Activists Gather For 'One Nation Working Together'

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One Nation Working Together is a rapidly growing movement of everyday people across America (of all backgrounds, hues and faiths) who are coming together to reclaim "their" country from those who evade the people's priorities. They are set to come to Washington, D.C. on Oct. 2, to rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Host Michel Martin speaks with two of the event's speakers: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we'll talk about the challenges of education reform.

But first, we want to tell you about One Nation Working Together. That's the name of a rally scheduled for Saturday here in Washington. The group spearheading the march includes civil rights organizations, gay rights activists and labor groups, among others.

The rally is pitched as a challenge to Glenn Beck's attention-getting march in August, but it's also scheduled for exactly a month before this year's midterm elections in November, and it's attempting to focus the nation's attention on jobs, justice and education.

We wanted to know more, so we've called two of the many people scheduled to speak at the event. With us now is Janet Murguia, the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. La Raza is, of course, the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.

Also with us is Randi Weingarten. She's the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has about 1.5 million members. I welcome you both. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. JANET MURGUIA (National Council of La Raza): Thank you.

Ms. RANDI WEINGARTEN (American Federation of Teachers): Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: And for additional perspective on the midterms, we've also called Karen Finney. She's a former communications director for the Democratic National Committee and a commentator on MSNBC. Welcome to you, as well.

Ms. KAREN FINNEY (MSNBC): Good to be with you.

MARTIN: So, Janet, let me start with you because your group's one of the organizers of the event, and I have to say that I don't know to this point whether this march has gotten nearly as much attention as the Tea Party marches, the comparable - the Glenn Beck march back in August. And is that a media problem, or is that an organizational problem? How big of a deal do you expect this to be?

Ms. MURGUIA: Well, I think for us, it will be a big deal. But I think it is an opportunity that we're using to promote and create a moment on the Mall that will bring together many of the progressive groups that are working on right now separate agendas or individual agendas, but that have a common goal.

And this is going to be our time to find a moment of unity amidst what we feel has been a lot of talk out there that's been very divisive and very wedge-oriented when it comes to creating divisions among different groups.

And so for us, this is trying to create a positive moment of unity among groups that have common goals. And I think that it's necessary. We're taking an affirmative step not to respond to anything, but to really proactively seek out a moment where we're focusing on a positive agenda for the country and to get folks focused on that maybe a month out before the election and understanding that out of this moment on the Mall, we want a policy agenda that's going to really help lift America up.

MARTIN: Randi, what about you? What do you hope to accomplish with this march?

Ms. WEINGARTEN: Look, first up, this march was actually, the planning for it was actually started well before anyone knew that Glenn Beck was taking over the Mall the day of the Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream" Speech. But it was it is as Janet described.

This is human rights, civil rights, working people coming together about one America. Now, look, hate garners headlines. Unity and working together to solve problems does not.

But this is a people - this is a movement of regular people who see that the economy is struggling and want it turned around and want to use their frustration to channel it to good public policy that helps working-class folk become middle-class Americans again, that helps those who are poor get a decent education, get access to good jobs.

And so that's all of us coming together with a very deliberate and concrete agenda on better schools, on justice and on the economy.

MARTIN: These marches are, by definition, generally positioned as nonpartisan. But the reality is, isn't it intended to kind of stimulate interest in the elections?

Ms. WEINGARTEN: Well, stimulating interest in the election should be nonpartisan, regardless of what party affinity or not that people have. You know, in America, we need people to vote and be engaged.

But this is about you know, think about where we are. Our unemployment is higher than it's been in most of our memories. The poverty rate, article that came out this week in The Washington Post, the poverty rate in Washington, D.C., is higher than it's been in generations.

There are wards in Washington, D.C., where unemployment hits 30 percent. This is about, you know, all of us coming together and doing more to ensure that kids get great educations, about all of us coming together about, you know, it's about good jobs and good education and hope for the country.

MARTIN: Well, you all aren't the only folks who are interested in folks coming out in November. Obviously, President Obama is very interested in that and to that, and he's been back on the campaign trail. I'll just play a short clip of him speaking in Wisconsin.

And his remarks, I think, take on a very clear, partisan tone. Here it is. He's talking about Republicans wanting to extend Bush-era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year. Here it is.

President BARACK OBAMA: And when you ask them, well, where do they plan to find the $700 billion, where is this money? Is it lying around? You didn't tell us about this. Where is it? They don't have an answer. But to pay for just a tiny fraction of this tax cut, they want to cut education by 20 percent.

(Soundbite of booing)

Pres. OBAMA: They want to eliminate 200,000 children from an early childhood education program like Head Start.

(Soundbite of booing)

MARTIN: Karen, you're a political analyst. You used to work for the Democratic National Committee. You're not, you know, officially connected to this march. I do want to ask you, there is a perception that the commitment, the intensity is not on the side of the progressives or the supporters of the president on his base, that the intensity is on the other side.

First of all, do you agree with that characterization, and do you think that this march this weekend is a way to kind of reverse that or revive support on the progressive side?

Ms. FINNEY: I hope it will be. And actually from a political lens, I do think that there's a narrative that's really taken root, and it's only recently that people have actually begun to acknowledge that the so-called enthusiasm that we've seen on the Republican side has actually been about Republicans fighting Republicans. It's not been Republicans fighting Democrats.

So and what we're seeing, now that we're in the general election, is the race is tightening. Our candidates are doing better. And yet that's not being reported in the same numbers as the all the stories about the so-called enthusiasm gap.

I've also been disappointed to see that mainstream media hasn't really covered this event and talked about this event. Again, I think it doesn't fit the narrative that they want to be talking about. And I hope that we'll have a couple of days to change that and hopefully get some coverage because I think in addition to the things that Janet and Randi are talking about, you know, there's an important image and message that this will send to people around the country who feel the same way, who feel frustrated and maybe feel like they're the only ones who feel that way and want to know that there are people fighting for a political, for a progressive agenda.

You may be frustrated, you know, with President Obama or the pace of change, but that doesn't mean you don't care about this country and want to keep up the fight.

MARTIN: Okay, but as a card-carrying member of the mainstream media, I'll just say that, you know, and having covered many, many marches, you cover things when you have to.

Ms. FINNEY: Sure.

MARTIN: And you see, it becomes irresistible. And it becomes, you know, you cannot ignore the posters. You cannot ignore the buzz. You cannot ignore the energy around an event. And is this going to be that kind of event?

Ms. FINNEY: Well, but I think, where I would push back on that, though, is if we're then going to and I don't think you've done this but some in the mainstream media continue to report that there's an enthusiasm gap, but then not cover an event where more than 500 progressive organizations are trying to mobilize their people to come for a march on Washington, specifically one month before election day, there's a problem there.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. And we're speaking with Karen Finney, political analyst Karen Finney; and Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza; and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.

We're talking about the One Nation Working Together March scheduled for Washington this coming weekend. Janet Murguia and Randi Weingarten are two of the people expected to speak at the event.

Janet Murguia, if you'd pick up the thread there, do you think there is an enthusiasm gap among progressives in this election?

Ms. MURGUIA: Well, this feels like a hinge moment not only for the Latino community but for the country in the sense that there is some considerable disillusionment and a sense of despair. People are working hard, trying to make ends meet.

And I think for us, what we want to tap into is the fact that we want to offer substantive solutions coming out of this march. So we want to create a moment, an affirmative moment of positive opportunity to bring these groups together and to remind ourselves that, collectively, we can still accomplish a lot of things.

MARTIN: Are Latino voters being courted in this election cycle in the same way that they were in the general election? I mean, I think one of the things that was noteworthy about the 2008 is that the Latino vote was highly sought after by candidates from both parties, particularly the major party nominees, as it turned out. Is that the case this time around?

Ms. MURGUIA: Well, it's not clear whether we're being courted specifically or not. That always happens usually in the presidential elections more so than in the midterms. But I'll tell you, I believe that the Latino community has never had more at stake.

When you look at situations that have occurred in Arizona, laws that have emerged there in the state like SB 1070 that have targeted not just immigrants and Latinos that really have created an adverse situation of discrimination and racial profiling for everyone who looks different, I think that we've got a lot of stake in these midterm elections.

MARTIN: I know, but those are different questions. You know when you're being courted, when ads are being placed in media that are most likely to reach Latino voters, when candidates are targeting messages that are most likely to appeal to these voters.

Ms. MURGUIA: Yeah.

MARTIN: Are Latino voters, in fact, being courted? It sounds to me like you're saying that perhaps not, and if so, why not?

Ms. MURGUIA: But I don't think that we are being courted with any sort of special interest. But I have to tell you that that's really never a factor for us even in the presidential.

I tell the Latino community that we have to really determine our destiny and make sure that we are understanding what's at stake for us in the country. So, yes, there has been a lack of direct attention on the Latino community, but we've never had more at stake.

MARTIN: And Karen, I'm going to give you the final word for now. If this march does not yield a large turnout or as significant a turnout as the Tea Party march, however unfair or fair you think the attention given to that may be, will that be a problem? Does that signal a problem?

Ms. FINNEY: I don't know that it signals a problem, although I think it signals a difference in the way progressives organize and mobilize and the way, you know, when you have a glitzy, you know, well-produced stage event is mobilized. So we'll see.

MARTIN: All right. Karen Finney is a former communications director for the Democratic National Committee. She's a commentator on MSNBC. She was kind enough to stop by our Washington, D.C. studio, along with Janet Murguia, the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, which is the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S. And I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Ms. FINNEY: Thank you.

Ms. MURGUIA: Thank you.

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