Last Wednesday, I dropped by the offices of California Representative Mike Honda to attend a gathering of political activists to ask Mike Honda and our government representatives to focus more on creating jobs. I had received an email from Move On that this was part of a nationwide grassroots effort called “Jobs Not Cuts” to try to shift the government focus from cutting vital social services and focus instead on job creation. It was a moderately attended gathering, about thirty people from different walks of life who care deeply about the issue.
A representative of Mike Honda’s office gave a short speech thanking them for gathering together to express their concerns. Then various members of the crowd took turns talking through the microphone, expressing their outrage at the recent impasse in Congress to raise the debt ceiling, and telling their own stories. One woman talked about her own precarious job situation, and talked about the many friends and family members who’ve been unemployed. A man talked about his worries about a double dip recession, of how more severe budget cuts means that his own job is in jeopardy.
I nodded my head as I heard these stories. I know several friends and family members who’ve been unemployed for over a year or more. One close family member just found a job about a month ago after being unemployed for two years. He had been struggling to support his wife and four kids. With all the talk last week of a new recession and with the crazy roller coaster ride that the stock market is going through, I worry that the company that just hired him will find that sales are not what was expected and that all new hired workers would have to be let go.
The one feeling that pervaded the crowd was fear. I know I feel afraid due to the recent news of the economy and Wall Street. Many of us have felt like flotsam in a stormy sea, with no control over the direction of our lives due to the economic storms of the past few years. I think that fuels a lot of the anger that people feel on both sides of the political spectrum, that sense that we are not in control of our own economic destinies. The high unemployment rates, the foreclosures, the jobs being outsourced. Many progressives see the power of corporations over our lives and want the government to place limits so that corporate power doesn’t overwhelm the power of American citizens. I don’t agree with any of the Tea Party’s ideas, but Noam Chomsky made the point that many of the Tea Party members have legitimate economic complaints. For the past 30 years, white blue collar males, who make up a lot of the Tea Party, have been losing ground due to the shrinking of the manufacturing section and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. The problem, though, is that they direct their anger at the wrong targets.
Though it wasn’t a large crowd, I felt good to have attended the rally. I know a lot of people who complain about the political process, but do nothing to get involved or to try to affect change. The Founding Fathers wanted the citizens of this country to be informed about the issues and to involve themselves in the political life of this country. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees Americans the right of free speech, the right to assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. This spirit of civic activism informed the abolitionists, the women’s suffragists, the civil rights activists, the union organizers, the feminists, the gay rights activists. It informs the people gathered Wednesday in front of Representative Mike Honda’s office.
This week I found out that Philip Levine was just named Poet Laureate of the United States. I had never heard of him before he was named Poet Laureate, but in doing a little research on Levine, I found out that Philip Levine has been one of the strongest voices for the working class in American literature. In an article for the Christian Science Monitor, Elizabeth Lund wrote:
The Library of Congress may have given Americans a much-needed hero when it named Philip Levine the United States Poet Laureate earlier this week. Levine’s working-class background and impressive accolades – including the Pulitzer Prize – make him the perfect role model both for struggling writers and for millions of Americans who wonder if the whole world is spinning out of control, taking their money and dreams along with it.
Levine’s future probably seemed just as uncertain when he was growing up in Detroit in the 1930s and 40s. As the son of Russian immigrants, Levine learned about anti-Semitism at a young age, and after graduating from high school, Levine, like most of his peers, found limited career opportunities. So he followed the conventional route – working several grueling factory jobs while pursuing a degree at Wayne State. He also wrote and read poetry in his free time.
What Levine experienced at the Chevrolet Gear and Axle factory and Detroit Transmission, among others, was far from the life he wanted. The jobs were demanding, the pay was low, and the conditions were unhealthy. The injustices Levine saw, and the ways that people survived their circumstances, affected his perspective and values deeply.
In an article by Carolyn Kellogg for the August 12, 2011 Los Angeles Times, David St. John, a professor of poetry at USC, is quoted as saying:
He’s traditionally been one of the humanitarian voices, the voice of social and political justice in American poetry
Here is one of Philip Levine’s poems, “What Work Is”
We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is–if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.
Here are some job search sites for those looking for work.
RetirementJobs.com helps to identify companies more suited to older workers and match them with active, productive, conscientious, mature adults seeking a job or project that matches their lifestyle.
Indeed.com is a search engine for jobs, allowing job seekers to find jobs posted on thousands of company career sites and job boards.
Jobstar.org is a site that focuses on finding a job in California.
CareerOneStop is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Labor and the state-operated public employment service.
Careerbuilder provides access to the classified sections of nearly 140 newspapers, and career sites for more than 9,000 web sites.
Net-Temps is for those seeking contract positions.
Flip Dog is a job site powered by Monster.com
Senior Job Bank is a site for those over 50 years old.
USA JOBS is the official job site of the United States Federal Government.