Organizing the Unemployed.

Yesterday, Annie Lowrey had a great piece about the political activism of the unemployed. Many unemployed Americans have turned to political activism, particularly online, as their job searches have come up empty and benefits run dry:

Among the biggest sites in the unemployment netroots is LayoffList, managed by Michael Thornton, a native of Rochester, N.Y. Thornton started LayoffList in 2008; five months ago, he began writing articles and posting legislators’ information on the Rochester Unemployment Examiner. He now receives hundreds of emails and has logged more than a million hits at the Examiner. Thornton is finding that, rather than losing interest in politics since the end of the fight for extended benefits, the unemployed are “energized and motivated” and have started looking forward to the fall.

They key here is to turn frustration over the economy into turnout on Election Day and to portray Republicans as interfering with the economic recovery -- namely, by obstructing efforts to extend unemployment benefits and create jobs. Whether Republicans' motivation for abandoning the unemployed is political or a principled loyalty to deficit reduction (probably both), Republicans benefit politically by being the minority party in a bad economy. However, the activism of the unemployed could be the best way to show Republicans that exploiting this advantage by refusing to help the unemployed is actually bad politics. 

Now, coming into the fall and the midterms, King and other grassroots organizers for the unemployed are hooking up with formal organizing groups to add institutional oomph to the effort. They say they do not want to let the long battle for simple extensions go to waste.

This kind of organizing is not without precedent. In the early 1932s, the unemployed organized a march on Washington that helped push FDR toward the New Deal programs that put millions of Americans to work. One of the events which sealed Herbert Hoover's fate was a Washington rally over benefits for veterans. Today, labor, including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and the NAACP, is organizing a similar demonstration this October.

Demonstrations help set the mood, but the real test of political clout is whether or not supporters turn out in November and vote in their economic self-interest. It's not a guarantee, but if Lowrey's piece is any indication, the unemployed are increasingly engaged. As Jonathan Chait noted, the unemployed are now a huge percentage of the electorate, such that “even modest levels of political organization could make this a potent political force.”

Lowrey quotes an unemployed man in Nevada, a Republican, who is fed up with his party calling the unemployed "lazy." It's these folks who could make a difference this fall if they realize which party is on their side. 

-- Pema Levy

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