WASHINGTON – Wearing plastic top hats and chanting, “Who needs Medicare? I’m a millionaire!” over 1,000 mock-capitalists marched to Vice President Dick Cheney’s residence, June 6, to thank him for pushing through another trillion dollar tax cut for the rich while slashing Medicaid and education.
Josh Williams, president of the Washington Metro AFL-CIO, his top hat at a rakish angle, told a rally, “Fellow millionaires, Republicans, corruption knows no bounds! Let’s raise a toast to our leaders, George and Dick!” The crowd chanted, “Leave no millionaire behind!”
Co-sponsored by U.S. Action and the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), the march was a highpoint of CAF’s three day “Take Back America” conference that brought together 1,500 labor, civil rights, women’s equality, environmental and peace activists at the Omni-Shoreham hotel to strategize on defeating George W. Bush and ending Republican control of the House and Senate in the 2004 elections.
Maxine Durst, a retired American Airlines worker came with her sister from Fort Worth, Texas. “Bush was a bad governor and now he’s the worst president ever,” Durst said as she marched. “I think he is Machiavellian.”
John Campbell, an organizer for United Steelworkers (USWA) Local 310 in Des Moines said, “This conference was long overdue. We’ve been too divided and our message too convoluted. We are developing a strategy of united action for the 2004 elections.”
In his conference speech, USWA President Leo Gerard decried the 2.3 million manufacturing jobs lost since Bush took office. “Sisters and brothers, we will make clear we are the progressive majority that will take back America,” Gerard said. “No one will make it to the White House in 2004 unless they come through us. The once disunited majority is now united.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) blasted House Republicans for killing an amendment to their $350 billion tax cut that would give a few crumbs to the working poor. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) agreed to reopen the tax bill, she said, “only if we agreed to give more tax cuts for the rich and make them permanent.”
Schakowsky denounced the tax giveaways as “a weapon of mass destruction” aimed at her state, which is swimming in red ink.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney cited DeLay for calling unions a “clear and present danger” while Bush brands unions a “threat to homeland defense.” Sweeney called it a “tidal wave of worker-bashing and union busting.” He introduced Carol Farel of Cintas, the uniform company, and Stephen White a worker at the cable monopoly, ComCast, who are fighting their employers as they attempt to unionize their low wage, no benefit jobs.
The workers received a standing ovation.
Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, cautioned that Bush will be defeated only if his pose as a defender of national security is deflated. He called on the movement to address the trauma inflicted on the people by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, asking,”Are we safer today than we were four years ago?” He added, “Bush has made the U.S. not only the world policeman but a global dictator answerable only to itself. We have to mobilize a huge pool of persuadable voters who have grave doubts about the occupation of Iraq and the policy of preemptive war.”
CAF Co-director Robert Borosage was elated by the gathering, the fourth sponsored by his group. “The difference is that our coalition partners brought hundreds of grassroots activists to this conference,” he told the World. “It meant that if you are a presidential candidate, you had to come here and present your program. It had a sobering effect on them. I think it reflects the mobilized reaction to the extreme policies of the Bush administration.”
Of the seven Democratic presidential candidates who spoke, the clear favorites were those who blasted the Bush doctrine. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said he has introduced House Resolution 260 to require Bush to explain the lies he fabricated about Iraq. He expressed pride that he was one of 206 House members who voted against the Iraq war resolution. “This war was wrong, fraudulent,” Kucinich said. The real “weapons of mass destruction” are poverty, homelessness, and lack of health care for 41 million people. “I say this health care system is broken and the only way to fix it is Medicare for all. As President, I’ll take the money from the Pentagon and give it to health care and education.”
Another candidate, the Rev. Al Sharpton demanded, “Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Everything Bush has gone after he can’t find. I should not be surprised because I can’t find the votes in Florida that put him in the White House. What they did in Florida in 2000, must be answered at the polls in 2004.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the “road to victory” in 2004 runs through states that Bush won narrowly in 2000, including the “once solidly Democratic South that is now solidly Republican. We can break that grip – 600,000 African Americans are unregistered in Georgia. We must redeem the South and rescue the nation. We can beat George W. Bush. Again.”
Tim Wheeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org