Thousands of protestors, including a group of marchers who had walked through California’s Central Valley, held a rally in front of the state Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, calling for government and a tax system that serves all Californians. The march had lasted 48 days, during which the marchers covered 365 miles, bringing the message to Californians up and down the state that government in Sacramento ought to be reformed.
Whereas the public focus of protest against state policies in March was public education, on this occasion the issues were broadened to include health care and other public services.
The diversity of protest participants was broad as well, ranging from school staff and students to homecare workers, other public service employees, and religious leaders.
In Northern California, the protestors streamed into Sacramento beginning in the early afternoon, via carpools, buses, and Amtrak. From Berkeley alone, five filled buses drove to the Capitol.
I happened to be taking the train to Sacramento from Emeryville, joining teachers, administrators, and students from San Francisco City College. The situation at the college that they describe is a dire one. Professor Galina Gerasimova spoke with me about her own work with special needs students – students who have learning or physical disabilities, and/or need extra help in math, science, or English. The Disabled Students Program at the college, she said, has been cut over the past two years by over 50 percent.
Leslie Smith, an administrator at the college, spoke of the importance of the Sacramento action, “Many of the students in community colleges are from disenfranchised communities, so getting on a train today in a rain storm to go march and rally on behalf of education, entering the bastions of power, listening and telling their own stories, all of this provides a deep educational experience.”
Alisa Messer is an English teacher at the college and a candidate for president of local union AFT 2121: “I’m excited to be joining up with the last leg of the march. What the marchers have managed to organize and represent is the importance of protecting education, explaining how education is integral to the future of our state.”
She added that education “is not only about job-training, it’s about how we want to live in our society, what we want to happen in our state.” Leslie Smith concurred, “We want a thinking society – democracy requires that.”
What remedies is this protest movement proposing in order to fund quality public education, affordable health care, and other public services? Speakers at the rally focused first of all on the need for a progressive tax system, including the closing of corporate tax loopholes. Second, the requirement of a two-thirds vote to raise taxes or pass a budget ought to be rejected. Campaign financing is also at issue; a flyer distributed at the rally said that over a billion dollars has gone into state political campaigns since 2000, “buying access for special interests and shutting out the rest of us.” Proposition 15, on the June Ballot, will provide a pilot program for public financing of state political campaigns.
Several speakers at the rally noted that California’s fiscal crisis is bound up with national priorities. Randy Silverman, marching and attending the rally from Berkeley, said that more federal funding should be used to support the public sector in California.