Thanks to the remarkable generosity of this community, my son Daniel and I were able to attend the 10.2.10 rally in Washington DC. It was a profound experience, revealing in many ways, but my thoughts and feelings about this event are complicated. This is my attempt to share them with you as best I can.
As I began to gather my thoughts, I was at first inclined to express my enthusiasm for what was a very substantial showing of the American people. But there is so much more to this story than how well it was attended or how interesting, fun and engaging it was for Daniel and me. This is really about America fighting for its life.
There were a lot of people at the rally. But why anyone dared call it a march I'll never know. The only march was from where you parked to the mall. It was really just a rally. There was no marching, which seemed a peculiar lapse.
Anywhere from one to two hundred thousand people showed up, depending on whose estimate you accept. Personally, I think it was on the high side – but that's just me and not the most salient of points IMHO – this not being a football game. The labor unions in particular really turned out their people. They were there in overwhelming numbers each with their own distinctively colored t-shirts.
There have been arguments over how many people showed up and whether or not we beat Glenn Beck, with some saying that if we didn't then the rally was a failure. I think we probably had twice as many at our rally but even if we had far less, we looked much more like America: black, white, brown, red and yellow. And our rally had a seriousness of purpose that the Beckies can't match with their lunacy.
However, while this may be the beginning of a substantial peoples movement, and good things may well come of it, this is not a foregone conclusion. There remain many formidable obstacles in our way and we, the American people, are still losing badly to the dark forces behind Amerika, Inc.
DC is a strange place. One could almost believe that it has more cops than citizens. They are everywhere and ready to swarm at the drop of a hat on anyone who gets out of line. It's the kind of place where you can take a wrong turn and end up in the parking lot of the Pentagon. That happened to us and that place makes me paranoid to the bone. I kept looking over my shoulder for predator drones.
Even for first time visitors DC is full of strangely familiar sights. It's the kind of place where you can turn a corner in traffic and see things like this.
The pre-rally kossack meetup was well attended, and (as usual) we all enjoyed each others company immensely.
The next day it was harder to connect with fellow kossacks as the park police fenced everything off and generally made movement and access as difficult as possible. A few shots from the rally:
As always, it was great fun meeting and schmoozing with our fellow kossacks. What an endlessly fascinating group of folks! Some shots from the post-rally meetup:
The program at the rally had a lot of interesting speakers: Ed Shultz, Van Jones, Al Sharpton, the poet Black Ice, Jesse Jackson and many others. Sentiments expressed ranged from the revolutionary to standard establishment democratic GOTV. There were some stirring moments and many important things were said, and while many attempted impassioned and inspired oratory, none came close to what was heard in the same venue in 1963. That may be unfair to say. After all, who could be expected to rise to the level of Dr. King's 'I have a dream' speech? But we desperately need that kind of inspiration because the stakes now are even higher than they were then – so its absence seems notable.
The issues of the present day dwarf all historical examples of the same. While there have been times somewhat like these before, the context has changed dramatically and the stakes have never been anywhere near this high. We literally stand to lose everything if we lose now. Our opposition in the GOP, blinded by greed and selfishness, cannot make rational choices about the on-rushing future and cannot be trusted at the levers of power. Even if they were gifted with reason this would be true because of the shallow meanness of their philosophy. We cannot let them win. First we have to beat the GOP and then we have to get some real leadership out of the democrats. None of this will be easy with a corporate government so thoroughly entrenched, so deeply corrupt and so chock full of bad intent.
Interest groups are spending five times as much on the 2010 congressional elections as they did on the last midterms, and they are more secretive than ever about where that money is coming from.
The $80 million spent so far by groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties dwarfs the $16 million spent at this point for the 2006 midterms. In that election, the vast majority of money - more than 90 percent - was disclosed along with donors' identities. This year, that figure has fallen to less than half of the total, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post.
The trends amount to a spending frenzy conducted largely in the shadows.
The bulk of the money is being spent by conservatives, who have swamped their Democratic-aligned competition by 7 to 1 in recent weeks.
The Supreme Court cleared the way for unlimited spending by corporations, unions and other interest groups on election ads in its 5 to 4 decision this year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Many interest groups are organized as nonprofits, which are not required to disclose their financial backing, helping fuel the increase in secret donors.
While I revile the GOP, I do not believe the democrats are going to save us. They, for the most part, serve the same corporate golem as those other fellows. They're just not as up front about it. It's all about money now as the rich buy up influence on both sides of the aisle. It's important to remember that what the republicans do openly democrats often do quietly behind our backs. We must change that or find some other avenue for the progress that we seek. With the biosphere itself at stake, we can no longer tolerate obstructionism and corruption.
I was a little disappointed in Ed Shultz, who at the end of his talk said, "God bless the troops who are keeping us safe." And I thought, and Daniel later echoed, did he have to say that? Do we have to parrot rightwing memes to set the patriot heart-strings a quiver? With all the gut-wrenching problems that face us and the dire consequences of doing the same old nothing, must we resort to fairy tales and bullshit to inspire the masses? Do we have to create boogeymen who hate us for our freedoms before we get off our asses and do something about global warming, ocean acidification, resource depletion, planet-wide pollution, joblessness, homelessness, increased human suffering and all the rest?
Some Final Thoughts
In discussing our experience at this rally with Daniel, I mentioned how different this and all the other marches we've attended together in the past few years have been compared to the original 'March on Washington' in 1963 or the later marches against the war in Vietnam. Daniel observed that when those marches took place, there had been nothing like them in recent memory and the government was taken by surprise. They did not know how to deal with this phenomena, this uprising, and opposing us by force before the eyes of a still-free press only bolstered our cause. This strikes me as a penetrating insight.
As our host Wanda mentioned, there is some march or other practically every weekend in DC and it has become old hat for the park police. Limiting access, choking off rebellion, smiting trouble-makers and controlling press coverage is now routine. Aided by a complicit corporate-owned media elite, ignoring and minimizing our protests has become a simple matter. While we once struck fear in their hearts, we barely raise an eyebrow now.
So is the answer to abandon street democracy? It might be...if there were other realistic avenues. But there aren't many IMO. The electoral system is so corrupt that even those who still believe in it will admit that we have to win in overwhelming numbers to be assured our victory will be acknowledged. And even when we 'win' we don't get what we were promised. That was the entire rationale for the One Nation 'march'.
Republican-owned corporations electronically count our votes and our traitorous SCOTUS has opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate money flowing into the system. So our electoral democracy is every bit as compromised as our street democracy.
So what then is the answer?
I still support One Nation Working Together because we need a peoples coalition, and this seems a promising beginning. I am hopeful but not blindly optimistic. It's a fine thing to form a mighty peoples coalition, but I think we are going to have to go well beyond that. I think we are going to have to act up to get anywhere. Acting up is what the civil rights marchers did. Acting up is what the Vietnam protesters did. I see no way around it - this is what we are going to have to do too.
Teresa Heinz Kerry once told me that if we really wanted to get the government's attention, we should mass on the five bridges leading into DC and shut the city down. I think this is the sort of thing we're going to have to do if we want to have any real impact. Of course they'll freak if we do it and people will be beaten and arrested no doubt. But if we can't face that threat, take that risk and make that sacrifice then we are going to continue to lose. The deck is too thoroughly stacked against us. The only meaningful options left to us, it seems to me, are direct action and wide scale civil disobedience. Without it I fear that we are toast.