As thousands pour into Washington on April 20, a huge fight is shaping up to defeat President Bush’s extreme-right wing corporate agenda in November’s elections. At stake is control of the House and Senate and 22 governorships. It is a fight that can and must be won.

“We all want this country to live up to what it says, ‘Liberty and Justice for all.’ It’s up to us to make it come true,” remarked Eliseo Medina, vice president of the Service Employees International Union, at the Reclaiming America conference last week.

Reflecting developments around the country, the conference strongly rejected the reactionary agenda of George W. Bush. “Organize, organize and organize” was the call of USAction President William McNary.

It is becoming clear to many that the pain and horror of Sept. 11 has been cynically used as a smokescreen by the Bush administration to distract attention and neutralize or divide opposition to proposals that would roll back the clock to before the New Deal.

The stakes of the elections are dramatically heightened by Bush’s projection of a neverending war, first-strike use of nuclear weapons and a $48 billion increase in the military budget. The results of November’s elections will either strengthen or weaken these aggressive policies and infringements on civil rights and liberties.

Every day, the White House presses its anti-worker agenda forward on all fronts. The judicial system and federal agencies are being stacked with ultra-right ideologues who, rather than protect, would destroy the environment, labor rights, civil rights and worker safety.

Mass public pressure prevented the appointment of Charles Pickering as a federal judge. But takebacks are overwhelming – ergonomics standards, immunization for children, highway construction, and rights of immigrant workers on the job. Big fights loom on welfare reauthorization, prescription drugs and Social Security.

For survival sake, this administration must be weakened and then defeated. Bush’s high standing in media polls is only part of the picture. Anger looms large at the Enron scandal, the $15 billion giveaway to the airline industry, and the $2 trillion in tax cuts for the super-rich, delivered as thousands of displaced families can no longer meet mortgage payments, tuition payments or health insurance.

For months, opposition in Congress was scarce. Delegations of steelworkers, women, machinists and welfare mothers began to flood the Capitol. The Democrats started to understand that their lack of fightback post-Sept. 11 was a losing strategy. If Florida’s Democratic convention is an indication, the fight is on. The theft of the presidency and denial of votes in Black and Latino precincts is not forgotten.

“We must defeat George W. Bush in the war on working families,” says AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. “The majority believe: no tax giveaways, no privatization of social security, no profitization of education, fair trade, living wage jobs and health care for all.”

Building a movement around these issues will strengthen the 55-member Congressional Progressive Caucus’ fight within.

Labor is preparing its largest-ever midterm election mobilization for 10 Senate and 37 House seats. Nine union members are candidates for Congress. National organizations of women, African Americans, Latinos, seniors, youth and environmentalists are gearing up for the fight of their lives.

Bigger, broader multiracial coalitions are needed to respond to the many-sided attack. Demonstrations, public hearings, resolutions, letters to the editor, voter registration and education drives can give voice to the grass roots before and after election day.

The Labor 2002 program is a great focal point, because it is about increasing the fighting capacity of union members year-round. Not only will thousands of new voters become registered, but hundreds of new leaders will be trained to build an ongoing movement. If 5,000 union activists win election to public office, it’s a new day for independent politics.

“Winning means not having to work two and three jobs to keep your family fed. Winning means not having to rely on the emergency room for health care,” said Medina. “Winning is more than electoral politics. It is changing people’s lives.”

The Bush administration is working overtime to wrap their agenda in the flag and capture the vote for Republicans on the basis of patriotic duty.

A spotlight exposing the Bush agenda can expand and deliver the vote this year. A defeat for Republicans will deliver a serious blow to theElection fight beginning endless war policy and the entire program. It will give a boost to organizing the unorganized. That’s the challenge for left and progressive forces in 2002.

The author can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com

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