by Nate Jackson Hundreds of silent protesters lined the halls beneath the state capitol dome.
We had dollar bills strapped over our mouths and watched as Washington State Legislators slinked by on their way to a party. It was hard to understand what they were celebrating. They had just rammed through a budget that slashes essential services while doling out more tax breaks to big banks. Activists and concerned community members from Washington CAN!, Fuse and Working Washington came to Olympia to do something about it.
This last week we have been in Olympia to tell our legislators that we won’t stand for a budget that does not reflect our values. Budgets are a moral statement. What we value, we should fund. We value quality education, affordable healthcare and good jobs for those that want to work. We reject continuing giveaways to big banks and tax breaks for the 1%. This budget passed by the Senate doesn’t reflect those values, and we can’t let it stand.
On Tuesday we had a sit in.
One of the main architects of the state senate all slash budget was State Senator Zarelli. So we went with dozens of people to send him a message: stop balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. Stop playing politics with people’s lives.
We sat in Senator Zarelli's office sharing our stories on how his all-cuts-all-the-time budget would directly affect our lives, leaving us wounded.
Will is a man who has is disabled and cannot work. He previously owned and operated a successful software company, but the sudden onset of a mental disorder stripped him of the ability to work. He is taking medications to combat the symptoms.
"Without the disability lifeline I couldn't afford my meds," he said. "I'd be in prison or dead."
He talked to the cluster of media cameras about how Senator Zarelli's budget would quite possibly end his independence.
"I'm getting better with the meds. I hope to be able to work soon," he said. "But this budget...it will take me again to a place where I won't be able to come back."
Senator Zarelli’s office called the cops.
On Wednesday we tried to appeal to the allegiances of the state senators who voted for the strip-healthcare-fund-big-
Wearing baseball caps with names written on them like "Wells Fargo Elementary," "Citigroup Childcare," and "JP Morgan Chase Clinic," we asked our legislators if we could get funding now that we looked like their favorite constituents.
Senator Sheldon checked the “yes” box for big banks when it came to his budget vote, but he ran away from us when we asked him for funding now that we were big bank wannabes. He mumbled something under his breath and rushed off ducking around a corner. He was pretty fast.
Senator Rodney Tom, who also said yes to big bank loopholes, decided to talk to us in his office for quite a while. Too bad his argument was fundamentally flawed.
"When you negotiate you don't say 'here's my final offer right from the beginning," he said. "I trust the leadership; Murray and Zarelli will work this out. They know where I stand. Those things will get fixed."
Let's translate that from politician to English.
Imagine a bully in the playground is throwing his weight around. He is pushing and shoving and sees a good-natured kid waving at him. The bully strides over and demands five dollars. The kid, following Senator Tom's logic, should give the bully five dollars and then politely beg for one of them back.
Voting for a budget that goes against the values you “hold dear” doesn’t make any sense at all no matter how you spin it.
The state senate had shown where its values lay reaffirming their allegiance to the one percent and big banks by dishing out special tax breaks that annually run into the billions. Their budget cut deep: eliminating the disability lifeline, cutting environmental protection funding and stripping tens of millions from our already threadbare schools.
We value funding essential services like education and healthcare by having everyone paying their fair share. The big banks have taken enough bailouts and tax breaks. It’s time our state senators stop pretending the big banks need more public cash when services we actually care about are on the chopping block.
It’s time for the big banks and the 1% to pay their fair share. Budget problem solved.