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Labor & Worker Rights Sun Dec 04 2011

Taking Back the Capitol: Why I'm Going to Washington Next Week

By Rev. C.J. Hawking

I am one of 300 Chicagoans going to Washington for a three-day convergence of thousands of people from across the country called "Take Back the Capitol." We will bring the power of the people to bear on Capitol Hill to say that the time has come for Congress to start representing the 99 percent of Americans -- We the People -- not just the richest 1 percent in the country.

The U.S. House of Representatives, after all, is supposed to be The People's House. But millions of people are out of work, wages are in steep decline, and income inequality is at its worst since the 1920s. And what is Congress doing in the face of this suffering? Failing to pass a jobs bill that would put people back to work. Meanwhile, Wall Street and K Street exert more influence over our elected representatives than ever.

The time to eliminate corporate dominance over our lives has arrived. Our representatives on Capitol Hill need to be weaned from the seduction of big money from corporate lobbyists and big-time campaign donors. They need to listen to people like Shirley Howard and Jose Tafoya, two Chicagoans also going to Washington next week.

Shirley Howard is 60 and unemployed. She worked her whole life - as a machine operator, in retail, as a teacher's aide -- but got laid off four months ago. She's been looking for work since, but nothing has come through. With no income and no medical insurance, she can't afford her blood pressure medication. And she doesn't know how she's going to make rent next month.

Jose Tafoya owned a small construction company that employed 12 workers. But when the construction industry crashed amid the 2008 economic meltdown, so did his business. Since then, the 52-year-old has sold ice cream and done a few painting jobs, but can't find stable employment. His wife and son work but it isn't enough. The Tafoyas saw their household income drop from $60,000 to $25,000 a year. Now they're losing their house.

There is something terribly wrong with this picture and Congress urgently needs to hear about it. Shirley and Jose worked hard for decades. They did everything they were supposed to do. But like millions of others in this country, they now face bleak prospects that no one should have to face -- going without the medication you need, losing your home.

They didn't drive the economy off a cliff -- big investment banks did. But people like Shirley and Jose are the ones paying the price for the reckless games Wall Street played with the financial system. Big banks and corporations are enjoying record profits, while people like Shirley and Jose -- and millions like them across the country -- struggle just to survive.

Three years after Wall Street wrecked the economy, one in five Americans are still unable to find full-time work and the gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent continues to widen. But instead of passing a desperately-needed jobs bill, Congress has unemployment insurance on the chopping block while growing ever more subservient to corporate lobbyists.

From the moment God told Moses to lead the people out of slavery and into the land of liberation, God instructed us that it is immoral to give luxuries to the few, while taking away necessities from the many, and forever linked economic justice with faith.
As a native Chicagoan, I'm proud that, of the thousands of people voyaging to Washington next week, more will be coming from Chicago than from any other city. That's no accident -- momentum in this city has been growing for months.

More than 7,000 people took to the streets on October 10 to protest the Mortgage Bankers Association and the Futures Industry Association during their conventions here, shutting down Michigan Avenue. 2,000 people rallied at Thompson Center Plaza on November 17 before marching to the LaSalle Street Bridge and occupying it for over an hour to oppose cuts to essential services and demand job-creating policies.

As someone who serves on Occupy Chicago's spiritual affairs committee, I'm also excited that several members of the Occupy movement will be going to DC. The Occupy phenomenon has inspired a healthy and long-overdue conversation about the inhumane disparities in wealth in our society.

It is with this wind at our backs that we embark for Washington. May our voices amplify the 99 percent in the halls of The People's House.

Rev. C.J. Hawking is the Executive Director of Arise Chicago, a faith-based workers' rights organization, and serves as the Harry F. Ward Minister of Social Justice at the Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park. She is the co-author of the award-winning book Staley: The Fight for a New American Labor Movement (University of Illinois Press, 2009) and a visiting lecturer in labor and social movements at the University of Illinois.

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