“We now know the U.S. Senate will not pass climate-change legislation this year. Postmortems have pointed to a number of challenges: the lack of leadership from the White House, unified GOP opposition to the Senate cap-and-trade bill, the structure and rules of the Senate, and the complicated nature of cap-and-trade legislation.

“There has been one major omission in much of this analysis: the absence of pressure from Americans across the country demanding that serious action be taken to address climate change. Few Americans are currently engaged in this great societal challenge in a way that would generate the necessary political will to act. It is the absence of this public pressure, above all else [my italics], that has resulted in the current state of political inaction.”

(From “Why did the climate bill die? Because we still don’t have a real climate movement,” by Kelsey Wirth, Larry Shapiro, Phillip Radford)

Other social justice leaders could make the same observation.

Not since the lead-up to the election of President Obama have the enemies of progress felt the weight and pressure of an aroused public.

The coalition that elected Obama didn’t go into hiding, but its level of activity doesn’t match the challenges the American people face, with none more important than a stagnant, jobless economy. Nor does its energy and organization compare well with the efforts of the right, and especially its most extreme elements – right-wing radio talk, Fox News, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, the tea party, rich moneybags, and I could go on and on.

Both the protracted economic downturn (with no end in sight) and the comeback of the extreme right beg for a sustained mobilization of every democratic-minded person in our country. At the core of this mobilization should be the multi-racial working class (broadly defined) and its allies.

If there is any other way to keep right-wing extremism and its capitalist class supporters at bay – not to mention undertake large-scale political and economic transformations in a progressive and radical direction – I don’t know what it is.

Initiatives and openings of a democratic and progressive character from above – say from the president – are certainly important (for example, a jobs and infrastructure bill), especially if they can be leveraged by the people’s coalition to widen and deepen the process of change.

At the same time, initiatives and openings by themselves cannot substitute for mass organization, action and unity at the grassroots level. At every major turning point in our nation’s history – the War of Independence, Civil War, New Deal, and the Civil Rights Revolution – a powerful surge of popular action became the material force to power, deepen, and extend out the process of change.

Which brings me to the One Nation rally on October 2 in our nation’s capital. Here is an opportunity to reestablish, reenergize, and repower the coalition of people’s organization that elected the first African American president in our nation’s history.

Opportunities of this kind are rare. But when they arise, they have to be seized. No stone should be left unturned to bring people and their organizations to Washington. This event’s success will be measured by its size. A huge turnout will change the political atmosphere and send a message to friend and foe.

Success will also be gauged by the degree to which it gives a new momentum to the struggle for jobs and to punish the Republican right in November.

And finally, it will be measured by the extent that the coalition that has been quiescent since 2008 regains its legs, turns into a sustained force, and powers the struggle for progressive and radical change in the near and longer term.



Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.