Nursing home caregivers have protested looming cuts from the state budget crisis with a brief, symbolic shutting off of lights. Community college students have protested higher tuition by marching and chanting around the Capitol. And an anti-tax group revived the battle cry "No taxation without representation!" during a demonstration in Sacramento.
But a San Bernardino County philosophy professor and two student activists expressed their frustration over California's budget mess in a unique way Thursday: They paraded around the Capitol with 17 sweaty socks, one for each day that lawmakers have been overdue in passing the budget.
The sweat -- and the stink -- on the socks was generated during a long march the demonstrators kicked off in San Bernardino on June 21 and ended on the Capitol steps Thursday morning. Two other activists joined them part of the way, and some of the miles were covered by driving.
"These are our own unwashed, sweaty socks," said the sore-footed protest leader, Chris Biffle, 57, who teaches philosophy at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa and once hoofed it alongside farm worker advocate Cesar Chavez in the 1970s.
Biffle plans to leave the malodorous socks -- which he calls the Great Stinker Award -- with state lawmakers as a reminder of the protest.
Biffle and his supporters say the 300-mile demonstration was to express outrage over the cuts schools may suffer because of a $38-billion state budget shortfall.
Biffle, who has written several books on illiteracy, also wants the march to spotlight the state's literacy problem. On the route, he has distributed his own printed reading aid for children.
The stinky-sock protest is only the latest by Californians angry about the budget morass. Since January, authorities say, there have been more than 30 budget-related protests at the Capitol.
"When money is tight, that sharpens people's interest in their specific areas," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. But he said he considers the drive to recall Gov. Gray Davis "the mother of all protests."
Biffle, a self-described "veteran of the '60s," said he was provoked to lead the demonstration when he saw that lawmakers, faced with the biggest budget crisis in recent state history, were leaving the Capitol for a spring break vacation and three-day weekends.
"Why aren't they working seven days a week, 24 hours a day?" he said.
Biffle and his crew, including Chris Baltz, 28, a grad student from San Francisco State and Joelle Tanguay, 18, of Crafton Hills College, walked from San Bernardino to Los Angeles on the first leg of the trip. They then drove to San Diego, marched there and headed by car to San Jose. There were protest stops in San Francisco and Merced, then it was on to Sacramento.
Biffle and company put enough miles on their feet to develop some major blisters and aching legs.
Besides the state budget mess and illiteracy, they acquired a third complaint after parking their car behind the Cesar Chavez Library in Stockton a few days ago to distribute literacy material. Someone broke into the car and stole books, CDs, the students' journals and footage they had shot for a documentary on the march.
"The people who did it probably couldn't read very well, either," said an exasperated Biffle.