If you believe the storylines on shows like the The Real Housewives of Orange County, which just got renewed for thirteenth season, a typical conflict in the “OC” involves how to choose the right party favors for a candle company’s launch party or how best to parent an infant on an Iceland vacation.
Politically, too, pundits still refer to Orange County largely as a hotbed of wealth, frivolity, and die-hard conservatism.
But for the growing majority of the people who actually live here, these descriptions disregard both the community’s shifting demographics and our social diversity. As the county heads toward several key political moments in the spring and fall, communities of color need to mobilize to show the country who we truly are.
Traditionally, Orange County has skewed conservative: 2016 marks the first time since The Great Depression that the county voted Democratic in a presidential election.
To be sure, Orange County has been a breeding ground for extremist right-wing policies in California, like Prop 187, which cut off undocumented people’s access to services like healthcare and public education. And, of course, there’s the infamous Klu Klux Klan chapter in Anaheim.
But as the county becomes more racially and politically diverse, officials, and the larger narrative, have not caught up to accurately represent the communities living in the OC. In fact, the political establishment, including the OC Sheriff’s department, the OC Board of Supervisors, and Huntington Beach’s Finance Commissioner, have deliberately deployed hate-mongering and fear tactics to preserve the status quo.
On March 26th, The OC Sheriff’s department announced that they will publicly post inmate release dates— including those of undocumented inmates– in response to the state’s Sanctuary Law (SB 54), claiming that “[SB 54] increases the likelihood of dangerous offenders being released back into the community.” This coded language implies that immigrants are more dangerous to society than citizens, even though immigrants are less likely to commit crimes. On March 28th, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to join Jeff Sessions’ federal lawsuit against the state’s Sanctuary Law, even though hundreds gathered to protest this action. Furthermore, the city council of Huntington Beach appointed Gracey Van Der Mark as finance commissioner, despite the fact that she made anti-Black and anti-Semitic comments at an anti-racist workshop.
When I moved back to Anaheim in late 2017 after having lived in other cities for five years, I had reservations because, as a social justice advocate, I didn’t think I would have the structures to advocate for equitable policies that drive my work. But the county I came home to was a very activated community that inspired me to envision more.
Activists on the ground in Orange County know this, too. In spite of intimidation tactics, OC communities of color have mobilized to fight back against these measures. In 2011, activists formed Raíz (Resistencia Autonomía Igualdad y liderazgo) to fight deportation. In 2013, activists and youth leaders founded Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color to address the school-to prison-to deportation pipeline. In 2016, activists and community members held hunger strikes and street shutdowns to protest the detention of trans people in Santa Ana.
In 2004 Orange County officially shifted from being majority white to being majority people of color. Asians are the fastest growing ethnic group and form 20 percent of the population. According to 2016 census data, Latinos comprise 34 percent of the county.
Research has shown that minority populations tend to vote Democratic, and thus usually have more progressive stances. If our voices are heard through the ballot, our political power can increase in Orange County.
Orange County, which has long been held as a conservative safe haven in California, has begun to turn purple and has some pockets of blue in cities like Garden Grove, Westminster, Santa Ana and Irvine.
Orange County’s hegemonic politics do not match up with its diverse cultural and racial vibrancy. A recent study conducted by Chapman University found that issues like affordable housing, poverty, homelessness, and a legal path to citizenship for undocumented individuals are important to a majority of the county’s residents. Now is the time to engage, organize, and mobilize to shift political outcomes that better reflect our interests in OC.
It is therefore imperative that we, people of color, turn out to vote in the June and November 2018 midterm elections. If passed, Santa Ana’s rent control ballot initiative will be OC’s first rent stabilization policy, while Anaheim’s living wage ballot initiative would increase wages for resort area workers employed by businesses benefiting from Anaheim subsidies.
For those who can’t vote, we must encourage our family members, friends and colleagues to show up at the polls. We should also participate in community organizing through groups like OCCORD, OCCCO, CLUE, OCIYU, and OC Resilience who organize communities throughout the county.
We are at a tipping point in OC. We can either allow fear tactics to stop us, or we can move forward despite hatred. Now is the time to organize ourselves and hold our political institutions and leaders accountable by actively organizing and turning out to vote. They can’t continue to ignore us, not for much longer.
Karen Romero Estrada is a resident of Anaheim, a research and policy analyst for Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), and a current Public Voices Fellow with the Op Ed Project.
Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org