The efficacy of direct democracy throughout California's history continues to be a subject of intense debate, a state-wide phenomenon with an international audience. California boasts the world's fifth largest economy, and plays a leadership role in national, and sometimes even international, politics. British scholar Wyn Grant, studying the politics of air quality management in California, succinctly sums up the burning issue for environmentalists worldwide who are striving to understand the efficacy of California's activists' efforts: in "Direct Democracy in California: Example or Warning?" Grant concludes that although direct democracy has its merits, its history in California ultimately provides more of a cautionary tale than a model to be emulated. Other scholars, examining the same phenomenon, disagree, but for a variety of contradictory reasons.
Previously we examined how other democratic traditions and practices, in particular community activism within California, have been utilized to promote environmental justice. This study weighs in on the debate over the efficacy of direct democracy to bring about environmental protection. Our' initial assumptions, based on a great deal of secondary material and much anecdotal evidence, including our own experiences as California voters, led us to our working title, "Using Direct Democracy to Thwart the Will of the People: California Environmental Propositions in the Late Twentieth Century." However, as we more closely evaluated the sources, especially the actual campaigns of the late twentieth century and their outcomes, we came to a startling conclusion. It is not, despite many scholars' assertions to the contrary, a case of "simple black or white, but rather a dirty shade of grey." Further investigation revealed results in even lighter tones. Despite its many abuses, distortions, and problems, direct democracy remains an avenue to be utilized, however imperfectly, to protect the environment.