Calif. protesters to Arnold: Well be back

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A crowd of 20,000 people here May 25 protested the anti-labor policies of the Schwarzenegger administration in the largest demonstration in the state capital’s history.

The rally was in opposition to the $70 million special election planned by Schwarzenegger to pass anti-labor and anti-education funding initiatives. He has refused to pay back $2 billion borrowed from school funding last year and wants to slash $4 billion in ongoing education funding, which would mean a $25,000 cutback for every California classroom.

The Sacramento demonstration was repeated in Los Angeles, where over 10,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, other unionists and clergy from several counties gathered in Pershing Square with calls of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, The Terminator’s got to go.” Charles Lester, interim executive secretary-treasurer for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, told the crowd, “Today, brothers and sisters, the people, not corporate interests, are standing up.”

In Sacramento, union members in colorful T-shirts gathered on the south lawn of the Capitol while the hundreds of home-made signs conveyed the passion of the protest: “Arnold can’t be bought, Big Business already owns him”; “Schwarzenegger’s health care record is sickening”; and “My special interest is kindergarten”; among hundreds of others.

Schwarzenegger has referred to unions derisively as “special interests,” while, according to protesters, using his own special interests — big corporations from inside and outside California — to raise more money than any governor in the state’s history.

The rally began with the Ray Charles song “Hit the Road, Jack,” changed to “Hit the road, Arnold, and don’t you come back no more! Teachers don’t want you back no more, firefighters don’t want you back no more …”

Woodstock veteran Country Joe McDonald greeted the crowd as “old hippies and young hippies” and sang his famous Vietnam War-era “I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die Rag.”

Following greetings to the crowd by home health care workers speaking Hmong, Chinese and Spanish, Frances Gracechild, president of the Sacramento Resources for Independent Living, told the crowd that Schwarzenegger “is the CEO of California and he’s picking on women in wheelchairs. As a fellow Catholic, I have to tell him that the only way he won’t do hard time in hell is if he resigns.”

Deborah Burger, California Nurses Association president, pointed out that nurses were the first to stand up to the governor and have been picketing him wherever he appears in California.

“We will keep this up until this governor goes back to movies where he belongs,” she said.

Barbara E. Kerr, president of the California Teachers Association, described as “paycheck deception” Schwarzenegger’s attempt to silence unions by requiring them to get yearly permission from members to use part of dues money for political purposes.

“We are here to say no to that and to his special election,” she declared.

Schwarzenegger’s attacks on pensions and benefits for public workers, and especially on death and disability benefits for firefighters and police officer, have outraged Californians.

Decorated Stockton firefighter Oscar Berrera, referring to the 90-degree weather, said, “If you think we are hot, just think how the governor feels right now. … We have a message for him: We will not surrender or be defeated.”

Rosalio Muñoz contributed to this story.