The Fight the Right March last month in San Francisco was an unprecedented event in U.S. politics. For the first time, people and groups that don't usually work together very closely felt such a sense of urgency that we organized our various constituencies to come together publicly in huge numbers.
We face an election year in which "an extremist ultra right wing has taken control of one of the two major centrist parties," as Gloria Steinem put it. The radical right is determined to reverse every bit of progress we have sweated over the past 30 years and to stymie advances we still only long for. But we are even more determined to flex the political muscles that come from both our unity and our diversity.
Even the mainstream media couldn't miss the significance of our very diverse crowd of roughly 50,000 march participants, calling it a "rainbow" and peppering their stories with positive comments from people of all ages, races and sexual orientations. We got some 14,000 people to sign up to support our ongoing political organizing, giving lie to the typical U.S. Park Service low-ball estimate of our crowd.
Not only have we never had this kind of public show of strength across our issues, we've rarely had the kinds of background conversations and relationships that led to it. For months, we have been networking like never before with progressive allies. We know the community activists who are rolling up their sleeves and doing the real work.
On the affirmative action issue alone, they include people like the Rev. Amos Brown, a leader in national Baptist circles, who brought his personal power, eloquence (blasting the "selective morality" of the religious right) and busloads of people from his church. And Mary Chung, president of the National Asian Women's Health Organization, who was thrilled because she had hundreds of Asian people marching together. And Kathleen Cha, a California public relations person for the American Association of University Women, who marched with a delegation of teenage boys and girls. And Kimi Lee, of the University of California Student Alliance, and other student activists who turned out thousands of students for the march.
Even though the national and state levels of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) refrained from endorsing the march, local NAACP leaders were on hand and outspoken in their support of the march. The most savvy journalists covering the march picked up on the fact that not only was NAACP concerned about racially insensitive comments by the L.A. NOW chapter leader, but the organization is also a bit uncomfortable about the wider progressive movement's commitment to reproductive rights and lesbian and gay rights.
At his swearing in, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said we have no permanent enemies and no permanent friends, only permanent issues. We are confident that we'll be able to smooth out our relationships with the NAACP under his leadership, given that we worked together for years in the National Rainbow Coalition.
Our hope stems from the fact that we received support from the new leadership of another national group that doesn't agree with every issue NOW champions. The national AFL-CIO came on board as a march endorser, even though the organization does not have a pro-abortion rights stand. An activist with the gay rights labor group, Pride at Work, shared with us the good news that the AFL-CIO's new national president, John Sweeney, had given strong backing to a national conference on lesbian and gay rights.
The challenge before NOW activists and every single one of the more than 850 allied groups who came together for the march is to build on this momentum. We can not compete with the big corporate interests dollar for dollar. But they can not compete with us body for body. We need to take the names we gathered, the connections we made and organize serious voter registration drives and get-out-the vote efforts.
In addition to the new Newt Congress hell-bent on turning back the clock on our rights, we still have a Supreme Court still stacked with Reagan-Bush appointees. A change in presidents or a shift even farther to the right in Congress could hand both Congress and the high court over to the hands of our enemies. Their complete menu of reversals on our issues is also showing up a la carte style in state legislatures.
So in coming months NOW activists are putting the meat on the bones of both our pressing political plans for 1996 and our long-term vision for the future. We are beginning a dialogue about our mission in the 21st century at our national conference this June in Las Vegas. NOW PAC was meeting as this issue went to press; and our state, regional and national leaders were also holding regular spring meetings.
In our own forums and in new, stronger work with our allies, we will show that the march in San Francisco was not a Roman candle. It was a spark igniting a long-burning fuse that will explode in ballot boxes around the country this November.
Pundits dubbed 1992 the Year of the Woman and 1994 the year of the Angry White Male. This march was an early signal that 1996 will go down not as the year of triumph for the so-called Christian Coalition but as the Year of the Real Majority. Together, we will make it the year the gender gap, the race gap and the wage gap made a difference at the polls and with the pols.
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