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Timidity on the Mall

The “One Nation Working Together” rally was billed as a chance to “demand the changes we voted for”. That slogan was just for the suckers. There was barely any criticism of the Administration from the main stage, just bleats for jobs and justice.

You would think that up on the main stage there would be giant banners with progressive slogans, “Obama, Hire Millions Now” “Defend Public Education from the Privatizers”, “Why are a Million Blacks in Prison?”, “Cut the Pentagon Budget in Half”. But there were no banners at all. Instead there were flags, lots of American flags.

None of the rally speakers were announced beforehand. That’s always a big draw. Was it stupidity or just an effort to avoid showing that “peace” would not be part of the demonstration. Bless his heart, rally speaker Harry Belafonte did vigorously denounce our wars and he actually condemned the Afpak surge saying, “The President’s decision to escalate the war in that region alone costs the nation $33 billion”. He didn’t challenge the President to bring the troops home, but no one else on the main stage criticized Obama on anything.

I must confess I didn’t try to hear much of the speeches that day in DC. I saw many of the CSPAN videos later on Youtube. I carefully watched AFL-CIO President Trumka’s speech and was astounded how useless it was. He says we need jobs “good jobs”. He could have said a sentence about the plague of part time, no benefit jobs, but he didn’t. He had no mention of any program on how to get those “good jobs” other than to say we have to “rebuild schools and roads”, etc. He actually said “we have to compete and win in the world economy”. Yikes, that’s the boss’s argument. The boss is sorry, but he has to reduce your wage so he can compete with factory owners in Bangladesh and Upper Volta.

Trumka said workers should have “the freedom to make every last job a good job, by joining together in a union to bargain for a better life”, but he didn’t explain that we no longer have that freedom, how it’s near impossible to organize under current laws. He was speaking to 125,000 people and CSPAN and could have taken three minutes to talk about what the card check legislation was and why we need it so badly. No, that might embarass Obama who did squat for card check.

Ben Jealous, “CEO” of the NAACP told people to vote. He said the “strongest words” are, “Americans…Family…future”. Our national destiny he said is to move “Ever forward, never backwards” and “Let us nurture the practice of family values, by policies that value families”. “Most importantly …let us come together in the name of God, of liberty and of country to insure that jobs, justice and education remain at the top of our agenda”. And then he led 60 second chant of “One Nation, One Nation” and ended asking God bless America, the NAACP and various other entities. No denunciation of racism, or the fact that a million Blacks are in prison. No mention of the usual demand for a “Marshall Plan for the Cities”. Staggering. Maybe Jealous was really the final speaker from the Glen Beck rally.

Jesse Jackson’s speech was a mish-mash of descriptions of the open sores of 2010 America, compliments to Michelle Obama for being on the “right side of history” and repeated praise for the power of the vote. He said “stop killing in Afghan” and cut the military budget, but then made the incredible statement that we can “end unnecessary wars with this vote”. What? By voting for the same Democrats who repeatedly backed all of Obama’s war budgets? With intentional or unintentional irony CSPAN cutaway to a “Bring U.S. Troops, Mercenaries and War Dollars Home Now”, sign for five full seconds.

The rally was billed as a demand for “quality education”. Need we say that it’s this Administration that’s at war with public education, determined to “reform” the public school teaching profession into a mass of low paid overworked drudges, teaching to the test and quivering because they have no job security? Did anyone raise that from the main stage? Don’t make me laugh. The best that can be said was that the Oct. 7 day of Rallies to Defend Public Education was mentioned in passing.

What’s really pathetic is that with all the emphasis on “Vote, vote, vote” the liberals were afraid to bring their Democratic candidates to the podium (though Jesse Jackson did give a salute to the ethically challenged Charles Rangel). Did they even ask Obama to show up? He evidently didn’t want the rally. He endorsed a different rally, the half serious John Stewart rally of “moderates” that will occur in a couple of weeks.

Instead of listening to the Obama apologists I concentrated on the peace contingent rallies beforehand, and the peace feeder march.

There was a formation called the Peace Table, led by the United for Peace and Justice. It sponsored a nice professional website which was designed to give the impression that peace was a serious part of the One Nation Working Together program. Too bad it wasn’t.

The serious Left which organized the United National Anti-War Committee (at an excellent July conference in Albany) held a peace rally on 14th and Constitution with its own speakers, like Noura Erakat and Abayomi Azikiwe, Nada Khader and Phil Waylato. A hundred yards away was the UFPJ stage and eventually the two groups merged their programs. Most impressive were Larry Holmes from “Bail Out the People” who talked about the FBI raids and how the victims were planning to go to jail rather than to fink on their friends and Glen Ford of “Black is Back” who was not shy about naming names. He said, “We are not here in general, that we hate war in general. We are against the people who perpetrate wars and we’ve got to say their names and especially the chief perpetrator at this moment in time and that is Barack Obama”. Chantelle Bateman of Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke about their campaign to stop redeployments of soldiers suffering PTSD and other traumas. . Omali Yeshitela gave a fiery speech and announced a Black is Back rally in DC for November 13 to denounce Barack Obama “for the fraud that he is”.

The speeches were followed by a march around the Washington Monument. Most striking was the huge banner “Socialist Contingent” which was held in front of a hundred loudly chanting activists.

Groups had tables way back by the World War II memorial. Code Pink got a lot of attention with its “Bring the War Dollars Home” campaign. Peace Action handed out signs which were gobbled up like hot cakes. My own group MECC (“The Struggle”) unveiled its new “Unions, Dump Your Israel Bonds” banner and handed out brochures headlined, “Palestinian Workers are Getting Screwed, and Why it Matters to Us’. I also passed around mini-booklets produced for www.EconomicUprising.com calling for direct government funding of millions of new jobs, “public enterprise”.

Was this whole thing worth going to? The peace rally couldn’t have had more than 300 spectators. How many more even saw the peace march?

Still, there were a hundred thousand of our kind of folks in DC that day and we had to make the effort to reach them. I know that for thousands of union members it was an exciting event no matter how worthless the speeches. Labor never has huge rallies, maybe one a decade! And several thousands fiery leaflets were passed out. And CSPAN did show some of the anti-war signs.

If only Trumka had pointed overseas to France or Spain where they are fighting the cutbacks with general strikes of millions of workers, where they reject “One Nation” crap and understand that the exploiters and workers are engaged in class war, where they actually talk about doing away with the capitalist sweatshop casino.

I can’t imagine that the “One Nation” rally will do much to rally the union faithful or damp down the fury of the electorate. After the Republican deluge on Election Day will lessons be drawn? Will working people reject the One Nation rally’s warmed over 1950’s liberalism? Will they reject their grossly overpaid leaders who have brought them defeat after defeat. We shall see.

STANLEY HELLER is host of the TV program “The Struggle”, writer for Economic Uprising and a member of AFL-CIO unions for over 40 years. Reach him at stanley.heller@yahoo.com