Fighting For Pittsburgh: We Need A Fair Budget And Medicaid Expansion

Rallying 4

On Saturday, June 28th, Working America Pittsburgh’s Community Action Team (CAT) held their campaign’s culminating event.  The CAT wants to move Gov. Corbett and the PA State Legislature to pass an economically just state budget that would strengthen funding for public education, higher education, and social services by expanding Medicaid and requiring corporations to finally pay their fair share of taxes.  As a part of the team’s strategy to raise community awareness, build public support, and speak up to decision-makers, the team organized a press conference followed by a site canvass.

During the press conference, community members spoke up about the importance of an economically just budget to Pennsylvania and to everyday community members.  Emcee Sarelm Brooks – who is a student at the Community College of Allegheny County, Eagle Scout, and a Working America member – expressed:

“I don’t know you, but I know your story. I know exactly who you are. You’re the teacher spending your next forty years teaching children, 12- and 13-year-olds basic algebra, geography, English, Spanish, only to be robbed of a chunk of your pension when you’re 70 years old. You’re the student on your own for the first time in college, but you can’t afford it, so you’re going for student loans, but you can’t afford your groceries, so you’re using your student loans to pay for those, and it goes on and on and on in circles. You’re the mother of four who can’t pay your electric bill, who can barely afford your rent. So you spend your time praying that you find a way to scrounge for the money that you need, to get by another day, another month. What do you have in common with her, with him, with each other? You all have those stories. None of those stories are fair.

We avoid those stories by having an economically just state budget. We avoid those stories with a budget that strengthens public education, so students do not have to rely on crushing student loans. We avoid those stories by expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania, by demanding that corporations pay their fair share of taxes. That is what we are here for: to make certain that Gov. Corbett knows that he can’t ignore Pennsylvanians, that he and every politician in Pennsylvania is there to represent everyday Pennsylvanians, not corporate lobbyists. We are here to demand a fair state budget.”


Rallying B


Jasmine Collington, a member of the United States Army National Guard, student, and  Working America Member, stood up against a gross economic injustice – the lack of Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania – which is harming her and half a million other Pennsylvanians by leaving them without access to healthcare.  As Jasmine explained:

Growing up my mother always made sure I had proper health coverage. When I turned twenty-one my healthcare was discontinued.  I am now still uninsured because Gov. Tom Corbett has not expanded Medicaid.   I cannot get proper medical attention when I need it.  I suffer from ovarian cysts, which are very painful.  When I had an ovarian cyst rupture recently, causing alarming pain in my abdomen, I was charged $1200 for a 20-minute hospital visit for it.  That visit didn’t even include treatment, because there was nothing that could be done.

Because Gov. Corbett has not expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians are suffering.  The majority of them are working, like I am, but they’re uninsured and unable to see a doctor without getting a hefty bill.  That is not what the American Dream is about.”

For many residents, Gov. Corbett’s refusal to expand Medicaid restricts access to the American Dream by blocking Pennsylvania from receiving the savings and revenue that expansion would generate.  That funding could help vulnerable Pennsylvanians by strengthening the struggling public schools and social services.

Speaker Reverend John Welch, who serves as the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Vice President for Student Services and Dean of Students, also delivered powerful remarks at the event, highlighting the moral necessity of an economically just state budget.

After the press conference, team members gave local community members the opportunity to speak up through vivid petitions about their desire for an economically just state budget.  Those petitions were addressed to a key budget decision-maker, Gov. Corbett, and they were delivered to Gov. Corbett’s Pittsburgh office on Monday.

The deadline for our elected officials to pass a state budget was yesterday, but our elected officials still haven’t finalized a budget.  In effect, the fight for an economically just state budget is not yet over.  We can still make a difference if we act now.  Check out this short but urgent budget update from the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, and take the enclosed opportunity speak up now for an economically just state budget.

Tags: , ,

On Dec. 9, Join the Movement to Reclaim Public Education

On Dec. 9, a coalition of education advocates, including the AFT, parents and community, faith and other groups will hold a National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education. The mobilization is part of a long-term push for reforms designed to reclaim the promise of public education as the nation’s gateway to democracy and racial and economic justice.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a conference call today the action is part of a “movement to rebuild educational and economic opportunity.” She said:

We want our kids to have great public schools. Public schools where kids are safe. Public schools where the joy of learning is embedded….We’re doing everything we can to let our kids have the future they deserve.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , ,

Even Children Recognize the Impact of Income Inequality and Social Service Cuts

The latest post in the Workonomics series at Upworthy asks the question, “How Did We Get to a Point Where a Child Is Saying Sorry to Her Mom for Costing Her Money?” The video is an excerpt from the HBO documentary “American Winter,” which follows eight families struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession. This clip shows how income inequality and cuts to social services have real consequences for families.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , ,

IAFF First Responders on Scene in Texas Fertilizer Blast

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Members of Fire Fighters (IAFF) locals are part of the emergency response team on the scene in West, Texas, following last night’s massive explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed as many as 15 people, injured 160 and left many missing, including a member of Dallas IAFF Local 58, who lives in West. IAFF sends us this report.

Hazmat teams from IAFF Local 478 in Waco, Texas, and IAFF Local 2505 in Killeen, Texas, and other emergency service personnel are responding to the scene of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, which has killed as many as 15 people, including several firefighters, according to reports.

IAFF 11th District Vice President Sandy McGhee is in contact with Local 478, the IAFF affiliate closest to the blast. He says, “Local 478 President Steve Tull reports that none of our members have been hurt as a result of the explosion, although their homes may be damaged.”

However, Local 58 reports that 30-year Capt. Kenny Harris, who lives in West, is missing. The IAFF and its affiliates continue to contact members in the area of the blast in hopes of accounting for all.

Hazmat teams have been dispatched, and firefighters are assessing conditions and addressing safety concerns.

IAFF President Harold Schaitberger says:

Our members are doing what they do best and are on scene making calm out of chaos by assisting their neighboring community. This is another situation where this country is counting on our first responders to be there, and our members never disappoint—they respond no matter the circumstances.

“The severity of the damage remains unclear,” says Texas State Association of Fire Fighters President Guy Turner. “We won’t have a clear picture until the entire scene has been swept by emergency personnel.”

The explosion occurred around 8:00 p.m. on April 17, leveling a four-block area around the West Fertilizer Company. U.S. intelligence officials say that, so far, there is no indication that this was a terrorist event. However, nothing will be ruled out until the investigation is complete.

Dozens of homes are damaged or destroyed, some belonging to IAFF members.

Tags: , , , , , ,

They’re Not Only Expanding Corporate-Run Schools, They Are Making Them Less Accountable

Working America members are in the midst of a fight to protect public education in North Carolina.

Since 2011, the state’s public school budget has been cut by $450 million, leading to overcrowded classrooms and outdated textbooks. Now the state legislature wants to continue weakening our public schools through the expansion of charter schools and voucher programs.

Both charters and vouchers take public money to send children to private and sometimes for-profit corporate-run institutions. These corporate run schools have little accountability, and make large profits by underpaying teachers.

Do we really want corporations teaching our students – and using tax-payer money to do so?

Working America member Joyce Mers is taking a stand against privatizing education. Joyce organized a church forum to discuss issues surrounding public education and promoted the event though her church newsletter. She even enlisted the help of education policy expert Dot Kearns to answer questions.

When discussing the immediate threats to public schools, Joyce referenced a bill that would restructure the oversight of charter schools. Under the proposal, charter schools would no longer be held accountable to the State Board of Education, which oversees all K-12 public schools.  Rather, charter schools would have a separate board, whose members would be appointed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory and the legislature. The bill also has provisions to eliminate certain charter school requirements.

“Right now only 50 percent of teachers in charter schools are required to have a teacher’s license and this bill would do away with that requirement completely,” said Joyce, “Also, the schools would not be required to perform a background check, which just doesn’t make sense to me – especially when there is a bill in the legislature trying to put armed guards in schools.”

Under this proposal, corporations have even more power to use taxpayer money to create and oversee charter schools.

When discussing public school funding, both Joyce and Dot noted that despite past cuts, student performance is high. “It’s a popular thing now to say everything is failing, but that just is not the case,” said Dot. She then cited the increase in North Carolina’s graduation rates. However, it will become difficult to maintain this success if more charters and vouchers drain public education resources and are held to different accountability standards.

The forum ended with Joyce collecting a dozen petition signatures from the group, which urge Governor McCrory to protect public school funding.  But we need to continue this pressure. Our state needs to fully invest in public schools. If you’re in North Carolina, email me at [email protected] to find out how you can help.

Tags: , , , , , ,

99 Stories and More to Come: Job-Killing Sequester Cuts Hurt Families Across the United States

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Forget the silly fluff pieces mainstream media are reporting about sequestration’s effect on White House tours—there is real pain happening all over the United States.

Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel of The Huffington Post cover 99 stories of the job losses and pain felt in states across the country in Sequestration Effects: Cuts Sting Communities Nationwide.

Here are the first 10 stories:

1. Air Force base jobs lost in Tullahoma, Tenn.—The Aerospace Testing Alliance announced it is cutting 128 of 1,809 civilian jobs at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma starting April 19. It also has put in place a 20% pay cut and weekly furloughs for workers at a research facility. [Link]

2. Loss of jobs in Rock Island, Ill.—The U.S. Army garrison, Rock Island Arsenal, announced it is firing 175 employees, 44 of whom are temporary workers, 131 of whom will see their jobs unrenewed when their terms expire. [Link]

3. Medical response times lengthened in central Nebraska—Medical responders have had response times lengthened because of the closing of a control tower at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport. [Link]

4. Food pantry closed in Murray, Utah—The Salt Lake Community Action Program closed its food pantry, one of five locations that serve more than 1,000 people every month. Executive Director Cathy Hoskins told The Huffington Post that in addition to the closure, the organization has stopped paying into employees’ retirement plans, won’t fill an open job and told some staffers to take a week’s unpaid leave. “I’ve had one person retire, we’re not replacing them. We’re not doing any hiring at all,” Hoskins said. “We’re trying very hard to boost our volunteers, but this is hard work working in a pantry. And if you get a volunteer, usually it’s a short-term volunteer because it’s just very, very difficult work…. No raises, no increases, none of that stuff. We’re cutting everything we possibly can.” [Link]

5. Research employees lost in Durham, N.C.—The Duke Clinical Research Institute is planning to “downsize” 50 employees. [Link]

6. Contractor jobs lost in southwest Oklahoma—Northrop Grumman Information Systems’ Lawton, Okla., site issued 26 layoff notices. The defense contractor CGI is anticipating that sequestration would affect 270 workers at its Lawton site. [Link]

7. Health care jobs cut in Hampton Roads, Va.—Officials at Hampton Roads Planning District Commission announced that 1,600 jobs in the region’s health care sector would disappear. “It won’t be job cuts,” said James A. Clary, an economist with the group. “It will be not filling the positions.” [Link]

8. Health care workers laid off in Saranac Lake, N.Y.—Adirondack Health, a medical center at Lake Placid, announced it was laying off 18 workers after firing 17 in December. [Link]

9. Rehabilitation center for Native Americans closed in Sitka, Alaska—The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium announced that on April 30, it is closing the Bill Brady Healing Center, a residential drug and alcohol treatment center for Alaska Natives. Michael Jenkins, communications director, said the approximately 20 people who work there will be transferred to other positions in the organization, furloughed or fired. “For the most part, because of our location here in Southeast, alcohol and drug abuse has a very high incidence. So taking this away is going to make it difficult,” he said. [Link]

10. Education jobs lost in Sioux City, Iowa—The Iowa Early Intervention education program is bracing for the loss of 11 teaching positions, while the Sioux City Community School Board is looking at potentially 30 staff positions being eliminated. [Link]

Read the rest of the 99 stories on The Huffington Post.

Remember, the sequester is a completely made-up, dumb idea and can be easily repealed by Congress. This year alone, 750,000 people will lose their jobs because of the sequester.

Working families are calling on Congress to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts (i.e., raising the retirement age and the “chained” CPI), repeal the sequester and close tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthiest 2%.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Til The Windmills Fall or I Do

“That sounds rather quixotic, don’t you think?”

I had just finished explaining our plan to garner support for the Bring Jobs Home Act, a bill that would eliminate tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and instead invest that money in tax breaks that create jobs here at home. The man at the door continued his response.

“I mean, it sounds like you’re tilting at windmills.”

I smile. I can certainly understand where he is coming from. But the smile has more to do with the particular reference he chose.

“Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? Do you know what quixotic means?”

Yes. Yes I do. Do you?

The term “quixotic” is a reference to the literary character of Don Quixote, the title character in the famous novel by Miguel de Cervantes. I was first introduced to the character via the movie version of the modern musical “Man of La Mancha.” Anyone who watches The Newsroom on HBO may also recall the character and the plot being referenced in that show’s first season finale.

So who is Don Quixote? Cervantes’ book tells the tale of a middle-aged lesser noble in Spain who is obsessed with tales of chivalry and romance that were popular at the time of the book’s writing in 1605. The age of knights and chivalry is long over, but Don Quixote finds some rusty old armor, an aged donkey and an unlikely squire to accompany him on an attempt to sally forth into the world to right all the wrongs and remedy all the injustices around him. He imagines himself a knight of old, his donkey a fabulous steed, the local inn a castle, and its serving girl the famed Lady Dulcinea to whom he will dedicate his heroic (mis)adventures.

The phrase “tilting at windmills” refers to one of his most (in)famous adventures. As he and his loyal squire Sancho come to the top of a hill they are faced with some massive windmills in the distance. Instead of windmills, Don Quixote sees giants that are terrorizing the land and must be slain. He straps on his helmet, raises his lance and charges (as fast as a donkey can charge) the giants he imagines in the distance. When his lance finally strikes, it runs through one of the blades of the windmill and Don Quixote is ignominiously caught up in its turning, going round and round. Sancho asks him if he now realizes they were windmills all along, to which Don Quixote replies that a sorcerer must have surely transformed the giants into windmills at the last second to rob him of his victory and glory.

That’s a long, roundabout way of saying that when someone tells you that your given task is “quixotic” and that you are “tilting at windmills” he isn’t usually giving you a compliment. He is saying, according to the English World Dictionary, that you are “preoccupied with an unrealistically optimistic or chivalrous approach to life” and that you are “impractically idealistic.”

The man continued.

“Outsourcing has been going on for years. Since before you were born, probably. Everyone knows about it. No one likes it, but those big companies aren’t going to let you pass this. Nothing passes the Senate. Toomey won’t vote yes no matter how many people sign up for this. I agree with you but you’re wasting your time.”

I listen patiently. I nod. But unlike Don Quixote I’m not an unrealistic optimist, even if I might occasionally be guilty of impractical idealism. “Maybe you’re right,” I tell him. “Maybe we can’t win on this one. Maybe all my walking up and down these hills going from door to door tonight won’t be enough to win this time. But if you agree with us and you think this is a bill that SHOULD pass, then it’s only a waste of a few seconds of your time to show that support even if we lose. What can it hurt?”

He laughs slightly, and sighs as an acknowledgment that I’m right. He becomes a member of Working America and signs a petition telling Senator Pat Toomey to Bring Jobs Home, as hundreds of others have before him.

Not long after, we knight-errants that make up the field teams across the country at Working America faced our own Knight of Mirrors, the enemy that ultimately vanquishes Don Quixote by forcing him to confront the reality of just how quixotic his whole enterprise is. Toomey voted against allowing the Bring Jobs Home Act to come to a vote in the Senate. It never even came to the floor of the House. The Bring Jobs Home Act failed to pass. The giants and windmills had won the day, just as the man I spoke with that night had predicted.

Defeats hurt, whether they consist of being tossed from your donkey by a windmill blade or whether they consist of watching a disappointing vote count come across C-Span. There are times when even the most passionate and idealistic of activists questions whether all the hard work is worth it. That night in August I had walked up and down steep hills all night and had been left with not only aching feet and sore legs but a desperate need for a shower after all that walking under a hot summer sun. And all for what?

But the story doesn’t end there. As Don Quixote says of knight-errants in the musical version, “each time he falls he shall rise again. And woe to the wicked!” Practical, realistic idealism acknowledges that we can’t win every battle. The war is never over. We lose some of the battles we fight, but we lose ALL of the battles when we stay home. When I left that man’s door that night, I had one parting thought to leave him:

“You know, I might be tilting at windmills. Maybe you’re right. But I’ll keep keep right on tilting til the windmills fall or I do.”

A few weeks later, I got a call from our office in Washington, D.C. Working America was opening up offices in Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren was challenging Scott Brown for the Senate. And they wanted me to go.

Talk about a knight-errant– Elizabeth Warren had charged after the giants on Wall Street after the economic meltdown demanding more protection for consumers and tighter regulations on the misdeeds that had caused the mess. Wall Street had kindly thanked her by blocking her for an appointment to the commission that would oversee the implementation of some of her ideas. And all those giant windmills were lined up against her because they did not want an idealistic knight-errant like Elizabeth Warren to have subpoena power in the United States Senate.

When I got that call, Scott Brown was a popular incumbent senator with the backing of the big money financial sector. He was up in the polls. Elizabeth Warren seemed a long shot. Scott Brown seemed like just the kind of windmill I’d like to take a tilt at. Elizabeth Warren never stopped fighting and neither did we.

I spent nearly a month in Massachusetts, knocking on doors and talking to voters and passing out information on the records of the candidates. We trekked on despite the rain from Hurricane Sandy and my first ever experience of a nor’easter. We showed people, one door at a time why Elizabeth Warren would fight for ordinary working families to bring good jobs home, to improve education and to reign in the corporate greed on Wall Street.

And on election night, we won.

And we’re still winning. Every week I see a new story about how Elizabeth Warren is acting as a champion of ordinary people in the Senate. Currently, she is taking to task those who are charged with regulating the misdoings of Wall Street for their assertion that some firms are just “too big to jail.” Senator Warren had some very powerful words for those regulators that had allowed financial giant HSBC off without a single criminal prosecution, despite that company’s laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for drug cartels:

“If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night — every single individual associated with this — and I just think that’s fundamentally wrong.”

Yes. Yes, it is. But now we have one more knight-errant in the Senate to keep tilting at those giants until we fall or they do.

Tags: , , , ,

Special Delivery: Across the Nation, Message Is Save Saturday Delivery

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

In hundreds of rallies in large cities and small towns, postal employees, other union members, community supporters and others rallied Sunday to preserve Saturday mail delivery.

In many cases, the participants protesting Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe‘s decision to suspend Saturday mail delivery beginning Aug. 5 exemplified the “neither rain nor sleet or snow…” postal motto by braving a major spring storm barreling across the nation’s mid-section.

In Lincoln, Neb., Mayor Chris Beutler told the crowd in the parking lot of a downtown post office that the weather was symbolic of the U.S. Postal Service and its employees.

Mail carriers are out in all weather, rain, shine, sleet or snow, a true testament of their hard work and dedication.

On the other hand, he said, it also “symbolizes the pretty shabby treatment” postal employees and customers who depend on Saturday delivery are receiving.

Protesters called on Congress to take action against the plan to end Saturday delivery that would result in deep service cuts to residents and businesses in every community across the country. Mark Guilliams, owner of Direct Line Marketing and Premium Regional Mail of Jackson, Mo., who spoke at a Cape Girardeau rally, said, “Saving six-day delivery is absolutely crucial for businesses like mine.”

More than 200 people rallied outside Minneapolis’ main post office, where Michael Zagaros, president of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 9, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that in addition to job losses and disruption of service to homes and businesses, he believes reducing service has other implications. “This is about privatization,” he said.

In Decatur, Ga., several hundred Atlanta-area postal employees and their supporters rallied (see video above). Cindy Chreiman has worked for the Postal Service for 25 years. She told CBS Atlanta News that many of her customers who are elderly depend on her.

I know my customers. I know what they need and what they expect from me. I’m a rolling post office.

In Seattle, the nearly 200 labor and community leaders from Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Colorado and New Mexico in town for the AFL-CIO Western Regional Conference joined local postal employees and community backers for a downtown rally.

In Henrietta, N.Y., near Rochester, more than 300 people rallied outside the post office, where Ken Montgomery, president of NALC Branch 210, told reporters

This really isn’t about letter carriers, clerks and mail handlers. It’s about the American public and giving the American public the service they’ve come to expect and deserve.

NALC President Fredric Rolando says, “Our fight is about the cost of losing Saturday mail delivery and how it would affect people in each and every state.”

Cutting Saturday mail would delay important household and business transactions, including bills, invoices and personal correspondence, and may force customers to shift to high-cost competing services. Established by the U.S. Constitution and using no taxpayer funding for its operations, the Postal Service is a vital public institution that we cannot afford to see dismantled.

The root cause of the agency’s fiscal problems is the unique congressional requirement—the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA)—that USPS prefund retirement benefits for decades into the future. Repeal of that requirement would restore financial stability to the USPS.

Take a look at more photographs from the St. Louis action by Cathy Sherwin, AFL-CIO Midwest Field Communications director, and see others from several rallies across the nation, courtesy of the NALC.

Tags: , , ,

7 Ways the Sequester Is Inflicting Real Pain

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

We already covered how sequestration cuts will affect your state, but here’s an update on the pain these cuts are causing in communities across the country since they went into effect March 1.

Think these cuts aren’t painful? Think again. Here are some highlights on the sequester’s reign of terror from newspapers and media outlets across the country:

FAA To Close 149 Airport Control Towers Due to Sequestration

Head Start Programs Gutted by Sequestration Cuts

Sequestration Will Take Big Bite from Medical Research Funding

Military Tuition Assistance Taken Away After Sequester

Sequestration to Force Weeklong Closure of Government Agency

Meals on Wheels Suffers Amid Sequestration

23 Tooele County Employees Laid Off Due to Sequestration

The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel break down local stories even further. See a longer list of the devastating cuts here.

Remember, the sequester is a completely made up, dumb idea and can be easily repealed by Congress. This year alone, 750,000 will lose their jobs because of the sequester.

Working families are calling on Congress to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts (i.e., raising the retirement age and the “chained” CPI), repeal the sequester and close tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthiest 2%.

Tags: , ,

It’s Our Job To Tell Her She Can Still Take Gymnastics

A beat-up van pulls to a stop just up the road. A creaky screen door opens from the apartment at the end of the building. A young African-American girl runs out toward the van, barely hanging onto a large gym bag that was obviously not meant for such a pint-sized carrier. The driver of the van, a middle-aged white man with glasses and a beard, throws the passenger door to the van open and the little girl tosses the bag onto the floor before climbing in. The apartment door, which had banged shut in the meantime, creaks open again as the girl’s mother waves goodbye.

“Be good. Have fun,” she tells her daughter.

“I’ll have her back by eight,” the driver replies as the little girl shuts the van door and waves goodbye to her mom.

As the van pulls away and disappears around a turn up the street, the girl’s mother allows herself to slump against the door frame for just a moment. She lets go of a long sigh that betrays just how tired she is. She almost doesn’t notice me as I approach her door to introduce myself.

I ask her how she’s doing. I tell her I’m out in the community tonight with Working America to gather support for public education in Pennsylvania.

Even if you don’t live here, you probably know the story. Governor Tom Corbett and his allies in the legislature have cut nearly a billion dollars from public education, hiked tuition at state universities up to 40 percent, and pushed a voucher plan that will further gut public schools. I don’t have to tell this young mother.

“I know,” she says. She glances in the direction of the van’s departure. “My daughter does gymnastics after school. Loves it. They told us they’ll probably have to cut back next year.” She pauses a moment, perhaps considering just what that means. “I can’t afford to send her to a private dance studio. What’s she going to think when I tell her she just has to quit? What are any of our kids going to do after school when they cut all these programs?”

I can tell there’s another question she’s probably too proud to ask, which is, “What am I going to do when there’s no more gymnastics class?” She works all day. She obviously came home and made sure her daughter had dinner and did her homework and had everything ready for the gym. The long sigh as the van pulled away and the moment she allowed herself to rest against the door frame were the first moments she’d had to herself all day. I feel bad for interrupting it.

But she is more than eager to help. She signs up to become a member of our fight for Pennsylvania’s public schools. She writes out a letter by hand telling her state senator what she had just finished telling me. She asks him what she’s supposed to tell her daughter when she can’t send her to gymnastics anymore.

And then she thanks me. Wishes me luck. I can only thank her and tell her we’ll be doing all we can to make sure that’s a question she never has to answer.

As I walk away, I wonder if “all we can” will be enough and if it will be in time for this proud, tired woman and her energetic, hopeful little girl.

This is just one story that I have to share from my first week in training to be a field organizer for Working America. The office is an hour’s drive from where I’m currently living and I’ll probably have to move for the second time in a year to keep at it. But the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard in just my first week of training have convinced me that it’s the absolute right decision. I’ve spent too much time reading from books and pondering the possibilities. It’s time to get on the ground and join in the fight. And it’s a fight we absolutely have to win.

One street over from the mother and her little girl, I pass by building after building of empty apartments. Many have huge padlocks on doors decorated with the faded, tattered remains once brightly-colored utility shut off warnings and notices. Some of the windows are boarded up, but through the broken ones you can see the evidence of a place long abandoned. Paint peeling off the walls. Piles of trash on the floor. A broken stair. But this place was abandoned long before the apartments were empty.

I am surprised as the first door in a long time actually opens. A middle-aged white woman tells me her story.

She’s about to lose her job. Not because she’s lazy or incompetent or because she’s unwilling to work. She’s about to lose her job because she can no longer get to work.

It’s not just education that’s being cut here. They already cut back on mass transit. This small, previously middle-class community no longer has bus service.

“I don’t have a car,” she says. “Always took the bus to work.” She’s done things “the right way.” She never asked for a government handout. She worked at a low-wage job to support herself. It was enough for a small apartment and to pay the bills, but it wasn’t enough to buy a car – let alone afford the state mandated insurance payments on one on top of it. She’s been getting rides from friends or family when she can now, but she’s already missed work several times. Now her boss is saying she’s “unreliable.” She confesses she probably doesn’t have much time before she joins the ranks of the unemployed.

She, too, is very helpful. She signs onto our fight for education and good jobs and quality healthcare, even though she says she doesn’t believe it will change anything. She, too, writes a letter to her state senator. She, too, thanks me before I can thank her.

I’m touched as I walk away. I know this is a battle we have to fight even if we lose. I shudder at the thought of walking down this same street a month or a year from now and seeing a padlock on this woman’s door.

A few nights later, in a neighborhood consisting of streets lined with small suburban houses with well-kept front yards and even tiny little back yards where neighbors still gather together on front porches or out on their lawns, one could see the planted battle flags of the plutocracy in the “for sale” and “foreclosure” signs stamped into the yards of houses that are now empty. Fewer padlocks here, of course, and more spread out. Perhaps I should have done an accurate statistical tally. One in fifteen houses, maybe? Perhaps on the way to one in ten? After all, I talked with several people who had been laid off and were nearing the end of their unemployment benefits. No new jobs to be found, at least not jobs that could keep up with a house payment. And no, we’re not talking about people who went out and bought McMansions with loans they could never have paid back. We’re talking about very modest middle-class homes affordable on modest middle-class incomes. We’re talking the stuff of the old American Dream.

These people in the middle are waking up. Sure, there are some in those neighborhoods that have bought into Fox News and seem intent on punishing themselves and their neighbors with brutal budget cuts, all while worshiping the idle rich who dance across their television screens.

But most people in these middle-class neighborhoods realize they are getting screwed by the big corporations and the political power they wield. They know for a fact that they’re not lazy, that they’ve worked hard, that they’ve done all the things that they’re “supposed” to do. And yet many are just barely hanging on for dear life. Many are in danger of sliding down into those boarded up, vacant apartments just a mile or two away. And they voiced their support for those of us going door to door fighting for a quality public education for every Pennsylvanian. Their own kids and grandkids will be the ones who suffer if we lose it.

Just a little further west live the people who have fled these suburban, middle-class ghettos. In isolated communities with names like “Whispering Woods” you find winding streets lined with huge cookie-cutter mansions. It’s just a few miles from that neighborhood of abandoned apartments where you could film a post-apocalyptic movie without having to do much to dress the set. But it’s an entirely different world.

People with BMW’s parked in their driveways and huge plasma TV’s complain that government spends too much money. We all have to tighten our belts, they say. My kids go to private school. Why should I have to pay for public education? The unions have too much power. Teachers are overpaid. One person even went so far as to say, “Close the public schools. They’re worthless. The sooner we shut ‘em all down the better.”

If I could take one of them by the hand and walk up and down Juniper Street and Delaware Avenue where I began this diary, would they see? Would they really still demand more tax cuts if they were the ones who had to tell a little girl she had to give up gymnastics? Would they still demand drastic budget cuts if they had to tell that quickly aging single woman to walk five or ten miles to work alone?

There’s only one road leading out to the world of abandoned, padlocked apartments. There are only two leading into Whispering Woods. And now there are no bus stops in either. When will these people ever see each other face to face?

It’s our job to make the introductions. It’s our job to stand up and fight. It’s our job to head to the front lines and build support. It’s our job to bring communities back together again. It’s our job to take up a pen as a sword and a clipboard or iPad as a shield and to hold the line.

It’s our job to tell a little girl she can still take gymnastics.

Tags: , , , , , ,