Labor, Rights Groups Rally to Counter Tea Party

Labor and civil rights groups gathered today at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, the site of a rally by Tea Party activists last month, to urge more government spending to create jobs and help people suffering from the recession.

“We’re the antidote to the Tea Party,” said Ben Jealous, president of the civil rights group NAACP, referring to Tea Party groups who seek to limit government’s size and spending. “This march is about pulling America together and putting people back to work.”

Rally organizers, including the AFL-CIO labor federation and other labor, civil rights, religious, student, peace, and gay and lesbian groups that are part of the traditional Democratic party base, say they hope to turn attention to the people who helped elect Democrat Barack Obama president two years ago and are now disappointed with the results.

“We’re not as strong as we used to be, but we’re still here,” said Dave Hausman, 55, a General Motors Co. driver from Buffalo, N.Y., who came to the event with other United Auto Workers union members. “It doesn’t always seem like the politicians can fix things anymore.”

Democrats are fighting to preserve their majorities in the House and Senate in the Nov. 2 elections in the face of an unemployment rate that remains close to 10 percent.

Demanding Change

Today’s event “is a chance to demand the change we voted for in 2008,” said George Gresham, president of 1999 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “While some want to divide us and take us back, we are determined to move forward with new investments in our people.”

Organizers labeled the rally “One Nation Working Together,” urging increased government spending on infrastructure and other public works projects, an extension of unemployment benefits and an increase in the minimum wage.

Marchers carried signs representing a range of causes, such as “Stop Robbing the Middle Class the Pay the Rich,” “Raise the Minimum Wage,” “No More Big Oil -- Our Fish and Our Human Beings Need Justice.”

“We’ve had it with a corporate America that insists on higher and higher CEO pay,” Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry said. ‘We’re standing up and speaking out against corporate greed. We’ve had it.”

Tea Party Politics

Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin staged an Aug. 28 “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall that attracted Tea Party activists. The Tea Party, a loose coalition of voters seeking limits on government spending, taxes and debt, is mounting a nationwide effort to get voters to the polls in the midterm elections.

Democrats argue that the fiscally conservative Tea Party candidates will alienate many voters. Still the Tea Party has helped insurgent candidates such as Rand Paul in Kentucky win Republican Senate primary races.

Labor leaders say they want to take on the Tea Party movement in the elections with a pro-union message for voters. “The AFL-CIO is determined that the Tea Party and its corporate backers are not going to get the final word,” Arlene Holt Baker, vice president of the 11-million member union federation, said last month.

Unions are concentrating their election campaigns on 26 states, targeting about 70 of the 435 races for the House of Representatives.

Enthusiasm Gap

“There remains an enthusiasm gap in the Democratic base,” said John Fortier, a political analyst at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. “What will really matter in November, though, are the middle-of-the-road moderates who don’t come to any of these rallies.”

The Obama administration yesterday touted its $787 billion economic stimulus package in a report that says the $551 billion spent so far has created or preserved some 3.3 million jobs.

The report, issued a month before the midterm elections, was designed to counter Republican criticism that the program did little to reduce the unemployment rate while contributing to a projected $1.47 trillion deficit.

Meanwhile, Comedy Central television hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have announced they will host dueling rallies in Washington on Oct. 30 -- the weekend before the election --aimed at giving people the option to “restore sanity” or “keep fear alive.”

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