WASHINGTON-“All I want for Christmas is JOBS!”
That was the message on a placard carried by a Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP) member as he marched with about 50 other PUP members to join a “People’s Camp” on the Capitol Mall Dec. 6.
PUP brought a busload to join rallies, speak outs and other mass actions during a rainy but mild week in the nation’s capital. It included sit-ins outside lawmakers’ offices demanding that they extend jobless benefits and create jobs by approving a multi-billion dollar public works program.
A coalition including Rebuild the American Dream movement, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) USAction and many other unions and community organizations are sponsors of the mobilization.
Protesters from Ohio sat down in the corridor outside House Speaker John Boehner’s office, “bearding the corporate Grinch in his den.” It was one of dozens of impromptu sit-ins at congressional offices to protest Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama’s jobs program.
The president’s plan includes an extension of unemployment compensation paid for with increases in taxes on the rich. The GOP is also blocking the president’s bill to extend payroll tax cuts for working people threatening middle income earners with an average $1,000 tax increase even as they defend Bush-era tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
The Good Jobs NOW coalition brought more than 3,000 people on buses from as far away as Minneapolis to “take back the Capitol.” Many Wall Street occupiers encamped at nearby McPherson Square joined the protest.
“These elected officials aren’t doing enough to look out for the citizens they are supposed to represent,” said PUP volunteer, Frank Wallace, who has been unemployed three years and has exhausted his 99 weeks of unemployment compensation.
“They are concerned about the wealthy and the corporations instead of everyday people who are struggling to get by.”
Beside him was another PUP volunteer, Brian Redden, a jobless health care worker. “I’m a member of the 99% movement in Philadelphia,” he said.
“We’re focusing on Sen. Toomey because he is one of those blocking an extension of unemployment benefits and blocking bills to create jobs,” said Redden, referring to Pennsylvania’s hard-line Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey.
“He is in favor of cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They are proposing to cut extended jobless benefits from 87 weeks to 26 weeks because they say there is no money.”
Wallace interjected that terminating unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed workers “is going to put more people into poverty. People won’t be able to pay their rent or their mortgage, their car payments, heating bills, food.”
Wallace, now surviving on Food Stamps and meager cash assistance from the state of Pennsylvania blasted the Republicans for blocking President Obama’s jobs program and his proposals to end Bush-era tax cuts for the rich while also blaming Obama for the economic crisis.
“We had eight years of George W. Bush, wars that were never budgeted. Then there were the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy that added trillions to the national debt. President Obama and progressive lawmakers have been trying to undo all that damage. It can’t be undone in just four years. And it can’t be undone by President Obama by himself.”
Wallace assailed Republicans for blaming the victim. “They make the unemployed seem as if they are lazy, looking for handouts, sitting at home looking at their 50 inch plasma TV.”
But Wallace, a clerical worker at a Philadelphia law firm for nine years until he was laid off, has sent out over 200 job applications, attended dozens of jobs fairs, and pounded the pavement seeking work throughout the City of Brotherly Love.
“All that effort resulted in only five or six job interviews and not a single job offer. The jobs just aren’t there,” he said.
Senior citizen Georgia Jackson rode on a bus from her home in Brevard, N.C. “I’ve been waiting for this my entire life,” she told the World.
“I’m on my way to meet Rep. Heath Shuler. We want to get rid of the oil and gas companies running this entire country. I believe in solar and wind power. It has taken this young generation to wake this country up. I think we have a good world if we could get rid of the corporations and Big Business that are ruining our lives.”
Matthew J. Shochat, a member of the “Occupy Boston” movement, came with 35 other “occupiers” on a bus from Boston.
“I was unemployed for several months and I went down to the Boston Occupation. On the third day I joined.”
He was attracted by the camararderie, the friendly atmosphere of the occupiers, he said.
“I was a volunteer with Mass Equality, working to pass the Transgender Equal Rights bill. For myself, this movement is about trying to reduce income inequality, repealing ‘corporate personhood.”
Asked about forecasts by pundits that the movement will fade away he replied, “We have a lot of supporters everywhere.”
The tents may disappear, he said, “but the Occupy movement is not going to go away. The issue is not going away. We are the 99 percent.”
Photo: Brian Redden, left, and Frank Wallace, volunteers for the Philadelphia Unemployment Project stand in front banner that reads, “Banks got bailed out, people got sold out.” They came on a PUP bus to join the Good Jobs Now week of protests in the capital. (PW/Tim Wheeler)