They pulled the plugs on the electric billboards all around my neighborhood this week.  It’s so peaceful in my daughter’s bedroom now.  She has trouble sleeping in the best of circumstances, this neon zapping has been a horror to deal with.  And it’s over now.

I confess to a slight sadness because the urban-style excitement of that light was its own joy of sorts.  It’s a little bit thrilling always, still, to receive its nighttime neon glow.  And to watch the sign wink out at midnight, precisely at the top of the day’s hours, is to embark on a nighttime vigil when the city is asleep shrouded in the wake of the silence left by the extinguishing of that light.

However … I’m happy to trade off the click of that silence for day in and day-out peace.  To use as justification the missing of that moment for daily bathing in neon is akin to arguing for banging one’s head against the wall because it feels so good to stop.  What did Deborah Harry say?  “Fade away and radiate….”

The whole westside is less electric.  You can feel it in the air, driving about.  There is just less energized-ness.  I don’t know what or how it actually effects, but I feel less ramped-up.  My kids for sure are.  It’s not toward us adults this forest of billboards is aimed.  We drivers have no time or attention to take in their wares; the kids do of course.  Kids, who spend significant portions of their lives being shuffled hither and yon in their urban neighborhoods; kids are the ones who subsist on a steady diet of billboard advertisements.   And an unsavory diet it is, from horrifying movie posters to the disgusting, lascivious to offensive.  They may not be learning enough in school, but the education they receive traveling to and from is profound.

In fact the whole affair has been unsavory in the extreme.  Our city politicians, seeing in their bleak future of revenue deficits no way to balance a budget delivering city services, grabbed at one illegal straw after another to keep money flowing their way for these ill-advised signs.  The COLA city council is no different from the LAUSD school board, really, in the terror of their impecunious predicament:  “There’s No Money” they all cry.  We can’t invest in our neighborhood schools because there’s no money.  We can’t fix the sidewalks because there’s no money.

But … there is money.  I see no shortage of it in the neighborhoods that grace the higher elevations (income is stratified by height-above-mean-sea-level in this city, perhaps in all).  The problem that is plaguing our daily lives here in the flats of LA, is not that there is a shortage of money, it’s that it’s being sequestered in the pockets of very few.  And not content to have wrapped up control of the preponderance of it, they continue to go after ever more of it apace.  Like a parasitoid that kills its host, this 1% never lets up in its effort to drain more money from the rest of us.

Bill/Melinda Gates, Eli/Edythe Broad, Phil/Nancy Anschutz, Sam/Helen Walton, Steve Jobs/Laurene Powell to name a few:  these are the libertarian corporate tycoons who want nothing more than to be left in peace to divert public coffers into their own.  They want the government to recede so they can be left in peace to do it.  And they want to raise up a society of pacifists intellectually and spiritually incapable of resisting this effort.  Toward this end, they take over your children’s public education for a triple whammy:  siphon the public funds, and train a generation of workers on the public dime, to further the interests of their private corporations:  vocational training.  Worker training funded by the public, conducted inside institutions formerly built and funded by the public, and now transferred to the private sector for asset-mining.

Yup, there’s not enough money for your public servants to distribute effectively among the public.  But it’s not the case that there’s not enough money.  We’ve just permitted it all to be drained away.

We the people have ourselves to blame.  Prop 13, prop 39, …there are more such pernicious publicly-approved laws to blame no doubt.  These just happen to spring to mind.  The schools, they say, are underfunded because economically stable folk, having settled into their “Forever Home”, are permitted to opt out of any future responsibility to fund the community that sustains that home.  This would be proposition 13, enacted 35 years ago, universally decried as unfair, still on the books.

And then there’s proposition 39, aka the “School Facilities Local Vote Act of 2000”.  Principally designed to mitigate the tyranny of a supermajority requirement on local school districts trying to raise revenues, the bill is to democracy as the Trojan Horse was to Troy.  Included in this legislation’s fine print is the requirement to hand over your local public school to any private charter operator that asks for it.  They have first to demonstrate the school is “empty”, a technicality easily manipulated by simply opening nearby private schools to skim enrollment from their public target.  Then enabled by this bad, publicly-approved law, and abetted by a carefully orchestrated smear campaign against public servants, these private sharks simply ask for – and receive – our public assets.

We’ve ourselves to blame.  We voted for these laws.  We open up our wallets and roll over – and over and over and over – when this 1% comes knocking.  We have to stop.

We succeeding in wresting back some visual peace in our neighborhoods.  But the problem that spurred it in the beginning remains: our public coffers are empty.  What are we going to do about that?