During the hour I watched the rally, POP chairman Larry Hamm never stopped shouting the message over loud speakers, telling motorists to “Honk your horns for jobs.” He followed that plea with the numbers that say unemployment is up and opportunity is down.
The national and state unemployment rates have been hovering around 9 percent, but Newark’s rate exceeds 15 percent. Hamm noted that the numbers for minority youth and minority men are three to five times the averages, and they do not count people who have been out of work long enough to lose unemployment benefits and have stopped looking.
In addition, yesterday’s news indicated that poverty is increasing in traditionally stable, blue-collar communities, such as Carteret, Union Township and Garfield. Watching the faces of those who hit their horns Wednesday in reply to Hamm’s call, I thought his message seemed to be resonating across the lines of race, age, gender and class.
Yet, the U.S. Senate last month refused to move on President Obama’s jobs bill. So I asked Hamm what good rallying and honking are going to do. “Our goal is to make people understand how bad it is. And as bad as most people think it is, it is worse,” he insisted.
If people get the message, things will change because they will begin to apply political pressure, he said. Some 60 community groups, labor unions, student organizations and churches have endorsed POP’s agenda and are signing up to participate in the daily rallies. The coalition is holding regular meetings to plan out strategies that can get things done, Hamm said.
“I see these raggedy streets with potholes, I see the bridges that look like they are falling down,” he said. “There is work to be done.” And putting people to work will do more for recovery than any other kind of bailout, he said to me on the phone — and to anyone who could hear during the rally.