John Christopher Burton, a civil rights attorney and the Socialist Equality Party-backed candidate in the California recall election, told an audience of more than 300 students at Santa Monica College September 18 that the problems of California could not be addressed outside of a fight against the war and occupation in Iraq.
The speech took place at a “Rock the Vote” rally sponsored by the Inter-Club Council of Santa Monica College. The purpose of the rally was to motivate students to register to vote and cast their ballots in the recall election.
In his speech, Burton urged students to become actively involved in politics. “Political involvement means much more than casting a ballot,” said Burton. “It requires above all a thorough political understanding, not just familiarity with the issues of the day, but a deeper, more profound appreciation of the underlying tendencies that, in the final analysis, determine the trajectory of society.” (See John Burton: “Transform the recall into a referendum on Bush’s policies of war and social reaction”)
Burton urged a “no” vote on the recall campaign against California Governor Gray Davis, warning that the recall was a product of “right-wing millionaires who reject the results of the last election to replace Davis with a governor even more willing to dismantle entirely the state’s social programs.”
The audience interrupted Burton’s speech with applause on several occasions, particularly when he called on students to transform the recall election into a referendum against the Bush administration and the bipartisan policies of war and attacks on social programs. He struck a chord when he called on students to reject any candidate who claims that the crisis in California can be solved without opposing the war, and demanded an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq.
He invited students to join the Socialist Equality Party to campaign for the political independence of the working class from the two big business parties.
Following the speech, several students approached Burton with questions about his socialist program and indicated their interests in joining the campaign.
Independent candidate Arianna Huffington spoke after Burton at the event. Her message contrasted sharply with the content and tone set by Burton’s speech—of sharply explaining the main issues in the campaign and spelling out a clear policy against war.
Huffington glibly denounced politicians, like Davis and her Democratic Party opponent, Cruz Bustamante, for caving in to “special interests.” She promised, if elected, to fight Bush and called for an unspecified alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. Huffington’s emphasis on “special interests” suggested that the California crisis can be resolved simply by rooting out corruption. By contrast, the SEP and John Burton traced the roots of the crisis to a decade-long transfer of wealth from California’s working families to the financial oligarchy represented by both Bush and the Democrats.
Huffington has been the only one of the so-called major candidates to raise the war in her campaign. None of the others—Davis, Bustamante, Tom McClintock or the Green Party’s Peter Camejo—attended the Santa Monica event. Yet, in her speech to the students, she drew no connection between the war in Iraq and the California budget crisis.
After her speech, in response to a question from a World Socialist Web Site reporter, she said she opposes immediate withdrawal of US troops and favors a takeover of Iraq by the United Nations. In short, Huffington agrees with a policy of securing a UN endorsement of the US occupation, a position similar to that of many Democrats who voted to give President Bush the authority to attack Iraq.
California community colleges have been hit hard by the state’s budget crisis. Tuition has been increased by 60 percent, from $11 per unit to $18. In addition, most community colleges have had to cut class offerings. Students transferring to state universities are finding that mid-year applications are being automatically rejected as a result of cutbacks at the university level.
At Santa Monica College, despite a 5,100-student drop in enrollment as a result of the tuition increase, students this fall found it difficult to enroll in classes. Turrel, a business economics student who spoke to the WSWS, indicated that many classes are so full that students have no chairs. It will be worse next semester, he said: “One of my economics teachers has been told that he will be teaching two classes, instead of three classes, next semester.”
Turrel said that the cuts in education are bound up with growing pressure on working people in every facet of life. “Last week there was an article in the Los Angeles Times that said that just to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, a person has to earn $21 an hour,” he said. “It is only fair that resources be diverted from building airplanes and missiles.”
Santa Monica students and school employees picketed on September 15 to protest the college board’s decision to lay off 18 school administrative employees. Their union, the California School Employees Association (CSEA), offered a 10 percent pay cut and a 10 percent cut in hours in return for a promise of no layoffs, an offer rejected by the board. There have also been proposals that full-time professors accept a pay cut to prevent the layoffs. Faculty pay cuts have already taken place in other community colleges. Part-time faculty, the majority of professors, have had their hours slashed. Temporary positions throughout the college have been largely eliminated.