Report From The Capitol : Notes from the One America Working Together Rally

by by Timothy Prince

This past Saturday, the Independent traveled down to Washington, DC to attend the One America Working Together march at the Washington Mall. There, we joined either 175,000 other attendees (according to rally organizers) or “tens of thousands” (according to The New York Times). We don’t know how the rest of the media and the event organizers estimated the number of people at the rally—it sure felt like a hell of a lot people from our perspective in the thick of it.

Over 400 progressive groups, including unions like SEIU and AFL-CIO, as well as the NAACP and the National Urban League, sponsored the rally. It focused on job reforms—preferably good, union ones; education reforms—preferably progressive, teacher- and student-friendly ones; and immigration reforms—preferably inclusive, more-than-just-law-enforcement ones. One of the most powerful moments was when, Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, bellowed, “We are all in the same boat. This is the message of this positive, inclusive rally.”

The end left us only half-fulfilled. After watching three trains come and leave the Federal Triangle Metro stop, we packed into the middle of a train car and struck up a conversation with an American Federation of Teachers member from Greenwich Village, New York.

In a word, the rally was “lackadaisical,” according to this attendee.

While commentary has focused on the event as a response to Glenn “disc-jockey turned Fox News commentator turned faux glasses wearer” Beck’s Restoring Honor rally (a huge non-secular revival and celebration of America’s heroes and heritage!), we found little talk of the TV host or other conservative personalities. What we did hear a lot about on Saturday, October 2, 2010 was November 2, 2010, the day Rev. Al Sharpton called our “midterm exams.”

Your correspondents, progressives that we are, only want the best for liberals come Election Day (Shout out to Progressive lion Sen. Feingold in Wisconsin). But, Progressives, we want more, more than just a vote. The teacher from the Metro wants more. “We voted last time,” she exclaimed, referring to the 2008 elections, “And we are still [in this situation].” Conservative nonsense is dominating the media, Obama’s legislative agenda has been hijacked by corporate interests and, for working Americans, the recession is far from over.

Some ideas are listed below.

1. Occupy Space
As we walked towards the Lincoln Memorial, we came across a group of older women, dressed in bright yellow and wearing assorted pins, including many that read “Granny Peace Brigade.”

Before the Grannies enlisted our help to find some lost members of the group, we heard the story of eleven grandmothers and friends who tried to enlist in the United States Army. On June 18, 2006, the Grannies showed up at the Military Recruitment Center in Philadelphia, asking to be enlisted so their grandchildren’s generation would not need to go to war. After officials refused to enlist the women, the women refused to leave. They were charged with Defiant Trespassing and arrested. Thankfully, the charges were dropped that December.
We want to see more of this kind of action—and not just from grannies.

2. Grow A Pair
As we watched the Rev. Al Sharpton speak, we noticed an older man holding up a large sign: “Dems, Grow A Pair.” We are pretty sure he also had self-tinting glasses on.

Opinions on Washington politicians tended to fall into one of three categories:

a. “Obama is beautiful and the rest of the people suck,” as Teresa Thomas of Philadelphia explained.
b. The Democrats are trying, but the Republicans are blocking EVERYTHING.
c. The view expressed by our friend with the aforementioned sign.

We understand—Republicans are using Senate procedure to hold up everything from a jobless benefits extension bill, to a bill that would help 9/11 relief workers who have developed health problems caused by the dust at Ground Zero, to climate change legislation to union card check neutrality.

But, if your correspondents remember correctly, until 2008, 51 senators were all you needed to get a legislative agenda rolling. Embarrass the Republicans. Make Senate obstructionism a sexy issue. Get the media on your side. Sorry Dems, but we agree with our sign-toting friend. Grow a pair.

3. “That’s What I Need”
As we parked our car and entered the New Carrollton Metro Station in Maryland early Saturday morning, we worried we were going to a rally without any attendees. But soon, the train filled with a group of older men and women in purple SEIU shirts and blue “One America Working Together” rally t-shirts. We convinced one woman to give us a white Tyvek baseball cap with the rally logo on its face.

On our Metro ride over, we met Josephine Gonsalves, who happened to be one of your correspondent’s neighbors on New York’s Upper West Side. As we discussed the upcoming rally, Gonsalves explained the importance of the rally’s diverse message. Jobs, Immigration Reform, and Education Reform: “That is what I need.”

The rally was Gonsalves’s first in DC. It was your correspondents’ first too. Most of the friends we met were new to the National Mall rally scene. They were from Michigan, New York, and Indiana; they were all ages (but mostly, they were retired); they were White, Latino, Black and Asian.

That’s what we need, diversity. Sure, the rally had too many folding chairs and not enough march for your correspondents, but we loved talking to people from all walks of life about politics and what we can do the get this country back on track. Give us some more of that conversation, progressives—with a little more pre-AARP flavor. We are a big tent party, just like the United States is a big tent nation.

4. Forget the Practical, Give Us Solutions
While waiting in line to buy a Polish sausage (note: product of immigration), we began talking to two members of the United Steelworkers of America, Local 2603 of Lackawanna, New York.

For them, the big deal is jobs. The job market is “lousy,” they explained. The government needs to “work on the manufacturing base.” We agree. Our buddy Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute explained to The New York Times, “When the economy is in recession, there is added incentive to stimulate domestic employment. And when steel is purchased from a domestic producer the workers’ wages generate further spending, which supports yet more jobs in the domestic economy.”

But when we asked the steelworkers from Lackawanna about potential measures, like a 21st century WPA or another round of stimulus, they chuckled. It is simply not politically practical, they explained.

Call us idealist youth, call us naïve yipsters, whatever (what is it about twenty-somethings?). Your correspondents are tired of politicians, pundits, and our friends from Lackawanna telling us what is not politically feasible. If you like the idea, and we like the idea, let’s start talking about it. At the end of Edelman’s speech on Saturday, she reminded the crowd: “Remember, [Noah’s] Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals…Feel your own power; use your own power. Don’t rely on experts.” Yeah, we’re feeling our power. Let’s make our ideas part of the political equation, whatever that is.

Jack Fujito B’10.5 and Timothy Prince B’14.5 defiantly trespass in the name of the Yipster Peace Brigrade.