Posted by rflacks on:
The One Nation Working Together march on October 2 could turn out to be history making. Reports from participants and organizers paint a picture of the event itself as having the look and feel of an authentic grassroots movement happening. Carl Davidson, whose stature as a grizzled veteran organizer gives him much credibility, offered this overview:
"A rainbow of nationalities, men and women, young and old, and with a solid core from all sectors of the working class filled the area. The crowd's mood was upbeat and militant, and they let it be known with a range of voices, from old-fashioned liberals to the socialist left, that they were fed up with the right wing assaults from Tea Party, the GOP neoliberals and the Blue Dog Democrats going along with them."
Crowd estimates of these rallies have in recent years been hard to find, but Carl claims 175,000. Watching on C-SPAN, I thought that number was credible, and since one purpose of the march was to challenge the Glen Beck hype, it did seem that the October 2 mass was a lot more tightly packed than the array of beach chairs that assembled for the Beckfest.
As is usual for these events, March supporters complained about a lack of media coverage, but I saw a good deal of respectful attention to the event (especially compared to woeful neglect of last year's immigrant rights march). On the other hand, the LA Times, as far as I can tell, failed to devote a single sentence to the LA rally of several thousand in response to the One Nation call.
I've been hoping for months for such an event. As Carl Davidson suggests, the march provided a physical response to the media promoted idea that the Tea Party represents grassroots America. And the march may have helped energize local activists to ramp up voter mobilization energies in these weeks before election day.
But the history making dimension of this event is this: the coalition that endorsed and organized One Nation Working Together is the broadest progressive coalition in American history. I don't think there is precedent, certainly in the last 50 years, for the coming together of the entire labor movement, the major civil rights organizations, the major peace organizations, every progressive organizing network, environmental organizations, feminist leadership, gay rights activists, and the various remnants of the Marxist left. The 400+ endorsing groups signed on to a comprehensive agenda, which embraces but goes well beyond the promises of the Obama administration for jobs and justice. It's news that the labor unions have committed to gay rights and immigrant rights, and that ‘identity' based movement organizations are part of a ‘class' oriented politics and program. Although there's scant mention of the war and international policy in the official policy statement the major anti-war groups are in the coalition, and have created the Peace Table which served as a significant organizing structure for the march, leading a feeder march carrying antiwar banners, and serving in the post-march as a framework for peace activist participation in the wider coalition.
Historically, progressive coalitions have foundered on war/peace issues.
The national unions have rarely been willing to oppose war policies (and at times have been avid supporters of them) in part because of the economic fruits of war spending, while national liberal leaderships have typically believed that their ability to influence national policy depended on their staunch defense of nationalist values. These days, the war budget is hardly providing economic benefit for working Americans and the wars are deeply unpopular. Still, it appears that welding the broadest coalition for economic justice required a soft pedaling of the war. What was different this time is that the anti war movement and hundreds of constituent groups was encouraged to organize within the coalition, to promote its messages as visibly as possible-and most of the speakers at the rally, including top labor leaders, spoke in some way against the war and/or the military budget. The next day, dozens of organizations were represented at a meeting to map plans to attack military spending. Phyllis Bennis, a leading figure in antiwar activism, assessing the march, says:" The anti-war movement itself is now only one stream in a much wider river of protest".
Indeed, it may well be that the one nation coalition, if it can become a full fledged ongoing political force, will create pressure for ‘domestic' reform that will compel reducing the military priority. There really is no way to rebuild the US economy, to finance the infrastructure and the green path, without such a reduction. The best answer to the popular deficit panic is to dramatize the choice between endless war and imperial futility on the one hand, and a sustainable model of prosperity.
The history making question about the October 2 march is whether the coalition and its agenda can be sustained and enhanced as a framework for grassroots action. The first test will be the congressional election. Contrary to mainstream media assumptions, there's reason to expect that Democratic control of both houses will survive-especially if the GOTV strategies of progressive coalition groups are effective. That outcome will be heartening at least as a demonstration that the American majority is NOT in the thrall of rightwing charlatanry and demagoguery.
The more important test, however, is whether the political climate-the demands and debates that dominate-can be shifted after the election. Whether or not Democratic control is maintained, its margins will have narrowed. But the last two years have taught us that numerical majorities in congress hardly provide the means for achieving even modest moves toward just and rational policy. From now forward, the question will not be simply what Obama does but what we do. Instead of focusing as we have tended to do since 2008 on passing some semblance of immediate reform, the challenge and opportunity will be on defining and campaigning for a program that will make our future possible.
I hope to do some more commenting on that from here on.