This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Tens of thousands demonstrated in Washington on Saturday for jobs, justice, and education, an effective counterpoint to the right-wing Glen Beck affair in August.
Unfortunately the media mostly played down the event or missed its significance. The Inquirer, for example,did not have a reporter at the event and ran a wire-service article on page 4 of Sunday’s edition, characterizing it alternately as a Democratic election rally and a protest around a “grab bag of issues” ranging from “universal health care”… to “vegetarianism.”
I talked to many people on the Mall and didn’t hear anything about eating vegetables. Most people were more concerned about being able to eat at all.
An autoworker from Ohio spoke for many when he said he was there because his unemployment had run out, food stamps weren’t enough, and his children were going hungry.
And while calls to vote and support the Democratic legislative agenda were certainly an element of the rally, the main themes echoed the historic concerns of the labor-civil rights coalition dating back to the 1960s – jobs, peace, and justice.
But while this demonstration lacked the size and militancy of some earlier actions, it was broader and more unified in some important ways. Civil rights icon Al Sharpton, for example, made a point of calling for equal rights for gays and lesbians. In both the speeches and the signage, opposition to the attacks on Muslims and immigrants was a strong theme. So too were the links drawn between the cuts in social programs and racist attacks on the African American community.
Another positive development was the strong showing by many unions including the American Federation of Teachers, who were a major presence. Judging from the numbers of union T-shirts, union members made up the majority of participants, a sharp contrast to many earlier rallies. Pressed by the worst recession in years, attacks on teachers and public sector workers, and the continued decline in manufacturing, many union leaders are reaching out to form new alliances and the rank and file responded.
Regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections, the emergence of a stronger progressive coalition is good news and shows that there is “thunder on the left” as well as on the right, even if the so-called liberal media doesn’t find it newsworthy.