Why Prop 2 passed in Michigan
In the wake of Proposition 2, Michigan’s anti-affirmative action amendment to the state constitution, I’m happy to see that there are some places where folks have the ability to express their reactions, emotions and fears about the situation. I encourage groups and communities to continue offering more spaces for this to happen.
I give props to the individuals, organizations and donors who contributed sweat and tears to fighting Prop 2, especially because I deliberately chose not to get involved with the organizing efforts. I understand the sacrifices that have to happen for this type of campaign, and I commend your commitment to preserving affirmative action.
Thus, it’s encouraging to learn that some circles are already beginning to brainstorm new visions for the future, despite losing affirmative action at the state level. I hope legal experts are taking up the hard task of challenging the constitutionality of Prop 2’s consequences. I also hope that there have been spaces to openly evaluate and critique the anti-Prop 2 organizing efforts. Perhaps this is happening behind closed doors, perhaps people are still dealing, or even still perhaps these conversations are just taking place informally. Whatever the case, I haven’t really come across a full analysis or critique of the organizing strategy against Prop 2. We certainly need to understand how to strengthen the way we organize before moving on to the next issue, campaign, or initiative.
So, I humbly offer my armchair analysis of why we failed to stop Proposal 2. By no means do I claim to have full understanding of what took place, and I definitely do not claim to be an expert organizer. I only offer some reflections based on a set of previous experiences with affirmative action and organizing in Michigan.
- Messaging. To my understanding, the main coalition organizing against Prop 2 chose to target their messaging strategy to white female voters. There was a huge push to drive in the fact that white women are the #1 beneficiaries of affirmative action. (To be fair, there were some initiatives to target specific communities, like fact sheets explaining how various ethnic communities would be impacted, as well as some pretty good commercials found on YouTube with messaging for specific communities.) Perhaps in a different context, the strategy to focus on white female voters might have really worked. Unfortunately, Michigan is still in an economic recession where working class folks, namely blue-collar males, are losing their jobs, or are constantly facing the threat of being laid off. A strategy targeting their wives is a hard sell, no matter how much these women would like equal opportunity. I am not necessarily advocating that the main messaging efforts should be to target blue-collar workers because I understand that campaign resources are limited. However, there needs to be a recognition that this is the reality in which that folks are living. Business and corporate leaders took a stand for affirmative action because they recognize the value of diversity at the workplace (thank goodness), but how are we going to talk to workers, face-to-face, during these economic conditions? Perhaps more importantly, who is going to talk to them?
- One-on-one conversations. A fellow organizer once said, “You can delete an email, but you can’t delete a conversation.” (Thanks for the quote, JB.) Talking to folks one-on-one is hard and tiring. You might not even change their minds. But maybe not right away. In my experience, most people just have a lot questions about how affirmative action works because there’s a lot of misunderstanding about it. For example, I still come across folks who think quotas are allowed in college admissions. I believe that most people just want to be able to express their own stories, and the ability for them to have that opportunity goes back to who is doing the messaging. Who is talking to them? Who is going to help personalize the issue?
- A state-wide student network. Prop 2 failed to pass in three counties: Wayne, Washtenaw and Ingham. While Wayne County is unique from the other two, I think the main reason this outcome happened was because these counties had universities and colleges with students organizing on the ground (i.e. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Michigan State University). The same thing happened in California precincts during Proposal 209, which was the California version of Prop 2 also spearheaded by Ward Connerly. Students have the capacity to be any electoral campaign’s foot soldiers because they have the time, passion and creativity to talk to their peers and families. Students can do the one-on-one messaging. The ultra-conservatives already know this. Imagine a state-wide network of campuses, connecting Michigan State University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor/Dearborn/Flint, Eastern Michigan University, Western, Grand Valley State, Central Michigan University, Wayne State, University of Detroit-Mercy, Oakland University, etc etc etc etc. Michigan campuses had an opportunity to create a powerful student network to knock down Prop 2.
At best, I hope this post will open a dialogue for others to offer their own perspectives.There are probably more elements to evaluate. I imagine that funding plays a role in a campaign to fight a ballot initiative. Connerly et al. went to California, Washington and Michigan with their anti-affirmative action proposals, and I doubt these are the only places they’ll visit.