Gloria Nieto

The answer is in the hair dye section of the Walgreen's

Filed By Gloria Nieto | July 27, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: food stamps, Jared Polis, Las Vegas, Netroots Nation, the 99ers, unemployment, unemployment benefits, Walgreens

First, thank you to Mike Rogers for helping me attend Netroots Nation.

gloria-netroots.jpgSecond, NN what were you thinking going to the Rio hotel? There were around 2000 participants there with multiple ways of accessing the net but there was a ridiculous amount of money involved in having access in our rooms and most of the time there was no access.

I won't go into the gory details but it took a modern miracle to get regular access to the net. At a net convention.

Third, the rooms may have been cheap but getting into the hotel took some money in the bank. When I tried to check into my prepaid room, the hotel tried to extract $200 from my checking account as a deposit. I don't have $200 in my account.

Since I am sure they mistook me for a rock star in my Hawaiian shirt and presumed that I was going to trash the room, they tried to take my money and were not going to allow me to check in if I didn't have the money. In rooms that had been paid for already.

So I did what any activist dyke would do - I burst into tears.

That did it, the guy I was dealing with ran into the back to get the manager. They did take $50 but could someone have researched this and the technology issue before signing a contract with the hotel?

In a town like Vegas, with so much money changing hands, it is no wonder that people don't understand poverty. Well, at least this part of Vegas. Some of my colleagues are struggling the same way I am: no job, losing cars, losing places to live. We had to find the cheap places to eat in the hotel because going in a cab to another place to eat doesn't make the math work nor does one get fed.

Thankfully lunches were free. Mike Rogers did a nice hostess turn, providing us with breakfast a couple of times. Our LGBT community is incredibly generous also, offering to buy me meals on numerous occasions. I am really grateful to see the humanity in our movement, to look at each other with compassion and feed the hungry.

My roommate, the fabulous Dr Jillian Weiss, was such a rock for me throughout the conference, helping me through the hard patches when lack of resources were staring me in the face. I felt so vulnerable, what the hell I was doing there? Then she would offer a hug, a kind word and laugh out loud at one of my jokes and I would be able to push on.

But... here it comes. One morning we were having a breakfast soiree at Mike's pad and Rep Jared Polis joined us. I introduced myself as a former member of the DNC, the only Latina lesbian to ever address a Presidential convention. I am unemployed and part of the 99ers - people who have used 99 weeks of unemployment and whose safety net is gone. My income is $200 of food stamps a month.

He said that I must be happy they passed unemployment extensions last week.

"No, I am not included in that group, we still have nothing."

Congressman Polis: "Well, there are campaign jobs coming up."

Me: "No, look at my hair. People like me, my age, don't get hired for campaign jobs."

Jared Polis: "Well, dye your hair."

Me: "That takes money. I don't have money."

Polis: "Well, you can get something cheap at the drug store."

Me: "No, I don't have any money."

Polis: "Okay, well, good luck."

As he backed away from me to talk to others at the soiree, I couldn't help but wonder what will happen to us who are sinking fast.

Maybe the answer is in the hair dye section of the Walgreen's.

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>> "the hotel tried to extract $200 from my checking account as a deposit"

Even for a prepaid room, this is pretty much standard procedure, and it's only temporary, which is why they prefer to use a credit card for it. That's not much solace, I know, but the fact that you got it dropped to fifty bucks is nothing short of a miracle.

I hear you 100%, Gloria.

I don't have a checking account (I owe $200 on my previous, long closed account). I do have a pre-paid debit card, on which I can deposit cash (for a $5 per deposit fee).

So, I end up having conversations like this when cashing a checks made out to me at a local bank:

Bank: Do you have an account with us?
Me: No, but you've noticed the check-writer does.
Bank: Yes, and we could open an account for you today if you'd like.
Me: No, that's not an option. I live in poverty at the moment and the proceeds of this check amount to all of my funds...
Bank: Well, I'm sorry to inform you that there is a $5 check-cashing charge then.
Me: This is a $30 check written on an account here, and it represents several hours of my labor. Is there any kind of waiver or override available here?
Bank: If you just wanted to open an account...
Me: Listen, I don't mean to put you on the spot here or be rude in any way (over-the-top niceness is expected in Minnesota), but outstanding charges from other banks keep me from opening a new checking account; I live with poverty and nominal homelessness, relying on the good will of family and friends; it strikes me as unfair and uncommonly bad service for your organization to charge a 17% fee, but it appears to be my only option.

The tellers generally look a little embarrassed and quit talking at that point. It's as if they never have to consider that a pleasant, ordinary 50-y/o on the other side of the window might be living with poverty.

Gloria, it was wonderful to get to know you. I was glad I could help even a little bit.

First I want to say to you, Gloria, that I am terribly saddened by the experience of insensitivity, discounting, frustration and helplessness-in-the-face-of-bureaucratic-intransigence which was inflicted upon you. I have been there and it is painful. Privelege can be so unthinkingly cruel.

I am so glad for you that you had the roommate that you had. Jillian reacted to you just as I would have expected her to react and as I believe I would have reacted had I been there.
Those of us who "get it" that our common humanity is the ground on which we must, should and do stand, are showing the way. You reach out with your humanity to others. It costs us nothing yet it is a precious gift.

And to you, Jillian, Thank you for standing with a sister when others of us could not be there. Nothing political. Nothing confrontive. One woman extending the hand of humankindness to another - such Grace and Power. This is how we live, one day, one person, one experience and one kindness at a time. May we all stay mindful and kind.

Jillian, I have said before how much I respect and admire you. Moments like this are Why.

Thank you from all of us just for being Jillian.


Sometimes a roommate (even arriving later) can put their own charge card on the account, if they have access to credit.

An added twist to the hold that gets put on debit cards (when someone does have the account balance) is that the hold lasts several days beyond the stay at the hotel. But if you request that it be lifted when you check out, every place I have stayed at will do that. In the meantime, you are denied access to your own money, whether or not it will be required to pay for the hotel stay.

Hopefully conferences can work on negotiating ways around that in the future, perhaps as a quasi-"scholarship" arrangement. The risk is that if there is something damaged or a bill not paid, the organizers would be stuck with the bill.