Left-wing groups convened the “One Nation Working Together” rally on the National Mall on Saturday, October 2, hoping to counter Glenn Beck’s well-attended “Restoring Honor” gathering in August. They also wanted to energize their base before the November elections, hoping to counter Tea Party enthusiasm.
"We aren't the alternative to the tea party; we are the antidote," boasted NAACP president Benjamin Jealous to the Washington Post before the rally. The NAACP was one of over 400 rally sponsors. Others included the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Planned Parenthood, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Council for La Raza, National Education Association, Sierra Club, Human Rights Campaign, People for the American Way, Americans for Democratic Action, Democratic Socialists of America, Institute for Policy Studies, U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Win Without War, the American Muslim Association of North America, and Code Pink. "This march was inclusive,” Jealous declared after the rally.
Labor unions likely provided most of the crowd. “The Tea Party has been getting much more media attention than it deserves, and it’s been saying it represents the voice of middle-class America,” explained a New York health care union official before the rally. He told the New York Times that his Local 1199 SEIU chapter was chartering 500 buses to carry 25,000 union members to the rally. “A lot of us feel we have to get a different voice out there speaking for working people, one respecting the diversity of this country, which the Tea Party does not.”
Interestingly, and unmentioned in virtually all media reports, the Communist Party USA was also listed as a sponsor for the One Nation Working Together rally. Groups like the AFL-CIO and Americans for Democratic Action, at least during much of the Cold War, once worked carefully to avoid alliances with the non-democratic, far left. But clearly they are no longer so careful.
From the Religious left, Jim Wallis’s Sojourners was an endorser, despite Wallis’s relatively recently crafted image as a centrist, post ideological evangelical. Predictably, Michael Lerner’s more unvarnished Tikkun/Network of Spiritual Progressives also endorsed the rally. So too did the ultra-liberal United Church of Christ, made up of 1.1 million members. Curiously, almost all the other liberal mainline denominations were missing, as was the National Council of Churches.
The 7.8 million member United Methodist Church’s lobby office was, until October 1, a prominent endorser. “As people of faith, we deeply care about the issues of justice, education and jobs, and we feel those are issues facing society we have to address,” one Capitol Hill based United Methodist official earlier explained to the New York Times before the withdrawal of endorsement. “A march like this is something that hasn’t been accomplished since Dr. King brought people together in 1963 around issues of race, war, class and the right to decent pay and good jobs.”
Another official from the United Methodist lobby office, when the endorsement was still operative, told Religion News Service: "All of these core principles [of the One Nation Working Together rally] are consistent with the core principles of the United Methodist Church." But publicity about endorsing a pre-election rally with groups like the Communist Party USA evidently did not excite enthusiasm from church members in middle America.
On Friday, the chief of the United Methodist office announced that his agency was “rescinding its endorsement” of the rally. Jim Winkler explained that his Board of Church and Society was “disturbed by some of the overtly political and partisan statements issued by organizers of the march.”
Winkler said his agency had originally endorsed the One Nation Working Together rally simply to support “good jobs, equal justice, and quality public education for all,” which seemed “non-controversial.” But the list of endorsing groups “grew to include a variety of organizations that created enormous and unnecessary controversy.” He did not specifically cite the groups whose inclusion had “detracted greatly” from the rally’s “clean, clear message.” But Winkler did say his board disagreed with the NAACP president’s quotation to the Post that declared the rally to be the “antidote” to the Tea Party. Explained Winkler: “This statement heightens the sense of the ‘One Nation Working Together’ rally as a gathering organized in opposition to Mr. Beck's demonstration.”
His withdrawal from the rally’s endorsers was no doubt grudging, as Winkler complained about the many complaining e-mails and phone calls from clergy and church members that were “shocking in their vitriol.” The Methodist lobbyist said he was praying the rally would over come “misguided controversies” and deliver hope for its official agenda. That agenda included raising the minimum wage, increasing union membership, loosening immigration enforcement, more mortgage bail-outs, and workplace protections for sexual minorities like transsexuals.
Evidently the rally supporters, in emphasizing the ostensible diversity of their coalition to the media, also implicitly acknowledged the tension of combining civil rights groups, labor unions, gay rights organizations, anti-war groups and some socially conservative churches, not to mention the Communist Party USA. Seemingly the United Methodists were the only major group publicly to withdraw from the rally because of discomfort with other coalition partners.
One Nation Working Together did draw a crowd, thanks to union buses and beautiful autumn weather. Organizers claim that 175,000 people attended, with media reports indicating it was still fewer than the Beck rally. But the far-left coalition, too much even for liberal United Methodists, ultimately may invite more ridicule than energy for November’s election.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.