Important qualification: my days out here are super-regimented, and owing to the fact that I cannot bring my laptop into the Hall, these reports will be ex post facto as well as rough. Forgive me?
Heading into the arena I was pleased to visit with a whole array of ANGRY secularist protesters. Inspired by BHO's recent tip-of-the-chapeau to 'faith-based initiatives,' these atheists/humanists/agnostics brandished placards reading "The Iraq War was a Faith-Based Initiative" (to which I say, "Amen.")
Other protesters included the anti-choice crowd with their usual terminated fetus porn, and PETA, who advanced their characteristically, uh, evocative platform w/ the new slogan "Stop Global Warming: Tax Meat!"
But back to the anti-choice wankers. Their placards read, "A vote for Obama is a vote for Dead Children," to which I would have loved to reply, "A vote for McCain is a vote for Dead Soldiers."
Anywho by the time I settled into the interfaith blah-blah I was semi-impressed with the speakers and ready to be all "big tent" about the Dean strategy and everybody having a "seat" at the "table." Then two consecutive speakers respectively decried "routinized murder" (i.e. abortion) and then championed the fundamental right of School Choice.
Suffice it to say I was pleased to then dive headlong into a genuinely impressive labor rally, featuring more "rock star" labor leaders than I've ever seen in one place.
Recently, my Uncle and I have been having discussions about the tendency to so-called "rank-and-filism" in labor history and labor studies, which posits - sometimes despite a lot of evidence au contraire - that union workers are constantly primed for class warfare, and constantly let down by their conservative leadership. Well, let me say that yesterday's event belied that claim. The message - from Change to Win, the AFL-CIO, the NEA, et. al - was loud and clear: BHO needs to be the next President, labor cannot afford to wait, and most impressively, unionists need to "call bullshit" (lotta profanity at this meeting - which I loved) on co-workers looking for an excuse to avoid voting for a black man. Honestly, with the exception of GTFF meetings and some of my exploits with the brothers and sisters in Guadeloupe, I have never rolled my eyes or stifled back sardonic laughter less at a labor rally.
- AFL-CIO exec veep Arlene Holt Baker emceed the event, and established the theme of "giving America back to the working people who built it."
- Next, Colorado's AFL-CIO president got up and talked - in very familiar terms and frames - about the wide range of union-busting ballot initiatives coming down in CO.
- Steve Deberra - famous for his very moving appearance at the AFL-CIO Presidential Forum last Summer - brought us all to tears and then made a really funny mistake, confusing John Sweeney with George Meany. I think JS dug the comparison.
- John Sweeney was fiery and proud of labor's electoral clout: 17 million unionists, 28 million union households, and 2.5 million members of Working America who recently have been coming on board at a pace of 50,000/week. Sweeney also spoke of Labor 2008's voter security program, about which I'd like to know more: "We'll keep John McCain honest, we'll have Barack Obama's back, and we'll make sure that every vote is counted."
- Sweeney then introduced Change to Win's "estimable" executive veep Anna Berger, who was quick to tell us about how BHO is just like her federation: "He dreams big, he acts boldly, and he changes people's lives." It's a "fight for power" we're in, "not an election." As usual, Change to Win never lacks for impressive rhetoric.
- AFSCME leader and former HRC supporter Gerald McEntee summarized everything great and everything ambiguous about the Sweeney-era "Changing to Organize" coalition represented on the panel. With something of a scowl, but also with great fervor, he encouraged every union member to be prepared to engage with workers who might be McCain supporters; to push them to own up to the fact that their recalcitrance about BHO isn't about lapel pins, or Islam, but about his skin tone; and to look them in the eye and say "that's bullshit! this is 2008." How smug can I really be about labor leaders - and there were many others after McEntee - unafraid of foregrounding the difficult topic of race in their BHO raps?
- Next came a Teachers' Union medley, wherein NEA President Reg Weaver gave a funny, fancy, inspiring call to arms, and I got my first glimpse of new AFT prez Randi Weingarten. All I really know about the latter is her infamous decision to throw AFT support behind NY's former Repbublican governor, George Pataki. Well, Reg Weaver she was not, oratorically speaking... but she more than anybody else on the bill highlighted pattyjoe issues re: privatization, healthcare and expanded government services. She also made a credible, lucid plea for Hillary supporters (of which she's one) to "come along" to the BHO bandwagon.
- And then - oh my god! - Andy Stern graced us with his presence and made some perfunctory comments. Andy Stern is enough of a celeb on this blog, so what can I say?
- Unite-Here's Bruce Raynor gave a rousing speech invoking labor's historic role in creating social security (a lotta people would disagree with that claim), and citing the potential for a 'New' New Deal under an Obama presidency. Like many other speakers, Raynor spoke of the need for labor to continue organizing publicly and electorally after November so as to give President Obama the "coverage" he needs to truly make progressive social change.
- Next came the one and only James Hoffa, who in his demeanor never fails to provide an-all-too realistic portrait of the ideological mish-mash that is today's labor movement. In a move that'd make my Uncle shutter, he managed to go from expressing intense solidarity with the Anti-WTO movement and the legacy of Seattle, to decrying Free Trade's favoring "foreigners" over "Americans." Can we please learn to enunciate an anti-corporate politics without succumbing to xenophobia, James? Believe me, it really is possible.
- I was very pleased to see the Steelworkers' Leo Girard, who greeted us with a caveat: "I feel like Elizabeth Taylor's late husband in the bedroom: I know what to do but I can't promise that I can make it interesting." Zing!
- Girard then introduced Director Stuart Townsend, whose film the Battle in Seattle is threatening to visit the proverbial theatre near (the proverbial) "you." Woody Harrelson is in this film, really?
- AFL-CIO brainiac Richard Trumka came on, again pressing the race issue, and again underscoring how all of the Rev. Wright/lapel pin/Islam/Indonesia/"he's different" stuff is ultimately simply an attempt to give an alibi for those who are too embarrassed to be explicit about their fear of black people.
- LIUNA's Terry O'Sullivan calls George Bush a "mope" - "a moron who couldn't get a dog outta the pound with a fistfull of fifties." Okay....
- CWA's Larry Cohen wrapped things up - after a great, short BHO/AFL-CIO film - with a long talk about the AFL-CIO's Million Worker mobilization around the Employee Free Choice Act.
- it occured to me that the line-up at the dais - Change-to-Winners included - was pretty much the same coalition that elected Sweeney's "Changing to Organize" ticket to the AFL-CIO leadership back in them heady 1990s. it's kind of frustrating to note how "pale, male and stale" the leadership looks, but would my staffer-friends be living and working in this movement without this crowd and their intervention?
- labor's political program is more sophisticated, and frankly, often more enthusiastic, than its organizing program. is it worth it, if said political program a) elects BHO and b) gets us the Employee Free Choice Act?
- overwhelmingly, the attendees of this meeting (and the Internationals represented by the speakers) were from public-service unions. overwhelmingly, the election literature and Obama video were directed to the private sector and the building trades...is this crap or not crap? i dunno, but i plan to dissertate about it in depth.
- notwithstanding the very impressive sense of unity when it came to BHO and the importance of this election, the animus between a lot of these different individual was palpable.
- again, despite my, uh, faith, in, uh, the revolutionary potential of the labor movement....uh, yeah. anyway, despite that, i want to reiterate that on Sunday i witnessed a Labor-Left that struck me as way, way out front of much of the rank and file. should i be surprised and/or depressed about this? should i see it as a contradiction?
Meanwhile, I have met more than one Obama supporter who has wondered what it will take, exactly, to smooth things over. One Committee member also admitted to suspecting their were uncredentialed agents sabouteurs attempting to stir the DNC pot. Luckily, I think that the Clinton and Obama leaderships are working in concert to curtail those shennanigans. We'll see.
The point is that I have a very unanthropological lack of sympathy for certain HRC supporters, who I am convinced are less motivated by righteous outrage than they are by a more smug sense that they have had their party whisked away by Obama/Dean forces. I would love to hear from those more attuned to feminist media analysis and/or the Clinton 'public' as to the nature of the ongoing discontent, and I would love to parse this bloc and separate the bitter establishment Dems from the understandably-annoyed opponents of sexism. But I would also like to ask the angry Hillary masses, how is media bias BHO's fault? In what ways did he and his campaign participate in the misogyny?