Progressives – thought to be sitting out the midterm elections – came by the tens of thousands to rally in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, October 2. They came from different places and different backgrounds and championing different issues and agendas, but they came in force under a “One Nation” banner, in recognition of the consequences if Democrats lose control of Congress.
Many came to use their bodies as the counterpoint to the Tea Party and Glenn Beck who rallied at the same place, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in August. They wanted the pictures showing the rainbow of colors of t-shirts showing affiliations to unions and causes, to mirror the image and contradict the notion of an “enthusiasm gap” for Democratic candidates.
In contrast to Glenn Beck’s rally which had a religious theme, the progressives’ message, “Jobs, Justice, Education” more closely tracked Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, which was recited by a group led by James Dean.
Instead of the “Vote for Change” message of the Tea Party, the signs here read “Standing Up for the Change We Voted For”.
The 50 Long Islanders on the Long Island Jobs With Justice bus were representative of the range of issues, causes and groups that met up at the rally: peace activists, unionists, environmentalists, advocates for public education, universal health care, and an economy that brings about full employment. Some were veterans of protests going back to Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War, and some were on their first march on Washington, including 15 students from Stony Brook University.
The students were protesting the privatization of the state university system, the cuts in spending to public education that has resulted in the South Hampton campus being closed, and the rise in tuition at state and city universities, making them unaffordable, or sending them out with $25,000 in debt, and turning them into “wage slaves”
Helene Manas, of the Long Island Progressive Coalition and a New York City school teacher, said, “It is really, really important to show the nation that the Tea Party is minimal and the true majority are like us. I believe people deserve justice, equal rights, good education and health care.”
Helene and her husband, Mark Manas, said they were championing the issue of Fair Elections Now – publicly financed elections – to mitigate the massive flow of money now for wealthy individuals, corporations and special interest groups to literally buy candidates “Money is the cancer in politics,” they said.
The sentiment “Money is buying all our candidates, even Progressives,” was echoed by Esther Confino, but Confino, who is secretary of the Long Island Coalition for a National Health Plan, was advocating on behalf of a single payer system.
The so-called Obamacare health reform that has the Tea Party so teed-off, “Is only the beginning.” She expressed the upset Progressives had that the Obama Administration so quickly gave up on expanding the Medicare system through the age groups or offering a public option, and even recalled how single-payer advocates were arrested at Senator Max Baucus’ hearing. “Single payer people were in mourning.”
But, she noted, “If we didn’t get [what we got], it would have taken 30 years” before there was any health care reform at all.
She reminded Progressives of what is at stake: Republicans are calling to privatize Social Security and repeal the health care reforms which were won, which only really provided access to health insurance. Connecticut’s Republican candidate for Senate, Linda McMahon, has said that the minimum wage should be reduced.
Naomi Feldheim of Great Neck, who has been marching since Martin Luther King, said she was marching this time to “change priorities of country.”
She urged support for the “War is Making You Poor” act that is in Congress. The spending on unending wars is “taking away from education, the social net, creation of jobs, all the things FDR addressed with WPA. We need to rebuild infrastructure, education and health needs instead of killing our youth in foreign wars.”
Charlene Obenauer, director of Long Island Jobs with Justice and the organizer of the bus, pointed to the “Move the Money” campaign, from war and foreign spending to domestic issues.
Since 2001, the cost of wars totals $1.1 trillion; the cost to New York State is $97 billion. The bill to Nassau County taxpayers in fiscal 2011 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $1.8 billion.
That same amount of money could provide 1,675,621 Long Island households with wind-powered renewable electricity for a year; pay for 25,051 police or firefighters, provide 297,243 scholarships for a year or provide Pell Grants to 321,719 students; provide health care to 717,661 low-income children, pay for 191,404 Head Start slots, pay 21,976 elementary school teachers, or provide 182,269 military veterans with VA medical care.
Nancy Durgan of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, said, “We have got to stand up and make noise and not just make it like the Tea Party, and move the money to the intense need we have at home.”
Paul Auerbach of the Interfaith Alliance, said he was also showing opposition to war and to bring that money home.
Judy Gardner, Huntington, of Code Pink, said she was marching because, “We have to be visible, or else you’re not there. If we aren’t involved, we get the government we deserve. We have to be out there.”
Charlotte Coons, also from Code Pink, said she is marching “to bring the war money home” and, because the perpetual “War on Terrorism” has resulted in compromised privacy, she added, ” I march for civil liberties.”
Bob Marcus, of the North Country Peace Group, Setauket, picked up on the themes of the march, “One Nation working together for jobs, justice, education, economy that works for all to create one million new jobs right away; a world class public education system; end racism; fix the broken immigration system; that workers have green jobs and safe working conditions; a clean environment; equality for all women; peace; energy independence; public education and transportation.”
Maria Contreras, with the Long Island Jobs with Justice board, was advocating to fix the broken immigration system, another theme of the rally.She urged support for the DREAM Act, languishing in Congress, which would have addressed the complex issue of undocumented immigrants (by some estimates 11 million people). It would provide that enrollment in high school or college as well as military service would provide a path to citizenship. But the group wants other paths – such as community service or owning a small business that employs other people.
Susan Darcy, of West Hempstead, a special education department chairman who also hosts meetings of Moving Forward Long Island, said she wanted to show that Progressives were just as much a force as Tea Party. “They say they want America back. We want to go forward.”
Zina Fayache of Mineola said she wanted to be at the rally because, “We have to support the President. He’s not perfect, he’s but going in the right direction, moving forward.. He was left a lot of problems and he’s solving them, making our world a better place. That’s very important to me.”
Jack Belelo recalled President Harry Truman’s Labor Day 1948 speech. “He called them Republican Reactionaries, not Conservatives That’s the term we should use. The Tea Party is reactionary.
“In 1948, which was only 15 years from the New Deal, Truman was the underdog. These Republican Reactionaries were against Social Security, the FDIC, the Wagner Act (that gives workers the right to organize and strike), child labor laws.
“He said, ‘If you vote for these Republican reactionaries, you will get what you deserve.'”
The same Republican Reactionaries, he said, were against Civil Rights Act in 1964, voting rights and Medicare in 1965 “and every Progressive legislation.
“Although Obama is not perfect, not as progressive as we would like, he is such a damn sight better, and if we don’t support him and the Dems in his corner, we will get what we deserve.”
“No matter how you feel about Obama and the Democrats,” echoed Andrew of Stony Brook’s Environmental Club, “they are all that we have to work with. Obama and the Dems are not perfect, but in November, we have to come out to vote. If not, it will be the Tea Baggers.
“The biggest problem with Progressives,” he said, “is that they don’t come out in support each other..My interest is environmental, but I support other causes. The only way for our agenda to succeed is to support each other.”
But march, gather, rally and support each other they did.
With some 400 different organizations supporting the rally, including United for Peace and Justice, Moveon.org, NAACP, 1199 SEIU, AFL-CIO, Green for All, United States Student Association, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Campaign for America’s Future, National Action Network, Center for American Progress, Jewish Funds for Justice, Veterans For Peace, Code Pink, and Progressive Democrats of America, to list but a few, the marchers poured out from some 2,000 buses, plus cars, the metro.
They carried signs as diverse as the people carrying them: “Corporations Are Not People.” “Make Food Not War.” “We March for Hope Not Hate.” “No Turn Right”
There were even signs thanking Obama, such as carried by twin sisters Valerie & Winnie Mackend, of New York City, “Thank you Obama for passing health care reform; withdrawing troops from Iraq; restoring our reputation abroad; increasing aid to veterans; appointing the first Latina to the Supreme Court and restarting Mideast peace talks.”
In fact, as marches go, this one was “mellow,” Feldheim later commented.
Seven feeder marches funneled towards the Lincoln Memorial. People lined the Reflecting Pool.
Gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, Progressives stood up for their causes, but were careful not to betray frustration with the Obama Administration or Democrats for compromises on everything from continuing the Bush war on terror in Afghanistan to the too-quick abandonment of single-payer or public option in the health care program, to the disrespect shown teachers in the press to tie compensation and job security to test scores.
Instead, the call was for unity.
“We are together. This march is about the power to the people,” said MSNBC host Ed Schultz. “It is about the people standing up to the corporations. Are you ready to fight back?…This is a defining moment in America. Are you American?..This is no time to back down. This is time to fight for America… We as one nation must fight … We must vote Nov. 2.”
One speaker lambasted “The high blood pressure of greed and anemia of deeds.”
Van Jones, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, brought together the concern for jobs and the need to address climate change: “Most important is green power… We need to beat global warming and put Americans back to work at the same time.”
“Let farmers have a new business –not just food production but energy production” – wind turbines, growing energy crops.
“The environment is in crisis, and economy is in crisis. The Earth is overheating, temperature is going up and employment going down. Fix both at the same time.”
Al Sharpton, advocating on behalf of public education and summoning up the Progressives to go out and knock on doors to get out the vote for November 2, intoned, “You can’t scapegoat teachers- there’s a difference between accountability and union busting….
“In four weeks, is the midterm ‘exams.’ We’ve got to hit the pavement, knock on doors, from 10/2 to 11/2. We will pass the midterm exam.”
As of 3 pm, the peak of the march, the organizing group, One Nation Working Together, estimated 175,000 people, “representing all 50 states and our country’s great diversity – joined together at the Lincoln memorial to re-claim the American dream and raise their voices for jobs, justice and public education.
“It’s inspiring to look out and see so many people — even more than we even expected — from so many different places coming together as one nation in support of jobs, justice and public education,” said Leah Daughtry, national campaign director of One Nation Working Together. “This is an important moment in the progressive movement – as each person returns home and continues to rally our fellow Americans as we head to the ballot box in November and re-commit ourselves to our common future.”
–Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner