By Lucia Lin
At the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA), we know that engaging monolingual immigrant Chinese voters is key to ensuring that San Francisco remains a diverse city for its working class residents and workers. While we have been on the forefront of passing progressive labor standards from raising the minimum wage to $15.00/hr to passing the nation’s first fair scheduling law in 2014, working people continue to be pushed out of one of the most economically stratified cities in the country. This election cycle we face a key question: Is San Francisco a city where only the rich can live and play, while workers commute over 30 miles to clean their playgrounds and cook in their restaurants?
With a goal of reaching over 10,000 voters, we have integrated local and state strategies to build political power for working people that is part and parcel of our other worker leadership development, organizing, and alliance building work as well. Throughout the year, CPA engages in organizing around civic engagement that is deeply integrated into our election season programs.
Since the early 2000s, we have run a “Political Empowerment Campaign” program, an extension of our civic engagement work that runs a Chinese language phonebank program, typically for five to seven weeks before the election. All of our members, many of whom are restaurant or janitorial workers from across San Francisco, have opportunities to participate in the months leading to an election. This year, we are making calls in support of California Prop 55 (Children’s Education & Healthcare Protection Act), Prop 56 (Cigarette Tax to fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention), Prop 57 (Public Safety & Rehabilitation Act), and San Francisco Prop W (Ultra Luxury Property Tax). We have about 20 phone-bankers who are fluent in Cantonese and are at our office every night from 5:00 – 9:00pm speaking to voters, with a goal of 7,000 contacts. Our phone-bankers include a number of leaders from our previous Yank Sing organizing campaign and other workers, and has given many of them opportunities to know each other and build relationships. In addition to the phone-banking experience, an important aspect of our program is political education through weekly workshops with our phone-bankers so that they have deep understandings and buy-in with the issues that they are calling about to voters across San Francisco.
Naturally, these conversations with voters also sometimes lead into discussions about other worker issues. One of our leaders recently, Un Un, in fact was on the phone with an engaged voter and she ended up inviting that person to our monthly Worker Tea activity the next week. Another leader, Pei Fang, shared our main line phone number because the voter was a worker with potential wage theft issues and wanted to make an appointment with CPA. Finally, all our worker leaders have felt deeply the issue of access to affordable housing in San Francisco, and have been on the front lines in Chinese press speaking against anti-housing measures. by saying “No on P & U!”
In fact, in our bi-weekly Worker Tea and Dinner program we have had multiple discussions about state, local, and national electoral issues. Earlier this year, we graduated 23 grassroots leaders in our 2016 Leadership Institute and spoke about the issues of the affordable housing crisis and educational equity issues that are so present in our election choices today. Over the summer, these same leaders had conducted a People’s Voice survey of over 600 Chinese immigrant workers, tenants, and youth to better understand housing and employment conditions as we prepared for elections conversations. One person who was surveyed shared, “Being a Chinese immigrant worker in the US is like being mute, deaf, and blind because we do not know English and the law. We need the city to step up in providing more truly affordable housing and quality jobs for us to raise our families.”
CPA is also partnering with the CPA Action Fund to educate community members about local and state ballot issues. We have voter registration forms available for workers who come to us for our wage clinic services, as well as copies of our November 2016 Endorsement cards in Chinese for community members and workers.
There’s a lot at stake this year, in both San Francisco and across the country, for working people. From the affordable housing crisis in San Francisco to pushing for national conversations that treat immigrant working people with dignity and respect, CPA and our allies have been deeply committed to growing out the power of the AAPI electorate. We also could not do this alone. We are proud members of the AAPIs for Civic Empowerment, Bay Rising, San Francisco Rising, and Mobilize the Immigrant Vote along with a number of labor community alliances that support working class voter power.
Lucia Lin is the Senior Movement Building and Alliance Coordinator at CPA, a LIFT Grantee. Founded in 1972, the Chinese Progressive Association educates, organizes and empowers the low income and working class immigrant Chinese community in San Francisco to build collective power with other oppressed communities to demand better living and working conditions and justice for all people.
This blog is part of the LIFT Fund’s #workersvote series which highlights the impact that workers will have on elections across the country this Nov. 8th. Click here to see past blogs by Derrick Johnson of One Voice MS and Christine Neuman-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera. Follow us on Twitter and FB for future blogs, to see how and why LIFT grantees are educating and mobilizing their worker members around this year’s electoral cycle!