Hello. Thank you for inviting WESPAC and me to participate in your meeting today. We only got back from Washington at one o’clock this morning, and I’m still in the process of sorting through my impressions of yesterday.
More than 400 groups endorsed and mobilized for the “One Nation Working Together” rally for Jobs, Education and Justice, which organizers said drew a crowd of 175,000 people. News commentators today are comparing the size and density of the Glenn Beck/Tea Party crowd and yesterday’s.
But one obvious contrast they don’t mention is the diversity of yesterday’s participants. The Tea Party rally was almost entirely white, older and largely not working class, bankrolled by multibillionaire money. One National Working Together was truly representative of working and middle class Americans, with tremendous union participation – there were large contingents from the United Mine Workers, Communication Workers of America, the Teamsters, , of 1199 and other SEIU locals, The and many, many other unions. The , one of the main organizers of the event, sent numerous buses from many states and college campuses.
There was a huge African-American and Latino turnout, a large and enthusiastic youth and student component, and a broad range of political (priorities), including anti-war, immigration reform, environmental action, education groups and so much more. The rally began with an hour-long ecumenical faith program, expressing unity along a wide religious spectrum.
Approaching the National Mall, my group of friends was looking for the feeder march organized by “The Peace Table,” a coalition of dozens of peace and antiwar groups. We kept seeing huge numbers of marchers streaming down the paths to the Reflecting Pool and thinking they were the peace contingent, only to find that they were as often as not, student groups or NAACP members or union locals from various parts of the country, and unaffiliated marchers simply converging on the rally site.
Highlights of the speakers included MSNBC host Ed Schultz, Ben Jealous of the NAACP, , Harry Belafonte, and . The goal was to use this march as a launching pad for policy change. There are two major components of this drive.
First, in a democracy, citizens must use their vote to force change. Speaker after speaker urged people to go home and get out the vote on November 2 for representatives who have the integrity and courage to challenge corporate America, and stand up for the working and poor and common people of this country. Al Sharpton likened the upcoming elections to midterm exams in high school and college, where focused preparation and hard work are necessary to succeed. Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, said “October 2nd is about November 2nd.” This rally must result in an energized and organized people’s electoral campaign to defeat Tea Party and right wing candidates and demand the change we voted for.”
The second urgent imperative is coalition building. The One Nation coalition provides the first opportunity in a generation for a wide range of groups from every branch of the progressive movement—peace and religious groups with labor and civil rights organizations with environment movement and lesbians and gays and organizations for immigration reform, etc–to unite to promote social and political change. This tremendous potential must be realized with the active participation of the hundreds of groups who tapped into it for yesterday’s rally.
Of all the speakers, Harry Belafonte might have gotten the most attention and loudest response from the crowd when, recalling being with Rev. King at the Lincoln Memorial on that famous day in 1963, spoke of Dr. King’s deep antiwar convictions and well as his leadership in the struggle for and against poverty. Belefonte spoke of how today, our unjust foreign wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not only killing tens of thousands of innocents but they are also destroying our own capacity to rebuild our own country and meet the serious needs of the American people for good jobs, quality education for our children and retirement security for our elders.
WESPAC looks forward to joining with FOR and other peace and social action groups in our area to mobilize voters and to participate actively in building the coalition in the Hudson Valley as it moves forward in the months to come.