Organizing Notes Monday, March 07, 2011
ANOTHER DAY AT THE STATE CAPITAL
I left early this morning to head to Maine's state capital in Augusta with friends Dan Ellis and Peter Woodruff. There was a 9:30 am rally inside the capital by organizations representing the elderly, the homeless, and the poor. They gathered to protest our Republican governor's proposed two-year budget that would drastically slash social spending while giving more tax cuts to the rich.
We were there early enough that Dan and I could leaflet every one of the 250 folks who showed up for the event. When they called for people to gather on the stairway behind the podium, seven of our Bring Our War $$ Home supporters took their signs up onto the staircase. Most of the signs made by the groups that organized the event were mild by our standards, ours were more direct and to the point about taxing the rich and ending war spending.
Following the rally people signed up to speak before the joint House and Senate committee that is now holding hearings on the governor's proposed budget. After two hours of listening to a staff analysis they took a couple hours of public comment and then switched back to another hour of staff analysis. I finally got to speak for my three-minutes around 3:00 pm, after an almost five hour wait.
All day long people predominantly talked about their one specific area of concern - don't cut seniors medical care; don't cut HIV patients care; don't cut homeless housing assistance; don't cut aid to families. These were important and at times heart breaking stories but one thing was missing. None of the representatives I heard from AARP, United Way, poor people's organizations, or the legal agencies that represent the poor did any kind of deeper analysis of the situation at hand.
When I spoke I tried to do this by acknowledging that the governor was, despite his claims otherwise, undertaking class warfare on the working class and poor people. I mentioned that the proposed income tax cuts and estate tax cuts for those at the top would only increase the wealth divide between the 1% in the country who now control the equivalent wealth of all the rest of us on the bottom of the pyramid. This is leading us to a new feudalism I said.
The governor's claims that tax cuts for the rich would increase jobs is not supported by economic data that instead shows that state funding for education and infrastructure actually creates more jobs.
And I suggested, this economic crisis will be even worse next year. What was needed is a real solution.
I then read from the leaflet that we handed out today that said: The total debt of all 50 state governments is now $130 billion. The U.S. will spend $170 billion on our wars in Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan this year. Maine's share of war spending since 2001 is now right at $3.4 billion according to the National Priorities Project.
Imagine, I said, how those dollars could have been used to fund education, health care, and other human needs in our state. Many more of our tax dollars will be wasted as long as these wars continue.
We must, I concluded, call upon all of Maine's local, state, and federal elected officials to speak up and tell President Obama and Congress to Bring Our War $$ Home now. I also suggested that the Maine legislature might consider passing a resolution calling on Washington to Bring Our War $$ Home.
At this point I had nine seconds left on the clock to finish my last line. But the chair of the committee interrupted me to say "It's time to wrap up." I'd been watching him for hours let many people go over their time without interruption.
So I increased my volume and stared right into the eyes of the chair and said, "We should all begin to make the connections between endless war spending and our economic crisis here at home. Thank you."
It was a long wait to speak for three-minutes but I think our presence in the capital brought a broader dimension to the day, something I am very proud of our folks for doing. We can talk all day about how bad cuts in social funding are but we have a responsibility to clearly articulate the path out of this deep hole if we hope to restore the economy and protect social justice.