WASHINGTON — Those in Congress who are arrogantly playing politics with the lives of four million workers on extended unemployment compensation will not have a quiet moment until Congress comes to their senses and agrees to continue benefits. Such a continuation should be routine, especially with the high rate of unemployment stalking the land.
That message was brought directly to the offices of House Speaker John Boehner and 99 members of Congress in early December during the Take Back the Capitol encampment.
It was a rainy week and the camp on the National Mall, in the shadow of the Washington Monument, was a mud slide. But the out-of-work machinists, carpenters, steelworkers, teachers, health care workers and more, fortified by their union sisters and brothers, many public sector workers under attack, were up to the challenge.
It was thrilling to make fast friends in no time with folks from all over the country who were fighting mad and ready to stand up together for their rights. Some had been through the battles of Wisconsin and Ohio for workers’ rights earlier this year.
It is not a joke to enter into the cold winter and the holiday season under threat of having your income cut off. Unemployment compensation is not a gift; it is earned on the job.
After practicing how to tell our stories and how to express our pain and determination in poetry, we were ready for the daily marches and chants through the streets surrounding the Capitol.
We could feel the power of the unemployed from Portland, Oregon, to Houston, Texas, and from Miami, Florida, on up to New England as we sang and marched on our way to visit Speaker of the House John Boehner.
The 99 unemployed folks, symbolic of the 99 percent in our country who are being screwed by the super richest one percent, never got to meet the Speaker. We were stopped short at the locked door to his office in the Longworth Office Building. The Office of the Speaker of the House was shut tight.
“I’m sure he knows we are in town,” said a constituent from Dayton, Ohio, on his 23rd month of unemployment. “We even went to his house this morning, and no one answered the door bell,” he said.
Now, you would expect that being the Speaker, his office should be open to the public at all times. Not so. Not even for an unemployed constituent who traveled all the way to Washington, D.C.
“One: we’re unemployed. Two: we are united. Three: tell the speaker we’re not leaving!” we chanted for about five minutes before the Capitol police came with megaphones to inform us that if we didn’t suspend the protest we would be under arrest.
We left to join the swelling crowd outside who had come from the AFL-CIO rally and prayer vigil to show solidarity and support.
Rep. Boehner and the tea party Republicans are making a mockery of the democratic process. Their arrogance, racism and greed are astounding and frightening as they set their first priority not on the needs of their constituents but on bringing down Barack Obama, the President of the United States.
What they did not count on is that the resolve of the 99 percent to stand up for our democratic rights is getting deeper and stronger. There on the National Mall, several thousand working people, Black, Latino, Asian, Native American and white, young and older, women and men all said, “we shall not be moved.”
“You are continuing the campaign that Martin Luther King, Jr. was organizing at the time he was killed,” Rev. Jesse Jackson told us when he visited the crowded food tent at lunchtime. “Rebuild America. Keep hope alive.”
Yes, protected by giant tents and buoyed by talk, song and mutual resolve, we were gathered in the spirit of Rev. King’s Poor People’s Campaign.
“There is no reason that anyone should go hungry or without a decent job in our country,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told us.
The struggles of the unemployed and the struggles of the 99 percent are patriotic struggles for basic democratic rights. They represent a giant, progressive independent political force in our country and around the world. This force is the hope of the future, and the foundation for defeating the dangerous, cruel hearted tea party Republicans in 2012.
As one of the young people I traveled with said, “this was a life experience.”
Call your Representative and your Senator today. Let them know that it is unacceptable to cut off the unemployed from benefits. Let them know that you will be talking to your family, friends and neighbors over the holidays and in the New Year to make sure they register and vote.
Joelle Fishman is chair of the Political Action Commission of the Communist Party, USA.
Photo: 99 unemployed workers bring their message to office of House Speaker John Boehner on December 8 during “take back the Capitol” week. People’s World.