Tens of thousands of civil rights, labor, and other progressive activists gathered on the National Mall today for the One Nation Working Together
rally, meant to bring attention to the fight for jobs, justice and
education and energize the left one month before the midterm elections.
"October 2nd is about November 2nd,"
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry recently told MSNBC host Ed Schultz, who
heavily promoted the event on his show and gave opening remarks today.
"And it's about what we do after November 2nd to hold elected officials
and corporate America accountable to getting us back to work."
More than 400 organizations
representing tens of thousands of individuals sponsored the rally,
bringing together groups like the Sierra Club, United Mine Workers of
America, and the NAACP. Backers were touting it as the most diverse
march in history.
Organizers insisted that One Nation was not a response to Fox News
host Glenn Beck's Aug. 28 "Restoring Honor" rally, although some
attendees held signs referencing the personality and his network, such
as "I want my country back from Glenn Beck" and "Fox News: The more you
watch, the less u know." "I didn't really appreciate that he took away
from Martin Luther King," said Sheila Robinson, a member of AFSCME's
District Council 37, noting that Beck's rally was on the steps of the
Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the civil rights icon's "I Have a
"His [Beck's] rally was in response to what the civil rights movement
has always been about, which is a multiethnic movement," National Urban
League President Marc Morial, who spoke at the rally, told The
Huffington Post in an interview on Friday. "But I do invite people to
consider the contrast they'll see, in terms of the diversity. This is
named One Nation because this rally will look like the way the nation
looks. It's going to be yellow, it's going to be black, white, Hispanic
and Asian. It's going to be men and women. It's going to be people from
various walks, areas and religions. That's what it's about, and that's
what the future of America is about. So this is really also a
demonstration that that is a future that we should be proud of, and
that's a future we should embrace as a nation."
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The National Mall looked like a patchwork quilt, with thousands of
union workers grouped in clusters wearing t-shirts in their respective
colors. Unions such as the AFL-CIO and SEIU bused in workers from all
over the country, and many attendees at the event said that they learned
about it from their local chapters and were hoping it would mobilize
people to get out the vote for November. The Rev. Al Sharpton called the
upcoming elections the country's "midterm exams"
and said the left needed to get ready. "We've got to go home and got to
hit the pavement," he urged attendees. "We've got to knock on doors...
We've got to get ready for the midterm."
"I hope that people will go home, be energized to get their neighbors
and their neighbors' neighbors out to vote so that we can out-vote
those who don't know how to vote," said Lula Stewart, a member of the
Office and Professional Employees International Union. "I will be
calling, I will be visiting, going door to door, telling them how
important this midterm vote is."
There didn't appear to be many conservatives at the rally; all the
attendees with whom The Huffington Post spoke wanted to vote Republicans
out of office in November, saying the GOP was more interested in
defending corporations and the wealthy. There were some people waving
signs and wearing clothing supporting President Obama, and most people
gave him credit for trying but said he needed a Congress that was more
willing to back him up -- both on the Republican and Democratic side.
Only one elected representative, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), spoke
today, although Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) was also in attenance. Rep.
John Lewis (D-Ga.) was invited but was unable to participate. "On TV
news, we don't see many pictures of the immigrant sweeping the floor in
the hospital or caring for a sick child," said Gutierrez's prepared
remarks. "But we see lots of pictures of scary invaders jumping over
fences. Of prisoners in handcuffs. For too many people, the two words
that come to mind when they think of immigrants are: Go Home. It's our
job to replace them with two words that tell the real story: Hard Work."
Most attendees seemed to have received the message about focusing on
jobs, justice and education, although there were a smattering of
off-topic signs about war, not eating meat, and child abduction.
"I'm hoping this helps to be a counter-balance to all of the press
that says there's this right-wing wave that everybody is more concerned
about taxes than they are about justice," George Sheridan, a first- and
second-grade teacher from California and member of the National
Education Association told The Huffington Post. "We want to show that in
fact, what we need is good jobs; that's where we'll get taxes from.
What we need is social investment. If we educate the children, then we
don't have as many people in welfare, we don't have as many people in
prison. So we're looking for a just society. This is one step. That
doesn't come from today, but this is one piece of a movement we have to
build for years."