Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Feet are Tired, but My Dream for California's Future is Strong

Editor's Note: Anna Graves is a retired ESL teacher and former clinical social worker of 25 years. She resides in Berkley with her husband, Jim Barnard. After her article below I've included a bio on Anna.

It's a 350-mile march from Bakersfield to Sacramento if you stop in the small towns along the Highway 99 corridor. I'm a retired teacher and clinical social worker making that march with other teachers and public service workers to sound an alarm in the heartland of this state that the California dream of opportunity and the good life is fading. It's time to wake up and do something about it. We're in the second week of our 48-day trek, and my feet are showing the wear. But though I'm tired, my spirit is soaring with the warm reception we are receiving in the San Joaquin Valley.

Money for our schools and public services has been slashed, and more draconian cuts are threatened in the immediate future. Public worker layoffs are leading to overcrowded classes and lost course offerings, to cuts in essential services to the frail elderly and disabled and the shattering of safety net services. These cuts affect all of us, and the quality of life and standard of living we have worked so hard for decades to achieve is at risk. That's why I'm dedicating my March and April to march -- for our future.

As we move up the state step by step, we are met by passersby who stop to cheer us on with warm words, water and snacks. Churches honor us in their services. Schools host us for the night. Students have come knocking on our RV door to invite us to a local play production. A town chief of police has paid a friendly visit to show his support.

When I read a banner that said, "March For Those Who Cannot," I felt a tug at my heart. I knew I was doing the right thing. It was written on the banner by in-home care workers in Los Angeles at the rally the day we departed for Bakersfield to begin the march. It may come as a surprise to Californians to know that our state ranks 48th in the nation in the number of state employees per resident, and that our K-12 schools are nearly last in the nation in per pupil spending. So, we don't have a "spending problem," as our governor asserts. We're actually behind almost all the other states in spending for our essential services.

What can we do? Alright, I'll say the forbidden word -- taxes. We need to restore taxes on the highest incomes and on large corporations that for years have enjoyed tax cuts. We regular taxpayers have been hoodwinked into carrying more than our share.

For example:

Individuals who make over 250,000 per year and couples who make over 500,000 have enjoyed tax cuts for almost 20 years. We need to raise the levels by 1-2 percent to they're at the same levels as they were under President Reagan, which will bring in5 billion a year.

Close corporate tax loopholes. The average taxpayer doesn't have them, why do we extend them to the stockholders of the wealthiest corporations?
Enact a tax on oil severance in our state, which is the only state that does not have this tax. George Bush's Texas and Sarah Palin's Alaska both tax oil taken out of the ground; why shouldn't California?

Besides restoring lost taxes, it's crucial that the State Legislature be able to pass a budget and raise revenue with a majority vote (50 percent plus one). Presently, a required a one-third-plus-one radical minority can, and does, freeze decision-making. That minority effectively controls the Legislature. An initiative now is being circulated for the November ballot to restore a more democratic process.

I may be retired, but I can walk. And I'm going to walk a long way before it's over.
Anna Graves - Why I March:
I graduated from high school in 1965. I always thought I had received a good education. At the time California’s education system was considered the best in the country, if not the world. Today our dropout rate only gets higher and higher. Our education system is now one of the country’s worst-funded.

I graduated with a masters degree in social welfare in 1978, not long after Proposition 13 was passed. All everyone talked about at the graduation ceremony was how all these social services were about to disappear. Indeed, from ’78 to ’81, when I was a clinical social worker in San Francisco working with the chronically mentally ill, I saw the difference. At that time we did not have the epidemic of homelessness we have today. We didn’t have cardboard villages under bridges and men sleeping in parks. The mentally ill could get services in the community.

In the early 1980s we were shocked to learn that some of our clients would go parts of the month without shelter. The problem got worse throughout the ‘80s. Today, we have veterans returning home who aren’t getting support for post traumatic stress disorder. Many end up homeless. Our society should and can be better than this.

I am marching because we need to restore the most basic services we expect from our government. As someone who grew up in small town California, it appeals to me that we’re following in the footsteps of Cesar Chavez. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the public to see the faces behind the services we all take for granted.

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