By: Byron York
Organizers of Saturday's "One Nation Working Together" rally at the Lincoln Memorial are proud of their diversity. Before the event, they predicted it would be the "most diverse march in history." It turned out they were right. Looking around the rally, there were Teamsters Local 311, Service Employees International Union Local 1199, Communications Workers of America Local 2336, American Federation of Teachers Local 1, United Auto Workers Amalgamated Local 171, Transport Workers Union Local 100, and representatives of many, many other unions. That's a lot of diversity.
Karnell Dorris and Rose Anderson work in a nursing home in Detroit. They're members of Local 79 of the Service Employees International Union, which chartered buses to bring them and hundreds of others to the rally. They left Detroit at about 8:00 pm Friday for the 13-hour drive to Washington. After spending all day at the rally, they were scheduled for a union dinner, after which they would overnight at a hotel, also paid for by Local 79. For Dorris, the main reasons for coming to the rally were "jobs, justice and education." For Anderson, it was health care, along with a desire to "stop taking from us, trying to make the rich richer."
With few exceptions, people said the economy was their motivation for marching. "Jobs first," said Paul Blujus, a former construction worker who now works in health care in Buffalo, New York and who came to Washington aboard a bus chartered by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees/Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000. "Jobs -- better jobs," said Debra Winston, who came to the rally from Memphis on a bus chartered by SEIU Local 205. "Jobs," said Mark West, who came from Charlotte, North Carolina aboard a bus chartered by United Steelworkers Local 850.
The union presence was so ubiquitous and so organized that it made for a kind of color coding in the crowd. Looking around, there were large groups of people bunched into separate areas, all wearing the same color T-shirts to mark their union affiliation. There were groups wearing the purple SEIU shirt, others wearing the red CWA shirt, others wearing the blue AFT shirt, and still others wearing green shirts and yellow shirts and so on. There were long rows of tables where union workers sat waiting to get people connected to their groups and their buses. There were thousands of union-printed signs.
Organizers will deny that the march was a total union job, compared to the more grassroots character of tea party gatherings. And it's true that union allies like the NAACP also played a big part in staging "One Nation Working Together." But it's safe to say the rally would have been nothing without labor's money and organizing strength.
On this beautiful day in Washington, there was just one thing on many minds, but few people seemed eager to admit it. The polls show Republicans headed for substantial gains in the November 2 elections, but most of the people at the rally just couldn't accept the idea. "It ain't happening," said Rose Anderson.
The very idea of it made them angry. "I'm particularly offended by these people who want to take the nation back," said Maida Odom, who came to the rally from Philadelphia on board a bus chartered by the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees/ AFSCME Local 1199. "I'm saddened that people haven't risen above their bigotry. If you read the Republican Contract with America, you can see the bigotry in between every line."
There was disappointment, too, in what President Obama and Democrats in Congress have accomplished, most notably in the area of health care. Rather than celebrate Obama's achievement of a goal that generations of Democrats before him had failed to reach, several participants complained that the new health care law just doesn't go far enough. "Make it single payer," said Paul Blujus. "Take the profit out of health care." There was also griping about the state of education, the environment, and taxes (people at the rally wanted their own taxes cut, and rich people's raised).
But when it came to complaints about the current administration, one unhappy note sounded more than any other. By and large, this crowd hates the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They want U.S. troops out. "I am totally against both wars," said Mark Deagle, a pipefitter from Troy, Michigan who came to the rally on a bus chartered by an antiwar group. "I'm disappointed in Obama expanding the Afghan war, because I think it's endless." Paul Blujus said he wants the U.S. government "to stop worrying about Afghanistan and Iraq and start worrying about the American people."
Kathryn Riss said she attended the 1963 rally at the Lincoln Memorial, when she was just 16 years old, and came back 46 years later for the inauguration of Barack Obama. This time, she traveled from New Jersey on what she called the "peace bus" ("the Communications Workers of America very graciously paid our way," she explained), and she held a homemade blue flag with a white dove stitched into the middle. "I carried this flag at many peace demonstrations in the 1960s," she said, and now she's still protesting wars. The discordant note in all this, of course, is that the president she supported and whose inauguration brought her to tears is now the one conducting those wars.
In addition to the blue flag, Riss carried a yellow-and-black sign that was ubiquitous at the rally. It had a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and said STAND AGAINST WAR & RACISM -- JOBS NOT WAR. At the bottom, it said AnswerCoalition.org, a reference to the group International ANSWER, which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. The people who run ANSWER are old-style Communists, supporters of just about every awful regime on the planet. They ran the big anti-war protests in the early months of the war in Iraq, sometimes to the embarrassment of more moderate anti-war forces. The presence of ANSWER gives any rally a touch of the extreme.
There were plenty of other extreme elements, too. The Communist Party USA took part. The War Resisters League. The Freedom Socialist Party, and several others. If the main organizers of the rally wanted to keep the kooky parts of their coalition away from public view, they didn't succeed.
Overall, how big was the crowd? Before the rally, organizers made no secret of their determination that their turnout be bigger than that of the nonpolitical Glenn Beck rally at the Memorial on August 28. "We believe that our satellite photos will stack up nicely to his satellite photos,” NAACP president Ben Jealous told the New York Times. After the rally, however, there wasn't so much talk about satellite photos; although thousands of people showed up, the crowd was visibly smaller than the Beck event. Even with all that organizing muscle, they couldn't turn out as many people as one man on talk radio and Fox News.
"One Nation" was scheduled to last from noon until 4:00 pm, but a lot of people headed for the exits well before the last speakers took the stage. By 2:45, when Jealous himself was at the microphone, they were streaming for the buses. As they walked, organizers herded people in the right direction. "OPEIU movin' out! OPEIU movin' out!" shouted one man, a organizer with the Office and Professional Employees International Union. The unions came, and then they left.