Over 100,000 people rallied in Washington DC in United States on Saturday, October 2 in a demonstration calling for “Jobs, Justice and Education.”
The rally, backed by the AFL/CIO (the American TUC) and the civil rights organisation, the NAACP, was called “One Nation: Working Together.” It aimed to counter the racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric of the corporate-backed Tea Party.
It was a highly diverse and largely working class crowd. Filled with color-coded contingents from many trade unions, the rally was also joined by hundreds of other community, environmental, and peace groups.
Trisha, a welder for Chrysler in Detroit, was part of the huge United Auto Workers’ union contingent. She said, “I used to work at the plant in Ohio but when that closed I had no choice, I had to move to Detroit. Now we are fighting for our jobs there.” She said of the protest, “I am loving it here. I’ve never see this many people together in my life.”
Rally organisers estimated that 175,000 to 200,000 people attended. Participants were clearly happy that it outnumbered the 87,000 at the August Tea Party rally organised by right wing commentator Glenn Beck.
Bringing out the vote
At the same time, the full potential of such a rally was limited by the organisers, who were obviously aiming to get out the vote for the Democrats at the mid-term elections on 2 November.
AFL/CIO head, Richard Trumka, urged the crowd to 'promise that you'll make your voices heard, for good jobs and justice and education today and on election day.'
The still fiery Reverend Al Sharpton got the biggest cheer of the day saying, 'We bailed out the banks; we bailed out the insurance companies. Now it's time to bail out the American people.' When this brought the crowd to its feet Sharpton called for a massive door knocking effort for the 'mid-term exam' on 2 November.
This is despite the fact that Republicans and Democrats both bailed out banks and car companies with billions of dollars while very little is being spent to help people who are losing their homes or jobs.
The Democrats in Congress are worried, not because the majority who voted for Obama two years ago have shifted to the right, but because they are disappointed, leading to a “enthusiasm gap” that rally leaders were trying to address.
Their problem is that enthusiasm is not generated by defending the status quo. They had to tap into the anger that exists about the economy to do it. But at the same time they did so in a general manner, so as not to raise expectations, or spark action that could get out of hand.
Solidarity action by the International Longshoremen’s Association had closed the New York and New Jersey ports for two days before the rally. But the ILA was not invited onto the stage to mention their fight. And no speaker referred to the mass demonstrations in France the same day.
The American peace movement worked hard to build this rally. They also asked for an anti-war speaker, and anti-war demands to be added to the broad list of demands from the rally. Outrageously, despite months of negotiations, all criticism of the wars remained blocked by rally organisers.
Obama still has troops in Iraq and has sent many more to Afghanistan, and union leaders did not want to criticise him—even though a majority of Americans now oppose these wars.
Rather than not cooperate, thousands of anti-war activists gathered earlier, and marched into the main rally chanting and carrying signs. They were well received. Tens of thousands of printed placards with messages like “Fund Jobs Not War” succeeded in bringing that demand into the rally from below.
The sharpest politics on the platform that day came not from the union leaders or politicians, but was snuck in by some of the entertainers.
Speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Wendel Pierce, an actor on The Wire and Treme, said, “people remember him for I have a dream, but Martin Luther King shifted his attention to another dream, economic justice for all Americans.” He read from a 1967 speech in which King said “one day we must ask the question, why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth…coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together.”
Singer, actor and long time activist Harry Belafonte also reminded the rally of King’s opposition to the Vietnam War. He lambasted Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, calling it “immoral, unconscionable, and unwinnable,” to great applause. The $22 billion spent on that escalation, said Belafonte, “could not only create 600 thousand jobs here in America, but would even leave us a few billion to start rebuilding our schools, our roads, our hospitals, and affordable housing.”
Eva and Ruby had driven 18 hours from Florida to be at the rally. Eva said, “We like Obama but he’s taking baby steps. He needs to bring the troops home now and he needs to stop the corporate tax breaks. The government says it does these things for development but I want to know development for who? For corporations or for ordinary people?” Ruby said she felt hope from the rally, “It’s days like today that energise us to keep fighting for change.”