After 26 days of fasting, the two remaining activists in the Fast 4 Education, Cesar Cruz and Israel Haros-Lopez, ended their fast on June 4 after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that would help poor school districts that have taken out major loans.
A crowd of supporters enthusiastically greeted the two fasters and Jessica Vasquez, who had ended her fast the day before, as other activists brought them in wheelchairs into the Assembly Press Room at the State Capitol.
“We have forced the Governor to really crumble, even though he rarely gives ins to protest,” said Cesar Cruz. "We thank Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union, for all of the work and teaching that she did to make this happen with the governor and the legislature."
The fast occurs in the context of growing budget cuts on the federal, state and local levels for education and social services. Meanwhile, billions and billions of our tax dollars are being wasted on illegal wars on the federal level and the prison-industrial complex on the state level.
Jessica Vasquez, who teaches a film class to sixth graders, said the fast was spurred by the deplorable conditions that West Contra Costa County schools are in. “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 Daucher Bill, AB2756, will change the interest rates from the West Contra Costa Unified School District and other poor school districts from 5.7% to 1.7%. This would save $600,000 alone for the West Contra Costa School District, which has been severely impacted with state budget cuts while stuck with payments on the remaining $16 million loan.
Through the work of Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg’s office, any school district that is in any loan trouble will have their loan payment put off 2 years until Prop 98 funds kick in. This means that none of the libraries in West Contra Costa School District will have to close, as was previously feared.
In addition, the Governor finally agreed to meet with the fasters. After shunning them in Sacramento after their 70 mile march from San Pablo to Sacramento in April, the Governor will meet with the fasters and their supporters at Downer Elementary School in Richmond in October.
"We are very grateful to the three remaining fasters," said Loni Hancock of the 14th District. "Many of us in the Legislature were worried about the permanent effects of the fast on them. We want to thank you - by your suffering, you put inequality in education on center state in the state and the capitol."
The end of the fast came after Assemblymember Hancock sent the Governor a letter signed by 42 legislators urging him to meet with the fasters. In addition, Speaker Fabian Nunez, Assemblymenbers Marco Firebaugh, Jackie Goldberg and Hancock introduced a resolution urging the Governor to refinance the state loan. Legislators were working with Dolores Huerta, who vigorously lobbied the Governor's staff.
“Fifty years after Brown Vs. the Board of Education, education is still put on the back seat,” said Fred Jackson, a veteran of the desegregation battles in the South in the early 1960s, who broke his fast earlier in the week. “We starved ourselves so our kids could be fed. Our mission was to move education to the moral agenda.”
On the previous day, Tony Gonzalez of the International Indian Treaty Council and American Indian Movement expressed his solidarity with the fasters at a noon rally on the steps of the Capitol.
“We need more money for education and less for the prisons,” he said. “We are having the United Nations investigator look into the privatization of prisons and downgrading of education that is taking place in California. The fasters are in a long line of people who have sacrificed themselves for justice, ranging from Bobby Sands, to Cesar Chavez, to Gandhi.
The activists started their fast May 10 in front of Oakland City 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. The fast started with 9 people, including teachers, students and community members.
The fasters and their supporters look at this victory as just the first step in bringing equality to education in California. Meetings are being held throughout the state to plan future activities. For more information, contact (408) 835-6633 or log on to http://www.Fast4Education.org.
Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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