Fast 4 Education at Calif. state capitol

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Six activists from West Contra Costa County, including one mother, two teachers, one student and two community members, are now on a water-only “Fast 4 Education” at the state capitol to bring attention to the struggle for equitable education.

The activists started their fast May 10 to demand that Proposition 98, passed by the voters in 1988, be fully funded. The governor reduced Proposition 98 by $2 billion, gutting the budget of school districts throughout the state, according to the group, which also marched 70 miles from San Pablo to Sacramento in April.

Wendy Gonzalez, a first-year elementary teacher in the district and one of those on the fast, emphasized the deplorable condition of the schools. “There is more support for the students in the street and the gangs than there is in our schools,” Gonzalez said.

Jessica Vasquez, who teaches a film class to sixth graders, said the schools are also physically in shambles. “The bathrooms are in bad shape, the ceilings are coming down in the classrooms and the school looks like a prison,” she said.

“When I ask the students what they want to be, they often tell me, ‘to be alive,’” Vasquez added. “This is sad – when they should be saying they want to be a doctor, teacher, engineer or other profession.”

The idea for the fast came about after the activists felt that the march wasn’t effective, since neither the governor’s staff nor the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, would meet with them. “We decided to engage in the fast so we could pressure the officials to meet with us,” said Cesar Cruz, a former conflict management teacher in San Pablo. “After we fasted 10 days in Oakland, we decided to bring our fast to Sacramento.”

The hunger strike appears to already be having an impact. The group met with Jack O’Connell to discuss their demands May 20. “O’Connell endorsed two of our demands to fully fund Proposition 98 and to endorse a new formula for equitable funding in the schools,” said Cruz. However, a 35-minute meeting between the organizers and three of the Governor’s staff, was less fruitful. “They told us little of a whole lot of nothing,” Cruz said.

On May 28 Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg introduced the fasters to the entire California Assembly. Afterwards, negotiations with Fabian Nuñez, Assembly speaker and Darrell Steinberg, chair of the Budget Committee, took place

The group has vowed to keep their hunger strike going until their demands are incorporated into the state education budget, according to Gabriel Hernandez, fast organizer. For more information, contact (408) 835-6633 or log on to http://www.Fast4Education.org

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org.