SEATTLE - People lined up at microphones at a July 23 "speak out" here to demand that Congress stop kowtowing to the corporations and do what voters elected them to do: create good jobs at a living wage.
More than 1,000 people, men and women, young and old, of many races and nationalities, packed the Brockey Center on the campus of South Seattle Community College for the "Speak Out for Good Jobs Now." It is one of a series of hearings across the nation sponsored by the 81-member House Progressive Caucus.
Listening to the often angry testimony was Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., a leading member of the Progressive Caucus who told the crowd, "What is needed is citizen action....You have the power to organize," he said.
Deborah Osborn, wearing her purple SEIU T-shirt told the hearing she has two college degrees and is a certified nursing assistant. Her husband, also a college graduate, has been unemployed for a year. Yet the longstanding "social contract" promises that a college degree is the path to "financial success."
She added, "The wage I am currently receiving is a little more than the minimum wage. Every waking moment we worry about every dollar and every mortgage payment. We kept our part of the contract. Where are the good jobs?"
Jonathan Bernal Garcia, a senior at Chief Sealth High School decried the lack of good jobs for youth when they graduate from high school or college. "Please stand with us by enacting laws that are just, humane, and fair," said Garcia, a member of "One America." The crowd erupted in applause.
Jazmin Santacruz, Eastern Washington organizer of "One America," filled a bus with 53 immigrant workers from Yakima, Walla Walla, and Pasco, Washington to attend the speakout.
"Stop passing anti-immigrant laws that punish immigrant workers," she declared. "All these workers want to do is support their families and in the process they bring money into the economy." She urged enactment of the Dream Act to allow undocumented immigrant youth to attend college in the U.S. She led the crowd in chanting "si se puede."
Khayah Brookes, a senior physics student at the University of Washington, a member of the Academic Student Employees organized by the United Auto Workers said she was forced twice to drop out of school because she ran out of money.
"Without 'Husky Promise' a program which covers our tuition and fees for low income students, I would be forced to drop out again," she said. Many other low-income students are forced to work "four or five little part time minimum wage jobs" to pay for college
Meanwhile, the Washington State University system just rammed through a 20 percent tuition hike and the Republican majority House has passed a federal budget with draconian cuts in student aid programs.
"This will put a college education out of reach for many low income youth," she said. "We need an increase in Pell Grants and subsidized loans for low income students."
Michael Woo, a veteran Chinese American labor and community organizer, who chaired the meeting urged the crowd to take time to fill out the Progressive Caucus postcard addressed to lawmakers headlined, "Get Congress on Track...Rebuild the American Dream."
"We have 1,000 people in this room and we want to get the message back to Washington, D.C." he said. "We want to tell Congress to rebuild the American dream. We need good jobs."
Martin Luther King County Executive Dow Constantine thanked the crowd for the testimony. "This is so powerful," he said. "It is hard to listen to the stories told today. We need to get the message to Congress that they were elected to create an economy that serves the people, not the corporations and the wealthy."
Mia Franklin, a caregiver for her disabled daughter and an employee of ARC of King County, a non-profit that serves developmentally disabled people, drew cheers, telling the crowd, "I don't believe there is a budget crisis. They find the money for whatever the banks and corporations want but when it comes to the people's needs, they have no money. But it is our money. Use our money to create jobs. I love to fight. It's my second, unpaid job: fighting. I'm proud to have all you people here to fight with me!"
Photo: One thousand people from Washington State told their stories of economic distress to elected officials as part of the Progressive Caucus's speakout tour for good jobs, Seattle, July 23. (Teresa Albano/PW)