In the wee hours of Saturday morning I readied myself for the long day trip to Washington. I talked Debbie into giving me a ride downtown because I wasn’t sure if there would be a bus at 5:15 AM on a Saturday. Fortunately, because it was Saturday, that drive downtown was only 10 minutes. Close to 180 union members and supporters gathered at the United Steel Workers headquarters building on the Boulevard of the Allies in the chilly, 48° darkness. Our group was mainly comprised of USW and UWUA members, but there were some college kids there who, I believe, were members of ISO.
After a late start and our bus driver getting mixed up in Washington, we finally arrived at RFK stadium and the largest sea of busses that I’ve ever seen. Take the picture at the right and multiply it x10 to get a feel for the number of busses in the RFK parking lots. From Pittsburgh I believe there were 3 USW busses, 3 SEIU busses, and 2 NAACP busses. Glenn Beck has criticized the One Nation rally, stating that for his rally individuals came at their own expense in their own cars, while for our rally most people came at union expense in union busses. I didn’t see anything to contradict what he was saying, but isn’t this really the difference between us and the Tea Party? They believe it’s every man for himself and we believe we’re all in this together.
With a preponderance of people arriving at RFK, the Metro stop at RFK was a mass of humanity trying to get into the station. But it was an orderly mass. The city put extra cars on the Blue and Orange lines, so it didn’t take too long to get to the Mall. When I stepped outside the Smithsonian metro station into beautiful blue skies and 70°, I looked onto the Mall and wondered where all the people were. The last Washington rally I had been to was a Pro-Choice rally and the Mall was packed full from one end to the other. I recall there were a million people at that rally in 2004. Although I knew that the One Nation rally would not be as large, and that the speakers were at the Lincoln Memorial, I was at least expecting the crowd to spill over into the Mall; not so. Once I made my way to the reflecting pool I had a better sense of the size of the event.
It was inspiring to see all the various unions represented in force. Diverse groups had staked out spaces all around the reflecting pool. My ability to estimate crowds is weak, but I would say there were not more than 250,000 people. Some have estimated it to be much smaller. It was hard to judge because there were people coming and going all the time. While many people were settled in their spots to listen to the speakers, many others were wandering around visiting the tables that different groups had set up. The whole rally reminded me more of a giant union picnic than a protest rally. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t have much political impact during a critical period running up to a critical election.
Because we arrived a little late, I missed some of the speakers, but did get to see Al Sharpton, Rich Trumka, Ed Schultz, Ben Jealous, and many others. There weren’t a lot of big names there, and a distinct absence of politicians. Also, an emphasis was placed on having average people speak, so many of the speakers were unknowns, but their message was just as important. Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, is shown at right.
The crowd was typical working class. Most ranged in age from 30 to 60. But there were definitely more seniors there than I expected. Many were retired union members who came down to support the cause. There was great ethnic diversity in the crowd. It was more representative of America than a typical tea party rally. I spent most of my day mingling with union members around the reflecting pool, talking about the Social Democrats USA and other matters. I met people from many cities, although it appears to me that New York was the most heavily represented. I admit that I didn’t listen real closely to all the speakers, since I was mainly concerned with meeting people. But one speaker made a comment that really stuck in my head. And the topic wasn’t about jobs. She was addressing cutbacks in education spending. She said, “America spends 3 times as much money on a prisoner as it does on a student. Is that a plan to build America’s future?” It gets to the heart of what this rally was all about— the future of America. Are we going to slowly slide into the abyss, or are we going to build a future for our children and grandchildren?
There are also good pictures on the USW site.