DALLAS - In our town, small groups are forming to oppose local government cuts and layoffs. It's probably happening all over the nation.
On July 31, I attended a local Friends of the Library meeting to oppose a 50 percent layoff of library staff. On Aug. 3, I joined a group of community activists in the Fair Budget Campaign. In between, on Aug. 1 at 104 degrees Fahrenheit, all the children in the city experienced a cut of their own. Their public swimming pools were closed for the year.
Other groups that are meeting to fight cuts include the district attorney's office, the unionized civilian city employees, the subcontracted trash haulers, the Friends of the Parks, the police, the firemen, retirees bracing for new attacks on Social Security, and of course the public school teachers who are expected a horrible slap from the state legislature. Those are just the ones I know about.
On the bright side, it is wonderful that these groups are forming and are talking seriously about the economic crisis that is sucking us down its voracious throat.
The downside, though, is that they are largely working against each other. When one group of economic victims says, "Don't cut us!" they are implicitly saying, "It's OK to cut somebody else!" It's the bosses' game when we fight one another.
At the national level, some excellent programs exist. The Communist Party's Economics Commission has a fine presentation, the AFL-CIO has a good one, and Jobs with Justice has a good one. In one way or another, all of them call for increasing government revenues by taxing the rich. Our progressive income taxes have been flattened, capital gains taxes were slashed, inheritance taxes were diminished, and luxury sales taxes have disappeared. The most regressive taxes - sales and property taxes - have increased along with hard-to-define local government "fees" that hit the poorest hardest.
Now, after 30 years of tax abatements, government handouts and corporate welfare, major organizations are asking that we return to progressive taxation and let everybody pay their fair share. The problem is that these national programs do not translate easily into local programs. And it's in local communities where people are just beginning the necessary dialogue that will, eventually, lead to a mass movement that might make real solutions possible.
Local groups need programs that will bring them together into stronger and larger organizations. My Friends of the Library group drew a good crowd of intelligent activists, but their "Don't cut us" program left me sad and depressed. My Fair Budget Campaign meeting was much better. It was no surprise that their entire group came from the progressive civil rights movement. Their program calls for a "modest" increase in property taxes. I argued for a graduated taxation scheme that would save local government services without adding to the burdens of the poor. I also argued for a campaign to pass resolutions supporting the progressive national programs. I don't think I won any converts, but my ideas were received cordially among the many suggestions for immediate and radical action against all local government cuts.
These disparate groups, with strong programs or weak programs, are the new body cells of a strong new fighting giant, just being born, but with all the history-making potential in the world! We have to be with them!
Photo: Civil rights and Fair Budget Campaign leaders Ernest McMillan and Diane Ragsdale. (PW/Jim Lane)