OAKLAND, Calif. - Over 2,500 strong, they surged through downtown streets here Oct. 15, banners and signs aloft, chants resonating. They were young and old, working and jobless, and of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Students, unionists, environmentalists, elected officials, anti-foreclosure activists and retirees joined hands to demand: Jobs not cuts, Work not war!
The march that wound past the Federal Building to City Hall, and the opening and closing rallies, were initiated by MoveOn and cosponsored by many organizations, including four area central labor councils and other labor, anti-war and community organizations, and senior groups.
"Look at us: this looks like We the People!" actor and activist Danny Glover told the crowd at Frank Ogawa Plaza. Calling attention to the "88 percent of the labor force that's unrepresented, that doesn't have a way to collectively bargain," and the huge proportion of long-term jobless, Glover said, "It has to be something more than jobs - a reimagining, a rethinking of what we mean by democracy. It has to be a revolution, an evolution, a transformation. We have to be the change we want to see."
Many speakers expressed the march's solidarity with Occupy Oakland, whose 50 tents occupy a grassy mall near City Hall. At the mic to greet the marchers as they arrived were two young women from Occupy Oakland.
"Around the country and around the world, this occupation movement is really taking hold," said one. "We're recognizing that this system, capitalism, is broken. Tear it down and replace it with something different, something representative of the people."
Audiences at both rallies were inspired and energized by outstanding performances from Semaj the Poet and hip-hop artists Queen Deelah, D'OR - Daughter of Rap, and Jabari Shaw.
At the opening rally at Laney College, MoveOn East Bay organizer Charles Davidson presented to the crowd the organization's Contract for the American Dream: invest in public education, offer Medicare for all, make work pay, secure Social Security, return to fairer tax rates, end the wars and invest at home, tax Wall Street speculation, and strengthen democracy. Hundreds of rally-goers later signed a giant petition featuring the demands.
"Jobs not Cuts is about its name, and much more," Davidson said. "It's about work not war, passing infrastructure and job creation and 21st century clean energy. It's about fair taxation for the rich and giant corporations, barring banks from unregulated speculation, about people saying No to the draconian Greek-style budget cuts that may come our way this Nov. 23."
The urgent need for national jobs legislation was a theme for community activist and retired teacher Cassie Lopez. "We've got to come together and get a jobs bill passed through Congress," she said. "Let's go to DC, let's face the Republicans, the blue dog Democrats!
"If we don't keep up the struggle," she said, "what will happen to people who need food, who need medical care? What will happen to the next generation?"
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan stressed that while more police are needed in urban trouble spots, long term solutions to violence must include improving schools, making sure parents have jobs, finding mentors for youth, "and giving our young people hope again."
Michael Eisenscher of U.S. Labor Against the War pointed to the soaring costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Besides the huge losses for U.S. troops, he said, Afghan and Iraqi civilians have lost over half a million dead and many more injured. Costs to the U.S. now exceed $1.3 trillion and will soar to $4 to $5 trillion when caring for veterans is included, he said.
Among other speakers were Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, anti-foreclosure activist Tanya Dennis of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Alameda Labor Council head Josie Camacho, locked-out Castlewood Country Club worker Sergio Gonzalez, and West County Toxics Coalition leader Dr. Henry Clark.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW