The Beat

The Beat



Washington State teachers got a bitter civics lesson this spring, as legislators refused to implement fully plans to reduce class sizes and increase pay for teachers that were overwhelmingly endorsed by voters in statewide referendums last fall.

Washington Education Association

members responded with a May Day lesson of their own: More than 5,000 teachers, classroom aides, bus drivers and custodians walked out of Puget Sound-area schools in protest. Their one-day strike was followed by walkouts in school districts across the state, and union officials say mounting anger could escalate to statewide action. The new militancy mirrors a rise in teacher activism nationwide, which comes at a time of mounting cynicism about whether the new “education President” will significantly increase aid for schools. Senator

Paul Wellstone

dismissed Bush’s education bill as “a charade” and lashed out at Congressional Democrats in early May for going soft on school-funding issues. “I thought Democrats were going to stand up for resources the right way,” said Wellstone, after Senate Democrats sided with Republicans to clear the way for debate on the Bush bill. “I wish we would fight harder.”… Teachers are fighting harder at the state level. Education unions across the country provided financial aid in April to the 13,000-member

Hawaii State Teachers Association

‘s twenty-day statewide strike, which ended with Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano’s agreement to up teacher pay not by the 9 percent over the next two years he initially proposed but by 16 percent.



Harvard Living Wage Campaign

sit-in has focused national attention on the burgeoning movement to pass ordinances that lift pay rates for public and nonprofit workers above the poverty level. More than sixty local governments and school boards–from Ypsilanti, Michigan, to New York City–have enacted living-wage ordinances, according to the

Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)

. Miami Beach; Ann Arbor; Missoula, Montana; and Rochester, New York, have passed municipal living-wage provisions this year, as has the Richmond, Virginia, school board. Living-wage campaigns are currently under way in more than seventy-five other communities, including Pittsburgh, Little Rock and Sacramento–where local unions working in coalition with church and student groups have begun organizing mass rallies to press for city action. Some college-based campaigns, such as the one at

Wesleyan University

in Connecticut, have already succeeded, while major efforts continue not just at Harvard but at other schools such as Swarthmore, where the

Swarthmore Living Wage and Democracy Campaign

got a boost from folk singer

Si Kahn

when he appeared on campus. Living-wage movements have progressed to the state level–in Massachusetts the Senate has passed a proposal to guarantee regular wage hikes by indexing the state minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index. Backed by a coalition that includes the Massachusetts


, the Massachusetts

Catholic Conference

, the state’s

Tax Equity Alliance



, the bill has a passionate supporter in Senate president

Thomas Birmingham

, a Democrat. He told a state House committee this spring, “We are in danger of becoming a bifurcated society, where the top 20 percent enjoy fabulous riches but many struggle like hamsters on a wheel just to keep their heads above water.”


President Bush is drawing fire for his nomination of “do drugs, do time” extremist John Walters to serve as the nation’s drug czar. A Heritage Foundation acolyte, Walters quit a Clinton Administration drug-policy job to protest moves to spend more money on treatment. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he dismissed calls for greater emphasis on prevention and treatment as “this ineffectual policy–the latest manifestation of the liberals’ commitment to a ‘therapeutic state’ in which government serves as the agent of personal rehabilitation.” How does Walters propose to win the drug war? He’s a big fan of stepping up US drug-war interventions in Colombia and Peru. He opposes state moves to exempt users of medical marijuana from drug laws. He calls complaints that drug law enforcement tactics disproportionally penalize young black men one of “the greatest urban myths of our time” and dismisses as “utter fantasy” the claim that jails are packed with drug users who need treatment–despite Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing that 25 percent of America’s 2 million prisoners were locked up for drug offenses…. One Republican who is definitely not on the Walters bandwagon is

New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson

, who is pushing a legislative agenda that would make marijuana available for medical use, remove criminal sanctions for possession of under one ounce of marijuana and emphasize sending drug offenders to treatment programs rather than prison. Already, Johnson has signed bills to increase drug-treatment spending by 35 percent and to legalize syringe sales to fight AIDS. Clinton drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey once mocked the governor as “Puff Daddy Johnson,” but he warns that his successor’s positions are too extreme. “Instead of finding a ‘compassionate conservative’ to lead our antidrug efforts,” says

Keith Stroup

, founder of the

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

, “President Bush has selected a man whose views are regarded as harsh and extreme, even among drug warriors.”

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