It’s time to repeal California’s Three Strikes law. This unjust 1994 law made it mandatory for anyone convicted of three felonies to serve 25 years to life if any two of the crimes were considered serious or violent. The result was a tidal wave of life sentences that have disproportionately affected African American, and mentally ill and physically disabled defendants, costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Learn more about this law here.
SURJ Bay Area partner organizations CURB and Initiate Justice have formed the Repeal California’s Three Strikes Law Coalition with organizations across the state to put an initiative to repeal this law on the California ballot in November 2022. But how does change like this move from idea to reality?
The short answer is through a lot of grassroots organizing and hard work! The process began in May 2021 with polling to test the concept with the electorate and determine how much work was needed. Then, the Coalition wrote the language for the proposed ballot measure in June and submitted it to the Attorney General’s office for a ballot title and summary.
The next big step in this process begins in November: signature collection. 623,212 registered voters must sign the Coalition’s petition in order for this initiative to appear on the ballot. (This number is based on the total votes cast for the office of Governor in the last election.) The Coalition is aiming for closer to 690,000 signatures to avert problems with duplicate signatures and ensure successful qualification. These signatures must be collected and filed within a 180-day period, and must qualify 131 days before the election. Signature collection for this petition will run from November 2021 to April 2022.
After the signatures are filed, the Coalition’s focus will shift from qualifying the ballot measure to encouraging people to vote for it. More polling in 2022 will ensure our strategy is tight and effective, and the Coalition will finalize its messaging by June 2022. Then a massive education campaign about this ballot measure will begin. In the words of Malcom X, “We don’t believe in voter registration without voter education.” The Coalition wants to make sure that voters understand what repealing this law will mean: recalculating the prison sentences of those sentenced under this law (including automatically releasing those who have exceeded the base term of their primary offense), and reinvesting the cost savings into the communities who have been most affected, such as through inclusive victims’ services, housing, wellness services, and workforce development.
Beginning in September 2022, the Coalition will also be focused on getting out the vote. We want people to understand that their vote matters; showing up and repealing Three Strikes will create positive change for people all over California, especially Black and Brown communities. On election day in November 2022, our ballot measure will be approved by the requisite majority vote! The Coalition will then fight to make sure the measure is implemented properly and that people who are incarcerated and their families have what they need.
Fundraising will be crucial to this process. The cost of the path to victory is expected to total over ten million dollars. The largest expense will be hiring professional signature gatherers to conduct the critical work of qualifying this initiative to appear on the ballot. Funds will also be needed for campaign consultants, staff, branded apparel, polling, legal compliance, communications, events, and fiscal sponsor fees.
SURJ Bay Area is committed to the success of this campaign and has pledged to raise $25,000 for the Coalition by the end of July. Our community has already raised over $20,000! Help us get over the finish line by donating here – better yet, make it monthly to provide the campaign with steady support until its conclusion in November 2022. Don’t forget to share the donation link with your friends, too.
Repealing Three Strikes will be transformative for our state, but to make it happen we need the involvement of everybody reading this and more. Your commitment can really make a difference! SURJ is training and organizing volunteers into pods to support this campaign. You can sign up to get involved here. Check the supporter box on the signup form if you’d also like to be trained as a social media ambassador. And make sure you’re following the Coalition on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to stay updated as the campaign develops. Share these resources with your friends, too! Together we can impact countless lives and bring much-needed criminal justice reform to our state by repealing Three Strikes.
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