America Wants to Work rally organizers see common ground with Occupy Denver protests

At 11:30 a.m. today, a rally entitled "America Wants to Work" will take place on the steps of the Denver City & County Building, not far from Occupy Denver's tent city near the State Capitol.

And that's not the only connection seen by two of the organizers behind the event, Colorado AFL-CIO executive director Mike Cerbo and state AFL-CIO political and legislative director Phil Hayes.

"I think there's definitely a correlation," Cerbo says. "There's a lot of frustration out there about the fact that the economy is not moving in the right direction. That's been expressed by our members, and it's one of the messages the Occupy Denver group has been speaking about."

At the same time, Hayes stresses that this link is more philosophical than financial.

"People ask us, 'Are you behind this? Are you funding it?' And the answer is 'no,'" he says. "This is a grassroots thing that's popping up all over the country. And even though we have members and leaders who are interested in participating as part of this grassroots thing, it's completely organic. It's amazing how frustrated people are about how the economy is working -- or not working."

Today's event in Denver concludes a week's worth of rallies, including one in Colorado Springs on Tuesday and gatherings in Fort Collins and Pueblo yesterday. The unifying theme was originally on the job package proposed by President Barack Obama -- but the measure died in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday night, and members of the Republican leadership in the House have made it clear the proposal is going nowhere in that chamber. So while the rally will continue to express support for Obama's offering, as well as portions of the bill that could be pushed separately, the message has become both more specific and more general.

"We're focusing on infrastructure and small business incentives," Hayes notes. "Much of our membership is related to the construction trade -- and nationally and similarly in Colorado, the unemployment rate for construction workers is around 30 percent. It's one of the huge anchors around the neck of the recovery, and unless we can get the construction industry back on its feet again, I think it will be difficult for the economy to recover."

At the same time, Hayes continues, "we've got to figure out what the heck Congress is doing. They're putting politics above policy, and people are hurting. That's why today you'll hear state officials, unemployed construction workers, a construction contractor and many other people saying, 'Get it done. Put these silly politics aside.' We support the President's plan, but if Congress isn't going to agree with it, they need to come forward with a proposal that works for everybody."

As for Cerbo, he's not willing to spread blame equally. "I think the President submitted a really good jobs plan and it got shot down," he says. "I see him moving in the right direction, but the plan was rejected by right-wing elements not interested in getting our economy going. So I think the frustration is with obstructionist politicians, rather than politicians collectively bickering."

Whether Occupy Denver campers would agree with that is an open question.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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