I remember as if it were yesterday walking across the Capitol Mall on Aug. 28, 1963, in sweltering heat, one of hundreds of thousands, Black and white, holding hands with courage and dignity to usher in a new day in our country.
It took a lot for the families with babies in strollers, teenagers like myself, seniors, and groups holding banners from unions and churches to withstand the media barrage which warned that the March for Jobs and Freedom would be a bloodbath.
On that peaceful summer day all of us who had journeyed across the length and breadth of the country to take our place knew that if we kept our eyes on the prize and kept our unity, it would be possible to overcome lynch terror and the brutality of jim crow segregation. The heroic struggles in the deep South under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement had inspired wide solidarity. The country could no longer wait to expand voting rights and democracy for all races and nationalities toward a more perfect union. It was a moment that changed our country’s history.
A time to move forward
As Barack Obama accepts the Democratic Party nomination for president 45 years later on Aug. 28, 2008, we are again called upon to keep our eyes on the prize and keep our unity to move our country forward.
It will take a lot to withstand the corporate ultra-right think tanks and their Swift-boat-style media manipulations, created to turn hope into fear and distract from the economic crisis pressing down on everyone except the few super-rich.
The old way in times of crisis, accepting solutions like those of Bush and McCain, brings no relief. Falling in line with divisive hate-mongering and war hysteria is a losing proposition. The result is growing poverty and insecurity in the midst of lavish tax gifts to the wealthy and obscene spending on the military and war.
As whole cities and rural communities go under and jobs disappear, as pensions and access to health care become a rarity, as prices of fuel, food and mortgages become prohibitive, ordinary people are looking for solutions that raise everyone up together.
The next 68 days of organizing will be crucial. Victory is not assured.
There is the potential for a massive vote that can push aside the immediate blockage to social progress — three decades of extreme right-wing rule.
The election of Barack Obama would be a significant advance for working people. It would open the way to carry the fight forward to end the war, guarantee quality health care for everyone, and enact the Employee Free Choice Act and a massive green jobs program. The times demand deep, radical changes that confront corporate power. In a new political climate it would be more possible to win such real changes..
The country cannot withstand four more years of Bush policies with John McCain as president. A victory for Obama, no matter how close, will be significant, but making progress with a closely divided electorate would be difficult. A landslide election will be a clear mandate to change policy. To win the landslide we need to keep our unity and keep our eyes on the prize.
Keeping our unity
John McCain is targeting white workers in a transparent appeal to vote by race rather than class interests. It is based on deception. During his entire Senate career, McCain only voted with labor 17 percent of the time. Obama has a 98 percent pro-labor voting record.
The union movement is playing a leading role in tackling racism. “When we cross that color line and stand together, no one can keep us down,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka to the Steelworkers convention in July. He praised the union for its leadership, among the first historically to oppose lynchings and segregation.
The message union activists are bringing to their co-workers in home visits and on the job is straightforward: If you care about jobs, health care, retirement security and peace, Barack Obama is the candidate who represents those concerns. If you have a problem with race, get over it.
This message is understood by many low-wage workers, African American, Latino and white, who favor Obama by wide margins. They are likely more aware that McCain and fellow Republicans voted against an increase in the minimum wage and stand with Wal-Mart in opposing Obama’s commitment to workers’ right to organize.
African American voters are nearly unanimous for Obama. Latino voters are conducting a gigantic voter registration and engagement effort and support Obama nearly 3 to 1. Women voters, angered by McCain’s zero percent voting record on health issues and adamant opposition to choice, are looking to Obama. Youth voters, a major force in the primaries, are expected to continue that momentum and vote largely for Obama.
All workers, including white workers, will lose out in living standards and quality of life under a McCain presidency. Democracy should be of, by and for the people. Worker-to-worker discussions to spread this understanding in the next 68 days will strengthen the labor movement long term and help deliver a landslide vote on Nov. 4.
Keeping our eyes on the prize
There are many improvements that could and should be suggested for Obama’s platform from a working class perspective, especially a new foreign policy based on diplomacy and respect for all nations instead of pre-emptive war for corporate interests. Obama’s program is an evolving project. People’s struggles will make their imprint.
But keeping our eyes on the prize, the most important thing now is to win a change in direction away from reaction and towards progress. This is the opportunity that the election of Obama and a more pro-labor, pro-peace Congress offers. The stronger the vote for a new direction, the faster changes in policy can be won.
The vote by 155 members of Congress to end funding of the Iraq war, and congressional hearings holding the Bush administration accountable for widespread abuse of power, affirm the political shifts under way. A landslide vote can strengthen the progressive presence in Congress and change the balance of forces so stronger legislation can be passed.
The first steps to end the war in Iraq are to decisively reject the militarism of Bush and McCain and support Obama’s calls for withdrawal from Iraq and for abolition of nuclear weapons.
McCain supports the occupation. The troops increasingly favor Obama. How shameful it is that the Bush administration then says voter registration at VA hospitals is prohibited.
Four years after the 1963 March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. broke his silence and spoke out to end the Vietnam war, forging new civil rights/peace/labor alliances. Today similar alliances are being forged. Labor is playing a special role. First-time activists are stepping forward, dedicated to expanding our democracy.
Aug. 28 is a symbol of progressive, transformative change. It is a date of mass action by millions of people overcoming great odds to move the arc of justice forward.
Every day until Nov. 4 is a time for all democratic-minded people to take their place at phone banks, door knocks, voter registration and get-out-the-vote events. Don’t sit it out. Help change our country’s history.
Joelle Fishman (firstname.lastname@example.org) chairs the Communist Party USA Political Action Commission and is also chair of the Connecticut Communist Party.