Street Corner Rally: The Dream of the American Dream

When I was ending my work on A Decade of Negative Thinking by rewriting its introduction, President Obama had just been elected and for a selfish moment I actually worried that if the situation in the country improved as much as we all hoped that it would, the book I had literally spent a decade writing– the decade of 9/11, the Bush/Cheney administration, the Iraq War–would suddenly be irrelevant! Whether or not my book is relevant–and of course I hope it is!– it has become clear that generally speaking, I needn’t have worried.

In recent weeks I am reminded through the directness of daily experience just what it was like during the 2000s when everyday something appalling would be perpetrated on our democracy, on our environment, our human rights. Then the threats came so fast and from every corner that paralysis constantly encroached on activism. It’s happening again: just in the past week, in Georgia a state representative wants to make miscarriages subject to investigation, defunding of Planned Parenthood threatens a much broader range of affordable health care and family planning for women, in Wisconsin the attack on Unions and collective bargaining is also a veil for another ghastly feature of the same law at issue that Gov. Warner is forcing upon the people of Wisconsin, that would allow the state to sell energy companies to anyone they wanted without any regards to the public interest, attacks on education, attacks on any form of regulation of any corporate misdeeds, etc.

But burbling along underneath is a certain potential for activism. I hope it grows stronger and louder.

One little tiny sign on a scrap of brown paper said it all.

New York Yankees and Cheeseheads unite

Today there were two rallies in Lower Manhattan, a ‘Rally to Save the American Dream’ event to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin, organized by MoveOn.org and a few blocks away and a couple of hours later, a “Rally for Women’s Health” organized by Planned Parenthood. I am in the midst of final packing because I have been forced out from my loft of 33 years. (Yesterday in my elevator a young woman holding a small child, one of my young British ex-pat new neighbors who pay $22,500 a month rent, waited until I got out at my floor before she keyed her elevator door, so I wouldn’t see which floor she lived on, as if I was a potential burglar instead of her neighbor–“tax the rich” is the least of it). I meant to and should have stayed home all day struggling to put some order into the boxes of papers and books and art works I have to somehow ferry safely from one place to another–a Herculean task that, among other things, has kept me from doing much on this blog in recent weeks. But I woke up this morning and thought I could not pass up the last opportunity to just go downstairs and walk a few blocks to a demonstration in City Hall Park. I’m a member of a Union: when Rep. Anthony Weiner asked people to take out their Union card and wave it in the air, I could do it, I had my ACT-UAW card on me (FYI, I’m in the crowd of this other, small union rally held April 29, 2009).

The ghosts of earlier millionaires gleamed off the facade of the beautiful Woolworth Building over the crowd & across City Hall Park to New York's latest and tallest residential megatower for the ultra-rich.

Union rally demonstrator and, across City Hall Park, the new Frank Gehry building with its deluxe apartments and its undulating fractured skin beautifully but disturbingly recalling the falling of the Twin Towers whose absence it faces

The crowd was penned in by the infernal metal fences that Mayor Bloomberg has used effectively to contain and undermine political demonstrations. I’m not sure it was the 10,000 people the organizers claimed. It seemed smaller to me but I was glad I was there, for the faces, the signs, but also for the speeches, by New York Representatives Anthony Weiner, Jerry Nadler, and  Charlie Rangel.

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I felt certain qualms before Rangel began to speak, thinking of the recent censure in Congress for financial misdeeds, but once he opened his mouth and, speaking resonantly, with and from long experience, described how the sacrifices, including giving their lives, made by workers and union organizers in the past had created the American dream as it has been lived the past 50 or 60 years, he made a lot of sense. So did Jerry Nadler who made the point that recent events are part of a general effort to turn the clock back on all of the progressive victories of twentieth-century America to return to the total unregulation of the robber baron era of the 1870s up to Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-trust act. We couldn’t see the speakers who were not as far as I can tell on an elevated podium, but their voices were strong and it meant something to be there with them in the crowd.

Tourist cheering the rally

The crowd at the rally trended older, in terms of an average. But when I passed small groups of young women on their way to the Planned Parenthood rally at Foley Square, I hoped that at least in that regard, a younger generation would see their place and moment for activism.

Before the Planned Parenthood rally in front of the New York State Supreme Courthouse: in passing, as cops put up the metal barriers to contain the expected crowd, I was amused by the conjunction of the phallic sculpture (Dr. Lorenzo Pace's "Triumph of the Spirit," dedicated to the African and African-American community, looks pretty phallic as seen from this angle at least) and the word "firmest" in the otherwise admirable motto on the face of the building: "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government."

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