"One Nation" Event A Bit Disappointing, We Didn't March
On the Metro, as I was leaving downtown D.C., I saw a few individuals wearing United Auto Workers T-shirts. Being a journalist, I was curious about what any of them might have thought about the "One Nation Working Together" rally I was leaving. I asked the person closest to me for his thoughts, and he said he was a little a disappointed. He said he was glad people came out and there was good camaraderie but he was disappointed.
I asked why he was disappointed. He said, "We didn't march." I smiled at him and told him, "He was right, we didn't." The organizers used the word "march" when there was no plans for people marching at all. They said those at the rally were going to march for jobs, education, immigrant rights, justice, and more. But, they weren't talking about what people on the National Mall were going to do after the 4-hour rally ended.
The use of the word "march" was, instead, an act of cheapening activism. Liberal-leaning institutions involved, like the AFL-CIO, American Federation for Teachers, NAACP, SEIU, Sierra Club, etc.---organizations that can always be counted on to convince people to vote Democrat---co-opted the word. What they really meant was they and others were going to "march" on the polls on November 2nd and overwhelm the efforts of the Tea Party to take control of Congress. And, in effect, these institutions and other organizations involved were doing a service to political leaders, who have failed Americans miserably since President Obama was elected. By managing the anger and frustration of people and ensuring it did not produce any kind of an independent movement that would result in major acts of civil disobedience, direct action or electoral activism outside of the two dominant parties in America, these institutions were helping the politicians and corporations that finance them out.
When I first got to the rally, I hung around the peace contingent. There were a couple hundred people from various groups of significance in the peace movement present. They had a right to be proud because the organizers of the event had invited representatives of the peace movement to be a part of the organizing committee (something that usually doesn't happen with these big liberal groups).But, then, the peace movement also had plenty to bothered about; they really didn't get to have any speakers from the movement get up in front of the Lincoln Memorial and address the tens of thousands of people who were present.
The peace contingent held a small rally near 14th & Constitution Ave in D.C. before joining the main rally that went from from 12 to 4 pm. Michael McPhearson of Veterans for Peace, members of Gold Star Familes for Peace, Glen Ford and others spoke to those who gathered around. Perhaps, one of the most memorable issues brought up during that small rally was the issue of FBI raids on progressive activists that happened recently in Chicago and Minneapolis. An individual shared how a grand jury is going to be convened and activists will be expected to respond to subpoenas, however, the activists are refusing to go before the jury on the basis that this is a "witch-hunt," McCarthyism, or, more appropriately, a result of the PATRIOT Act and its expansions.
A satellite photo image led organizers to claim the rally had more people in attendance than and the "Restoring Honor" rally put on by Glenn Beck had. Interestingly, the Associated Press is disputing this claim and do not think the crowds were as dense as they were during the Beck rally.
As someone who was there, I contend there were at least 50,000 if not more. I don't know how many were present for the Beck rally and, if you followed that crowd count, there were disputes on the numbers.
This event provided group therapy for community organizers and Obama supporters looking for a way to reaffirm their dedication to hope and change. It was not only a chance to unify around the need for jobs, education, environmental protections and clean energy, immigrant rights, college affordability, etc. but also a chance to reclaim history and, one month later, send a message to Glenn Beck and the Tea Party that they would not be allowed to pick and choose who the real Americans are because America is a nation of immigrants and everyone who is in this country has a right to a pathway to citizenship.
Many of the speakers made sure they addressed this dominant media narrative that there is some kind of "enthusiasm gap" among liberals and Obama supporters. People are dissatisfied, but they do not want to make it harder for Obama to his job by offering up criticisms or demands. Liberal institutions and much of the grassroots present were there to raise doubts about the existence of any kind of "enthusiasm gap."
None of the speakers really bothered to address how Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama and others have been attacking progressives for "whining" and being petulant and unrealistic, who have raised expectations for the Obama Administration most of them helped elect in 2008. Few in the audience bothered to address how they are victims being abused--that they are dealing with a dilemma that battered wives often run into. Not much was said on how they were going to gain respect for the vision they have for America.
The prospect of this rally impacting "the game" now depends greatly on whether the people start to ask questions, whether they choose to make demands, whether they come here today and they hear about the issues that are being talked about and in the back of their head they start to think there is an issue with how the Democrats and President Obama have not been responsive to the people.
Unfortunately, an opportunity was likely squandered in the same way the Obama Administration has squandered opportunities for significant progress. It is hard to say what demands the organizers are going to make on Obama. There was a vision, but what is a vision without a connection to realities in Washington?
It seems like all this event did is give Democratic Party politicians and strategists a chance to see what principles and ideas are currently important to Democratic Party supporters. And, it is likely liberals and progressives find themselves at another rally like this in the future, re-affirming commitment to issues that do not have definitive specifics on how to get government to act, because demands with consequences attached were not issued for the Administration.
I very much wanted to walk away with a positive outlook. But, I am not one to delude myself when uncomfortable truths lie in plain sight. That's not a claim to be holier-than thou or an expression of purism. The event does not mean all is hopeless; many there clearly were looking for a way out and came dissatisfied and afraid. They need leadership from progressive or social movements in this country.
They're counting on bold people to step up and take the lead. They want the progressive movement to step it up, be decisive, and be more organized.
*Here is a podcast report I recorded for CMN News with host Chris Novembrino from the Lincoln Memorial while I was at the event.
VIDEO - Harry Belafonte Calls Upon "One Nation" to Embrace Greater Ideals