As federal unemployment benefits expired for 800,000 Americans Tuesday, people rallied in downtown Cleveland to demand extension of this critical lifeline.
"I can't find a job," Melody Hart, an accountant laid off 14 months ago, told the crowd of some 55 unemployed workers and union and community activists. Despite having a master's degree and 28 years experience, she said she is continually stonewalled by employers seeking "the perfect squirrel" and often saying she is "overqualified."
Unemployment benefits only pay a fraction of her living costs - "groceries and COBRA (health care benefits partly supported by the federal government). The rest comes out of my savings and COBRA will run out in April. What am I supposed to do then?" she asked.
"It is unconscionable if senators and congressmen don't get off their duffs and extend these benefits," she declared to loud cheers.
David Stack, whose job as controller in a local development organization was eliminated in July, nodded in agreement. Like Hart, he had decades of experience and cannot find work despite persistent efforts.
The injustice and cruelty of the current economy was dramatized by the Possibilitarian Puppet Theater, whose members, dressed as bankers with oversized portfolios, performed a waltz of joy, accompanied by an accordion, to celebrate the recently reported record $1.659 trillion in corporate quarterly profits. In another skit an actor representing Wall Street wearing a monster mask poured water and kicked others representing the middle class and the working poor "drowning in Lake Erie" and stole a life preserver labeled "bail out" offered by someone in another monster mask with a sign reading "Government."
At the urging of Debbie Kline, director of Cleveland Jobs With Justice, the crowd used their cell phones to call the office of Republican Sen. George Voinovich, but only got busy signals. They then marched across the street to the Federal Building. Chanting "Jobs for people, not buyouts for banks" and "Main Street, not Wall Street," they waited as Hart and Harriet Applegate, Executive Secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO, went to Voinovich's office to deliver a box of fifty job applications filled out by unemployed workers.
After a short while, the delegation returned without success as the office had been closed for the next hour.
As the crowd chanted, "We'll be back," Kline urged that that calls continue to Voinovich at 202-224-3353.
Wall Street Monster photo by Curt Hess.