Liberal groups plan One Nation rally in D.C.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010; 10:56 AM
Their aim is to reclaim the sense of excitement that surged among left-leaning groups after the 2008 presidential race but more recently has belonged to tea party groups and other conservative activists. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck filled the Mall with tens of thousands of his supporters last month.
The organizers of the Oct. 2 rally, dubbed One Nation, are calling it the "most diverse march in history." The amalgam of 300 progressive groups - environmentalists, antiwar activists, church and civil rights groups, union organizers, gay rights coalitions and others - is planning four hours of speeches, singing and spoken-word poems.
"We lose separately, and absent of a strategy to work together we will continue to lose," said Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, chief executive of Green for All, an environmental group supporting the march. "We have to be able to take critical action on all of the issues facing this country. We're at a critical moment in history, and we have the opportunity to move forward in a really significant way."
The One Nation groups hope to set up a kind of competition with the tea party movement. If their rally is successful, organizers will try to hold the groups together to become a revived political force. They are promoting the rally through their network of groups, on liberal radio, and on television host Ed Schultz's show.
"We aren't the alternative to the tea party, we are the antidote," said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, who has also been a lead organizer. The team that produces the NAACP's annual Image Awards show will put together the program for One Nation.
The groups involved represent many of President Obama's core supporters, including the National Council of La Raza, NAACP, AFL-CIO, SEIU and the U.S. Student Association. The effort is separate from the Democratic Party's plan to spend $50 million trying to reach those same voters - though Organizing for America, the grass-roots network that Obama's campaign created, will send out an e-mail encouraging its affiliates to attend.
It is unclear how many people will make it to Washington for the rally, but organizers' expectations are high. Last week, the rally's leaders were still trying to raise money to bring 50,000 students to the event. A plan by Comedy Central television hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to hold dueling rallies on Oct. 30 could appeal to some potential One Nation participants, creating a less-than-desirable competition for liberal-leaning would-be activists.
Unlike Beck's rally, in which overt politics took a back seat to religious and patriotic themes, the progressive groups will repeatedly remind attendees at their rally to vote in November's mid-term elections, said Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of AFL-CIO.
"We have heard a lot about frustration and anger leading to apathy. What we are finding is that anger is now turning into, 'Okay, let's act,'â??" Holt Baker said. "We can either sit here and not move forward or we can go backward."
She sees the rally as a first step in a more unified progressive movement, which has often splintered into its own niche causes.
The diverse range of groups participating in One Nation creates some inherent tension. Gay rights groups, such as Human Rights Campaign, will attend alongside socially conservative faith groups including the National Baptist Convention and the National Missionary Baptist Church. A mineworkers union and groups of environmentalists have also endorsed the event.
Organizers say they are focusing on three big, unifying ideas: jobs, justice and education. Those ideas are defined in a set of principles, which lays out a list of causes largely supported by liberals. They include ending discrimination in the criminal justice system, protecting Social Security, spending federal money to stimulate jobs and improving public education.
"These are the big rock issues that define who we are and why we march," Jealous said.