SM AIRPORT — On the day that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was expected to reach an agreement with legislators on how to solve California’s $26.3-billion budget deficit, members of the community took to the streets to protest potential cuts.
The rally was held on Monday on the corner of Bundy Drive and Airport Avenue just outside the Santa Monica Airport, the airport Schwarzenegger uses to commute to Sacramento from his home in Los Angeles.
“Whether the budget goes down today or next week, the crisis won’t be over for millions of poor and working Californians and youth who will see drastic cuts to services and education when they need it the most,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, executive director of Community Coalition, an organization based out of South Los Angeles.
Protesters from several community organizations, such as the Korean Resource Center and South Central Youth Empowered Through Action, and labor groups showed up in black, carrying tombstones that marked the death of state-funded programs such as Cal Grants and in-home care for the sick and elderly. They beat their signs in the air as leaders with microphones yelled, “The people united will never be defeated.”
Leaders in Sacramento have reached a stalemate in budget discussions over such issues as plans to take money from local governments, education funding and state welfare services.
After canceling a meeting scheduled last Sunday, talks have started again and many senators are hopeful that a decision will be made within the next several days.
But protesters said any budget solution will involve cuts that would cause higher school drop-out rates, increased levels of crime and an inability to care for the most vulnerable.
“We need our state leaders to put the youth of California ahead of their selfish agenda,” said Taylor Griffin, an 11th grader at Dorsey High School, about proposed education cuts.
Carlos Cazares, a teacher at El Serrano High School who was recently fired due to budget cuts, echoed Griffin’s argument, adding that it’s important for students to see that the government cares about providing them with a strong public education.
For Leah Johnson, the cuts have already hit close to home. The Compton resident is on welfare and receives food stamps but said the funds she usually receives have already been reduced.
“I could barely make it on what they were giving me before,” she said. “They should find another way to fix the budget, not cut welfare.”
Schwarzenegger has come under fire in the last two weeks after telling a New York Times reporter that no matter what happens with the budget, he will be fine and will enjoy his Jacuzzi and a cigar at the end of the day.
It was this statement that seemed to incite the largest reaction among protesters, with someone in the crowd even dressed as Schwarzenegger complete with a bathrobe and cigar. Their message was clear; the governor should try to relate to the average Californian.
“I feel there’s a disconnect between the governor and his constituents,” said Mickey Oskey, a protester from Marina del Rey. “He’s leaving out the most important people.”