solely did the No on 16 marketing campaign have a extreme funding drawback of 16 to 1, the effort to reinstate racial preferences loved the backing of all the political, media and enterprise institution in the Golden State, in addition to that of skilled sports activities groups and nationwide figures like then-Sen. Kamala Harris.  

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Regardless, our marketing campaign was propelled to victory by voters of all colours, creeds and occasion affiliations.  

Rosa Paniagua, a private coach in Los Angeles, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and a Biden supporter, discovered Prop 16’s message patronizing and defined her opposition to the Los Angeles Times: “It’s in our culture to work hard and earn our living.”  

Prop 16 proponents tried to fan racial grievances throughout the state, particularly amongst those that regarded like Rosa. Our marketing campaign’s message was that equality is for everyone.  

Wokeness in America might now command fealty from the mainstream media, Big Tech, Hollywood, far-left politicians, Wall Street, academia and different highly effective gamers in society – however they don’t symbolize smart, bizarre Americans of all stripes. 

Fighting actual racism 

The fairness agenda requires racial justice, however inevitably inflicts injustice on teams it doesn’t favor. This was no completely different for Prop 16.   

Our marketing campaign emphasised that on the coronary heart of racial preferences is actual racism – in opposition to Asian Americans. They have been persistently and disproportionally harmed by racial schemes – from  Harvard to Yale to California public universities earlier than the implementation of race neutrality – touting “diversity” targets like Prop 16. Had the measure handed, Asian Americans would have been essentially the most instant victims.  

Our opponents helped us make our case. They recurrently griped that Asian Americans had been “overrepresented” on the state’s high public universities and brazenly known as for a discount of their numbers, even as much as 50%.  

The battle over oppression credentials isn’t what Americans of any occasion ought to need, in California or nationwide. 

The probability that such racism might change into coverage galvanized Asian American voters, particularly first-generation immigrants. Though many had been political neophytes (a lot of our senior staffers had no prior marketing campaign expertise and had a steep studying curve), they introduced dedication and enthusiasm.  

An military of volunteers turned out for automotive rallies, yard signal distribution, and duties large and small in the center of a pandemic. Over 90% of our marketing campaign funds got here from bizarre Asian Americans making small-dollar donations.  

In the top, the injustice and collateral injury meant for one racial group in pursuit of the fairness agenda was unacceptable to an awesome majority of all Californians.  

Liberal ideas 

The Democratic supermajority in the state legislature put Prop 16 on the November poll, and not one Democratic politician who held statewide or nationwide workplace publicly opposed the measure. Yet, a few of our marketing campaign’s handiest spokespeople had been lifelong liberal Democrats. 

Among them, Professor Rick Sander of the University of California Los Angeles School of Law wrote, “Liberals spent much of the 20th century trying to outlaw and purge racial discrimination – why would we be so eager to reinstitute it, somehow believing that this time its use will be more ‘benign’?” 

Charles Geshekter, retired professor of recent African historical past and one other lifelong Democrat, not solely condemned Prop 16 however all the mindset underlying identification politics. He wrote: “Proposition 16 promotes a return to a racial and ethnic spoils system that teaches students to label themselves and others as the oppressed or the oppressors. In this realm, no competition is fiercer than the struggle over oppression credentials.” 

Indeed, the battle over oppression credentials isn’t what Americans of any occasion ought to need, in California or nationwide. 


Campaigns win for a lot of causes. Yet, the substances for waging an efficient public debate in opposition to identification politics and wokeness could also be fairly easy: Bring the ethical authority and spine; make the argument to everybody, together with supporters of the opposite aspect; remind voters of the extent of the meant injustice; and don’t be shy – worry and cowering won’t do.  

After all, equality and commonsense American ideas deserve a very good battle.  


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