For those who have never had a day of unemployment that they did not choose, there are no words which can describe the state. For those who, like me, have, you know the feelings. You know the self-loathing, the worthlessness, the despondence, the anger. But most of all, the fear. There is a special terror reserved for the jobless, a dark vicious terror that constantly lurks in the back of one’s mind. It is the terror that the bills will catch up with you. The terror that this may not be temporary, that you may never work again. That it will catch you, and in the end, kill you. And you carry that with you for months.
The job hunt is nearly as disheartening. Each letter sent out is a gamble, each interview a risk. Plenty will offer you tips, plenty will suggest you talk to so-and-so, plenty will say “perhaps if you tried here.” And you force yourself to nod, because you think to yourself, “I have done all of that already,” but you do not wish to get into a fight. But no one will treat you with respect; be it the callous souls who tell you, even in the midst of the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, to “get a job,” or the people whom you are applying for a job with. You will be left on the line for weeks, sometimes without ever getting a response telling you someone else has been hired. Alternatively, they will send you some of the cruelest words in the English language, “thank you for your interest…”
I have sympathy for employers; it is not easy to pull the trigger and tell the job-seeker they will not be hired. But I have no sympathy for the politician who sees the suffering of their policies and yet continues with their madness. The politician says that they have imposed their policies so cities and towns “will get their fiscal house in order.” But they have not imposed fiscal order; they have imposed pain and suffering. Tell the victims of these policies that the political leadership has brought fiscal order. Tell the family who has abandoned their home and is living in their car because property taxes went too high, or the landlord forced to raise rents on tenants they know cannot afford it. Tell the vast majority of the people of this state who pay taxes at a rate nearly twice that of those who can most-afford it that we are bringing fiscal order. Our political leadership has a perverse definition of “order”.
Where’s the work that was promised? I was fortunate enough that I could work for free as a volunteer while I searched for a job. Most are not that lucky. They languish, in trouble, waiting for work that will end their weariness and replace it with accomplishment. Through this hell that has been imposed, they march onwards, driven by the idea of hope, our state motto. The motto so sacred to Rhode Islanders that we placed it on our flag so that it might symbolize us. The Statehouse should be the house that hope built. Instead, it is hope’s marble mausoleum.
The party in power names itself “democratic”. Perhaps they need a lesson in democracy. The word means the people rule. The people. Not the Speaker of the House nor the President of the Senate. If the representatives of the people delivers a bill, “democracy” means the leadership must consider it and bring it to vote by those same representatives, not hold it for further study, their epithet for saying they have killed it. This means that if the people cry out for fairness in our taxes, you cannot dismiss this cry as not having a chance. The people get to decide that, too.
But our “leadership” tells us that we must wait, that the tax policies they enacted six years ago during good times have not yet had their full effect. And yet, our unemployment rate has risen back to 11%, while the rest of the nation sees declines. Our “leadership” tells us we must not tax job creators, while the state loses the very jobs we are asking the creators to create. Our “leadership” tells us business favors tax consistency, but only if that consistency is going down. Our “leadership” tells us they want Rhode Island to be a place where anyone can live, but their policies force cities and towns to raise property taxes so high no one can live here.
I say this as a Rhode Islander. I say this as someone who only recently found a job in this state after nearly a year of trying, and I was not confining myself to only the state. I looked beyond our borders reluctantly, because deep in my heart, I know there is truly no other state for me. I am not ashamed or abashed to say I love Rhode Island, in all its oddities. I do not believe any true Rhode Islander can contemplate fleeing this state without any regret or sadness. And yet, that contemplation has been very real to me. And it is real to the thousands of Rhode Islanders who remain without work, many who have been searching longer than I have, many of whom are more deserving then I am.
There are those who will despise me for what I’ve written here. They will attack me, perhaps call me a demagogue. They will find fault with whatever I say, and seek to undermine my reputation. I do not care about my reputation though, I care about Rhode Island. The naysayers will point to our 11% unemployment rate and deride the citizens of this state as stupid for not abandoning it. They will insult the place of my birth, and me, not knowing or comprehending that the reason the unemployed stay is because as much as circumstances prevent them, they also have hope. They believe in this state. The naysayers look at an idea and say “we cannot do this,” and they will find such and such a reason to stop it. But those with hope will look at an idea and say, “how can we make this work” and search for ways until they have exhausted all possibilities.
We want to make our state work. We want to rebuild this state with our own sweat. We are not asking the politicians in the government to break a sweat, we will do that. We will work the hours, we will do the labor. We ask merely that the politicians on Smith Hill have the decency to relieve the pressures that prevent us from doing so, that they reverse their mistaken policies and free the people of this state to work. That they keep those already working employed. That they enforce policies that actually will bring the idle gainful work. That they take no more from those who have already sacrificed too much.
There is a dividing line between people. On one side are those who do not love this state, who cannot imagine a way out of this crisis, who call for it to be abandoned or else denigrate its people and its government. On the other are those who wish to give their lives for this state, who wish to improve it, who see its possibilities even in the midsts of its failures. I ask the leaders of this state to be the leaders that we know they can be, and lead this state to greatness. Where’s the work? It is before us.