Let’s Have a Real Protest,
Not a Democratic Pep Rally, on October 2nd
The October 2 rally in Washington to demand jobs and “stop moving money out of education and into wars and prisons,” in the words of NAACP president Ben Jealous, promises to be huge. SEIU Local 1199, a co-initiator of the event along with the NAACP, has booked 500 busses from New York City, alone, and thousands more will be rolling into the nation’s capital from around the country. Participating organizations include nearly the entire spectrum of labor, social justice and peace formations in the United States.
But big does not necessarily mean historic, or even useful. The character and importance of the “One Nation” rally will be determined by the demands that are made on Power, most especially on the White House, where one man wields the power of an entire branch of government, is the leader of the majority party in both Houses of Congress, and commands national and global attention by virtue of the presidential “bully pulpit.” A Washington rally for jobs, justice and peace that makes no specific demands on President Obama would amount to a capitulation to the status quo on all counts, no matter if half a million attended. And if the event is allowed to become wholly a pep rally for Obama and Democrats, then that will tell the world that real movements for laboring people, social justice and peace do not currently exist in the United States—just a bunch of Democratic Party groupies with delusions of relevance to the burning issues of the day.
That’s why, mindful of the tremendous pressures that have been brought to bear by the administration to avoid embarrassing the president and his party on the eve of congressional elections, strong majorities of the United National Anti-War Conference (UNAC), held in Albany, New York, in late July, endorsed a series of demands to be put forward at the October 2 rally, and beyond. These demands will be reflected in the placards carried by thousands of demonstrators concentrated in the UNAC contingent at the “One Nation” rally:
- $Trillions for jobs and education, not wars and bank bailouts.
- Bring the troops, mercenaries and war dollars home from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, now!
- Stop government attacks on unions, Muslims, immigrants and people of color. Civil liberties for all.
- End U.S. aid to Israel. Billions for jobs, not occupation. End the siege of Gaza. Free Palestine!
The Black is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations is in agreement with the four demands, and will rally alongside the UNAC contingent on the Washington Mall. Black is Back will also demand an end to the ongoing wars waged against Black people here at home, through mass Black incarceration, police terror and constant economic aggression against Black communities.
There is no point in going to a demonstration for jobs, social justice and peace if you are not going to make substantive demands. It is the Obama administration that is waging wars of aggression in Asia and Africa; the Congress—including, most of the time, most Democrats –funds these wars. President Obama always claims to be in the process of ending his wars, even as he escalates, just as did George Bush. Any peace movement worthy of the name must demand withdrawal NOW.
The NAACP and labor say they want to see money moved “from war to jobs and education.” That’s what we used to call a “peace dividend.” But there is no hint of peace in Obama’s rhetoric of open-ended warfare to infinity, and no evidence of any military scale-back that could yield a peace dividend. The dividend can only come with the end of imperial warfare.
By far the biggest share of the bank bailouts that ultimately netted Wall Street $12 to $14 trillion of the people’s money were finagled by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury, both directly or indirectly accountable to Barack Obama. If you have any complaints about the bailouts, lay them at Obama’s doorstep, where they belong. Demand he stop the wealth transfers to Wall Street, NOW!
It is the government under President Obama that entraps and frames Muslims (largely African Americans) on terror charges, harries and deports more undocumented immigrants than did the Bush regime, fails to defend working people’s rights to organize, and maintains what is arguably the most thoroughly racist criminal justice system on the face of the planet. Obama is the executive in charge. Demand in plain language that he use all his powers to end the injustices.
The plank on Israel was the most hotly contested of the Albany conference, and caused a small minority of attendees and participating organizations to leave the United National Anti-War Committee. Too damn bad. It is long past time that the American anti-war movement make a decisive break with Israel, as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) did way back in 1967. An anti-war movement that seeks to rein in its own government’s aggressions in the world but fails to condemn apartheid Israel’s ceaseless violations of international law and crimes against humanity since the birth of the state has no credibility.
The Obama administration’s water carriers within the October 2 rally’s sponsoring organizations will doubtless seek to transform the occasion into a campaign event for the Democrats. It is up to the crowd to demonstrate righteous discontent with the powers-that-be, and call the malefactors out by name. If that’s your preference, hang with UNAC and Black is Back. You’ll identify them by their clear and insistent demands—which is how it should be.
—Black Agenda Report, September 15, 2010