Feb. 28, 2020
By Sara Grossman
We know it better than anyone: Californians of all backgrounds and communities are doing extraordinary things with even the barest of resources. But can you imagine what our neighborhoods could look like with all the resources we need to thrive?
This was the question we posed in a new video to engage Californians in envisioning a fairer, more inclusive state where everyone can live happy and healthy lives. Entitled “Can You See It?,” the video features a young Latina woman biking through beloved California neighborhoods imagining what could be if there were money to fund community resources like public libraries, improved school buildings, safe roads, and more. While California is one of the richest states, with an economy larger that of the UK, it also suffers from massive income inequality, underfunded schools, and crumbling infrastructure.
We know, of course, that there is in fact money for these resources—it’s just being hoarded by our state’s largest corporations, many of which are taking advantage of unfairly low property taxes to under-contribute to public coffers. The result: local governments left scrambling to fund basic community services.
“Can You See It?,” produced in partnership with community action network California Calls and worker-owned creative agency Time of Day Media, is part of our larger strategic narrative effort to restore the public’s confidence in our government's ability to address growing inequality and decaying infrastructure by working to make the public sector more responsive to community needs, rather than corporate profits. One of the key actions towards that end: ensuring our state’s wealthiest corporations are contributing to the same pot of government funds that subsidized their success in the first place, via handouts, bailouts, and other forms of public support.
The video helps viewers make this connection by showing the richness that already exists in our communities, but also the ways that things could be better—with a diverse cast illustrating that everyone benefits when the shared public sphere is well-funded. In addition to a call for corporations to pay their fair share, the video offers a sharper analysis of the mechanisms behind why corporations are not already paying fair: a corporate-driven campaign that has strategically hamstrung our government’s capacity to act by redirecting conversations about inequality and poverty to the “problem” of immigration. While many corporate CEOs flaunt private jets, gleaming office towers, and multiple homes across the state, those working in some of our economy’s most critical jobs for minimum wage or less are all-too-often blamed for social and economic challenges.
Indeed, our own research has found a clear relationship between the belief that immigrants are a burden to society and a belief in reduced government—particularly that government should play a smaller role in tackling inequality. In an upcoming release for the Institute, UC Berkeley scholars Cristina Mora and Tianna Paschel found that efforts to re-empower government to tackle inequality, such as the ongoing campaign to raise property taxes on corporations, “will be colored by anti-immigrant resentment,” as a well-funded conservative infrastructure continues to blame immigrants for poverty and crime rather than the corporate leaders who pay unlivable wages and under-contribute to critical social services. In their research brief, to be titled "Immigrant Resentment in California," Mora and Paschel also found that one of the key factors driving anti-immigrant resentment is the perception of competition in the labor market, a claim often made by those with political and financial might to not only stifle immigration, but also to avoid any discussion of corporations’ obligation to pay fair wages and treat workers humanely—a discussion they would be forced to have if our government had the capacity to ensure an equitable playing field.
The narrative underpinning this strategic pro-corporate, anti-immigrant campaign is one of triumphant individualism over the needs of a shared collective and the dominance of the free market over empowered and equitable governance. While the logic of the unregulated market has proved fruitful for a small few, the vast majority remain overlooked and ignored in under-resourced communities, with little hope for something better for their own children.
“Can You See It?” offers a different narrative, one where African American and immigrant communities are what make our state rich, not corporate profits. It is the people in these communities who have worked to create a place of abundance, and who should similarly access the many resources our state has to offer. The video calls on all Californians—particularly those whose voices most often go unheard—to imagine what could be and demand something better. We know that this can only be realized when our government is empowered to step in and make things fair—and this starts in the voting booth.
Editor's note: The ideas expressed in this blog post are not necessarily those of the Othering and Belonging Institute or UC Berkeley, but belong to the author.