Obama and Biden to Push for Infrastructure Spending on Wednesday

Photo courtesy Andrew Dallos on Flickr

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will visit the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, where he will call on more federal spending for infrastructure projects.  Obama has made numerous proposals to increase spending on bridges, roads and other infrastructure projects, but Republicans in Congress have blocked those efforts. The Tappan Zee Bridge is currently in the process of being replaced, financed by a record $1.6 billion federal loan. The old bridge, which opened in 1955, has fallen into disrepair and is serving a daily capacity above what it was designed for. While Congress has failed to provide the funds needed to move forward, Obama is using alternate methods, such as the loan, to help rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

“The President will also highlight efforts by the administration to cut through red tape and modernize the federal infrastructure permitting process, and reduce project approval time lines,” the White House official said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden will appear in Cleveland to give a speech on similar themes of investing in infrastructure and the economy.

As part of Infrastructure Week 2014, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will speak at a rally on Thursday in front of the AFL-CIO headquarters about the vital need for upgrading our infrastructure and the positive impact doing so will have on the economy.

Trumka said:

Putting money in roads and bridges is like planting seed corn. Investing in good jobs yields a good return. When you put seed in the ground, you get something to harvest. When you put cement in the ground, you get roads. When you put steel in the ground, you get train tracks. You get it. But if you don’t put that seed in the ground, that’s not smart. It’s not sensible. It’s not “thinking like business.” It’s cutting yourself off at the knees. And that’s what these politicians are doing to the American economy….

Trumka pointed to a recent American Society of Civil Engineers report that said the country needs to spend $3.6 trillion just to make sure that our current infrastructure doesn’t fall apart, with a similar investment needed to create the next generation infrastructure that will grow the economy.

Follow updates on infrastructure week on Twitter using the hashtag #RebuildRenew and learn more about Thursday’s Jobs and Infrastructure Rally in Washington, D.C., here.

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Cleveland Teachers Give Thousands of Books to Local Latino Families

The impact of a child owning a book cannot be overstated, which is why on July 25, the Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU) partnered with community group Esperanza to donate more than 6,000 books to Latino families in the area.  The event was held in conjunction with the First Book National Book Bank and was part of a community fair that included face painting, hot dogs and other activities organized and staffed by CTU members.

One child, Maria, immediately picked up a book and dove right into reading. Her eyes lit up as she saw the illustrations, said event organizer and CTU member Jillian Ahrens. “She asked if she could have the book and when we responded, ‘of course,’ she had the biggest smile on her face”.

“The turnout was incredible,” said Ahrens.”Having families, educators and children come together to celebrate books and reading was a great way to connect.”

Ahrens went on to talk about the importance of the event:

During the summer, a lot of our families and students may not have access to books. This contributes to summer learning loss. This summer event not only brought much-needed resources to the students of Cleveland, but it also infused the children with a sense of excitement and joy to engage them in reading. The event helped keep students reading over the summer, which will help them as they begin school this fall. By igniting the love of reading within families and children, this event can help set the stage for future academic success.

Books were given out in CTU bags which created a visual impact that could be seen for several blocks around the event, drawing in more people.

Esperanza is a community organization serving the city’s Latino population. CTU says it plans to continue working with First Book during the upcoming school year.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Working America Ohio Says Thanks to Occupy Cleveland

Stephanie Harig – Cleveland, Ohio

This is the time of year for being grateful, hopeful, and joyful—and Working America members in Ohio have been wholeheartedly participating by expressing their thanks and appreciation for the folks occupying public areas our cities, including Cleveland.

Occupy Cleveland has been maintaining a constant presence on Public Square for over two months. There is a dedicated group of individuals involved in occupying, but also working peacefully to prevent foreclosures in the Greater Cleveland area and participating in community events.

Working America stands with the 99 percent. But our members may not always be able to join these protests—so Ohioans are finding other ways to show that they appreciate the occupiers in Public Square.

Less than a month ago, offices across Ohio began collecting thank you notes to Occupy Cleveland by going door-to-door and making phone calls. The response was inspiring. On Saturday, Working America’s Cleveland office delivered over 200 such letters from around the state to Occupy Cleveland at a potluck event.

I attended the letter delivery with Jim, a Cleveland Working America member. After spending some time enjoying the food and interacting with Occupy Cleveland organizers, we presented the thank you notes to the group. We had put the notes in a binder, so they are able to flip through them when they are feeling discouraged, lonely, or just plain cold.

In addition to presenting the binder full of letters (to murmurs of disbelief that we had collected so many), I read a few of the most poignant ones from each office out loud. In one memorable letter, a single mom from Columbus expressed her support for Occupy because she recognized that they are addressing her day-to-day struggles. In another, Phyllis from Cleveland expressed her appreciation and ended by imploring the protestors to keep warm (important advice in a Cleveland winter!). Our members are genuinely grateful that someone is giving them a voice.

The letters were met with an overwhelming appreciation by the participants in Occupy Cleveland. Some were moved to tears, while others struggled to find the words to express how much the notes meant to them. After the presentation, they passed the binder around, and continued to express amazement at the fact that Working America had collected so many great letters. Indeed, this simple show of solidarity went a long way in boosting the morale of the organizers.

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Across the Country, City Councils Endorsing Local Occupy Movements

When police forces have cracked down on local Occupy encampments, TV cameras have swarmed to cover it. But what’s not being covered as closely are the numerous actions, symbolic and otherwise, on the part of local elected officials to endorse or otherwise support the protests of the 99 Percent going on in their cities.

On October 12 in Los Angeles, California, the second largest city in the United States, the City Council resolved that the body “stands in support for the continuation of the peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights carried out by ‘Occupy Los Angeles.’” The resolution included in its justification that 1 in 5 foreclosures in the U.S. have taken place in California, and that an investigation of the financial crisis and holding those accountable are particularly in the interest of Angelenos. The cities of Sebastapol and Santa Anna, California have also formally endorsed Occupy Wall Street.

On November 14 in Seattle, Washington, the nine-member City Council resolved to support the Occupy Seattle protest. They stressed that they condemn violence and any action taken that interferes with the police, but also that they would actively take steps to address the Occupiers concerns. “The City will review its banking and investment practices to ensure that public funds are invested in responsible financial institutions that support our community,” the resolution states.

Last Monday in Cleveland, Ohio, the City Council voted 18-1 to pass Np. 1720-11, which formally expresses support for Occupy Wall Street. The effort was spearheaded by Councilman Brian Cummings, a member of the Green Party, who has been active in Occupy Cleveland. The resolution states:

Be it resolved by the Council of the City of Cleveland…That this Council recognizes and supports the principles of the Occupy Movement and the peaceful and lawful exercise of the First Amendment as a cherished and fundamental right in the effort to seek solutions for economically distressed Americans at the federal, state and local levels.

The resolution also states that the Council will continue to work with the Mayor to “continue taking steps to minimize economic insecurity and destructive disparities in the City of Cleveland.” A unique situation is developing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the City Council also endorsed their local OWS branch, Occupy Pittsburgh.

BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh does support and declare solidarity with Occupy Pittsburgh and the Occupy Wall Street movement, exercising First Amendment rights in a free, open, peaceful, and productive manner, toward the better condition of our citizens and of these United States.

What makes this even more significant is that Occupy Pittsburgh sits on Mellon Green, the property of the financial giant BNY Mellon, last seen trying to use the occupy movement in its marketing materials. Under the pretense of the Occupiers’ safety as the temperature drops, BNY Mellon has issued a warning that they will forcibly evict the encampment. The result of this standoff may set a precedent for the country – are the actions of police forces dictated by large financial institutions, local City Councils, or Mayors? And who currently exerts the most influence over Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: BNY Mellon or his own Council? BNY Mellon gave Sunday, December 11 as the deadline to evacuate Mellon Green, but as of Monday evening, the encampment remains.

Photo of an Los Angeles Occupier by Occupy Los Angeles on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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Occupy Cleveland Helps A Single Mother Stay In Her Home

Last week we saw Occupy Atlanta occupy the neighborhood of a cop who was being foreclosed upon. This kind of direct action is (fingers crossed) starting to catch on.

Occupy Cleveland helps a single mother stay in her home for the holidays. From ThinkProgress:

After her husband left her and refused to provide any real support, Beth Sommerer was due to be evicted from her home today, along with her children. But at the last moment, she made a desperate plea to the protesters of Occupy Cleveland. Soon afterward, Occupy Cleveland pitched its tents in Sommerer’s yard, vowing not to move unless she was allowed to stay in her home. On Monday, a local court gave in and gave a 30-day stay on the eviction order.

This is a perfect illustration of the phrase “united we stand.” We should all be united in the belief that homeless families are just not acceptable.

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Occupy Cleveland Joins With Ohio Workers Against Issue 2

Stephanie Harig – Cleveland, Ohio

Here in Ohio, we are naturally focused almost exclusively on defeating Issue 2, which as you well know by now is the ballot referendum on Senate Bill 5, the legislation that removed the collective bargaining rights of Ohio’s public workers. By voting No on Issue 2, we reject Senate Bill 5.

We are now one week from Election Day and the efforts are only continuing to ramp up. By next Tuesday, some of our canvassers will have worked 16 out of the last 17 days leading up to the election. In addition, we have been bringing Working America members out to volunteer phone bank multiple times a week.

On Monday, we had the opportunity to bring our opposition to Issue 2 and our support for Occupy Cleveland together. I went with Dan O’Malley, our Field Director, and Jeremy Johnston, our Office Manager, to give a “Teach-In” on Issue 2. The crowd was small and cold, but dedicated and sincerely interested in hearing our perspective on this ballot issue.

We huddled in the only tent allowed to be up 24/7 – a medium-sized white one – and I began by talking about Working America and our support for the Occupy movement. The Occupy folks were very excited to learn that our Executive Director, Karen Nussbaum, is on board with their message, and I shared the news articles that quote Karen discussing Occupy and Working America. I also left copies for them to share with other activists who may be in and out.

I passed the proverbial mic to Dan, and he discussed Issue 2 and why this attack on workers’ rights is bad for public safety, economic fairness, and the wellness of working families in Ohio. Our captive audience asked a few questions, and we discussed further how this issue affects all of us, not just the public workers whose rights are at risk. The moment of solidarity between the “No on 2” campaign and Occupy Cleveland was critical, both for the campaign as we enter the final week, and for the Occupiers as they struggle to keep their numbers up in the bitter Cleveland cold.

Also present at the teach-in was Martha Dus, a Working America member, who expressed her agreement with what we were saying during the teach-in. Martha is a classic example of our many members who fully support the message of the Occupy movement, but who cannot be out there with the activists regularly: she is elderly, and very vulnerable to ear and respiratory infections. After the teach-in, I checked in with Martha about her experience there. She thanked me for inviting her. “It was a good outing for me” she said, “The People of America have serious work to do if we are to get out from under the money manipulators. Think positive!”

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People Power: What I Saw at Occupy Cleveland

Jeremy Johnston – Cleveland, Ohio

“Either we choose to live in tents and tarps now, or we may have nothing left but tents and tarps later.”

This was one of the rallying cries of Occupy Cleveland, where over 50 occupiers a night have camped out for 15 nights on the cold, concrete sidewalks in the heart of the city. To many Americans, this sentiment might seem dismal or overly pessimistic, but to others who have been desperately out of work for years, or to blameless, hard-working families whose homes have been foreclosed, this scary statement, feels far too close to real. The broken economy has seen the numbers of those in need growing. With the social safety net being shredded and private charities being overwhelmed, those in need are finding fewer and fewer places to turn.

“Either we choose to live in tents and tarps now, or we may have nothing left but tents and tarps later.”

For the 200 protesters that supported the Cleveland occupiers by participating in their marches and rallies, a deeper truth is embedded here. That truth is that nothing will improve if we are silent. We have to speak out and take a stand. These protesters spoke out by using their voices and numbers to get the attention of the city. The occupiers, by taking the risk of staying and sleeping in their tent community, followed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. by presenting their “very bodies as a means of laying [their] case before the conscience of the local and the national community.”

“Either we choose to live in tents and tarps now, or we may have nothing left but tents and tarps later.”

There is one more powerful and important implication to this quote, and that is that we have to draw a line. We have to find a place where we say “no more”. No more corporate greed eliminating our jobs, decimating our communities, and hurting our families. No more being silent while this happens. For Occupy Cleveland the time to draw that line came on the night of October 21st.

That Friday night, the hard-won permits that allowed Occupy Cleveland to stay downtown were expiring. The police, with whom they had a good relationship the entire two weeks of the October occupation, informed the occupiers that if they stayed behind they would be arrested. A group of 11 occupiers decided to stand up for their constitutionally protected right to peacefully assemble through the great American tradition of civil disobedience. This group of three women and eight men, ranged in age from 19 to 46. They would not resist the cops, nor would they obey the order to leave. They would sit in the park, next to their camp, and peacefully wait to be arrested. The police let them know they would come to make the arrests at 10 PM, the curfew for that small park in Public Square.

As evening fell upon that brisk Fall day, musicians played songs of peace and justice in the park, and a small crowed gathered to support the occupiers. The occupiers held an assembly in the park on how to continue the Occupy Movement and on how to build a more prosperous and fair nation. The 11 who were committing civil disobedience were resolute in making their statement against corporate greed. As one of them said, “I went 30 years, all my life, without being arrested. Tonight is the night, because I believe in this.” Still, as 10 PM approached, tension was building in the air.

Two police cars appeared at the edge of the park. The officers waited for the scheduled moment. It looked as if this event would be like a stiff, formal dance, where the supporters would move to the sidewalk after the police order to vacate.

Just then, moments before 10 O’clock, a loud voice could be heard coming down one of the main streets in downtown Cleveland. That voice was the sound of 120 students singing “Solidarity Forever” marching towards the park. An environmental conference had just finished for the evening at the near by college, and many of attendees had chose to come down in support. The park continued to fill up as more people showed up in last-minute solidarity, including labor leaders and other Cleveland activists.

For 40 minutes, the newly reinforced crowd of over 250, held the park. This crowd grew joyful with camaraderie, and energized with a common purpose. A large circle was formed around the 11 who would stay behind. Protest songs and chants broke out, including “We Shall Not Be Moved”, “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”, and “With our Hearts, With our Hands, We Occupy Cleveland”.

At one point, the labor leaders started singing, “Solidarity Forever”, while the college students chanted “This is What Democracy Looks Like”, and these two themes, from two different eras, blended together like a perfectly planned round, with the crescendos and cadences matching up. The 99% gathered here, stood in a harmony of songs, ideas, and purposes.

The police presence increased, with many of the new arrivals wearing riot gear. They called for the park to be cleared, and the crowd peacefully moved to the sidewalk and continued their demonstration there. As the 11 for whom the crowd had gathered were carried off, the crowd chanted for them to be released, and then marched to and around the city jail into the night.

All 11 were released the next day. All of them were more determined than ever to speak out against the economic and political injustice of our times. On October 26th, Occupy Cleveland won a federal injunction against the 10 PM curfew, allowing them to stay in Public Square 24/7.

To rebuild our nation, to have a country of people power instead of corporate power, and to restore a healthy environment and create economic fairness, we will need to speak out, put in effort, and make sacrifices. We all will give at different levels, but we all need to contribute. Many of us will write letters to politicians and editors. Many of us will get involved in our unions or other social justice organizations. Many of us will give money and time. Many of us will attend and support marches and actions. Hopefully all of us will vote. And some of us will make a larger sacrifices and strike, boycott, or engage in civil disobedience.

History shows us, when we do these things, when the 99% is in solidarity, we win. We can undo the status quo where a few are prospering, and where the majority of us are financially stressed and afraid. We can create the type of lasting prosperity that only comes when there is sisterhood and brotherhood and equality. We can choose to be inspired by the Occupy Movement and those who are putting themselves on a line, choosing to stand up without fear and with dignity now, so that we can all live without fear and with dignity tomorrow.

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On the Road with Working America: No Soliciting!

“The sign said ‘No Solicitors –Working America Welcome,’” Terry, a canvass organizer in Columbus told me on the latest leg of my tour this Fall. The gentleman at the door said he had the sign up for a few years now, since a Working America organizer originally visited him.

Leslie told me of a woman who brought a jar full of dimes to the door once Leslie introduced herself as being from Working America. Turns out the last time a Working America organizer had visited her, he suggested she set aside a dime a day for a contribution – and she had been doing just that.

Our members are INTO us in Columbus. And I saw it when I met with a group of our members, mostly retirees.

Our activists are topping the charts as volunteers on phone banks and neighborhood walks in Cleveland and Columbus, clocking in more volunteer shifts than anyone else.

Why? Jeff spoke for everyone in the Community Action Team meeting when he said, “I met Jay, he came to my door. I’m always for the underdog, and I want to make a difference.” John is a retired corrections officer. “I’ve got 3 daughters in college and they are up to the hilt in debt. I just took the last $100 out of my bank account to keep my daughter’s phone on. I was promoted 5 times in 9 years and now I’ve been cast aside. That’s why I phone bank.”

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