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At One Nation Working Together, Liberals Promote Liberalism – and Rally for Jobs

Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2010/10/One-Nation-Working-Together-480x234.jpgAttendees of the mass rally head for the Lincoln Memorial on Oct. 2. (Jesse Zwick/TWI)

Members of the Socialist Party lined the tree-shaded walkway that guided tens of thousands of self-dubbed progressives and union members of all stripes to the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Passing out a newspaper with the headline, “Tax The Rich, End The Wars,” one eager party member beseeched the passers-by. “You can’t disagree with this,” he kept saying.

[Congress1] “Get your ‘End The War’ sign. Good for the next war,” yelled a good-natured peace activist who stood nearby. Code Pink, the group for antiwar women, and a sizable contingent of D.C. Statehood activists tabled not far away.

But the majority of the marchers, attending alongside their local union or progressive group members, moved steadily on in order to get a good spot on the National Mall and remind the nation that liberalism, as a concept, was not dead. It’s just been hibernating.

Indeed, the main focus of yesterday’s gathering, called One Nation Working Together and sponsored by nearly 500 progressive organizations, was jobs, and how the government should do more to promote them. This was evidenced by the thousands of signs and t-shirts that promoted the event’s main theme — “Jobs, Justice, and Education” — as well as its heavily unionized supporters.

“We bailed out the banks and the insurance companies. Now it’s time to bail out the American people,” urged the Rev. Al Sharpton, who drew some of the loudest cheers of the afternoon.

“I hope they look at the mall, because this is what America looks like,” he added. “Not one color or one gender.”

Sharpton’s remark about the diversity of the crowd, whose ranks included teamsters, electrical workers, teachers, auto workers, peace activists, and immigration reformers of all colors, rang true. But it may have also been an implicit dig against the tea party movement, whose rally the event was designed, in part, to rival.

Most signs stuck to bland, nonpartisan one-word cries like “Together,” “Forward,” or “Jobs,” but a few got at the nature of the rivalry as well. “I Want My Country Forward, Not Back,” read one of them, subtly challenging a common tea party trope. “Tea Parties are for Little Girls and their Imaginary Friends,” read another, less subtle one-liner.

But the largely broad, noncontroversial themes touted by the event succeeded in allowing the many progressive groups who signed on to join forces and put on a show of force the likes of which have been seldom seen since President Obama took office in 2008.

“We’re just so excited that all the progressives are working together because we notice a lot of times progressives each have their own little cause, but this time we’re all in it,” gushed Alice Hoffman, from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Local Three.

As to the main demand — jobs — attendees from all the groups agreed the country needed far more, but they posed a wide variety of responses about how to get them.

“We really believe that the people are hurting because the money is going to the wrong place,” noted Jane Dugdale of Mainline Peace Action, a group in suburban Philadelphia. “The military is being used to build an empire around the world that is breaking and bankrupting our country.”

“The jobs, the jobs, the jobs, the jobs,” said Michael Bartlett of the New York Teachers Union in response to what the most important issue for Obama should be. “It’s as simple as that. 90 percent of the old jobs have left here and we’ve become a service economy, but we still have to encourage [companies] to employ more people instead of laying off more people.”

“We have to start building up America again,” agreed Helen Lugo of the United Auto Workers, who’d travelled along with her local union by bus from Georgia. “We need to start exporting and stop importing,” she noted. “Something’s got to be equalized over here.”

The slashing of state and local social and educational services also ranked high on attendees’ list of grievances.

“Most of my childhood friends died over some dumb stuff, it’s like we all on some slum stuff, whatever happened to that we shall overcome stuff?” rapped Black Ice, a poet who provided entertainment between speakers. “What’s a young boy to do when he want to do right but there’s a lock on the right door? When he has the heart of a soldier and the aggression of a prize fighter but no one’s taught him what to fight for?”

Beyond putting pressure on the federal government for more jobs and services, however, the event was designed to encourage turnout for the 2010 midterm elections during a year that many Democrats have fretted about a lack of voter enthusiasm coming from their side of the political spectrum.

“2008 was not the end but the beginning,” urged Rev. Sharpton. “When I was in school we had midterm exams…. Well, we’ve got four weeks until the midterm exam and we’ve all got to go home and hit that pavement, knock on doors, and get ready for it.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sounded a similar appeal to union workers and progressive groups at the event as well. “Promise you won’t let anyone quiet us or turn us against each other. Promise to make your voices heard for jobs, justice, and education today — and on election day,” he urged the crowd. “Our best days are ahead, not behind us, and we will fight for them, and we won’t let anyone stand in our way.”

Attendees at the event yesterday appeared to get the message, but whether it translates into ramped up voter turnout for Democrats in November remains an open question.

“I think we will still support Obama, but he has to understand the plight of the ordinary man on the street,” noted Bartlett. “We realize that [doing more] is a difficult proposition for him, but he must also realize that we’re the same group who helped him get elected, so he can’t forget Main Street.”

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