Amy Walker, a food service worker from Pittsburgh, had never spoken to a member of Congress until she made a trip last week to Washington, D.C., to tell her state's representatives and senators that cutting vital programs could have an adverse impact on working people like her.
Her mother's kidneys stopped functioning three years ago, rendering her unable to return to her job as a child care provider due to dialysis treatments three times a week. After years of working and her unforeseen kidney failure, Social Security and Medicaid now are the critical lifelines that allow Amy's mother to keep a roof over her head and get the healthcare she needs. Amy also told her representative how Head Start ensures her granddaughter gets the quality early learning foundation she needs to do well in school.
Amy's story is not unique, nor are the complex circumstances that come with it. As lawmakers debate the so-called "fiscal cliff," they need to simultaneously be talking about protecting working people and the most vulnerable. Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other vital programs such as education would have severe short- and long-term consequences for Amy and millions of others.
Last week, Amy and hundreds of others--union workers, retirees, the jobless--from all over the country went to Capitol Hill to tell lawmakers their highest priorities should be creating more good jobs, ensuring the rich pay their fair share in taxes, and protecting programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education and others.
The day of action is part of a larger effort to join working people in a broad fight to rebuild the middle class and reduce income inequality. Besides Capitol Hill, workers are taking their fight to state capitals, city governments, corporate boardrooms--and the streets.
The day before Thanksgiving, workers at Los Angeles International Airport blocked the airport entrance to bring attention to a contractor's unfair labor practices. On Black Friday, Wal-Mart workers protested low wages and no benefits. Last week, fast-food workers in New York united in a call for better pay and predictable work hours.
Workers are standing up to protest an economic environment in which it takes two jobs to make ends meet. They are tired of a status quo in which every month they have to choose between paying their electric bill on time or putting food on the table. They know the system is broken and something is terribly amiss when corporate profits are growing but wages are stagnating and when hardworking people struggle to make ends meet but the national discourse is focused on whether the rich should pay a little bit more.
It is reasonable to ask that wealthy people and corporations, which had record profits of nearly $2 trillion this year while workers' wages hit a record low, to pay their fair share so America can prosper. It is reasonable to tell lawmakers to support policies that grow the American economy instead of exacerbating income inequality. It is reasonable to expect that people such as Amy's mother, who work hard all their lives, can retire with dignity and comfort.
Some of our national leaders, however, are disconnected from the realities working people face day in and day out. Too many of them are more concerned more with protecting tax cuts for the rich at any cost than having a candid discussion about the economic well-being of working people, not to mention basic fairness.
Workers such as Amy are saying "no more." They are standing up for all working people and their families because, rightly, they refuse to accept the warped notion that it's OK that the rich are literally getting richer while working people have to work more and more but still can't attain the same standard of living middle-class families had 30 years ago.
The national conversation needs to change. Working people are doing their part to make sure it does.