WE are the "Yes We Can" leaders
It is wonderful and empowering to see the organizing taking place for major mass mobilizations on three consecutive weekends this fall. Some of us, many of us, in the face of a resurgent right-wing movement and disappointment in and/or anger with Obama, are taking to heart the words of early twentieth century labor organizer Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn, organize.”
The first of these mobilizations, Appalachia Rising (www.appalachiarising.org), will take place in Washington, D.C. from September 25-27. Thousands of people, including many from Appalachia, will join together for a two-day, Voices from the Mountains weekend conference, followed by an action on Monday the 27th, a march to and demonstration at the White House. We will be demanding, at long last, an outlawing of one of this country’s major environmental crimes, mountaintop removal coal mining.
The following Saturday, on October 2nd, tens of thousands of people will be attending a labor-initiated, major demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial as part of One Nation Working Together. (www.onenationworkingtogether.org). This effort was initiated primarily by 1199 SEIU/United Healthcare Workers East, the union that Martin Luther King often described as his “favorite union.” The mobilization has steadily and rapidly broadened to include other unions, including CWA and the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, UFPJ, USLAW, Green for All, 350.org, and many, many more.
“Jobs, Justice and Education” is the short-hand focus of this action. “Putting America Back to Work,” “Quality and Affordable Public Education” and “Equality for All” are the main demands, but as more and more groups have gotten involved the focuses have broadened. Peace and climate/clean energy groups, for example, have gotten organized to mobilize within their constituencies and to advance their major programmatic demands leading up to and on the day of the action.
I was on a phone call a couple of evenings ago where leaders of 1199 reported that they have reserved 500 buses with another 100 on hold if they need them. This reminded me of something I learned during the big mass mobilizations against the Vietnam war, that the primary determinant of the size of a demonstration in D.C. was the number of buses from New York City and, in particular, the number of buses sent by 1199.
If this effort keeps building and growing, it could well rival the numbers of people who attended the 1963 “I Have a Dream” demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial, reclaiming this location from the stain of the Tea Party/Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin attempt to claim Dr. King’s and the movement’s legacy.
Then, on October 10th, all over the world there will be “work parties” in support of strong action by the world’s governments on the deepening climate crisis. With one month to go, over 2,000 events are being organized in over 140 countries, with more undoubtedly to be added. 350.org is doing it again!
I am so looking forward to being part of these three consecutive weekends of action! I hope many more are planning, or will be, to do the same. And not just because all three of them will be, I am sure, inspiring and strengthening.
This “fall progressive offensive” is coming at a critical time politically for the country and the world. The failure–no, the unwillingness–of the Obama team to turn their election victory into an on-going, grassroots movement demanding the changes we need has led to the very real possibility that the unabashedly pro-corporate, Tea Party-led Republicans could take back control of the House of Representatives and, less likely but still possible, the Senate. Given all that we have seen about Obama as President, this is a certain prescription for government deadlock, at best, and probably change-we-can’t-believe-is-happening during the second half of Obama’s Presidency.
But it’s not enough just to elect or re-elect Democrats. We’ve seen the limits of that approach the last two years, and for some of us much longer. That is, again, a reason to feel hopeful about this fall upsurge of progressive activism.
I know that the Appalachia activists who initiated and who are leading the Appalachia Rising mobilization are not going to sit back after the election and hope for the best, and the same is true for the leaders of 350.org.
As far as the leaders of the October 2 mobilization, I’m honestly not as certain. Many of them have long been tied to the Democratic Party. But their willingness to take this initiative, to move independently in this mass mobilizing way, is something, I am certain, the powers-that-be in the Democratic Party are not pleased about. They may realize that this effort will help to boost progressive voter turnout on November 2, something they badly need, but they have to be nervous about what happens then. Will this broad progressive coalition continue as an independent force to bring pressure to bear for a genuine progressive agenda? Or will it end up as a one-time-only action which, while historic, was not much more than a flash in the pan?
Those of us involved with this mobilization, while doing all we can to make it as massive as possible, should speak out about what our struggling peoples and our threatened ecosystem desperately need: an independent, ongoing, issue-oriented, activist and democratic, united progressive movement and alliance. October 2nd must help us achieve that objective.