Hundreds of thousands of people from across the country converged Saturday on Washington, D.C., to in a rally to let the U.S. Congress and the White House know that job creation and fixing the ailing economy should be the number one priority.
The One Nation Working Together rally at the Lincoln Memorial was designed to counter the Tea Party movement's rally in Washington in August and to caution Americans that a Republican-controlled Congress would turn back the hands of time. Members from various progressive organizations and unions traveled by bus, train, airplane, and on foot to let national leaders in Washington know that political squabbling will do little to heal people's economic pain in the aftermath of one of the longest recessions since World War II.
"I came here to support the cause of the march," Derrick Griffin, 43, said. "Our leaders here in D.C. should be about saving jobs and trying to put forth the change we voted for in 2008," the Fort Washington, Md., resident said.
Event organizers estimated that 175,000 people gathered on a slightly breezy, but clear day to show a united front. They came from all walks of life and economic circumstances. Participants included the employed and unemployed, union workers and environmentalists, civil rights leaders and civic leaders, war veterans and peace activists, student leaders and those from the gay, lesbian, transgender community.
Speakers at the event included the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/Push Coalition, National Urban League President Marc Morial, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network – all of whom stressed the need for jobs and emphasized the urgency of the situation.
The crowd congregated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and fanned out onto the grounds of the Washington Monument. There were throngs of people on both sides of the Reflecting Pool as well as those who hunkered down around the World War II Memorial.
Political and civil rights organizations set up tables that displayed their wares and various organizations passed out literature. Throughout the four-hour event, organizations joined in by marching around the grounds for their respective causes while others listened to the speakers.
Most of the marchers donned colored t-shirts that announced their cause or organization and sat together throughout the event. For example, members of the Communications Workers of America donned red t-shirts with white printed messages on both the front and back of their shirts. The group congregated on the south side of the Reflecting Pool.
The marchers may have been from different parts of the country, but the common thread among all who attended focused on their financial pain and the lack of jobs.
Jeffrey Dunkin, 53, traveled from New York City to attend the march and to show support for fellow New Yorkers who are suffering in his home town. "I want to help people that have lost their jobs," said Dunkin, who lives in Brooklyn. "Things do not look good in New York City and I know a lot of unemployed people. I hope this march will help secure more jobs for the unemployed because things are not looking good."
Deborah Maxwell, president of the New Hanover County, N.C. NAACP, said she and about 20 others from her branch, primarily residents of Wilmington, traveled to Washington to call for more action from the federal government.
"It is important that we fight for jobs, justice, and education and that is why we decided to come from Wilmington to [Washington, D.C.]," said Maxwell, 54, and a resident of Wilmington. "Some of us have come at a sacrifice because [we] are still dealing with issues regarding the recent floods. Still, others are in distress because of job loss," said Maxwell, adding two of her members recently lost their jobs working for the local government and their job prospects are grim despite Wilmington's strong tourism economy.
Maxwell isn't alone. Individuals from other states also feel the sting of the recession.
Harrisburg's situation mirrors that of the District of Columbia in terms of firing teachers and school personnel. Harrisburg is the capital of the Keystone State and its 47,472 population is 54 percent Black. The Harrisburg school district consists of 8,401 students and approximately 1,200 faculty and staff.
Trea Buck, a high school science teacher in Harrisburg, said that 57 teachers have been laid off since the 2010-2011 school year started. "I am here for my fallen brethren. Our school system has had to undergo a lot of cuts," said Buck, 39, and a resident of Harrisburg. "Teachers who were emergency certified were cut and many of us will have to be furloughed at some point. Plus, our school system administration was cut in half," he said.
Buck joined a large group of National Education Association members at the Reflecting Pool during the rally. Buck said that she traveled to Washington to advocate not only for her fellow colleagues, but for the next generation. "What are we going to do for the children," she said, "How are these cuts going to support our future?"
A weak economy and a struggling school system have plagued Detroit for years. Members of the Metro Detroit Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta traveled to the District to voice their opinions during the rally.
"We came to show our support for President Obama and to stand up for jobs, justice, and education," Mardi Woods, president of the chapter, said. "We also have a get out the vote effort to make sure our voices are heard on Nov. 2."
Woods, 42, and a resident of Farmington Hills, Mich., outside of Detroit, said that the Motor City has been hit hard by a high rate of home foreclosures and job layoffs. She said that the layoffs, particularly in the school system, have adversely affected her members. "Many of our members are educators and Deltas are at the table when these things happen," she said.
The Detroit Public School system laid-off nearly 1,000 school personnel last August due to budgetary problems. However, the action was stopped when money was located due to retirements. The school system has 84,000 non-charter school students and about 15,000 administrators, faculty and staff. The entire school system has a total of 138,000 students enrolled in both public and charter schools.
Robert Bobb, who served as the city administrator of Washington, D.C. from 2002-2006 and was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the D.C. Board of Education, is the current emergency financial director for Detroit Public Schools. Bobb was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-MI, in 2009 to manage the school system's muddled finances. The massive layoffs were proposed by Bobb last spring because of declining enrollment and the costs of running the system.
Woods said she supports Bobb "because he is trying to do the right thing for the children of Detroit."
A number of youth groups also attended the rally. They contend that young people care about what is going on in the country. Leilani Irvin, a senior political science major at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., said that young people have been particularly hurt by the struggling economy. "I know of many of my former school mates, who graduated in May, are still looking for jobs," Irvin, 21, said. "This is a crisis with youth. I read where 27 percent of college graduates cannot find a job and I don't think my employment prospects for the spring will be better."
There is a belief that the retired are not affected by the economic downturn, but Kenneth Davis, a retired autoworker from Detroit disagrees. "I came to this march because too many people are suffering," Davis, 54, said. "As a member of the United Auto Workers Union, those of us who receive retirement benefits had to give up our dental [coverage]. That is not right that we are giving up concessions to the auto companies while their profits are going up."
Davis said that he received an e-mail recently that said Chrysler's profits were up 65 percent from last year. He said that he knows of fellow retirees who are experiencing economic difficulties, such as foreclosures. At one time, they could get help from the union "but that is not possible now because everyone needs help," Davis said.
Many of the participants could not get close enough to the front of the Lincoln Memorial or even close enough to the four Jumbotrons to hear the speakers. Martina Beauford of Baltimore, Md., saw the crowds huddled near the front of the Lincoln Memorial from her bench close by the Washington Monument and decided to stay put. While she could not hear what was going on, she felt the vibe that was coming from the event. "I am here to make a statement on everything that is going on with people's pay, health benefits and lack of job security," Beauford, 42, said. "This is my first march and I like it because it is exciting and different."
Beauford, a Maryland Department of Corrections employee said she felt a connection with everyone at the rally. "We are all hurting," she said. "This is why it is important for all of us to come together because everyone in all 50 states is hurting."