The People Have the Power Rally

Natalia Cooper

The alleyway leading to the Orpheum Theater in Boston was overflowing. The line of people extended around the corner and was three-wide. All along the sides of the line, tables were set up, manned by people trying to further their particular cause. There were folks promoting the recent living wage campaigns at Harvard, Falun Gong supporters distributing their paper, and many others. After a minimal bag check and a short pat down by security, ticket holders were admitted to the building.

The program opened with a band called Viva Quetzal! who fuse Peruvian, Colombian, and other South and Central American styles of music to create beautiful ethnic rhythms. Next a large screen was hauled out and an excerpt from a new documentary titled “Voices for Peace” was debuted. “Voices for Peace” is comprised of interviews, speeches, and crowd shots of some of the first demonstrations against the bombing of Afghanistan. Those protests took place in Washington, D.C. and New York City in late September. Robbie Leppzer, the director of the film, stated his purpose by saying, “There is a growing antiwar movement in this country. You wouldn’t know it if you watch CNN or other corporate media.”

Jason Atkins, a Boston lawyer, took the mic next. “I spend my life fighting against the insurance companies,” he said. He criticized large insurance companies for the choice of many to “file suit to avoid paying claims” just days after the September 11 attacks. Atkins is involved with the Center for Insurance Research and encouraged audience members to further this cause.

James O’Keefe, Green Party candidate for Massachusetts state treasurer, took an interesting approach to the crowd. He asked that people get up and turn to the person next to them. “Tell them about one issue you feel very passionate about,” O’Keefe requested. “Now tell them something you think will help with that issue,” he said. He went on to say that this kind of dialogue is what people should attempt to perpetuate in their own organizations and coalitions.

Local Union Activist Gary Nielsen, called the corporate and government reaction to 9/11 “an assault on working people of this country and around the world.” He went on to talk about fast track legislation, calling it “against everything we know as democratic” and “not good for the working people.” He concluded by saying, “We must not be fooled into thinking that speaking out and having an opinion is anti-American.”

Doris Haddock, an elderly woman known to many as Granny D., burst onto the stage while the moderator was introducing the next speakers, with her signature “Campaign Finance Reform” flag slung over her shoulder. Granny D. has been walking across America to raise awareness about “dirty money” and corporate funding of campaigns. Such biased funding can tend to influence politicians’ decisions when and if they win office, she noted.

Representatives from several area organizations came to the podium next. A professor from Boston University School of Law, representatives from Campus Greens, the college version of the Green Party, and others spoke for a few minutes each about their organizations.

Chuck Turner, a Boston city councilor, spoke primarily about the current military action the United States is taking against Afghanistan. “How do we end the terror? We begin by looking at our own behavior,” he said, “We are the instigators of terror throughout the world.” He cited the examples of the United States continued support of dictatorship governments and leaders proven to be abusers of human rights. He stated: “We can’t end terror unless we acknowledge our own terror,” and then urged the crowd to remember “the analysis of the problem has to be followed by action,” encouraging them to get involved.

Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for Massachusetts governor, re-addressed the issue of clean elections. She also condemned the recent losses of civil liberties that many United States citizens have experienced. “Now is not the time to be surrendering our democratic freedoms,” said Stein, “Democracy is our most important weapon in our search for security, and it must be defended.” Stein is an active member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a national group seeking to overcome violence and its roots. She talked about how important it is to protect civil liberties against intrusion by overzealous law enforcement.

A representative of the locked-out workers of California’s Pacifica Radio, Amy Goodman, spoke about the corporate media’s constant skew of this and other wars. She mentioned how the media sometimes represents leaders as allies when its convenient for the government’s agenda and enemies other times. Goodman talked about the United States government’s constant resistance to a world court, which some believe may eliminate the threat of global terrorism by creating accountability for terrorist actions. Also, she recounted her personal experience as a reporter in a conflict never mentioned in the mass media, the ongoing conflict in East Timor.

One and a half-hours behind schedule, the main part of the program commenced. After a shameless fundraising attempt by Green Party representatives, Patti Smith took the stage. She played songs from her latest CD Gung Ho which is primarily a reaction to the Vietnam War and the aftermath of that war. Smith proclaimed, “Don’t forget who you were on September 10.” She ended her performance with a haunting rendition of an older song “We Shall Live Again” which ends with the resonating lyric “we shall live again, shake out the ghosts.”

Smith then introduced Ralph Nader. He addressed many more long term environmental and political issues and mentioned the current conflict only in the context of those issues. He indicted the corporate media of ignoring community and other groups, but spending ample time on weather and commercials.

His speech started right around eleven o’clock, the broadcast time of local stations’ news reports. “So I’m glad you’re missing the late evening news so we can get down to business,” Nader said.

He spoke about the military industrial complex, how the defense industry is intertwined with the actions of our government. But also about corporate handouts and tax breaks in general. “Corporate crime is at epidemic levels,” Nader said, “and yet it’s hardly taught at law schools and barely ever taught in business schools. Isn’t that an accident? Isn’t that an oversight?”

He said, “Commercial values are supposed to be subordinated to civic values … and yet there isn’t enough power behind these civic values.” Nader stated, “We are brought up corporate rather than civic, we grow up to believe rather than to think.” He talked about NAFTA as a direct attack on workers’ rights and touched on the topic of campaign finance reform. He encouraged plans for a “redirection of the national mission for sustainable energy, for renewable energy for solar energy … as if people mattered, not as if Exxon/ Mobil mattered.”

“The few dominate the many,” he said, “because the few are organized and the many are not. We have now a situation in America where one third of all the full-time workers in America do not make a living wage. They make less than ten dollars an hour, billions make $6.50 in places like Wal-Mart… the lowest paid workers in Western Europe are paid 41% more than our lowest one-third … and they have all kinds of benefits, universal health care.” “Are we simply going to allow patriotism to be distorted against the love of country … are we going to allow the propagandists to say to us ‘Shut up and get in line.'” “We cannot have a short-term strategy, we have to have a long-term strategy otherwise the government will be endangering the American people … otherwise they’ll be no end to the vulnerability of the most powerful country in the world.” He ended his speech by praising involvement in citizen groups and civic organizations.

The program concluded with Patti Smith performing the song “The People Have the Power” which she wrote about the Afghan people during their defense from the Soviet invasion there in the ’80s. Nader came back to the stage and linked hands with Smith, singing along.

This event was part of a weekend long regional conference of the Boston Campus Antiwar Coalition which includes many universities in the Boston area. Representatives from colleges and universities all over the Northeast were present to attend workshops and presentations encouraging action and sharing ideas for coalition building, networking, and event planning. The first day consisted of mostly educational teach-ins and the second day consisted of workshops and discussions, including planning for a national conference, tentatively scheduled for February, 2002.