February 28th, 2023
Gia Jones is a mother of four, a Parent Leader with Parent Voices CA, and a freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area.
In mid-October, I received an email from my Assemblymember, Buffy Wicks, inviting constituents to submit a proposal for new state legislation in what her office calls its “There Oughta Be A Law “ contest.
“From the founding of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, to the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, to Richmond’s recent emergence as a center for the environmental justice movement, our district has a remarkably rich history of political activism in pursuit of a better future for all,” Wicks writes. “Your idea has the potential of becoming law across California!”
l immediately shared the information with East Bay community members, family, and friends. People were incredibly enthusiastic and interested in participating, and I was too. As a Parent Leader with Parent Voices, part of my advocacy work involves speaking with community members to understand their core needs and the work we must do to address them.
I thought about some of the important wins in the last session, including around Paid Family Leave, extending food assistance to undocumented immigrants ages 55, and proposed improvements to mental health services for children and families through a virtual platform. All of these represented progress, but much work remains.
After surveying the local landscape I submitted a proposal that represents my own concerns and what I was hearing from people in the district: “I propose improvements incorporating cultural inclusive family activities for AD 15 constituents and Californians.” Culturally inclusive family activities consist of affordable, accessible activities that help improve mind, body, and soul for the whole family. First 5 Centers are an excellent model offering family-based classes in art, dance, science, music, cooking and more. La Peña Cultural Center and Richmond Art Center are both in the district and doing excellent work as well. California has an opportunity to fund similar holistic centers that serve the social, emotional, and learning needs of children, parents, and caregivers in culturally inclusive ways for all community members.
I was informed by email that Asm. Wicks had received more than 600 proposal submissions. Although my proposal didn’t advance to the next round I remained interested in this effort as both a reporter and a constituent as an important way to connect with the community and address its most pressing needs.
In January, I met via zoom with Asm. Wicks. Her enthusiasm for her constituents and the importance of her ‘There Oughta Be A Law’ effort was clear. She talked about the rich political landscape and history of AD-15, particularly its leadership in the civil rights and environmental movements. She said the submissions they received included great ideas relating to climate change, water conservation, health, and homelessness. She also discussed the intricacy of public policy-making and the somewhat excruciatingly long process to pass a bill. Asm. Wicks recommended the following tactics for advocates: Talk with your local lawmaker; amplify your voice and personal experiences; and communicate and connect with other people’s experiences.
After speaking with Asm. Wicks, I reflected again on those wins from the last session involving an expansion of food assistance, paid leave, and improved access to mental health services. All of this legislation happened in part because constituents spoke up about their experiences regarding food insecurity and mental health, and their needs for wage replacement to take care of loved ones. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that community members gushed over the idea of ‘There Oughta Be A Law’ contest—it’s about people rallying around the idea that their voices need to be heard. As an advocate, parent, and community member, I see in all of this a kind of momentous beauty that persists in the advocacy world.
The contest winner will be notified via email soon. I look forward to reporting on what happens next.