Friday, May 01, 2009


I've helped set up a blog for this student group I've been working with the past few months: the Southside Solidarity Network.

Here's one of the things we've done recently. Last Wednesday we went down to Springfield, the state capitol, to talk to politicians. (Well, OK, I myself just went down to be part of the crowd behind the people talking to the politicians.)

We went down on a bus with SOUL, one group of many which converged on the capitol on the same day. Counting all the various groups together, there were about 1000 people in all. The main issue uniting all the groups was a campaign to change the state's taxation schemes: to increase the state income tax rate, and make it more progressive. (The Governor is already on board with some such plan, though it naturally has many enemies.)

Here's the problem that this crowd was hoping to address. State taxes are unfair: because income taxes are low and flat, while sales taxes are higher, the poor in Illinois pay nearly 13% of their income in state taxes, while the rich pay under 5%. You don't need to be anywhere in particular on the political spectrum to admit that that is a disproportionate tax burden on the poor. In addition, state revenue is too low--there is an enormous structural deficit--which either means cutting basic services or raising more revenue. But there needs to be more funding of services at the state level, not less.

For example (and this was another issue we brought to Springfield): Illinois consistently ranks either the lowest or one of the lowest in terms of funding equity for education--the disparity is five-to-one between the best and worst funded kids in the state. How does this happen? In the US, federal funding for education is low, and state funding varies widely. If you live in a state with low state funding (like Illinois, one of the worst), the remaining funding burden falls on property taxes. And then you have to hope your parents and their neighbours have expensive homes. If not, you might be stuck with crumbling schools and ancient books; maybe you will have to share those books. At a rally we heard from a student who had a number of head-shaking anecdotes like that to tell about her school, but this is what stuck out at me the most: she had entered her highschool in a freshman class of over a 1000; now, as a senior, her class numbers in the 500s. (Probably a fair few of those dropouts have already ended up behind bars, which American taxpayers are evidently much happier to pay for. But I digress.)

Other issues our group pushed included a public rail proposal, and a green jobs bill.

While we there, we saw a number of professional lobbyists. Some of them looked at us weird, like we were getting in the way of their business; at times it seemed like they were purposefully trying to get in the way of ours. Some of us briefly debated the wisdom of pushing them down / over various parts of the building -- we decided against it.

Here are some pictures.

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