At jobs rally, Pelosi, Lee and Oaklanders speak out against unemployment

on August 17, 2011

The Oakland town hall meeting called “Speak Out for Good Jobs Now” attracted more than 600 people to the Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland on Tuesday evening. It was the last stop on a group of Democratic legislators’ national tour to gather public opinions about job creation issues.

The rally, featuring Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, was one of a series of meetings designed to give everyday Americans a chance to tell their lawmakers how the economic downturn is affecting their lives. “Most people here in my district and around the country don’t get the opportunity to come to Washington to speak before Congress,” said Lee. “But tonight we’ll record your testimonies and take your dialogue directly back to Washington.”

According to Lee, the nation’s unemployment rate is stuck at 9.1 percent and Oakland’s rate, 16.3 percent, is the highest among all major cities on the West Coast.  Lee said the unemployment statistics for the country’s minority communities are even more staggering and that Congress must “move forward with the much-needed work of ending this job crisis.”

“We all know that the highest priority in terms of public policy right now is job creation for our families,” Pelosi said to the crowd on Tuesday, calling this a “turning point” for American workers. However, Pelosi said, despite the Democrats’ efforts to come up with job creation policies, the Republican-controlled Congress has not introduced any legislation to address unemployment. “They think the way to create jobs is to reduce taxes for the very wealthy people,” she said to boos from members of the audience, some of whom began to chant “Tax the rich!”

During the public comment session, more than 100 audience members lined up in front of two microphones to share their stories and opinions. In addition to asking that corporations “pay their fair share” of taxes, rally attendees on Tuesday also called for an end to the United States’ involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and urged US officials to bring back manufacturing jobs from foreign countries, such as China and Mexico.

“The economy has been rougher everyday for working people and there seems to be little relief in sight,” said Erlena Stewart, who works as a private security officer in Oakland. Stewart said that although she’s currently employed, “I can lose my job anytime because contractors change often and we’re usually not given any notice” prior to lay-offs.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All, an Oakland-based green jobs advocacy group, said she’s tired of the political debate between the Democrats and Republicans because neither has provided an effective solution to combat unemployment. “What the folks in Washington DC would have us do is fight each other,” she said, as applause burst from the crowd.

Due to the time limit, the two-hour meeting only allowed dozens of participants to speak before the representatives, upsetting some speakers at the end of the lines. To give everybody a chance to make their voice heard, the event organizers had to set up a camera after the meeting for those who wish to send a video message to the Congress. For those who missed the meeting, organizers said residents can also visit this website to either send a written message or provide a video link to their own comments.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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