Progressive Movement Occupies Sacramento

By Seth Sandronsky

Sacramento, Calif.

Spurred by the Arab and Middle East Spring and Occupy Wall Street uprisings, an occupation movement in California’s capital began Oct. 6.

An estimated 500 people rallied at César Chavez Park, named after the late labor leader of farm workers who fought harsh labor conditions that profited wealthy growers.

A lively march to the state Capitol grew to protests against nearby branches of “too-big-big-fail” banks like Wells Fargo that US taxpayers saved from bankruptcy in 2008.

What I learned from speaking with dozens of protesters before and during Occupy Sacramento (OS) says much about them and their priorities.

In sum, they get it that joining together is the way to improve their lives and others’ now and in the future. This is striking in a society with an ethos that privileges the individual over the collective.

Tony Bondi, 27, repairs computers, and is founding member of OS, which began with a dozen people. “I researched OWS, agreed with much of what they said on tax breaks for wealthy corporations, and figured that it was time for Sacramento to join in,” Bondi said.

In his 2007 book, The Confiscation of American Prosperity, Michael Perlman, a professor of economics at Chico State University, writes that as the US gross domestic product tripled from 1970 to 2003, the “top 13,000 tax-paying households … saw its wages and salaries increase fifteen-fold.” Meanwhile, “for the bottom 99% of taxpaying units, average income stood at $36,008 in 1970 and by 2004 was $37,295.” 

Sandra Delgadillo, 47, is a post-surgery nurse at Roseville Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in nearby Placer County. She said that the harm of health-care affordability facing family, neighbors and friends pushed her to join OS. There, she volunteers at a first-aid station and hands out movement literature.

“As a nurse, I see that hardship in the health of Americans, which is why we need to make a change now,” Delgadillo said. She calls for all Americans to have Medicare, the federal program signed into law in 1965 to provide medical coverage to Americans 65 and older. 

Delgadillo is a member of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Union. The union is calling for a financial transaction tax on high-volume Wall St. trading to fund social spending for the 99% of Americans on Main Street.

Delgadillo has also been a part of OS’s general assemblies, where demonstrators build consensus with dialogue and a show of hands. In this way, they agreed Oct. 15 to continue the encampment and rally there before the city council met to address Sacramento’s anti-camping ordinance Oct. 18, which had resulted in the police arrests of an estimated 60 protesters. 

At OS, class and race are never far from the surface of this movement of the 99% against a wealthy 1%, as blacks and Latinos make up one-third of Sacramento County residents.

“I don’t believe that the OS movement has been exclusively white, nor indifferent to race,” said Ciera McKissick, 24. “Although this isn’t a racially-charged movement it’s hard to ignore the fact that a majority of those in the lower class happen to be people of color.” Blacks and Latinos disproportionately lack jobs and homes, said Faye Kennedy, 57, so both groups should have a bigger presence at OS. How and why? “My goal is to try and get more people of color out here so that they can see that they do have a voice and they need to exercise it,” she said. “We need to organize and do outreach in neighborhoods where people of color live to encourage them to come out to OS to be educated.”

According to Kennedy, part of that effort is to dispel the notion that the police will arrest those who come to OS.

Kevin Carter, 51, who spoke at an Oct. 15 state Capitol rally where antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan talked, agrees. He faults the mainstream media for fostering a false view about police and OS protesters.

“When I talk to the black community, they tell me ‘We don’t want to go to jail,’” Carter said. “I tell them OS is not designed for you to go to jail, and that the police arrest only the protesters who choose to make a movement statement and remain inside the Chavez Park encampment during the night.”

OS signs and protesters’ speech reflect the liberating legacy of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“Most progressive movements in America have been inspired by black leaders and their community,” said Alicia Boulware, 22, a sociology major and senior at Sacramento State University.

Karen Bernal, 53, is a labor organizer and chair of the Progressive Caucus of the state Democratic Party.

She is one of the 12.4% of workers officially jobless in Sacramento County, where housing prices skyrocketed sharply, and the market’s crash cut employment sharply.

“I’m seeing more and more people of color here at Chavez Park,” she said.  

“Blacks and Latinos need to be out here because this is everybody’s movement,” Carter said.

[As this went to press, the Sacramento County District Attorney announced that she would not prosecute the 79 Occupy Sacramento demonstrators city police had arrested for “unlawful assembly,” saying that they had committed no crime. Meanwhile, the city of Sacramento has filed new charges of “loitering” in a park and is prosecuting the OS arrestees. The first OS protesters arrested when the encampment began Oct. 6 appeared at the Sacramento Superior Courthouse Oct. 26. “The unlawful assembly charge is a police or city-created crime,” said civil rights attorney Jeff Kravitz, one of the pro bono lawyers for OS. “It cannot prevail in court.”]

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento. Email

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2011

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