Guest columnist Susan Wilkinson talks about receiving her last unemployment check and how almost two years of joblessness has affected her. Though the Occupy movement is broad-based, she offers some insight into why protesters are joining this economic justice movement.
AT the end of October, I became a 99er. The unemployment check I received on Oct. 28 was the 99th and final installment of my extended unemployment benefits. I still haven’t found work.
I was laid off from my last job as an administrative assistant in November 2009. Before this, I had a solid 25-year-plus work history, with progressively more responsible positions. I owned my own home, had excellent credit, and worked full-time while taking 10 credit hours per quarter in the evening at community college.
Ninety-nine weeks of unemployment later, I’ve had my home foreclosed, spent my meager retirement savings and filed for bankruptcy. And after 99 weeks of contacts, searches and sending out my résumé, I still haven’t found a good job.
The stress of living for two years in economic uncertainty has taken its toll on my health and well-being. It has taught me a few things, too. In the beginning, I was ashamed of my lack of funds and inability to honor my financial obligations. Now I see them for what they were: the result of a system weighted heavily in favor of the top 1 percent, designed to make getting ahead nearly impossible for the rest of us.
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So even though the economic crisis has kept me from finding work, I hold my head up now, and do what I can for those around me. I know that our economy is broken for the 99 percent of us who aren’t the ultrarich, and I know I’m hardly the only one facing a tough situation in this economy.
I view the vast economic disparity that has mushroomed over the past 30 or so years as deadly: deadly to our most vulnerable citizens, deadly to our country and deadly to democracy itself. I cannot stand idly by while vast numbers of people find themselves homeless, without medical care, or unable to feed themselves or their families. To close my eyes to this crisis would be cowardice.
I have been privileged during these past few weeks to see a movement rise up to say “enough!” I traveled to Washington, D.C., with Working Washington to support the formation of the Occupy D.C. movement, and I support Seattle events as well.
While these Occupy movements are diverse and broad-based, I can tell you a few things for sure: We are not a “mob,” and we are not “lazy,” “spoiled” or “looking for handouts.”
So, what are we then? We are people who have become increasingly aware of the vast disparities between the top 1 percent and the rest of us. We are people who know we have a jobs crisis, and who know our elected officials need to get the economy moving instead of making more cuts that will just make things worse.
You hear lots of talk asking what the protesters want. I’m just one protester, but I can tell you what I want: I want a system where the vast chasm between CEO salaries and workers’ salaries is narrowed. Where people can get jobs doing the work that needs doing in our communities. Where jobs pay a living wage, and where banks and Wall Street are under our control instead of the other way around. Most of all, I want a system where our voices and lives matter.
I cannot employ lobbyists to plead my case before Congress and the state Legislature. What I can do is lend my heart and hands to the movement for economic and social justice, look out for my fellows in the 99 percent, and do everything I can to make sure our elected officials understand that our economy is in crisis.
That’s my message from a 99er to the rest of the 99 percent — it’s why I raise my voice, why I protest and why I speak out.
After 99 weeks, I’ve got nothing left to lose.
Susan Wilkinson of Renton worked in support positions in the accounting industry for more than 25 years.