The march came at the conclusion of a three-day "Take Back America" conference marked by calls for fightback against President Bush on issues like the war in Iraq, Social Security privatization and the "Wal-Mart economy." Four days later, an ABC/Washington Post poll showed Bush's disapproval rating at a career high of 52 percent.
William McNary, president of Chicago-based USAction, told the crowd in Lafayette Park, "We're not going to stand idly by and let George W. Bush destroy our Social Security. … We must resist his divide-and-conquer strategy. The things that are most precious to us are things we share."
National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy called for all-out defense of Social Security. "Shame, shame," she shouted while pointing an accusing finger to the White House. "Are women with us? Are workers with us? Are retired Americans with us? We can win!"
Roger Hickey, co-chair of the Campaign for America's Future, sponsor of the conference, derided Bush's recent 60-day road trip to sell Social Security privatization. "The longer he was on the road, the more people turned against him," Hickey said.
A man in a top hat representing "Billionaires for Bush" grabbed the microphone. "Send Social Security checks to poor people, seniors and the disabled and they just waste it on food," he sneered. "Wouldn't you rather have your pension funds managed by United Airlines? Wal-Mart can lend a helping hand." The crowd erupted in boos and laughter.
Steve Kofahl of Everett, Wash., and Witold Skwierczynski of Catonsville, Md., both employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA), wore American Federation of Government Employees T-shirts emblazoned with the words, "Under attack."
Earlier this year the two helped expose Bush's use of SSA employees to promote privatization. They contacted Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) who convened hearings last January at which Kofahl and other SSA workers testified.
"Our employees were being used to promote the Bush administration's political agenda and that is illegal," said Kofahl. "Bush's plan, over time, would dismantle Social Security."
That same defiant mood permeated the entire conference.
"All the polls show that a majority of the people believe the country is headed in the wrong direction," Gandy told the World. "They specifically blame it on two things — Bush's leadership and the Iraq war. NOW members have been dissatisfied with Bush from the beginning, but Bush's activities have encouraged that same opposition all across the country and that is very heartening."
Georgia state Rep. Nan Grogan Orrock (D-Atlanta) told the World that Republicans "are creating a lot of heartburn in their own base. They give tax cuts to the corporations and cut programs, like Medicaid health care for children, that enjoy broad support in Georgia."
Greeted as a hero was Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa. He told the mostly white crowd that the Democratic Party has not made urban issues, including poverty, a high priority. "You look at this room today and you don't see the kind of diversity we need to build a strong movement in America," he said. "We are not reaching out enough."
Cities for Progress together with the Institute for Policy Studies convened a press conference at which New York City Councilman Bill Perkins told reporters, "Taking back America begins in our cities. I come from Cities for Peace. I bring a voice against the war. I lost a family member in 9/11 and I want to bring the troops home."
Chicago Alderman Joe Moore said his city council resolution opposing the Iraq invasion was approved 47-1. "The cost of the war is borne by people in my community," he said. "Two billion dollars could have been used for afterschool programs and day care."
In a plenary session, "Challenging the Wal-Mart Economy," Joe Hansen, president of the 1.4-million-member United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), talked about the bitter strike by 70,000 supermarket workers in California last fall. The issue was takeaways in the name of being "competitive" with Wal-Mart.
"We fought them to a standstill," Hansen said. "The unfair competitive edge for Wal-Mart creates this crisis. … They fire workers, terrorize workers. … It's a damn shame and it's time we stand up to end it. UFCW cannot do it alone. We need allies. Wal-Mart workers need a union voice."
AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff said Congress must pass the Employee Free Choice Act (HR 1696, S 842) for a simple majority card-check to win union recognition. At last count, 207 representatives and 32 senators have endorsed the bills.
"This administration and Congress have declared war on all of us," Acuff said.
"There is no clearer example of the hypocrisy of the Bush administration than their use of the 9/11 tragedy to strip workers of union rights," he said. "Every cop, every firefighter who died was a union member. Union members are good enough to die in 9/11, in Afghanistan and Iraq, but cannot belong to a union at the Department of Homeland Security. There is something wrong with this picture!"
Joelle Fishman contributed to this article. firstname.lastname@example.org