This November, California has the opportunity to reimagine how to engage underrepresented community members in the electorate process. Important racial justice measures on the ballot offer opportunities for California to improve voter turnout in communities of color and continue the powerful grassroots organizing that started after the murder of George Floyd. Despite recent advancements in expanding voting access and voting rights, California still faces deep voter participation disparities based on race and age, resulting in lower voter turnout for under-represented groups. As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts in-person voting and makes vote-by-mail the new standard, how can community organizations, philanthropy, and elections officials ensure that new and infrequent voters are not left confused or deterred?
Join us to learn promising strategies that increase voter participation, and explore two key ballot measures that aim to advance racial equity in education, government employment/contracting, and criminal justice: Proposition 16 (Repeal Proposition 209) and Proposition 17 (Free the Vote Act). Passage of these ballot initiatives would be a first step in addressing structurally racist and discriminatory policies that have disproportionately affected BIPOC communities for generations.
Elisha Smith Arrillaga, Executive Director, The Education Trust-West
Dr. Elisha Smith Arrillaga serves as the executive director of The Education Trust-West, a research and advocacy organization focused on educational justice and supporting the high achievement of all California students, with a particular focus on underserved students of color, low-income students and English learners. Dr. Smith Arrillaga leads the organization’s work centering education as a key racial and economic justice issue and has extensive expertise in leading initiatives using multiple strategies for impacting state policy—leveraging direct action, research, media, and policymaker engagement. She has more than twenty years’ experience working in and partnering with education and workforce policy, research, and advocacy organizations, including the Career Ladders Project, First 5 LA, College Bound, the Hewlett Foundation, Mathematica Policy Research and high schools and community colleges across California. Dr. Smith Arrillaga holds a Ph.D. in Public Affairs from Princeton. She is the proud mother of a rising kindergartener.
Rev. Ben McBride, Co-Director, PICO California
Ben is a native of San Francisco, spiritual leader, and longtime activist for peace and justice in the Bay Area. In 2008, he relocated his family to a difficult neighborhood in Oakland called the “Kill Zone” to understand and respond to the epidemic of gun violence, firsthand. During this tenure, he was an instrumental leader of relaunching Oakland’s first successful iteration of Operation Ceasefire, a data-driven, violence reduction strategy, contributing heavily to a 50% reduction in homicides over five years.
Ben serves as a national leader around reconstructing public safety systems and gun violence prevention work, including a background of training over 100 law enforcement departments and executives. Ben joined PICO California, the largest grassroots community organization in the state, representing 450,000 people across 73 cities, in 2015 and serves as the Co-Director. Ben founded the Bring the HEAT campaign, a peacemaking initiative to address police violence, and serves as the Co-Chair of California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board focusing on ending racial profiling in California. Ben was featured in the Sundance Film Festival Award-winning film, THE FORCE, focusing on his peacemaking work. Ben is also an experienced trainer around equity, diversity, and inclusion; working with companies and values-based organizations across the country.
Ben and his wife Gynelle have been married for 20 years and have 3 amazing daughters. They reside in Oakland, CA.
Cathy Cha, President, Haas Jr. Fund
Cathy Cha is president of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. Under her leadership, the Fund is exploring innovative approaches to advancing equality and justice so every person has opportunities to thrive and to live life with dignity and hope. Cathy’s work is driven by a career-long commitment to improving the lives of aspiring communities facing discrimination and poverty. Her collaboration-focused approach with funders, movements, nonprofits, and the government has helped spark wide-ranging social impact, including California’s rise to the top among states in advancing pro-immigrant policies. Today, the Haas, Jr. Fund is broadening its commitment to helping people achieve their dreams by advancing immigrant rights and LGBT equality, promoting a fair and representative democracy, and ensuring that college is affordable for low-income students and families. Cathy was named one of the Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business by the San Francisco Business Times in 2019.
Niki Martinez, Co-Founder of Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition, Youth Empowerment San Diego
In March 2019, Niki Martinez was released from the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), the largest women’s facility in the world. She was sentenced to serve 45 years to life for a crime that she committed at the age of 17. While incarcerated, she became and served as a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor within her facility. She was the Co-Founder of an organization for juvenile offenders and sat as the Chairperson for a youth diversion program. She has facilitated numerous self-help classes for her peers and received her Associate in Arts degree.
Niki is a lived experience Subject Matter Expert Mentor and currently works with Youth Empowerment San Diego. She is a Co-Founder of Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition and a San Diego Chapter Lead. Niki also works with The Old Globe Theater as a Teaching Artist for Reflecting Shakespeare. Lastly, Niki sits as a Board Member for the Restorative Justice Mediation Program. Despite having served her sentence, holding four jobs, being a board member, and serving as a role model for her community, she is still deprived of the right to vote.
Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel, MALDEF
Thomas Saenz is President and General Counsel of MALDEF; he leads the organization in pursuing litigation, policy advocacy, and community education to promote the civil rights of all Latinos living in the United States in the areas of education, employment, immigrants’ rights, and voting rights. Saenz rejoined MALDEF in August 2009, after four years on Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's executive team. He previously spent 12 years at MALDEF practicing civil rights law, including four years as litigation director. He has served as lead counsel for MALDEF in numerous cases, including challenges to California Proposition 187, California Proposition 227, and California congressional redistricting. In 2016, Saenz argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Texas, representing intervenors defending Obama Administration deferred action initiatives. Saenz graduated from Yale College and Yale Law School; he clerked for two federal judges before initially joining MALDEF in 1993.
Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director, Common Cause
Jonathan Mehta Stein is the Executive Director of California Common Cause, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works on voting rights, redistricting, and money in politics reform to build a better California democracy. Jonathan was previously the head of the Voting Rights & Census Program at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, where he worked to increase access to California’s democracy for historically disenfranchised communities, including immigrant and limited-English speaking voters. Previous to that, Jonathan worked as a voting rights staff attorney for the ACLU of California.
Brittany Stonesifer, Voting Rights Attorney, ACLU of California
Brittany Stonesifer is a Voting Rights Attorney at the ACLU of California, where she advocates to expand the franchise to all Californians and to reduce barriers to voting caused by the registration process. Since joining the ACLU in 2019, Brittany has fought with a grassroots coalition to restore voting rights to people with criminal convictions, utilizing her prior expertise in reforming criminal justice policy.
This program is open to members of NCG, San Diego Grantmakers, and Southern California Grantmakers. Nonmember funders are also welcome.