D.C. rally shows desire for a fight

Kyle Brown reports from Washington on a demonstration that showed there is another side to the right-wing talk machine that dominates mainstream politics.

The socialist contingent on the march at the October 2 "One Nation Working Together" rally (Phil Gasper | SW)The socialist contingent on the march at the October 2 "One Nation Working Together" rally (Phil Gasper | SW)

PEOPLE JOURNEYED from across the country to Washington, D.C. for the "One Nation Working Together" rally on October 2 sponsored by the NAACP, AFL-CIO and more than 400 other groups to call for jobs, education and many other progressive causes.

Because of problems with buses arriving on time, it was hard to get a sense of how many people attended, but estimates ranged from around 100,000 to the 175,000 claimed by organizers.

The One Nation march came at a time when the right-wing Tea Party movement is growing in prominence, and the Democratic Party is facing increased dissatisfaction among its base. Thus, it provided an opportunity to speak out for those who feel the urgent need to challenge the rightward shift in U.S. politics.

On the other hand, march organizers were explicit about their goal of using the rally to mobilize voters for the midterm election--from the front of rally, the message of getting out and voting was loud.

The spirit of the participants could be felt even before the rally came together at the Lincoln Memorial. Near RFK Stadium, where many buses dropped off ralliers, union workers, students, community activists and their families were already chanted as they jammed onto packed subway cars: "What do we want? Union jobs! When do we want them? Now!" as they squeezed into subway cars packed full.

At the site of the rally, the crowd poured from the stage in front of the Lincoln Memorial down the long stairs and around the reflecting pool. People stood in matching T-shirts with banners representing their unions and political and community organizations. Activist groups set up tables to campaign for a range of issues, from immigrant rights, anti-war, environmental and LGBT equality.

From the front, liberal leaders like Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP and Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow Coalition discussed the importance of the election on November 2, and spent much of their time urging a vote for Democrats.

But others chose to speak about the struggles they are facing in the context of the economic crisis and a right wing confident and on the rise. Among these speakers were workers trying to organize unions, LGBT activists demanding an end to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, DREAM activists organizing for immigrant rights and students.

"After all is said and done, I'm going to be left with more than $100,000 worth of debt," said Ben Margus, chair of the D.C. Student Alliance. "No one should be educationally limited because of where they're born or the economic status that they were born into. Demand equality in our workplace. Demand equality in our justice system. Demand equality in our schools. Education is a right!"

Yves Gomez, an 18-year-old, described how community organizing saved him when he was targeted for deportation after being accepted into college. His parents were deported in 2008. "The broken immigration system has torn my family apart," Gomez said. "I know there are hundreds of thousands of other students out there who are in similar and worse situations than mine. For each of us, the American Dream is being denied."

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VARIOUS SOCIALIST and left-wing organizations and individuals came together for a specifically socialist contingent at the "One Nation" march. The contingent was meant to project the perspective that politicians only make changes that benefit working people when there are social movements organized to demand, fight for and win these changes.

As Dan La Botz, the Socialist Party candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio and one of the organizers of the contingent explained:

We are here for all the same reasons as everyone else. We want an end to war. We want jobs and an end to the environmental crisis. We know the Republicans aren't going to address these problems. But we also know the Democrats won't either.

Obama has deepened the wars. He has taken care of Wall Street, but not the people. To win the changes that benefit working people, we need to rebuild unity on the left. We need to rebuild social movements. We need a working people's party that stays independent of the Democrats.

The contingent of several hundred marched together, chanting, "Obama's not a socialist! We are, we are!" For most, the young, confident socialists demanding "tax the rich" and an "end to wars for profit" was welcomed.

In general, most people who attended listened to the speeches and entertainment from the stage and expressed support for Barack Obama and the Democrats against the Tea Party. But they also talked about their frustrations.

For one thing, organizers claimed that the October 2 demonstration wasn't held in reaction to the "Restoring Honor" rally of Glenn Beck, which attracted Tea Party fanatics to the same Lincoln Memorial location at the end of August--disgustingly, on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Among marchers, though, there was a very clear consciousness of challenging the Tea Partiers.

Eleanor Lauderdale of the American Federation of Government Employees explained that the Tea Party was one of her main reasons for coming to Washington. "We have to call it what it is--racist," she said. "The Democrats won't call them racist. They won't even say the word 'racism'."

After Phyllis Jones of Pittsburgh explained that she had come to D.C. to support Obama and "outnumber the Tea Party," her daughter Melinda Jones, jumped in. "I'm here to support teachers," Melinda said. "They're not getting enough respect. Teachers are the ones that make us who we are, but schools aren't getting enough money. They aren't prioritized. My school even cares about sports more than teachers. They're becoming more like a business."

Many demonstrators raised antiwar slogans on signs, even though it's clear by now that Obama is committed to pursuing the same imperialist program as George W. Bush, if with gentler rhetoric.

"I know lots of liberals that are very disappointed with Obama," said Ellyn Burnes, a graduate student in education at Ohio University. "He didn't come through for the antiwar movement. He's sinking his own chances for re-election. It's very tragic for a man that brilliant. But he campaigned that change comes from the grassroots. If it's not Obama, it must be us."

Toward the end of the four-hour program of speeches and entertainment, Rev. Frederick Haynes was able to put forward a grassroots activist strategy to the whole crowd.

"If you touch someone with your finger, you may not get their attention," Haynes said. "But if you bring your fingers together and form a fist, you can strike a mighty blow. We are here today to strike a mighty blow. Because whenever this nation has made progress, we've brought our fingers together."

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DEMONSTRATIONS IN support of the D.C. rally were held in several cities on October 2.

-- Among them was Seattle, where hundreds of people turned out. James Bible, president of the King County NAACP, used his speaking time to denounce the new anti-teacher and anti-public education documentary Waiting for Superman and the effort to undermine public education with charter schools. "It's critical to start seeing past artificially drawn boundaries and start embracing one another in such a way that everybody has their needs met: food, shelter and clothing," Bible said in an interview.

-- In Portland, Ore., 75 people came out to a rally in St. Francis Park, where the focus was on strengthening the labor movement and supporting community and grassroots organizing.

Sam Bernstein and Camille White-Avian contributed to this article.