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One Nation Reflections

Cameron Barron
Date Published: 
December 1, 2010

On October 2, 2010, about 175,000 people gathered on the Mall in Washington, DC to demonstrate for jobs, education, and justice. Called by a newly-formed coalition called One Nation Working Together, groups mobilized people to come to stand for reordering of priorities within the United States. Led largely by the AFL-CIO and the NAACP, over 300 groups mobilized people to walk, drive, carpool, and fly from all parts of the United States to join voices calling for increased attention to job creation and increased funding for educational programs.

Two years ago, the under-thirty crowd was a key factor in electing President Obama as more than 65 percent of that age group voted for him. Also key was the Black vote as upwards of 90 percent of African Americans voted for him. On October 2, these two groups and others turned out in one of the most diverse demonstrations in Washington in many years. Carrying signs that read, “The Axis of Ignorance: Tea Party, Republicans, and Fox News,” demonstrators gathered at various points around the city before marching to the Lincoln Memorial.

Speakers such as Harry Belafonte, Marian Wright-Edelman, Van Jones, and Sara Haile-Mariam gave voice to the concerns of millions of others across the US, as they called for job creation, working together, and investment in a green economy that works for the ordinary person. They spoke about the need to break the link between socio-economic status and educational outlook. They emphasized the importance of the federal government’s investment in infrastructure that would produce jobs and provide much-needed public services. Finally, they pointed to the dichotomy between spending money for war as opposed to money for education and job creation, and called for the US to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fueled in part by the desire to actually realize change that they can see, touch and feel, not just believe in, students, retirees, activists, and working people came from all over the country. Some came because they felt that the administration needed defending, as the right wing has stepped up its attacks in recent weeks as the election nears. Others came because they felt the administration needs support in moving its agenda in the face of what they have come to call “the Party of No.” Frustrated by years of increased funding for military adventures, gifts for Wall Street, and a much more corporate-friendly administration than most of us could have imagined during the 2008 election, still others were mobilized by the need to hold the current administration accountable.

Feeder marches included youth, the peace march (led by US Labor against the War), immigrant rights, and the LGBTQ contingent. Also, a rally for the unemployed was held at RFK stadium and later joined the march. All contributed to the huge turnout that Saturday.

On the other side of the Atlantic, more than 100,000 people from all over Europe took to the streets in Brussels. Millions of workers have taken part in recent demonstrations in France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Lithuania, among other places. These protests have challenged austerity packages with their assault on public sector workers through wage freezes, cutbacks on pensions, and increased retirement age. Essentially, the same thing is taking place at the state and local levels within the US. California currently has an unfunded pension liability of over $300 billion. State civil workers and teachers, through no fault of their own, find their financial future in jeopardy because of investments in mortgage-backed securities and overly optimistic projections on investment returns.

So, were the One Nation organizers pleased with the outcome? Did they achieve their objectives?

The first question has to be answered with a resounding yes. Things went very well and the day’s event was a huge success. Organizers were extremely pleased with the turnout and the diversity of the crowd. The sense of solidarity was present throughout the day as people greeted and talked to one another from various parts of the country and various unions as well. There was a report of a bus breaking down on the way back home that happened to have United Auto Workers (UAW) members on board. In showing what this country can do when One Nation works together, the UAW members diagnosed and fixed the problem from the side of the road and got the bus rolling again in the right direction.

Yet there were things that did not go very well. The corporate press essentially ignored the march. Those media outlets that did cover it did so in a way that suggested that the only reason for the march was to counter the march held the previous month by Glenn Beck. Were the goals of jobs, education, and justice achieved? Obviously, it is a bit too early to weigh in on this question.

Within the organizing for the march, there were tensions from the very beginning. On the one hand, there were those who did not want to have a demonstration in Washington, DC, because it could prove embarrassing to the President at a time when he needed the support of center and left forces. Others thought the timing was wrong because all efforts should be focused on the November elections and turnout needed to be maximized as there are strong possibilities that the Democrats will lose strength both in the House and the Senate. Lastly, there were those who wanted to criticize the administration from the left, by showing that it had not done nearly enough for working people and had catered to the demands of big business.

Ultimately, though the Left has to see our role in this event as largely a junior one—small, insignificant, and not worthy of much respect. Part of this has to do with the center forces, which were the backbone of this march and pulled the purse strings. They didn’t see Left forces as able to contribute anything except some theories and a few marginalized groupings.

To really be able to make change a reality, then, we must build the Left into a force to be reckoned with. Whether this means organizing among lower strata workers within the working class or so-called “redundant” or unemployed workers, the Left has to establish itself among a group or groups so that it can become more than a junior partner in this whole equation. Ultimately, it comes back to being able to organize in order to affect change. Historically, no group has done this better than the Left, so once again it’s time to get busy.

Cameron Barron is a labor activist and educator who has worked with student groups, community organizations, and unions.