The following is a guest post from one of our Cleveland activists.
As a newer activist with Working America I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first came to August’s Community Action Team meeting. What type of people would be involved? What education level? What age? I tried to picture them based on my own set of philosophical beliefs assuming they would be of similar mind. I was pleasantly surprised to find an amazing cross-section of individuals all with varying motivations to support such a good cause. Whether it was a loved one who’s job had been outsourced or a retiree worried about losing their pension; whatever the reasoning for the efforts, it all boils down to this for each of us: being involved is the right thing to do.
My situation is a little more unique than some: I AM in a union in the public sector, I HAVE seen cost of living increases in my salary, I AM provided with affordable health care. And despite the wake-up call that Senate Bill 5 provided for me last year, my personal motivation comes from a different perspective that is just as worrisome: I realized that many people don’t seem to understand the value of collective bargaining or a government that works for all.
How could someone who works hard for little pay, who does the jobs no one else wants to do, or who has no paid sick days be a devoted follower of the political party that has been trying to destroy them for decades? I think it’s from two principles, held by them to be basic, but known by me to be false. One, they deserve all the prosperity they enjoy DESPITE unions and/or the government, i.e. the self-made man syndrome. And, two, now that they have a level of security, they believe everyone else is lazy and should fend for themselves, i.e. pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It is in this kinship of thinking with the republican candidate for president that they reside, and I don’t understand it – it clashes with my belief in an America that really and truly works for everyone. Part of our job this election cycle is to take on the wave of disinformation spewed by those who believe they aren’t at risk and who vote against their own self-interest.
We have an expectation that politicians and the media will “call out” dishonesty; but do we exemplify that in our daily lives? To remain silent only enables right-wing politicians and their corporate money to muddy the political waters further. Regardless of our motivations, we will all face very real consequences from the decisions made by our representatives in the Ohio State House and the U.S. Congress. Therefore, we should be willing to stand against deceitful tactics and lies wherever we encounter them. The fight is at our doorsteps whether we wanted it or not; and the fault will be ours if we aren’t voices of reason among all the noise.
That’s why I am proud to help out Working America, and stand side-by-side with the members I’ve met. It’s nice to be among people who share my perspective as we spend the next 40-something days working to keep President Obama and Senator Sherrod Brown in office. These elected officials truly represent working families, and we need them more than ever to keep fighting for us. I hope you’ll join me by contacting Stephanie, the Cleveland Member Coordinator at 216-781-3032 or [email protected].
The Walden Media film Won’t Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhall and Viola Davis, opens in theaters today. The film dramatizes a parent fighting to improve her child’s school, but it’s actually a dishonest Hollywood portrayal of the problems in our educational system – funded by the very people who want to privatize and profit from our schools. Here are ten reasons to skip it:
Won’t Back Down is “inept and bizarre.” Andrew O’Hehir, reviewing for Salon.com, writes that Won’t Back Down is “a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product.”
Won’t Back Down promotes an ALEC model bill. The film promotes the “parent trigger” law, an ALEC-created policy proposal that turns public schools into privately-run charter schools. ALEC also brought you Arizona’s draconian immigration law, Pennsylvania’s disenfranchising voter ID law, and Wisconsin’s union-busting Act 10.
Won’t Back Down is deeply deceptive. The “parent trigger” law promoted by the film has only been used twice in real life. Both instances have created “legal and community disasters,” writes Salon.com’s Alexander Zaitchik
I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie…The teachers I know are women and men who have devoted their lives to helping children learn and grow and reach their full potential. These women and men come in early, stay late to mentor and tutor students, coach sports teams, advise the student council, work through lunch breaks, purchase school supplies using money from their own pockets, and spend their evenings planning lessons, grading papers and talking to parents.
Won’t Back Down avoids the real issues. Writing in variety, Peter DeBruge points out the film is “grossly oversimplifying” education reform. Rather, it’s a “disingenuous pot-stirrer [that] plays to audiences’ emotions rather than their intelligence.”
Won’t Back Down is a “heavy handed lecture disguised as art.” Elizabeth Weitzman, reviewing for the New York Daily News, begins “I am neither anti-charter schools nor anti-union.” In the film, however, “the plot is just a clothesline on which to hang an unabashedly biased diatribe….Every so often they remember they’re writing a movie and not attending a debate, so they’ll shove in a rushed romance, or an out of nowhere personal revelation.”
Jamie [the film’s protagonist] leads the fictional takeover because her daughter, who is dyslexic, can’t read. Yet not a word is said in the movie about the need for more services and teachers for special needs kids…
Never mind those wonky details. The problem, we’re repeatedly led to believe, is the teachers’ union. But if unions were to blame for failing schools, wouldn’t unionized public schools in Princeton or Scarsdale also suck?
Hollywood hasn’t been known to let logic get in the way of a good story, and neither do education reformers.
Finally: Won’t Back Down isn’t your best option. Going to the movies this weekend? Try the musical comedy Pitch Perfect, the sci-fi thriller Looper, or, of course, this classic re-release about a brave teacher (well, archaeology professor).
Thousands of people in the state are scrambling to get their photo IDs, not waiting for the judge’s decision. For many, including Mitchell and Herbert, the process is a struggle.
Mitchell, 68, has to renew her expired ID. Herbert has a current ID but needs to update the address. She’s 65, has multiple sclerosis and uses a motorized wheelchair. She’s not happy about this new law.
“I think it’s stupid,” Herbert says. “Folks that have been voting all their life, like me, shouldn’t have to go through this.”
What is clear is that there’s utterly no evidence that the laws coming between these women and their right to participate are even necessary. There’s a hard-charging and well-funded campaign, staffed by Bush administration veterans, to raise fears about “voter integrity.” And time after time, it’s been made clear that their relentless campaign to find evidence of large-scale fraud comes up empty. It’s just a useless, counterproductive burden to eligible voters.
There’s also a more informal effort to suppress the vote. A Texas Tea Party group calling itself “True the Vote” promises to recruit up to a million poll-watchers to “monitor” voting. In 2010, this group targeted not the precincts where its members lived, but minority-heavy and poorer urban precincts—with discomforting results:
Among other things, poll observers were accused of hovering over voters, blocking lines of people who were trying to cast ballots, and, in the words of Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke, “getting into election workers’ faces”… Other reports had poll watchers tailing vans that were transporting voters to the polls, snapping photos of voters’ license plates, even directing voters to the wrong polling places.
“Voter ID laws are just a specific, particularly obvious example of a generalized contempt for voters,” notes Ana Marie Cox, who points out that voter-limiting laws and “True the Vote”-style monitoring are both likely to have the effect of frightening and discouraging eligible voters. (There may be no better example of this contempt than Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the sponsor of the state’s voter ID bill, who said that his bill is only a problem to people who are “too lazy.”)
The only antidote to this coordinated, broad effort to restrict voting? It’s to get out and vote anyway—and to work hard to make sure your friends, family and neighbors do, too. In Pennsylvania, Working America members are trying to get out the message about the importance of voting and the new requirements to a million people before Election Day. In Wisconsin, Working America members are hosting “postcard parties” to contact other voters. And Working America organizers are having tens of thousands of conversations in neighborhoods every week, including encouraging people to take advantage of early voting and vote by mail where it’s available.
Working America activists in Wisconsin have been diligently putting pen to paper (well, postcard) for the last few weeks in an effort to urge voters to get out on Election Day and vote.
Women (and a few men) from across the state have been getting together for our Woman-to-Woman Pizza and Postcard parties. Our members realize that the stakes are high this election and are enjoying the chance to reach out to others about the candidates that support our issues.
One of the messages our members felt needed to be spread was President Barack Obama’s willingness to represent the entire country as president. They reminded folks of Mitt Romney’s now infamous “47 percent” comments, which disregard almost half of voters as “dependent on the government” and unwilling to “take personal responsibility […] for their lives.”
Activists wrote postcard after postcard reminding folks that Romney’s tax plan benefits the wealthy and harms the middle class and the poor. The Romney-Ryan agenda cuts taxes for the wealthy at the expense those who are already struggling to get by.
Our members want to spread the word that it’s just not right to take more from a family who can barely put food on the table so that the super wealthy can get tax breaks they don’t need.
Rosemarie from Oak Creek talked about how squeezed the middle class already is and how we need people who represent more than just the wealthy in office. “Most of our senators and congressmen are millionaires,” she said, “it doesn’t matter to them if their electric or tax bills go up but the rest of us struggle with that.”
Rosemarie’s sentiments closely align with most of the people in Wisconsin: they want to be truly represented. They want someone in office who is going to worry about the things they worry about.
Beyond tax fairness, Wisconsinites are worried about jobs – for themselves, for their family, for their friends and for their neighbors. While they’re worried about keeping their job or finding a good job, politicians like Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) keep voting against any bill that would help the middle class while attacking the social safety net. Republican Senate candidate Tommy Thompson’s latest promise to “do away with Medicare” proves he’s just another Ron Johnson.
Our members know that’s not what Wisconsin needs, so they are making sure to spread the word on candidates that support our issues. The postcards urge folks to vote for Tammy Baldwin for U.S. Senate who will listen to their concerns and fight on their behalf for good jobs and tax fairness.
These postcard parties are important to our members and important for voters. Our Working America activists want to make sure that the issues are known. Jerry from Racine said she came to a Pizza and Postcard Party because “our voices need to be heard, they have been trying to silence us and I won’t let them. Voting is our right and we are going to keep it that way.”
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
So begins A Tale of Two Cities, the renowned novel by Charles Dickens. Born in poverty, with a father in debtor’s prison, Dickens understood and uplifted the plight of working people fighting to survive and thrive in an economy in which technology was transforming life, and average citizens too often suffered under the subject of forces seemingly out of their control. Dickens’ opening words ring true to us today (for better or worse). They don’t simply capture the sentiment of his own era – they also speak to us in the present, here in the United States.
And here, today, we have “A Tale of Six Cities.”
It is a story set in Cincinnati and Cleveland, Columbus and Jackson, Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Last week, in each city, Working America stood up once again to have their voices heard and to hold politicians accountable.
Over two hundred years ago, the downtrodden people of Paris turned to the streets to loudly proclaim their opposition to unjust governance, unbridled avarice, and unfair taxes.
Last week, we turned out to make known their opposition to tax policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many. We sought the ears of our politicians that are unfortunately choosing to represent the interests of the 2 percent wealthiest in this country, rather than looking out for the rest of us.
We were not out shouting for bloody revolution as workers in France did so many years ago, but our passion for economic fairness and good jobs was clear: Wielding pens rather than pitchforks, canvassing the sidewalks rather than storming the boulevards, we asked people to sign on to the demands for the wealthiest in this country to pay their fair share. Rather than bearing torches, with searing satire we carried large checks for $160,000, representing the average virtual checks that both the Senate and the House of Representatives had recently voted to write to the richest 2 percent in America.
We insisted that additional tax cuts for heads of corporations and other millionaires should not come at the expense of Medicare for our seniors, access to higher education, and raising taxes on 25 million working Americans. We still need these politicians to hear our displeasure at the attempt to hold middle class tax cuts hostage by shielding the wealthiest from merely having to pay the same rates under which they prospered in the Clinton years (and only on their income over $250,000).
Our members also told their personal stories of struggle in this Bush-created economic system. Stories like that told in Milwaukee by contractor and member Todd Sprewer, of how small businesses like his have suffered at the behest of large corporations under policies supported by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. Or like that of member and veteran Ed Jude, whose wife is unable to get the health coverage she needs in the Badger state. Stories of how families fight to stay afloat while they see cuts to education and infrastructure, like that told by Minneapolis area member Mike Adair, who criticized Rep. John Kline’s support of tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent. Members like Paul Hoffinger of Minnesota spoke to the press, explaining why they chose to go out and visit the offices of their elected officials, and how Working America was fighting for middle class families. And they were supported by the people they met, like the construction worker in Columbus who climbed down from his scaffolding, and wearing his hard hat joined the assembled group outside the office of Senator Rob Portman.
Unlike in the Reign of Terror, where French rulers were physically thrown out of their offices, it was the threat of being turned out by voters on Election Day that forced some officials to respond to the actions last week. Like Congressman Tim Wahlberg, whose district director in Michigan not only met with Working America on the spot, but who felt required to personally take to the airwaves as well as issue a statement in response. On the other hand, as arrogant Bourbon royalty ignored the cries of the French people to have a say in their government – much to their peril – so do we have self-assured politicians like Senator Rob Portman, who bar their offices from the people, removing them away in tall towers, hiding them behind guards, and staffing them with attendants who refuse to take even a moment to meet face-to-face with constituents and hear what they have to say.
Tens of thousands of Londoners were suffering through economic hardship in 1854, the year Dickens’ novel Hard Times was published, bringing attention to the plight of the working poor. More than 1 million Working America members over four states were represented by the over 150 organizers and activists who stood together united in their support for policies that would bring greater economic fairness and prosperity to middle class Americans. Significantly, they were joined on that day by citizens in 30 cities across the country, all part of a National Day of Action organized by not only Working America, but by a coalition of allies who helped give voice in part to the 58 percent of Americans – over 175 million people – who believe that too few taxes are paid by the wealthy rich.
When it is all said and done, whether it’s a tale of two cities or six cities, one city or hundreds, whether that tale is set in the past, the present, or the future, it’s the power of strength in numbers that carries the day. It is a strength that is at the core of Working America. A strength which grows as new members sign up and take action across this country every day. A strength that powers a movement. One which will ensure that our politicians and policies of the future will truly listen to the interests of working families.
Taeu said the door was open, so he called out to see if anyone was home and heard a woman yell for help. He went into the smoke-filled home and discovered the woman on the second floor.
“I couldn’t see her when I got upstairs because of all the smoke,” said Taeu, who works with the Oregon branch of Working America. “So I asked her to call out to me a few times and was able to find her.”
He escorted her to the stairs and she left the home. Taeu then grabbed the hose, stayed on the balcony so he could see into the home and put out the flames.
Brandon Paxton, a spokesman for the Clackamas County fire department, praised Michael for his quick thinking.
“I know that woman is grateful for what he did,” said Paxton. “It was definitely a courageous and selfless act.”
Earlier this month, Working America organizers in Center Township, Pennsylvania, also came to the assistance of their neighbors. They spotted a man trying to rob a home—and Working America’s John Tillar called the police, leading to the suspect’s capture. Barry Kramer, the local police chief, “said the description they gave was so accurate that police had a suspect in custody just a short time later,” according to the Beaver County Times.
We couldn’t be prouder of Michael and John, who really exemplify what Working America is all about: people helping each other by building a relationship face-to-face. Working America organizers were able to lend a helping hand in these dangerous situations because they’re out in communities every day, meeting people and listening to what they have to say.