For as long as I’ve been an activist for progressive social change, the spring and the fall are usually the times when pre-planned, major demonstrations or campaigns happen. Summer with its heat and vacations, and winter with its cold and snow, generally are not the best times to try to mobilize large numbers of people.
Six months ago, in late fall, a mix of progressive groups began having serious discussions about whether there should and could be a major demonstration this spring. It took a couple of months, but we did come to agree that, yes, we should and we can. And as a result, on Saturday, April 29th, many tens of thousands of people, probably hundreds of thousands, will be marching for peace, justice and democracy in New York City (www.april29.org).
**This is not just another demonstration.** It is happening at a time when Bush and Cheney are way down in the polls and have been for months, when the neo-conservatives most responsible for the Iraq war have been discredited, and when the Republican Party is in disarray in a way it has not been for a long, long time. War criminal Rumsfeld is on the defensive as a growing number of generals publicly call for his resignation. The indictments of Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff and Scooter Libby could well be, one hopes, only the tip of the iceberg of legal troubles for them and their ilk.
And yet, despite this sea of troubles, the Republicans are far from down and out. Down yes, but by no means out.
Think “wounded beast.” Think about the damage they can do as, hurting and feeling put upon, they lash out, trying to deflect attention elsewhere—like onto Iran or Venezuela—using their sham “war on terror” to try to intimidate opposition to their destructive policies.
Of course, a primary reason why they could well mount a comeback and wreak so much more damage is the nature of the “loyal opposition,” the Democratic Party. Their “opposition” is so weak that they’re being made fun of by virtually all the late night TV hosts, ridiculed as the party that stands up for nothing.
This is where we come in.
It is essential, critical, that those of us who have been against the Iraq war before it started, as well as those who have turned against it since, all those who understand that we need to turn this country around in a fundamental way—we need to speak out, stand up and march together. As the powerful wave of the past month’s immigrant rights actions have shown us, mass demonstrations do have an impact.
April 29th in New York City is the time and place where we can send a powerful message to elected officials, to the country and to the world.
More than that, April 29th in New York City is where we can make visible the developing unity of our movement for peace, justice and democracy, our commitment to continue organizing and working together past April 29th so that whoever is in office, of whatever party, knows that they have an organized, aroused and determined movement to contend with
We cannot underestimate the importance of that message, that reality.
I’ve been part of many, many coalitions over the course of my years in the movement. Often, in the intensity of organizing for a major action, nerves get frayed, political differences are exacerbated and the day of the action is a welcome relief for the organizers because the coalition that organized it then disbands.
So far, that doesn’t describe what’s been happening as the nine organizations that are co-sponsoring April 29th work together in combination with the growing number—about 450 so far—of endorsing organizations of all types. Despite differences as far as primary constituencies and issues being worked on, whether it be labor, veterans, African Americans, women, youth and students, environmentalists, peace activists or Katrina survivors, there has been a generally healthy and positive organizing process among the nine groups.
And the coalition is expanding. At a press conference on April 4th at Riverside Church announcing April 29th, representatives of the two major immigrant rights coalitions in NYC participated alongside Rev. Jesse Jackson, NOW President Kim Gandy, UFPJ coordinator Leslie Cagan and other leaders of the April 29th coalition, and those ties have deepened since. Coalition members actively supported and participated in the recent April 10th immigrant rights actions in New York City and around the country.
There are two weeks to go. Two weeks for people to make plans for getting to 22nd St. and Broadway in Manhattan on the morning of the 29th for a march beginning at noon, going down Broadway to Foley Square, there to participate in an all-afternoon peace and justice festival in the shadows of the federal building and federal courthouse. Two weeks to talk to friends, relatives and co-workers and bring them along. Two weeks to make a needed donation or volunteer to help by going to http://www.april29.org.
As the call for April 29th says, “Our message to the White House and to Congress is clear: either stand with us or stand aside! We are coming together to march, to vote, to speak out and to turn our country around!”