Under the Perfect Sun

Thumbnail image for Utopia Revisited: Rethinking the Response to Faulconer’s Climate Action Plan

Utopia Revisited: Rethinking the Response to Faulconer’s Climate Action Plan

by Jim Miller 10.20.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Since I last wrote on the People’s Climate March in late September, the grim environmental news has just kept coming in, whether it’s the revelation that September was the warmest month ever on planet earth, the Stanford study linking California’s grueling drought to climate change, the World Wildlife Federation report that the earth has lost half of its wildlife in the last fifty years, or the unpleasant surprise that, “In what could be termed as the worst effect of degrading climatic conditions and global warming, a new study has showed that fish in large numbers will disappear from the tropics by 2050”—it just doesn’t let up.

Perhaps that’s why it seems so many people aren’t paying attention or are just trying to wish away or drastically underestimate the stark realities facing us.

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Notes From the Education Wars: Marshall Tuck and the Plot Against Public Education

by Jim Miller 10.13.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

After my column last week on the battle between Tom Torlakson and the corporate education reform machine backing Marshall Tuck, I was pleased to see The Nation magazine’s special issue on schools. The writers aptly note that the struggle in American education is not one of the “status quo” versus “reform,” but rather, it is between a kind of educational class war dressed up as reform and a more progressive vision that seeks to empower all kids equally.

As the lead editorial observes:

The havoc wreaked by so-called education reform has had the upside of crystallizing a movement of parents, teachers, school staffers and kids who are fighting for education justice. Schools . . . are still a vital social safety net for children. A truly progressive vision for public education shouldn’t focus on stories of how a few kids competed their way out of blighted neighborhoods. Instead, it should focus on taking back that stream of money going to charter chains and corporate tax cuts and redirecting it toward schools anchored in strong communities and using proven methods for teaching kids—the very methods deployed in schools where the rich send their children. Indeed, the most disadvantaged kids should get even more support for their schools than their privileged suburban counterparts. Without education equity, we don’t have an educational system at all—we have a rigged rat race that starts in kindergarten. 

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Tom Torlakson Versus The Corporate Education Reform Machine

by Jim Miller 10.06.2014 Columns

The Most Important Race on the Ballot is the One No One is Talking About

By Jim Miller

This fall in San Diego the Peters vs. DeMaio and Kim vs. Cate showdowns are getting all the attention, but my pick for the most important race on the ballot is one that nobody is taking note of at the statewide level—and that’s a problem. The race in question is for . . . (wait for it) . . . State Superintendent of Public Instruction!

O.K. I know, Superintendent of Public Instruction races don’t usually get peoples’ hearts pumping, but if you are dismayed by the full-court-press assault on teachers, public education, and democratic local control over schools, you should help re-elect Tom Torlakson, who has been steadfast in his support for quality public education in California.

Indeed if you care about the direction of education in California this is a crucial race because it will make a real difference. The contest between the incumbent, Torlakson, and his opponent, Marshall Tuck, is a battle royal over who owns the future of our schools: the public or corporate interests.

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Thumbnail image for San Diego City Works Press, Sunshine/Noir II: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana

San Diego City Works Press, Sunshine/Noir II: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana

by Jim Miller 09.29.2014 Books & Poetry

November 1st Deadline Approaching

By Jim Miller

San Diego City Works Press is still accepting submissions for Sunshine/Noir II until November 1st. In particular we are looking for creative non-fiction pieces about underrepresented communities in San Diego and generally uncovered topics with regard to life in our region. We are also looking for good fiction, poetry, and artwork that runs against the grain of San Diego’s official story.

SDCWP is run by a 100% non-profit collective and is the only small literary press in San Diego that focuses primarily on the publication of local writers with an emphasis on our region that moves beyond the postcard version of our reality. In an era where commercial forces and hegemonic instrumentality are drowning out what remains of literary culture, we have persisted against the odds. We invite all interested parties to be a part of our beautifully useless endeavor.

To celebrate our tenth anniversary, we are putting together a second edition of our first anthology, Sunshine/Noir II. All local writers are encouraged to submit work for consideration.

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Thumbnail image for America’s First Banned Book and the Battle for the Soul of the Country

America’s First Banned Book and the Battle for the Soul of the Country

by Jim Miller 09.22.2014 Books & Poetry

By Jim Miller

It’s Banned Books Week and what better way to kick it off than with a salute to America’s first banned book: Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan published in 1637? New English Canaan is a three-volume affair containing Morton’s sympathetic observations about Native Americans along with a celebration of the beauty of the natural world and a fierce satire of the Puritans.

While some scholars point to other books such as John Eliot’s The Christian Commonwealth (written in the late 1640s) or William Pynchon’s The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption (1650) as the first books to be banned by the Puritans for theological or historical reasons, Morton’s New English Canaan precedes both of these texts and the conflict surrounding it is far more important and illustrative with regard to the political and cultural history of the United States.

Indeed, Morton’s book was banned because it told his side in one of the pivotal battles for the cultural soul of the New World. Morton, a perpetual thorn in the side of the great Puritan patriarch William Bradford, represented the untamable “other” of colonial America. When Morton set up his rival colony of Merry Mount in close proximity to Bradford’s Plymouth Plantation and invited the Indians and escaped indentured servants to join him, all hell broke loose.

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Thumbnail image for The People’s Climate March – What Will It Take to Save the Planet?

The People’s Climate March – What Will It Take to Save the Planet?

by Jim Miller 09.15.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew

This coming Sunday, September 21st, is the People’s Climate March in New York City, here in San Diego, and elsewhere around the world.

The organizers hope that it will be “an unprecedented citizen mobilization” occurring “[a]s world leaders meet at the United Nations climate change summit” while marchers demand “the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities. . . . Other marches will take place around the world as we collectively call on our leaders to act on climate change.”

More specifically, according to the organizers in San Diego, the march is happening to “call for solutions that work for people and the planet – a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency, and a just and sustainable economy. We will press our elected leaders to implement a strong Climate Action Plan for San Diego; develop sustainable water policies; build affordable mass transit and facilitate healthy communities; and support green jobs and clean energy.”

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Thumbnail image for The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce: Oppressed Underdog?

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce: Oppressed Underdog?

by Jim Miller 09.08.2014 Business

A Pathetic Attempt to Re-Write History

By Jim Miller

Recently UT-San Diego sat down with San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders for an interview so he could lay out the Chamber’s “new” aggressive political action plan.

During the course of the interview Sanders was steadfast in his insistence that the Chamber exists to respond to the mythic hegemony of labor in San Diego politics.

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Thumbnail image for Why Labor Day Still Matters: Unions and the Future of American Democracy

Why Labor Day Still Matters: Unions and the Future of American Democracy

by Jim Miller 09.01.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Over the last year, the subject of economic inequality has been in the news quite a bit with the release of Robert Reich’s spectacular documentary Inequality for All and economist Thomas Piketty’s seminal work, Capital in the Twentieth Century. The picture they paint is a grim one and new bad numbers just keep rolling in.

For instance, a few weeks ago a Russell Sage Foundation study revealed that the wealth of the typical American household has dropped nearly 20 percent since 1984 and yet another study notes that private sector wages measured in real terms have dipped 16.2 percent since their 1972 high point. In the wake of that news, another US Census Bureau report came out showing that middle class household wealth fell by 35 percent between 2005 and 2011.

Thus while the last few years in particular have been incredibly beneficial for the ultra affluent, most of the rest of us have struggled to hold ground or not lose more. Some economists are even calling this phenomenon “the new normal.”

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Thumbnail image for K-Faulc Saves Golden Hill: Adventures in Infrastructure “Improvements”

K-Faulc Saves Golden Hill: Adventures in Infrastructure “Improvements”

by Jim Miller 08.25.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

“There is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican pothole.”

Remember that pat line that Kevin Faulconer used ad nauseam during the mayor’s race? Well out here in the real world after the election, neither variety of potholes is getting fixed very quickly, and Faulconer’s fine words about efficiency and commitment to infrastructure are long forgotten once the press conferences are over.

A case in point is my Golden Hill neighborhood, where residents recently posted angry signs before they cleared several cone-blocked streets and dozens of “no parking” signs on their own after four months and counting of inaction in the wake of a Faulconer press conference where he promised big things.

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Thumbnail image for Why Read? In Defense of Uselessness

Why Read? In Defense of Uselessness

by Jim Miller 08.18.2014 Books & Poetry

By Jim Miller

While I still deeply love my chosen profession of teaching after twenty-five years of work at various colleges with the last seventeen of those at San Diego City College, it’s hard not to notice the constant drumbeat of critics casting doubt on the value of my life’s work in the humanities.

Whether they be corporate education reformers bent on imposing a business model on colleges or techno-boosters with a zeal to toss all that I hold dear into the dustbin of history, there is a long line of naysayers.

As David Masciotra recently noted in “Pulling the Plug on English Departments” in The Daily Beast, “The armies of soft philistinism are on the march and eager to ditch traditional literature instruction in favor of more utilitarian approaches . . . It is easy to observe the sad and sickly decline of American intellectual life, through the cultural and institutional lowering of standards, when prestigious publications promote the defense, if not the celebration, of lower standards.”

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Kevin Faulconer’s War on the Poor

by Jim Miller 08.11.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller

As Doug Porter did an excellent job reporting last week, the stage is set for a battle royal over San Diego’s minimum wage increase. Despite the fact that 63% of San Diegans support raising the wage, Mayor Faulconer vetoed the ordinance, definitively proving that he is more loyal to local plutocrats than to the people of the city, particularly those who work hard for very little.

Yes, with a stroke of the pen, Kevin Faulconer denied a raise to 172,000 people and took away earned sick days for even more local workers, a move that disproportionately affects women and people of color. Just as one could begin to feel good about the fact that our city did the right thing and stood up for those of our friends and neighbors who are most in need of a hand up, Mayor Faulconer struck them down.

When it was time to love his neighbors, he slammed the door in their faces. Rather than living with a more than reasonable compromise that will help rather than harm the local economy, he chose to declare war on the poor instead.

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Thumbnail image for In Paradise: For the Time Being

In Paradise: For the Time Being

by Jim Miller 08.04.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time at Devils Postpile National Monument basking in the stunning beauty of that geological marvel and the accompanying reminder of the deep time that underlies the shallow surface history that we mistake for all that is.

Indeed, if there is a heaven, places like this are surely part of it. Nonetheless, while pondering the unintentional artistry of glaciers it was impossible not to notice how dry the mountains are now after several years of drought.

In and around Yosemite, the creeks, rivers, and waterfalls are drying up far earlier than usual, and the forests are perpetually vulnerable to fire. During my stay, I had to, as one always has to in the summer now, keep my eye on reports of fires—this time one was threatening the western edge of Yosemite near El Portal and had closed the Crane Flat, Bridalveil Creek, and Yosemite Creek campgrounds leaving firefighters to hold the line and keep the National Park open for the time being.

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Thumbnail image for Lessons for a New Gilded Age: Labor Studies Courses at City College

Lessons for a New Gilded Age: Labor Studies Courses at City College

by At Large 07.28.2014 Columns

By Kelly Mayhew

There’s been a lot of discussion of economic inequality recently in wake of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

As many economists have observed, American workers are more educated and more productive than ever and are driving record profits for corporations while they’re seeing their wages stagnate or decline as the wealth accumulated by the top 1% of earners has skyrocketed. Robert Reich has been on a crusade to emphasize the historic importance of our current economic inequality crisis, and people like Paul Krugman have noted that we are living in “a new gilded age.”

Here in San Diego we are in the midst of seeing this writ large as the battle to raise the minimum wage rages on with a community-labor alliance advocating for the rights of low-wage workers while the city’s economic elite push back hard.

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After the Minimum Wage Win: The Battle Continues

by Jim Miller 07.21.2014 Business

By Jim Miller

San Diego’s progressive community got a well deserved shout-out last week in the national media with The Nation praising the good work of our city’s “expanding progressive base.”

More specifically, the article noted that the local movement to raise the minimum wage was comprised of many of the same folks who formed the community-labor alliance behind the David Alvarez mayoral campaign:

That coalition, Raise Up San Diego, includes the Center for Policy Initiatives as well as labor unions, immigrant rights groups and service providers. The campaign is endorsed by the San Diego LGBT Community Center, San Diego’s NAACP chapter and several other organizations and small businesses. Many of the groups had collaborated on issue work, elections and voter-turnout programs in the past . . . San Diego’s expanding immigrant community is just one indicator of the city’s transformation. Alongside its newfound diversity, the city has begun to shift politically, from reliably Republican to a more complicated patchwork of blue, red and purple.

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Thumbnail image for What Kind of City Are We? It’s Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

What Kind of City Are We? It’s Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

by Jim Miller 07.14.2014 Business

“The bottom line is that the minimum wage in 2013 is far less now than it was in 1968 despite the economy’s productivity more than doubling, and low-wage workers attaining far more education.”Economic Policy Institute

By Jim Miller

The San Diego City Council will consider today whether to pass an ordinance or put forth a ballot measure to increase the city’s minimum wage and provide earned sick days for local workers. Since the last time I wrote on this subject in late April, the original proposal of raising the minimum wage to the local Self-Sufficiency Standard of $13.09 with five earned sick days has been significantly lowered in order to address the concerns of opponents.

The current proposal keeps the initial five earned sick days but now only raises the minimum wage to $9.75 in 2015 and $10.50 in 2016 before stopping at $11.50 in 2017 and indexing it to inflation after January of 2019.

Thus, despite the fact that the original proposal fell short of the landmark $15 an hour passed in Seattle and being fought for elsewhere around the country, the City Council still bent over backwards to appease the fears of those clamoring that any increase in the minimum wage would spell disaster for small businesses and the local economy. And they did this even though the preponderance of evidence shows that minimum wage increases elsewhere have actually helped the economy.

The response to this compromise from the Chamber of Commerce and company was to essentially flip the Council the bird and reaffirm their opposition to any measure that moves beyond the state’s minimum wage.

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Thumbnail image for What the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn Decision Means for Workers and American Democracy

What the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn Decision Means for Workers and American Democracy

by Jim Miller 07.07.2014 Columns

“Our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” --James Madison

By Jim Miller

After last week’s slew of bad Supreme Court rulings much of the media attention rightfully went to the horrendous “Hobby Lobby” case where the rights of corporations were deemed more important than the rights of women.

But there was another big decision where the Supreme Court surprised some observers and ruled narrowly on Harris v. Quinn, the case which could have gutted public sector unions and virtually wiped out their ability to play in American politics by ending all public sector unions’ ability to collect agency fees. As the Daily Kos noted of the case:

Harris v. Quinn, is about the constitutionality of “agency fees” charged by public sector unions to all workers in a unionized setting, even non-union members. These fees are essential to their operation . . . Agency fees in principle are important to public employee unions because they’re required by law to bargain for all workers in a unionized setting. If agency fees for non-members are ruled to be a violation of free speech, unions fear they would lose funding, become less effective at bargaining for benefits and, in turn, lose members.

If the Supreme Court had ruled broadly it would have crippled public sector unions by making them much less effective, leading to a loss of political power, bargaining clout, and lots of members. And though Harris v. Quinn only involved public sector unions, their demise would have surely been a death knell for the entire American Labor movement.

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Thumbnail image for Endless Summer: On the Verge of the Sixth Extinction

Endless Summer: On the Verge of the Sixth Extinction

by Jim Miller 06.30.2014 Columns

“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’ve seen a lot of bad news lately from the dismaying results of our last local election and a slew of reactionary court decisions at the state and national level to the re-emergence of the chaos in Iraq and the seemingly daily news reports of growing evidence that our widening level of economic inequality is becoming an entrenched and sadly taken-for-granted part of our new normal.

Even as we head into the heedless days of summer, we are greeted by yet more studies showing that the climate change fostered by our unsustainable way of life is causing huge chunks of the antarctic to break off which will result in rising sea levels and more severe damage to our ecosystem and consequent human suffering.

If you are paying attention, it’s hard not to be angry.  But, of course, there is already a virtual industry in place designed to turn people’s anger in the wrong direction, to deny basic facts about history, the economy, political power, and the actual state of the natural world.  Thus, just when we need to be turning the car dramatically to avoid the crash, there’s no one at the wheel.

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San Diego Grit: Remembering Tony Gwynn

by Jim Miller 06.23.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Tony Gwynn died last week and it stopped me.  In part it was because he died too soon at 54, only four years older than me and many of my friends who grew up watching and admiring his skill as a player.  As is always the case when someone who has been a part of your collective experience goes, there is a new hole in your life, that sense that something’s missing that won’t come back except as a ghost, a haunting memory.

But it was more than that.  With the death of Gwynn, San Diego lost the last of his kind, a Southern California product who went to school at SDSU, came up with the Padres, and stayed here for his entire career, even when he could have left for greener pastures.  In an era of pervasive corporate delocalization in sports and the culture at large, Gwynn was an old school guy who embodied loyalty to his town and his team.  You couldn’t really think of San Diego without him.

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Thumbnail image for What’s Wrong with the Vergara Decision for Teachers

What’s Wrong with the Vergara Decision for Teachers

by Jim Miller 06.16.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew

Last week’s decision in the Vergara v. the State of California lawsuit that undermined tenure and seniority rights was a profound slap in the face to teachers who have committed their careers to improving the lives of our children.  It was yet another significant victory for those who are seeking to impose corporate education reforms by pitting teachers against children in a cynical, destructive, and utterly counterproductive fashion.

As tenured professors in the community college system, union members, and parents of a child in California’s public school system, we have a unique perspective on this matter.  Although the “Vergara” decision has no effect on our jobs at San Diego City College, it does affect the professional lives of the educators who teach our son and it will do them, and him, more harm than good.

We have had our kid happily ensconced at a tremendous place–McKinley Elementary School in North Park.  This is a traditional neighborhood school that has a staff of devoted, loving, highly skilled professionals, many of whom have dedicated most of their careers to this place.

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June Gloom: Inequality for All, Really

by Jim Miller 06.09.2014 2014 June Primary

By Jim Miller

“When you skip voting it’s not rebellion, it’s surrender.”

That was the apt Facebook meme doing the rounds last week after a brutal primary election where a pathetically low turnout led to a very good night for Republicans and the corporate interests they represent. Of course this was not at all unexpected as June primaries have always been lethargic affairs, but this one was even more embarrassing.

Indeed, with labor significantly depleted after losing a big mayoral special election and fractured local Democrats still reeling, the right saw an opportunity to go for the kill and they did, outspending the Democrats in nearly every race and burying the community of Barrio Logan under a mountain of corporate-funded bullshit. As Doug Porter accurately observed, it was a triumph of environmental racism and plutocracy, pure and simple.

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Five Reasons to Vote on June 3rd

by Jim Miller 06.02.2014 2014 June Primary

By Jim Miller

What if they had an election and nobody came?

That’s the feel that this June’s primary has to it and, after a nasty and seemingly unrelenting political year from the Filner scandal on, it’s understandable that folks are burned out and/or disgusted enough to stay home.

Nevertheless, while most San Diegans are meeting tomorrow’s election with a collective shrug, there are a number of things at stake that will affect our lives and the future of our local and statewide democracy in important ways.

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Thumbnail image for San Diego City Works Press Calls for Submissions for Sunshine/Noir II: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana

San Diego City Works Press Calls for Submissions for Sunshine/Noir II: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana

by Jim Miller 05.26.2014 Books & Poetry

By Jim Miller

San Diego City Works Press is soon approaching its 10-year anniversary. SDCWP is run by a 100% non-profit collective and is the only small literary press in San Diego that focuses primarily on the publication of local writers with an emphasis on our region that moves beyond the postcard version of our reality.

In an era where commercial forces and hegemonic instrumentality are drowning out what remains of literary culture, we have persisted against the odds. We invite all interested parties to be a part of our beautifully useless endeavor.

To celebrate our anniversary, we are putting together a second edition of our first anthology, Sunshine/Noir II. All local writers are encouraged to submit work for consideration.

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Thumbnail image for San Diego Burning: The Facts We Hate

San Diego Burning: The Facts We Hate

by Jim Miller 05.19.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

It was a little bit of hell on earth. With searing heat in the triple digits replacing May gray and fires sprouting up all over the county, San Diego’s mellow vibe turned menacing last week. As many of us, this author included, worried about the safety of friends and family members in harm’s way, it was hard not to be struck by a painful sense of déjà vu. We’ve been here before—three times in a little more than a decade. But not everybody felt that way.

The immediate response from County Supervisor Bill Horn was to raise the specter of arson when he said, “I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years, and I’ve had one or two fires but never anything like this.”

Upping the ante on Horn’s uninformed speculation, the far right fringes of the Internet jumped straight to conspiracy mode, sounding the alarm that our most recent firestorm could be the act of Islamic terrorists.

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Thumbnail image for What’s at Stake With Propositions B and C?

What’s at Stake With Propositions B and C?

by Jim Miller 05.12.2014 2014 June Primary

“Everyone who wants to preserve community control over the planning process should be afraid because your community will be next!” –Georgette Gomez, Associate Director of the Environmental Health Coalition

By Jim Miller

As we head toward the June 3rd election, the same corporate interests who spent big money to fund a petition drive based on lies  to force a vote on the Barrio Logan Community Plan are now funding an equally dishonest campaign to defeat it.

The only thing that will stop a great injustice from happening in the case of the Barrio Logan Community Plan is if San Diegans stand up against this threat to their local democracy and vote yes on B and C. For that to happen, San Diegans need to be educated. The central organization doing this work in the service of the Yes on B and C Campaign is the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC).

This week, I interview Georgette Gomez, the Associate Director of the EHC to learn a little more about who the folks are who are fighting this good fight and what is at stake in this election.

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Thumbnail image for Remember the Folks Who Brought You the 8-Hour Day?

Remember the Folks Who Brought You the 8-Hour Day?

by Jim Miller 05.05.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller

Last week, May Day came and went and, while there was a small march downtown, most people barely noticed. Indeed most Americans don’t know much about May Day and if they do, they associate it with the state sponsored holiday in the former Soviet Union.

The truth of the matter is, however, that May Day has deep American roots. It started in 1866 as part of the movement pushing for the 8-hour day.

In the course of this effort, the nationwide American labor movement was born. Workers joined together in the service of the principle that, in the emerging industrial age, they should have a say in their economic lives and a voice in our politics—neither of which would come without a struggle.

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