Friday, March 5, 2010
SAN DIEGO Thousands of people embark on a 400-mile protest march today. The “March for California's Future” is intended to bring attention to a crisis in public education. One San Diego professor plans to spend seven weeks walking from Bakersfield to Sacramento.
Kelly Mayhew is preparing the family dinner. Posters of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead are taped and tacked on the walls. Kelly's husband, Jim Miller is in the living room with his 5-year-old son.
Miller is an English and Labor Studies professor at San Diego City College. He's known as much for his long, blonde ponytail as he is for his commitment to the greater good. Miller says he's ready to take his activism on the road.
“We've been involved in lots of different activist groups, but this is the biggest single endeavor, a 48-day march,” Miller said.
March for California's Future
Miller laughs because he's 45 years old, has asthma and a bad back. That means the 400-mile long march will be harder for him than most of the other marchers.
The route begins in Bakersfield. It cuts north through agricultural towns like Delano, Chowchilla and Modesto. Miller says the farmland in the Central Valley was fertile ground for the teachings of Cesar Chavez.
“In particular, when we're marching through the Central Valley, where you go through these towns, and the average income is so low, what will be the future for the kids of those farm workers?” said Miller.
“Jim and I are privileged,” Mayhew said. “He went to a public elementary school. I went to a public junior high and high school. We were fortunate California public schools at the apex, at the absolute best time. And what we’ve seen over the 20 years of our teaching is such a decline in support of education.”
Their son Walt goes to McKinley Elementary, a school in the San Diego Unified School District. It’s facing an $80 million state budget shortfall. They see their son's classes getting bigger, school services vanishing, and now a school year cut short due to teacher furloughs.
Then, at work as professors at San Diego City College, they see their classrooms packed and they have little support. They’ve seen colleagues get pink slips and students turned away because there aren’t enough seats in class.
They say Californians have to start caring about the future.
“There’s a rare person who has not had some experience with public education, if not the bulk of their experience with public education,” Mayhew said. “That’s not to say that people haven’t had bad teachers. Obviously sometimes that happens. But we are the country that we are in part because our public education systems.”
“Even the most self-interested person has to see the larger economic consequences of this. Cutting infrastructure and education is absolutely the worst thing to do for the future of the state's economy,” Miller said.
Miller walks into the dining room and reads from his "what to pack list." He’s part of a core group that’s making the entire 48-day trek. All of his belongings have to fit in a single duffel bag.
Miller says he plans to bring a few other things with him from home, namely a photo of his son's kindergarten class and e-mails from students detailing their struggles.
Miller says he wants to focus on solutions, which he believes come in the form of progressive taxation, meaning as income goes up, taxes go up.
“People say the worst thing is to raise revenue. But in fact, smart people who know something about the economy, they say that’s precisely not the truth. That in fact is, it's better to raise revenue from corporations and or top brackets than to just cut, cut, cut,” Miller said.
He hopes legislators hear that loud and clear as the group marches on Sacramento. Miller says the beauty of a march is that it can influence minds one step at a time.
“Institutions don't change by themselves. People have to own their own democracy and push them from the outside and that’s what this is about,” Miller said.
Kelly and her son Walt will join Jim on the first leg of the march.