Eight hundred people from around Santa Barbara County flooded State Street on Saturday for the First Annual People’s March for Economic Justice.
The march, part of a statewide event, was organized locally by the UCSB Campus Labor Action Coalition (CLAC), with the help of various other groups, including the Isla Vista and Carpinteria Tenant’s Unions and the Coalition for a Living Wage. The day began at Ortega Park with a traditional Aztec presentation of dance and music, as well as various speakers, proceeded from Cota Street to State Street and ended at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse with a rally.
The march was organized in response to economic issues within Santa Barbara, including the proposed living wage ordinance, which seeks to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $11 per hour with health benefits or $12.25 an hour without health benefits.
Chicano studies Professor and CLAC member Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval said CLAC was originally interested in the global issue of sweatshops exploiting their workers, but shifted its involvement to a local level with the living wage campaign.
“We wanted to do something in solidarity with the Coalition for a Living Wage,” he said. “We want to create a dialogue in Santa Barbara. … Is this going to be the playground for the rich or a comfortable place to live for working and middle class families?”
Dass Williams, a consultant to the Coastal Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, spoke to protesters about the way poverty has become an economic trap. Williams said a living wage ordinance, similar to the one he helped to get passed in Ventura last week, could solve the issue of poverty the city of Santa Barbara faces.
“The city and county creates jobs that are so low paid that they force people to rely on the government,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be cheaper for tax payers and more dignified for workers to have a living wage?”
The march began later than scheduled, with roughly 300 to 400 participants. CLAC committee member Chrystine Lawson estimated that by the time protesters reached their destination at the county courthouse lawn, there were 800 people in attendance.
“I was really excited by the turnout as well as the energy of the people,” she said. “There were people who were pissed off at the situation but willing to do something about it in the form of a constructive action. It was exactly what the organizers were looking for.”
The second rally, held on the steps of the courthouse, included speakers from the United Farm Workers, American Civil Liberties Union and UCSB faculty.
UCSB history Professor Alice O’Connor said the issue of economic injustice, particularly the living wage ordinance, affects students at UCSB because they are going to be faced with jobs that do not guarantee benefits or decent wages when they graduate.
“The sad reality is that Santa Barbara has come to represent to society at large the extremes of wealth and poverty,” she said. “Students have an immediate interest in shaping the community that they want to live in.”
CLAC member Shana Singh said UCSB students wrongly assume their college degrees will guarantee them job security and decent wages, but the tenuous position of campus lecturers shows this is not always true.
“These people are very educated and qualified, yet they too lack any job security,” she said.
Mariah Reiser, a junior environmental studies major, said students should be concerned with the proposed living wage ordinance because of how it could potentially affect their lives once they leave UCSB and I.V.
“Soon [students] are going to leave the shelter of UCSB and face reality,” she said. “Many students aren’t middle class and affluent and are going to want to maybe be able to buy a home. A living wage can help with that.”
Brian Helmle, the networking co-chair for the I.V. Tenant’s Union, said the march might let people know that both students and families in I.V. are starting to come together to fight for better living conditions.
“Even affluent students can feel this oppression from landlords,” he said. “That might inspire some empathy and social change, and people will see that this is a shared struggle.”
The overall mood of the march and two rallies was upbeat and festive, sociology graduate student and CLAC member Glyn Hughes said.
“People were inspired by the symbolism of collectively expressing our concerns on the main economic corridor of Santa Barbara, State Street,” Hughes said. “Ordinarily, these critical voices are excluded from the sunny, affluent images of Santa Barbara.”