Not long ago, I participated in a “People’s Special Session,” a political action to demonstrate how elected leaders of the Maryland General Assembly could safely meet to address the multi-faceted crises caused by COVID-19.
More than 200 of us gathered in Annapolis where we were joined unexpectedly by Senate President Bill Ferguson and Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones, who were not invited. What I heard from them only confirmed my suspicion that the General Assembly isn’t listening to people like me.
I was furious after the event to see a video and social media posts released by legislative leadership that completely erased not only my voice, but all of our collective voices.
I have worked every single day of this pandemic. It has not been acknowledged that essential workers like me are putting both our own and our family’s health at risk in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
The federal government and Gov. Larry Hogan have failed to adequately address the critical needs of Marylanders, so it’s the responsibility of our state legislators to get the job done.
The paid sick leave provision in the CARES Act doesn’t apply to seasonal workers like me. This intentional carve-out allows companies to hire massive amounts of staff that put themselves at risk for the sake of their employers’ profit. At my workplace, we were provided with hazard pay for a few weeks but as sales skyrocketed, they took our hazard pay explaining that the company could not provide additional compensation to essential workers citing it was needed in order to be “sustainable and profitable into the future.” This is not an isolated event, in fact, multiple retailers have chosen profit over people.
Unfortunately, even after explaining my personal experience to Senate President Ferguson and House Speaker Jones, they still refused to commit to calling a special session. Their many excuses showed they were more interested in performative politics, rather than concrete actions.
During the event, after being pressed on the absence of action from the Maryland legislature, Speaker Jones said, “We’ve been working the entire time; you just don’t see it.” At that point, the crowd erupted in disapproval.
Now I’ve had a few jobs over the years and I would never dream of saying, “I’m working, you just don’t see it,” and have that fly as an acceptable answer. I can only imagine saying that to my supervisor and losing my job for it.
Despite the audience expressing their anger throughout the event, President Ferguson and Speaker Jones felt that their responses were acceptable. That signified to me the leaders of our legislative body are so far out of touch with the people, they might as well be making snow angels on Pluto.
President Ferguson and Speaker Jones failed the easiest test of leadership possible — listening to their constituents. They failed to answer yes or no questions from suffering renters and workers who are gearing up for what could be the deadliest winter of our lifetime. They fed the crowd with empty platitudes garnished with sweet nothings. They ignored their responsibilities by shifting blame to the governor.
To top things off, they left the event that they weren’t invited to, early — with numerous unanswered questions that were desperately being asked by the crowd. As Ferguson and Jones walked to their cars and were whisked away by their drivers, the crowd repeatedly chanted “Special Session Now!” I wish that their video and social media posts had portrayed that chant, which was the true spirit of the event.
I truly believe that government is a partnership between elected officials and the people. We, the essential workers, have been showing up since day one. Why has the legislature not been showing up in a tangible way? My message to leadership is this: If we have to work during the pandemic, so do you!
It is my hope that Speaker Jones and President Ferguson, instead of putting efforts into erasing the voices of hurting people during the pandemic, will take our demand for a special session seriously. I hope that they will not only understand the words and feelings expressed at our event but take the necessary action to address them.
The people won’t forget the harm the General Assembly has caused by failing to take action. We certainly won’t forget this moment when they’re up for reelection in 2022.
— RASHAD LLOYD
The writer is an essential worker from Prince George’s County’s District 22.