"Make the Moment into a Movement"

Today in Trenton New Jersey I attendedthe AFL-CIO sponsored rally on the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination.  The rally was  at the IBEW local hall.  My union, the Rutgers AAUP-AFT was a cosponsor.  The purpose was to connect the struggles of the labor movement with the struggles for civil rights in the U.S.  Since Martin Luther King represented in his life and work the struggles of working people, oppressed minorities, and the poor more than other other modern American figure, it was fitting that this day be chosen for the demonstrations

Here the rally was an educational roundtable involving Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman,  Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT nationally, James Harris, president of the  New Jersey NAACP, Rahaman Muhammad, SEIU New Jersey State Council President, and representative Rush Holt and Senator Robert Menendez, among others.

Most of the speakers were upbeat even  in these times of crisis.   Most saw Wisconsin as an example  to be emulated.   Most stressed the need  to educate citizens who have been fed a steady diet of lies by rightwing media. 

 Congressman Rush Holt, Senator Menendez and others made the point clearly that this is about union busting, not budget balancing in any of the states in question.  The case of Professor William Cronon was  raised as an example  of the policy of intimidation which the Republican right has launched--if Cronon, with his scholarly achievements and academic protections,  can be attacked in such a way and university officials forced to turn over emails, then no one is safe in their basic civil liberties and rights.

While the elected Democratis were somewhat  on the defensive from comments by some of the labor speakers that they had not done enough(Rahaman Muhammad especially mentioned those local democratic mayors, who have turned on unionized public employees  in collaboration with the Christie administration) there was a general understanding that the Republicans across the board represent a danger that must be faced and defeated.

AFT President Randi Weingarten talked about the need to educate, to "bust myths."  On a day when the Supreme Court rejected a suit by Arizona citizens to  stop an Arizona law providing tax credits for those who donate to parochial schools, Weingarten mentioned that the average teachers pension in the U.S. is $22,000 and in some states, teachers get their pensions instead of social security  Paul Krugman made the point that high school teachers and hedge fund managers have about the same level of education but that the former, who had nothing to do with the fiscal collapse are being along with other public employees made into scapegoats while the latter who had everything to do with the collapse get annual "bonuses" big enough to build a school(my comments there not Krugman's).

The event began and ended with scenes from Martin Luther King's last days in Memphis where he had come to support an organizing strike of sanitation workers, a point that Krugman and others mentioned has been largely erased from what students are told about him.  Also, state NAACP president James Harris made the point that Governor Christie has largely eliminated the funding for the Martin Luther King Commission that the state legislature had previously established.

The unifying theme of the rally was "make this moment into a movement" or a basis  for  greatly expanding the ongoing movement.  Instead of beating on the Obama administration, the speakers made the point that too too many had seen the victory in 2008 as an end not a beginning. 

Social change doesn't come so easily and it should be no surprise that the forces of privilege and reaction have used  their wealth and power to try to cancel that victory and go back to the "business as usual" policies of the Reagan-Bush era, from which they profitted so much, even if it was so destructive to working people.  Just as the economic crisis of 2008 initially led to their defeat, they, like capitalists in any major economic crisis, are actively seeking to use the crisis today to bust unions, force down wages even further, and put all power back into the hands of the bailout banks and corporations.

The meeting was packed and the audience a trade union audience of men and women, whites and blacks, public and private sector workers.  The feeling was that we could "make the moment into a movement" and that is what must be done, both here in New Jersey and nationally.

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