DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: In Baltimore, Maryland, youth, students, workers, and community organizers joined together across from City Hall to demand economic justice as part of the Full Employment Baltimore campaign. The demonstration outside was timed for the annual Taxpayers’ Night, where city council members receive residents’ considerations over the mayor’s preliminary budget. Full Employment Baltimore is a coalition comprised of a variety of community organizations and social movements calling for policy changes that will create more and better jobs for the people of Baltimore. Among the voices present were calls for strengthening of local first source labor hiring laws, increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to a living wage level of $10.59, reforming tax loophole laws for private corporations and wealthy institutions, re-prioritizing the federal budget to decrease military spending abroad, and restoring full funding for a local summer youth employment program that currently provides for 5,000 jobs rather than the 9,000 jobs allocated in 2009. Many participants in the rally stressed the connections between high levels of unemployment and disparities in funding priorities.
BRYANT MULDREW, EDUCATION ORGANIZER, BALTIMORE ALGEBRA PROJECT: I was a drug dealer. That’s what I did. I sold drugs. Right? And then I was educated to understand the political nature of the educational system and that the state was underfunding our school system by millions of dollars. So, one, they weren’t providing us with an education to be prepared for employment. But what I do know is that I fight and stand with Full Employment Baltimore. I don’t want new prisons built. I don’t want schools shut down.
DOUGHERTY: Baltimore has grappled with a number of social and economic pressures over the past several decades, as many of its previously robust steel and manufacturing industries were closed down or moved overseas. Johns Hopkins University constitutes a major source of jobs and revenue as the leading research institution, receiving more than $1 billion in federal funding. But many residents say that the university’s privileged position in the city has failed to translate into enough jobs and resources for local residents born and raised in Baltimore. While it remains an important port city, jobs on the docks have declined significantly, and some of Baltimore’s statistics in areas such as unemployment and violent crime reflect a city struggling to maintain. According to Alexis Flanagan and others of the Baltimore Safe and Sound Campaign, city officials’ existing funding priorities reflect a prediction of failure for Baltimore’s youth.
ALEXIS FLANAGAN, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, SAFE AND SOUND CAMPAIGN: We believe that there is entirely too much money that goes into taking custody of Baltimore city residents in foster care, juvenile detention, and prisons, and we believe that there’s not enough money that goes into positive opportunities–healthy birth, early education, childhood education opportunities, after-school programs, and summer jobs for the people of Baltimore city. And we believe that the funding needs to shift. It’s–fundamentally, we’re continuing to deprive our neighborhoods and we’re getting poor outcomes in our city because our neighborhoods are deprived of opportunity. The answer is always that we don’t have the funding. And we say we do. We’re just spending the money in the wrong place. We’re spending the money on high-cost interventions that produce poor outcomes when there are interventions that cost less and produce better outcomes. And we should be spending the city’s money, the state’s money more widely on behalf of Baltimore city residents.
DOUGHERTY: The current preliminary mayor’s budget proposed for the 2012 fiscal year includes increasing some areas of law enforcement spending by more than $8 million while cutting other areas of youth development and health programs by over $2 million. According to a budgetary analysis by the Baltimore Safe and Sound Campaign, overall spending allocated to targeted areas of crime control totals $265,016,000, while discretionary funds dedicated to the healthy development of children and youth were cut back to $23,605,000. Maureen Daly of the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church feels that the problem extends beyond the local level and is indicative of a national trend in spending priorities.
MAUREEN DALY, PEACE AND JUSTICE COMMITTEE, ST. VINCENT DE PAUL CATHOLIC CHURCH: We all believe, at the city, state, and federal level, that we really need to look at our budget priorities. The choices about how we spend our money are choices that express what kind of a society we are. We believe that we should be cutting our military spending, turning the money that was spent on that to more domestic purposes in our cities and in our small towns and countryside. We have so many domestic needs that should be funded.
DOUGHERTY: After the rally, many went inside the War Memorial Building to participate in Taxpayers Night by presenting and venting before the city council members.
UNIDENTIFIED: The development that you guys are investing in is not working. The system that you guys have going, it’s not working. The citizens are telling you what they need. You need to hear it and respect it and do what we ask you. You work for us. We want you to see us.
UNIDENTIFIED: For decades, this city has put its money into the inner harbor and into a tourist industry that does next to nothing for the citizens of this city. We expect you not only to do the right thing; when you talk about what you’re funding and where your priorities are, we expect you, as our elected officials, to use your bully pulpit to agitate on the state and federal level for what we need. To have any company in this city–and that does include Bank of America and Wachovia, soon to be Wells Fargo–that has dispossessed far too many Baltimorians of their homes, when you have them here in this city not paying taxes, yes, that is an issue for you, because that affects us. It’s past time for you to work with us.
UNIDENTIFIED: I read this budget and I’m crushed to see what is not simply an imbalance of our tax dollars, but the unrolling of the fabric that makes a civilized culture strong, productive, and free. Our city is not only stained with the blood of our murdered children, but also by our failure to provide them with opportunities to discover, create, grow, and dream. We must reverse this tide of fear that dictates that people who look like me are the enemy. Lackluster recreation centers are the enemy. Lack of fully funded after-school programs are the enemy. Lack of summer employment for our young people is the enemy. And this budget as proposed is the enemy. This budget predicts that Baltimore city residents will fail. It demonstrates the continuation of the historical fallacy that people with brown skin and coarse hair are destined to failure and therefore need to be taken into custody. This budget has placed a premium on ensuring the failure of our communities and neglecting to invest in the basic opportunities that would make our communities thrive, and I wonder why.
DOUGHERTY: Full Employment Baltimore is continuing its struggle to press on the various levels of government to enact policies that put a priority on social investment and the creation of decent jobs for the citizens of Baltimore. A controversial and costly city plan to establish Baltimore as the host location of a Grand Prix racing event is set to begin this summer and is expected to draw opposition from a number of the city’s growing social movements. Electoral politics are heating up as Baltimorians prepare to take to the polls later this year in mayoral and city council elections, where issues such as employment are sure to be discussed. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.
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