WASHINGTON–An estimated 170,000 protesters rallied at the Lincoln Memorial Oct. 2 to cheer calls for jobs, union rights and a massive vote against corporate greed and hate in the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka touched off a roaring ovation as he told the vast multi-racial crowd, “You look like one beautiful nation. There is nothing we can’t do when we stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder.”
He debunked the image of a “nation full of hate” projected by Fox News, the Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck who staged a virtually all-white hate rally here August 28.
In striking contrast, the crowd at the One Nation Working Together rally was a rainbow of black, brown, and white. Tens of thousands of Black, Latino and white union members wore their brightly colored T shirts, jackets and caps and held up a sea of placards proclaiming, “Hope not Hate” “Healthcare not Warfare” and “Money for Jobs, Not tax Giveaways for the Rich. One woman held a placard with the image of President Obama and the message, “Respect My President.”
The NAACP also brought tens of thousands of its members wearing goldenrod yellow T shirts on a vast flotilla of chartered buses from cities and towns across the nation.
Trumka said One Nation Working Together stands against the “greed, the monied powers that put us in the economic mess we are in.” Workers, he said are demanding good jobs and the right to organize a union, with wages high enough to support a family, send children to college, and retire in dignity.
NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous alluded to the long decades of struggle symbolized by the Lincoln Memorial. “We’ve come too far to turn back now,” he said.
“We’ve got to go home and ask our friends and ask our neighbors to vote. Get up off the couch and get out and vote November 2.”
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, blasted elected officials who want to dole out “massive tax giveaways to the rich when fifty percent of our children are living in poverty.”
Lessons can be learned from the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark, she said: “Don’t miss the boat” and “We’re all in the same boat” and “Noah’s Ark was built by amateurs. The Titanic was built by professionals.” She offered a prayer for reversal of the nation’s misguided priorities so that children are not “put in small, leaky boats.”
Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen stood beside Barbara Elliott, an African American woman who organized CWA Local 1102 at the Xerox Corporation in New York. The workers won despite a long battle by Xerox to overturn the election result. “In the past 47 years, workers’ rights have been all but crushed,” Cohen said. “Today, only one in 15 workers have bargaining rights. The U.S. is at the bottom of the global economy in protecting the rights of workers to organize and negotiate.”
He added, “We know that a minority in the U.S. Senate has prevented even discussion of 400 bills passed by the House of Representatives including the Employee Free Choice Act.”
He continued, “We will build one nation together. We can make progressive change on November 2. We can work for democracy in the U.S. Senate.”
Actor-singer Harry Belafonte remembered Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial as well as his 1967 Riverside Church speech in New York City against the Vietnam war. He pointed out that Al Queda has as few as 50 members. “Do we really believe that sending 100,000 troops to kill innocent men and women in Afghanistan and Pakistan makes any sense?” he asked. Bring the troops home and use the trillions of tax dollars to rebuild schools, hospitals and affordable housing, he said.
Lincoln abolished slavery, Belafonte added, “but the crippling poison of racism still persists.” He warned of the “undermining of the Constitution and the systematic attack on our most inalienable rights” adding, “At the heart of this danger is the Tea Party which is coming close to achieving its villainous ends. On November 2, in the millions, we must overburden our voting booths” voting to defeat those who seek to “impose atotalitarian state,” on the nation.
Ellie Flores, a 22 year-old from Los Angeles, warmed the crowd up with: “Where are my young people: where are the young in spirit?” He went on to call for greater government investment in people. “Our government needs to invest in its people again. If I am eating but my brother is star, then I am starving too,” he said. “An injustice somewhere is an injustice everywhere.”
“I’m here to fight for jobs” said Shirley Jones as the rally drew to close. A UAW member, Jones, came to the rally from Coop City in the Bronx, N.Y.
Sam Webb, CPUSA national chair, said, “There’s never been anything quite like this march. The great thing is that it happened, who was there, who spoke, the spirit and politics.”
Photo: PW/Tim Wheeler