Dream team

Chico’s City Plaza serves as venue for local Rebuild the Dream event

Locals like Lisa Patterson filled the Chico City Plaza Saturday (Aug. 13), spreading their message to tax the wealthy and corporations before cutting social services.

Locals like Lisa Patterson filled the Chico City Plaza Saturday (Aug. 13), spreading their message to tax the wealthy and corporations before cutting social services.

Photo By Kyle Delmar

A nascent movement to counter the Tea Party manifested itself Saturday (Aug. 13) in Chico’s City Plaza.

There, a couple hundred people braved the sweltering heat to raise their voices against the federal government’s plans to erase the country’s budget deficit through cuts to social services rather than tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations.

The protest was part of a nationwide movement conducted in large part by the baby boomers who once protested, and in some cases served in, the Vietnam War. Now they are coming to the defense of Social Security and Medicare, decrying the nation’s sorry economic state.

Among the crowd were people wearing top hats and black dresses, satirically emulating the nation’s wealthy, and carrying signs with the message that what’s good for millionaires is good for America.

One of those present was Evan LeVang, executive director of Independent Living Services of Northern California. Talking over the rhythmic beat of Chico band Soul Union and its prancing stilt walker, LeVang said the country’s current budget policies are wrong.

“I heard a news report the other day there is $70 billion unaccounted for in Afghanistan rebuilding funds,” LaVang said. “And we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about cutting Social Security. We’re talking about cutting Medicare. We’ve got to turn this around. That is why I am here today.”

Rebuild the Dream, as the movement is called, harks back to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered nearly 50 years ago during a march on Washington, D.C.

The movement’s website includes this proclamation: “We, the American people, promise to defend and advance a simple ideal: liberty and justice … for all. Americans who are willing to work hard and play by the rules should be able to find a decent job, get a good home in a strong community, retire with dignity, and give their kids a better life. Every one of us—rich, poor, or in-between, regardless of skin color or birthplace, no matter their sexual orientation or gender—has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is our covenant, our compact, our contract with one another. It is a promise we can fulfill—but only by working together.”

The dream builders’ movement appears to be gaining steam. Two days before the Chico protest, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was greeted by hecklers at the Iowa State Fair.

When Romney said raising taxes on people was not the way to balance the budget, a man yelled, “Corporations, corporations!” Romney responded, now infamously, “Corporations are people, my friend.”

Longtime fairgoers told NPR’s Debbie Elliott that the exchange “was out of character for the normally polite crowds sitting on hay bales, listening to the stump speeches.”

In Chico, activist Emily Alma, one of the local event’s organizers, took the stage and addressed the gathering.

“The American Dream is about people having the opportunity to provide for their families,” she said, “to be able to have a sense of security about their old age, to have a sense that their kids can go to college and get decent jobs, and a hope for a future that takes care of their personal needs. That is crumbling.”

Speaker Tom Reed, founder of the Butte County Health Care Coalition, voiced what was apparently a notion shared by many in attendance on this day, not to mention the Romney hecklers in Iowa.

“During the last 30 years, the top 1 percent of the population has received 38.7 percent to total income growth in this nation,” he said. “As Jessie Jackson once suggested, those who had the party should get the hangover. What’s lacking in our country today are not financial resources but political will and moral clarity. Tax the rich.”

There were a few monitors present, strategically placed individuals who the day before had taken part in nonviolent training, just in case Tea Party types showed up to brew some trouble.

One of the monitors, Sheldon Praiser, explained: “We’re not expecting trouble, but you never know what might happen if there are some people opposed to the ideas that we’re behind at this rally today; you know, defending some of the economic rights of poor and middle-class Americans.

“There are people, Tea Partiers and others, that don’t believe the same thing and might want to come and express their disagreement, which is fine if they do it in an appropriate way. But if it becomes disruptive then it behooves the monitors to try to diffuse that situation calmly.”

The Tea Partiers did not show; or, if they did, they didn’t reveal their presence.