Ohioans Take the Fight for Working Families to the Statehouse

Patrick McCarthy is a Working America member from Cincinnati.

Waking before the dawn and departing at sunrise on the morning of Wednesday, May 1st, a contingent of Working America members left from Cincinnati to drive two hours to the Capitol in Columbus, determined to make a difference in the fight for workers’ rights and the formation of the 2013 Kasich Budget. Some of us had canvassed with Working America during the crucial 2012 election season, working to get progressive legislation passed and progressive candidates elected. On the first of May – a day to honor workers’ rights – we fought yet again on behalf of workers and marginalized people. Standing in solidarity with union members, we met with our state representatives and their aides.

Upon arrival, our group met up with our Columbus counterparts for the Legislative Conference at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Columbus. The morning session would help prepare us for the day of lobbying and rallying ahead. At the conference, several speakers – including Cincinnati-area state Sen. Eric Kearney – talked about the budgetary injustices proposed by Gov. John Kasich and his allies in the Ohio state government:

  • His plans to hand over rewards to the oil and gas lobbies without getting fair tax revenue in return;
  • $313 million in additional cuts to already-struggling poor public schools;
  • Unwarranted and unnecessary tax cuts, the lion’s share of which would go to the top 1% of Ohio earners with slim pickings to the rest;
  • The separation of the Medicaid expansion provision from budgetary discussions, an expansion that would have been completely funded by the federal government for the next 3 years and expand coverage to over 275,000 Ohioans who would not otherwise get the care they deserve;
  • Efforts to suppress the student vote by limiting voting to those students who could pay in-state tuition rates, and;
  • Measures for outside private companies to hijack control of school budgetary decisions should a school fall under “academic distress.”

Afterwards, we were prepared for our meetings with legislators, then headed to the Ohio Statehouse.

On the corner of State and High streets right across from the Ohio Senate building, a sizable crowd gathered to speak out on the important issues. Three people at the rally let us know how some legislators were proposing an attacks on workers’ rights, and how it would affect them personally. The first, an electrician, spoke at length on how so-called “right to work” legislation serves only to push the company bottom line for additional profit at the expense of Ohioan livelihoods. Tracy, a firefighter from Youngstown, decried the disturbing results of so-called “right to work” in states where it has been enacted: 36% higher workplace mortality rates and damaged workplace safety due to the inability of workers to voice their concerns. Jim, a steelworker from Canton, noted how “right to work” states saw lowered wages, decreased household income, increased poverty, and a 15% increase in infant mortality.

The message was clear: so-called “right to work” actually hurts workers, and the same must not happen here in Ohio as well. That’s why we came together this week.

At the offices of Ohio senators, we delivered hundreds of hand-written letters from the many Working America members who wrote to have their voices heard. We met with aides to Senators to tell them how we felt about issues like Medicaid, taxes and workers’ right to organize.

I told one aide my own story of health care. My girlfriend’s mother – a working-class independent – was finally able to get adequate care and medication for her broken leg after a week in the hospital by finally getting onto Medicaid. In addition, Medicaid allowed her to afford physical therapy for her decades-long back pain that she was not able to afford on private insurance.

In addition, I explained how, due to fears of medical costs, I had delaying examination for several years for recurring chest pains. Then, despite being in-network, my insurance company refused to cover my basic preventative care and attempted to charge me $6,500 afterwards. To this, the aide simply shrugged and mentioned how healthcare is simply expensive and that, similar to eating at an expensive restaurant, I can simply go elsewhere for cheaper treatment. In other words, instead of paying for food, I am paying to live, so tough luck. Although leaving feeling slighted, the experience informed me as to the callousness of some those who were meant to represent me and could otherwise take a stand to make a difference as public servants.

In contrast, Rep. Denise Driehaus spoke to me in person outside her office. She voiced her support for full Medicaid expansion and the need to speak directly with the opposition on matters such as Medicaid expansion and fairer taxation.

After lobbying visits wrapped up, we Working America members joined the May Day rally that was gathering then on the corner of Broad and High Streets. More than 100 Ohioans came together to honor workers’ rights and commit to continuing the fight.

The experience was long and tiring, yet a positive and eye-opening one. While one can read about the Kasich Budget in the headlines, it’s an entirely different – and deeper – experience to meet with legislators, aides and fellow activists to talk about these issues in person.

Numbers and data alone cannot fully convey the raw emotions and lives affected by the legislation that is passed or pushed aside in the Ohio General Assembly. By bringing not just facts and data but real stories of real people to the table, we’re able to make a difference.

Members Deliver the Message of 50,000 Working Americans to Speaker Boehner

- Author Lauren Kennedy is a Working America member from Hamilton, Ohio, and a constituent of Speaker John Boehner.

Last Wednesday, a rally for “Jobs Not Cuts” drew about three dozen people to the parking lot outside of John Boehner’s office in West Chester, Ohio. As I joined the group of people assembled, I was immediately struck by the prevailing sense of unity and determination among them. Everyone from young adults to the elderly braved the bitter cold, motivated by their commitment to make their voices heard above the persuasive serenade of million dollar “donations” corroding the foundations of our democracy.

The rally began with five speakers laying out our demands:

• No cuts in social programs
• Real investments in infrastructure and job creation
• Close tax loop holes and eliminate tax write offs for expenses associated with outsourcing American jobs.

A foot-high stack of 50,000 signatures on a petition (which you can sign here) underscored the public support for our demands.

One of the speakers was Working America member Karen Bell, from Cincinnati. In her remarks she emphasized that Social Security, S.S.D., Medicare and Medicaid are not “entitlements,” but services for which we have paid. Each of us has contributed to these services, she noted, from every one of our pay checks, for our entire working lives. She called on Speaker Boehner to stop the attacks on social programs and focus on creating jobs.

An impressive number of petitions were attached to a length of string. Several of us, carrying the line of petitions, filed into Boehner’s office, and delivered them to a staff member. Seven attendees at the Rally, including Karen Bell, remained in Boehner’s office to discuss our concerns, while the rest of us returned to join the group outside. Standing along the street, signs and banners aloft, we received honks of approval from passing motorists.

After the meeting, Karen reported that the office staff displayed an appeasing and conciliatory demeanor, but repeatedly blamed President Obama for passing the buck. The response of Boehner’s office staff is disappointing, if not surprising, but underscores the importance of our efforts. We have to remain committed and increase our efforts at informing the public about the issues at stake.

Boehner must cease catering to a wealthy elite that use their considerable resources to buy power. We may lack the influence that comes with extreme wealth, but we have the resounding voice of millions on our side. Our needs are acute. Our demands will ensure that life sustaining changes are adopted. Our continued dedication to raise awareness about political corruption and corporate influence in government will inspire others to join us in demanding positive change. Our commitment to that change embodies our desire to restore democracy to this country.

Since joining Working America, I have experienced a sense of community, support and empowerment. As part of a group of committed individuals, united in our ongoing efforts and plans to make a positive difference, I now have a voice. Attending the rally was an inspiring experience, cementing my determination to contribute my time and support in affecting these changes.

There is an urgent need for united action. The outcome of these issues will impact our very survival and human dignity. It is imperative that we, the people, reclaim a government that is by the people, of the people and for the people – before it perishes from the earth.

As the New Year Approaches, Working America Members Resolve to Make their Voices Heard

With Congress continuing to struggle in federal budget negotiations – the notorious “fiscal cliff” with its automatic cuts to federal spending along with an end to all the Bush era income tax cuts – Working American members have more than their personal New Year’s resolutions on their minds. Throughout the last several weeks of the “lame duck” session in Congress, as they have been paying close attention to developments taking place on Capitol Hill, they have been moving forward with a campaign to make their strength in numbers felt in the debate.

Here in southwest Ohio, the target of their efforts has been Senator Sherrod Brown. They want him to clearly understand what members are demanding: an end to Bush era tax cuts for the richest 2%, along with no cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Members have been writing letters as part of a campaign to gather hundreds of hand-written messages to the Senator from throughout the state. First of all, there was a desire to thank the Senator for being a reliable and long-time advocate for working families. Now, middle class Ohioans are asking him to be a champion for us on the issues that we all care about. In doing so, many in the greater Cincinnati area have also told their personal stories of how they or loved ones depend on these essential programs for their livelihoods, and even their very lives.

One such member is Julia Rothwell. A single mother with a full-time job, a new small business, and a daughter soon heading off to college, she worries about the future of Social Security:

“I will be hopefully retiring in about 25 years, and wonder whether I will have the Social Security benefits that I have been contributing to for the last 25 years. Please make sure to protect what I have worked for, and many Americans have worked for, so we may have peace of mind when we grow old.”

Karen Dollinger is another. A visiting assistant professor from Oxford in southwest Ohio, she holds these concerns for her parents, who also reside in the state:

“My parents are in their 60s, and my mother, who is a cancer survivor, and my father, who has Parkinson’s Disease, are on Medicare. Should my father need to go to a nursing home, my parents would need Medicaid to pay for it. They are not wealthy, and need a fair amount of medical care. If Medicare and Medicaid are cut, I worry about their survival, as they are already struggling to pay bills. I am certain that many other Americans find themselves in the same situation.”

And finally, there is Tammy Friedman.  A nurse by training, she is currently a stay at home mom, and has a young son with special needs.  In her letter to the Senator, she discusses the importance of preserving programs and institutions that are vital to the well-being of the “98%” and crucial to affording opportunity to people like her:

“We need to end the Bush tax cuts for the disproportionately richest Americans and restore them to the levels they were previously.  This only makes sense and helps the nation as a whole.  The burden of taxes on the middle class is already oppressive enough, and restoring the previous tax percentage on the 1-2% of wealthiest Americans would not burden or oppress anybody.”

Tammy gives voice to a view held by so many.  What she recognizes – along with Julia, Karen, and millions of Working America members across the country – is that when they raise their voices together, they are more powerful.  This strength can have a significant impact on what is taking place in Congress right now and into the New Year.  You can raise your voice as well!  Make contacting your members of Congress about these important issues your resolution.  You can take action here.

Tags: , , ,

National Day of Action on Tax Fairness: A Tale of Six Cities

“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.

Tags: , , , ,