Labor-Backed ‘One Nation’ Rally Competing With Jon Stewart, Pro-Corporate Senate

Art Levine

Comedian Jon Stewart: labor's friend or foe in October?

This Saturday’s One Nation Working Together” rally on October 2 in Washington has drawn the support of the largest (more than 400) and most diverse coalition of progressive and labor groups in history. Its stated policy goals are to promote jobs, quality education, peace and justice, but its political goals are just as challenging: reviving interest among the Democratic base for the mid-term elections, pressuring Congress and taking the so-called reform mantle and media narrative away from the Tea Party and its GOP enablers.

Equally daunting, the rally comes at a time when an obstructionist GOP continues to frighten centrist Democrats away from ending tax breaks for the rich and corporations shipping jobs overseas, or from vigorously promoting jobs at home.

An important new poll commissioned by Project Vote shows why this is especially important: a larger portion of the voting population is made up of young, African-American and low-income voters who believe that government should play a more active role than is composed of the self-defined Tea Party supporters. Indeed, as noted by the acerbic Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog, The study finds self-described Tea Partiers,’ and their political concerns, are far outweighed by the views of everyone else, despite the absurdly out-of-proportion coverage granted to them by the corporate mainstream media.”

But in promoting the One Nation” rally challenging Tea Party spin and momentum, supporters face a challenge from an unlikely quarter: the irony-laced rallies to restore sanity” and keep fear alive” hosted by Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert of Comedy Central.

Some Democrats worry that the heavily promoted rallies will draw people away from Get Out the Vote activities in the weekend before the November election. But there’s a far bigger danger: not many in the media and the broader progressive blogosphere outside the labor movement are paying much attention to the October 2 rally.

As the Christian Science Monitor reported this week: Heard about the big D.C. rally Saturday? Probably not.” The news analysis piece pointed out:

It’s bad enough when you throw a party and nobody comes. Well, what if you hold a rally, plenty of people come, but nobody - meaning, in this case, the national media - pays attention?

That scenario seems to be playing out right now as what is possibly the mother of this midterm election’s Washington rallies slips into town under what Harry Potter fans might call an invisibility cloak.

A group called One Nation Working Together, which bills itself as a nationwide liberal organization dedicated to networking progressives together for true hope and change,” has been planning its big event for Oct. 2 since May. It has some 500 national organizations on its affiliated roster and has buses and caravans of folks from all over the country set to arrive for the noontime, four-hour rally - not to mention sister events in eight cities and dozens of house parties.

Yet, punch in Washington rally” for a Google search and all you hear about is the upcoming Stephen Colbert/​Jon Stewart event on Oct. 30 - or lingering deconstructions of the Aug. 28 Glenn Beck gathering on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. A single-page, A13 mention in The New York Times and a smattering of other national press - mere days before the march - round out the underwhelming national media nod.

The article cites such factors as the focused support Fox News and Comedy Central have been giving their media stars’ rallies as opposed to that given the pro-labor event; the sheer diversity of messages and groups; and the civilized,” non-sensational gathering itself — as opposed to Tea Party-style rage.

Another possible factor dampening media coverage is the uneasy relationship between progressives and the Democratic Party. Even at this late date, with the disenchanted progressive movement avoiding throwing until now a major protest rally since Obama’s inauguration, there’s also still a reluctance to be perceived as openly challenging the Obama Administration and Democrats – and their centrism — in a way that could weaken the Democrats’ chances in the fall, even if the rally’s anger is focused on the GOP.

Still, as AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel told In These Times, the rally could serve to inspire and mobilize grassroots activism, strengthening the hand of Democrats in November and helping keep the House Democratic. When people go back home,” he says, they’ll talk to members of Congress. It makes sense to fire people up with enthusiasm for these important elections.” He’s hoping to see an another extension of unemployment benefits when the current slate of benefits expires November 30, but the passage of an entirely new tier of benefits for the 99ers” who have exhausted all unemployment claims is considered unlikely.

In addition to taking up still-unpassed spending bills for defense, water facilities and other arenas that can contribute to jobs, the most critical legislation — extending middle-class tax cuts but allowing those for the rich to expire — faces an uncertain future in a lame-duck session, Samuel says, after Democrats refused to touch the issue before the election. They were branded by the New York Times as Profiles in Timidity.”

Samuel says, It’s hard to predict the psychology of a lame-duck session, but my guess is that if it’s a blowout, the Democrats won’t be willing to hold to tax cuts [for the rich].”

The Senate also showed yet again this week its sympathy for the tax burdens facing corporations and the very wealthy when the GOP used a filibuster threat to prevent the Senate from considering a bill that would have restricted outsourcing and offered tax benefits to companies that restored jobs here. As author Amy Dean pointed out:

The Democrats are right to consider the exporting of U.S. jobs a crucial topic. But they are wrong to treat it as a political afterthought, inserting it into the legislative debate at the last minute before the election in order to simply rally the base.”

The fact that – even then – they have failed to bring relevant legislation to a vote in the Senate reflects a Democratic Party held hostage by its most conservative faction; continuing a 20-year trend of preemptive compromise, futile bipartisanship, and lack of courage in promoting a truly progressive legislative agenda.

Despite the indifferent media and political climate, though, labor’s organizing efforts, including harnessing social media and leasing fleets of buses for out-of-state activists, could help push turnout for the October 2 rally into the 100,000 range.

But with the media’s eyes on Washington and comparisons to the earlier Glenn Beck and Tea Party rallies ready to be made, all of the progressives’ promotional chips should be placed on the Washington, D.C. rally. But that doesn’t seem to be happening yet. Most of the actor celebrities, like Danny Glover, will be appearing in a Los Angeles rally, while other rallies will be held in a few other cities along with dozens of other local events; and the AFL-CIO is sponsoring door-to-door mobilizing in 300 localities on the same day as the rally it’s supporting.

Fred Azcarate, the deputy director of the AFL-CIO’s Strategic Campaign Center, contends that these outside-the-Beltway events won’t drain attention or turnout from the Washington rally: Part of having these events is to maximize the number of participants around the country.”

Still, in terms of garnering media attention before Saturday’s event, as of late Thursday afternoon, organizers of the rally had apparently not yet formally notified media outlets of the most attention-grabbing headliner speakers or musicians who would be appearing Saturday. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, the Rev. Al Sharpton and broadcaster Ed Schultz are among the better-known speakers scheduled to appear. (In contrast, the Darfur anti-genocide rally in Washington a while ago featured George Clooney, and the 1963 March on Washington had Rev. Martin Luther King, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, and Harry Belafonte, among others — and there were no rallies being held in other cities that day, either.)

So far, one of the more famous people scheduled to appear is indeed the broadcaster Ed Schultz, whose MSNBC and syndicated radio shows have become the primary media platform for promoting the rally; he’ll be joined by some prominent labor and civil rights leaders, even if they regularly appear at a range of other rallies and events. 

On Tuesday’s TV show, broadcast at 6 p,m., not in prime time, he featured an interview with Mary Kay Henry, the SEIU President. Under his questioning, she offered a sound summation of what’s at stake in the October march, as well as responding to carping from the President and Vice-President over the need for progressives to stop whining” and buck up”:

I think our members are saying that working people are facing the biggest crisis in our generation, and that we want to stand up and speak out, and we want to vote in numbers like never before, November 2nd, because we need to get back to work. We need to fix our broken immigration system and we need corporations to share in the responsibility of getting this economy going again.

SCHULTZ: You’re not offended by any way this tough talk by the president and the vice president, for that matter?

HENRY: I don’t take offense to it, because my real offense, Ed, is with corporate America. We have members that have been laid off in L.A. earning $13.50 an hour, employed by JPMorgan Chase, who you and I bailed out 18 months ago, and are now making record profits. And JPMorgan has made a decision to lay off 16 janitors in the height of their biggest profitability. That’s what I take offense to…

Yes, October 2nd is about November 2nd. And it’s about what we do after November 2nd to hold elected officials and corporate America accountable to getting us back to work.

Yet more people saw Jon Stewart on TV, and in online video reruns, than saw Ed Schultz. So, it was a telling moment when the well-informed Arianna Huffington appeared on The Daily Show on Tuesday to discuss the economic crisis described in her book, Third-World America.

The agenda of the October 2 rally certainly can advance the book’s goals of equality, challenging corporate greed and providing economic opportunity for all. But during the interview, she promised to provide buses to bring people to the march on Washington” — Stewart’s own Oct. 30th rally challenging extremism, not this Saturday’s rally, which neither of them mentioned.

Of course, her website has showcased columns promoting the One Nation rally, and she supports its goals. But it was a sign of the promotional obstacles still facing the pro-labor rally that no one seemed to notice its absence on the show.

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Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate​.com, Salon​.com and numerous other publications.
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