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DC jobs protest says: Build People's Assemblies

LeiLani Dowell
Washington, D.C.
May 12, 2010

In a powerful, energetic and inspiring day of action, activists, unemployed people, students and youth, and community organizers from across the East Coast and Midwest converged on the Department of Labor on May 8 to honor the 75th anniversary of the Works Projects Administration — by demanding a concrete jobs program, now. They then held a meeting to strategize around their demands and plan future events.

Proposed actions resulting from the meeting include the creation of People's Assemblies to be held in various cities to help link struggles and movements together; national days of outrage and local speak-outs against unemployment; community-labor action committees inside local unions to support the fight for jobs; and connecting with student and youth calls for an Oct. 7 day of action in support of public education.

Slideshow photos by Liz Green and Brenda Ryan

According to a press release from the day's organizers, the Bail Out the People Movement: "Seventy-five years ago ... on May 6, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order establishing the Work Projects Administration, the biggest public jobs program in the history of the country. Between 1935 and 1941, more than 8 million WPA workers did every job imaginable — from building bridges, schools and hospitals, to teaching school and helping to make migrant worker camps livable."

Protesters at the Department of Labor told about the many effects of unemployment on their lives and the lives of their families and friends. They urged that, with a national unemployment rate between 18 percent and 20 percent, it was high time the federal government begin undertaking a jobs program of similar size and scope to the WPA. They also denounced the heavily armed police blocking the entrance to the Department of Labor — which is, in theory, supposed to be concerned with the plight of workers.

Larry Holmes of BOPM in New York opened the protest by stating that, as opposed to the phony "war on terror" championed by the government and media, "real terror is when you don't have a job, when you don't have health care."

Sharon Black, a BOPM leader who traveled to Washington, D.C., with a busload of people from Baltimore, stated that those present were picking up the struggle that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders had advanced before King was assassinated — the right to a job for all.

Larry Hales, a leader of Fight Imperialism, Stand Together youth group, spoke on the importance of the participation of youth, including high school and college students, in the fight for jobs and education, not jails.

Three New York City high school students were among many youth who shared their experiences. Debanjan from the borough of Queens said it was "disgusting that it's impossible for me to get a job so I can go to college — but they always have jails available." Roseena, who lives in the Bronx, described being in a lottery for summer jobs after the New York state and city government cut funding to the Summer Youth Employment Program. Primavera, also from the Bronx, said youth are beginning to say, "Hell no! It's my right to work!" Other youth from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Providence, R.I., and New York spoke at the rally.

Other cities represented included Boston; Cleveland; Jersey City and Newark, N.J.; Norfolk and Richmond, Va.; Pittsburgh; and Rochester, N.Y.

After the rally, the group marched through the streets of Washington to the offices of the Communication Workers union, where they held a strategy summit to build the movement for a jobs program.

Meeting chair Abayomi Azikiwe, a leader of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs in Michigan, described the abysmal situation in Detroit, which has an unofficial unemployment rate of 44.5 percent and a youth unemployment rate of 80 to 90 percent. Vidya Sankar of the North Carolina chapter of FIST discussed the formation of a People's Empowerment Movement in response to massive layoffs and furloughs in Raleigh, N.C.

In addition to the push for People's Assemblies, a lively discussion ensued, with various points contributing toward the formation of a political program. In addition to a massive, federally funded jobs program, some of the overarching themes included full legalization for all immigrants, an end to the school-to-prison pipeline, self-determination for all oppressed peoples, defense of public education, and an end to all U.S. wars.

Folks from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., described their struggles to avoid being evicted from their homes. Youth raised the idea of forming collectives to create their own jobs. Many expressed the need to fight now to preserve the future for the youth. Activists explained how the capitalist system works to ensure a reserve army of labor, the unemployed, to keep wages low and sow divisions among workers. Workers discussed challenging the Tea Party's racist, reactionary program with a real people's program.

Bail Out the People Movement
Solidarity Center
55 West 17th St 5C
New York, NY 10010