Posted by rflacks on:
You're read various reports about the March 4th mobilization in defense of education. Media coverage was more than respectable, emphasizing the fact that all kinds of marches, rallies and other collective action happened throughout California, and in at least 32 other states. Students at UC Santa Cruz barred the entrances to the campus. Bay Area students blocked a major freeway. Grade school kids took to the streets all over the place. News reports suggest that hundreds of thousands participated.
Events in Santa Barbara were probably typical. Hundreds of students rallied on campus under the auspices of a coalition that included the campus unions (who represent clerical, maintenance, professional, technical workers, TAs and lecturers, librarians) and student groups. Ralliers boarded buses (paid for by UCSB chancellor Yang) or rode bikes en masse to the heart of Santa Barbara (ten miles from campus). There they were met by contingents of teachers and others mobilized by the California Teachers Association (representing k-12 schools) who led a march down State St. from city hall to the steps of the County Courthouse. I estimated about a 1000 participants in these actions. The energy of the young marchers was potent and infectious. Speeches, however, were inaudible since no one had arranged an adequate sound system.
You couldn't help but be excited by the spirit and the promise of a gathering movement. The evident intention of those who took part was to wake people to the fact that public education is becoming a casualty of the state fiscal crisis. Some 18000 K-12 teachers have received pink slips. Enormous tuition increases in the public universities are coupled with drastic reductions in course offerings and services, and significant salary cuts for faculty and staff. Next year may be worse, since the state deficit keeps growing and federal stimulus help will dry up. Gov Schwarzenegger has promised to protect the education budget. We have reasons to be skeptical.
I've been hoping for and predicting this sort of movement since last Fall. But yesterday's actions left me with mixed feelings about the prospects. The best news was the alliance that's emerged among students, teachers and education unions (with the latter getting good support from the labor movement generally). And it does seem that a new activist generation has taken leadership on campuses, recognizing the need for ongoing struggle.
Further action is in the works. Yesterday, the California Federation of Teachers, supported by a very broad labor based coalition, started a 48 day march on Sacramento; a long march through the state, reminding us of Cesar Chavez' enormously effective similar action 40 years ago, could be galvanizing.
But it was dismaying how little was said or done Thursday about a policy agenda for which people could work and that might provide some hope for a new direction. Marching down the main street demanding a return to free education elicits smirks and shrugs from bystanders, since everyone believes that there is no money and that everyone must sacrifice given the state of the economy.
Public resignation can be challenged by concrete proposals that can offer hope. There are at least two proposals now being taken up by the union and student groups. One is the THE CALIFORNIA DEMOCRACY ACT, the ballot initiative formulated by George Lakoff, which reads, in its entirety: "All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote". Efforts to get this on the ballot are now in process; its passage would remove one of the key reasons California is now a failed state (that all fiscal matters have to be passed by 2/3 of the legislature). But as far as I can tell, almost nothing was done Thursday to build mass involvement in this ballot drive.
The second proposal with legs is Assembly Bill AB 656. Proposed by majority leader Alberto Torrico, it would tax oil extraction in California (now the only oil state not having such a tax) to create an annual revenue stream of $2 billion earmarked for higher education. If any tax measure has a chance to get wide public support, this is it. UC Pres. Yudof (who backed yesterday's protests) is reported to be opposed to the Torrico bill because it provides funding to all segments of higher education rather than privileging UC.
In any case, little was done in yesterday's actions to inform people about this proposal and channel energy in its behalf.
It's important for people to have seen that anger is seething in our schools. But that anger won't have much political meaning unless it fuels a political agenda. A focused anger is needed to challenge the combination of greed, ignorance a, structural dysfunction and spinelessness that has virtually destroyed the state government.
Apart from the promise of grassroots energy, the political scene in California is depressing to say the least. Our once and future governor, Jerry Brown, announces a candidacy by articulating no ideas that might promise change. He pledges no new taxes without a popular vote, repeating his seventies mantras about 'living within our means'. He's chosen to pander to the infantile side of the California electorate-those who think 'we' are overtaxed and that government waste is the problem. A just published Field poll shows the electorate profoundly split-half willing to consider tax increases as the key to restoring the budget, a third opposed to all tax increases, and the remainder maybe willing to hear some pro-tax argument.
Still, Jerry thinks its politically necessary to not talk about taxes. He's up against super-rich Meg Whitman who seems, like Republicans generally, to feel that she can say anything she wants regardless of logic and truth, and fork out millions of her own money to disseminate the effluent.
If I were advising Jerry Brown, I'd suggest that he can take the lead were he to talk about the need for an oil tax, about pluggimg huge corporate tax loopholes that recently were adopted, about fixing prop 13 so that property tax relief goes to homeowners and not to commercial interests. I'd raise the question of whether the biggest waste in government isn't in the prison system.
He could galvanize a storm of student support if he talked about decriminalization of marijuana as a way to reduce prison costs and raise new revenue sources.
I'd be pleasantly surprised if he provided such leadership. But what's needed is a new progressive coalition -a coming together of progressive leaderships at the state and local levels to spell out an agenda for California that can change the terms of discourse and debate. Maybe this week's protest can begin to such a process.
I encourage you to share your thoughts and observations. To register here so you can make comments you need to know that Santa Barbara's main street is State St.