The most important kickoff in Democratic and progressive politics today is not Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign. It’s the We Are One April 4 rallies. They’ve been put together by a similar coalition as the One Nation rallies from last October. But in the meantime, the push from right-wing governors across the country to bust unions and demonize public employees has energized a youth/labor/progressive alliance, which We Are One attempts to bring to a national platform. Over 1,000 rallies have been planned across the country today.
The date is significant. On April 4, 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King was shot dead in Memphis. He was there in support of sanitation workers fighting for their rights. Ben Jealous and Mary Kay Henry, of the NAACP and SEIU respectively, detail that history today:
King made clear connections between what he called “our glorious struggle for civil rights” and collective bargaining rights. He called the labor movement “the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress . . . [and] gave birth to . . . new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life.”
Heirs of King’s legacy who serve our communities see similarities between the struggle in Memphis then and the struggles in Madison and Columbus now [...]
We are uniting to stand up for the dream of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “a tolerable life.” In today’s terms, that translates as “a middle class life.” A path into the middle class for millions of Americans — black, white, Latino, Native American and Asian American — is not a dream that we will allow to die.
The We Are One movement is kind of open-source, in the sense that individuals can plan their own rallies and actions and have them added to the calendar. While marking April 4, We Are One is meant to be a beginning, with events ongoing throughout the week and beyond. They want to capture some of that organic movement in Madison and Columbus and Indianapolis and transform it nationwide.
The idea is to bring people from beyond the labor movement into the struggle for dignity and hope and a middle class life. Michael Kazin had a great piece about this last week, on the community union movement:
The waves of demonstrators who thronged around and inside the Wisconsin capitol this winter could not stop Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature from passing a bill to curtail collective bargaining rights for public workers. But the massive support the unions drew from students, faculty, small farmers, and immigrant rights groups, among others, imparted an old lesson that progressives often forget: to advance its interests, labor needs to look less like an interest group and more like a moral cause that appeals to allies from outside the wage-earning class. In order to protect the gains unions have made and to have a chance to grow again, their partisans have to show how these groups will benefit the nation and not just themselves [...]
Back in the 1980s, as American labor’s decline became too obvious to ignore, some leaders talked about developing a strategy of “community unionism.” Until now, the notion has existed more in the realm of theory than in practice. But what has happened in Madison and at Georgetown, between workers and those they serve or those who support their cause, ought to encourage a revival of broader coalitions for common ends. Teachers’ unions could work with students and parents to improve public schools, transit workers could consult regularly with bus and subway riders, nurses and orderlies might cooperate with patients’ rights groups. Decades ago, in labor’s heyday, such partnerships were known as acts of solidarity. Today, community unionism could help labor take the offensive again, after decades in which its numbers and reputation have eroded. By any name, it remains an excellent idea.
You can find a local action in your community here.