Word on the Street: Hot in Minnesota

Chase Brandau – Minneapolis, Minnesota

A lot of us have been sweating lately in Minnesota – but not just from record heat. Since the 2011 legislative session ended without a deal on the budget, Minnesotans across the state were left wondering: will we balance the budget fairly, or will it be done on the backs of working families?

Last week, after the shutdown ended and a budget deal was worked out, we had one answer to this question: GOP lawmakers would rather cut critical services and keep kicking the can down the road than ask millionaires to pay $1 more in taxes to keep Minnesota the kind of state we are all so proud of.

What a disconnect. Working America organizers have been talking to Minnesotans about balancing the budget fairly since January, and the overwhelming majority of people we talk to support an approach including new revenue by asking the rich to pay their fair share. When we ask Working America members what their biggest concern is, they say ‘jobs’ or ‘education’—not spending cuts to pay for tax breaks for a few of the wealthiest Minnesotans.

In Southern Minnesota, Winona, Le Crescent, Albert Lea; throughout the Twin Cities and in St. Cloud, in central cities like Grand Rapids and Park Rapids and as far north west as East Grand Forks—people we talked to across the state expressed deep concern about cuts to education, healthcare, community services and rising property taxes. Ninety percent of the members we talked to expressed frustration with the fact that these cuts are being done to protect the top two percent from paying an equal share in taxes.

Over half our members were so fired up that they took action, many for the first time in their lives, by picking up their phone and calling their legislators: parents, students, retirees, workers and the unemployed exercised their strength in numbers, to the point where their legislators literally unplugged their phones.

Heat waves in Minnesota? For lawmakers who choose the richest two percent over working families it’s bound to get hot again; their morally bankrupt defense of the rich is no longer being tolerated by the “Other 98%” of us they keep forgetting about.

“I Am Working America” across America

(Guest post by Barbara Helmick – thanks everyone for their amazing pictures! -Doug)

Working families are under attack across the country and Working America members, with courage and pride, sent photos to show they are one with these families. Eager to show our individual numbers quickly add up to power, these photos are just a sampling of the great people who want to show the powers that be, that we are strong, we are ready to act, and we are beautiful.

Word on the Street: “Without a Job, I Don’t Have a Purpose”

Chase Brandau — Twin Cities, Minnesota

That is what Working America member Gretchen of Hopkins, MN told me this week. She was describing how her life has changed since she had lost her job almost two years ago. Gretchen used to work as a cook at a public school, but was laid-off due to budget cutbacks. Now she is forced to rent out rooms in her house and survive on a $119/week unemployment check, which is set to expire in three months. What she has been through this last two years, echoes what millions of Americans are also suffering through and Gretchen knows this.

What is amazing about Gretchen, is that she has decided to take action by sharing her story with the rest of Minnesota today. She had the courage to take center stage at the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Legislative Agenda press conference and tell her story to a room full of strangers, cameras and reporters.

She had never done anything like this before today. Wouldn’t even consider herself an activist. But today, she decided to become one, because she understood how many others out there do not have a voice right now and she doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines any longer.

This is what Working America is achieving. By reaching the people who feel they do not have a voice and giving them the opportunities to be heard. That is what allows people like Gretchen to take that step from being a victim to being an activist.

“I’m just the common person that needs to be heard,” she said. “I’m not the only one that is going through this. All I need is a job to get back on my feet.”

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Solidarity in the Struggle

By Lynne Bolton — Minnesota

Solidarity. In the labor movement, we use that word a lot. In my job, I use it every day. It has become as much a part of my daily language as “hello” or “thank you”.

On Thursday, June 10, 2010, in the Twin Cities Metro area that word becomes more than just a concept. It takes physical shape as 12,000 nurses from the Minnesota Nurses Association begin a 24 hour strike to make sure that hospital CEO’s put patients before profits, and provide the nursing staff needed for safe quality care.

In early May the Working America Twin Cities office joined over 300 Minnesota Nurses at a picket line in Coon Rapids – to show solidarity.

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We joined them again a week later in St. Paul.

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Shortly afterwards, we went to downtown Minneapolis, and this time not only Working America staff joined in, but so did passers-by.

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Solidarity.

At the same time, Working America began collecting petition signatures in support of Minnesota Nurses as they bargained. As hospital CEO’s get richer, nurses were asked to work less hours, receive fewer benefits, and most frightening of all, have their patient load increased, potentially endangering patients. In the 4 weeks that we asked for petitions, over 3,000 Working America members – folks who don’t have the benefit of a union in their workplace, folks who know what it means to work hard to take care of their families – have said “I support Minnesota Nurses”.

And they tell stories. A member in Blaine told us that he had some medical problems. He said “The doctors healed me, but the nurses saved my life”. A woman spoke of her husband who had surgery for cancer spoke about the lack of available nurses for her husband who needed one-on-one care – because they were understaffed. And then there was the woman who was in the hospital for 4 months. Nurses worked overtime to be with her, so she didn’t have to go to assisted living. These members have seen nurses care for them, so they care for nurses.

Then there’s the member in Minneapolis. A young woman who works as a contract nurse and told her agency that no matter how much money they offer her, she won’t work on Thursday.

Tonight I attended a vigil at a church in St. Paul in honor of those nurses. There were many speakers, who were passionate and well spoken in the defense of Minnesota Nurses. They spoke about how these nurses were taking a risk for all of us by speaking out for patients. They spoke of their own personal stories on how nurses have affected their lives. They spoke of the need for the most vulnerable of our population – those that are sick – to keep their dignity as they get well. Most importantly, they spoke of the need for all of us to stand shoulder to shoulder with those nurses tomorrow as they walk that picket line.

Solidarity in the struggle.

(If you live in the Twin Cities Metro Area and would like to join the Minnesota Nurses as they picket, please visit the website for locations. If you cannot join the strike, but want to support MN Nurses, please call a hospital CEO.)

The Conversation

By Lynne Bolton — Minnesota

This is not going to be your typical blog story. I’ll tell you right away that the woman I was talking with signed down as a member and made a contribution. In a way, this story isn’t about her, it’s about me.

I came to this work like so many of us. I needed a job and I wanted to feel I was making a difference. And I know that I have. Over the last year and a half I (like every other canvasser) have heard the heartbreaking stories of job and health care loss. I’ve helped someone write a powerful letter, or listened as they made their first ever phone call to an elected official. These are wonderful moments, and for me at least, it’s sometimes easy to get lost in them.

The woman I was talking with didn’t need me to give her an impassioned argument for health care reform. She knew it was a moral issue, that our country desperately needs it. She wasn’t worried about paying more to get it. Her concerns were different.

You see, she and her husband owned a small business. They’d worked hard to make it profitable, and more importantly, they’d worked hard to find health care that would actually care for their employees and not bankrupt them. They’d finally found it, and she was afraid that her employees would lose it.

And so, I explained the public option to her, that that wouldn’t happen, and of course she got involved. As I was leaving, she thanked me for the work we do, but also for giving her the information. Because she and her friends talk about health care, and none of them understood how the Public Option would work, and now she could tell them.

It didn’t hit me until much later that this is, in some ways the most important thing we do. We connect people in their communities together – not just though membership and checks, but through the conversations that go on long after we leave.

It’s Gotta Be Done

by Liz Holmbeck — Minnesota

Last July we were out organizing the great folks in the Duluth, specifically in the Piedmont Heights area. It had just started to get dark, I knocked on this door and waited, from behind the door I hear a small voice ask, “who is there?” She opened the door, and I introduced myself and told her what we were up to in Duluth. She invited me in, and told me how she wished I wasn’t out in the dark. As we chatted, she told me about her life a bit. How when she was my age she worked for a telephone company and picketed back in the forties. As I was leaving she grabbed my hand and told me she was so happy to see us young kids out here doing this work. I left her door, but not before telling her thanks for her hard work all of her life, and that we will continue building the movement. It’s gotta be done.

Personal Motivation

by Maggie L — Minnesota

Last night I took out a community member for an observation day. When I asked him why he was passionate about healthcare, he told his story. He got a call from his brother who was experiencing medical problems- swollen limbs, his lips were turning blue, and dizziness. His brother refused to see a doctor because he didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford it. Two days later he suffered a heart attack and passed away. When this community member spoke at his brother’s funeral, he talked about this, and decided then he was done talking. He needed to take action. This touched me so much and the outcome was real organizing and a chance to give someone an opportunity to fight for his family and in turn, everyone’s family.

No Health Care for Doctors?

by Matt Mihlbauer—Minnesota

While canvassing in the uptown area, I spoke with a young doctor. He finished his 7 year long “residency” training several years ago. During the several months that came between the end of his residency and the start of his new job, he broke a bone in his foot. He did not have health insurance at the time, and ironically HE COULD NOT AFFORD to go to a doctor to have his foot x-rayed!!! Luckily, he knew how to wrap broken bones. Although it hurt like heck, he wrapped his foot every day for 6 weeks until the bone healed. He told me that he really could have used a public option during that time. He thanked me for being there, got me a glass of water, and wrote a generous check for Working America.

Spider Man approved

by Tommy Todd—Minnesota

The other night, I was speaking with an older woman and her grandson. They had indicated that education was their top priority. I told them all the wonderful things Working America was fighting for in education, and before I even got a chance to mention dues, her grandson ran into the back room and returned with his Spiderman wallet. He took out $5 and said “Here you go mister. You’re doing a good job.”

Support from Beyond the Grave

by Matthew Hall—Minnesota

One day I was canvassing and encountered a member that was really excited to see me. She invited me in to meet her elderly mother. We talked for a couple of minutes and she informed me that she was on Minnesota Care and was worried about funding for the program with all the state budget cuts. Her and her mother decided to sign down as members and pay $5 in dues. Just then the door bell rang. She went to answer it but no one was there. She then informed me that her father had died last year and before he had died he had vowed to fix the broken doorbell but had never got around to it. The door bell had worked only twice since then. Once when they were having Easter dinner and the other time right then. I took this as a sign that her father approved of what were doing and wanted to show his encouragement.