Gov. Jerry Brown’s state-of-the-state effort to link the
Egyptian protests to his budget plan fell flat. But the Egypt protests do hold
one important lesson for California: politics is a family thing.

Just look
closely at the crowds on TV. Or read the news stories in which participants are
described or interviewed. I was struck again and again by one thing: that so
many of the people who took the streets came not by themselves but with friends
and especially family.

Those streets are full of mothers
and daughters, sisters, brothers, fathers and sons. Families clearly had made
decisions together to participate in overthrowing a dictatorship.

Sometimes, I wonder if those
involved in California politics have forgotten: the essential unit of politics
is not the individual voter, but the family. Social science suggests it is our
family behavior often determines our political behavior. Do we participate in
organizations? Do we follow politics? Do we join a particular party? Do we
vote? If we come from families that participate, we are much more likely to
participate ourselves.

But media coverage of politics and
campaign conversation portrays politics as a game of reaching individuals and
interest groups. Political rallies have become tightly-controlled TV shows
aimed at individual viewers; mothers with crying babies aren’t exactly welcome.
Even the various good government groups that are constantly trying to figure
out how to engage apathetic Californians often talk about reaching individuals.

The key to civic engagement here,
as everywhere, remains reaching families. Those groups who want to engage and
expand the conversation should try to reach families in public spaces they
frequent – parks and playgrounds and restaurants and theaters. And, as much as
possible, they should direct their appeals and arguments to families, not to

Revolutions, after all, are built on families.