JERRY BROWN ON CHANGING THE SYSTEM
"THAT'S THE WAY I SEE IT"
When you measure the discontent of the public, the cynicism, the crisis of confidence, the changing priorities over the last 15 years, you find a major shift in the relative priority of schools and prisons to the detriment of learning, brought about by a one-third reduction in spending for higher education and a increase of 500% in the percentage of state spending that goes to prisons.
There are real threats to our well being by changes in the marketplace, devastating effects on the environment, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the continuing and increasing racial and ethnic separation.
We need to move to a system of proportional representation so that the diversity of the population can be represented. It certainly can't be represented by the two-party system, not when you have such incredible differences in philosophy, in background, in world outlook. That has to show up if it's going to be honestly represented. In a proportional system, the Greens could get 5 or 10 or 15 percent or more, and the right to life party, conservative, liberal, radical, etc. would be heard. Instead of the winner-take-all, two-party system, where a person wins by say 51 percent, in proportional representation that person doesn't get 100% of the vote but gets just that percent that they win by. There would be a very close calibration within the chambers of government of the actual sentiment of the people. The electorate-that is, the people who go in and vote-are a very different kind of people from the population at large, because people of color, people of lower income, people that are not as advantaged, tend to vote much less. That could easily be changed by mandatory voting or some other way of making sure that everyone is able to cast a vote.
We have this image of democracy in this country, but we don't have a great debate like in the Federalist period as to what charter of power we wish to grant to the United States-a charter that could be emulated by states-to deal with the prison system, the education system, the way the environment is impacted, and most important of all, the corporate structure- the real source of power today. The issue of re-allocating power, increasing accountability, has to focus on the power of corporations, whose power is derived from the charter granted by the states to accumulate power and capital, which is then the basis for owning the media, providing the employment, controlling people's lives, affecting communities either to prosper or decline. That structure needs to be examined. The main engine of control, the corporate structure itself, depends on legislative enactments at the state level. It could also be at the federal level, but that isn't even being discussed.
We have to take the next few years to re-examine the basis of how we want to be governed. Corporations govern us the way they govern themselves-hierarchically, autocratically, secretly, along the single criterion of maximizing shareholder values. There's nothing to stop California or New York or any other state or the federal government from demanding that corporations serve the environment, the community, the principle of equality, and family values as well as shareholder values. But such legislative or congressional enactment isn't on the agenda.
Is there a way that we can actually change the system of representation so that it represents the nuance, the diversity which we each feel in our own individual lives and in our community? The government is so constrained within the two-party hustle, the winner-take-all system, that the Green Party or the Peace and Freedom Party or any other party can't have representation. By a simple structural change we could get to a coalition government where people could come to the table who are now cynical, alienated, and eventually will express their frustration in the rage and explosion that comes from being long denied their rights.
Democracy is not just a spectator sport. We've got to go back to the basics-mature, intelligent, free people taking power into their own hands. People of means and power are scared to death that new forces-feminists, African Americans, Latinos, environmentalists-are assaulting their hegemony. Their counterattack is to stomp out, stifle, smother these new initiatives. That's the cultural war that Pat Buchanan was talking about. I say, join the combat, join the war, respond!
The new president of Haiti visited the White House and got the royal treatment. He promised to privatize faster, take the bank away from the country of Haiti and give it to private hands. What an incredible arrogance! Our own system is rendering millions of people surplus, fit only for incarceration, it is overseeing the rip-off of the environment, yet through the World Bank, through our foreign policy, we go to a place like Haiti and say, "If you don't privatize and embrace the market system which is undermining our own country, we're not going to give you any money; we're going to put pressure on you; we're going to isolate you diplomatically; and we're going to squeeze your credit." We have to wake up from the self-induced delusion that the market is going to make everything great because it makes tools and cars and digital TV and all the rest. The welfare issue, the crime issue, the breakdown of the family-that's all connected! Unless we can change the rules, we're not going to get the freedom, the liberty, and the creativity of a free society, which is the birthright of every human being.
The present game doesn't work. Farmworkers in California of Mexican background are picking the food, doing the work that makes it possible for the people in America to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, about two-thirds of which come from California. These products get there by the hands, the sweat, the labor, the commitment, and the fidelity of people who also serve as the scapegoats of politicians like Governor Wilson, who claim that we are being overwhelmed by people coming across the border. The truth is that farmers in California are employing illegal people who don't have a proper citizenship, green card, or other authorization because they can be exploited, can be pushed around. If millions of people in Mexico are driven off the farms by mechanization, by growth in population, and are pushed up across the border into Arizona and California and Texas in large numbers and don't have unions, don't speak the language, they will work for $4.25, sometimes $5 or $6 an hour, sometimes less, sometimes without any benefits, and often under very dangerous circumstances. In one incident a couple of workers were electrocuted as one of the irrigation pipes they were lifting into place touched a high tension wire. No one was penalized, no one was punished. This is an inhuman use of human beings because of the coincidence of two countries, two languages, a desperate need to work, and such a surplus of people. The question is: Can these people join in the community and have their wives and kids be a part of the society and look forward to a stable future and real opportunity? Or are they speaking another language, separated, apart, and therefore we get this apartheid?
The money trail explains how it all happens. Farmers have given over a million dollars to Pete Wilson and his campaigns in the last four or five years. Millions more have come from other employers of illegal workers, and in terms of fines for these criminal violations, there are only slaps on the wrist, pennies on the dollar. Because of the money, nothing is really done. So a conservative, right-wing, selfish establishment, who go to the same country clubs, belong to the same political party, support the same governor and legislators and candidates, and are biased toward the stranger, are supporting efforts to weaken the law. How? Number one, Wilson cut back on inspectors, so you can't find out if there's anything wrong. These same interests and their political handmaidens fight against any kind of serious fines, any kind of heavy enforcement. Instead, they call for securing the border, doubling the INS there, hiring more border guards, installing infrared cameras, bringing in helicopters. They want a police state along the border. These people-and Clinton is in this crowd-are all the while making sure that hundreds of thousands of people are brought into California and hired by the campaign contributors of Pete Wilson and other politicians, both Republicans and Democrats. This is a perfect hypocritical propaganda campaign. They violate the law, they are criminals, but they blame the illegal, demand more border guards, build up the police state, yet at the same time insure that the undocumented people get through and are hired and when discovered, which they very rarely are, the employer is never penalized. The undocumented worker is put in a truck and sent back. His life is disrupted, he's treated like dirt, all the while the people, you and I, eat the vegetables, the broccoli, the lettuce.
In Mexico the standard of living, the wages, is much lower, an eighth or a tenth of what it is here-if one can find work. In this country four or five or six dollars an hour is not enough to support a family, though a single migrant worker living in certain conditions can save money. The real question is: Is it right that we depend on that kind of cheap labor for our own food? Isn't it more moral, more just, that people who work under those conditions achieve the same kind of money that people get who go to an office or teach in a school or work in a factory?
People say, "Pay what the market can afford." The market is not a person. The market is a system of rules. If we're going to say that wherever we can get something made or done or produced-even with child labor or prison labor, like in China, with little kids like in Pakistan or Bangladesh-we're going to go out and grab it, then people competing in our own country will have to reduce to the same level, or not compete at all. We're basically being pushed to a level that is inconsistent with being in America because Mexico or Pakistan or Spain has a different social structure, different family structure. A lower wage there is a very different thing from a lower wage in Fresno or Tulare, so to mix the two by this notion of free trade is creating an injustice.
If you leave the market the way it is and depend on exports, then the market says you've got to go to the lowest possible price, even if it means kids and prisoners and 50¢-an-hour people somewhere out there. That is one of the significant factors undermining the family and the social fabric in our own country. Unless we can implement some modification or restrictions on free trade or compensate people with some kind of income maintenance, our two-tier society will get worse and we're not going to be safe. That is not the highest and best arrangement from the point of view of any moral philosopher in history.
The real challenge here is not to ignore the plight of a farmer who's caught in the competitive bind, but rather to ask yourself what changes in the rules of the marketplace are needed so that we can live with ourselves, so we can live with justice? There's a reason why the Farm Bureau is giving a million bucks to the Governor of California. You can be darn sure the farmworkers aren't giving that kind of money. If they did, you'd have a different situation. The market can't afford it? Wait a minute! The people who gave Wilson millions and millions of dollars and then broke the law to hire people illegally weren't waiting for the market; they were rigging the market, and they add insult to injury when they point to the hordes of people coming across the border and say how bad that is when they facilitate the very policies that bring them here-cheap wages, a predatory marketplace, and a race to the bottom in standards, environment, and working conditions. That is wrong. That is no way to run a country, a community, a farm, or relationships with our neighbors to the south.
The S.F. Chronicle said that by some estimates half of the 700,000 farmworkers in California are undocumented. A Chronicle computer analysis of INS records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act found that only 45 farm operators or shippers or packers in California were fined in the last five years for immigration violations, yet there are an estimated 350,000 illegals-rampant criminality linked to campaign donations.
The new anti-terrorist bill will make it very easy for the FBI and the government to infiltrate any migrant group that wants to organize. Now the crossing of a border or the destruction of a stop sign can designate you as a terrorist, and trigger all sorts of infiltration, wire-tapping, deportation under special kangaroo-type proceedings, and all the rest. The anti-terrorist bill is another response to the failure to deal with this problem.
Meanwhile, the economics is such that the majority of people are not seeing real gain. The top 20% have been doing quite well, the top 10% have been doing extraordinarily well, and as you move up toward that rarefied small minority at the very top, you witness the greatest redistribution of wealth in my lifetime. This kind of current status quo society is on the brink of real chaos, real eruption, and moral despair.
The dream of America is on the cusp of change and you and I can do something about it only if we understand and diagnose the ills, the cancers, the social pathologies that are affecting us. The utter absurdity of the lack of choice in a two-party system will pave the way to real choice. The choice is being generated by discussion in the neighborhood, in the streets, and over the Internet. In order to prop up the system, you need a sense that it's working, that if you vote it makes a significant difference. More and more of us don't perceive any difference.
Please call "We The People," in Oakland, 1-800-426-1112 or write us at 200 Harrison St., Oakland, CA 94607.
We'll send you some material and ask you to join our efforts. Together we can build a new movement of real democratic activism.
Material for this article was excerpted and edited by Doret Kollerer from Jerry Brown's "We The People" radio broadcasts. North Coast XPress, June/July 1997
Copyright 1996, We The People Organization