Time for the Leaders to Follow

This is for my folkers who got bills overdue
this is for my folkers, umm check 1-2
this is for my folkers never lived like a hog
me and you toe-to-toe, I got love for the underdog——-they’d tear this muthaf – up if they really loved you” “Underdogs”,  Boots Riley

March 4th was First Friday and the big gang injunction rally at City Hall. I started with one and then moved onto the other on that balmy evening filled with the contrasts that Oakland has to offer.

I’ve got to admit, I was impressed by the youth groups who marched into Frank O’Gawa Plaza chanting and playing music, but I was saddened to see that they had to direct their energies to defend what should already be theirs-a decent education and the ability to walk the streets safely.

Whenever Oakland’s youth get passionate about something, they get organized. When they get organized, they also make music and poetry that fill the city with the sound of their anguish and their joy. You can’t help being moved by that and wondering why we don’t seem to honor their concerns.

I’ve got a new tiny video camera which I’m learning how to use, I think. The quality is not very good and my abilities are limited by my technological ineptitude, but I’m trying.  There is so much going on in this town that needs to be documented and I don’t want to miss anything. I got bits of Boots Riley ‘s song, “Underdogs,” which Raymond “Boots” Riley wrote in 1998. If you listen to the lyrics, you wonder if anything has really changed around here.

Of course, I mean Oakland, and the USofA. Lots has changed, you say? This rap was written after the Dot Com Crash and before the Whole Earth Crash, could we call it, or the Wall Street Meltdown, whatever.

After that giant rip-off/bailout, folks in Oakland, like lots of American cities, towns, and rural areas included, have lost stable incomes and many never had them. It’s been documented over and over that this slide of the US working class’ share of the wealth has been going on since at least the 70’s.

Even so, when my kids were little in the early 80’s and I was raising them with no help from their father and little from anyone else, there was almost nothing in the way of healthcare for my chronically ill children without a good job. Even then, since my kids had serious health issues which affected their schooling, there was next to nothing to assist my family.

Since then there has been some level of enlightenment and programs have arisen to help families like mine. We mostly did without them until my kids were teens, but what we got went a long way. For instance, as a result of his epilepsy, for a short time, my son was able to get some help with purchasing his college books under the federal Occupational Health program. That relieved some of the pressure on us.

I never used the WIC program but I know plenty of moms who did. Most of us have taken it for granted that Head Start is an important program and the new child health care program is a wonder that I wish had been available when my kids were little.

And ,now, as I gaze out my window to my view, a sliver of bridges and cranes-I can also see Oakland’s downtown and, farther in the distance, a few of San Francisco’s skyscrapers poking into the clouds-I wonder what I’ll be able to see after the Big One hits.

Hey, given how old my house is, I’ll probably ride to the bottom of the hill and where I won’t  be able to see anything. I remember the 89 quake and the 91 fire. In spite of not being prepared, we had FEMA to rebuild some of our broken downtown and we fought the Feds to get our share to restore West Oakland. I remember the brave fire fighters, police, and lots of regular West and North Oaklanders, particularly West Oaklanders, who climbed onto the collapsed bridge to save whoever they could.

What I’m getting at is that as bad as things have remained for many of us, there had been  some signs that our society knew what it took be civilized and was moving in that direction.

We even elected a president with a funny name who was biracial, Black and White, in a country that is as polarized as any in the world along that racial divide.

But here we are on a national precipice. The Wall Street Gang came and robbed us like it did every other city and state around this country, but of course, it doesn’t help that our state has a governing structure that makes us unable to respond to reduced revenues or the increased gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Now, between the Republican radicals in the Congress and the Republican Radicals in Sacramento, we are facing a disastrous future that we are barely able to contemplate.

We have already given up the 160-year-old promise of free basic adult education in California and we are moving towards abolishing higher education for anyone but the wealthy. But are we also moving towards limiting public education to only those who have absolutely no other choices while those that do find themselves going into debt in order to send their elementary kids to school?

Folks in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio are fighting back. Just because we have a Democratic Governor who is not trying to abolish our local governments or our unions (I won’t get into who wiped out our school board and put us deeper into debt), doesn’t mean we aren’t in for a bumpy ride.

We have a new mayor who may not have all the answers, how could she? But she is trying harder than any mayor in my memory so we’ve got to challenge our state leaders to do what needs to be done. Rather than complain about the fiscal crisis and how the city leaders caused it, let’s make sure Sacramento doesn’t make it worse.

Beyond the tax extensions, the Dems and the Guv have to go after the real money in this rich state. Trust me, they know where it is-these guys are their friends and contributors.

Remember that Wisconsin has reminded us that “when the people lead, the leaders must follow.”

Interactive exhibit at Art Murmur

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