Isaac, my 18-month-old grandson, attended his first demonstration earlier this month.
For me, it was also a first of sorts – the first demonstration I have attended as a participant, rather than an observer, in more than 40 years. I spent my professional life as a reporter, the last 25 as an opinion writer for The Sacramento Bee. In my work, active participation in political causes was frowned upon. Serious journalists are supposed to be objective.
I have a confession: I was never objective. I always felt strongly about the issues I wrote about: injustice, homelessness, poverty, the environment, politics, public art – I like the giant red rabbit at the airport; the coloring book sculpture outside the Kings’ arena, not so much.
Now that I’m retired, I am free to demonstrate, and to babysit. The two came together as Isaac and I joined others to publicly oppose the so-called “50-mile rule” outside the California Department of Housing and Community Development. State law requires migrant farmworkers living in federally subsidized housing in California to move every five months at least 50 miles to be eligible to return to the same camp the following year. Workers arrive in May and must leave by the end of November.
Most of the workers living in these camps have children. The 50-mile rule means that the kids are uprooted from their schools twice a year and plopped into another school in another district at least 50 miles away, where they face new teachers, new books, new curricula. That kind of disruption plays havoc with their education. So, it’s not surprising that 90 percent of migrant children drop out before graduating high school.
Demonstrators want a rule change: Waive the regulation entirely; modify it to accommodate the school year; or, the best solution of all, build more affordable housing for migrant farmworkers.
I have some sympathy for the bureaucrats who met with the demonstrators. If migrant families don’t move, there will be no room for the thousands of other migrants on waiting lists for subsidized housing. The real issue is a lack of safe affordable housing and not just for migrants but for poor people across California. I see them every day, camped out under freeway overpasses, in parks, along the river.
Isaac doesn’t understand any of this, but that didn’t stop him from joyfully demonstrating, hoisting up high the placard he grabbed. His parents are not farmworkers. He is not uprooted every five months. He is comfortably housed, as was my daughter, his mother, and as, no doubt, are most of the people reading this column and their children and grandchildren, too.
My Christian tradition tells me that the night Jesus was born, his family was seeking shelter, too. They found it in a stable in Bethlehem. It’s been more than 2,000 years since that Holy Night. Surely, we can do better.
Ginger Rutland was an editorial writer at The Sacramento Bee for 25 years. She writes plays and babysits. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.