Our blogger, Doug Porter, is on the bus in the 250 mile “March for California’s Future”
An alliance of California unions and churches, lead by the California Federation of Teachers, have joined forces to sponsor a 250 mile “March for California’s Future” designed to draw attention to the underlying causes of State’s budget crisis. Seven people are walking the entire route from Bakersfield to Sacramento, stopping along the way, to gather signatures on various ballot measures, register voters, hold rallies and teach-ins and, they hope, draw a bit of media attention to their cause.
Among those participating in the 48 day, 250 mile walk is San Diegan Jim Miller, a City College professor who has seen first-hand the impact of budget cuts at the community college where hundreds of classes have been eliminated while tuition and student fees have been increased. Miller, who is also involved with the Educate for the Future alliance, says “My son is in kindergarten. I know it won’t help his education as class sizes rise in the first grade from 23 to 30 kids.”
I was invited by Miller and the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers to attend the kick-off rallies for this historic march on Sacramento. So, on March 5th at 6:30am, after being treated to coffee and pastries and hearing the first of innumerable speeches and blessings, I boarded one of the three buses leaving San Diego. On board were teachers and counselors from local community colleges, friends of the Miller family, a smattering of college students and me, the goofy old guy with the San Diego baseball hat and the blue ribbon on his lapel.
We were first taken to a kick-off rally, held at the Moriah Baptist Church, not far from the USC campus. It’s a massive facility, with room for more than a thousand people in its sanctuary, and the place was packed with supporters, who overflowed into the choir area and jammed in among the aisles with folding chairs. There were more blessings and more speeches, only this time they were from high powered Angelenos. And they got the crown pumped up in support of the marchers.
The “March for California’s Future’s” purpose, I learned, is to kick start a “reality” discussion on how people can join the fight for a livable California. The three themes of the march are “restore the promise of public education,” “a government and economy that works for all,” and “fair taxes to fund California’s future.”
Then it was off to Bakersfield, where the March was officially beginning. Another set of blessings and fist-pumping speeches happened, and a march to the official kickoff got underway. I initially thought all this blessing and cheerleading was a bit over the top. That was before we started walking.
If you had to pick a ground zero to where economy imploded, the central California community would be a real contender. The foreclosed homes here aren’t super-sized exurban tracts; they’re lot after lot of boarded up homes in poor neighborhoods. Seeing the determination of the Marchers, the shouts of support along the impoverished street where we marched and the ever-present reality that virtually every small business was either closed or on its last legs had a powerful effect on me. It’s not like I was some anti-union scrooge, but, like the famed miser, I saw the future and knew that things must change.
This pilgrimage was inspired by César Chavez’s march from Delano to Sacramento in March 1966. César marched the entire way, gathering more supporters the farther he went. The march was a procession of many nationalities, all fighting for the same cause. They carried the banners of the union, the flags of the United States and Mexico, and a flag with the image of the Virgin de Guadalupe.
As the march came closer to Sacramento, César was called to an emergency meeting with the head of the grower’s association. The owners conceded to the demands of the Union. The farm workers had won. It was the first union contract between growers and a farm workers’ union in United States’ history.
In the last two years, the California state budget has been reduced by 20%. School budgets have been cut by over $17 billion. Contrary to claims by the governor, California does not have a spending problem; rather, it has a revenue problem. The State has the third fewest government employees per capita nationally, and ranks near the bottom in education spending and social services.
Yet the meme propagated by the state’s conservatives and unchallenged by the mass media paints the picture of a bloated bureaucracy on the one hand and revenue shortfalls driven by the recession on the other. Never mind that the current recession was largely created by the deregulation of the financial services industry that was a central element of the conservative blueprint enacted over the past two decades.
The fix, once you accept the revenue shortfall definition of the current crisis, is not hard to figure out. In 2009 the legislature passed more than $2 billion in corporate giveaways in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. Returning the very top tax brackets to 1992 levels for those making more than $250,000 and $500,000 a year would add an estimated $4-6 billion to the state’s coffers.
Re-assessing the values of non-residential real estate would raise $3 billion. The current tax system allows Disneyland to pay a nickel per square foot in property tax while the typical family is paying $2 a square foot for residence. California is the only oil producing state that does not have a severance tax for oil drilled in the state. Another $1.5 billion annually could be collected. For those who claim that such a tax will stifle production conveniently ignore the fact that Alaska has the highest oil severance tax in the nation and is the top oil producing state in the country.
Despite the common myth that California is anti-business, it still attracts more venture capital than any state. The eighth largest economy in the world owes much of its past success to the now-disappeared priority of building a world class education system. Studies have shown that investments in education return three dollars for every dollar spent.
Now the dream is in danger, to be sacrificed for short term profits and sold off by legislators for special interest campaign contributions collected annually during the “budget reconciliation process.” Look it up. The bigger the deficit, the more these elected representatives collect.
So, I know that there will be some people reading this who’ll assume I was brainwashed, drank the kool-aid, or whatever. The fact remains that the State and the Nation are in the midst of a crisis. Do you really want to accept the premises and arguments of the same people that got us here?
Or are you going to ally yourself with the forces that believe in a just society? I’d rather hang with a bunch of teachers and farm workers than a bunch of derivative swappers or mortgage salesmen any day.