[Hpn] Coachella Valley, CA - Cry California: "Whither Duroville?" - Mother Jones News - September 4, 2003

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Mon, 17 Nov 2003 03:38:56 -0500

Cry California

Lost in the divisive clamor of recall politics, something
precious is being ground to dust.
By Mike Davis - Mother Jones News - September 4, 2003

Coachella Valley, CA - Every candidate in California's dark
recall-election comedy should be obliged to answer the question:
"Whither Duroville?"

"Duroville" is the California visitors never see and that pundits
ignore when they debate the future of the world's sixth largest

Officially this ramshackle desert community of 4000
people in the Coachella Valley doesn't even exist. It is a
shantytown -- reminiscent of the Okie camps in The Grapes of
Wrath -- erected by otherwise homeless farmworkers on land owned
by Harvey Duro, a member of the Cahuilla Indian nation.

The Coachella Valley is the prototype of a future -- Beverly
Hills meets Tijuana -- that California conservatives seem to
dream of creating everywhere.

The western side of the Valley,
from Palm Springs to La Quinta, is an air-conditioned paradise of
gated communities built around artificial lakes and eighteen-hole
golf courses. The typical resident is a 65-year-old retired white
male in a golf cart. He is a zealous voter who disapproves of
taxes, affirmative action, and social services for the immigrants
who wait on him.

The east side of the Valley, from Indio to Mecca, is where the
resort maids, busboys, pool cleaners, and farmworkers live. There
is an artificial mountain built out of 500,000 tons of sludge
(solid sewage) trucked in from Los Angeles, but nary a blade of
grass. In Duroville the largest body of water is the sewage
lagoon and the local playground is a dioxin-contaminated
landfill. The typical resident is 18 years-old, speaks Spanish or
Mixtec, and works all day in the blast-furnace desert heat.
She/he, most likely, is not yet a citizen and therefore
ineligible to vote.

Squalor, exploitation and disenfranchisement are not just
anomalies of California's agricultural valleys and "factories in
the field."

There are urban Durovilles as well, like the
sprawling tenement district just a few blocks west of downtown
Los Angeles.

On the gilded coast north of San Diego, an estimated
10,000 immigrant day-laborers and service-workers sleep rough in
the wild canyons behind $800,000 tract homes.

Throughout the
state, hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers live in illegal
garage conversions, derelict trailers, even chicken coops.

Economic inequality has soared in the last generation,
particularly in the southern half of the state. In the Los
Angeles area, for example, the top 20% of the workforce earns
twenty-five times more on average than the bottom 20%.

a third of Los Angeles residents lack medical insurance and must
depend on a handful of overcrowded county hospitals whose doctors
have recently given chilling testimony about the rising number of
needless deaths from shortages of staff and beds.

This Third World California, which Duroville poignantly
symbolizes, is no accidental creation. The famous tax revolt of
the 1970s was racial politics coded as fiscal populism.

As the
Latino population soared, white voters -- egged on by rightwing
demagogues -- withdrew support from the public sector. California
became a bad school state in lockstep with becoming a low wage
state. Overcrowded classrooms and dangerous playgrounds are part
of a vicious circle with sweatshop jobs and slum housing.

The California labor movement, reinvigorated by a new generation
of organizing, has fought to halt creeping "Mississippization"
with living wage ordinances, increased school spending, and the
closure of tax breaks for the rich.

There have been some
victories (mainly in funding education), but progressive politics
fights uphill against two huge structural obstacles.

The first is the legacy of Proposition 13 itself which requires
supermajorities to raise most taxes. The second, and more
daunting, is the glacial pace of the enfranchisement of new

Although Anglos are now a minority of the population,
they still constitute 70% of the electorate. Even in 2040,
according to the projections of the Public Policy Institute of
California, whites (only 35% of the population) will still cast
53% of the votes. If current trends continue, this geriatric
white minority will also consume a majority of entitlements and
tax resources.

The conservative worldview, of course, inverts these realities.

Led by former governor Pete Wilson, Republicans argue that the
state has become a dumping ground for shiftless and uncultured
beggars from the South.

Mexico, as depicted in a notorious Wilson
campaign ad ("They're coming!"), is invading Anglo California and
imposing huge tax, crime and pollution burdens upon its honest
burghers. The true wretched of the earth are long-suffering,
overtaxed white guys in their golf carts.

Reason dies screaming in the face of such nonsense, but it is
peddled twenty-four hours a day by the pit-bull talk-show hosts
who dominate California AM radio and, increasingly, commercial

White rage is also the steroid that Republican
strategists hope will pump up Arnold Schwarzenegger for heavy
lifting in the November recall. Liberal commentators have
attacked the movie star for his singular lack of articulate
positions on decisive issues. But the criticism is unfair.

The Terminator, in fact, has a long history of ideological
commitment which, for tactical reasons, his campaign-minders want
to downplay. Most striking has been his extensive involvement in
the nativist crusades to deny health care and education to
undocumented immigrants, and to make English the exclusive
official language.

The poor boy from the Alpine boondocks was a
key endorser of anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994, and, even
more sinisterly, a longtime board member of U.S. English, a
national organization with notorious ties to men in white

But it would be a mistake, in any case, to think that Arnie is
the actual star of his latest and most lavish film. As all the
punters in Sacramento have pointed out, the real title should be:
"Return from the Grave: Wilson Part Three." The ex-governor is
the specter haunting the recall.

His veteran staff (including George Gorton who ran Boris
Yeltsin's reelection) control all the important strings moving
Schwarzenegger, while Wilson himself drives a sales campaign
which has successfully recruited most of the billionaires in the
state. As a result, the inner circle of Schwarzenegger's
"populist" crusade looks like a Bohemia Grove toga party: Donald
Bren, George Schultz, David Murdock, Warren Buffett, and so on.

Wilson, of course, is an anathema to Latinos, Blacks and the
labor movement. Supposedly California had done with his racist
divisiveness when voters in 1998 rejected his protégé, attorney
general Dan Lungren, and then, last year, when they voted down
another wealthy Wilson clone. So who forgot the silver stake?

Now that the rats are on dry ground, it has been easy for many
Democrats to dismiss incumbent Gray Davis as a singularly
unfortunate choice: a charisma-less robot with an open palm who
let the state be pillaged by Enron during the phony energy crisis
three years ago.

But again in fairness, Davis exemplifies precisely those
qualities -- pro-corporate, politically centrist, and hard
law-and-order -- which the Democratic Leadership Council has so
long recommended as the salvation of the Democratic Party. Nor is
his disintegration unique: just look at the other "moderate"
Democrats dead in the starting blocks of the presidential

This is why the labor wing of the California Democrats should
have embraced the opportunity of the recall to push forward one
of their own. Davis has generally been detested by union
activists. Yet the state federation of labor, and almost no one
else, remained pathetically loyal to His Grayness and allowed his
cunning and unprincipled lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante, to
run off with the party endorsement.

Bustamante may be preferable to Pete Wilson hiding inside the
Trojan horse called Schwarzenegger, but the difference is
probably less than most Democratic voters imagine. Some years
ago, Bustamante got into a pissing contest with (then governor)
Wilson. They were talking about amending state law to allow the
execution of minors. When Wilson suggested death sentences for
criminals as young as 14, Bustamante responded that he might
"with a tear in my eye, cast a vote to execute 'hardened
criminals' as young as 13."

The major alternative to child killers is California's Green
Party. In last year's gubernatorial election, Green candidate
Peter Camejo won 5% of the vote and emboldened thousands of
progressives to envision life-after-the-Democrats. Camejo, a
veteran of Berkeley in the 60s, retains a fire in his belly and
chased around the state playing Michael Moore to Gray Davis's
"Roger." He's one of the first Greens to make some impact in
unions and amongst Latinos.

Unfortunately much of the media attention that otherwise might
have accrued to the Greens has been hijacked by Arianna
Huffington, running as an independent. A professional television
guest and columnist, formerly married to one of the state's
richest Republicans, she's undertaken an unusual journey in the
desert of American politics: moving from the far right to the
moderate left. Huffington, for example, has been an eloquent and
effective critic of the Bush war on terror.

But unlike Camejo, selected by a poll of the Green membership,
she is strictly freelancing with the aid of Hollywood money and
her privileged access to media. Her populist credibility,
moreover, has been diminished by the revelation that, although
she owns a $7 million mansion, she has paid virtually no income
tax in recent years. The most likely effect of her candidacy,
despite promises to coordinate with Camejo, will be to reduce
rather than enhance the left-of-the-Democrats vote.

Regardless of the outcome in November, the recall battle has
already clarified some of the new terrain of California politics.
Republicans, on their side, have gained tremendous confidence in
their ability to thwart any future legislative effort toward tax
reform or economic justice. Liberal Democrats, on the other, have
had their faces rubbed in the moral rot of their party. In
Duroville, meanwhile, they look across their sewer lake at the
fat life of a rapidly receding California dream.

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