By Margot Pepper
San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center, April 2010
SACRAMENTO, Calif. César Chávez Day came and went without acknowledgment from most mainstream print media of a Chávez-inspired 365-mile march that lasted 48 days and culminated in thousands of Californians converging upon the State Capitol April 21st. Wave after wave of union workers, educators, students, parents, and demanded funding for basic public services that citizens in developed nations expect for their tax dollars, such as functioning schools, roads and parks.
The route was twenty-five miles longer than the one originally led by César Chávez in 1966 from Delano to Sacramento to protest growers’ deliberate spraying of striking farm workers with lethal pesticides. “Most of the farm-workers’ energy was focused on the grape boycott. At its height, more than 14 million Americans helped by not buying grapes. The pressure was irresistible, and the Delano growers signed historic contracts with UFWOC in 1969,” observed PBS film-maker Rick Tejada-Flores in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas.
The recent March for California’s Future began in Bakersfield on March 5 with the aim of safeguarding the future of California’s students, the infirm and elderly, and to protest the severely deteriorated quality of life of the majority of Californians. The core group of marchers that reached the finish line include a San Diego college professor, a Los Angeles probation officer and a Bay Area community organizer. They endured rain and heat, slept in churches, schools and RV parks, according to Lori Abbott (PNS) in the San Jose Mercury News. While mention of the march can be found on the web at the Huffington Post and KPBS, the San Jose Mercury News was the only established print media outlet that followed the story in any depth.
Before Governor Schwarzenegger’s latest cuts, California ranked 47th in the nation per pupil spending. Now critics predict it will be closer to 49th. Adult schools, the last safety net for those who “have been left behind” are being closed throughout the state, increasing the likelihood of more costly incarceration, noted Berkeley Adult School Educator Lynn Kalmar at Wednesday’s rally. Among other cuts to parks and public services affecting children, the poor and elderly, the governor has threatened to eliminate the state’s In-Home Supportive Services Program employing 65,000 of the state’s in-home care workers and jeopardizing the lives of the disabled they care for. Yet this is “the richest state in the richest country in the world,” says the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. The math doesn’t add up.
At the Capitol Rally, Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), attributed California’s woes to the absence of a progressive tax system requiring the ultra-rich pay their “fair share.” CFT spokesperson Fred Glass explains, “Taxes for the wealthiest have been steadily reduced even though the top one percent of taxpayers in California [averaging $1.6 million in annual income] has nearly doubled its share of adjusted gross income since 1993 from 13.8% to 25.2% in 2007…The state income tax rate of this super-rich group has been pared during that time from 11.3% to 9.3%, robbing the state of $3 to $6 billion each year. Another $9 to $10 billion in annual revenues have been whittled away through corporate tax reductions.”
According to Alternet’s David DeGraw, “The poorest one-fifth of the population pay more than eleven percent of their income in taxes, whereas the top one percent earning an average of more than two million dollars a year, are paying about seven percent.” Over the last sixty years, the federal income tax level levied on those earning more than $400,000 has dropped nearly twenty percent from 91 percent to 70 percent, according to a recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies.
Apparently, not everyone in our nation is suffering from the recession. DeGraw points out that the United States has the highest inequality in the industrialized world. According to Forbes, the first full year of the economic crisis, the wealth of the 400 richest U.S. people increased by $30 billion. This, says DeGraw, brings “their total combined wealth to $1.56 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population.”
In 2007, the top 1% held 43% of U.S. financial wealth, according to UC Santa Cruz Professor G. William Domhoff. It is tempting to reason that were this wealth divided among the remaining 90 percent, it would likely be almost twice as wealthy. Instead, Governor Schwarzenegger and Republican lawmakers recently led the charge in recent budget negotiations to further cut corporate taxes by $2 billion a year, according to Judy Lin (AP) in the San Jose Mercury News.
To help remedy this situation, State Assembly representative Alberto Torrico has authored AB 656 that will levy a 12.5 percent extraction fee on oil companies that currently don’t pay a dime in taxes to extract California’s oil. The revenues would generate nearly $2 billion a year for the state’s public colleges and universities. “Even Sarah Palin’s Alaska and George W. Bush’s Texas levy an oil severance fee,” says Torrico in an opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News. “California is the only oil-producing state that continues to miss the opportunity to generate funds with a fair oil severance fee.”
At present, the Assembly Bill is likely to fall short of the two-thirds majority votes needed to raise taxes since Proposition 13 passed in 1978. This is why rally organizers are calling on citizens to sign UC Berkeley Professor George Lakoff’s petition for a ballot measure that will change the two-thirds voting threshold to a simple majority for the Legislature to pass budgets and to impose higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
But while this legislation is desperately needed as a quick fix, were César Chávez still alive, he might caution its supporters about turning over all their power to the legislature instead of building a movement willing to engage in direct action, strikes, sit-ins and boycotts. When the California Legislature created the Agricultural Labor Relations Board in 1975, the United Farm Workers (UFW) was forced to give up wildcat strikes and secondary boycotts. Growers used legal loopholes in the union election rules to drag out negotiations for years and avoid signing contracts with the UFW.
As for the media blackout on the story, one need only inquire whether the owners of the newspapers and stations are in that top one-percent earning more than 1.6 million dollars a year, to know whether they stand for a more equitable tax distribution or prefer that this story disappear.
More information is available at www.fight4cafuture.com.
Margot Pepper is a Mexican-born journalist and author whose work has appeared in Common Dreams, Utne Reader, Monthly Review, Z-net, Counterpunch, Dollars & Sense, Prensa Latina, NACLA, El Andar, El Tecolote, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, City Lights, Hampton Brown, Rethinking Schools and elsewhere, and can be found at http://www.margotpepper.com and http://freedomvoices.org/new/node/93.