On Aug. 29, a half million people marched in New York City at the opening of the Republican National Convention to say “No to the Bush agenda!” People filled the streets with signs and banners denouncing the core issues of the far right: war, lies, hate and greed. Many also carried signs about the elections, including what needs to be done if the Bush nightmare is to be ended on Nov. 2.
Organized by the 800-plus-member-group coalition, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the event displayed a rising energy to make Nov. 2 a day for millions to have their say in the voting booth. Aug. 29 was a day to excite and inspire even greater efforts — door to door, community to community — to convince the “maybe voter” that our future depends on their involvement in this year’s elections. And it was a march heard round the world.
Media coverage, domestic and international, zeroed in on the families, the war veterans, young and old, immigrants, all races and nationalities — the everyday people who spoke out in one voice against the Republican Party’s policies.
Now the emphasis of UFPJ and others has shifted to the precincts, where door-to-door work is already well under way. Despite attempts by the right to stifle dissent and restrict political action by labor and the people’s movements through an intricate net of restrictions based on tax status, the movements have skillfully crafted an unprecedented grassroots mobilization, especially in the hotly contested states, to work on key issues with potential voters.
The long-term impact of educated grass roots on the political struggles after the elections will be a tremendous asset in repairing the damage of four years of right-wing policies. The issue-based voter education work being done by coalitions like America Coming Together and National Voice will become a basis for organizing an empowered force in the political struggles in the next session of Congress, no matter who sits in the White House.
United for Peace and Justice, a member of National Voice, is busy making plans for mobilizing 1 million peace voters, with a focus on the battleground states. UFPJ is helping member groups and local coalitions organize at the grass roots to conform to stringent rules that govern political activity of groups that have 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
The UFPJ is issuing a handbill that outlines 2004 election issues for the peace movement premised on the need for a movement for a democratic foreign policy that rejects pre-emptive, first-strike warfare.
Still We Rise, a group that organized a demonstration of 20,000 during the Republican convention — mainly from communities of color — is a coalition of over 35 New York City nonprofit groups working in low-income communities. They are registering 100,000 voters who will be part of a movement to press for housing, health care, and HIV/AIDS treatment.
Unions like UNITE-HERE, which represents hotel, restaurant and garment workers, supported the Aug. 29 march and also marched on Sept. 1 at the GOP convention. They, along with other unions, also sent busloads to battleground states to be a part of the 15,000 door-knockers that worked on the night of President Bush’s convention acceptance speech.
Street actions send an important message. In the first place they give voice to the growing numbers who strongly oppose the far right’s political agenda through united action. They also give an emotional, spiritual boost to those committed to activating the disenfranchised to grab the chance we have for a change in political direction. That energy needs to be channeled into the next phase of the battle.
When people headed home on buses to Kalamazoo, Mich., on the Ojibwe Indian Reservation in Wisconsin, or on the peace trains from Connecticut and New Jersey, they knew they had sent a message to the country: “On Aug. 29 we marched together, and now we’re moving on to the next national action — Election Day.”
Judith Le Blanc is a member of the UFPJ national steering committee representing the Communist Party USA, and was one of the organizers of the Aug. 29 demonstration. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.