Yesterday I attended the Congressional Progressive Caucus' "Speakout for Good Jobs Now" tour. There don't seem to be many groups that wield political power discussing employment these days, so it was a pleasure to see Representatives Raul Grijalva (AZ-CPC Co-Chair), Frederica Wilson (FL) and Ted Deutch (FL) speaking on this subject. The format of the talks is for the audience, composed of ordinary people, to tell their stories very briefly, outlining what they need to rebuild the American dream for themselves and their families, and to ask a question. The congressmen respond, and some of the stories get taped and brought back to Washington. (see short video from a previous event, at the end of this post).
Representative Grijalva probably summed up the nature of the event in his concluding remarks. He noted that his dad had immigrated to this country and worked very hard. "He broke his back to make his kids' lives better than his." Grijalva stated that we have to renew our committment that the next generation will have better lives than their parents. (A recent Gallup poll stated that 55% thought it unlikely that "today's youth will have a better life than their parents)." Most importantly, Grijalva stated that "it should be the role of your government to create the jobs that you need." That's a very different view than the one we see in a national-debt-crazed Washington D.C. today, and it seems to be something that middle class families under pressure agree with.
Photo: left to right: Representatives Raul Grijalva, Frederica Wilson and Ted Deutch. Darcy Burner at the podium.
Here are some brief descriptions of the exchanges between the audience and the congressmen.
- A woman said that families already hit with unemployment have particular difficulty with health needs, and the anticipated loss of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, which is being privatized in our state's mad rush to sell off assets would be a terrible loss for the community. The woman's son's life had been saved at this hospital.
- A man with a small business said that two years ago he employed four people. Now he is down to one and facing bankruptcy. He had cut out his health insurance, come down with kidney stones, and now had huge hospital bills to pay. He asked the congressmen to be the voice of people like him at the budget talks, to "tell others our stories."
- A recent college graduate, currently unemployed and sleeping "couch-to-couch" told of his enormous student loans, and an event that had happened when he was in school. He was studying to be an engineer, and was discussing the dismal jobs prospects with his advisor, who told him "sometimes it's best to give up on your dreams." Congressman Deutch told him "it's our job to make sure that people like you have a shot." Congresswoman Wilson told him that the congressional district office might be able to help, that there are scholarships for people like him. (Unfortunately, reports from Washington convey that the Pell grants program, reduced earlier this year, is at risk for further cuts, and there are also proposals to charge interest in the Stafford loans program even while students are still in school; this was not mentioned at the event).
- Author Sandy Davies of Progressive Democrats of America's Miami chapter cited Martin Luther King's speech about Vietnam War spending destroying the gains that had been made in the war on poverty, leaving the program "broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war." Sandy linked the huge real spending increases on the military in the last ten years to our inability to help working people who need help today. (personal note: I drove down from a bit North, with fellow members of the PDA Broward County chapter, and from our War vs Human Needs group)
- An immigrant told of arriving 42 years ago, and that it was easy to find a job at that time. Where are the jobs now, he asked? Congresswoman Wilson answered that technology had been the cause of the loss of jobs. As examples, she cited one-man garbage trucks (as opposed to crews, many years ago), carts at the airports displacing sky-cap jobs, and mechanized lawn care equipment displacing gardeners. The questioner, of course, had been referring to manufacturing jobs. This was probably the only false step of the event. No one thought to ask where she thought the high-tech garbage trucks, airport carts, and rider mowers were manufactured.
- A quadriplegic man in a wheelchair said "don't let the chair fool you... I can work." But state medicaid cuts were doing away with the home care he needed to help him do things like dress, so that he could go to work. In this case, Congresswoman Wilson asked him to contact her office, to see if they could help find some other grants.
- A government project, a transit center, is being built in Liberty City, a depressed area of Miami. A woman whose husband is an unemployed construction worker asked that residents of Liberty City get first crack at those jobs. Apparently, there is already a mechanism in place for that, according to some at the event. The exchange underlined that public works projects are an essential lifeline in these times.
- A woman whose aerospace worker husband has been unemployed for a year said that the U.S. military should not outsource jobs overseas, citing two cases (a contract with Airbus, and another regarding an aircraft engine).
- A Haitian immigrant said "we want to love and respect Obama, but we feel that he's not looking out for us. He's folding every hand. If it's on purpose, we don't like it." He referenced the earlier remarks by Congresswoman Wilson, saying that the jobs that were needed were not the gardening jobs, but the good jobs that had been sent overseas. In response the Congresswoman said "there are three parties in Washington, the Democrats, the Republicans, and the Tea Party. The Tea Party was created once we elected a black man as President. They were the ones holding things up."
- Another recent student had been a doctoral candidate, but stopped her studies because the jobs picture was dismal, and her loans had mounted up. She said that we had to create good jobs for people with bachelors' degrees.
- A Haitian woman asked "the Haitian community has so much troubles, please save Jackson (the hospital mentioned above that is being privatized) for us. And please, everybody, vote for Obama." It is apparent from statements like this, and the other gentleman who said "we want to love and respect Obama" that there is much feeling for Obama.
The People's Budget, sponsored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was also discussed during a break in the audience's stories. It is the only budget proposal that provides for real military spending cuts and fully protects social programs, yet balances the budget sooner than any of the other budget proposals. Unfortunately, neither Republicans nor Democrats have discussed the People's Budget in the recent Debt Ceiling/Austerity Measures talks.
Congressman Deutch had a good summation at the end of the event. He said that it was clear that the audience was composed of hard working people, that no one was looking for a handout. He said that it was clear that too many people in Washington and Tallahassee (our state capitol) were putting large corporations' profit in front of the needs of mom-and-pop businesses, the ones that create the jobs in America. Finally, he said that the Progressive Caucus needs people to stand with them so that they can achieve the goals outlined in the Speakout Tour's agenda. Those bullet points are printed below -- a good note to end this article with:
- In America, every worker deserves a good American job.
- America should work again for people who work for a living.
- We will use our strength in numbers to counter corporate dollars.
Previous Speakout Tour Event in Milwaukee.