WORKFARE WAR


root - Posted on 04 September 2009

by Thornton Kimes/PNN

Introduction

This a To-Do List and more thoughts on the “Who’s Budget? Our Budget!” Battle of San Francisco. This is my rant and rave about the San Francisco version of the Culture War, one or two of the ways it is fought here.

After some effort, while or just before the city budget process started acting like a bullet train on a bridge to nowhere, the Coalition On Homelessness successfully negotiated a limited victory in the struggle to save it and other organizations from losing Workfare volunteers to re-assignment to sweeping streets and cleaning MUNI buses in Summer 2009.

Almost every city service is threatened with multiple personnel and hours-of-service cutbacks. Even Stimulus cash may not be used to undo the damage—-where have we heard that before? Why not expand the list of places where Workfare workers work?

The Public Library System

This “World Class City” has a Public Library System that is more properly thought of as “A World-Class Bad Joke.” The Main Branch doesn’t open at the same time every day of the week and closes early on weekends. The satellite branches aren’t open 7 days a week.

Workfare volunteers could help the PL system stay open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. All of it. Nobody becomes a librarian to get rich, the issue of union busting that does concern the Coalition On Homelessness, union workers and others with regards to who cleans San Francisco’s streets isn’t quite the same problem—though it could be if our current Mayor wanted to make it so.

MUNI

The MUNI public transit bus system has several problems, including loss of revenue from riders getting on without paying, a chronic inability of buses/drivers getting through their routes on time, and the current economy—we are told—is forcing the agency to raise fares in the fall of 2009. Adult fares would rise to $2, from $1.50—-all other fares would increase as well.

I participated in the last round of public community center meetings called to tell citizens what MUNI is concerned about and wants to do and to get public questions, comments and suggestions. They didn’t talk about fares then and the suggestion I sent “To Whom It May Concern” apparently found a nice home in a trash can.

When it comes to adjusting fares, MUNI doesn’t seem to care what riders think or what other transit systems have done that has the slightest bit of creative problem solving in it.

My fare solution: charge everyone $1 and do what the Seattle Metro bus system does—-charge an extra quarter during the AM/PM rush periods. Everyone pays the same, and the folks who’ve been paying the most cash get to feel like they’re paying less.

It’s the little things that make “modren life in the big citay” hell or heaven.

Workfare workers could help with the loss of money thing, riding EVERY bus line and making sure everyone who can pay does pay. They’d be doing something more useful than cleaning gum and vomit off the floors and seats, and most people want to feel they are doing something useful with their time.

Does city government care enough about citizens, with or without money and power, to at least try to have a clue about solving problems? There seems to be an all-inclusive empathy gap, which gets bigger the larger the gap between incomes becomes, at the core of this perfect vicious circle of circumstances.

San Francisco Ballet/Opera/Symphony

The day after a January mock funeral for the city budget I went to a San Francisco Supervisors budget committee meeting. Later, I told Tiny I wished she’d repeated the comments she made at the mock funeral. Those comments were a perfect response to the San Francisco Ballet, Opera, and Symphony employees and execs’ testimony begging the Supes to not cut their city welfare money.

A blue collar Opera worker said she was concerned that the Opera’s outreach to city youth would be cut if city cultural welfare money disappeared or was reduced, and she wasn’t the only employee of the Opera, the Ballet, etc., who spoke to this issue. She also said that she felt this would be a tragedy, that many city youth HAVE no culture and need to be exposed to some.

Tiny’s comments the day before included these words: “I can sing Opera too!”, and she did—-translating whatever it was to mean “the woman is fickle.”

The Opera worker’s comments were an amazing, infuriating statement. I may have problems with some popular music, but not all of it. What I really have a problem with is somebody telling me or anyone else (the youth of San Francisco) that their culture, which generates billions of dollars in profits and countless cellphone and iPod downloads (I’m betting a whole helluvalot more than downloads for symphonic or operatic music!) isn’t good enough.

That said, putting Workfare workers to work in the Ballet, Opera, and Symphony might be a good thing. How about a trade? Workfare workers instead of city cultural welfare money? Maybe it wouldn’t only be the Workfare workers larnin’ sumthin’.

If hard times actually do hit the Ballet, Opera, and Symphony, those folks could do Workfare with the hip-hop and other pupular music folks scattered through the city doing their bit for the entertainment of the, I think, majority who rarely (if ever) cross the doorways of those institutions. I know my feet have never passed through those doors, mostly because I wouldn’t spend the money they charge to fill their seats even if I had it.

Which is a shame. I lived in England for a year, age 8, went to public school and spent a lot of time listening to the University of Lancaster Symphony Orchestra play in their hall (my math professor father was on sabbatical to study Stonehenge) and loved it. I don’t hate classical or more modern symphonic music, I just don’t have the time or money to waste on it, nor the interest in supporting people who think youth or anyone else who don’t listen to their music is/are somehow deprived.

We all have televisions and radios and some of us have cellphones, MP3 players and iPods. I think they call that freedom of choice and opinion about what you consider “good music”. The same goes for any genre of cultural endeavor.

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