Seizing the Moment

Timothy P. Silard, President

In 2014, the tireless and visionary work of California and national advocates culminated in two big wins—the passage of Proposition 47 and President Obama’s executive action on immigration—that tear down long-standing systemic barriers to opportunity and human rights. The Rosenberg Foundation honors the bold leaders and inspiring organizations whose advocacy made these hard-fought and historic reforms possible.

President Obama’s executive action on immigration is an important step forward for our country and could give relief to nearly five million undocumented people and their families in the U.S., including more than one million people here in California. For many undocumented immigrants, the President’s announcement means significant relief from the ever-constant fear of deportation and separation from their families that has kept them trapped in the shadows, contributing to the exploitation of workers and denying young people their dreams.

Similarly, Proposition 47 is a major step forward for Californians with felony records for low-level crimes, records that have saddled them with discrimination and stigma for life, and denied them basic rights and access to housing, education, work, even food stamps. With Proposition 47, California has become the first state in the nation to downgrade drug possession and nonviolent property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.  Californians overwhelming voted to roll back war on drugs sentencing, releasing thousands of people convicted of nonviolent crimes from prisons and jails and allowing them to get the treatment and services they desperately need.

In addition, Proposition 47 is retroactive throughout time, which means that well over one million people with prior nonviolent felony records can get a second chance by wiping those old felony convictions off their records. The need and opportunity for change is especially acute in communities of color because of the staggering historical and continuing racial disparities in drug enforcement. Proposition 47 is one way in which our state is saying loud and clear, “Black lives matter”.

Proposition 47 and the President’s expanded executive action can address the root causes, the felony record and the undocumented status, that marginalize far too many in California and around the U.S.  Both of these two new steps also present us with an unprecedented window to achieve an even broader vision that guides and drives those of us who labor for justice—full inclusion and equal opportunity for all Californians. As we work to reach and assist those eligible for legal relief under the two new initiatives, we also can help connect them to life-changing resources and supports, such as Medi-Cal, job training, student loans, housing and much more.

These two exciting legal changes present an enormous opportunity for transformative change and an urgent challenge, in particular for government and philanthropy.  We will need the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for California in order to reach and assist the millions of people in our state eligible under Prop. 47 or President Obama’s expanded relief for undocumented families.  The challenge also calls for business, labor, faith, community-based organizations and service providers to bring their resources to this monumental task. The devastating and enormously disproportionate impacts on communities of color and low-income communities wrought by the war on drugs and our country’s broken immigration policies make such investments both economically essential and morally imperative.

Let's celebrate the victories of 2014 by seizing the moment. Working together in 2015 and beyond, we can pave a path to educational, health, economic, and civic success for millions of Californians.  That means a safer, stronger, more prosperous, and more just California for all of us.