The California Campaign
Jackson H. Ralston
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom,
The election is over and we of the faith find ourselves severely
checked, although receiving between 300,000 and 400,000 votes. Never
before had such a vote been given for as forward a proposition as we
presented. For this reason I use for the word "checked" and
not "defeated". To my mind we can never be defeated although
we may be postponed.
We fought against such powerful financial and other organizations as
have never before been arrayed to oppose the best interests of the
people. We begin with the Real Estate Boards, with their thousands of
members in every part of the state. These influenced the Chambers of
Commerce, who largely represented the financial sinews. These in turn
controlled the Parent-Teachers bodies, numbering into the hunreds of
thousands, and who were persuaded that the abolition of the sales tax
would mean the wiping out of support for the public schools. These
refused to see that such belief was unfounded.
In addition we faced powerful official influences, the whole state
officialdom being united against us under the lash of the recently
defeated governor. These influences included the State Board of
Equalization, which could and did convince those from whom it
collected taxes that self-interest demanded that it should not be
On top of all the influences mentioned, and a lot of minor elements,
these were through them and otherwise the constant hammering into the
minds of the people that the adoption of our amendment meant
confiscation of their properties by the state, and no difference was
ever suggested between the kind of property naturally public and that
which was the product of the labor of individuals.
The instrumentalities I have mentioned, and a lot of others,
including misguided farming organizations, spent into the hundreds of
thousands of dollars on the radio, billboards, newspaper advertising
(often covering five columns and probably in the majority of the
papers), and through the mails.
Of argument against us there was practically none. Our opponents were
for the most part content to declare that our proposition was the "Single
Tax," and meant confiscation of homes and farms and places of
business. These falsehoods for the time triumphed.
To oppose the above we circulated some four to five hundred thousand
documents of what we believed to be of value. Our means in the active
campaign did not equal one per cent of the amount expended by the
opposition. The people, however, were assured that we were backed by
the Fels millions, which were trying to put over the Single Tax in
California. It was reported that this amounted to $12,000,000, the
income of which was to be expended till the hated doctrine should
obtain in California. The reports were of such a wild nature as to
lead a Palo Alto woman to inquire of one of my neighbors if it was
true that at the time of his death King George left millions to me to
bring about the Single Tax in California.
To turn to pleasanter points in the picture, the Executive Board of
the State Federation, with the exception of two among twenty-one
members, did their full share, though many followers failed. Our
workers struggled nobly. It seems hardly justice to the many not named
but deserving recognition to name any, but I must mention Noah D.
Alper, Edgar Pomeroy, Ralph Huntington, J. Rupert Mason, S. Edward
Williams in San Francisco. Conspicuous among the Federation were
George Kidwell and Hugo Ernst and the secretary, Edward Vandeleur. In
Los Angeles, there were Corneluis J. Haggerty, President of the
California Federation of Labor, who sincerely helped in many ways, and
Mr. Buzzell, the Secretary of the Los Angeles Labor Council, and many
other Labor men, and Harry H. Ferrell, in charge of the campaign in
the south, and Ralph Chadwick, George Briggs, George VV. Patterson;
and in San Diego, E. M. Stangland, Taber, Siebert, Edwards, and
others. The Labor press helped unstintedly.
What of the future? Our plans are in process of formation. It is too
early to make any announcements. This is certain that the work we have
done will not be wasted through non-use. We have laid a wide and deep
foundation. This cannot be thrown away.
What has the campaign taught us? We are too near to it to know
entirely, but certain things seem to be on the surface.
The opposition thoroughly realize that they are the beneficiaries of
an unjust system doomed in the end to perish. No other theory will
account for their utter desperation and unprincipled fight. The ghost
of what they call the Single Tax continually rises up to terrorize
them, and will not down despite all electoral defeats.
The great weapon of the opposition is nothing other than fear, and
this is easily invoked against anything seeming novel. This is the
great enemy we have to fight. Fear of the unknown has many times
checked progress in other ways and how we can expect anything else
with as fundamental a reform as we struggle for?
Let us dissipate fear of the unknown.
There will always be a question of methods. We know that any attempt
to invoke too great a change as at once invites disaster. We were
sufferers from past efforts of this sort, and we may ourselves have
attempted too much in a limited time. This point requires a great deal
If I might make a suggestion (I think I have made before in some
connection) to the Henry George School it would be that they establish
a post-graduate school of study as to the best methods of making the
doctrine for which they stand effective politically, for without
political action their work is almost fruitless. Let us have a
thorough study made of methods as illustrated by the history of the
campaigns we have already had. These furnish food for the most acute
thought. Let this study give light for the future. Do not let the
experience be wasted.