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.