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For the past year, I haven’t exactly been homeless, but I haven’t exactly had a home.
Since being evicted from my apartment in Chattanooga last November, I have stayed with an assortment of friends, family members, and total strangers, who wanted me to come to their town to report, as I have been unable to afford a home of my own.
During that time, I filed dozens of stories that no one else in the media covers, like the record-breaking spike in latino construction deaths in Nashville, last week’s picket line at the Washington Post, and the role of low wages and privatization in last December’s deadly Chattanooga school bus crash.
Through our reader’s generous donations, I was able to file more than 15 dispatches on the historic Nissan union election in Canton, Mississippi, including five for the Guardian, three times as many stories as any of our rival publications.
It almost didn’t happen.
Last November, I packed all my earthly belongings into a storage unit in Chattanooga and went North to stay at the residence of retired Pennsylvania Judge Wayne Hanson near Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania.
It should be noted that Judge Hanson was never a lawyer, but a social worker who knew how to mobilize people through organizing. He invented his own spreadsheets and knew exactly where each of his 2,500 votes were in his district.
I had mentored under the Judge when I worked as a young field organizer working for President Obama. We knocked on hundreds of doors together and had scores of doors slammed in our faces, but the Judge kept pushing me on. He taught me never to feel ashamed or embarrassed when you were asking someone to do something on behalf of a good cause.
At 76, in 2015, the yinzer Judge came down to visit me for a month in Chattanooga. When I was unable to afford my apartment there, the Judge invited me to come live with him for a few months in Pennsylvania until I could save up enough money to get back on my feet.
All winter, we planned and strategized a long-term vision for Payday Report. He gave me pep talks as he himself struggled with brain cancer. Every day, he asked me how many people I called to ask for money and how much more I was gonna call the next day.
The Judge was amazed by the energy of Southern organizers he had met and constantly reminded me of the need to get back South.
Eventually, I saved up enough money to get back down South reporting.
The Judge even agreed to sell me his old 2003 Dodge Neon for $800, a low-ball price, considering that its blue book value was more than $3,000. We’ve named our trusty, union-made labor reporting mobile “The Judge Hanson.”
In March, I bought an air mattress and packed a dozen shirts into a duffel bag. For four months, I drove more than 14,000 miles, filed dozens of stories, and slept in 20 different locations.
Since I couldn’t afford hotel rooms, I found activists willing to host me for up to a week at a time. Once, I even stayed with this ironworker Randy Bryce, who later became a viral internet sensation after announcing his intent to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Slowly, I began to build networks to fundraise from and, while I was still broke, I found myself somehow getting by, suffering only the occasional anxiety attack when I was unable to afford something. This past summer, I was even able to afford a sublease at a small house in Goshen, Kentucky.
Slowly, it seemed that the solidarity of the labor movement was helping me overcome a rough time. However that sublease expired two weeks ago and for the last two weeks, I have been semi-homeless, couchsurfing once again.
I’m looking to rent a home of my own, but I don’t have enough money to put down a deposit for a new place. I am making enough that I can afford rent, but coming up with $1,000 immediately for a security deposit is a tough haul especially after coming down with pneumonia in September and missing several freelance assignments.
During this past year of crashing with friends, family members, and finding short-term rentals, Payday Report was able to accomplish so much. I can’t imagine the level at which we will take Payday once I have a formal home once again.
Everything that Payday has and will accomplish is thanks to the support from our generous readers. Again, I’m taking the lesson of Judge Hanson to heart and asking people to support a good cause. Please donate what you can so that I can afford a security deposit of $1,000 and $700 for a moving van to drive up from Chattanooga and gas.
To get a sense of how good Payday could be with a permanent home, take another look at the work I did when I was without a home:
- In Canton, Mississippi we filed over 15 dispatches during the historic union election at Nissan. (See them all here.)
- At the Kentucky Derby, we captured the story of how Trump’s crackdown on undocumented workers was upsetting the millionaire horse owners.
- In Nashville, Tennessee, we garnered national attention to the electrocution death of a 30-year-old Guatemalan immigrant. We then went back to Nashville in August and covered how Latinos were upset with the Mayor’s silence on the death.
- When the Newspaper Guild picketed the Washington Post, we were the only outlet to cover it.
- Again, in North Carolina, we were the only national outlet to cover the state legislature stripping farm workers of union rights.
- Before national outlets picked up on the story following Hurricane Harvey, Payday was also the only outlet to cover how unnecessary delays by the Obama Administration allowed Trump to roll back vital chemical safety reforms.
- We held Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez accountable when we showed that he had stumbled in his pledge to eliminate unpaid internships.
- In Chattanooga, Payday broke the story of how low wages and school bus privatization contributed to the death of five children in Chattanooga. Then, we cut a syndication deal with the African-American owned Chattanooga News Chronicle to get Payday’s stories on the crash in print to its 30,000 readers.
- Before Randy “Iron Stache” Bryce was a national sensation, Mike Elk crashed on his son’s bed for a week in Racine and broke the story of his run against House Speaker Paul Ryan.
- Payday traveled to Huntsville, Alabama, where we covered the effect that Indivisible activists in the Deep South were having on the fight to save Obamacare (and we plan to go back to Huntsville a lot this year).
- We just so happened to be there in Baltimore when news broke that the city’s Democratic Mayor vetoed legislation raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
- Also, we also accidentally got stranded in Pittsburgh when news broke that a special election was going to be held and we were the first outlet to give a preview of the race, beating even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Through our weekly Payday Report newsletter, we showed how Southern nonprofits receive on average only 1/10th of the national average of foundation funding.
- Finally, on Mike Elk’s 31st Birthday, he covered the 90th birthday of an Italian Resistance fighter in New Castle, Delaware.
As you can see, on most of the stories we got the exclusive first. The rest of the media had to follow. Maybe sleeping on other people’s couches helped us find out what’s going on, but I think we could do a lot more with a proper home.
So, please if you can, give so that I can afford a security deposit and a moving van to get a permanent residence.
Help Us Reach Our Goal of $1,700