Groups across the political spectrum have seized the momentum of election season, with rallies and marches becoming ever more ubiquitous as November rapidly approaches.
Recent marches receiving the most media attention have largely been organized by conservative and Republican groups, most notably the Tea Party Express and Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor to America.” Despite a variety of mission statements, most of these rallies have been held under the easily interpreted mantle of change, appealing to groups who object to the Obama administration’s political and social agenda.
On October 2 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, One Nation Working Together, a coalition of local, state and national organizations, will host the One Nation March to stir progressives to a similar grassroots activism, with a mission to improve national policies in jobs and public education. In uniting leaders in civil rights, labor, faith and the environment, the One Nation March aims to “demonstrate our re-commitment to change,” a reference to the message that helped elect Obama during the 2008 presidential race.
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Among the 150 groups comprising One Nation Working Together are the Courage Campaign, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Communication Workers of America (CWA), the National Council of La Raza and Planned Parenthood. MSNBC host and political pundit Ed Schultz announced his participation in the One Nation March on September 3, stating on his program “The Ed Show,” “Tens of thousands of labor activists will gather and march to make a statement about what really matters in this country. It’s jobs, it’s economic justice and the right that we all have to a secure job and fight the outsourcing in America, a safe home and also a quality education.”
The significance of the One Nation March taking place a month before the election has mobilized many of the participating groups. The AFL-CIO, among other unions, plans to coordinate thousands of union members around the country to knock on doors on October 2 in a get-out-the-vote effort. In an interview with “Free Speech TV,” AFLI-CIO President Richard Trumka stated, “We want to show a progressive vision for America, one where we come together and we work together.” Similar efforts are underway in other states, including California, Texas, New York, Ohio and Virginia, among others. A group of citizen journalists from Los Angeles will chronicle the trip to Washington, DC, and the One Nation March for “BlogMobile,” interviewing Americans across the country “from different walks of life, highlighting the hopes, struggles and experiences that unite us.”
The message of a stable economy resonates clearly with voters as 15 million Americans remain unemployed and US Census Bureau statistics show poverty rates increasing to one in seven people even as the recession is termed to be over. Organizers hope to encourage Congress to pass the Americans Want to Work Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) in August that would extend jobless benefits for an additional 20 weeks in states facing unemployment rates of 7.5 percent or higher.
Despite a large number of groups focused on different messages, the One Nation March has streamlined its objectives, focusing primarily on economic and policy goals. The One Nation for Peace contingent, organized by groups such as Code Pink, the Green Party of the United States, the Campaign for Peace & Democracy and Iraq Veterans Against the War, will advance its own economic message by demanding the redirection of war funds into green jobs, single-payer national health care and protection for Social Security.
The group’s chief organizer, Michael McPhearson, undauntedly refers to it as the “peace table” – but in reality, it’s a coalition of almost 100 groups. “Our role … is to help people understand the connections between the War on Terror and how it’s depleting our resources here at home, as well as the moral deprivation of the policy and the fact that it’s not working,” McPhearson said. Specifically, the peace table will highlight the fact that the US spends approximately a million dollars a year to keep one soldier in Afghanistan. “And we have hundreds of thousands of soldiers deployed. If you look at our military budget, it’s the largest portion of our spending. At the same time as we continue to spend on the military and keep soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, budgets are being cut locally … people are being affected directly by the fact that there are no resources available.” According to the peace table, bringing home one soldier and transitioning the $1 million elsewhere could create 24 union jobs that focus on building a sustainable economy. Cutting 25 percent of the Pentagon budget could help to fund schools, public transit and jobs, among other programs.
In addition to spreading the antiwar message, One Nation for Peace – like all the involved groups – will also promote the overall goals of the One Nation March. “When we have economic turndown,” McPhearson said, “people start to look for scapegoats. It’s unfortunately a human trait that we turn on each other when the economy is bad … This rally is to push back on this cultural and political space, where people are divisive and intolerant. People want to get together, people who understand that the US is a culturally diverse place and we have to accept each other.”
McPhearson acknowledged that planning the One Nation March is not without its challenges. Within the peace table, it lies in reaching out to people who work in the military industrial complex. “They think when they hear ‘cut the military budget,’ that they’ll lose their jobs. We have to tell them that’s not what it means. We need to transition our economy so that it’s sustainable and green, so that your jobs will last a long time.”
On the education side, the One Nation March has partnered with groups such as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the United States Students Association and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Education. At the 81st Convention of the American Federation of Teachers, AFT President Randi Weingarten stated, “We are affected by and care about the same issues that everyday people care about.” In times of economic crisis, Weingarten said, the United States can “tear itself apart with division hatred … [or] pull the country back together.”
Beyond the rally itself, McPhearson said, is the challenge of keeping momentum going. “It’s not really about October 2 … it’s the work that comes after that. If we don’t keep up with the work that it takes to change policies, then none of this matters.”