The line was long and it bent and curved. At least 150 people. The people were young and old, black and white and Hispanic and American Indian. The line stretched into the parking lot. People shuffled from foot to foot, on the hard concrete, because Tuesday was important and all desperately wanted to get in that door. Inside the door was America, at least on this gray Tuesday morning.
Yet the door opened to no invitation only, smart people delegate and media and strategist meeting at the Democratic National Convention. There were no bloggers, no PBS or camera crews from networks or cable shows heavy with blondes with perfect straight teeth telling us about America. Nobody wore those plastic credentials around their necks, hanging that say “delegate” or “media” or “staff” or “all access” that these people from political parties and its culture of self show off to everyone they meet as if to say, ‘I am somebody. You, without it, are not.’
No, the door was going to open, soon at 8:30 a.m. on a morning of drizzle, the day after Labor Day, to the unemployment office in Rock Hill. The office is officially called SC Works, and is where some of those looking for work go, certainly. Politicians changed the name of the office last year so people would see the word “work.”
But far more often, it is where the unemployed go to prove they want work and have tried for days and weeks and months and sometimes, even years. So benefits continue and the roof does not collapse under the weight of an eviction notice. Regular people have always called this place “Unemployment.” Or the “unemployment office.”
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The first lady in line arrived almost as the sun rose. She is from York, worked at a lighting plant until her job went overseas, and she needed to get in and out and back out looking for a job because her benefits ran out. Politicians debate trade policy at expensive conventions while this lady hopes the lights are on when she gets home.
Democrats say in Charlotte this week unemployment is down the last few months almost everywhere, so they must be doing something right. Republicans said in Florida last week unemployment was so bad for so many months and years that anything is better than the first three years of a Democratic presidency.
In the worst economy in a lifetime, political parties spend hundreds of millions on themselves.
“I’m a Democrat, but I am disgusted with both parties,” said Libby Isaacks, age 60 and a former nursing home laundry worker. Age 60 looking for a job is as close to unemployable as not having arms. She is either too old or too something to hiring agents who never say those words except with the words, ‘Sorry, we’re not hiring,’ although politicians of both parties claim she is America and matters.
“I don’t think either one of these parties, these politicians, care about working people like me,” she said. “I always worked.”
Isaacks was asked if she received any invitation to the convention 20 miles away in Charlotte, where the big shots waited in lines just like the one she stood in, for a chance to hear a speech about jobs.
“Ha!” exclaimed Isaacks. “No chance. They do not invite people like me. They invite themselves.”
Behind Isaacks stood Le Anne Dellinger, 43. Dellinger is an accountant, office manager, bean counter. Or she was, until her job was “outsourced” last year.
That’s the word political types use, but regular people call getting rid of workers and using somebody cheaper.
Dellinger was asked if she received an invite to either convention where the topic is jobs. One convention is just minutes away.
“I sure did not get asked to go, but I can tell you that what I would say, you sure can’t write it,” said Dellinger. “Words like that you shouldn’t say. That convention is not reality anyway. This is reality. Look around.”
The line bent, meandered, with the faces of those whom politicians talk about, yet have never met and will not see. Thousands of talking heads on television, radio, Internet, will sit at the convention sites and look at the lines of whom they think might be real people and say; “Wow! what a sight!”
At the same time Cora Lumpkin, age 52, will go out to another place and try for a job changing sheets. Lumpkin manages to live on $154 a week unemployment after the motel she worked in cut staff. Convention goers buzz with excitement over spending $154 on dinner among the great and smart and employed.
“That convention doesn’t want people like me, people who are going to get kicked out of an apartment because they are two months behind on the rent,” said Lumpkin. “I worked my whole life. Look at these people in the line. They all want to work. They are out here before the place opens, and anybody think they lazy?”
Next to Lumpkin in the line stood a guy named Rod Rutliff, a crane operator. Or a crane operator when there is work. Rutliff has been out of work as politicians at conventions, and their surrogates, an Army of those with soft and puffy hands, talk of jobs and employment while getting government paychecks or consultant paychecks from political parties and fundraisers.
Rutliff’s hands are hard with callus from a lifetime of work. He stood tall and proud and not a politician in the world knows he is alive.
“I’ve been out of work for six months and 15 days,” said Rutliff. “I know because I always worked my whole life. The days you don’t work you remember ‘em.”
Rutliff was asked if he was invited to any of the convention events, the speeches in Florida, or close in Charlotte.
“I don’t matter to those people,” Rutliff said. “Neither party.”
All these people spoke quietly in words that were not shouted. They spoke with clear eyes and their words floated on the air as they sought benefits to keep from getting kicked out of a house into the street. They readied to look on computers and through binders for jobs.
They spoke, but no politicians was there to hear them. No convention was given for them.
But they still waited in the line.
Nicole Boyd, 38, a certified nursing assistant stood with her son, hoping today was her day for a job.
“I was not asked to go to any convention,” Boyd said. “Nobody asks real people what it is like out here. We don’t matter to them.”
At 8:30 a.m. the door opened. The line started to move inside. Feet shuffled toward the door. A man in the line held the door for a woman.
“Thank you,” she said.
“My pleasure,” said the man.
There was no doorman to hold the door. The guy who held it, unemployed, held it for others just like himself.
Andrew Dys * 803-329-4065 * firstname.lastname@example.org