When Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s bailout plan crashed to defeat Monday in the House of Representatives, many observers believed the flood of angry phone calls and e-mails from voters helped galvanize politicians from left and right to oppose the measure. What comes after this populist uprising, however, depends a great deal on just how voter anger will be mobilized.
A cluster of progressive organizations–ranging from Code Pink, whose members took to the steps of the Capitol, to ACORN, the low-income advocacy group, which is planning a national day of protest on October 1–have been working to channel voter discontent at the $700 billion Wall Street bailout into a progressive push for a bailout for Main Street.
This snowballing dissent has taken shape, in part, around the Wall Street Project of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coaliton. Jackson came to The Nation‘s offices September 22, as the financial crisis was unfolding, and called for a protest of "any plan to bail out Wall Street while not bailing urban America, rural America and the poor."
I followed Jackson that day to Broad Street and Exchange Place, the belly of the financial beast, for a press conference organized by the Wall Street Project. Joined by Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP, Danny Schechter, founder of Mediachannel.org and Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World, Jackson blasted any economic rescue plan that does not hold Wall Street moguls accountable and refuses to help ordinary families hurt by the mortgage crisis.
"We are going to march on Federal Reserve banks throughout the country," Jackson promised.
Speaking before the rally, Jackson acknowledged the haste with which progressives must bring together a collective voice as the financial crisis came to a head so suddenly. "This thing just really hit us on Saturday," he said. "We’ve had to act real fast to form leadership."
Jackson was back at that same lower Manhattan corner sooner than expected, on September 25, this time surrounded by a chanting throng of union members on their lunch break. The Central Labor Council (CLC) of New York City–representing 400 labor organizations, from the New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT) to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)–put out a call to every local in the New York area.
"E-mail is a wonderful thing," said Nola Brooker, assistant director of the professional division of AFSCME’s District Council 37. "All fifty-six locals in our building got the message yesterday. We e-mailed it to all our staff. And look, it seems like 700 or 800 people out here."
After the protest, Carolyn Daly, a representative of the CLC said she was hearing it was more like 1,000 people. "And you’ve got to realize," she added. "We gave these workers only twenty-three hours notice."