The Orange County Board of Supervisors took an unprecedented step last week. Two Democrats and two Republicans voted to declare that systemic racism and inequality are driving a public health crisis. It signals a massive change in thinking within the county’s government, and the reality of its changing demographics.
“Are we in Orange County, or are we in Berkeley?” jokes Gustavo Arellano, columnist for the LA Times. “This is what activists have been saying for decades. And now [the Board] are saying yes, it is absolutely true. It really is extraordinary.”
The declaration states that the board will work with agencies in Orange County to apply an “equity lens” to policies and procedures across a range of areas such as housing, education, employment, transportation, and criminal justice.
With this declaration, the supervisors seek to improve the health and wellness of disproportionately affected groups such as African Americans, Indigenous people, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as others. The two Republican supervisors who voted for the declaration are Asian American: Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett.
“Republicans still govern the majority of cities in Orange County. … The board of supervisors is not as powerful as it used to be. But still, symbolically, it is a huge gesture, especially to fellow Republicans Do and Lisa Bartlett, and let them know, ‘Hey, if you want a political future, you got to do this,” Arellano points out, alluding to the changing racial and ethnic demographics of Orange County.
He adds, “Whites have been the minority now, since for the past 20 years. … The rhetoric of the past just can't work anymore, especially with the younger generation who are having these conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion.”