Friday, March 26, 2010

We must build a culture of community autonomy and self-reliance

Editor's Note: Jenn Laskin is a Reading Specialist and teacher at Renaissance Continuation High School in Watsonville. She has been a teacher for 11 years. After the article below Jenn talks about why she's marching.

As we move up the Central Valley I see and speak with many people. Different skins colors and cultures line our path.

So many people driving through only see the nice homes and the people who live in them. We overlook the trailer compounds along the road, sandwiched between a prison on the left and a cows on the right standing up to their knees in mud and manure. The bulls stand guard along the highway with huge horns.

There is an individualistic nature in poor white people I see, locked in their trailers and shanty houses. People think it is immigrants who are poor and most affected by the budget cuts; I think the poverty in California is more diverse than that.

I met a farmer who was complaining about his orchard being too expensive to water. He proceeded to refuse our petition because he is a Republican. Does he know that its the Republicans on his local Water Board who are keeping water to smaller farmers economically inaccessible?

We who believe in this march need to keep marching, keep leafleting and spreading the information into the affected areas. Schools are in such awful conditions. Yet our schools are a natural place to bring the community together to educate and activate. We must make our schools positive, empowering places, in spite of the horrible labels they place on our schools and the “performance” of our children.

Friday in Reedly, we marched by a high school garden class planting fruit trees in their garden. Hopefully, they will bring in parents and friends for a harvest and cooking party when the garden produces food. This is a perfect model of using a public institution to develop community autonomy.

Friday I learned that the Governor's proposed budget would eliminate CalWORKs cash assistance for more than 1.4 million low-income children and parents. CalWORKs provides cash assistance to low-income families with children, while helping parents find jobs and overcome barriers to employment. More than three-quarters (77.9 percent) of CalWORKs recipients are children.

The Governor's proposal to cut monthly payments by 15.7 percent would reduce or eliminate cash assistance for more than 1.4 million low-income children and their parents. The Governor is also proposing to eliminate the CalWORKs Program effective October 1, 2010 if the federal government does not provide California with $6.9 billion in new funds to help close the state's budget shortfall.

The counties we currently march through will be some of the hardest hit by the reduction of elimination of CalWORKs. The following are the numbers of people in each county who stand to lost crucial cash aid if CalWORKs is eliminated.

FresnoCounty- 80,000+ people
LA County- 400,000+ people
Merced County- 20,000+ people
Sacramento County- 90,000+ people
San Joaquin County- 42,000+ people

Cutting essential services will drive people to desperation to feed themselves. They need the government subsidies to survive and care for their loved ones, but the real question is…how can we organize beyond this? Why do we have to wait for politicians to facilitate our own survival? We must build a culture of community autonomy and self-reliance. We can start by talking to people, one step at a time.
Jenn Laskin - Why I March:
I am marching because I believe the only hope for education is for us to get out in the streets and educate people about how we fund public education in California. I’d like every single person who sees the march to join us and march on Sacramento to shut down the Capitol until the legislature calls a Constitutional Convention to change the 2/3 majority required to pass a budget!

Budget cuts over the years have made our schools less safe. We’re down to seven nurses in my school district of 19,000 students. The administration is cutting custodians, office staff and counselors too. When you’ve got only one custodian at a school, it becomes an unsafe environment. When you have no counselors, kids cannot learn about college.

We have no more money for materials such as paper, PE equipment and art supplies. Music and arts programs have been cut. Class sizes have gotten larger to save money yet we still have too many highly paid administrators. Our priorities are out of balance. I know one calculus teacher who has 38 students in his class.

Especially in younger grades, large class size makes it a challenge for teachers to provide in depth instruction and offer the individualized lessons students deserve. It is hard to teach the whole child and meet their academic, emotional and social needs.

Our current policies are driving students to prison instead of college. California deserves better than this.

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