Grass Roots Democracy: The American Way

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Last summer, after Hoag Hospital announced it was ending elective abortion on the heels of its affiliation with St. Joseph, I wrote a flurry of columns about why this was a terrible decision.

The words I wrote upset some at Hoag and in the community. Others, including some of Hoag’s OB/GYN’s, however, wanted Roman Catholic ideology kept out of our local hospital and took action.

The OC Women’s Coalition was quickly organized. It included men and women in our community, as well as organizations such as Women in Leadership, the OC National Organization of Women, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and several others.

Suzanne Savary, now campaigning for the 48th Congressional district, was instrumental in getting the Coalition started. The process was messy and at times unruly – we demonstrated in front of Hoag, published op-eds in the newspapers, and pressed the Attorney General’s office to revisit the affiliation.

After the AG’s lengthy investigation, Hoag signed a seven-page agreement, all of it less than I had hoped for but much more than expected.

The Coalition’s work was, as I told one of my granddaughters during the demonstration at Hoag, grass-roots democracy in full.

We’re fortunate to live in a city where such activism thrives. Speak Up Newport (speakupnewport.org) is the sort of nonprofit organization that demonstrates this point. Its main objective is to “provide a forum for all residents to review and discuss the challenges and opportunities” the city faces.

Perhaps SUN’s most valuable contribution is the political forums it hosts during election season. On April 9, for example, four of the five candidates who are running for the 74th Assembly District gathered in the Community Room at the Newport Beach Civic Center: Democrat Anila Ali (Irvine schoolteacher) and three Republicans: Keith D. Curry (Businessman/City Council member), Matthew Harper (Mayor of Huntington Beach), and Emanuel Patrascu (Business owner).

The candidates were each asked to explain their credentials and why they deserved to be sent to Sacramento. They were invited to question one of their opponents on any issue. That got interesting. They were also asked about Prop. 13 and the idea of a split roll (closing what some argue is a huge loophole for commercial and industrial property owners) – but that’s a subject worthy of an entire column.

What struck me about the forum was that the candidates included a couple of Anglo guys (Curry and Harper) but we also had a Romanian émigré (Patrascu) and a Pakistani Muslim woman (Ali). Hark! Politicians of diversity, right here in Newport Beach.

I’ve always been attracted to immigrant narratives, and Patrascu and Ali offered two compelling stories: Patrascu and his family were political Romanian refugees; he lost his father as a boy and grew up with a working mother who made sure her kids were educated.

Ali’s grandmother “broke the glass ceiling” in politics as an Assembly speaker. After Ali emigrated to America, her father, a diplomat, told her, “Okay, what are you going to give back?”

Each of the candidates was asked how they might make a difference in the Assembly, given the Democratic majority.

Curry said he’s experienced in “working across the aisle.” Harper vowed to fight for the election of more Republicans and for principle. Ali pointed out that as a Democrat she would have more influence in getting taxpayer dollars returned to the district. Patrascu, citing his background in political campaigns and business start-ups, said, “I can get things done.”

When the candidates were finished, I heard the guy behind me mutter, “Even Jesus couldn’t get things done up there.”

I’d argue that, but that, too, is another column. I left the forum thinking that we had here a quartet of politicians who cared enough about this country to show up, speak up on the issues, and dedicate their next months to the marathon that a political campaign entails.

Bravo and Brava to them.

Jean Ardell is president of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club.

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