By Toni G. Atkins
This July, as we build on the momentum of recent weeks and work to make real progress in dismantling 400 years of systemic racism, it is clear that these goals our nation first outlined in declaring independence remain aspirational and out of reach for many Americans. Since people all across the country started taking to the streets following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many other people of color, there have been changes in use-of-force policies, a growing emphasis on community-based law enforcement, the accelerated removal of racist flags and statues, and movement to eliminate racist roadblocks to equality and opportunity that have seeped into our lawbooks. As anger and grief have joined with power and purpose, there is now real resolve — and real hope that the stain that started in 1619, and which was preserved even in our great founding documents, may finally be removed from the fabric of our society.
In the Legislature, one of the biggest tools we have to help Californians enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is the state budget, which helps shape our economy and create jobs, fund education and improve schools, and maintain vital services like fire prevention, affordable housing, and parks and recreation. The annual state budget, which took effect July 1, looks a little different this year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its drag on the economy, several of the important investments we hoped to make this year will have to wait. The good news is that after ten years of responsible budgeting by the Legislature and the Governor, California was in the best shape possible to respond to this fiscal emergency and our approach to the 2020-2021 budget has been to follow that responsible path.
Finally, as I write this, the U.S. Supreme Court is releasing its last round of decisions for the 2019-2020 term. Some of these decisions bring badly-needed good news. It was important to see the Court recognize the rights of LGBTQ workers so they can’t be fired just for being who they are, protect Dreamers and other immigrants from being targeted for deportation by the Trump Administration, and protect abortion rights from further encroachment and erosion by red-state legislatures. These decisions also serve to remind us that we still have far to go and provide even more motivation for all of us to do everything we can to bring about the changes needed in our country. There has to come a time when the rights of women, people of color and the LGBT+ community aren’t dependent upon the kindness of strangers or the votes of justices. Like all Americans, our rights are inalienable and have to be respected that way. All we are asking is our chance to have what America celebrates this month: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
— Toni G. Atkins represents District 39 in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.