For the last four years, Kansans have walked to raise awareness of the need to fund public education. This year, education supporters came together with road workers, social workers, and other concerned citizens to support real revenue reform. This was Hammet’s speech given in the Capitol on March 27.
Three years ago I walked the final steps. Two years ago, I walked a day and promised myself I’d walk the next year. Last year, I walked the whole way and I found a line that told me what I felt. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel after his walk in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King recalled “I felt my feet were praying.” And indeed I did feel like my feet were praying, yet doing the entire walk again this year I realized something. And it goes deeper than the symbolism, deeper than the protest, deeper than the surface. How often do we slow down enough to listen to each other, to learn about one another? When you’re walking all day, for three days, you do many things: you sometimes are quiet, you sometimes scream and sing, but often we talk. We talk a lot. Sometimes it feels like we are on the verge of solving all the world’s problems when we are together, because, in fact, we are. Togetherness is the most special part of this walk. Community. Sharing. Shared struggle. Shared hope. Shared words. Shared stories.
I learned about a parent who drives her child far out of her district every morning in hopes they get a better education while holding the pain of knowing her daily struggle is also a blessing because so many children will go to that under resourced, under staffed, under prioritized school. I learned about a child with a rare disease and the potential of treatments; some of the safest options being blocked because of political dogma. I learned about a teacher who doesn’t know if her retirement will exist because the state uses her pension like a piggy bank. I learned about kids eating bad food. I learned about kids not eating.
Caring starts at knowing.
We need more shared wealth, the wealth of community.
I’m reminded of Barn Raising where communities came together to help their neighbor undertake a monumental task of raising up the barn’s frame, knowing they’d never be financially compensated, but embracing the social responsibility to each other. A similar tradition is carried on with Habitat for Humanity, but for some reason we call this charity instead of responsibility.
There was once a People’s Party that dominated Kansas politics. We refer to them as the populist movement now. The party demanded an income tax with a sliding scale based on earnings. They wanted justice. They wanted fairness. They wanted opportunity.
Do you know why the income tax is called the progressive tax? And the sales tax is called regressive?
Progressive taxation means as your ability to pay goes up, as your income rises, as your blessings multiply, so does your contribution to society. Regressive means as your ability to pay goes up, as your income rises, you contribute less.
Kansas led the nation down this path of progressive taxation, of creating economic systems that lift up the poor and ask the rich with the most blessings to fulfill their responsibility to the community that has given them those blessings.
A few years ago, Kansas diminished progressive taxes and increased regressive taxes. What this means is when you put it all together, the sales tax, income tax, and property tax, taxes actually have gone up for nearly half of Kansans – those who make less than $42,000. For the most vulnerable Kansans, the bottom 20%, those who make less than $20,000, they pay over 11% of their entire income into taxes, partly because we have one of the highest taxes on food in the nation, but for the top 1% those making over half a million a year, they pay less than 4% of their income.
Literally bread taken out of the mouths of babes to be put in the bank accounts of billionaires; a system that benefits those who make a million dollars an hour over those who make minimum wage.
This building (the Capitol), The People’s House, has become a Den of Thieves. They have been playing reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich, listening to the powerful and spitting on the vulnerable. While they have condescendingly told struggling moms to work a third job and be more responsible. These thieves have run up nearly 5 billion dollars in state debt and have become morally bankrupt in the process. Real wealth isn’t measured in dollar bills.
Real wealth is public education, sound infrastructure, preparedness for disaster, clean air, food and water. Real wealth is opportunity.
We are here to say: Stop selling our future for cheap thrills. Stop trading our collective long-term prosperity for personal short term gains.
We walk for the pregnant mother in Pretty Prairie who can’t drink the tap water because it’s too polluted with nitrates. We walk for the grandfather having a heart attack in Independence who won’t make it because there is no longer a hospital to go to. We walk for the daughter of a meat packer in Dodge City because she wants to be a doctor and I will not stop until I know that she and every single child is given every opportunity to achieve their potential.
We must lead into the future. We must create the future, but first, we must fund the future.
Originally published in the MAPJ NEWSLETTER APRIL/MAY 2017 pp. 6-7.