Here are two stories from Working America field staff whose work focuses on building locally-based networks of activists for a just economy in cities around the country.
Chase Brandau recounts the story of a Minnesota woman who told him "without a job, I don't have a purpose."
She was describing how her life has changed since she had lost her job almost two years ago. Gretchen used to work as a cook at a public school, but was laid-off due to budget cutbacks. Now she is forced to rent out rooms in her house and survive on a $119/week unemployment check, which is set to expire in three months. What she has been through this last two years, echoes what millions of Americans are also suffering through and Gretchen knows this.
What is amazing about Gretchen is that she has decided to take action by sharing her story with the rest of Minnesota today. She had the courage to take center stage at the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Legislative Agenda press conference and tell her story to a room full of strangers, cameras and reporters.
She had never done anything like this before today. Wouldn’t even consider herself an activist. But today, she decided to become one, because she understood how many others out there do not have a voice right now and she doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines any longer.
This is what Working America is achieving. By reaching the people who feel they do not have a voice and giving them the opportunities to be heard. That is what allows people like Gretchen to take that step from being a victim to being an activist.
"I’m just the common person that needs to be heard," she said. "I’m not the only one that is going through this. All I need is a job to get back on my feet."
Jihad Seifullah reports from Ohio:
Even before taking office, Ohio’s Governor Kasich made his attacks on working families clear: he announced his opposition to working people having a voice on the job, and to standards that maintain good wages and quality construction for building projects. He is currently cramming RobsOhio (aka Jobs Ohio) through the Ohio legislature, an initiative that would create a slippery extra-governmental entity to dole out corporate welfare while avoiding disclosure rules... a corporate lobbyists dream. At the same time, he has openly threatened anyone opposing his agenda, saying "If you’re not on the bus, we will run over you with the bus. And I’m not kidding."
Governor Kasich is deliberately creating a highly partisan climate of fear for working people in the state, and we are seeing that reflected in our conversations in the community. As he has said, if you speak up, he will run you over. We have seen a significant number of workers who are upset about Governor Kasich’s agenda, but don’t want to discuss it publicly out of fear of retaliation.
Here’s one particularly stark example: just the other evening I was speaking with a civil engineer who was very displeased with the agenda that Governor Kasich is moving forward. In fact, it’s very likely that he may be laid off due to Kasich’s decision to send $400 million for rail infrastructure and jobs back to the federal government of which had previously been approved for Ohio. To add salt to the wound, the member also mentioned that he is currently working three jobs. He said "I’m a civil engineer and I have to work three jobs, did you hear me...I’m a civil engineer." This worker, like many others, prefers to remain anonymous because of the threats that have been made.
So we’ll make the point for them: the middle class is under attack and it is eroding away. Governor Kasich is helping that process along by fostering corporate cronyism while lowering living standards for working families in Ohio. He has threatened anyone who stands up to him. When it is too dangerous to stand up alone, it is all the more important for all of us to stand up together.