CHICAGO - Dozens of people rallied here at Federal Plaza March 3 demanding that Congress act immediately to address the worst job crisis since the Great Depression. It's an outrage, organizers said, that Congress was forced to delay a one-month extension of unemployment benefits by a single Republican, yet they wasted no time in bailing out Wall Street.
Speakers at the rally said the extension doesn't address the national state of emergency plaguing the country as 15.3 million and rising remain unemployed.
"We need a federal jobs program to put people back to work now," said Susan Hurley, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice. "We need immediate action to create, save and protect jobs and human services."
Congress should spend money on infrastructure like building roads, mass transit, schools and affordable housing, said Hurley. "We need them to get to work. Look how fast they rescued the banks. But what are they doing for the American people?"
There are 1.6 million people living on food stamps in Illinois. "This is a life and death emergency," said Diane Doherty with the Illinois Hunger Coalition. Everyday people have to choose whether to pay their mortgage, put food on the table or pay for health care costs, Doherty said.
"Washington is out of touch. And shame on those in Congress obstructing passage of meaningful legislation to expand access to unemployment benefits and help workers and their families who are in a desperate situation. The Republicans have proven they are obstacles to any recovery for working people," she said.
Highlighting the crisis, rally organizers held a symbolic "Senate Soup Kitchen" passing out cups of soup evoking images of the Great Depression.
"The soup line is no longer limited for the homeless these days," said Ed Shurna, executive director of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. It's unacceptable and the recovery process is a disaster, he said.
"If we can move with breakneck speed to bail out Wall Street banks, we must act in the same way to provide jobs for the American people," he said.
Charles Jenkins was at the rally and said he has been unemployed for more than a year. "There are no jobs, especially at a living wage," he said. "I should be as important to Congress as a big Wall Street bank."
According to Michael Lemke with Progressive Democrats of America the "corporate" Democrats and all Republicans have built an economy for the few, not the many.
Republicans like Sen. Jim Bunning from Kansas, who stalled the unemployment benefits measure for days, continue to shortchange the American people, said Lemke.
"We have a predatory financial sector, a foreign policy run by mercenaries and war profiteers, and a parasitic private health insurance industry," he said.
"We need single payer health insurance, fair trade policies that protects and creates an American manufacturing sector including a serviceable financial sector for everyday consumers and we need peace," said Lemke. "We need a real economy for a real future for ordinary Americans."
Speakers at the rally said it's time to hold Wall Street and lawmakers accountable. Federal action to extend and expand eligibility for jobless benefits (including COBRA and food assistance) and a federal jobs program paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculators needs to be on the agenda.
The rally was part of a national campaign for jobs calling for federal dollars to go toward the most economically distressed communities including emergency aid to fiscally strapped states and credit to small and medium sized businesses to begin hiring.
Photo: Pepe Lozano/PW