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Perspectives on Election '94 : An Awakening of Our Moral Sense : Prop. 187: The issue of immigrants is energizing our traditional leadership.

November 10, 1994|XANDRA KAYDEN | Xandra Kayden, a senior fellow at the Institute for Leadership Studies at Loyola-Marymount University, is the author of "Surviving Power" (Free Press).

White voters overwhelmingly supported 187; minority voters overwhelmingly opposed it. That whites vote, and most minorities--blacks excluded--don't is not a new story. What changed was the passion of the mainstream community leadership opposing the mainstream voters. If there is any hope for a turnaround--a future when we are either so angry and adamant for change that we consistently turn out incumbents, or when we calm down and stop letting the negativism of campaigns destroy our confidence--it rests with the traditional leaders in the community: the clergy, educators, organized labor and health and social-service professionals who have greater contact with constituents than do politicians or their advisers.

Proposition 187 did something for California we have not seen in 30 years: It energized the traditional institutional leaders who have not been in the forefront on a moral issue this way since the peace and civil-rights movements.

True, they lost Tuesday, but they lost for a long time when they began opposing the Establishment on civil rights as well. It took time for Americans to recognize the moral consequences of the Vietnam War abroad and racism at home. It took the clergy and the educators time to tap into the hearts of their followers and motivate them enough to go into the streets and work for change in the less dramatic but more effective corridors of government.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony was the most audible voice of opposition on Proposition 187, but he was hardly alone. Religious leaders at all levels and all denominations throughout the state spoke out with a depth of sincerity that made the vote a clear moral choice. Saying we are "sending a message" is a way of saying we are angry and a way of saying we didn't really mean it. It is a sidestep on the issue of whether we are still the same old racist society we used to be. It is a way of avoiding the clear moral imperative from the pulpit, but it will not be sufficient because, while the campaign is over, the leaders who opposed 187 still have their platforms available to them every week.

There were others who were mobilized--particularly the young--and their teachers will also be around. The young are notoriously poor bets for electoral contests because they rarely vote. But they will march, and they did march in the peace and civil-rights movements. They can have an impact, especially when their teachers focus their activities on the pressure points in the political process. Proposition 187 affects them directly, and that will keep their minds on the subject.

Battles waged on moral issues are all but impossible to compromise. But just as we have seen the awakening on the right, so too has this election awakened a moral sense in the liberal mainstream. It will take some time, but the sustaining leaders of California have only just begun to fight.

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