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You could almost hear the 16th U.S. president whisper these familiar words from his ever-watchful position above the Lincoln Memorial steps on the National Mall: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Put simply, this picture-perfect Saturday in October was all about inclusion – not division.
“Those who want to divide us tell us that we cannot win,” said UAW President Bob King to an estimated crowd of nearly 200,000 people. “The voices of division will try to divide us by race, gender, age and other ways. Those rallying here today are leading us on a path of community, of compassion and common humanity.”
Thousands of activists from dozens of progressive groups across the country rallied as One Nation Working Together (ONWT) on behalf of all working-class Americans.
The calendar said Oct. 2, but this event was clearly about the November elections and beyond.
It was about the direction of our country and the future of our nation. It was about Americans standing up to show their unity.
As moderator and MSNBC TV and talk-radio host Ed Schultz said: “This march is about the power to the people. It’s about the people standing up to the corporations.”
ONWT was reminiscent of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, which brought 250,000 people to the mall and is famous for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
More than 100 buses filled with nearly 6,000 UAW members and retirees from across the nation attended the rally, along with thousands more traveling by car.
And the tens of thousands of Americans who came from all parts of the country to witness another historic day had their own reasons for taking buses, trains, planes and automobiles to get there.
Tool-and-die maker Ed Gleason of UAW Local 897 rode a bus from Buffalo, N.Y., to Washington because he and his fellow Ford Motor Co. Stamping plant workers wanted to send a message to Congress that “we’re still here, we’re not going anywhere and we’re Americans who need jobs in this country.”
A 17-year veteran, Gleason worked at two other UAW-represented workplaces before joining Ford. “Of the other places I was, one had all the work shipped to China and the other is way down,” said Gleason, who brought his son, Matt, 12, to the rally.
UAW Local 2256 Vice President Sally Auer traveled from Lansing, Mich. – and traded her cane for a wheelchair so she could get around better – because the 26-year Ingham County prosecutor’s office worker believes “we must hold politicians to their promises and remind them that they answer to us.”
“The louder the voice speaks, the more action you will get,” Auer said. “If you stand still and say nothing, then you will have nothing.”
Stewart Silva, a UAW Local 239 General Motors retiree from Baltimore – and 43-year member – came to support future generations, including his grandchildren, “so they can carry on tomorrow better than today.”
Silva said Americans need jobs and all the support they can get. “I had 38 years at GM with a great job and a great union, and I’d like to see people get the same things,” he added.
Leaders from a broad coalition of civil and human rights groups, unions, immigration advocates, gay rights groups and churches spoke at the four-hour event, including AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, CWA President Larry Cohen and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.
“If we are going to build our dreams, turn them into reality, we have to be bold,” said Trumka. “Our best days are ahead of us, not behind us.”
Cohen added that “we are tough, we are united and we are determined.”
Henry called this the first recession where corporate margins were growing while wages were dropping. “We’re saying, ‘No more,’” she said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson encouraged Americans to vote, and he joined with speakers before him lobbying for jobs. “We globalized capital without globalizing workers’ rights,” said the head of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.”
NAACP leader Ben Jealous said we’ve come too far to be turned back now, and urged Americans to join together in the spirit of hope and optimism. “The strongest words in this country are American, family and future,” he said.
Ohio resident Thomas Gillen of UAW Local 2269 understands that sentiment, which is why he brought his daughter, Bethany, 19, to Washington for the rally.
“I care about the future of my children and the future of America,” said Gillen, 49, who works at Volvo Parts North America in Lewis Center, Ohio, where they distribute parts for trucks and construction equipment.
“That’s why I’m here.”
Vince Piscopo and Joan Silvi contributed to this story.