As the deceptions of the Bush administration hit home, anger is turning into organizing throughout the country. A new movement is being born, based on hope not fear.
The “Take Back America” conference held in Washington, D.C., this month was a signal light toward stopping the anti-democratic, anti-people, never-ending war crusade of the far right. Over 1,500 labor, civil rights, women’s, environmental, peace and community activists soundly slammed the policies of the Bush administration and called for an all-out 17-month campaign to “take back” the country.
The main lessons were (1) Everything between now and November 2004 is connected to the elections; (2) Bush cannot be defeated with a program that makes compromises with the right wing; (3) A strong program for jobs, health care, peace, the defense of Social Security, Medicare, public education, affirmative action and democratic rights can inspire new voters, young and old, to come to the polls; and (4) It takes a united fight to win. The answer lies in movement-building, holding candidates accountable and getting out the vote.
The conference reflected a deep sensibility that democracy – and life as we know it – are in grave danger. Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), spoke of a “widespread feeling of betrayal.”
Journalist Bill Moyers charged that “right-wing wrecking crews” are engaged in “a deliberate, intentional destruction of the United States of America.” He urged the crowd to “get back in the fight … the flame of democracy will never go out as long as there is one candle in your hand.”
Presenting the need for an “inside-outside strategy,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) implored, “I want to see you, hear you, and feel you louder and better … or it will be a different world in 2008.” She added, “Don’t stop now against the war. Keep it up.”
The huge demonstrations against the war on Iraq have moved many progressive Democrats to conclude that leaving the issues of war and terrorism to the Republicans is a losing strategy.
“How to get peace?” asked Tom Andrews of Win Without War. “Defeat Bush and Company. Candidates can win the day on economic issues but if they stay away from foreign policy they will cede the election.”
Those presidential candidates and speakers who expressed opposition to the war drive received ovations. Those who opposed the repressive measures of the USA Patriot Act got big applause, as did every speaker who denounced tax cuts to the rich.
On behalf of the more than 250,000 steelworkers who have lost their pensions and retirement health care benefits, United Steelworkers of America President Leo Gerard said creation of new manufacturing jobs and inclusion of workers rights and environmental rights in trade agreements are at the top of the agenda. Calling for international workers’ solidarity, Gerard received big applause when he said, “We’re not against workers in other countries. We’re against the system that exploits them and us.”
The invitation of Democratic presidential candidates to conferences like this one has helped spotlight issues facing working people and to shape the election debate. The more advanced candidates in the Democratic field are also helping to move the debate toward a program that can inspire voter involvement.
In his closing remarks, Jesse Jackson cautioned against dismissing any candidates as “unelectable.” Be careful about “abandoning your principles too quickly. Sometimes principles make the winner.” He emphasized that voters are driven to vote against their interests by fear, not hope.
When Sen. Paul Wellstone “crossed the color line” to lead the Jackson presidential campaign in Minnesota, he showed equality to be a winning position.
Jackson said the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition will conduct a voter registration crusade in the South this fall “to cross the color line with a winning coalition of Black, Latino and white.” He also called for state by state marches, culminating in a “gigantic working people’s march on Washington.”
The Take Back America conference became a center of coordination and unity for 2004. Broadly built independent efforts at the grass roots can help produce an electoral victory, such as the Immigrant Workers’ Freedom Ride, the Wellstone Action training efforts, the Partnership for America’s Families’ labor-community coalition building, the Cities for Peace election organizing in 13 swing states, ACORN-initiated Livable Wage ballot initiatives, and next spring’s demonstration for a woman’s right to choose.
The stakes couldn’t be higher in 2004. Take hope, roll up your sleeves and get involved.
Joelle Fishman is the chair of the Political Action Commission of the Communist Party USA. She can be reached at email@example.com.