WASHINGTON - Over 1,000 protesters chanting "Jobs not cuts" and "Speaker Boehner's got to go" gathered in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol Oct. 5 to denounce Republican obstruction of President Obama's $450 billion jobs program.
The rally came at the conclusion of the Take Back the American Dream Conference, which drew 2,000 activists from across the nation to strategize on how to break the grip of the corporate Republican right in the 2012 elections and create an economy that serves all people, not just the elite.
"We are the 99 percent," the crowd chanted, waving placards that read, "Tax the rich" and "Work that needs to be done."
Linda Evans, a home caregiver in Washington, D.C., told the crowd she has been unemployed for three years. She is often on the phone seeking work and the answer is "I'll call you." Tearfully she added, "I hear that so often, I'm beginning to think it's my middle name. I'm sick and tired of being out of work."
Addressing lawmakers in the Capitol she shouted, "How can you sleep knowing that people in the District of Columbia are hungry, living at a poverty level? Serve the people! Create programs that serve the elderly! Create good jobs for the people who put you in office! Save the babies!"
Shawn Wygant, a jobless worker from Pittsburgh, said, "Pittsburgh was once known as 'Steel City.' Now it is known as 'Jobless City.' The bridges, roads, and schools are crumbling. We need to rebuild America, rebuild the dilapidated bridges. Put America back to work! If they deal with this jobs situation, they'll get our votes in 2012."
A voice at the back of the crowd shouted, "The House belongs to the people! Take it back in 2012!"
Ian Gillette of Deerfield, N.H., said he was laid off last January. He has three children and recently lost his house in foreclosure. He has turned to a food pantry for food. He has filed hundreds of job applications but got only one interview. "There are tent cities in New Hampshire where people are forced to live outside with their families. They've lost their jobs, their homes, their cars. They're hungry. I'm here to ask Congress: Will you please pass the jobs bill? It shouldn't be that hard. We need to get America back to work."
Pam Franklin, leader of Cincinnati's Amos Project, a coalition of 25 churches, appealed to the crowd to come to Ohio to help turn out the vote in the Nov. 8 election to repeal Gov. John Kasich's union-busting SB 5. "I'm going to get out there on these broken down hips and take back the American Dream," she said to laughter and applause.
Van Jones, leader of the Rebuild the American Dream Campaign, sponsor of the rally, introduced progressive members of Congress who he said "come from the grassroots" and "go face to face, toe to toe with the high paid lobbyists, the tea party, and never buckle, never bow."
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) led the crowd chanting "The people united, will never be defeated." He said, "The good news is that the progressive movement is on the upswing. We're organizing all across America. We are not going to stop. We're going to get the justice we deserve. We are listening to you. We want to be in partnership with you."
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., rejected those who say the "Rebuild the Dream" movement is an "answer to the tea party."
"No," Grijalva said, "This is different. This is not about hate, fear, division. You ... care about this country of ours, this dream of ours, and to restore democracy to America."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said, "We're holding up the bloodstained banners! Never give up! Jobs now, not cuts!"
Kim Doyle Wille of Ellsworth, Colorado, leader of the group Feed the U.S., said a mood of anger is spreading and voters are "fired up" to oust the Republicans in the 2012 elections. "Especially when they see Speaker Boehner blocking the jobs bill. We have 30 million unemployed and millions going 99 weeks without finding a job. Hunger is spreading and they are cutting food programs. It's time to tax the rich." She said she is on her way tomorrow to join Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan.
Shawn Wygant said he was laid off many months ago from the Sodexo industrial laundry in Pittsburgh. "They laid me off because they said they weren't making enough profits. I live together with my sister, her husband, their two children and grandmother. We share the expenses. It's the only way we can survive," he said. "Our landlord cut our rent from $600 to $400. I'm diabetic and have no health insurance. I sacrifice my insulin to keep the lights on."
He has attended two of Republican Senator Patrick Toomey's town hall meetings in Pittsburgh. "He's a member of the supercommittee," he said, referring to the bipartisan committee of senators and House representatives assigned to come up with $1.2 trillion in drastic cutbacks by Nov. 15. "Toomey needs to support America going back to work, jobs not cuts," Wygant said. "We need less talk and more action."
Photo: Tim Wheeler/PW