Reform Rochester Now!

Making city and citizens self-sustaining

Volunteer City

God bless Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann. We should all be like her, a Godly Mormon woman of relative leisure. Think of all the time she now has on her hands to volunteer. She’s kept. Her sons are grown. She’s never worked a day in her life.

Like Ann Romney, I, too, am unemployed, but I want you to know that I remain as employable now as when I moved to Chicago and entered the workforce in the 1980s. My typing continues to be fast and accurate, I can speak clearly on the phone, my spelling remains excellent, and given the opportunity I can still learn everything I need to know while getting paid to upgrade my skill set on the job. I applied for unemployment at one point but never collected because I got another assignment. I never worked for minimum wage.

In New York City in the mid- to late-1990s, I wasn’t a single mother yet. All the freelance agencies knew who I was, and they would send me on assignment without a portfolio or references of any kind. I imagine it was a little like being in a union; I never had a problem finding paying work. I made an adequate living working for an hourly rate, which started at $10 and got as high as $27 an hour after the agency took its cut. I never worried about whether I would have “a job” tomorrow, let alone health insurance, benefits or the pension salaried employees seemed to be looking for. I bought over-the-counter remedies and paid my dentist out-of-pocket, acting out of perfect faith that illness would always be a fleeting condition.

When I moved to Rochester in 2007, I listed with a few temporary agencies as I’ve always done, at least the ones that would take me without recent job references on my resume. I knew my skills were in demand because a local businessman enlisted me to work for him and then refused to pay me, and then the guy got lost driving me home at midnight so he could make a pass at me. Forget minimum wage, I was awarded $50 plus filing fees for eight hours of second-shift Powerpoint work.

In fact, the longer I’ve lived here, the more I realize that I’m being incentivized to perform labor for free. I’m assured I’ll be more employable if I work for the Volunteer Literacy Project. It’s unpaid, but hey, it looks great on a resume. Ann Romney sure doesn’t need a resume, but I’ll bet SHE works for the Volunteer Literacy Project. I have to prioritize my time on something that pays my bills. This city needs a bunch of Ann Romneys, women with time on their hands who don’t need to get paid because they’re married to venture capitalists.

The Barack Obama campaign would LOVE to have a stable of volunteers like Ann Romney. Four years ago, I drove out to New Hampshire and was expected to buy my own food and pound the pavement for free while staying in the homes of complete strangers. Unlike most of the college students, I had a child who turned five in the middle of the summer and so I took a week off to go to her birthday party. One of the paid campaign heads, I believe her name was Tsongas and her father or uncle was some elected official, was supposed to meet me at the airport and put me up in her home the night before I had to drive to Sea Breeze for my transfer. At the last minute, she called to let me know she wouldn’t be meeting my plane. “Just save your cab receipt and we’ll take care of it,” she blithely remarked. I had no idea WHERE I was or how to get to my parked car, and the cab driver ran me up a bill for $25 before he got me to my car. Then I had to pee. I wondered how it would look for an Obama volunteer to be seen urinating in the street in front of someone’s house. Instead, I went to an Econolodge and spent $83 on a hotel room for the night before driving to the place where I’d be volunteering the next day. I tried unsuccessfully to submit my receipts later. The paid fellow in Sea Breeze, NH, who was selling memorabilia he had gotten BO autographs on took a paperback Audacity of Hope I had paid nearly $20 for and never got it autographed for me. On top of volunteering my time, I was out that $20, plus my cab fare and hotel costs. The people I submitted my receipts to visually restrained themselves from laughing right in my face.

One of the local campaign leaders this year asked how much I would charge to rent my storefront for 6 months to the campaign, then laughed and said he could get something bigger and better for free because he had “friends” in real estate.

I have been a member of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since 1996, and as a single mother I’m practically invisible. So invisible that I haven’t attended church in 5 months and no one has noticed. The Mormon church is the volunteer church to beat all volunteer churches. I never got asked to speak in Sacrament meeting. Women began approaching me and acting friendly when after nearly 3 years I started showing up with a man. He’s a skilled unemployed person who started going to the Priesthood meetings, where apparently there was plenty of work going around but Mormon doctors and lawyers were asking for “volunteers” to do it for free. No one was paying real money for real construction work, moving someone or gutting a house breaking up drywall, for example; they were hiding behind their Church. Things weren’t the same for me, however: the Bishop told me to pay other “sisters” to babysit my daughter. It got to the point where married women were looking to me to supplement the family income from my student loan money to watch my child so I could go to school in order to get paying work teaching. I did what the Bishop said; I’m just saying I think there’s a double standard.

Church leaders love to tell us about the blessings we’ll get in Heaven from volunteering, but even the Apostle Paul felt that a full stomach was a blessing that should not be deprived the poor.

On the date of this post, local news reported protests of local businessmen to the proposed increase in minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50, saying that if poor people’s wages are increased, they’ll increase their costs to compensate and once again, the poor won’t be able to afford the cost of living. Stupid businessmen.

The man-on-the-street’s daily minuscule cash purchases at his local business are the ONLY investments that really pay dividends over the long haul, even though that’s not how our economy is being made to function right now. If you look at the foreclosure crisis that started 7-8 years ago, you’ll realize that American businesses are so desperate for you to spend big money now they don’t even care where you get it. Your value as an American citizen is based not on how much money you save or how much you can reasonably spend, but on how much venture capitalists can make you spend and how quickly, period. Medical expenses monopolize the spending ability of the aging American population (which includes everyone, unless the fountain of youth just sprung up in your unfinished basement and you’re now immortal, having drunk from it). Pharmaceutical companies understand that the patient is a consumer: just count the number of television commercials for brand-name prescription drugs and add up their air time. Do the same for online colleges and you’ll discover our burgeoning education industry. You can forget about learning skills on the job while getting paid; whoever heard of that? Run up a big debt now and hopefully you’ll be compensated later while paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt.

What I hear all the local business owners saying is, “why the Hell do we have to pay minimum wage to our workers when WE CAN MAKE THEM WORK FOR FREE?”

But that’s what Rochester is all about, isn’t it? Volunteers. Until we start giving the man-on-the-street purchasing power, the businesses are going to continue to fail, NO ONE will be able to bring home a paycheck or collect a pension, and eventually everyone will starve to death with their children, who can’t read or write in crumbling homes they can’t light or heat.

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