The One Nation Working Together march did not draw as many people to the Washington Mall as Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally a few weeks prior. And that is a good thing.
Glenn Beck and the Tea Party represent a very vocal minority, so worked up about the direction of our nation that they’ll pour into Washington by the hundreds of thousands to worship at the feet of a religious revivalism rooted in nostalgia for a white-washed version of America that never was. We already know, from poll after poll, that the Tea Party are whiter, wealthier and more male than the average American. And, despite all of their populist blustering, the Tea Party agenda is merely new clothes for the old wolf agenda of the pro-big business, elitist Right. The Tea Party is motivated to be hyper-vocal and hyper-visible precisely because they represent such an an incredibly small and fringe set of interests and ideas in our nation, with a very small following.
The hundreds of national and grassroots organizations behind the One Nation march represent the vast majority of Americans — literally, through their millions and millions of members, but also spiritually, morally. Organizations like the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, Green for All, the Sierra Club, the Children’s Defense Fund and SEIU stand for the core, shared values of our nation — that we once forged and now continue to forge a union knowing that each of our prosperity is dependent on the common good.
There are hundreds of millions of Americans frustrated that while Wall Street strong-armed big bank bailouts as profits and CEO salaries continue to rise, foreclosures are increasing, job opportunities are stalling and real wages for most of us continue to decline. There are hundreds of millions of Americans who understand that the way our economy works isn’t working for white people in Ohio, black folks in South Carolina or undocumented immigrants in Arizona. There are hundreds of millions of Americans who don’t care about the deficit remotely as much as they care about creating new jobs, reinvesting in our schools and our environmental future and redistributing real opportunity to all who work for it.
Unfortunately, these hundreds of millions of Americans are also incredibly disappointed. These are the Americans who believed in the hope and promise of Obama the Candidate and feel let down by Obama the President, in part because of an ossified political system in which the status quo is deeply entrenched on both sides of the aisle, but in part because Obama failed to chip away at or at least vigorously rail against that ossification (until fairly recently). These hundreds of millions of Americans want change. Their anger is not at the boldness of Obama’s agenda. Their anger is that more of it has not been achieved and, given the political system, seems increasingly and sadly unachievable.
These are the hundreds of millions of Americans the One Nation coalition represents. And unfortunately, these are the very people who are sitting at home popping Prozac rather than taking to the streets in protest. They were visible and vocal in 2008. Been there, done that, and look where it got us. Yes, we have historic and critical health care reform, the stimulus investment that staunched the bleeding recession, financial reform that will put Wall Street in check and more. But we still have jaw-dropping financial control of Washington by corporate interests. We still have the filibuster. And, despite every sign that it has failed us wildly, we still have the persistent dominance of Regan-era pro-corporate, trickle-down, neo-liberal economic ideology.
The Tea Party activists are disproportionately vocal and visible in comparison to their actual percentage of the population in part because they believe victory is within their grasp. The fact that, titular Democratic power of the moment notwithstanding, Right wing economic and social ideology continues to undergird much of the political establishment and discourse, is, for them, encouraging. It’s ironic when the Tea Party talks of “reclaiming America” since, ideologically, they very much already control the norm — from anti-government skepticism to deficit hawkishness, from a constant state of anti-terrorism warfare to widespread hatred of new immigrants. Meanwhile, the millions of Americans who want change, who see a positive role for government in creating an economy and a nation that truly works for all of us — they took a chance against the status quo and, despite all inclinations toward cynicism, believed in 2008 that change is possible. Two years and not enough change later, they’re feeling disheartened.
The real issue with the One Nation march on Washington this past Saturday versus the Glenn Beck rally or any other Tea Party gathering isn’t literally how many people show up but how many millions and millions of other people they actually represent. The good news is the One Nation organizations and their values and vision for our country represent far more Americans than the extremist, elitist Tea Party. The bad news is that, as the mid-term elections near, that Tea Party fringe is way more fired up and active.
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