Our State of Union

I’ll admit it: I didn’t watch Bush’s state of the union speech the other night. I didn’t have a meeting or a conference call at the time, I just had no interest in seeing this jerk and the Republican and Democratic Congresspeople prolonging the agony by constantly applauding him like trained dogs. And I knew that I’d learn plenty the next day from reading the paper and watching the news.

I was pleasantly surprised the following morning to see that the lead story about the speech for much of the mass media was Bush’s incredibly hypocritical line about the need to “end our dependence on Middle East oil” and his proposals for how to do so. And speaking of hypocrisy, the next day the N.Y. Times reported that “the Energy Department will begin laying off researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the next week or two because of cuts to its budget.”

It was good to see a strong N.Y. Times editorial the morning after the speech sharply criticizing Bush for his “unwillingness to address global warming” and his “woefully insufficient” remarks about so-called “energy independence.”

But maybe there is something to this state of the union stuff. Earlier today I got to thinking, hey, what’s the state of union for those of us who reject Bush, his right wing supporters and the Democratic Leadership Council types like Hillary Clinton who continue to dominate the Democratic Party?

There are some signs that we just might be getting it together. One of the most significant recent developments that indicates this is the Call which was issued earlier this week by leading peace, racial justice, environmental, labor and women’s organizations for a massive demonstration for “peace, justice and democracy” in New York City on April 29th. This is a very positive thing.

It’s also significant that the human disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina and the Bushites’ negligence afterwards has brought together a number of progressive organizations, particularly but not only African American groups, in support of on-the-ground efforts to rebuild in a way which is about racial and economic justice for those displaced.

More is needed, especially from white progressives, and the various organizing efforts need to continue the process of finding ways to build a united front, but there is no question but that the depth of this human tragedy has helped to break down some of the usual barriers. In just a few days there will be an important meeting on Capitol Hill bringing together many of the advocacy organizations with progressive members of Congress to devise a strategy for how to, in the words of Rev. Lennox Yearwood, “build a broad-based Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign to restore all survivors.”

On a more subjective level, based upon what I hear about and see over email, it seems as if there is less vitriol and openly expressed animosity between groups, or within groups, than there has certainly been in the recent past. This could easily change; the internet has a way of making it much easier for destructive infighting to negatively impact the general atmosphere of organizing for those who daily check emails and websites. We’ll just have to see about this one.

Even the recent split-off of a major chunk of the AFL-CIO to form Change to Win doesn’t seem to have led to heavy-duty infighting between them. Pressure from labor movement progressives and local labor leadership seems to have moderated the inevitable pull towards attacking one another rather than the corporations and bosses.

Am I the only ones who feels as if we just might be in a lull before the storm?

Could it be that the combination of a weakened Bush/Cheney administration, corruption scandals, Democratic selling out and me-tooism is plowing the political ground? Is it possible that we could see, in this Congressional election year when there is mass disgust with Congress, a massive political uprising because of the growing recognition of how urgently we need, in a very concrete way, on issue after issue, a mass popular movement for justice?

April 29th will be key. We need a turnout of hundreds of thousands on this day. We need colorful banners and creative puppets. We need drummers and music. We need large contingents from all sectors of the progressive movement. We need a spirit of unity and determination that is palpable.

Low-income, working class and progressive people in this country, and people around the world, need to see that there is a resistance movement coming together that has the maturity, the political smarts and the staying power that makes it worth taking risks. That’s what April 29th can announce publicly.

We need to take the risk that, this time, we’re not going to self-destruct. We need to take the risk that, this time, we’ll be supportive of each other and express our disagreements and differences in a way which criticizes the message but not the messenger. We need to take the risks that lead to putting in volunteer hours, throwing oneself into the organizing, missing out on some sleep, taking time off from work.

There are many tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of activists of all colors and cultures around the country who function in these ways right now as best we can, even if we’re not always consistent. There are many, many more who we need to motivate and activate, get involved with our organizations, help to unleash their outrage and energy.

Let’s make 2006 a year to remember.