Saturday, March 19, 2016

Functionary and Pol Overseers for the 1%

To prepare residents for the 21st century, California’s leaders lack vision. Instead of leading the charge that demands the full funding of its systems of public higher education, Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California, and Timothy White, Chancellor of the California State University, scoff at this notion.

California State University Chancellor Timothy White and University of California President Janet Napolitano LONG BEACH PRESS-TELEGRAM

In late January, in a conversation to recruit more underrepresented students and inform them how to pay for the ever-increasing price of tuition, White stated, “Nobody likes the word that begins with a T [i.e., taxes] . . . I'm an idealist and want to maintain costs as low as possible for students, but I'm also a realist.”

Similarly, and shortly afterward, when asked about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ tuition-free public college promise, Napolitano responded, “I don't think it's feasible… I appreciate the sentiment ... but you've got to ask, who pays?"

I don’t know what to make of the myopia of these two who helm, respectively, the largest and one the most prestigious public university systems in the world.

To answer Napolitano’s question, the following constituents can pay a squarer share:

• Commercial property owners, disproportionate beneficiaries under Proposition 13
• Like in Texas and Alaska, fossil fuel corporations that reap huge profits from California’s reserves
• Corporation that enjoy tax subsidies
• Wall Street speculators by way of a fraction of a percent tax on trading as proposed by Bernie Sanders

But the vapidity of White and Napolitano mirrors the pusillanimous character of the political establishment of California.

This abandonment is particularly frustrating as Hispanic pols are not only increasingly elected into the California legislature but also holding posts that could make such policies a reality.

For example, Kevin DeLeon is Senate Pro Tem and, just recently, Anthony Rendon became Assembly speaker. In addition, Assemblymember Jose Medina chairs the Higher Education committee.

But only Bernie Sanders champions a tuition-free public higher education.

While a new cycle of state officials enjoy the fruits of elected office, Hispanic students are enrolling in the CSU and UC in historic numbers. So much so that CSU and UC campuses throughout the state are winning the coveted designation Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI): CSU Channel Islands (my university), CSU Chico, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz to name a few.

To be a HSI, 25% of a university’s full time equivalent student population must be Hispanic. Once a HSI, it is eligible for sorely needed federal grants to augment its capacity to serve all students.

So as the CSU and UC lure in millions of federal HSI dollars, they are financially sticking it to all students who, on average, are assuming over $20,000 of debt.

Napolitano herself admits that 55% of UC undergraduates assume such a debt. This may not be much for a UC president with a salary package approaching $600,000, plus a $10,000 monthly housing allowance and $9,000 annually for car expenses. (White’s annual salary is $430,000 ) But for a twenty-something, working-class, first-generation college student this is huge.

Why don’t Sacramento legislators and university executives direct the cause for a tuition-free public higher education?

Could it be that they dread to offend real estate interests, utility companies, financiers, and other corporate interests that bankroll their political campaigns and donate to their university foundations?

In exchange for their financial contributions, these elites demand that elected officials and university functionaries not promote the reformation of the state’s tax code to make a public higher education once again virtually tuition free.

This is done by way of lobbying in and out of the cloistered rooms of the state capital and college campuses.

In my historical research of the Ernesto Galarza papers at Stanford University, I came across a document that stated that once a non-profit agency accepted donations from utility companies it sold its soul.

This intrigued me.

Then I noticed how my university regularly received donations from gas and electric companies among other corporate benefactors.

Then a few years later, I examined the papers of Charles C. Teague at UCLA. Teague captained the Limoneira Ranch Company in Ventura County and founded the Associated Farmers, an organization created to bust labor unions.

As a citrus baron, Teague raised financial support from finance, insurance, railroad, and petro-chemical companies to not only destroy unions but also influence Sacramento politicians to defeat workmen’s compensation, minimum wage, occupational safety, and other pro-labor legislation.

If history is a prologue to the present, I suspect a similar pressure-group dynamic muzzles Sacramento politicos and people like White and Napolitano from calling for a reformed tax structure so that today’s young people will not be burdened with crushing intergenerational student-loan debt.

So what’s the solution?

Every college student, parent, and grandparent who cares must contact Governor Jerry Brown and their state representatives to demand a tuition-free CSU and UC education. Vote Smart at can tell you who represents you.


Ventura County Star

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Movement Before El Movimiento: Farmworker Advocacy and Organization Programs in Ventura County, California, 1961-1967

This paper is a selection from a book manuscript tentatively titled, The Battle of San Buenaventura: The Chicana/o Movement in Ventura County, California, 1961-1975. In addition to the geographic examination of el movimiento from the perspective of the northern portion of Southern California and its linkages with larger currents of the time, the book will attempt complicate the generational organization in the historiography. In other words, I contend that el moviemiento entailed the activism of people from the Mexicanist, Mexican American, and Chicana/o generations.

In 1958, Saul Alinsky, founder of the Industrial Areas Foundation, and Ralph Helstein, president of the United Packinghouse Workers of America, recruited César Chávez to establish a Community Service Organization chapter in Ventura County. They envisioned Chávez’ organization of the Mexican community undergirding a unionization campaign in the area’s packinghouses. Despite his incredulous acceptance of the assignment, Chávez ultimately created a vibrant CSO that momentarily disrupted the agricultural industry’s exploitation of the Bracero Program.

During this campaign, Chávez experienced a conversion from a community organizer to one of agricultural labor. In the process, he also developed a network of true believers. Indeed, after he quit his dear CSO in 1962 to establish a union of his dreams, the National Farm Workers Association, he periodically returned to Ventura County to stump for Democratic candidates as well as to provide, largely, moral support to strikes that erupted in the industries of citrus, eggs, strawberries, and vegetables during the early 1970s. Chávez consulted leaders in several of these disputes, and in other instances became more directly involved.

These walkouts, however, counted upon a foundation of labor activism prior to Chávez’s return. After the completion of the CSO battle in 1959, for example, he remained in contact with people that supported him. In fact, John Soria, Chavez’s former CSO assistant in Oxnard, along with others, created the Farm Labor Service Center and futilely attempted to persuade Chávez in May of 1962 to return to Ventura County to realize his union hopes there instead of Delano.

Nevertheless, Katherine Peake, a Santa Barbara philanthropist and former wife of Clive Knowles (the director of the United Packing House Workers of America), financially backed the Farm Labor Service Center as it fought against the agricultural industry’s reversion to the employment of braceros at the expense of domestic workers. Peake also tapped into her Los Angeles network of activists, celebrities, and politicos such as Steve Allen, Max Mont, Dore Schary, John Anson Ford, and Rod Serling to fund the Service Center.

Eventually, in 1965, Peake and Soria obtained the sponsorship of the Emergency Committee to Aid Farm Workers in Los Angeles to establish the Farmworkers Opportunity Project. This enabled Peake and Soria to obtain War on Poverty grants to found Operation San Buenaventura to implement a curriculum of job training, labor organizing, English language, and civics for farmworker families.

To this end, Peake and Daniel Lund, who served as the executive director of the Emergency Committee, recruited Peter Lauwerys of Visalia to direct the Farmworkers Opportunity Project headquartered in the La Colonia barrio of Oxnard. This organization worked in partnership with the US Manpower Development and Training Agency, the California state Departments of Employment and Education as well as the Oxnard High School District to effect a $600,000 grant (adjusted for inflation equaling $4.5 million) to recruit and train 600 unemployed Ventura County farmworkers for year around jobs in the citrus industry. Student cohorts of 40 were trained in tree pruning, fumigation, and other technical skills. During this time, the program paid the students as part of their on-the-job training in the orchards of Ventura County. This addressed the demand of growers who continually sobbed that a shortage of labor existed within the industry after the end of the Bracero Program.

Under Lauwerys’ direction and with War on Poverty grant money, the Opportunity Project hired counselors (many former farmworkers or the children of such) and provided students recruited from the fields and orchards of the county with generous stipends. This not only liberated people from the grind of agricultural work but also created career opportunities for them outside of it. In addition, the Opportunity Project primed citizens and residents to be civically engaged. This served as a basis for the labor uprisings in Ventura County during the first half of the 1970s.

Consequently, in 1969 Lauwerys, a self-described “professional agitator,” defined the Opportunity Project’s mission to integrate the farmworker community into the greater polis of Ventura County. Like the CSO, the project also sought to endow disadvantaged groups, farmworker and non-farmworker alike, by informing them of their rights and guide them through a praxis to collectively solve problems that affected them. Furthermore, the Opportunity Project embarked on CSO-like house meetings to identify issues in the community, reflect upon them, and brainstorm solutions.

Toward this goal, Opportunity Project students, many of them citrus workers, spent half their paid time to complete the vocational component of the program; the remaining portion encompassed classroom instruction in civics, English, and other academic subjects. Hence, similar to the CSO, the Service Center of the Opportunity Project provided support to farmworkers not only in terms of the economic self-sufficiency but also community empowerment by the cultivation of civic leaders.

Under the umbrella of the Opportunity Project, Lauwerys created Operation Harvest Hand. This program employed counselors to advise farmworkers in not only the location of employment but also how to collectively bargain for improved work conditions. The leadership of the Emergency Committee, under which the Opportunity Project existed, contacted César Chávez to coordinate its efforts with his union. In this regard, Operation Harvest Hand laid the foundation for the development of a subsequent farmworkers movement in Ventura County.

The next year, in 1966, the Office of Economic Opportunity headed by Sergeant Shriver in Washington, DC, authorized $95,431 (adjusted for inflation nearly $700,000) to fund the work of Operation Buenaventura, an additional War on Poverty project focused on servicing the demands of migrants. Peake, as the program’s director, situated the program’s office at 506 Cooper Road in the heart of the segregated Mexican community of La Colonia. Like the Opportunity Project, Operation Buenaventura was a service center and leadership program for migrant agricultural workers and residents. It instructed non-English speaking heads of households (men and women) on how to navigate bureaucracies in relation to the filing of taxes, the attainment of driver’s licenses, and the location of employment. While providing a stipend, the program also educated agricultural immigrant families on how to locate public and private housing as well as improve their residency.

To guide Operation Buenaventura, Peake formed an advisory committee, half of which were farmworkers. The others were friends that consisted of a cross-cultural group of educators, community activists, and clergy. And while the leadership of Operation Buenaventura and the Opportunity Project consisted of people not originally from Ventura County, the paid counselors were largely, but not exclusively, area residents of Mexican origin. The counselors recruited farmworkers in the fields and orchards of Ventura County. From this pool of clients, the counselors then selected community aides to outreach additional farmworkers to provide guidance in relation to employment and social services. The counselors also accompanied clients to resolve problems with public and private agencies. From this, the counselors identified farmworkers to train in the “leadership of self-organization.”

But not all the students of the Opportunity Project were farmworkers. Non-farmworkers and the spouses and children of farmworkers were eligible to participate. Each student received $45 (approximately $331 adjusted for inflation) for 30 hours of weekly instruction plus mileage to attend the classes conducted at Oxnard High School. The pay increased by $10 after the completion of the first week of class. Students with a spouse and children were eligible to receive up to $75 ($551.00 adjusted for inflation) a week.

Offending Goliath
This program offended the bosses of the Oxnard Press-Courier and agricultural industry. In May of 1966, the newspaper ran a three part exposé on the work of Operation Buenaventura, the Opportunity Project, as well as Peake, Lund, and Lauwerys. The newspaper framed the lead story, “Farm worker programs- - -success or waste?” and characterized the attainment of the OEO grant as a con. Eerily, the newspaper listed the home addresses of Lauwerys, Lund, and Peake along with the marital status and amount and sources of income of each. The article written by John McCormick labeled the three as interlopers, do-gooders, and agitators.

The exposé also condemned the financial and educational enablement of the Mexican-origin community to be civically engaged and unfettered from the domination of agricultural employers. Indeed, the bias of the newspaper aligned with the sentiments of the larger complex of agriculture when it published:

Whether the operations have been successful during their first year with federal financing is something that is difficult to determine. In the eyes of the three heads, each is a success story.
Farmers and many laborers disagree violently. They claim the money has been poured down the tubes, a complete waste and a blot against government leadership in financial management.
Mrs. Katherine Peake, Dan Lund and Peter Lauwerys are the three who have guided and planned every move of the two ventures.
All three share the same desire to elevate the farm laborer in mentality, education, and social position. They have each been active in farm strikes in California before their respective programs were ever financed by the government.

Inversely read, by extension of the Oxnard Press-Courier, growers condemned the work of the Operation Buenaventura and the Opportunity Project because the satraps of the industry desired to preserve the complete subordination of farmworkers. The industry refused to tolerate the elevation of the farmworkers in all, or any, aspect, of their being. This was the sin of Peake, Lund, and Lauwerys. The unspecified criticism of the industry in relation to the alleged involvement of the three in strikes, if true, failed to contextualize their causation: i.e., prohibitively low wages that made it nearly impossible for workers to sustain families, inhuman conditions, no benefits of health insurance and pension, and the constant importation of competitors to depress the wage rate.

Beyond the services provided by the Opportunity Project, in 1965 the counselors documented the testimonies of farmworker families that voiced a counterhegemonic perspective of agricultural life suppressed by growers’ associations, ranch managers, and an industry-friendly press. Before the documentation of these testimonies, the systemic oppression experienced by farmworkers and their families, as told by them, remained largely confined within the lore of such communities. Hence, “The Lie of the Land, to borrow from historian Don Mitchell, dominated the popular gestalt: a symmetry and verdure of the fields and orchards of the county, dotted by faceless outsiders dawned with weathered clothing for protection against beating sun rays, biting cold, and the residue of pesticides.

A recurrent narrative documented by Opportunity Project counselors detailed how the industry slashed the wages of farmworkers and assigned their jobs to newly imported workers from Texas or Mexico after the coup de grace of the Bracero Program in 1964. Indeed, Ramon Magdalena of Santa Paula, who worked at the Burpee Seed Company, detailed his pay being cut from $1.40 (adjusted for inflation $10.20) to $1.25 (about $9) an hour. This sort of reduction occurred after employers successfully recruited additional workers from Texas or Mexico. After which, an employer ostensibly drove “locals” from job sites with the choice of working at the new wage rate or quit.

This permitted functionaries of the agricultural industry, spokespersons and often advisory board members on federal and state employment agencies, appointed by elected officials that enjoyed the campaign contributions of growers, to make the plausible argument that labor shortages plagued the production of food.

The testimonies also revealed that when workers lived in grower-owned labor camps they and their families lived under the constant and arbitrary threat of eviction when one or more workers in a family fell ill or missed a day to attend to personal matters in relation to medical treatment or their education. Even if three out of four members of a family lived and worked at a camp and one was absent for whatever reason (to attend to personal matters in relation to medical treatment or their education) the ranch manager or supervisor of an operation threatened the entire household with eviction. Indeed, company-housing agreements embedded an “ouster clause” that stipulated, according to one 1966 Oxnard Press- Courier report that, “the occupancy of the house ‘after cessation of employment,’ or ‘during any labor dispute,’ was at the discretion of the ranch.”

Justice for Farmworkers
In 1963, Al Rojas, originally from Tulare County, attended a community meeting organized by John Soria who worked for the Emergency Committee to Aid Farm Workers. The issue at hand was to mobilize the community to demand that the city desegregate it schools and provide safe railroad crossing technology for the children of La Colonia that traversed the tracks on Oxnard Boulevard to attend middle schools on the Westside. This was particularly urgent as the boulevard was an extension of the Pacific Coast Route 1 highway. It was at this meeting that Soria befriended Rojas. From this point, Rojas became involved with Operation Buenaventura and the Farm Worker Opportunity Project. In fact, he was one of 12 community aides of the Opportunity Project. Overtime, Lauwerys, who was a skilled grant writer, obtained War on Poverty funding for the creation of the Citizens Against Poverty (CAP) project. The leaders and employees of the three projects supported the larger interest of farmworkers throughout the state.

In January of 1966, Rojas and members of CAP picketed Oxnard and Santa Paula stores that carried Schenley table grapes, wine, and liquor stores in support of the Chavez’ farmworkers strike against the Schenley Company in Delano, California. In November, CAP also picketed grocery and liquor stores in Oxnard and Santa Paula to support the National Farm Workers Association’s Delano grape pickers strike. A wife of a farmer bought grapes at the Mayfair market in Oxnard to throw them at the picketers. CAP activists also appealed to stores to not carry agricultural products from Delano.

The UFW Before the UFW: Egg City, 1967
The next year, on Thursday morning July 13th 1967, 100 workers at one of the nation’s largest egg producers, Egg City. The plant, near the unincorporated community of Moorpark, housed one million hens and employed total of 250 people when the dispute erupted. The strikers demanded the recognition of the United Farm Workers (an organization created by Oscar Gonzalez and independent of Chavez’ outfit in Delano) as their bargaining agent. Julius Goldman, owner of the plant, held that only 20 workers walked out and outside agitators forced the other 80 to follow. Goldman also declared the strike illegal under the Taft-Hartley Act. Gonzalez in turn accused Goldman of employing undocumented (“wetback”) workers.

With the leadership training gained from the programs of Lauwerys, Rojas joined Gonzalez to lead the strike at Egg City. Support also came from the Santa Barbara Committee to Aid Farm Workers. It was from this organization that Gonzalez and Rojas raised $197 (approximately $1,400 adjusted for inflation) and food to support the striking workers. Carol Curiel and former Democratic congressional candidate Stanley Sheinbaum addressed the group. Sheinbaum stated, “These people get as little as $1.15 an hour [adjusted for inflation $8.15]. They are trying to do something for themselves. They are desperate. There is no such thing as a strike fund. You can't save much for a rainy day on $1.15.”

As the strike developed, Al Rojas, vice-president of Gonzalez’ UFW, established picket lines at Egg City and the State Employment Office in Oxnard. The nine-person picket line in Oxnard was to protest the agency’s delay to certify the strike. The picketers also delivered a petition with 65 signatures that formally declared the existence of a labor dispute at Egg City. Rojas also established picket lines at the Border Patrol office in Oxnard’s Wagon Wheel Junction and the Department of Immigration in Ventura to protest the employment of “wetbacks” at Egg City. On the sixth day of the strike, Rojas called the United States Department of Justice to complain about Egg City’s use of undocumented immigrant workers at the plant. Rojas stated to the Oxnard Press-Courier, “Wetbacks have been working here for over three weeks and are living in the town right now.” The protest was then taken to the office of Congressman Charles Teague. Twelve picketers were established there.

The publicity that the UFW in Ventura County raised regarding Egg City’s employment of undocumented workers succeeded. In a Wednesday July 19 Oxnard Press-Courier report titled, “5 ‘Wetbacks’ Arrested At Egg City,” assistant chief patrol inspector of the Border Patrol in Oxnard, Dale Swancutt, stated that on July 18 five undocumented workers were arrested as part of a “routine check.” The same report also detailed that on the same day of the arrest the State Employment office had certified the strike. This prohibited state employment offices from referring potential employees to Egg City.

As events developed, the Oxnard branch of the Superior Court of Ventura County granted an injunction against the UFW in relation to the strike at Egg City. The injunction, which actually was a temporary restraining order requested by Goldman, prohibited the UFW from entering the Egg City plant. The order, however, did not prohibit the union from picketing the facility.

With the injunction in place, Julius Goldman undercut the organizing efforts of Al Rojas and Oscar Gonzales, who he labeled as an “outside agitator,” by agreeing to raise the wages of his workers. Goldman faulted Rojas and Gonzales with not allowing the strikers to accept his offer. On Wednesday, July 26, 1967 the strikers and Goldman reached a settlement. Goldman agreed to raise the minimum wage at the plant to $1.45. The agreement between also entailed the establishment of a grievance committee and the workers refusal to be represented by the UFW. Local Moorpark merchants Ruben Castro and Ed Menashe mediated the discussion between Goldman and a seven member “grievance committee,” with Benny Garica as its spokesperson, who represented the seventy strikers.

In response to the settlement, Al Rojas and Oscar Gonzales organized a two day protest march from the streets of Oxnard, to the communities of Saticoy, Fillmore, and Santa Paula, and concluded in Moorpark. But for all intents and purposes, the labor dispute was over.

This was movement before el movimiento in Ventura County.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Murgia of the Past and Present

Francisco Romero charges the Oxnard Police Department with retaliatory intimidation as he contests five citations for his participation in a march against police brutality on October 13, 2013.

An obscure 1975 California Supreme Court case, Murgia v. Municipal Court, serves as the basis for his complaint. In this decision, the justices unanimously found that the Kern County Sheriff's Department violated the equal protection clauses of the US and state constitutions against selective enforcement.

In its ruling, the court recognized the context of the case in which Jose Guadalupe Murguia [spelled correctly], an organizer, and his fellow United Farm Workers unionists, had been invidiously (unjustifiably) targeted by law enforcement. But when Teamsters—who agreed to sweetheart contracts with growers—and private agents of the agricultural industry violated the law, sheriff deputies chose not to take action.

As in Murgia, circumstantial evidence validates Romero's claim.

For example, as a member of Toda Poder Al Pueblo (All Power to the People), a grass roots civil rights organization in Ventura County, Romero previously participated in demonstrations against police brutality.

Prior to the October 13 protest for which the OPD cited Romero, a larger event occurred the year before on October 22, 2012 as part of a protest titled A National Day of Action Against Police Brutality.

About a week before this event, OPD officers killed Alfonso Limon in the barrio community of La Colonia. He was an innocent bystander who walked into a confrontation between police officers and an armed suspect.

Limon's death horrified a constituency within Ventura County already heated by the OPD killings of Robert Ramirez in June of 2012 and Michael Mahoney that August.

These tragedies and a history of tension with the police prompted close to, if not over, 1,000 people to join the National Day of Action in Oxnard.

These protestors assembled at a park in La Colonia, and then marched to the site where police officers inflicted 21 distinct gunshots at Limon. After a stop at this scene, the demonstrators continued their march to the OPD station.

On the way, the demonstrators clogged traffic on the city's main boulevard.

Once at OPD headquarters, half the crowd expressed its fury at the front of the building. The others jeered officers through the south-side gate of the station's parking lot.

Subsequently, residents in dialogue with the OPD leadership commended Police Chief Jeri Williams for the control she commanded over anxious officers, many outfitted with helmets and batons, while the station was under siege.

While the OPD publicly recognized the right of people to peacefully demonstrate, it also communicated its intention to protect the safety of pedestrians and motorists.

This is the context of Romero's case.

In an unsuccessful Murgia motion by Romero to have the citations dismissed, Commissioner Anthony Sabo ruled that the OPD did not issue the jaywalking citations with invidious discrimination as there ". . . was no showing the Defendant was targeted for prosecution for any reason other than, to the Defendant's misfortune, officers were able to identify him and observe his actions on video."

This is an intriguing ruling as the audio in the OPD surveillance video obtained by Romero's attorney, James P. Segall-Gutierrez, under a Murgia discovery motion, evidences the police identifying Romero by name as well as other protesters in the October 13 march who were not cited.

Supporters of Romero feel that the OPD would have overlooked his minor offense if he had not been a prominent critic of its conduct.

Furthermore, several of those identified in this demonstration previously and regularly denounced the OPD at the televised meetings of the Oxnard City Council, often in the presence of the police chief and her staff.

Even family members who had lost loved ones at the hands of OPD officers openly participated in all of the aforementioned demonstrations and city council meetings. But they were not cited.

The selective enforcement argument of Romero seems to have been enhanced recently as Elliott Gabriel, also a member of Todo Poder Al Pueblo, received two citations for impeding traffic as he rode a bicycle alongside an April 11, 2015 march of 100 people protesting an OPD officer's killing of Meagan Hockaday, 26, during a domestic violence call on March 28, 2015.

Gabriel claims that he was only person cited in this demonstration.

Moving forward in a trial scheduled to begin in August, Romero's attorney will argue that the OPD entrapped his client because an unlawful assembly was not declared. Segall-Gutierrez will also contend that Romero violated vehicle codes for which he was cited out of necessity and for the safety of the participants in the protest.

If the trial is not decided in Romero's favor, he vows to appeal the case under the Murgia motion against selective enforcement to the highest court of the land if necessary.


Ventura County Star; Amigos 805; LatinoLA

Friday, May 1, 2015

I Got Mine!

Eavesdrop long enough to their conversations where they meet and eventually you will hear students lament over the mountain of college debt they are accruing each school year.

The loans they will have to start making payment on six months after they graduate are enormous. They can range from $40-$100 thousand or more and will take most graduates decades to eliminate.

Hence, they are more than student loans; they are college mortgages.

Meanwhile, elected officials of California issue bromides on the importance of educating a workforce to meet an anticipated economic shortfall of 1 million college graduates by 2025.

Besides the rhetoric, the politicians do little.

State legislators propose faint-hearted remedies to students on how to “manage” debt or propose abstemious relief that would restore a couple hundred million dollars to California’s public systems of higher education that suffered a combined $2 billion in cuts since the Great Recession of 2007.

In other words, Sacramento legislators do not propose any bold action that stresses a re-investment in California’s human capital. Even executives of the California State University and University of California rationalize the rising cost to attend college by stating it is still a bargain compared to other states.

Surely this assuages the financial worries of students and their parents.

Ironically, many Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento and public higher education executives are of the Baby Boom generation who received UC and CSU degrees almost completely subsidized by the state of California.

For example, in 1980 a CSU student paid annual fees of $202. Adjusted for inflation this translates to $575 today. At the UC, it was $750 this same year; adjusted for inflation this is about $2,140.

Today resident CSU and UC students respectively shell out approximately $6,500 and $14,000 in fees annually.

So Sacramento legislators are essentially saying to current and future college students and their working-class parents, “I Got Mine. You’re Out of Luck!”

This message is clear as California legislators and Governor Jerry Brown hurriedly grant tax “incentives” to aerospace, entertainment, and gas and oil corporations.

In 2014, Governor Brown and his fellow Democrats in the state capitol approved a $400 million tax break to aerospace manufacturers and another $300 million in tax credits and subsidies to Hollywood moguls.

Furthermore, with supermajorities in the senate and assembly able to stave off defeat from “anti-public-anything” Republicans, the governor last summer refused to use the bully pulpit of his office to rally his party to supporting SB 1017.

Similar to laws in Alaska and Texas, this bill, courageously created by then state senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), called for the institution of a 9.5% severance tax on oil and gas production.

Fifty percent of the projected $1-$2 billion in annual revenue raised from this tax would have been deposited into a Higher Education fund to reduce community college, CSU, and UC tuition costs. The Democrats in Sacramento allowed SB 1017 to die in the state’s Senate Appropriations Committee.

This golden opportunity is no more as the Democrats lost their supermajority in Sacramento last November.

The timidity of Sacramento pols is hardly surprising as Democrats and moderate Republicans dread to offend pressure groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce, Californians Against Higher Taxes, and other bodies closely allied with the industries of gas and oil.

Furthermore, politicians and UC and CSU executives of working-class provenance have their egos stroked as they fraternize with corporate leaders at conferences and summits while they plead for donations for their reelection campaigns and institutions.

In exchange, the super wealthy buy their silence on taxing the most able to make higher education affordable once again for working-class families.

As this takes place, increasingly college graduates caught up in this insidious system are unable to realize the American dream of homeownership as their debt-to-income ratios are off kilter before receiving their diplomas.

This is unfortunate to say the least, as the college debt crisis is a significant factor behind the state’s anemic housing market recovery.

According to a 2014 study completed by the Southern California firm John Burns Consulting, reported in the Los Angeles Times, over 400,000 potential home sales (valued at $83 billion annually) have been lost due to the national question of student debt that stands at $1 trillion.

If more CSU or UC students graduated with modest to zero college debt, they would be poised to purchase residences and all the accoutrements that follow this rite of passage into the middle class.

To make their houses homes, these recent college graduates would go on to buy durable goods and other amenities. In addition, these new homeowners would pay property taxes to fund public services that hire people and private contractors.

You would think the California Chambers of Commerce and other anti-tax scolds would enthusiastically support such a strong stimulus to the economy.

But Instead of making this a reality, today’s elected officials and public university executives carry the water of the Chamber and their corporate donors while expressing to our young adults by their actions, “We will not invest in you to any meaningful degree as others did for us. Take out a loan.”

This essay was published in The Bakersfield Californian, ¡LatinoLA!, and the Ventura County Star.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Affordable for All?

Last fall semester, I shared a bus ride from campus with a California State University Channel Islands student. I will call her Cora.

Cora is a bright young person from the San Fernando Valley with the dream of international travel before her pursuit of a post-baccalaureate degree to become a teacher.

After expressing her plans, her sanguine demeanor suddenly transformed to sadness. With one more year to go before she graduates, to date she has accumulated $30,000 in student loans.

As she considered how she would pay back this debt, her eyes welled up and she became silent. I was flummoxed. What could I say but encourage her to complete her schooling? A growing $30,000 debt is a daunting figure for virtually all, especially a first-generation university student.

Regrettably, in my use of public transit I occasionally overhear CI students approaching graduation commiserate about their debts that range in the tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, $30,000 is the national average.

The extreme cost of a public higher education in California is particularly unfathomable as my generation (the baby boom, born between 1946 and 1964) enjoyed virtually free college education opportunities. Indeed, in 1983, my first year at Moorpark College, there was no enrollment fee. It would not be until the next year that a fee was introduced. It entailed $50 (the equivalent of $114 today adjusted for inflation) for 12 or more semester units.

When I transferred to CSU Fresno two years later, my working-class parents paid $720 (adjusted for inflation $1,600) a year in fees.

In talking to mentors and colleagues who went to public universities during the 1960s, the deal was even sweeter. A composite of their stories goes like this:

"Frank, back when I was going to school at San Jose State, I paid $36 ($275 adjusted for inflation) a semester and worked a summer job at a utilities company that covered my fees, books and living expenses for the entire school year."

Today the price is $46 a unit or $552 for 12-plus semester units at a community college. For CSU students, the estimated fees and totals for an academic year (fall and spring terms) based on full-time enrollment (6.1 units or more per term) is $6,506. The 2014-2015 Estimated Cost of Attendance for Undergraduate & Transfer Students Living Off-Campus is $24,338.

Consequently, the likely total price for a CSU baccalaureate degree can be well over $100,000 since a majority of students take longer than four years to graduate.

I am not aware of a summer job currently that will significantly offset this expense.

Some elected officials and university administrators dismiss this problem by pointing out that a CSU education is a bargain comparable to other states. I am sure this is of great relief to parents with two or more children in or facing college, especially those with a household income that exceeds the ceiling to qualify for federal or state grants.

In the end, the pursuit of a higher education should not relegate students and their families to an intergenerational existence of a new form of debt peonage. So what is the solution?

A good start would be for Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to restore the $1 billion in cuts to the CSU budget between 2008 and 2012. This would significantly lower the costs that parents and students face as well as open up room for a burgeoning demand for admission as the CSU rejected 30,000 applicants this past year.

Fortunately, some elected officials recognize the severity of this condition. In this regard, Asssemblymember Das Williams, D-Carpinteria, my representative in the Legislature, worked successfully with his colleagues to infuse $30 million in last year's budget for the Cal Grant and the Middle Class Scholarship programs. He also co-authored AB 1476, which passed the Legislature and would have appropriated $100 million of increased funding for the systems of the CSU and UC to split evenly. Unfortunately, Gov. Brown vetoed the bill.

The governor's veto is regrettable as it hamstrings California's economic recovery. College graduates who are relatively debt-free translate to them being more able to realize the dream of homeownership. This would stimulate a lethargic housing market and concomitant industries.

Furthermore, for every dollar the state invests in the CSU a multiplier effect of $5 is infused into California's overall economy.

So how do we make going to college truly affordable for all? A good start is for parents, grandparents, college students and all eligible to vote to contact the governor and their representatives in the Legislature demanding that they reinvest in public higher education so that college students like Cora can realize the California dream.

This essay was published in The Bakersfield Californian and Ventura County Star.

Con Safos

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Chicana/o Cheek: The Farm Worker Movement in Ventura County, a chapter introduction

Image by Adam Klamser of the Ventura County Star Free Press, May 1974. Ventura County Deputy arrest United Farm Worker picketer at an east Oxnard strawberry field.

Why wait 5 to 10 years for a work in progress to be shared. What follows is a draft of an introduction of a chapter on farmworker activism for my current book project tentatively titled, Curious Insurgencies: The Chicana/o Movement in Ventura County, California, 1961-1975.

Introduction: Rita Duarte Piñon Medrano

Rita Duarte Piñon Medrano ventured from the state of Chihuahua in Mexico to California circa 1961 with four young daughters in tow. To sustain her family, Rita and the girls traveled the migrant route of agricultural workers of California. They ultimately made Ventura County their home in the City of Oxnard. Working often from dawn to dusk, it was here that Doña Rita witnessed the exploitation of Braceros as the last two hours of the day, from 4pm to 6, she and her co-workers toiled without pay. Growers also refused to provide port-a-johns in the fields and orchards. Hence, men, women, and children were left with no choice but to urinate or defecate in the rows of fruit and vegetables. Field workers were also not provided potable water to drink and soap to wash their hands before eating food during their breaks. Such unsanitary conditions threatened the public health of not only workers but also consumers with cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. If these modern-day helots complained, they risked being fired and returned to Mexico.

Rita Medrano’s life was like the lives of many Mexican immigrant families as they chain migrated to the United States by way of Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Morelia, Oaxaca, Tobasco, Zacatecas, and other states of Mexico to the border towns such as Mexicali and Tijuana to realize a better future for their daughters and sons by way of personal sacrifice, feudal-like stoop labor, and instilling in their children the prominence of education for the liberation of their progeny from such an experience. But to provide for their families, farmworkers required a living wage. They also demanded respect in a system that viewed farmworkers, largely, as pathetic human cogs in the production of lucrative commercial crops—citrus (lemons and oranges), broccoli, cabbage, celery, spinach strawberries, tomatoes, and others. When asked why she joined the United Farm Workers (UFW) union of César Chávez, Doña Rita stated, “for respect.” “La union” offered farmworkers the opportunity to be treated as humans.

So Doña Rita was one of many farmworkers that cooperated with labor organizers, eventually to became one herself as she recruited co-workers to join la unión and volunteered her time after long workdays at the UFW office running a mimeograph machine to create and distribute leaflets and flyers. Her daughters recall their mother having inked-stained hands from this after work work.

The link between participants of the Chicana and Chicano movement to that of the farmworkers movement of César Chávez’s UFW was that the former consisted of a mixed lot of individuals that toiled in the fields and orchards alongside mothers, fathers, abuelitos (grandparents) and tios y tias (aunts and uncles) as well as with other families of their barrios and colonias. The youngest chicanitos (Mexican origin grade schoolers socialized in the US) too young to toil diverted themselves by playing with each other as their elders labored under the brutal heat, bitter cold, and/or rain of Southern California. Chicanitos also witnessed heads of family bear the verbal abuse of immediate overseers who were of Mexican origin themselves. Others old enough to carry a sack or tray worked alongside the rest.

Then there were Chicanas and Chicanas that were a generation away from the performance of fieldwork. But they lived in the same barrios and colonias of Ventura County agricultural workers. Chicanas and Chicanos coming of age lay in bed semi-comatose as the sounds of local Spanish-language radio stations traveled the house as family members and neighbors arose before the break of dawn to prepare for their quotidian slog. The Chicana and Chicano generation also observed the return of their peers from this grind with clothing stained by the essences of the crops they harvested and footwear caked with desiccated mud.

The cars, trucks, and buses that transported these workers were also laden with the soil of the orchards and fields. And these workers were not just people of Mexican origin; others included Japanese American land owners and field managers as well as Filipino men, many los maridos of mexicanas (the husbands of Mexican origin women).

Hence, the experience and witness moments impacted the gestalt of the Chicana/o generation before their awakening. A Chicana/o cheek if you will, girded by frustration and a tradition of resistance that demanded dignity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pacific Historical Review Book Review excerpt

Here are excerpts within an early Pacific Historical Review book review of Curious Unions by Colorado College Historian Douglas Monroy:

“This is a large book about a small place. Curious Unions tells the complex story of the agricultural community of Oxnard, a town just north of Los Angeles.”

“Indeed, while they are too often referred to as marginal workers and a people apart from the mainstream, Barajas shows how the people from whom he comes have been integral to the functioning of the entire region’s economy and how they have participated, albeit usually with varying degrees of separateness (what the author calls ‘segregated integration’ in chapter 3), in American life in Southern California.”

“This exhaustively researched and detailed book is a tour de force of local history, but also a history with a much broader significance.”