Thursday, July 29, 2010
It's Time for Another March on Washington
The Presidents' Column:
This Fall, we’re going to make history in marching on Washington, D.C.
For a year, as healthcare reform dominated the Congressional agenda, groups of people took to the streets in opposition to expanding healthcare coverage to tens of millions and to curtailing insurance industry abuse. These street protests were provoked by outright lies of Fox News and rightwing gasbag politicians—remember the fear of “death panels”?—and resulted in the formation of the Tea Party, or tea-baggers. And of course the mass media gave them far more attention than their numbers deserved.
Unfortunately, we who supported healthcare reform had comparatively little public presence. Many thousands of activists lobbied members of Congress, and millions sent letters and emails, but there never really was a public mobilization. The healthcare overhaul was a tremendous step forward, but might have been much stronger had “we” taken to the streets.
When we elected President Obama two years ago, it was such an historic victory that perhaps our optimism got the better of us. We now had the President we wanted with strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. The new President was anxious to work with the Republican opposition to try to repair the damage of the Bush years and move the country forward.
But he—and we—underestimated the opposition: a unified, hostile Republican party in Congress that refused the president’s outstretched hand, and instead spat in his face; an aggressive, rightwing and—let’s be clear—racist Fox News and other media outlets marching us back to the 19th century. And then there are the many Democrats motivated by loyalty to the corporations, fear of the Rush Limbaughs and the Glenn Becks, and the tea-baggers’ street presence.
The damage that Obama was elected to repair largely remains—the worst sustained unemployment toll in 75 years; the worst mortgage crisis in memory; two unwinnable wars (three, if you count Pakistan); 15 million immigrant workers forced to live in the shadows; a climate crisis that threatens to spin out of control; escalating environmental degradation as seen in the recent Gulf oil spill and deadly mine explosions in West Virginia and Kentucky; the largest prison population (by far) in the world; a deepening crisis in public and higher education. And that’s the short list.
When Franklin Roosevelt became President during the Great Depression, he also faced—in addition to the economic crisis—a hostile Republican party, a rightwing corporate and banking elite and an oppositional Supreme Court. FDR knew he needed a massive public outcry to move the country forward. He needed John L. Lewis and the emerging CIO to push him—and they did. And out of the mass movements of the day, we got Social Security, unemployment compensation, the 8-hour day and industrial unionism.
A generation later, when John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson would do the right thing if they were pushed to do so, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the heroic youth of SNCC faced down the sheriffs’ deputies, police dogs and lynch mobs of the South but also the established powers-that-be in Washington. The historic March on Washington of Aug. 28, 1963 is known for the “I Have a Dream” speech. But the movement that led to the march and grew out of it resulted in the Civil Rights Bill, the Voting Rights Bill, and indirectly to Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Occupational Health and Safety, and the movements to end the Vietnam War and for women’s liberation and gender/sexual equality.
Today our country is again in crisis. Now it’s our time to raise our voices and make our power felt. Our Union has been joining forces with other unions, the NAACP, and a host of progressive movements for economic and social justice to plan a united response to the crisis. We include not only labor, but the key leadership of the civil rights, human rights, immigration rights, environmental and peace movements. In the next months, we will be organizing and mobilizing throughout the United States for jobs, economic security, comprehensive immigration reform, a safe and renewable energy policy and a reversal of national priorities from making wars to meeting human needs.
This will culminate in a massive—and we believe historic—March on Washington. In the coming weeks and months you will get more information about this occasion through Our Life And Times magazine, our www.1199seiu.org website, and from your Delegates and Organizers in your institutions.
Time to lace up your marching shoes, Sisters and Brothers.