Volume 16 Issue 2
By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Rebecca Hensler (right), a school counselor at Denman Middle School and a member of UESF, at an Occupy Wall Street march through the financial district of San Francisco. Photo by Allan Brill of UESF.
Americans are angry. Grassroots protests supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement have spread from coast to coast. It’s not just college kids; mainstream Americans who have lost their homes, jobs and optimism about the future are taking to the streets and demanding change in massive numbers. And when it comes to California, there’s plenty that needs changing.
California has the second-highest foreclosure rate and the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation behind Nevada. There are 2.2 million unemployed people in California — 12.1 percent of the population — many of whom have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits months ago. Due to the housing crisis and unemployment, California has the highest rate of small business failures, ranks 40th in the nation in child homelessness, and has 2.2 million children living in poverty. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, California is among the three top states seeing an increase in hunger due to the recession. Our state has the eighth-largest economy in the world, but ranks 43rd in per-pupil education spending. Our schools have undergone unprecedented cuts and layoffs in recent years.
“Enough is enough,” says CTA President Dean Vogel. “We must take back America before we become a nation of only the rich and the poor, without a middle class.”
Joining a groundswell of support from fellow unions, community leaders and students throughout the country, CTA proudly supports the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is in favor of tax fairness and against corporate greed.
“Teachers and many union members are joining protests around the state because we have seen our schools and colleges cut by millions,” says Vogel. “We have seen class sizes grow, college tuitions increase and job opportunities vanish at the same time that banks have received bailouts and large corporations and millionaires have received tax cuts. We are the 99 percent. It’s time to put Main Street before Wall Street. It’s time for corporations to pay their fair share.”
Time for tax fairness
Fixing the problems plaguing California means fixing the state’s tax structure to fund our schools, colleges and essential social services, says Vogel.
“For too long, California has relied on mostly short-term solutions to our budget problems,” he explains. “The health of California’s future depends on stable tax revenues. It’s time to demand action to restore fairness to the system and make sure everyone is paying their fair share.”
The current system is anything but fair: The bottom 20 percent of wage earners in California pay 11 percent of their income in taxes, while the top 1 percent of wage earners pay under 8 percent. And corporate income has grown over 400 percent in seven years, while personal income for most people has grown just 28 percent.
“This growing inequality of wealth and income is not a random occurrence; it is by design,” says Vogel. “The consequences of this growing inequality and the concentration of corporate power and executive wealth undermine the foundations of our democracy. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans; it’s about doing what’s right for everybody.”
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich points out in a Christian Science Monitor article that it is not a partisan protest; in fact, President Obama’s unwillingness to place conditions on the bailout of Wall Street contributed to what Reich describes as the “new populist revolt.”
Local associations show their support
As the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads, local associations are joining forces with protesters and speaking out publicly.
Members of United Educators of San Francisco joined forces with the Occupy movement earlier this month outside a San Francisco hotel to protest an education conference sponsored by those in the conservative education reform movement. The conference was sponsored by the so-called Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group headed by Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida. Media baron Rupert Murdoch was a keynote speaker at the event.
UESF President Dennis Kelly and about 100 members picketed with Occupy movement citizens to protest “the selling of public education,” said Kelly in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. UESF members carried signs reading “Teachers are the 99 percent” and “The 1 percent ruined our economy: Why should we trust them with our schools?”
An Occupy Los Angeles protest at City Hall was well attended by members of United Teachers Los Angeles, who stood shoulder to shoulder with other union members, city employees and citizens who are dissatisfied with the status quo.
“A lot of Los Angeles area teachers are very excited about this movement because many of the students and communities being starved of resources are here in L.A.,” says Warren Fletcher, UTLA president.
Other protests have been reported in Sacramento and in Redding, Shasta County.
To find an Occupy Wall Street protest near you and download placards and posters, visit CTA’s webpage at www.cta.org/occupywallstreet. For more information about the Wall Street protests across the nation, visit www.occupytogether.org. To get involved with CTA’s tax fairness campaign, visit www.cta.org/taxfairness.