Welcoming the Working Families Party to California: A Conversation with Kimi Lee and María Poblet

The historic Working Families Party (WFP) is coming to California, and Bay Rising Action leaders have been at the forefront of conversations moving WFP into our state and home region in the Bay Area. What can we expect from WFP’s California charter and how will it support our development of new, bold, and progressive leaders? Bay Rising Action interviewed our very own executive director Kimi Lee and our advisory board member María Poblet to discuss this, and more. 

BRA: What is the Working Families Party, and why are they getting ready to launch in California? Why is this important?

KL: California is really interesting because it is considered liberal, progressive, and blue, but in reality it’s not that simple. If you’re here learning about Bay Rising Action, you probably understand that California is not as progressive as many of us would like. Most of us – Asian, Brown, Black, and white, from working-class to wealthy – care about our power to make decisions for our communities, because that directly impacts what our shared future looks like. In a lot of ways, that comes down to who we have in office and how candidates are able to describe themselves in relation to political parties and organizations.

MP: Just 20 years ago, California was Republican-led. But the big corporations didn’t just disappear when those Republicans left office. Big corporations have been able to get what they need from the Democratic Party, and that is a big problem in how politics now works in our state.

Big corporations have been able to get what they need from the Democratic Party, and that is a big problem in how politics now works in our state. @WorkingFamilies @CA_WFP

KL: The Working Families Party is an organization that has been around in the United States for 20 years. WFP has welcomed new leadership in the past few years, and we’re seeing more energy and motivation around the need for a third party.

When you actually look at voting patterns, that nuance is there. There are multiple shades of blue in California. Many of us feel we need something else other than the Democrats, and there are a growing number of people with no party preference or who don’t choose a party when they register to vote. So bringing in the Working Families Party is happening at a critical time. We’re still dealing with major structural problems left over from the ‘60s and ‘70s, for example when California passed a ballot measure that freezes property tax for homes and businesses, which has caused huge harm by limiting funding for schools and much-needed social services and public programs. It’s important to have WFP in California to clearly align our voting options with our values and push forward real change. 

There are multiple shades of blue in California. Many of us feel we need something else other than the Democrats. So bringing in @CA_WFP is happening at a critical time.

BRA: What does this mean at a practical level for Bay Area voters? What does it mean for candidates or people who are looking to become candidates?

MP: We are tired of hitting the “glass ceiling” of policy change and being unable to advance progressive changes because state politics are governed by corporate interests. WFP is a vehicle for Bay Area progressive politics to grow both here in the Bay, and statewide. 

We are tired of hitting the “glass ceiling” of policy change because state politics are governed by corporate interests. @CA_WFP is a vehicle for us to grow progressive politics in this state.

KL: WFP California will exist as a political organization, not officially a party – in other states, it’s different – meaning that here, it won’t show up on the ballot as an official party. 

Bringing the Working Families Party to California helps voters differentiate between candidates and be more clear about the values and issues each candidate is committed to. Voters will see who is endorsed by the Working Families Party and who isn’t. Right now, a lot of endorsements voters look at are specific to one issue area or another, like environment, or housing. Working Families Party endorsements, like Bay Rising Action’s, will cover a wide range of progressive values and issue areas.

In terms of what it means for candidates, there’s a lot missing when regular people – especially working-class people, people of color, and people who don’t have connections to wealthy donors – want to run for office. There aren’t very many places for people to get support as new candidates and learn all the different skills and steps you need to run a campaign and get elected. This barrier, among others, means that the people who end up in office, or are even able to have a shot in the first place, often aren’t representative of our communities and the leadership we need.

WFP California can provide training, demystify the process, help get new people into office, and connect and support the new kinds of elected officials we need. WFP California providing this kind of support to candidates and voters is critical for our vision of racial, economic, and environmental justice for all.

BRA: What is Bay Rising Action’s role in this? How have we collaborated with WFP in the past?

KL: Bay Rising Action has been a part of the discussion and formation of WFP California. We were part of the initial discussions a few years ago, and a part of the steering committee for the project of bringing the Working Families Party here. Bay Rising Action is playing an active role in the regional charter and will help facilitate meetings until local leadership is elected. 

BRA: What is the regional charter?

KL: After the state charter, which is the agreement that will officially found WFP California, WFP breaks into regions — and Bay Rising Action is the lead for the Bay Area. I’m helping to form the regional charter! 

BRA: What is the plan for the launch? And what will the launch feed into?

KL: The California charter was approved by the national Working Families Party on June 11, 2021. Woohoo! We are making history.  

This summer, all the regions within California will move to formally create new chapters. For the Bay Area, we are planning to launch on July 28th at 5pm. A handful of other 501(c)4 organizations that are already connected to Bay Rising Action or partners of ours will also be a part of this. 

We’re creating this new space for progressive folks to come together and have a political home. We’re going to be able to talk seriously about raising wages for workers, health care for all, climate justice, and making sure corporations aren’t writing the rules for the rest of us. Plus, when else has a political party mentioned “families” and “party” in the same name? WFP is reflective of what people are asking for in this moment. This is a moment of joy and it’s time to party!  

BRA: How can people support or work with Working Families Party California?

KL: Sign up to be a dues-paying member of WFP California! Members who attend our introductory session will be eligible to vote for endorsements in 2022. 

BRA: How do endorsements work?

KL: It’s a hybrid, so organization members get a certain amount of votes, there’s an individual bucket with a certain amount of votes, and then a labor union bucket with a certain amount of votes. 

BRA: You mentioned that you were in a WFP meeting when the decision to charge Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd, came out. Why was that significant to you? 

KL: It was a special moment to be with those leaders, 20 statewide leaders, when that decision came down. The WFP National Director was on the call with us, and we all took a moment – I’m grateful we did, since there are so many spaces where that wouldn’t even be an option on the table, and it reflects the fact that we are creating a new majority and shifting how political spaces work. The leadership of the Working Families Party is predominantly Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and other folks who are not usually represented in political spaces.

There we were, witnessing this amazing moment after a huge national outcry where a police officer was actually getting charged for killing someone. That’s so rare. Having that happen while we were in that meeting was significant also in that we’re seeing things change and movements grow, and we need new leadership in this country to help make those changes stick. Bringing a new party to California, one of the biggest states in the country, will be huge in that regard. It’s powerful to be in partnership to bring the Working Families Party to our state – a shift that’s been decades in the making – and it’s powerful to be able to have that alignment, trust, and relationship to say we need something new, we represent millions of people in California, and we will be part of this new era of representation and decision-making by and for the people.

BRA: Anything else you’d like to add about the launch?

KL: Climate is a big issue we haven’t seen Democrats move on enough. We need to push Democrats to actually do something significant in this especially critical moment. Racial justice and reckoning with policing, climate, and housing are all main priorities for the Working Families Party. There are so many issues that COVID and the lack of the right leadership around the pandemic has exacerbated right now. We need to keep giving attention to elected officials in local leadership who will be bold in their values and decision-making.

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