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Left Leans On The National Mall

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A coalition of civil rights, labor, religious and youth organizations rallied at the Lincoln Memorial Saturday. They vowed to get out the vote to keep Democrats in power in Congress and to give President Barack Obama more time to move forward with his agenda.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts in for Liane Hansen.

A coalition of civil rights, labor, religious and youth organizations rallied at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday. They vowed to get out the vote this November to keep Democrats in power in Congress.

NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES: Cable TV host Ed Schultz's opening speech set the tone for the One Nation Working Together rally.

Mr. ED SCHULTZ (TV Host): This is a defining moment in America.

KEYES: He and a host of other speakers had a message for both Republicans and conservatives who have been crowing about their momentum headed into the midterm elections.

Mr. SCHULTZ: They want to change this country, and we as one nation, stand up this day and say we will be there on November 2nd.

Mr. JESSE JACKSON: Don't you give up now. Don't you let them break your spirit.

KEYES: Veteran civil rights leader Jesse Jackson reminded the crowd that people marched and died for the right to vote. And he told them President Obama needs their strength and votes to continue his agenda and create jobs.

Mr. JACKSON: (Chanting) Jobs now, jobs now...

KEYES: Like many in this diverse crowd of activists that filled the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and lined the Reflecting Pool in rows nearly all the way to the Washington Monument, Connecticut mail carrier Paul Neal says the primary issue for him here is:

Mr. PAUL NEAL (Mail Carrier): Jobs and fair treatment on the workplace.

KEYES: Also like many in the crowd, Neil had no interest in blaming the Obama administration for not having moved faster to create jobs.

Mr. NEIL: Absolutely not. And everybody's down on Obama, you know, because the employment is taking such a long time to turn around.

KEYES: Heads nodded as Clif Anderson, a disabled artist from Pennsylvania, agreed that not enough has been done by those in power to help create jobs. But Anderson says the president has accomplished an awful lot against tremendous obstacles.

Mr. CLIF ANDERSON: The Senate is holding up so many bills that could have helped the American public.

KEYES: But there were a few signs critical of President Obama visible, and a few people, like Jim Day from Waterloo, Iowa, did say they weren't sure the stimulus package is working for people on the street.

Mr. JIM DAY: You see some places and you see some things, but I don't see the WPA-CCC kind of thing where the average guy on the street had a job, had something going for him.

KEYES: But a sense of unity carried the day for most of the crowd here, as gay rights activists stood next to more conservative church groups, and coal miners and environmentalists alike cheered for fiery speeches from activists like Ellie Flores, who told the crowd that age 23, he already has a lifelong career in social justice.

Mr. ELLIE FLORES: If I am eating but my brother is starving, then I am starving as well.

KEYES: Flores told the activists that the challenge is what happens when they get home.

Mr. FLORES: Will you stand when you get back home?

KEYES: When the crowds get home, organizers asked them to hit the pavement and get out the vote for their agenda - jobs, justice and public education.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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