My favorite chant at recent protests on behalf of the 99 percent? “What kind of pie?” “Occupy!” It’s not just cute; there’s a real point embedded. For all the criticisms of the Occupy Together movement—no definite demands, no plan for legislative change, and everything else the cynical can throw at it—I would say that the movement is very clear on its central issues: The one percent and its interests have far too much influence over our government, and the ninety-nine percent are suffering because of the increasingly suction-up economy that benefits the one percent rather than the rest of us. Ultimately, Occupy is all about the size of the pie and who has a say over the pie.
Students are the 99 percent
In concert with and buoyed by Occupy, a student movement is taking hold in California, with a week of actions to defend California’s public higher eduction coordinated by ReFund California including marches, occupations, and (sadly) significant police brutality. The widely distributed videos of officers hitting students in the stomach with batons at the Berkeley campus and a University of California at Davis officer pepper spraying students sitting quietly (“as if he’s dousing a row of bugs with insecticide,” one report accurately observed) brought the issue of higher education to center stage.
That’s where it belongs. California’s higher education system was once the pride of the state, with full access and tuition-free colleges and universities for all who could benefit, representing the belief that education is a public good. That has been squeezed almost to the breaking point.
Colleges of the 99 percent
For the community colleges, that breaking point may come in the form of some proposals from the statewide Student Success Task Force, which seem to give up on the idea of a funded and accessible community college system for all. We are the colleges of the 99 percent, and we need funding for quality education. Rather than deciding that some students are deserving while some are not such good bets, we should be responding to the needs of more students.
In the current economic climate, the variety of education and training City College of San Francisco offers is needed more than ever.
Retirees are the 99 percent
Pension “reform” proposals are no different: those who push them say we just can’t afford them. While it is true that state and local coffers are in trouble, it’s not true that there is no money. Governor Brown’s recent proposals on pensions—many of which do not directly impact CalSTRS—claim to address the outrageous breaches in the rare cases such as Bell, California, where salaries and pension benefits put city officials well into the one percent. But corruption like this is the exception, and leveraging these concerns to cut workers’ abilities to retire with some security is a tactic that fuels the distrust of public employees and plays an effective game of divide-and-conquer, distracting us from the issues at hand—such as the pie.
Expanding the pie
Anti-tax guru Grover Norquist famously stated his desire to shrink government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
The extent to which the tax-hating, governmenticidal maniacs like Norquist have succeeded in shrinking the pie over the last decades means fewer services, a starving education system, students in increasing levels of debt, record unemployment, and housing foreclosures. We can fight over the little bit that Norquist and company have left us of our pie, or we can work to expand it.
Republican legislators have almost all signed Norquist’s no-tax pledge, but polls by California Federation of Teachers and others show Californians want essential services such as education, infrastructure, care for the elderly and the disabled, and public safety—not more tax cuts for the wealthy.
At City College, we must enlarge our pie. Students, faculty, and staff should not be providing the bailout for the college, the city, or the state, and we should not be fighting over tidbits. In the name of our students and the education we provide, we have made difficult choices and significant sacrifices in recent years, both collectively and, at times, disproportionately. But Occupy has demonstrated that the 99 percent can work together and be heard, channeling anger and frustration into activity and awareness.
We hope to channel this energy to enlarge the pie, building new revenue sources. CCSF will put forward a local revenue measure next year in the form of a parcel tax. And in the next weeks, we’ll have a full description of the statewide initiative to tax the one percent that we have been planning with the CFT and other community and labor groups. We’ll need your help to gather signatures, spread the word, and pass this ambitious November 2012 initiative that will raise the marginal tax rate on California’s wealthiest income earners. Any adjusted personal income exceeding one million dollars a year will be subject to additional tax, bringing billions of dollars back to the 99 percent. It will be an essential step toward fair taxation and a beginning to the restoration of education and CCSF. It will enlarge the pie.
Occupy’s point? It doesn’t have to be this way. And for City College—for the students, staff, and faculty here, and for all the college constituents—it should be clear: enlarge the pie. What kind of pie? Occupy. (firstname.lastname@example.org)