OAKLAND, Calif. - The lines stretched down the sides of the vast hall, as workers, students, retirees, disabled people - a veritable rainbow of Oakland residents - lined up at the microphones Aug. 16 to tell four members of Congress how the economic crisis affects them, and to urge Congress to act now to create jobs.
The speak-out was one of many around the country, organized by the Congressional Progressive and Black Caucuses.
U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, who represents Oakland and nearby communities, opened the gathering at Acts Full Gospel Church of God in Christ. "This event is your chance to tell members of Congress how the economy and the stagnant jobs market are impacting your lives," she told the audience of over 1,200.
"We know so many people who weren't part of living the American Dream even before this nightmare happened," she said. "We have a moral and an economic obligation to work in Congress to create jobs and provide the assistance jobless workers need to survive while we try to fix this broken economy."
Calling 9.1 percent unemployment and poverty affecting one out of five children "a national disgrace," Lee said the Republicans now leading the House of Representatives "have not put forward one proposal that would create jobs."
Joining Lee were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., CPC co-chair Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-N.M., and Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
From the mikes came story after story about the crisis' impact.
"Low income jobs are what's wrong with the 'recovery,'" said one woman. A union worker herself, she told of her son-in-law who worked 60 hours a week at two jobs, with no benefits, to provide for his family. Unable to see a doctor, he ended up in the hospital, seriously ill, with Medicaid paying for his care.
A 19-year-old woman active with the Revive Oakland coalition pointed out that "if people have jobs, and better things to do, our communities will not have so much violence."
A janitor at a suburban country club, locked out of her job in a dispute over family health coverage, noted that the club charges an initial $20,000 and a $600 yearly fee for membership. The club "is an example of what's wrong with this country," she said.
A resident of nearby Richmond expressed pride that her City Council supports the Progressive Caucus Budget, which includes many provisions to reform taxation. "Tax the rich!" she exclaimed, to loud applause.
While she recognizes the great importance of jobs, said a disabled community leader, "Cuts are already killing the disabled." She urged the members of Congress to "be like the Wisconsin legislators, find some new way!"
A small business owner noted that many of his counterparts are "falling off the edge ... How about taking money from the banks and putting it in the public's hands?" he asked.
Pelosi told the crowd, "We tell the Republicans that the best way to reduce the deficit is to create jobs." Charging that Republican proposals "would actually lose jobs, on average 9,000 jobs a day," she pledged that House Democrats would continue to fight for good jobs in the face of Republican obstructionism.
Grijalva pointed out that "decisions being made by Congress and to some extent by the administration are going to have generational impacts on the people of our nation, much more than the contrived fiscal crisis ... if we continue this reckless and futile assault on our economy."
Added Honda, "This is what I heard: class warfare. In America every worker deserves a good job. Strength in numbers is what's going to make the changes in this country."
Long after the meeting officially closed, audience members were still streaming past the microphones, being videotaped so their stories, too, would go to Congress.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW