"A job is a right, fight, fight, fight!" was the protest call offered by a group of 20 NY/NJ. Ninety-niners who are seeking passage of jobs and Tier 5 unemployment benefits legislation during the upcoming lame duck congressional session.
The 800 pound gorilla in the financial recovery room are the unemployed. Politicians and financial gurus have debated what needs to be done to create jobs and spur the economy, but unemployment remains at elevated levels. A group of NY/NJ unemployed, including 99ers -- unemployment benefit exhaustees -- decided that they have heard enough empty talk and decided to take to the streets of Manhattan to make the points that jobs must be created and unemployment benefits have to be extended.
On November 12, the NY/NJ 99ers group took part in an act of civil disobedience on Varick Street in Manhattan. Protesters made their case by appealing to the lunchtime crowd and reporters. Some of the protesters briefly blocked traffic on Varick Street and four of them were arrested for disorderly conduct. Kian Fredrick, Yvonne Fitzner, Joe Stanick and Debbie Kloepping were arrested, handcuffed, and spent about 90 minutes in custody before being released.
Protest organizer and flashmobs4jobs director Kian Frederick said, "The group came to the conclusion that an act of civil disobedience would focus Congress on the 99ers and Tier 5" since passive measures such as congressional call-ins appeared to have little effect. The group also wanted to show how others can affect change, even in small groups.
When Congress returns for its lame duck session on November 15, "3706 should be the absolute first order of business," said Fredrick. S.3706 is The Americans Want to Work Act , which would add 20 weeks of unemployment benefits, a Tier 5, in states with an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent or greater. The Americans Want to Work Act also includes tax incentives for employers hiring the unemployed. Unemployment extensions that expire on November 30 and a jobs bill should then be immediately addressed according to Fredrick, who is hoping to find work before her 99 weeks expire in February 2010, "We want a job, not a check."
Joe Stanick of Lakewood, NJ, a civil engineer who became a 99er in June and is now doing part-time consulting work said his participation in the demonstration was a result of feeling "ignored by Congress." Stanick believes that tamer methods of protest such as fax attacks were ineffectual and that they had to "Raise it up a notch or two," and "Send out a message of civil dialog" using an act of civil disobedience.
Ninety-niner Yvonne Fitzner of Manhattan believes the demonstration gave her an "opportunity to bring attention to the plight of the long-term unemployed." Fitzner, whose background includes 25 years in advertising/graphic arts and seven years as a psychotherapist's personal assistant, feels that "Congress took an awful lot of time off this past year at the expense of the unemployed." Congress did take scheduled and unscheduled recesses during unemployment extension renewals during March, May, June, July and August. During those recess periods, unemployment benefits were temporarily delayed to millions of unemployed.
Once Congress returns to work for the lame duck session on November 15, Ms. Fitzner has realistic doubts that Congress will reauthorize an unemployment benefit extension by November 30, but she hopes the upcoming holiday season fosters a less divisive Congress that will pass extended benefits for all, including 99ers. Since she no longer is eligible to collect unemployment benefits, Ms. Fitzner often worries about how she will pay rent and put food on the table, "I don't have any money right now."
Unemployment numbers are still far from what would be expected during a normal recovery and are at levels not seen in more than a generation. The unemployment rate stands at 9.6 percent but when the underemployed are considered, the underemployment rate is 17 percent. There are currently 14.8 million unemployed. Two point five to five million 99ers have been out of work for two years or longer and their numbers are growing at a rate of 91,000 a week or more. More than 41 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.There are eight workers for each one job opening when the underemployed are considered.
President Obama advocates using business tax credits to hire the unemployed, Congress has attempted to pass legislation that could limit outsourcing and encourage hiring. Billions of stimulus dollars have been spent on keeping teachers, firefighters and police on the job, but job creation is still lacking.
Fredrick, who also organized a 99er rally in August on Wall Street, concludes, "A small group can do a lot. 99ers in other areas don't have to do CD (civil disobedience), but if they are serious about winning, they need to understand the power of visibility and engage".
Unemployment is a national crisis that demands immediate Congressional engagement. A lame duck Congress returns on November 15 and if they fail to pass additional unemployment benefit extensions, unemployment benefits will expire for more than one million on November 30 and 2.2 million by the end of the year.
The demonstration had another message, "This is a moral fight for the 98 percent of Americans who are not currently being represented by our government. The shame is on Congress, not 99ers, the unemployed, struggling workers or small businesses." said Ms. Frederick. "I make these points as a message to 99ers and the unemployed -- no shame, stand up; and to the rest of America that this is your fight, also."
A corrupt and mismanaged Wall Street demanded and received $700 billion in bailouts and trillions in backstops from a compliant Congress. The least that same Congress can do is support those that have taken the brunt of the Wall Street fallout with a jobs program and extended unemployment benefits. If not, the streets could see more demonstrations from the unemployed and those demonstrations may not be as civil as the one that occurred on Varick Street.
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