George W. Bush took office on January 20th under a raincloud of his own making. Because of the Republican Party’s ruthless and desperate tactics in Florida, he has assumed the U.S. Presidency with the highest negative ratings of any President in modern times, if not history.
The political terrain is extremely favorable to the pro-justice movement. Now what do we do with it?
We can get a clue by thinking back to the last time Republicans had this much power, the administration of Ronald Reagan/George Bush senior. It was during this period of time that an African American-led, multi-racial, multi-issue movement emerged, eventually running a candidate for President, Jesse Jackson, who threw a hell of a scare into the powers-that-be. And they responded accordingly (more below).
But Jesse Jackson emerged out of a movement, and many locate the birth of that movement in Boston, Massachusetts and the powerful, Rainbow Mayoral campaign of Mel King in 1981. Although losing in the runoff election after coming in #1 in the first election, he set the stage for the Rainbow victory of Harold Washington in Chicago two years later. It was at the same time that a movement for Jackson to run for President began to pick up steam.
To the best of my knowledge, this country has never seen, before or since, anything like the Rainbow movement. For four years, from 1984 to 1988, we had an African American-led, multi-racial, working-class-grounded, progressive and platform-based, coherent alternative to Democrats-as-usual and Republicans. Jackson doubled his vote total from 1984 to 1988. This was clearly a movement on an upswing.
Enter, from behind the stage, representatives of the rulers. Soon after, conscious decisions were made by this emerging movement’s leadership to strip it of its vitality and political independence. The National Rainbow Coalition has never been the same.
Yet the vision of that brief period still remains. The question is: can something like it, something which will learn from both its strengths and its weaknesses, emerge in this period, in the next few years? I think so.
There are a number of constituency-based movements, political movements and organizations that have emerged in the recent period. If ways are found for these efforts to link up, respecting differences in politics and tactics but searching for ways to join forces as possible around areas of common concern, there is great potential for a powerful resistance movement against Bush/Cheney/the Republicans.
Within the African American community, the organizers of the march on the U.S. Supreme Court on Inauguration Day have already proven both organizing ability and a willingness to “speak truth to power,” an absolute prerequisite for a new, unified, 21st century pro-justice movement.
There are expanding and growing networks of organizers based primarily in the Latino community who have been building a broadly-based, national mass movement for amnesty for those forced to come to this country without legal documents in order to feed themselves and their families.
The struggle to free Leonard Peltier has brought together pro-justice Native Americans and those in solidarity with them, and despite Clinton’s cowardly refusal to grant this innocent man clemency, they are not going away.
Local Direct Action Network groups exist throughout the country and are hard at work mobilizing for the upcoming Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec April 20-22. Many of the leading activists in the local groups have been and are dealing seriously with issues like racism and the need to strengthen ties with labor struggles.
Students all over the country, in a variety of different organizations, have gotten and are getting themselves organized to continue working on a wide range of issues.
The women’s movement, led by the National Organization for Women, was out in significant numbers in D.C. January 20th to protest the stealing of the Presidency.
And of course there are the third party organizations, particularly the Greens, but also including the Labor Party, the New Party and a number of state and local third parties in different parts of the country.
And there could be other examples.
One big question mark: labor. Going into the sixth year of the new John Sweeney era, and despite a number of positive changes within the AFL-CIO, the latest news is that trade union membership has dropped to
the lowest level of the past six decades, 13.5% of the workforce.
Trade unions need, absolutely need, this new, emerging, independent, pro-justice movement! They need it for the independence, imagination, inspiration, vision and concrete support it can bring to their efforts to unionize. They need to embrace the new movements as allies in a much more open, less calculating way. These movements, indeed, are their salvation.
What could unite all of these, and other social forces? Very possibly, the Pro-Democracy Campaign.
The Pro-Democracy Campaign, launched out of the Progressive Dialogue II meeting in early December at the National 4-H Center, helped to connect up local protests in at least 35 cities around the country during January 15-20, Pro-Democracy Week. Close to 90 organizations have already endorsed, and the list continues to grow.
What unites these endorsers and this movement is a 10-point Voters’
Bill of Rights. That document has received positive reviews and growing publicity, including the January 22 New York Times.
Perhaps this coming together will happen another way. Perhaps the Voters’ Bill of Rights will be but one of the initiatives that helps provide the glue to these sometimes-disparate constituencies and organized efforts. One thing is certain, however: if we don’t get it together and keep it together this time around, our children and our grandchildren will have every right in the world to curse us and look upon us with disdain. There are no good excuses for why we can’t do it, brothers and sisters. Let’s collectively look in the mirror and make it real and lasting, this time.