What would a more just Orange County look like?
Two years ago, the UCLA Labor Center, UC Irvine, and the Orange County Federation of Labor came together to begin conversations about what a more just Orange County could look like. The result was a report with exhaustive data on the county’s landscape, Orange County on the Cusp of Change, and the launch of the UC Irvine Community and Labor Project (UCICLP).
As social justice movements build momentum in Orange County, community and labor leaders realized that there was a need for partnerships that support local organizations as they work toward economic justice. The UCICLP does just this. It employs the principles of research justice: recognizing workers and community members as experts, making sure all have equal access to information, and using research for empowerment and organizing.
Orange County is on the cusp of several “tipping points” as demographic, economic and political conditions– tipping points that can create significant change. Historically rural and conservative Orange County must address new hardships like unemployment and underemployment, low wages, education access, language isolation, lack of affordable housing, overcrowding, homelessness, poverty, environmental issues and xenophobia. People of color are the new majority in Orange County, but disproportionately face issues such as poverty, language isolation, and educational attainment challenges.
“No matter how many people are working or how many jobs they have, they are still living in poverty. They still cannot afford housing,” says Mary Anne Foo of Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA). “You have to earn at least $25 per hour to afford a one bedroom apartment here in Orange County.”
In the face of these challenges, people are pushing from the ground up to develop solutions and policies that address the needs of low-income, people of color and immigrant communities. And the UC Irvine Community and Labor Project is working to stir up dynamic conversations and bring together different groups to strategize about how to achieve a new Orange County.
“The UCI Community Labor Project is raising consciousness of what Orange county really looks like, how it lives, and that it’s not a monolithic county,” says Dr. Jose Moreno of CSU Long Beach and the Anaheim School Board. “It really is a diverse, vibrant community, but one where many of us are struggling. It’s important to get people fully aware, to create that consciousness and work together to lift everybody up.