SAN FRANCISCO – As Election Day approached, a flurry of text messages flashed through the phones of San Francisco’s Chinese-American community. “Remember to vote,” read a message in Chinese from campaign organizer, Selena Chu. “And remove the commissioners who are discriminating against us and disrespecting our community.”
Victory failed in a recall election On Tuesday, the ousting of three members of the San Francisco school board rocked the city’s liberal base and was an alarm bell over parents’ anger over the way the public school system handling the coronavirus pandemic.
Parents of different ethnicities and income levels who merged last year while San Francisco schools remained closed – they were closed much longer than those in other major cities – organized themselves through Facebook groups and vowed to push Board of Education members out of their homes for what they saw as incompetence. They kept their promise: The three commissioners were rejected by 79 percent of votersan unequivocal rejection in a city known for its bad politics.
For many Asian Americans in the city, especially the large Chinese-American community, the result is an assertion of the group’s voting power, which is accompanied by a high degree of organization, voter turnout and an intensity not seen in many years. In an election where every registered voter received one vote, turnout was relatively low at 26 percent; Voter turnout among the 30,000 who requested to vote in Chinese was significantly higher, at 37 percent.
In an overwhelmingly liberal city, Asian-American voters have sided with the Democratic Party for decades. But in recent years, growing numbers of China’s residents, many of them born in mainland China, have become a moderate political force. Most of the Chinese residents in the city are independently registered and, as Tuesday’s election seems to show, they are not afraid to weed out some of the more liberal elements of the Democratic Party. It’s a pattern that has appeared in other cities, like New Yorkmostly Democrats with a substantial Asian-American population.
David Lee, a political science lecturer at San Francisco State University, said of the city’s Asian-American voters: “They’re absolutely ready to take it.
In Tuesday’s election, two issues in particular drove Chinese-American voters. The Board of Education voted to adopt a highly selective lottery admissions system at Lowell High School, replacing an admissions process that primarily selects students with the highest grades and test scores. Lowell has for decades represented what one community member described as “the gateway to the American dream.” The introduction of the lottery system reduced the number of white and Asian 9th grade students at Lowell and increased the number of black and Latino students by more than 40%.
Chinese voters were also annoyed by tweets from Alison Collins, one of the recalled school board members, unearthed during the election campaign. Ms. Collins said Asian Americans have used “white thinking to fit in and ‘go ahead’.” She went on to compare Asian-Americans with slaves who had the advantage of working in a slave owner’s home instead of harder labor in the fields, by using an asterisk to conceal a slur about anti-Black race. Those involved in the recall campaign said the tweets reinforced a mentality among many Chinese voters of being taken for granted, misrepresented and insulted.
Asian-American voters also said they were motivated by issues beyond the board’s action: famous attacks against Asian Americans, many of them older, shocked the community. And many Chinese-owned businesses have suffered as a result of the pandemic shutdown, especially in Chinatown.
“We are losing faith in the government,” said Bayard Fong, president of the Chinese-American Democratic Club.
Asian Americans make up about 36% of San Francisco’s population, one of the largest such communities in a large city, but they are an incredibly diverse group that includes Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese and Americans. Thai people and have different economic, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. Chinese Americans are by far the largest group of Asians, making up 23% of San Francisco’s population. Forty percent of the population is White, 15 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Black.
The dismissal of the three board members will elevate the only Chinese-American member of the seven-person board to the position of chairman. And it puts Mayor London Breed in the fragile position of appointing three replacement members who will be accepted by the parents who are now closely monitoring the process. Campaigners recall saying they expected more Asian-Americans to be appointed to the board.
Autumn Looijen, who along with her partner, Siva Raj, organized the signature collection and initiated the recall campaign, describes the Chinese-American community as crucial to the success of the recall.
“They are the mainstay of our volunteer efforts,” Ms. Looijen said. “They really made this campaign powerful from the very beginning.”
During the campaign, the organizers used WeChat, the Chinese-language messaging app, to give away everything from detailed instructions on how to fill out ballots to organizing the deployment of volunteers in the Neighborhood. The train, where the lion dance and drumming call for people to vote.
“We will no longer be silent,” said a flyer in English and Chinese distributed by the Chinese-American Democratic Club.
Parents campaigning for the recall described a wake-up in the Chinese-American community by what has been largely apolitical so far.
Ms. Chu, who sent WeChat messages urging people to vote, said she grew up with parents who advised her to keep quiet if she felt she was being treated unfairly. Many first-generation immigrants still feel the same way, she said.
Now, as a mother of two in the San Francisco public school system, Ms. Chu felt the urge for the first time to actively participate in an election. She said that her hand hurt from texting too much on WeChat during the campaign.
She is motivated by the feeling of being punished and punished for working hard and striving.
“This year a lot of parents told me, ‘We are no longer scapegoats,’” Ms. Chu said.
“We are still considered foreigners,” she said. “We are Americans. You have to show us respect.”
She called the recall election an important milestone for the Asian-American community.
“They finally understood the power of their vote,” she said.
Crucial to the organizational efforts is Ann Hsu, a Beijing-born entrepreneur with decades of experience in founding and managing companies in both China and the United States.
Ms. Hsu used her management experience to organize volunteers and set up advocacy strategies. She ignores English-speaking media and instead focuses closely on Chinese-language newspapers, YouTube channels, and advertisements. She and her volunteers distributed thousands of yellow shopping bags with recall messages and handed them out to elderly Chinese residents. She formed a task force that registered 560 residents, most of them Asian-American, to vote.
Using WeChat to organize her activities has the added advantage of breaking down the language barrier: She speaks Mandarin while other residents are more comfortable in Cantonese. Written messages can be understood by everyone.
Ms. Hsu’s voice was full of emotion as she discussed the Lowell issue, which she considers the main motivation for jumping into politics.
“When you come to Lowell, you go to Asians,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “We will stand up and say no more, no!”
The future admissions process at Lowell is still unclear – the lottery system will still be in place for students entering in the fall, but the board has not made a decision on admissions beyond next year. .
Ms. Hsu said that Lowell was not directly personal to her. Her two teenage sons are attending another school in the San Francisco public school district.
But she sees in the board’s decisions the profound implication that the aspirations of Asian Americans are being ignored.
The debate over admission to elite public high schools has excited Asian parents in other cities, especially New York. In both San Francisco and New York, this issue leaves libertarian voters torn between their desire to maintain a system that has traditionally benefited high-achieving students from high-achieving students. poorer students, often immigrants, but at the same time leaving behind black and Latino students.
In New York, where Black and Latino students make up a low percentage of elite public high schools, the issue of school segregation came to the fore in last year’s New York mayoral election. Left-leaning candidates called for a fundamental overhaul of admissions standards while center-right candidates called for it to be maintained. Among those who promised to keep the check up was Eric Adams, the incumbent mayor.
Ms. Collins, a board member criticized for her tweets, say in the campaign that she was “separated” from Lowell.
After the failed recall, political analysts are weighing whether the campaign’s energy and enthusiasm will be carried over to other elections in both the city and the country.
Mike Chen, board member of the Edwin M. Lee Asia Pacific Democratic Club, said the results were remarkable – “nobody in the city can agree 80% on anything on anything. what”. But he said he would be “extremely cautious” in making predictions about other campaigns based on a single election with relatively low turnout. San Francisco has some very special issues that make it difficult for parents, he said.
“People have been trying to extrapolate: What does this mean for school board elections in Ohio or Virginia?” he say.
“We had this very special case,” he continued. “We have had very clear examples of incompetence, bad governance and poor performance. Most people can objectively observe the decisions that happened last year and think, ‘This is really messed up.’
Dana Rubinstein and Dana Goldstein contribution report.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/17/us/san-francisco-school-board-parents.html San Francisco Recalls Ire Driven Voting ‘Asian Voters