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Future Fight Marchers Make Way Through Escalon
They've dodged raindrops and the occasional catcalls - since the word 'taxes' does appear on the side of their bus - but a group of Californians on a march from Bakersfield to Sacramento has been generally buoyed by the support they have received along the route.

On a walking tour through the Central Valley to the heart of California, the group plans to arrive at the State Capitol for a rally on Wednesday, April 21. Among their recent stops was Escalon, arriving in town Thursday, April 8 for an overnight stay before leaving on the next leg of the march to Manteca on Friday, April 9.

Their journey started March 5 and the diverse group is 'Marching for California's Future.' More information is available through the website,

Among the marchers is Gavin Riley, a retired teacher who now lives in Los Angeles but grew up in San Diego.

"Our original rally was in Los Angeles and the march began in Bakersfield," he said, noting that they started with the rally and then were bussed over the Grapevine to start the walk.

"We began walking March 6, we're eventually going to wind up in Sacramento and conclude it with a big rally at the steps of the Capitol," Riley explained.

This march, he said, is based on another famous one, spearheaded by Cesar Chavez in 1966.

"He went up 99 from Delano to the Capitol," to fight for rights for farm workers, said Riley. "We're walking to dramatize the plight of public services in California, especially teachers."

An educator for 37 years himself, Riley said funding for public education has been reduced by $17 billion in the last two years.

With schools depending on the state for much of their funding, and the state in turn depending heavily on property tax, the formula has taken a beating in this down economy. Riley said the state has gotten into the habit of paying some now and offering an 'IOU' to schools, but lack of funding now translates into fewer teachers and larger class sizes.

"When you cut teachers, the students don't go away," he pointed out.

Riley is one of six 'core walkers' that started with the group in Bakersfield and he plans to make the journey all the way to Sacramento. Others have joined in from time to time for a leg or two of the trip and the group also travels with a support team. They have a 'blogmobile' communications center that provides periodic updates on the march, a couple of vans and a large truck that transports a sound system for an occasional 'rally' along the way. Walkers stay in one of the group's two motor homes or in tents each night and are typically hosted by a school or community group at their stops. In Escalon, the Escalon Sunrise Rotary was the host organization, in cooperation with Escalon High School.

Riley said the group includes a college professor, a continuation high school teacher, a probation officer and more, covering a wide spectrum of careers.

"The Probation Department is taking the same kind of hits," Riley said.

The route has been planned out so the walkers usually go between eight and 15 miles a day. They are in a different town each night and don't walk on Sunday, using that day to rest and catch up with family.

"We're on the third column," Riley noted, pointing out that the back of his shirt is divided into three columns of stops, starting with Los Angeles and Bakersfield on the top left all the way to Sacramento on the bottom right.

Delano, Tulare, Clovis, Chowchilla, Merced, Escalon, Manteca, Galt and Elk Grove are also among the stops on the shirt.

San Diego City College professor Jim Miller is along for the march as well, serving on the steering committee, and said there has been good outreach along the way.

"It's a super ambitious project," he explained, adding that getting people involved in finding constructive ways to deal with California's problems is key.

"If everybody cares about their kids' future, about the future of the state ... we can't solve it with just cuts, we've got to bring in new revenues," Miller said. "I've got a six-year-old in public school but it's not just a march about education. We don't want to save education at the expense of the fire department or home health care for the elderly."

The group is advocating a "fair tax system" to help fund California's future, a government and economy that serves us all" and quality public education.

"We're also concerned about the two-thirds vote to pass the budget," Riley said, noting that delays in the passage of a state budget adversely impact the state, its schools and workers.

Miller said California is ranked 32nd in the nation in corporate taxes and the group feels that is an area that should be considered to raise additional tax revenue, that and restoring a higher tax assessment on the richest Californians, those that make over $250,000 per year.

"We're not naïve enough to think one march is going to solve it," Miller said. "We want to start a dialogue ... start a movement, and we've talked with churches, students, parents, we've had people join us."

Riley said they hope to have a number of legislators join them for the scheduled 4 p.m. rally at the Capitol in Sacramento next Wednesday, along with some union and education officials.

"These are small steps on a long journey to change things, but we need to do it," Miller said. "The end of the march is the beginning."