Laid off Gannett reporter turns Occupy protester, feels burned by CEO’s $37 mil pay
Barbara Weiland stopped at the Occupy Lansing encampment in Reutter Park Wednesday morning to drop off knitted hats and scarves she had made. She ended up taking up a sign and marching with a small contingent to the downtown Lansing Bank of America branch where the group protested the bank’s bailout money and foreclosure practices.
Weiland, 39, is a former reporter for the Lansing State Journal. She was laid off in June along with 700 others across the Gannett News system. It was the latest in a continuing process of scaling down by the news giant designed to strengthen faltering stock price returns. Weiland was called into the offices of the publisher at about 5 p.m. on June 21.
“We found out that morning that there would be 700 layoffs,” Weiland said. “I was told about 5 p.m. So they got a full day out of me.”
Weiland’s eight years of service were rewarded with eight weeks of severance pay, she says — one week for each year. But for the former reporter, what really burned was that Gannett CEO Craig Dubow retired in October, walking away with a $37.1 million retirement and disability agreement.
“If you divide that by 700 people, you get about $50,000 — that was my annual salary,” Weiland says.
Meanwhile, Weiland is now struggling to pay the bills. She is behind in her mortgage and facing foreclosure. When she was laid off, her credit cards, mortgage and bank accounts were all owned by different banks. But now, they are all owned by Bank of America. Unable to find a job even with her recently earned masters’s degree from Central Michigan University, she called Bank of America to ask for assistance. They ignored her pleas for help, she says.
“I’m upset with them because they got all this money from the government,” she says of the banking giant. “They drag these out for months and months, making people jump through all kinds of hoops and still they get foreclosed on.”
And that is why the former-journalist picked up a sign and a stack of “Occu-bucks” and marched three blocks through downtown Lansing. She and six others stood in front of the bank branch, holding signs such as “end corporate greed, help people’s needs,” “Honk if you support the 99 %,” and “born in the U.S.A. — will die in a third world country.”
The protest was closely monitored by at least two Lansing Police cars and a security guard in the lobby of the Bank of America.
Among the passersby were state lawmakers, and Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, stopped by the Bank of America ATM to withdraw money. He did not engage with protesters.
For Weiland, she continues to receive unemployment, but has lost her food assistance. The state authorized a whopping $16 in benefits for her, but when new rules kicked in earlier this year requiring those receiving the benefits to prove they did not have more than $5,000 in assets, Weiland gave up. To get the banking documents to provide her case worker, her bank would have charged her $15.
“It would not have been worth it,” she says. “I am not looking to game the system. I just don’t want the game rigged anymore.”
“It’s like America hates its own people,” she says of welfare cuts and tax realignments the state implemented earlier this year. “We seem to denigrate our own people, and I don’t know why.”
She says her experiences of covering poverty in the Lansing area were nothing in comparison to living in poverty. She has turned her dining room table into a food pantry, she says, lining the table with canned foods.
“When you are in it, you are exposed to it in a very different way [than when reporting on poverty],” she says.
What is happening in this country is a CRIME, a CRIME against the citizens by the top 1% aided by our government.
Yet another tale of being crushed by the system we essentially voted into place, never fully being able to absorb that our votes and laughably small contributions meant nothing.
We, like Barbara, surely get it now. It’s hard not to when it’s in your face. She has a point, harsh as it is: America clearly hates its own people. This is in the process of changing, Barbara, I promise. Continue to ‘Occupy’, educate, and steer as many people as possible away from mainstream media. To say they’ve been instrumental in getting us to the brink of collapse is an understatement. Stay strong!
I had seen poverty and privation up close and personal for a number of years having worked for a number of non-profits. However, nothing prepared me for experiencing it personally which is what happened when my husband was downsized and was unemployed for almost a year and under-employed for a subsequent year after my business as a mortgage broker (an honest one who never engaged in predatory lending) floundered. We made it through by the grace of God and the compassion of some friends and an outstanding church community. Our circumstances have improved to the extent that I no longer go to our local bread distribution site and hold my breathe that I’ll have enough to pay the rent and not have our utilities shut off. I now recognize the anguish in the faces of people I see regularly (different people/places) offering to clean a car window or carry groceries in exchange for some cash to get them through the day. I now make it a point to carry some spare cash with me and I’m considering printing out index cards with some details about local resources. The gentleman who asked for help yesterday thanked us and remarked that life had been “taking a crap on him ” for a while now. I told him that we’d been there too and that we hope that it gets better for him. Thinking back, it occurs to me that the hopeful comment may have been the more memorable thing we did for him.
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