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It was the biggest outpouring of union members and civil rights activists in decades. Thousands of buses from around the country descended on Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2 to demand “jobs, education, and equality” for what organizers billed as the “One Nation Working Together” demonstration.
The core of the demonstration was made up of workers who came with their unions. Huge contingents came from the Health Care workers (1199) and Service Employees (SEIU), State, County and Municipal workers (AFSCME), and teachers (AFT and NEA). Practically every union was represented, including steelworkers and mineworkers.
The NAACP also organized thousands of their supporters, including large youth contingents from the South. The biggest organized groups of college students were Black fraternities and sororities.
Several hundred organizations endorsed the demonstration, including the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism). ANSWER distributed thousands of placards featuring a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. and the slogans "Stand Agaisnt War and Racism" and "Jobs Not War." The workers and youth who were present eagerly carried the signs at the main rally, as well as in feeder marches focusing on opposition to the war, immigrant rights and other issues.
While a large part of the crowd was from the Mid-Atlantic region, sizeable groups traveled from the South and Midwest to attend as well. Some traveled from as far as Seattle to participate.
The demonstration had been planned for months, but an obvious spur that motivated many participants to make such sacrifice to attend was the Aug. 28 “Tea Party” rally staged by right-wing media personality Glenn Beck on the National Mall, the same location as the Oct. 2 demonstration.
The Oct. 2 demonstration was of the same magnitude as the Beck crowd—“One Nation” organizers estimated more than 175,000 participants—but the comparisons ended there.
The “Tea Party” rally, despite claims of spontaneity, had been whipped up by right-wing media and churches. Those who attended were uniformly white and predominantly from upper-income professional households. In order to mask the racism that bubbled at or just under the rally’s surface, Beck’s lieutenants enforced a strict policy against signs or banners, and Beck and the others speakers clothed their political poison in religious and ultra-patriotic rhetoric.
By contrast, the “One Nation” demonstration was broadly representative of the U.S. working class. In addition to the huge outpouring from the predominantly Black churches and unions, delegations from a broad range of nationalities attended, bringing their own demands and concerns.
At a time when right-wing demagogues like Beck and more extreme racists claim to speak for white people in the United States, it was significant that half of the participants of the multinational “One Nation” rally were white.
Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, said: "[The ANSWER Coalition] brought people from all over the country, from North, South, East and West to come together to stand with the labor movement, the civil rights movement, young people demanding from this government jobs, justice and peace. ... From the ANSWER Coalition's point of view, we're also focusing on the demand for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. and foreign forces from Iraq and Afghanistan."
"We need not just a demonstration, but a militant, protracted struggle against the government, the banks and the corporations," Becker continued.