With the midterm elections six weeks away advocates on the left of the political spectrum are working at a feverish pace to rally their troops for the November election. In the wake of the mobilization of the Tea Party in key races and the precipitous drop in President Obama’s popularity among some factions of the electorate, progressive advocates are preparing to descend on the nation’s capital for a march that could be of historic proportion. Coming under the banner “One Nation Working Together,” the march and rally is the collective effort of human and civil rights groups, labor, the gay, lesbian and transgender community, and environmental and peace activists. It is by far the most diverse collection of groups to come together under the progressive banner for a public demonstration in memory.
The One Nation March on Washington comes as progressives show frustration over the slow pace of change under the Obama administration. There was a great deal of optimism and perhaps too high an expectation of President Obama after his election to office. Having been elected in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and carrying the weight of being the first Black President, Barack Obama was hard pressed to please the wide array of interests that invested in his message of “change.” Whether it is the persistence of joblessness and high unemployment, the failure to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, card check to empower labor unions, or “don’t ask, don’t tell,” there is a wide range of issues that progressives see as missed opportunities. With the clock ticking and the right making noise, the left appears to have gotten the message – organize or take cover.
March organizers point out that their efforts preceded the Beck rally and are focused on sustainability at the grassroots. Carmen Berkley, the Deputy Field and Turnout Director, said, “We helped create steering committees on the ground of groups that want to come to the table. We tried to create over 40 committees in cities across the nation.” Rather than force feed an agenda Berkley notes, “We want people to have a local agenda. We want their steering committees to work on what’s relevant for them.” In many ways the most difficult challenge comes after the march when factions on the left have to find a way to reconcile their differences and focus their energy on building momentum toward the midterm election and beyond. Beyond the expected rallying cries lies the hard job of building a movement.
Activities are expected to kick-off at 11 a.m. and the official program is slated to begin at noon on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. March officials are advising early arrival in anticipation of a large crowd and traffic entering the District and crowded public transportation. The event site will be open to the public at 6:00 a.m. The program is planned to end at 4:00 p.m. For detailed information a website has been set up for the One Nation Working Together March.
The turnout for the event will be widely watched as demonstrations in the nation’s capital are always subject to the guessing game of crowd estimates. A clear example of the turnout debate is the Million Man March led by Nation of Islam leader Rev. Louis Farrakhan. That march was perhaps the largest gathering in the history of our nation’s capital but the size of the crowd remains much debated, with estimates in the range of 600,000 to 1 million. The perception of large crowd size fuels media coverage and is a political statement of the momentum behind the event. How to define success for one of these events is always dicey. However, Berkley, the staff member at One March looks at it differently. “Success is seeing all the young people we have tried to engage,” she remarked, “We need them civically engaged. If I can see communities standing together. This is our time for people to come together.”
The event comes weeks after conservative Fox News Channel talking head Glenn Beck held his own rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The Beck event featured former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and stuck to familiar conservative themes to excite the largely white, rightward leaning crowd that assembled. Beck’s rally was widely criticized by progressive groups for demeaning the legacy of the ’63 march and the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on that sweltering day on the National Mall. Not to be outdone, Rev. Al Sharpton held a competing rally in Washington, D.C. on the day Beck staged his event to counter efforts by the right to usurp the late civil right’s leader’s message.
Most recently the Republican minority in Congress issued its “Pledge to America,” a manifesto reminiscent of the GOP’s “Contract with America” that served as the centerpiece of Newt Gingrich’s takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994. At the same time Tea Party advocates are trying to whip up conservative voters in several key races across the country. The right appears to be leaving no stone unturned in the effort to take back the House and prepare to challenge President Obama’s re-election in 2012. Recent polls have indicated a shift to the right among voters identified as Republicans. The hardening of partisan lines foreshadows a bitter two years leading up to the presidential election.