What I learned Advocating for an Unemployment Benefit Extension

When I started MoveOn petition in January of 2014 and asked Congress to extend long-term unemployment benefits, it was because I was so outraged that the long-term unemployed were cut off during the week of Christmas in 2013.  (That our supposedly most sacred time of giving could include such extreme cruelty was more than I could bear.)

I had just spent the last two years since the Occupy Movement in a deep depression, unable to deal with all of the injustice I saw in the world.  But then I woke up to the fact that while I was doing that, while I was busy being a shut-in and yelling at my TV, the world had just gotten worse.  It seemed that I had simply been hoping that the world would get better without me having to do anything and then I wouldn't have to be depressed anymore.  Well, BAD PLAN.  And my first lesson:  If we do nothing it WILL get worse.  

I have seen firsthand my own retirement account decimated by the financial crash of 2007.  I decided that Wall Street was just a casino for the big boys, so I never put my money back in.  I have seen too many Americans everywhere lose their jobs and their homes.  I have seen Republicans so focused on Obamacare that they shut down the government.  They even voted dozens of times to repeal this expansion of healthcare to all Americans, all while being unwilling to see the devastation their lack of focus on real issues caused.  I remembered the previous year when they cut food stamps, even though 70% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person.

Have you seen what the stock market has been doing for the last year?  It is a moral affront that "American" corporations should have record profits - while simultaneously being significantly under-taxed - aka corporate welfare - at the exact same time that the PEOPLE of America should be reduced to homelessness.  And it is not just the 3 million Americans whose benefits are cut off that are being pushed into extreme poverty, children are dragged along with them, along with spouses, the disabled, veterans, and the elderly.  We must understand that no one is safe in a world that will eat you alive if you ever stumble, because everyone stumbles.  Truly, no one is an island unto themselves.

So, for the last 5 months I have been emailing the signers of my petition and other similar petitions once, twice, even three times a week.  My emails went to thousands of signers nationwide and provided updates on our issue, along with instructions on how to participate in Mass Actions which I organized.  Our calls were successful in getting an extension through the Senate in April, but then we ran into a roadblock named Speaker Boehner in the US House of Representatives.  

My work helped people stand up for themselves, and that is good. But, as we have seen, it was not enough.  I learned that if we are going to face the many problems in our country, we must do more: we must stand up for each other.  We cannot just advocate for our one cause that directly affects us, we must join with others who are being Cut Out and Cut Off in America.  We must stand up for our values and our moral sensibilities and we must commit to be more engaged in our democracy. 

This brings me to the third thing I learned: If you want your values reflected in Washington, you have to walk the talk.  Every single member of the House of Representative is up for re-election every two years.  According to the latest Gallup poll conducted in April, only 13% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.  Yet, historically, voter turnout in mid-term elections (when there is no Presidential race) has averaged 40%.

So I have learned to stop solely blaming the politicians and start holding responsible the people who do not vote. Don't be one of those people. Start voting in an informed manner. Read about the candidates, not just in the press, but at their websites.  Find out who funds them at http://www.opensecrets.org/  Another good informational website is http://votesmart.org/  If what you read sounds good, then volunteer for their campaign - where you will be able to find out about the candidate for yourself.  You will also meet other people who truly CARE about this country enough to do more than just light a barbeque on Memorial Day or put a patriotic sticker on their car and call it done.  It is important to connect with these people, because it is not enough to care, action is required, and coordinated action at that.

And when you get a campaign call, understand something: that is your democracy calling. Unless it is a recorded message, the person who is calling you is likely a volunteer.  They are giving up some of their personal time to simply tell you about a candidate's values so that you can judge for yourself if that candidate's values align with your values.  Seriously, the next time you get one of these calls, please swallow your frustration about being interrupted and show some respect for the true patriot on the other end of the line.  Even if you don't agree with them, you really should thank them for participating in our democracy.

But the most important thing that I have learned is that the struggle IS the victory.  This is because I can only be defeated if and when I give up.  I may not win today, but as long as I keep fighting, that willingness to fight is a true victory.  So I am not quitting.  But I am moving on.  I am switching from a national fight, where I wake up every day 3 hours behind the action in Washington, to a local fight at the steps of my state's capitol, where I literally have the home-town advantage.  And I am switching my cause to Money Out! People In! because I think there are too many problems in America to continue to go at them one at a time.  I believe that we must all drop our individual causes and join together in the one true fight: getting money out of politics.  So that is what I am doing.

I am thankful for all of these lessons, and to everyone who gave their time and effort to this cause. Namaste, Laura Rubalcaba.

The Plan Between Now and April 10:

The Senate is on autopilot to pass a 5-month Unemployment Benefits Extension on Monday (see bottom of post for details).  In the House of Representatives, the Republicans refuse to allow a vote. 

If the House does not VOTE before it leaves for Spring Break for two weeks on April 11, then we will have nothing. 

Hopefully this convinces you to: 

tweet 23 targets:  http://www.aa4u.org/news/2014/4/1/zyt37naao3i3knp40vu367q3y1iq58 

call 23 targets:  http://www.aa4u.org/news/2014/3/30/more-november-fools

distribute fliers  http://www.aa4u.org/calihouseflyers/  (I can custom make some for your state or, if you prefer, i can make a smaller image that is good for sharing on facebook.)

email the link to our petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/activist-alliance-for

email the link to our blog where we target decision makers for mass call-ins: 
https://aa4u.squarespace.com/news/2014/3/30/more-november-fools

here is a handy link to send a letter to your representative, just put in your zip and a letter is pre-written for you: 
http://www2.americanprogress.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=326

here is a link to tell your story somewhere it might be published anonymously:
http://www.foreffectivegov.org/share-your-story-euc

SENATE UPDATE:  vote scheduled for Monday.  The Senate Republicans tried to add amendments to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline and gut environment regulations (which could have  put the bill in jeopardy of a Presidential veto) but the Senate Democrats fought them back: http://blogs.rollcall.com/wgdb/unemployment-extension-deal-falls-apart-final-vote-monday/

The bill that is being voted on in the Senate that contains the Unemployment Benefits Extension amendment is H.R. 3979:  "Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act of 2014".  It's progress can be tracked here:  https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr3979

Here is what House Republicans have to say: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/04/03/the-senate-is-going-to-pass-an-unemployment-insurance-extension-today-the-house-is-unimpressed/

Here is good background info and answers to some questions: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/04/01/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-senate-unemployment-insurance-deal-and-why-it-might-never-become-law/

--Thank you for your activism, we can only make change if we pull together....namaste, Laura Rubalcaba

MASS CALL-IN TO 23 HOUSE TARGETS

Today's Unews is dedicated to the memory of two of my personal heroes, who have birthdays March 31st:  my father, John Houston Brantner; and Cesar Chavez, "Si Se Puede!"

An extension should pass the Senate on Monday, but House Republicans are not impressed:  Here is a recent article that has comments from many of our targets:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/04/03/the-senate-is-going-to-pass-an-unemployment-insurance-extension-today-the-house-is-unimpressed/

It continues to obvious that House Republicans are happy to hide behind Speaker Boehner's repeated refusal to allow a vote on a Unemployment Benefit Extension (UBE).   Since Boehner has been saying the same thing about an immigration vote for over a year, we are not going to waste precious time targeting him directly.  Instead, we are going to target the Republican members of the House who come from the states with the highest unemployment rates and who have viable opposition in November.  The idea is to win their support and get THEM to convince Boehner to allow the vote.  

The One Number To Reach Them All

1-866-338-1015 

24-hours-a-day, Toll-Free

Please incorporate the script below for maximum impact and add you own unique perspective and thoughts.   We will need at least 19 House Republican votes to pass a UBE, but getting the votes is not the hard part, convincing Speaker Boehner to allow a vote is, so be sure you convince your targets that you are going to hold THEM personally responsible if Boehner does not allow a vote (see the script for details).

Here Are Our Targets, their state's unemployment rate, their twitter handle and the twitter handle for their opponent.  If you are tweeting, be sure to include:  1) #RenewUI  2) our website AA4U.org and 3) "November Fools" and/or "We Demand A Vote"    (our twitter handle is @AA4U2014)

  • Rodney Davis, IL (8.7%)  @RodneyDavis @callis4illinois
  • Randy Hultgren, IL (8.7%) @RepHultgren @DennisIL14
  • Joseph H. Heck, NV (8.5%)   @RepJoeHeck @erinbilbray
  • Doug LaMalfa, CA01 (8.0%)  @RepLaMalfa
  • Jeff Denham, CA10 (8.0%)   @RepJeffDenham @eggman4congress
  • David Valadao,  CA21 (8.0%)   @RepDavidValadao @AmandaRenteria
  • Garland Barr, KY (7.8%)  @RepAndyBarr @JensenElis
  • Brett Guthrie, KY (7.8%)  @RepGuthrie
  • Tim Walberg, MI  (7.7%)   @RepWalberg @pambyrnes
  • Fred Upton, MI  (7.7%)   @RepFredUpton 
  • Kerry Bentivolio, MI  (7.7%)   @RepKerryB @Bobby_McKenzie
  • Dan Benishek, MI (7.7%)   @CongressmanDan @Cannon4Congress
  • Frank LoBiondo, NJ  (7.1%)   @RepLoBiondo @Hughes4SJersey
  • Rodney Frelinghuysen, NJ  (7.1%)  no twitter, call (973) 984-0711
  • Scott Garrett, NJ   (7.1%)   @RepGarrett @RoyCho5
  • Michael Grimm, NY  (6.8%)   @repmichaelgrimm @DomenicRecchia
  • Christopher Gibson, NY  (6.8%)  @RepChrisGibson @SeanEldridge
  • Tom Reed, NY  (6.8%)  @RepTomReed @MarthaforNY
  • Michael Fitzpatrick, PA (6.2%)   @RepFitzpatrick  @StrouseforPA
  • Keith Rothfus, PA (6.2%)   @KeithRothfus @ErinforPA
  • Steve Southerland, FL (6.2%)   @Rep_Southerland @GwenForCongress
  • Bill Posey, FL (6.2%)   @congbillposey @CorryWestbrook
  • Jackie Walorski, IN (6.1%)  @RepWalorski @JoeBock_IN

Here is a suggested script for calls:  

"I am with the Activist Alliance for the Unemployed.  You can visit our website at AA4U.org and see the fliers we have made up with YOUR contact information for distribution at food pantries, unemployment offices, shopping centers, churches, etc. in your district.  We are targeting you as a NOVEMBER FOOL because your state has one of the highest number of unemployed.  

You should keep in mind that when you cut off a person's unemployment, they have to move in with family members.  That means that for every person whose benefits are cut off, there are several family members who are affected and who will NOT be voting for you in November.  You should also know, that as a member of AA4U.org, I will be volunteering my time and money for your opponent, who is listed at opensecrets.org, if you fail to support an Unemployment Benefit Extension.  

So, to sum up, if you do not want to become unemployed yourself, you had better convince Speaker Boehner to allow a vote on a Unemployment Benefit Extension before April first.  Otherwise, we will make sure that your constituents know YOU are responsible for not pushing for a vote on an ONE YEAR Unemployment Benefits Extension.  DON'T BE A NOVEMBER FOOL"

Also, I would like to see if there is interest in planning protests across the country for tax day, Tuesday April 15, outside of all main post offices that stay open late to accept mail.  The press usually show up to cover the lines of people dropping off their tax forms and we could be there with our protest "We want an income to pay taxes ON!"  Please let me know if you would be interested in planning a small protest in your community......

To be notified whenever there is a new "AA4U Unemployment News You Can Use" blog post, just sign our petition and you will automatically get an email with a summary and a link to the new post! 

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/activist-alliance-for

--Thank you for your activism, we can only make change if we pull together....namaste, Laura Rubalcaba

NOVEMBER FOOLS?

It is obvious that House Republicans are happy to hide behind Speaker Boehner's repeated refusal to allow a vote on a Unemployment Benefit Extension (UBE).   Since Boehner has been saying the same thing about an immigration vote for over a year, we are not going to waste precious time targeting him directly.  Instead, we are going to target the Republican members of the House who come from states with the highest unemployment AND who have the highest record for voting against their party.  The idea is to win their support and get THEM to convince Boehner to allow the vote.  

I am providing links for you to email our targets, please incorporate the script below for maximum impact and add you own unique perspective and thoughts.  Use copy and paste to send your email quickly and easily to each of the ten Representatives (if you need zip codes, I have provided them).  We will need at least 19 House Republican votes to pass a UBE, but getting the votes is not the hard part, convincing Speaker Boehner to allow a vote is, so be sure you convince your targets that you are going to hold THEM personally responsible if Boehner will not allow a vote. We are calling out these ten Representatives this week, and another ten next week.  Here is the suggested script:  

"I am with the Activist Alliance for the Unemployed.  You can visit our website at AA4U.org and see the fliers we have made up with YOUR contact information http://www.aa4u.org/fliers-handouts-and-posters/ for distribution at food pantries, unemployment offices, shopping centers, churches, etc. in your district.  We are targeting you as a NOVEMBER FOOL because your state has one of the highest number of unemployed.  

You should keep in mind that when you cut off a person's unemployment, they have to move in with family members.  That means that for every person whose benefits are cut off, there are several family members who are affected and who will NOT be voting for you in November.  You should also know, that as a member of AA4U.org, I will be volunteering my time and money for your opponent if you fail to support an Unemployment Benefit Extension.  

So, to sum up, if you do not want to become unemployed yourself, you had better convince Speaker Boehner to allow a vote on a Unemployment Benefit Extension before April first.  Otherwise, we will make sure that your constituents hold YOU responsible for not pushing for a vote on an ONE YEAR Unemployment Benefits Extension.  DON'T BE A NOVEMBER FOOL"

Here Are Our Targets:

If you would rather call, here is the number you really should have programmed into your phone, it is Toll-Free, 24-hours a day, and has a live operator to help you reach the right person:  

1-866-338-1015

f you are willing to pass out fliers, or give them to organizations that will, simply mail m.  If you tell me what state you are in I will custom-make a flier wit your State's Republican House members, or others if you don't have any.

SENATE ACTION:   vote is expected any day, it may even be Saturday.  Please refer to the previous blog post "Showdown in the Senate" for targeting information and be sure to tell them we want a ONE YEAR extension.  http://www.aa4u.org/news/2014/3/24/showdown-in-the-senate

o be notified whenever there is a new "AA4U Unemployment News You Can Use" blog post, just sign our petition and you will automatically get an email with a summary and a link to the new post! 

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/activist-alliance-for

-- Thank you for your activism, we can only make change if we pull together....namaste, Laura Rubalcaba

Showdown in the Senate

The vote should come this week on the bipartisan bill for a five-month Unemployment Benefit Extension (UBE) in the Senate.  The bill includes "reforms" to the EUC program (put in by Republicans) and has been called "unworkable" by the NASWA, a group that represents the people who run the actual programs.  So obviously, we want to take their criticisms seriously. Also, Speaker Boehner is waving the criticisms around as justification for not allowing a vote in the House - the second reason we need to take these criticisms seriously.  Here is a letter from the Secretary of Labor disputing the "unworkableness".  http://www.scribd.com/doc/213774550/PerezLetter

I think this makes for a great opportunity to push for a full-year extension.  Why in the hell are we talking about a five month extension that will end in May anyway?

This week we will be calling a select group of Senators to lobby for a improved ONE-YEAR UBE that incorporates the criticisms of the NASWA and will ultimately have a better chance of passing the House.  Here are the three areas of concern from the NASWA, followed by our response:

Length of extension is too short, the benefits would expire at the end of May and that is hardly enough time to administer the payments before they expire again.  This is why we are lobbying for a one-year extension.  Ask them why it makes sense to only extend for five months?  Why do we have to go through this all over again in at the end of May?  Why can't just do their job and pass a UBE for a FULL YEAR?

Some of the changes to the EUC program proposed as "reforms" would be difficult to administer.  This is why we are lobbying for a "clean" extension - no added reforms.

It would be difficult to make the back payments, especially to verify looking-for-work requirements.  This point is non-negotiable.  These agencies have handled back payments in the past, they can do it again.

When you talk to the Senator's staff, be sure to let them know that you are with AA4U.org   Suggest they google us and click on the link titled "Fliers, Handouts, and Posters".  That is where our members will be downloading materials all week to distribute at unemployment offices, food pantries, churches, and discount stores.  The fliers feature contact information for six key Republican Senators so that the people can call in directly and demand a "clean" one-year UBE with no "reforms" and full retroactive benefits.

TODAY IS THE DAY WE STAND STRONG FOR THE UNEMPLOYED!!!!!!  Use this one Toll Free, 24-hour number to call as many of the listed Senators as you can and press our points above, then tell them that if they don't get a UBE passed by April 1st, Republicans all over the country are going to become "NOVEMBER FOOLS": 

1-866-338-1015

Targets are:  

  • Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
  • Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.)
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) 
  • Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) 
  • Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)
  • Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)
  • Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
  • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)
  • Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
  • Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)

That's it for this blogpost; enjoy the new website, talking to our elected officials and, I beg you: sign our petition right now and share it on facebook or email 10 of your friends. (It is ok to share more than once, especially on facebook.)  http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/activist-alliance-for

-- Thank you for your activism, we can only make change if we pull together....namaste, Laura Rubalcaba

In order for Unemployment Benefits to be extended, a bill must be passed in the Senate, passed in the House, and signed by the President.  Congress is once again on break this week, but here is where things stand when they return on March 24.  In the Senate we have a bi-partisan Unemployment Benefits Extension (UBE) with barely enough votes to clear the Republican filibuster.  The UBE is for five months and would be retroactive to December 28, 2013.  Missed payments would be paid in a lump sum and benefits would end again on May 31, unless Congress extends them again.  It should pass by the end of the week, if we keep up the pressure.  (see Action Section)

http://www.capitolhillblue.com/node/52421/comment-page-1

In the House there a discharge petition signed by over 190 Democrats but no Republicans.  A discharge petition allows a majority of the members of the House to call a vote even when the Speaker refuses to bring it to the floor.  Actual discharge petition is here: http://clerk.house.gov/113/lrc/pd/petitions/DisPet0008.xml  

Speaker Boehner is on record as refusing to allow a vote on a UBE, but he likes to tease the people.  His latest quote on this issue:  Asked Friday by The Associated Press what he thought of the Senate compromise, Speaker Boehner said, "You mean the one that can't be implemented?"  Asked if this comment meant he didn't like the measure or that he wouldn't bring it to the House floor for debate, he said, "I didn't say that."  How does this jerk get elected over and over again?

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/house-democrats-will-try-to-force-unemployment-benefits-vote/  (good reporting on the House, but out-of-date for Senate)

ACTION SECTION - Even though Congress is not in session, their phones are still answered.  Use this Toll Free, 24-hour number seven times and ask for the indicated Representatives.

1-866-338-1015

Senate: Please include the following text in your comments: (For this call, I am making a special request for politeness.  Let me know if anyone is rude to you, as this is important for developing future strategy)  "Hello, I am with the Activist Alliance for the Unemployed and I just wanted to thank Senator _____ for supporting the bipartisan Reed-Heller Amendment and to urge him to pass this Unemployment Benefits Extension." 

Targets are:  Senator Portman and Senator Kirk

House:  For these calls, politeness is at your discretion, the ultimate goal is to rattle them so much they press Boehner to hold a vote.  (We are not calling Speaker Boehner directly because we know he is used to taking the "heat" for his party, he has not caved to intense pressure for over a year on the immigration issue!  We will focus on the twenty House Republicans who most often vote against their party.  These guys may not be used to getting hundreds of calls from angry constituents, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage.)  

Please include the following text in your comments:  "Hello, I am with the Activist Alliance for the Unemployed and I just want to advise Representative ________ to Demand a Vote on a UBE if he wants to keep his job.  Our group is starting a new meme for the month of March:  If the House does not pass a UBE by the end of the March, then we are going to rename April 1st "November Fools Day" because everyone of them is up for re-election. (Insert rant)"  

Targets are:

  • Walter Jones                          North Carolina

  • Christopher Gibson                New York

  • Justin Amash                          Michigan

  • Thomas Massie                      Kentucky

  • Mike Fitzpatrick                      Pennsylvania