Sisters Organize for Survival
By Gina Petry, Sisters Organize for Survival coordinator
We made a difference!
Working people didn't win much from this year's legislative session, but it could have been much worse without the work of Sisters Organize for Survival and our allies. The outlook looked very bleak at the beginning of the session, with the state facing another $1.5 billion deficit after three straight years of cuts to services, education and jobs and pensions. Governor Gregoire's only proposal was to slash from the most vulnerable and increase the sales tax. Sisters Organize for Survival geared up to fight and build the coalition of labor and community groups necessary to find real solutions.
SOS thought it was very important to refute the view that "any revenue is good revenue." So we launched a campaign against the sales tax and other regressive taxes that largely impact the poor and workers. We called for taxing the wealthy and profits of large corporations, closing all corporate loopholes, and ending U.S. wars to redirect money to the states.
We reached out to dozens of community groups and unions to offer speakers on alternatives to the sales tax. Representatives took this message to a variety of venues including the Retired Public Employees Council #3, Metropolitan Democratic Club, Green Party, Washington-CAN, and North Seattle Community College Feminist Alliance. We created a special fact sheet on the sales tax issue that was passed out massively and presented at union meetings by carpenters, electricians, transit workers, teamsters and public employee. We were happy to see a growing awareness on this issue.
It was inspiring to learn that Locals 1488, 843 and 304 of Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) passed resolutions that opposed sales tax increases and gave credit to SOS for the alternatives proposed in our "Flip the Funding" brochure. The Higher Education Policy Committee of WFSE Council 28 passed a similar resolution and the Washington Education Association took a stand against sales tax increases.
Another success was SOS's opinion piece opposing regressive taxes that was published in Real Change. An article that mentioned SOS's efforts was also published in the newsletter of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
SOS regularly hit the streets in protest. We put out the call to "occupy the capitol" during the November special session and had daily participation in the week of protests. Several SOS supporters took part in the rotunda sit-in. Two were arrested on unconstitutional charges that attracted additional media coverage to the issues at stake. On President's Day, SOS joined Occupy Olympia and other groups at a rally and march demanding: "Stop the Cuts! Make the 1% pay." SOS leader Christina López delivered a fiery speech calling for taxing the rich and shutting down the Pentagon to fund education, food programs, jobs, etc. The crowd was behind her 100%!
Perhaps as a result of the resistance SOS helped spark, a sales tax increase found no support from legislators and was taken off the table midway through the session after a more favorable state revenue forecast was announced. We were happy to see a few bills introduced that moved in the direction of taxing the super-rich and ending the war in Afghanistan to redirect spending to essential services. Unfortunately, those bills did not move out of committee.
A look at the final budget
It could have been worse, but it could have also been a whole lot better.
The final budget relies on an accounting maneuver that allows the state to temporarily use local sales taxes before they are forwarded to their final recipients. An additional $300 million was slashed, largely from social services. A new sin tax was put on roll-your-own cigarette products. State worker pensions took a hit: workers hired after May 2013 will have early retirement benefits reduced by as much as 50%. Legislators also permanently eliminated voter-approved Initiative 728 that mandated smaller class sizes in public schools.
Though there were no cuts made to family planning, food assistance, Basic Health, medical interpreter services or Disability Lifeline, there was no move to restore previous cuts. The legislature has not taken any steps towards creating the lasting, progressive revenue that is desperately needed. Sisters Organize for Survival and other advocates for workers, women, the sick and the poor will have our work cut out for us when the next legislative session rolls around in January. The fight must continue!
Until the next session, SOS will not hold regular meetings, but we will still take action as needed and will report and discuss SOS concerns at meetings of Radical Women. I will be investigating what focus SOS should take up in our next round. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your ideas for SOS's future work.
The battle will not be won until services are restored and the system is changed to tax wealth and profits and close all corporate loopholes. We need to build a strong movement that forces legislators to negotiate with us, not make deals behind closed doors! With determination and an agenda that puts working people first, we can have a real impact on the state budget. I look forward to working with you to continue this struggle.
P.S. I will be busy until next fall working on the Freedom Socialist Party's "Un-Millionaire Presidential Campaign," with candidates Stephen Durham for U.S. President and Christina López for Vice-President. This is a good opportunity to raise the kind of issues SOS has been fighting for on a national level! To get involved, contact the Washington State Campaign Committee at FSPseattle@mindspring.com.
A big THANK YOU to
Let's hear it for all the folks whose passionate defense of working and poor people, public employees, and students helped SOS make a real impact.
Here are just some of the activities and achievements and the people who made them happen. A special shout-out goes to the brothers who were very active in SOS this year.
Teresa wrote a bang-up fundraising letter and kept SOS meetings informed on legislative and budget issues. WFSE 304 donated $400.00 to help in the organizing! Thanks to Steve for helping make that happen.
Hilary and Anne mobilized an Occupy the Capitol workgroup at Occupy Seattle. Catherine, Su and Hilary canvassed White Center for the Occupy the Capitol protests. Sonja helped design the cool SOS fabric patches. Lauren designed "Tax the Wealth" stickers. Linde K. drafted talking points and wrote a hilarious anti-cuts version of the song "It's the Same Old Merry-Go-Round." Helen, Kristin, Bryan, Andrea, Steve, Hilary and Mark participated in the Rotunda sit-in during the protests at the beginning of the special legislative session in November. Lois and Chris stayed up until midnight to get Helen and Kristin out of jail the next day, and Fred arranged legal assistance.
Jill, Teresa and others were part of calling mobilizations to groups about the sales tax. Rachael, Gina, Leila, Christina and Jill represented SOS on the first day of the regular legislative session.
Linda A. wrote a column against the budget cuts and sales tax increase in her Amalgamated Transit Union newsletter that mentioned SOS. Patrick arranged for an article opposing sales tax increases in Real Change and helped represent SOS on organizing conference calls and actions with FUSE and related organizations.
Patrick and Kirk raised opposition to the sales tax at their Carpenters and Teamsters union meetings. Kirk also kept OWLS (Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity) informed of SOS activities.
A million thanks to all the others who made picket signs, banners and chant sheets, attended rallies and hearings, passed out flyers, stuffed envelopes, made phone calls, and wrote letters. This is how we build a movement!
Sit-in at the Rotunda, Nov. 28, 2011