The Rodney King beating and subsequent rebellion in Los Angeles show that the economic and political looting of the communities of color in this country must come to an end. Several observers have noted that the cause of the Los Angeles rebellion wasn’t just the 12 jurors who acquitted the police officers, but the 12 years that Reagan and Bush have neglected urban problems. We would also add that it was the 12 decades of institutionalized racism which have permeated this country since the abolition of slavery.
Cities, in particular, have been devastated by the not-so-benign neglect of the federal government. In the past decade, the US military budget increased by $579 billion, while federal funding to the states and cities decreased by $78 billion. During the same period, state and federal governments have sat silently as corporations moved their factories and hundreds of thousands of jobs to countries abundant with cheap, non- union labor. In fact, the Bush administration has encouraged these runaway factories by promoting the “Free Trade” agreement with Mexico and Canada.
Such actions spell disaster on the local level. Poverty, joblessness, homelessness, and cutbacks in social services — all of these hit children especially hard. Schools feel the impact not only in the deepening problems children bring into the classroom, but in cutbacks in school budgets, such as the one recently proposed by Milwaukee School Superintendent Howard Fuller. A “no-increase” budget in times of inflation is in fact a cutback budget. What makes the proposed MPS budget even more distasteful is that it was written by loaned business executives and wrapped in the rhetoric of “school-based budgeting” and “equity.”
Whether rhetoric that covers budget cuts is locally or nationally generated is not important. What is key is that we must demand what is necessary for the survival and growth of our communities.
With the end of the Cold War, the American people have the right to expect that the billions poured into the Pentagon can be used to reinvest in our children, our cities, and our faltering economy. We also have the right to expect that local officials understand their responsibility to build a social movement in this country that will demand such reinvestment.
In Bush’s proposed fiscal 1993 budget, there is a miniscule cut in defense. Leaving out one-time appropriations last year for the Persian Gulf conflict, the Bush military budget would decline just 3.2% between fiscal years 1992 and 1993. Further, total defense spending for the next five years would be just 2% below the budget projected by the administration last year before the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Discretionary domestic programs, mean- while, would be frozen under Bush’s 1993 fiscal year budget. The problem is not just Bush, but a Congress which overwhelm- ingly reinstated over $2.5 billion in defense spending by ordering that a Sea Wolf submarine be built. Their main rationale was a feared loss of jobs.
This approach fails to begin a much needed reorienting of our economy. Jobs “lost” in defense cuts must be redirected towards rebuilding our cities and depressed rural areas.
The Campaign for New Priorities has recently formed to demand that Bush and the Congress reorder federal spending. Its basic approach is simple: drastically cut the military budget and invest in education, the environment, jobs, and rebuilding our infrastructure.
The Campaign can be a potent force to help restructure the political debate in this country and move us away from the devastating effects of Reagan’s “blame the poor and feed the rich” economics. Backed by groups such as the National Education Association and the National Council of Churches, it is working on a two-year strategy to reorder federal priorities. To its credit, the Campaign is trying to build alliances and foster a grass-roots groundswell, rather than relying on financial contributions to weak-kneed politicians who too often sell their votes to the highest bidder.
Public officials — mayors, school superintendents, school board members, and union leaders — have a responsibility to involve themselves in campaigns to reprioritize our national wealth. On the local and state level that means fighting budget cuts when they undermine necessary social services and demanding new tax laws that generate more revenue from the wealthy in our society. On a national level it must mean an all out campaign to redirect our priorities.
We encourage all Rethinking Schools readers to become involved in the campaign or similar efforts that are cropping up on the local and state level. For more information, contact The Campaign for New Priorities, 1601 Connecticut Ave., NW, Fourth Floor, Washington, D.C. 20009, tel.: 202-462-9121, or 800-92-ACTION.