What’s Behind the One Nation Rally?

An enthusiastic crowd estimated at 175,000 people attended the four-hour rally in Washington October 2 at Lincoln Memorial — a mass action by the labor movement and African American rights groups, supported by the Latino, environmental, LGBT and other liberal and progressive movements. The main purpose was to increase the Democratic vote next month.

The event was organized by a new coalition, One Nation Working Together, which is supported by some 400 groups, primarily led by the two labor federations, AFL-CIO and Change To Win/SEIU, and the NAACP. The rally was addressed by a couple of dozen speakers, mostly from supporting liberal advocacy organizations.

A constant theme reiterated by the union leaders who spoke was the need for jobs — the absence of which is probably one of the main reasons a number of voters who went Democratic in the presidential election may not vote in November. Among these leaders, and a sign of the strength of labor at the rally, was AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry, UAW president Bob King, AFT chief Randi Weingarten, NEA President Dennis Van Roakel,  and CWA’s Larry Cohen.

President/CEO Ben Jealous of the NAACP told the crowd — which included a large proportion of African Americans — that “We’ve come too far to turn back now,” evoking the long struggle for equal rights. “We’ve got to go home and ask our friends and ask our neighbors to vote. Get up off the couch and get out and vote November 2.”

Up to 2,000 chartered buses — largely financed by the unions — brought participants to the demonstration from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. Others arrived by car, commercial bus, railroad and planes from as far away as the West Coast.

The crowd reached its height around 2:30 p.m. when it extended from the Memorial along each side of the long Reflecting Pool to the end. The attendance was not as large as the August 28 right wing “non-political” religious manifestation organized by TV personality, Glen Beck, but the two events were so different in character that comparing size determines nothing.

The historic rally and its feeder marches in Washington October 2 had several pluses accompanied by minuses, the most important being these two:

• The unity achieved at the rally between the working class, people of color and progressives in various social advocacy groups is very important in terms of the political struggle for needed progressive social change in the United States.

However, the rally’s singular purpose was to increase the popular vote for Democratic candidates in the November 2 Congressional election and local offices, not to build an independent liberal/progressive/left coalition to agitate for needed  programs that go beyond the limited possibilities of the Obama Administration’s center/center right political agenda.

• Rally speakers supported a number of relatively progressive policy initiatives, including a massive and comprehensive jobs program, advancement of civil rights and liberties, immigration reform, education reform, and union rights to mention a few. This was a major liberal event and were it the actual intention of the Obama Administration to fight for such initiatives, it would be transformational.

However, not one of the speakers criticized the Obama Administration’s failure to seriously embrace many such programs or to mount the political fight required to attain even watered down versions, blaming everything on “The Party of No.” Even the Blue Dog  conservative Democrats in Congress were off the hook.

Clearly, the administration’s weak jobs program has fallen far short of  making a significant dent in unemployment, which remains around 10% officially and 17% unofficially. Its anti-foreclosure efforts have failed. Civil liberties are being eroded because of White House decisions. Immigration reform is piecemeal. Education reform, based on President Obama’s $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” initiative, is actually opposed by the two teacher unions that so strongly support the Democrats. The labor movement’s main legislative goal —Employee Free Choice Act — can’t even be introduced in Congress, in part because of conservative Democrat opposition.

One of the reasons the Democratic Party may lose a more than usual number of House and Senate seats in the midterm contest is that a number of 2008 Obama voters are disappointed that the Democrats didn’t fight harder and compromise less for “the change they believe in.”

It appeared that President Obama’s massive escalation of the Afghan war, extending the fighting into western Pakistan and Yemen, and continuing the occupation of Iraq would also be unchallenged by the speakers — despite the fact that the majority of Democratic voters are against the war — until Harry Belafonte shattered the silence.

Charging that “the wars that we wage today in far away lands are immoral, unconscionable and unwinnable,” the famous musician, social activist and civil rights leader  delivered a stunning denunciation of a top Obama Administration priority. The crowd seemed momentarily taken aback by this sharp criticism of Obama’s wars (though the president’s name was not mentioned) and the reception was somewhat muted, though at the finish, just after he said “let us put an end to war,” he received prolonged applause.

Could it be that rally leaders were unaware Belafonte intended to deliver a strong antiwar message? His speech was the highlight of the afternoon as far the peace movement and left were concerned.

The only other reference to the military — aside from some patriotic comments to the troops — was Jesse Jackson’s call to “Cut the military budget,” but even Defense Secretary Gates says that. The rest of Reverend Jackson’s talk was essentially “vote Democratic” in November because “The president can’t bear this cross alone.”

One of the more moving presentations was by outspoken progressive Marian Wright Edelman, founder/president of the Children’s Defense Fund, who sharply criticized politicians that promote “massive tax giveaways to the rich when 50% of our children are living in poverty,” and called for increased education funding.

Van Jones, a well known environmental and civil rights activist and an expert on “Green Jobs,” noted that  “We can empower America by looking up for our sources of energy instead of looking down,” referring to wind and solar power. Reverend Al Sharpton earned applause when he declared: “We bailed out the banks. We bailed out the insurance companies. Now it’s time to bail out the American people.”

The only Congressman to speak was Chicago immigrant rights advocate Democratic Representative, Luis Gutierrez, who declared: “The Latino and immigrant struggle is a continuation of the civil rights struggle in this nation. There would be no Cesar Chavez without Dr. Martin Luther King, no Sonia Sotomayor without Thurgood Marshal and no Roberto Clemente without Jackie Robinson.”

The absence of Democratic Party leaders and office holders on the podium as endorsers or rally officials was intentional. Rally leaders did not wish to convey the impression that One Nation Working Together was simply organizing a campaign event to elect a fairly unimpressive collection of center/center right office holders and a small minority of liberals.

The Democrats are worried that independent voters, young voters and liberal supporters who voted Democratic in 2008 are not going to come out in large enough number to prevent the Republicans from making major gains in the House and Senate. A good proportion of these voters are disappointed in the Obama Administration’s performance over the past two years, including some union workers who voted for the Democrats in the last election.

One Nation has positioned itself as independently promoting a relatively liberal agenda and is asking Democrats — who are told that the only obstacle to real progress is the GOP and the dreaded Tea Party — to vote in sufficient number to make it possible for the Democratic members of Congress to score major victories in the next two years. The disinclination of many of these politicians to consider aligning with center/center left progressive programs is notorious.

This event cost the union movement plenty. Most of the buses allowed union members — and in some cases the general public — to travel free. Our New York State United Teachers-sponsored bus from New Paltz cost a paltry $20 to D.C. and back for non-union riders, in return for which we received a bagged breakfast, dinner snack, a blue and orange AFT jersey proclaiming One Nation Working Together plus a $5 round trip metro fare to and from the Lincoln Memorial.

Charter buses began arriving in the huge parking lot of RFK Stadium starting around 9 a.m. on what turned out to be a day of blue skies, sunshine and comfortable temperatures. Up to 700 buses were said to be coming from New York State alone. According to local union sources buses brought perhaps 1,000 demonstrators from the Upper Hudson Valley cities and towns of Albany, Amsterdam, Latham, Schenectady, Saratoga and Troy and 500 from Mid-Hudson Valley communities of Kingston, New Paltz, Middletown, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Fishkill and Beacon. An unknown number took other transportation.

Thousands more probably would have attended the Washington event but there were serious bus problems in Boston, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and on Long Island. Through a mix-up, some  scheduled buses never arrived to pick up passengers, and some got to the nation’s capital just about in time to return home.

Many buses, including ours, arrived too late to attend the scheduled 11 a.m. antiwar feeder march from 14th St. and Constitution Ave., where there were two speaking platforms, one organized by United for Peace and Justice and the other by the United National Antiwar Conference. After a while both groups agreed to use the same stage. In addition there was a Socialist Contingent nearby. When the three groups marched together to the Memorial there were about 500-600 people, we’re told.

Some Union contingents, each wearing their own colored t-shirts, marched in separate  feeder marches.

A number of peace and left wing groups attended the rally but not all marched, including several socialist and communist organizations which carried their own signs in the crowd and distributed leaflets and free publications. The ANSWER antiwar coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) handed out a great many large yellow and black peace posters on sticks with a photo of Martin Luther King that predominated in a large part of the rally where we were situated, and hundreds of demonstrators took them home on buses that evening. The Party for Socialism and Liberation decided to charge a donation for their paper, Liberation, and sold 1,200 copies.

This was a positive aspect of the way the One Nation event was organized. Antiwar and socialist or communist groups were welcomed to join the rally just like every other group, to arrange feeder marches of their own, to set up tables, distribute literature, and to become one of the hundreds of endorsers if they wished.

The Communist Party USA, Democratic Socialists of America and the International Socialist Organization were among the endorsers, though most left organizations did not wish to be associated at that level. It has not always been this way in union or liberal dominated events, when the left has often been discouraged from attending or excluded. Hopefully it’s a new trend. Of course, the left was not invited to speak at the main rally, and didn’t expect to be.

Right wing websites and blogs howled with red-baiting denunciations about the presence of the left October 2, which was actually quite small — but since they already call Obama a “socialist” and believe the Democratic Party is a front for a Bolshevik conspiracy it’s not a big deal.

To sum up: The various liberal groups that gathered in Washington for the One Nation rally are a positive factor on the political landscape, mainly because of their working class, multinational and progressive orientation.

Unfortunately their heightened political consciousness remains to be developed vis-à-vis (1) the inherent political limitations of the Democratic Party to which they are presently wedded; (2) their acceptance of a restrictive, closed circuit two-party system extending from the center to the far right without a mass left entity; and (3) their adherence to “lesser evil” politics that insures that “evil” in one guise or another is the only result.

Lastly, the notion of “one nation” sounds good, even inspiring, and entirely useful in the present situation. But most of us know that in reality the U.S. remains, in effect, two nations: one representing the interests of the minority — the big corporations, big banks, big stockholders, and big money that tend to rule; and the other the interests of the great majority — the working class, middle class and lower class that tend to be ruled.

The real issue is which “nation” does one support, and out of that support help to create one real nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Jack A. Smith is editor of the Activist Newsletter and a former editor of the Guardian (US) radical newsweekly. He may be reached at: jacdon@earthlink.net. Read other articles by Jack.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on October 6th, 2010 at 8:28am #

    So, still asking only. And only for handouts! Give me, give me, please! But not give me back what u robbed me of!
    Or even ask, if u’r just doing that anyway, why in a democracy and own country must i march and beg?
    Don’t i have two parties to represent me and another 300mn+ people. Oh, ya, yes u do but u know how difficult it is to be a senator or representative with our country needing constant saving from so much danger and people who hate us for our great service to the world, peace, progress, democracy, etcetc.
    So, please be patient and thank u for ur fine letter. God bless! tnx

  2. Don Hawkins said on October 6th, 2010 at 11:19am #

    The Democrats are worried that independent voters, young voters and liberal supporters who voted Democratic in 2008 are not going to come out in large enough number to prevent the Republicans from making major gains in the House and Senate. J Smith

    Heck let’s just get it over with put the other side back in power as it certainly look’s like very little difference anyway. As we know what needs to happen not want need is not happening not even close. Then on Fox New’s and now CNN who have also gone completely mad we will hear and see, Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) have been deployed in the greater Los Angles area and Detroit the local officals are asking for calm. Then on Fox maybe Beck will say you see I told you radicals, Socialists and did you sign up for my new’s letter and my new book just came out. On CNN well dressed people will show people covering there ears and dropping to the street then move on to a story about something more important like what another well dressed fool just said then go to a commercial.

    Big Brother is watching you.

    During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
    George Orwell

  3. Don Hawkins said on October 6th, 2010 at 12:22pm #

    Ok what needs to be done again I will put some ideas that I didn’t think of myself but connected the dot’s from the best minds we have today that I might add we never see on CNN or Fox must be a reason for that don’t you think. This last little economic downturn that is still with us and so far still trying to solve a problem, problems with the same thinking that got us here about 100 years. There are some radicals are right and Socialism well TARP was what economic doctrine and then the stimulus oh the outrage we all need to ask the bank’s for a loan at compound interest that after TARP and of course what interest rate do these banks get money/debt from we the people granted somewhat an illusion as we hear much about all this got to make it seem real when nothing more than Universal deceit from a few. I’ll put it again and only a start if we wish to survive and anything close to this do we see well no so a few must a few other plans that very sure doesn’t include my kid’s there kid’s or you kid’s or you.

    From the beginning of preparedness in 2011 , American leaders recognized that the stakes were too high to permit the change over from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy to grow in an unfettered, laissez-faire manner. American manufacturers, for instance, could not be trusted to stop producing consumer goods and to start producing materiel for the change over.

    To organize the slowdown of the economies Worldwide and to ensure that it produced the goods needed for the changeover , the federal government spawned an array of mobilization agencies which not only often purchased goods (or arranged their purchase) , but which in practice closely directed those goods’ manufacture and heavily influenced the operation of private companies and whole industries. On going talks with China and India were spawned with agreement’s to share all research working together was for the first time achieved.

    Solution therefore required a rising fee on oil, gas and coal – a carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies at the domestic mine or port of entry. All funds collected were distributed to the public on a per capita basis to allow lifestyle adjustments and spur clean energy innovations. As the fee increased, fossil fuels were phased out, replaced by carbon-free energy and efficiency. Farming practices Worldwide began to change and those that needed help got help. Did we all live happily ever after no but it was a start and America for the fist time began to lose weight.

    Like Ellen Hodgson Brown wrote in her last article;

    Investment adviser Christopher Whalen thinks we could soon be looking at more Wall Street bankruptcies. If so, hopefully we won’t fall into the trap this time of underwriting the losses while letting the banks keep the profits. If we, the people, are picking up the tab, we should insist on owning the banks.

    And still more needs to be done well turn on the tube and watch CNN or Fox any of them and what will we hear to be truthful honest I don’t know anymore but very sure a form of madness but made to seem like important madness. War what is it good for……………………………..fools; now with known knowledge that is still somewhat a secret.

  4. Don Hawkins said on October 6th, 2010 at 12:57pm #

    The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.

    But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
    Carl Sagan

  5. Don Hawkins said on October 6th, 2010 at 1:30pm #

    Above comment on what needs to be done is to try and save as much life as we can on Earth. That’s correct we waited to long and many will not make it and on this present path the status quo voting for Bozo the Clowns it’s check and mate mates for life on Earth. Do the clowns know this little fact yep they sure do. Ha ha ha. Is that orange chicken my favorite and waiter fill this glass. What word rhymes with glass?

  6. Don Hawkins said on October 7th, 2010 at 4:02am #

    Sent this to media this morning!

    Yesterday something seemed far away,

    Well well yesterday was different to say the least. Glenn Beck did almost an hour on the evil’s of Socialism new names and got this one book the last one left on Earth that will send us all into hell. At the end of his show he said it’s time to gather the flock. Oh my God is he trying to start a religious war as you would think the one or two we have now would keep us occupied careful what you wish for Glenn and assorted group’s and gangs. I guess this whole thing is being done to protect Capitalism the greatest economic system in human history that you have to admit in it’s present form is destroying life on Earth at a rather fast pace. The whole thing is just strange don’t you think? Then saw David’s special on Goldman and yes after seeing that God’s work it was right there for all to see and I’ll bet he was just glad to get away from those people and go to Texas for a little peace. Oh before David’s special I watch Jon Stewart and Lewis Black did a little on what NBC did on education well what Lewis did was higher education and the truth. I guess we could laugh at all this except what we are seeing is not a Greek tragedy but a Roman tragedy playing out before our eye’s as we are told to buy gold. Yes the whole thing is a tad bit strange indeed. I think I’ll get a compass and find North before it changes again.

    Don

  7. Don Hawkins said on October 7th, 2010 at 5:23am #

    Then sent this one to the greatest minds in human history.

    Hummm,

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of
    wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the
    epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of
    Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had
    everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to
    heaven, we were all doing direct the other way.” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of
    Two Cities
    It is ironic that a passage written almost 150 years ago could be used to
    describe our world today. Irene Becker

    And why well have you ever heard of illusion of knowledge? Heck ask your
    guest’s about that concept on second thought you don’t have too just listen
    to them best way to hear it.

    “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false,
    and by the rulers as useful.”
    Seneca; Aha many years now illusion of knowledge.

    Don

    And again just on the off chance you read DV Beck and assorted groups and gangs read what Seneca wrote many moons ago big boy’s and girl’s.