SEATTLE - Genessee Park resounded with spirited speeches calling for jobs, defense of Social Security, peace, and defeat of the Republican right in the Nov. 2 midterm elections. It came during the annual People's World picnic July 18.
PW correspondent, Tim Wheeler, told the crowd he has been coming to People's World picnics since he was a child. He joked that finally he is in line to take the post once held by Paul Emerson and Marion Kinney, "PW Pacific Northwest Correspondent."
He hailed the grassroots outpouring in support of the "Tax the rich" ballot referendum, I-1098, promoted by Bill Gates Sr., who proclaims that neither he nor his son, the billionaire Microsoft CEO, pay enough in taxes. The labor movement collected 370,000 signatures to place the measure on the ballot. It would create a state income tax on individuals with incomes at or above $200,000. Wheeler bragged that his sister, Marion "Honey Bee" Burns, an SEIU organizer, collected 735 signatures. A voice in the crowd called out, "Imogene collected 800." Imogene Williams, a member of the Puget Sound Alliance of Retired Americans (PSARA) was in the crowd.
Low turnout of voters frustrated by Republican filibuster tactics is the main danger in the 2010 midterm election, Wheeler warned. The challenge is to mobilize the coalition that elected President Obama to repel the Republican drive to take back control of the House and Senate, he said.
Kae Halonen, a peace and justice activist from Detroit, here visiting her sister, reported on the recent Social Forum in Detroit. She said the hard hit city drew inspiration from the 20,000 people who marched through the downtown united in the cause of fighting for jobs and justice for working people. She hailed the newly elected leadership of the United Auto Workers for reaching out to allies in a struggle to rebuild Detroit.
She quoted the progressive evangelist, Rev. Don Wallis, that basic change requires two things: a mighty movement that "knocks on the door" and someone inside willing to "open the door." Some on the left, she said, "don't understand that we need someone who will open the door...George W. Bush would never open the door no matter how hard we knocked. President Obama will open the door."
Will Parry, editor of the PSARA newsletter, Senior Advocate, warned that the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability headed by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, in the name of "deficit reduction" is considering another raise in the retirement age or cuts in benefits. Stabbing the air with his fist, Parry retorted, "Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. The trust fund is running trillions in surpluses. We must defend Social Security! No cuts! No raise in the retirement age."
Both Parry and Marc Brodine, chair of the Communist Party of Washington State, picked up their guitars and led the crowd in a hootenanny, "Joe Hill," "Rock Island Line," "Deportee," "City of New Orleans," "De Colores" and many other favorites.
Wheeler and Parry serenaded labor hero, Irene Hull, still in the thick of the fight at age 97, with "Goodnight Irene." But Hull is a youngster compared with another veteran in the crowd, Lil Feist, who recently turned 102.
The crowd contributed $700 to the PW annual fund drive.
Photo: Tim Wheeler