WASHINGTON - More than 1,200 labor and community activists, as estimated by the AFL-CIO, turned out in force at a boisterous rally Friday outside the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). As many as 700 shut down Woodley Road at midday with an impromptu sit-in and a brief takeover of the driveway at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
Shouting "Whose America? Our America!" chanters and picket signs drew attention to the income gap between the "one percent" and the "99 percent" and the need for an economy that works for everyone.
Buses came from Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City to join with DC and Virginia protesters at the 2012 version of the annual CPAC conference, the "birthing ground" of the most aggressive agenda items that will be used by the right wing in the run-up to the November elections.
Well appointed CPAC members rushed through the huge crowds that had turned the area around the hotel into a multi-racial, multi-generational festival that featured everything form Occupy Wall Street tents to neatly uniformed "Tax Dodgers," with a giant "Mitt."
At least 12 major unions participated. They were joined by groups like Occupy Baltimore, Occupy DC, Veterans for Peace and Fight For Philly. The latter is a coalition of labor, community, faith and activist groups. There was also a large contingent of immigrant rights activists carrying a banner saying, "The People United Can Never Be Defeated" in English on one side and Spanish on the other.
The diverse gathering was at least half African-American, with many Latinos and older workers. Participation from the unions was almost entirely rank and file, with some staff to provide organizational and logistical support for the event.
Other signs in the march and protest were "Medicare Is Sexy," "Banks got bailouts, Schools got sold out," "Santorum is a dirty word" (carried by an Occupy Baltimore leader), "Jobs not cuts," "They pay less taxes than you and I," "Occupy the future," "Recall Walker," "Corporations are NOT people," "Immigration reform NOW," "Ban fracking now" and "We are the Times Persons of the Year."
Chants heard during the march and rally were "Kick Back CPAC," "the REAL 'Voice Of America' will be HEARD," and "We're not gonna be happy 'til they say JOBS!"
There was an energetic group of drummers to count cadence during the march and to provide rhythmic interludes during the rally.
Later Friday afternoon, the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1994, kicked off the night demonstration by parading their "golden throne" - a gold-painted toilet - in front of the Marriot Wardman, "representing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's greed and arrogance," Local President Gino Renne said.
Just as the GOP has lurched to the right the CPAC itse4lf has swung further to the right than ever.
Peter Brimelow, a prominent white nationalist and founder of the racist and anti-Semitic website VDARE attended this year and "Birther" leader Joseph Farah was another right-wing luminary in attendance. He has boycotted CPAC since 2009 when he was blocked from hosting a panel questioning the President's citizenship but was welcomed back this year.
Youth for Western Civilization, whose founder was arrested in 2007 for karate chopping an African American woman on the street while calling her "n****" was accepted this year as a CPAC co-sponsor.
GOP presidential candidates Romney, Gingrich and Santorum were there, with Romney winning the group's straw poll on presidential preference.
Unions at the demonstrations against the right-wing cabal included the Sheetmetal Workers, Elevator Constructors, Local, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Firefighters, the American Fedratioon of Government Employees, Stagehands and Actors, the Ironworkers, the Communications Workers of America and the Washington DC Metro Council of the AFL-CIO.
Photo: Washington DC Metro Council, AFL-CIO