Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Open letter to President Obama

And to all other state and national elected officials

Howdy all,

That’s probably not the proper address to those who lead these United States, but believe me when I say I mean no disrespect by it.

If you’re wondering why, exactly, I am writing this, it’s essentially because I am a guy who just got let go from one job I’d had for just a couple of months, and had my hours cut by three-fifths on another. I was just getting to the point where I could afford to pay the mortgage again when those cuts came along. I was laid off the first time last December.

You see, Mr. President, I am a journalist who has worked hard and honestly all his adult life, although some folks may find that hard to believe. Apparently journalists don’t have as much credibility as they once enjoyed, say during the Watergate era. We are mostly a bunch of idealists — some liberal, some conservative, some centrist, some who take themselves far too seriously, some with a quick wit — who happen to share a common love of the news business, of politics, of writing, of editing.

I started my career in late 1983 in Rawlins, Wyo., a town I came to love. There I met my wife and we had our first son. Since then, I’ve worked in Cheyenne, Wyo., while we lived in Fort Collins, Colo., and then moved to Elgin, Ill., which happened to be my hometown. Along the way, we had four more children — they’re a wonderful crew — all told we have three boys, ages 17, 19 and 24, and two precocious little girls, ages 8 and 10.

From 1994 through late 2010, I’d worked at the company now known as Sun-Times Media. I think it's fair to say I was a hard, loyal worker who gave it my all, who sometimes was a little hard-headed and who had a penchant for puns, good and (usually) bad. Occasionally, I played jokes on co-workers, but I'll have to take the Fifth on any details. The best practical jokes leave people wondering who's responsible for years afterward.
In December 2010, I was laid off. I could give you my perspective of what’s been happening in the news industry, but it’s got little to do with why I’m writing this missive. Besides, if I did go into detail, it's entirely possible you would be too overjoyed about it and thereby miss the point I hope to make here.

When Sun-Times Media laid me off, there was no severance package it had been rescinded during a bankruptcy proceeding a year or so before. In the days after, one of my former bosses from that company offered me 15 hours a week of work at a start-up news website, BocaJump, that he and some friends had started after he was laid off from the same company about a year before I got the boot.

He said it was not lucrative (he was right), but he showed me the same kind of loyalty I’d shown to him, my co-workers and the company for which I’d worked for so many years, and his friendship. It would be remiss of me to not mention that during the years I worked with him at Sun-Times Media, he showed the same loyalty to those who worked for him, although too few, I think, were aware of his efforts to keep their jobs secure over the years of periodic layoffs we endured.
So even as I embarked on the adventure with BocaJump, I collected unemployment, diligently shipped out resumes and cover letters, and began dipping into my retirement savings to pay the mortgages. You folks in Washington seem to take a great deal of pride in the unemployment system this country has, and I was grateful to be receiving the help, but it was pitifully small compared to the income I’d had before the layoff, which is why we started dipping into my retirement savings in the first place. We exhausted that in August.

But by June I had taken on a couple of more part-time jobs — actually freelancing as a copy editor for two regions. Between those two alone I was working 45 hours a week but earning less than I had as a full-time employee at Sun-Times Media. The first of those jobs was enough to knock me off the unemployment rolls.

Finally, I took on a fourth job, this one as a consultant, hoping that the four, which would entail a couple of 70- or 80-hour weeks a month, would keep our heads above water. In September, for the first time in nine months, what I earned from those jobs was enough to pay our mortgages, some utilities and buy some groceries as well. eliminated one of my jobs last week and cut the hours at the other by three-fifths, so my family and I find ourselves hanging out there again, this time with absolutely no cushion to fall back upon.

Which brings me to why I’m writing.

I don’t want a handout, I want a job. I want some level of assurance of continuity in terms of having enough to keep my kids sheltered and fed. I think it's fair to say that there are a lot of other unemployed Americans out there who feel the same way.

I'd also like to see justice administered against those banks and financial institutions which profited most by feeding the artificial boom that, when the housing bubble burst, left Americans like myself stuck holding a home that is worth much less than the money we owe on it.

But from what I’ve observed of Washington over the past 34 years of my life as an adult gives me little hope. True, Mr. President, I’m registered as a Republican, but I long ago abandoned any faith in the Republican Party, although I still tend to be conservative. I continue to have some issues with the Democratic Party, as well. Neither party is perfect.

But here’s the thing I want to point out. It’s probably futile to do so, but I’m going to try.

Each party represents a political ideal, a Utopian view of how this country should be run to best serve the electorate. That ideal is what dooms each party to utter failure.

We do not live in a world where a Utopia is possible. We live in a real world where reality proves every minute of every day that mankind is prone to all kinds of error, ranging from simple mistakes to simple mischief to dishonorable and even evil actions.

In the meantime, we have political parties divided along partisan lines demonizing and vilifying each other as each one pulls its own way to do what it deems is politically necessary to solve the nation’s ills. That leaves little but ill feelings in its wake, and down the road, when the power inevitably shifts to the other side of the aisle, more time and energy is spent trying to tear town what was built up because it did not work or did not work well enough.

And while you in Washington do that, in the interests of maintaining political power bases and campaign contributions from the nation’s wealthiest, there are a lot of honest, hardworking people who are getting hurt. I frankly don’t think there is anyone in the nation’s Capitol who has a clue what little people like me are struggling through, the pain we feel, the fear we one day may be moving in with extended family or living out of our cars. The latter is the nightmare that awakens me once again, less than a week after losing a second job in less than 10 months.

What nags at me more is that as my family and I teeter on the brink, I know full well there are others out there, some with more advanced degrees than mine, who have been unemployed far longer than this former newspaper editor.

I wonder, Mr. President, whether you, or any of our congressmen, or any of our state elected officials have ever been close to visiting a food pantry or soup kitchen — we’re not there yet, but it could happen. In the weeks after I was first let go, our small church family gave to us several hundred dollars worth of groceries, my folks have help us out, as have some others along the way.

And I often wonder what it would be like if our political parties, instead of drawing those all-too-familiar lines in the sand, started collaborating for a change to solve our nation’s problems.

It seems to me the list of problems is fairly simple — the economy, joblessness, the housing/foreclosure crisis, war, government spending.

So please, for the next couple of years, do you think you folks could set politics aside and actually work for once for the good of our country instead of for the assurance of your own re-election, of your own party’s return to power?

Am I being too naïve in hoping that Republicans and Democrats might actually set aside the politics for once and actually work together to do something that will benefit the Everyman instead of the Very Wealthy Man or the Political Man?

But yes, I probably am being too naive, which is sad. In recent years, the taste of politics in this nation has become bitter to me, although it probably has been like this from the start. But these days it leaves me feeling little confidence in our leadership, whether you’re talking the state or federal level.

And right now, Mr. President, my family and I could use a little confidence

Still, I doubt you'll ever see this, Mr. President, or that many others will take notice of it either. My blog is not widely known, although I am grateful to have a little more than 1,800 page views a month from all over the world.

But if your eyes do happen to come across it, please, take it for what it is: A plea that you and Congress would give up politics for a season or two, even in an election season, and do something to get more of us back to work, back to meaningful employment with which we can continue to support ourselves and our families.

Theodore “Ted” N. Schnell III