Residents Vent Their Ire Over Economy at Pelosi, Lee in Oakland Town Hall
Shouts of: "Sellout!" "Tax the Rich!" and "End the War!"
OAKLAND -- They lined up dozens deep to tell of their economic struggles and to plead for help from the four Democrats lawmakers on the stage.
A single mother laid off in 2009; an electrician who has worked only six of the past 24 months; a janitor locked out of her job over a medical-benefits dispute; and many more -- the frustration was palpable at the "Speak Out for Good Jobs Now!" town hall meeting that Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, hosted Tuesday night at Acts Full Gospel Church of God in Christ.
Some of it was aimed squarely at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who came to hear her constituents' stories. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., also attended. The meeting's purpose was to record stories for entry into the Congressional Record, but some clearly had come to vent their anger at Pelosi for what they see as Democratic inertia in the face of Republican aggression.
"Sellout!" someone shouted as Pelosi began addressing the crowd of about 900; shouts of "Tax the rich!" and "End the war!" punctuated her speech on job creation. Although her castigation of House Republicans -- for trying to gut the National Labor Relations Board, for delaying the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, and more -- drew some cheers, her critics remained focused. When she cited the recent deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling and cut the budget without raising any new revenues, a man angrily shouted, "Why did you vote for it?"
"Because default is worse," Pelosi answered, noting that the deal at least protected Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Architect Gert Thorn, 64, of Richmond, said he would like to see these four members' efforts reflected by the rest of the Democratic Caucus, which he thinks seems to have lost its way and lacks a cohesive job-creation plan. Pelosi later responded Democrats have a "Make It in America" agenda of investment in the manufacturing, industrial and technology sectors to make products the world wants to buy, as well as public and private investment in rebuilding infrastructure from roads to telecommunications.
She stayed for only about half of the testimony offered Tuesday. "We waited to talk to you; where are you going?" a woman shouted from the audience.
Rayna Smith, 19, of Oakland, an activist with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights' Silence the Violence urban peace campaign, said her mother was killed when Smith was just a toddler, a psychological scar she still carries. Creating quality jobs -- in her area, on the former Oakland Army Base -- means occupying the idle minds that are the proverbial devil's workshop, she said. "When this does happen, there will be much less violence in Oakland."
Francesca Carranza, 46, of Union City, said she has been a janitor at Pleasanton's Castlewood Country Club, but she and others have been locked out in a dispute with management over health benefits. Castlewood members pay $20,000 to join and $630 per month in fees, yet management is nickel-and-diming its workers, she said. "I don't think it's fair."
Mark Karplus, 49, a Cal State East Bay chemistry lecturer from San Ramon, said the California Faculty Association has been fighting for a decent contract but has been offered only take-backs even as many educators lose their jobs. "These positions are not being replaced," he said. "Students are faced with tuition rising 64 percent since 2009, while faculty and staff who serve them are being reduced drastically."
Bathsheba Jackson, 25, of Oakland, a single mother of a 2-year-old, said she was laid off in 2009 and had to go on welfare. She's working and studying for a degree now through the San Leandro-based Low-Income Families' Empowerment Through Education program, but she fears that this -- her "last resort" -- could be in danger at Congress' hands. "No more budget cuts, please."
Organizers paused the testimony to play a video compiled from similar meetings across the nation. One young woman angrily stalked away, shouting, "We could've all been speaking now, and they made us watch an ad!" Lee responded that East Bay residents need to know that they are part of a national movement for jobs and justice.
Grijalva summed up what he'd heard: "Democrats need to act like Democrats in Congress. ... Boldness has to be part of the agenda."
Honda said he came away having heard that "in America, every good worker deserves a good job," and that corporations must be made to shoulder a fair share of the public burden.
After the meeting, many who hadn't gotten their turn at a microphone turned instead to video cameras to record their statements. Lee said she wasn't surprised by all the frustration.
"No one thought this was going to be a love-in," she said. "We wanted to hear the truth, and that's what we heard."