Tomorrow we’re heading down to D.C. for a congressional briefing with Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. We’ll be showing a brief sneak preview of the forthcoming Not Working Project documentary and Mr. Conyers will be talking about the jobs bill he has put forward. Come join us if you can. Full press release below.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
H.R. 1000 & The Not Working Project in Washington, D.C.
On May 16 at 12pm, Penguin Books will host a congressional briefing featuring Rep John Conyers (D-MI) with author and filmmaker, DW Gibson, who will share excerpts from his recently completed documentary, Not Working. Over the summer and fall of 2011 Gibson drove across the country to collect the stories of the unemployed. He interviewed over 200 Americans and three of them will also speak at the briefing:
Roni Chambers (St. Louis, MO) worked in Human Resources and led a team that laid off 200 people in one day before she lost her own job. She currently volunteers full-time as director for the GO! Network in St. Louis, an organization that provides training workshops and networking events for the unemployed.
Bridgette Lacy (Raleigh, NC) lost her position as the Media Relations Manager for the North Carolina Arts Council when it was eliminated by the state. She channeled her frustrations looking for a new job into a blog, which has become a regular column about unemployment for the News & Observer.
Bob Bendig (Pittsburgh, PA) operated a security firm that provided immediate security escorts for corporations performing layoffs. After walking countless workers from their desks to their cars, Bob had to shut the doors to his own business and is now one of the unemployed. Bob also surrendered his home to his bank and now receives housing assistance through Veterans Affairs.
The balance of power between capitalism and democracy has been increasingly out of balance for generations now. Our economic system has a choke-hold on our system of governance. This unhealthy, unsustainable relationship has led to the demoralization of the American worker. (And, indeed, the demoralization of labor in just about any part of the world; capitalism in the 21st century, as we all know, is one tangled, global affair.)
David Stockman had an essay in the New York Times earlier this week entitled “Sundown in America,” in which he convincing outlines how, exactly, capitalism has made democracy so impotent. His skillful description of the control that the Federal Reserve has over the US government–and the control that the European Central bank has over the 27 sovereign nations in the EU–is frightful.
Recently I came across the graph below, which should be viewed by every American. It gives the best visual representation of what’s wrong with 21st Century capitalism. The wealthiest citizens–capitalism calls them the most successful citizens–deserve a larger portion of the country’s wealth. But this gross imbalance in wealth distribution creates an unsustainable system. A system that will implode on all the people it once sustained–including the wealthiest of the wealthy.
The documentary for the Not Working project has now been completed and will be available for distribution this spring. In anticipation of the film’s release, we are excited to share the sound track from the film’s massively talented composer, David Cieri. You can check it out here:
This week, Dick Gordon is hosting a series of interviews with people who are featured in the Not Working book and documentary. If you’re not familiar with Gordon’s regular show, The Story, I encourage you to check it out. He is an exceptional interviewer – smart and engaging, yes, but more importantly he has remarkable humanity. My conversation with him aired this past Monday. And yesterday, his conversations with Christine Myrick and Bridgette Lacy were broadcast. I encourage everyone to check out what Christine and Bridgette have to say – they are both insightful people. And check back at The Story’s website throughout the week for more conversations about finding your way after losing a job.
Not Working collaborator, MJ Sieber, and I were in Lansing, Michigan, on the day of the protests outside the Capitol building as Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill making Michigan a “right to work” state. MJ and I put together this documentation of the experience:
Just a few days ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday I want to express my gratitude to all those who have shared their stories for the Not Working Project so far. I’m sending everyone all best wishes for the holiday and hoping that you are all moving toward full time, rewarding work.
With a new year and fresh political start it is my fervent hope that our municipal, state and federal leaders demonstrates the wisdom, compassion, and inventiveness required to expand the labor market for all Americans who anxiously await the chance to work and contribute like they once did.
When I was traveling the country interviewing folks who had been laid off, many of the Americans I met had, in fact, secured a new job of some kind but in almost in every case it was a job unrelated to their established field, a job that paid far less than previous jobs, and, in all likelihood, a part time position.
What Greenhouse’s article highlights so well is the fact that the reliance on part time employees is not limited to big corporations. Small businesses across the country–businesses with a demonstrated degree of conscientiousness–have come to routinely rely on workforces composed almost entirely of part time employees.
It’s a disturbing development. Not just the proliferation of this model but the fact that it is increasingly viewed as acceptable and increasingly a permanent approach to labor in the US. This is what happens when workers are stripped of nearly all leverage, knowing there is always a line out the door of a hundred unemployed workers eager to take any job at all.
Recently the Washington Post asked me to answer this question, pulling from the interviews I conducted for the Not Working Project. The nature of the question ruffles me a bit because I don’t like the implications of the word “blame” — it seems to assign some sense of victimhood on the part of the unemployed. And while I’d argue that the majority of the country’s unemployed citizens are, indeed, victims of an economic system that has used and abused them without their input, the unemployed rarely espouse a view of themselves as “victim.”
All of that said, there is surely blame to be assigned and it is clear to me that this blame falls on contemporary capitalism, which views workers as numbers on spreadsheets. As I said in the introduction to the book, “Human contact is diminished. Proximity is avoided altogether.” The lack of contact between executive decision makers and employees–that is, disconnect between human beings–is destroying the labor market, and the care we show for each other.
Just hours ahead of the first presidential debates, I have my fingers crossed, hoping we’ll hear substantive input about what these two men want to do to improve the employment possibilities in this country. But more importantly, I want to encourage all of us to avoid over-emphasizing the possibility of what any president can do. I often feel we get too caught up in the presidential election, viewing it through the prism of celebrity and personality. This, in turn, obstructs our consideration of political leadership at large.
As we’ve clearly seen over the last two years, there are severe limitations to what any president can do if congress is unwilling to bridge philosophical difference and generate compromises that lead to policy–any policy at all. I encourage everyone to take a moment to familiarize yourself with your congressional representative and his or her voting record. What’s more, take a moment to learn a bit about your representation at the state level. Aren’t you curious about who is being paid by your tax dollars? Aren’t you curious about who is speaking on your behalf?
Municipal and state politics are far less sexy than Obama v. Romney and hotly contested Congressional races but the fact is, state and local governments have far more power to effect our daily lives and, more immediately, the local economies that provide our employment opportunities and our overall quality of life.
It is not about Obama or Romney. It’s about the people in your state capitol and city council meeting room.