Restoring the California Dream

It is no secret that I have a personal and compelling interest in Governor Schwarzenegger’s draconian cuts to the In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) homecare program. He would deny care to more than 400,000 low-income elderly, blind and disabled Californians or force them into nursing homes, which would cost taxpayers far more. He would leave hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal matching IHSS funds on the table. He would throw nearly 400,000 low-wage homecare providers out of work, increasing the state’s unemployment rate by almost two percent.

Yet, as horrific and shortsighted as these cuts may be, they are merely symptoms of the greater crisis that all Californians are facing. For many of us, the California dream has become a nightmare.

People need to understand that the budget cuts to schools, parks, libraries, infrastructure, safety net programs and other public services proposed by the governor and his allies aren’t just “temporary” cuts that will go away once the economy recovers. Their impact will haunt Californians for generations to come.    

• Families who file for bankruptcy because they can’t afford their child’s medical bills willnever get their life savings back.

• College students who can’t afford skyrocketing tuition and fees or can’t get into the courses they need to graduate may have to postpone their education indefinitely.

• The pain of seeing a disabled loved one forced into an institution will never go away.

• School children will not get to retake the third grade even if their classroom was too crowded and unruly for them to learn.

• Eliminating rehabilitation programs for prisoners and then turning around and releasing them early will be a recipe for disaster.

To help Californians understand what is happening, a small but intrepid group of marchers will set out this weekend on a 48-day, 260-mile march from Bakersfield to Sacramento. The theme of their march: “Restore the California Dream.”

Supported by a broad coalition of labor, education and faith groups, the marchers will be joined by teachers, police and firefighters, homecare workers, nurses, and other public servants in towns and cities up and down the Central Valley. The march will end with a rally at the State Capitol in Sacramento on April 21.

Now some people may ask why the organizers chose the Central Valley for this March instead of more “liberal” areas of the state. There’s a simple answer: Those who live in the Central Valley–just like all other Californians– know that something is seriously wrong in our state.  Republicans and Independents as well as Democrats agree that our system is broken. Conservatives and moderates as well as liberals realize that our political leaders lack compassion, courage and creativity.

If the people of the Central Valley look closely enough, they will see that the choices that have been made by the governor and the Legislature are neither wise nor inevitable. The marchers and their supporters won’t be there to spotlight our state’s problems. They will be there to reach out to people of good will–regardless of their political party or ideology–and work with them to find creative solutions.

All Californians should want quality public education and public services.  All Californians should want a government and an economy that works for all of us. All Californians should wanta fair, stable tax system to fund California’s future.  That was the California Dream we once had and can have again. We won’t restore the dream overnight, or by the November election, or even the next election. But on a rainy Saturday morning in the heart of the Central Valley, in the footsteps of Cesar Chavez, we will begin.