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San Francisco Budget Justice Rally.

By Peter Brown

The California budget crisis, like the national budget crisis, is spoken of as though it were an Act of God, something that we can do nothing about. The only choice we’re offered is to either be taxed or cut services.

We need to tax corporations. As our state and local governments languish and even go bankrupt, gigantic global corporations are reaping astounding profits in our state and many others in our same position.

Yet this is never pursued! Two excuses are given: the law which requires a 2/3 majority of the Legislature to increase taxes, and which makes it “too difficult” to get such a bill passed; and the constant threat that corporations would just pass the costs on to consumers, or worse yet leave the state and do business  elsewhere.

Even though a majority of Californians want the 2/3 law changed, nothing happens. Politicians claim to offer leadership, but what would real leaders do? They would represent our needs; organize neighborhood campaigns, Internet campaigns, facilitate people organizing themselves, to build an irresistible force to change the 2/3 rule. Politicians who won’t do this much are just blowing smoke.

And what about those pesky corporations passing costs on to us, or moving whenever it gets a little less profitable? They already do that! Real leaders would organize with other states to force corporations to stay put and give up profits, to give back to the workers who make them rich.  

This is class warfare being waged against us. We are prostrate at the feet of these corporations, because they hold the political power that puts the steering wheel of our country in their hands. This is what makes them the ruling class. We suffer to support their profits and their fantastic lifestyles. We’re told we must give up healthcare, education, pay, jobs, homes, the very fabric of our families, because we cannot challenge corporate power and wealth.

Yet, if they’re not doing us any good, what good are they?  What is the purpose of any part of society if it only benefits a tiny few at the expense of almost all?  What use is a government or system if it can’t make use of our work, our intelligence, our energy, our creativity, our desire to contribute and participate with the people around us?

The corporate world has shown over and over that it’s incapable of running either finance or industry or healthcare in a way that benefits anyone but the most wealthy and powerful.  Our government has already had to step in to prevent wholesale, permanent collapse. Isn’t it time, since we’re already part owners of some of these derelict giants, that they be nationalized, and run openly and transparently for the benefit of all in our society?  Corporations are worried they won’t be able to compete with well-run, public owned financial, manufacturing, and healthcare options.  If they can’t, why should we hold them up?

We must squarely face the facts, or we will suffer mightily.  There will be no recovery.  There is no basis for it; too much of what we make is made by automated factories, there aren’t enough people earning enough money to keep the system going.  It’s not the machines, it’s the system; if we can’t buy what we make, the capitalist system no longer works.  The corporate powers know this; they’re working to control us as we respond to our growing suffering. They can only control us if we’re divided and confused.

It’s time for us to challenge corporate power.  This will require us to think in new ways; we can no longer rely on attempts to influence political leaders who will not represent us.  We must become our own leaders.  We must organize a new kind of political force to fulfill the needs of all of us who must work to earn a living, yet are increasingly denied that opportunity.  No matter what church, union, school, PTA, club or group we are in, we must begin to build this within them.

When we do this we will begin to feel strength and unity we haven’t had for generations, and we will begin to win.  Once we begin to win, we will not stop until we’ve made those corporations public, swept away the world of petty greed and its violence, and built a new level of democracy that releases the true capabilities of the human race.
Peter Brown is a community college teacher in Oakland, California.

Safe Ground

This photo was taken after police told campers
to leave Tent City. Many had alreadly left the area.

By Cathleen Williams

She’s a young mother with a baby and a four year old daughter she had to send to her sister out of state because she could not find a safe space to stay after fleeing an abusive husband. “If I have to pitch a tent, I’ll do what I have to do,” she declared this month at the meeting of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee’s Homeless Leadership Project, “No one’s separating me from my baby.”

She’s one of a multitude. In California’s state capital the movement of homeless people for “safe ground” is growing – hundreds turned out in April at the rally on the capitol grounds, and, as the emergency shelter is scheduled to close on July 1, at press time hundreds more are projected to march and rally to spot light the crisis, along with supportive organizations like Loaves & Fishes, and Francis House, local service centers who are fighting for the right of homeless people to safety, shelter, and housing.

What is “safe ground” – the demand of our movement?  It is a three point program.
•    Decriminalize homelessness. It’s not a crime to be homeless. Stop the harassment and the arrests.
•    We need safe ground. A self governing campground with water, garbage service, and sanitation, as well as basic services.
•    Housing is a human right. Housing for all, and housing with supportive services for those who need it.

To make this program a reality, we know we need two things. First and foremost, we need our leaders from the homeless community to step out in front – and there are so many who have the heart, the eloquence, and the determination to make a difference. As Tim, a homeless construction worker stated at a recent Homeless Leadership Project meeting, “I am the voice of America.”

Secondly, we need the hundreds and thousands of homeless people – over 3,000 people are without a permanent roof over their head in Sacramento every night – to take heart and join the struggle by contributing what they can.

The war on the poor – a class war – has been openly declared. California Governor Schwarzenegger’s Budget Director, Mike Genest, said that it’s necessary to cut programs that affect poor people – health care for children, adult day and in home care, education, welfare, and the like – because “that’s where the money is.” (Sacramento Bee, 5/29/09) The capitalist class is no longer going to provide for even the most basic needs of our people through government services. We’re not going to get even crumbs from the great rich cake of our state. California Assemblyman Chuck Devore asserted that “people should look for jobs in other states. We have had policies subsidizing poverty in this state for years, and we can’t keep doing that.” (Sacramento Bee, May 28, 2009.)

Why are we talking about those people who are displaced from the system as a class? Of course, Americans don’t like to think in terms of “class” or “class interests”.  We’re a big, rich country where everyone has an opportunity to succeed, right?

Wrong. In our country, under the economic system of Capitalism, some people own things – not just money, but the things that make wealth – the factories, the vast freight trains and ships carrying raw materials and manufactured goods, the banks that collect interest and profits from paper transactions, the very fields that produce food and the machines that produce everything else we must buy.

But the non-violent movement for basic economic human rights against this capitalist class is on the move. The People’s Tribune will keep you posted.


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