Published at Common Dreams & the Santa Barbara Newspress
Originally Published in the Ventura County Star

From a distance, an anthill looks like an inanimate mound of earth. Yet when from up close, you see movement – ants busily working for the greater good of their ecosystem, ants who bear the brunt of hard labor, carrying many times their body weight in food for the colony, working in unison.

From a distance, Santa Barbara looks like this anthill. We might appear comfortably inert, insulated from the economic injustices which have plagued nearby areas like Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, but looking closely, we are a community in motion.

The agricultural laborers, workers and pickers who sustain the local economy are like the ants: diligently working, yet often out of sight or unappreciatedly trampled underfoot. The People’s March for Economic Justice scheduled for Saturday, April 27 here in Santa Barbara will highlight the diverse groups working toward achieving a sustainable economy, a living wage and workplace justice in our community. This march aims to show the commitment, the momentum and the ongoing winnable struggles which affect everyone.

Among the groups involved are the United Farm Workers, the Coalition for a Living Wage and two groups looking to challenge the role of the University of California’s involvement in less-than-humanitarian endeavors – the UC Nuclear Free Campaign and Students for a Free Tibet.

Nearly fifty local groups have endorsed this march, overwhelming evidence that many people in Santa Barbara County are interested in economic justice and informed about the issues. Yet many people still live at a distance, believing that our anthill is just fine as is.

Student groups disagree. Students for a Free Tibet and the student members belonging to the UC Nuclear Free Campaign support the local struggles for economic justice by challenging the UC school system’s involvement with BP Amoco petroleum investments in Tibet and the inappropriate relationship between the University of California and the Department of Energy regarding oversight and management of the nuclear weapons research facilities and laboratories.

Michael Coffey of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation says that “these issues – human rights in Tibet and the military-industrial-academic complex – directly affect what goes on locally in the Santa Barbara Community.” He continued by saying, “We must support those who sustain our local economy by challenging the fundamentally undemocratic policy and practice of overseeing nuclear weapons research and development by the largest employer in Santa Barbara County, UCSB.”

The need to de-link the University of California from the nuclear weapons industry is inextricably linked to the People’s March for Economic Justice. More than $6 billion in taxpayer dollars supports the relationship between UC and DoE, money which would be much more wisely spent on education, healthcare and social services infrastructure. Rather than funding the machinery of death, we should allocate our resources toward promoting a better quality of life for all people.

The United Farm Workers from Ventura County will be present at the march to explain the situation with their employer, mushroom mogul Pictsweet, owned by United Foods, Inc. For nearly fourteen years the workers have tried to gain a contract, and in September 2000 initiated a boycott of Pictsweet products hoping to influence the management to come to the negotiating table. The workers want safer working conditions, a raise to accommodate the rising cost of living, a forum for mediating conflicts on the job and most of all, respect.

The Pictsweet workers are encouraged and excited to be participating in this march.

“Our community is in movement,” says United Farm Workers organizer Brendan Greene. “We are working to change our community, to better our community for ourselves and our families. We want everyone in Santa Barbara to see our struggles and our hard work and to become a part of our campaigns for justice.”

A living wage for Santa Barbara County residents is tremendously important. UCSB instructor and Ph.D. candidate Keith Rosendal analyzed local data about the economic structure of our community and found that rents in Goleta have increased by 33% and over 20% in Santa Barbara, highlighting a need for affordable housing for all local residents. He learned that since 1996 more than 21% of people living in Santa Barbara County have no health insurance, compared to the national figure of 13%, and that the growth of jobs in Southern California has occurred in areas which pay very little – in the service and agricultural sectors. These statistics are a mirror held up to our faces: what kind of a society can accept the disparity of allocation of resources and access to important things like healthcare, decent wages and respect!

Marches symbolize motion, movement, progress. Our community Economic justice ought to be attainable for all members of our society, which will require support and solidarity in Santa Barbara.

The power in nonviolent action is unity, diversity and recognition of the delicate web of interconnectedness which binds all the issues together at the People’s March for Economic Justice.
*Leah C. Wells serves as the Peace Education Coordinator at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.