Stronger Together: On the Road in Albuquerque and Denver

Karen Nussbaum – Executive Director, Working America

“I grew up in West Virginia and my mother used to cut out paper dolls. I don’t know how she did it but she would take her scissors and out would come a long line of dolls all holding hands. That’s what we need to do – hold hands, help each other and make the line of us longer,” Fran told other unemployed members of Working America in Albuquerque at their weekly meeting yesterday. Moments later she put her paper doll theory into practice, when Jose, a jobless construction worker, told of his children being reluctant to go to school because they don’t have money for writing tablets or shoes. Fran knows how to network and find resources – she’ll help Jose and suggested that one of their next projects be setting up a “needs list” and finding the goods that unemployed members need.

I’m traveling around the country, visiting Working America members, organizers and allies. There’s a world of hurt and disappointment out there, but Working America’s conversations at the door and community action teams are giving thousands of people a way to get engaged and fight the cynicism every day.

Take Albuquerque – members of the unemployed community action team give each other support AND take action. Last Friday a dozen of them spent the day lobbying state legislators in Santa Fe, and felt they made real progress. Now they’re planning their follow up – get a meeting with the governor? Find a sponsor for legislation banning discrimination against hiring people who have been out of work for more than 6 months? Take on community service projects to gain more visibility in the community?

Young Working America members in Denver earlier this week met over nachos and beer in a restaurant and wrote letters to the editor about wanting good jobs – jobs that reflect the education they are still paying off and jobs that have paid sick days. Their concerns were similar to the people I met doing door to door the night before. A retired construction worker couldn’t choose a priority among jobs, retirement and health care: “they’re all important to me.” An unemployed child care worker, a young mother herself, knew right away that education is the most important issue to her and eagerly signed a postcard on paid sick days – it’s the public health aspects that concern her the most.

“You’re one of 300 people in your neighborhood who will be joining Working America tonight,” Bethany told a new member that night. “And when we go to the City Council or your state legislator and say ‘we’re backed up by 300 people in this neighborhood’ they’ll listen.” There’s strength in numbers.

Word on the Street: Why Social Security Matters

Deliria Jaramillo – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The other night I was calling our members in Deming. An older gentleman answered the phone and he expressed right away that no one ever calls him and that he was pleased to talk to me. He is 75 years old and has run out of his retirement savings.

He said his Social Security is his only source of income. He told me that he has been looking for work in order to pay all of his bills and have some money left for groceries, but there isn’t a lot of work available in Deming. He told me, “I can’t go back into the fields, my body can’t handle it and the only other thing that is here is Wal-Mart. I have tried applying, but I never heard back from them. I don’t know how much longer I can continue to live like this.”

It was a heart-breaking story, but as we neared the end of the conversation he told me he would really appreciate if I stayed in touch with him and that he would be willing to help out with organizing his community around our message. It made me feel good to be able to reach out to someone and show them that Working America wants to hear from them – that we care about their story and that we are finding ways to get them involved.

“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.

Call Congress Now for Real Health Care Reform

We’ve written a lot about the reasons we need health care reform now.

There’s Michelle Morse, who in order to keep her insurance had to continue going to college full time while being treated for the cancer that ultimately killed her. The baby who got turned down for insurance because he was too fat, and the one who got turned down because she was too thin. The words of some of the 42,000 letters Working America and union members sent to Congress. Sylvia from Ohio. The mother who went blind to pay for treatment for her children. The amount of money the status quo is costing us.

Now there’s a bill coming up for a vote – probably on Saturday – that will do a lot to change all those things. What will it do?

Although some provisions of reform will require time to implement, here are key changes that will kick in immediately, providing direct and critical relief to millions of working families:

  • An immediate insurance program for high-risk uninsured people to buy into.
  • Ending “rescissions”—prohibiting insurers from nullifying coverage when patients file claims.
  • Ending the lifetime caps on how much care insurers will cover.
  • Allowing young people to stay on their parents’ policies until age 27.
  • Allowing workers who have lost coverage because they lost their job to extend COBRA coverage.
  • New incentive programs to increase the number of doctors.
  • Funding for community health centers.
  • Reducing the “donut hole” in Medicare prescription drug coverage—which right now doesn’t cover any drug costs between $2,700 and $4,050.
  • A new fund to help employers pay for coverage for early retirees.

And that’s just the beginning. Over time, H.R. 3962 will create an exchange in which millions can buy insurance—including the choice of a public health insurance option to compete with insurance companies. Middle-class families will have real choices and real protections from unfair insurance practices—meaning they and their doctors, not health insurance bureaucrats, will be in charge of their health care. And the House bill includes both real responsibility for employers and subsidies to help families afford insurance.

The bill also includes numerous provisions to make care more affordable and better in quality, including electronic medical records, tools to fight fraud and waste and incentives for better care. It will end denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions and end co-payments for preventative care.

We need that. So let’s do what it takes to get it.

Call your member of Congress and tell them to vote for HR 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act. Then come back and leave a comment telling us how the call went.

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Health care cut when he finally needed it

by Dean Powers—New Mexico

I met a guy who worked ten years for a company, a brake supply and repair chain. For ten years he had health coverage.

When he developed cancer and needed his health care more than ever, but couldn’t work the 60 hour work-weeks that his company demanded of him, they let him go…him and all of his benefits; a simple write-off.

This man had a type of cancer that was treatable with interferon, an agent used occasionally in therapy. But because he had lost his insurance, his wife had to go to one of two interferon manufacturers in the country and plead for free treatment.

After filing multiple forms, the company provided the free treatment, but since the hospitals refused service, his wife had to administer the shots.

It’s a sad day, when our citizens need to plead with the aristocrats for their lives.

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Notes from the Southwest

by Dean Powers—New Mexico

At a distance, a city is only a high orange glow in the darkness. The glow emanates out of the vagrant depths of persistent nights. It appears to circumferential travelers on dark stretches of radial highways that convene at its source. The highways stretch outward through uninhabited farmland or forest or, as is the case in New Mexico, high desert.

The high desert in New Mexico is carpeted with a pinkish loam that crumbles onto and crowds both edges of Highway 550. The edges of the highway are sculpted out of darkness by headlights before the beams disappear into hundreds of thousands of acres of impassive sage and prairie grass, yucca, and saltbush. These dark squat recalcitrant shapes offset the lighter darkness around them, oblivious to the distant orange glow.

At night the city of Albuquerque emits its street lights, parking lot lights, billboard lights, car lights and even porch lights into the ceiling of sky. In the stretch of Highway 550 in the southern part of the Santa Anna Indian Reservation, the muddled orange glow appears long before its source is visible.

The northern end of Highway 550 begins in Montrose, a town near Grand Junction, Colorado. It quickly becomes a perilous two-lane traverse over Red Mountain Pass, cutting through Ouray and Silverton, before it dumps into Durango. It connects northwestern New Mexico, west of the Continental Divide, with central Interstate 25 (east of the divide) about 20 miles before the southbound lanes of the freeway lead into Albuquerque.

The approach to Albuquerque begins with exits. The exits appear in higher frequency as the city nears. They have numbers and divert cars away from the main thoroughfare to familiar hotel chains and restaurants. As the big box and industrial lights increase on either side of I-25 the freeway lanes expand from two to three and the speed limit drops from 75 to 65 MPH.

At morning the sun breaks on Albuquerque over the Sandia mountains, which bank up to the east in stark and jagged relief against the frequently blue sky. The city sits between the eastern slope of the Sandias and the rise of the Canoncito Navajo Indian Reservation to the west, as if in the gulf between the pages of an open book. The Rio Grande cuts out a wide shallow path in the basin of this broad arid valley.

To a stranger, the city is intersection between the north-south freeway, I-25, and the perpendicular I-40. Locals call this intersection the “Big ‘I;’” two giant lines: one slashing vertically from Billings, Montana to El Paso, Texas; the other slashing horizontally from Willmington, North Carolina to Barstow, California, just shy of Los Angeles.

After several days in the city, new horizontal lines become familiar: Central Avenue (the old Route 66) and Lomas Boulevard. New vertical lines become familiar: San Pedro Boulevard and Louisiana Boulevard. Slowly, the city becomes a series of number sign glyphs, each line represented by a major Boulevard or Avenue cutting perpendicularly across I-25 or I-40.

And then the canvassing begins…