Progressives Prescribe 'Tea Party Antidote' With 'One Nation' Rally

Civil rights and labor groups gathered thousands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to show that conservatives aren't the only ones energized this election season.

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Progressives march on Washington. (Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty)

Tens of thousands of people gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday to demand jobs and justice from the government. Called "One Nation Working Together," the rally was the culmination of months of planning by more than 300 partner organizations, which included the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Council of La Raza.

It had been widely characterized in the media as a liberal response to Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally, an unofficial Tea Party gathering held in the exact same location two months ago, but prior to the event, NAACP President Ben Jealous said of One Nation Working Together, "[We are] not the alternative to the Tea Party; we're the antidote to the Tea Party."

Composed of labor union members, teachers, gay activists and others, the excited crowd was noticeably smaller than the one that overtook the National Mall during Restoring Honor. "What we're missing in size, we're making up for in diversity," commented one woman in a teachers-union shirt as she hurried into the throng. Indeed, while the crowd at Restoring Honor skewed heavily toward older white people, One Nation Working Together saw as many African Americans as whites, as well as a number of Asians and Latinos. Also present was a large contingent of young people, some of whom had come from historic D.C. colleges such as George Washington and Howard universities.

Yet for Ben Stark, a 22-year-old New Yorker who had recently graduated from Brown, there were actually too few young people in the crowd. "I'm here mostly to talk to people and see how they're feeling," he said. "I'm really curious about why students my age aren't more involved politically. I'm surprised at how old this crowd is. It's disappointing that so few kids are out here supporting their parents and fighting for jobs that they need themselves. It's confusing to me."

Also down from New York was Jarvis Tyner. Tyner, 69, was the vice presidential nominee of the Communist Party of the USA in 1976, when he ran with the party's leader, Gus Hall. (Tyner is also the younger brother of jazz pianist McCoy Tyner.) Still an officer in the Communist Party, Jarvis Tyner said he was attending the rally to help combat the conservative movement. "I belong here because I'm tired of the false grass-roots initiative coming from the right," he said. "This is the real deal here. We don't agree with Obama on everything, but the future of our country is associated with moving the country away from the last 30 years, and he's part of that. He said the people ought to get involved and make the change that they want, and I think that's a good thing for the country."

Anti-conservative sentiment was noticeable throughout the audience and event program. Participants held signs saying things like, "Axis of Ignorance: Tea Party, Republicans, Fox News" and "GOP: Grand Obstructionist Party." Political pundit Ed Schultz told the crowd that the nation's conservatives were "forces of evil." "Forty people in the United States Senate have held back the working man," he said, eliciting a chorus of boos at the mention of the Republican minority. "They want to see Obama fail."

Some in the media had theorized that One Nation Working Together symbolized a Democratic base that was growing frustrated with President Obama and his slow-moving economic policies. As it turned out, pro-Obama T-shirts and signs were common sights at the rally, and attendees gladly sang the president's praises. Asked if she still supported Obama, despite the difficult economic climate, Ernestine Jones, a retiree from Cleveland, nodded her head vigorously.

"Oh yes," she said. "I think he's done a great job. He's doing the best he can."

Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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