NAACP People’s Assembly Builds a Working-Class Movement

by Dante Strobino

Raleigh, NC, Feb 22, 2007

On Feb. 10, thousands of African Americans and other working people marched through the streets of downtown Raleigh, NC, in the NAACP’s Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly. Under the new progressive leadership of its president, the Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina NAACP organized this event to put forward a powerful 14-point program demanding union jobs, health care, and education not war. This was the biggest demonstration in recent Raleigh history, only surpassed in 2003 when 7,000 marched demanding an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Statewide, the only demonstrations bigger than this in several years were last year’s May Day immigrant worker manifestations.

The HKonJ “People’s Agenda” included:

1.      “All children need high quality, well-funded, diverse schools

2.      Livable wages and support for low-income people

3.      Health care for all

4.      Redress two ugly chapters in NC’s racist history: the overthrow of the biracial 1898 Wilmington government and the sterilization of poor, mainly Black, women from 1947–1977

5.      Same-day registration and public financing of elections

6.      Lift every historically black college and university

7.      Document and redress 200 years of state discrimination in hiring and contracting

8.      Provide affordable housing and stop consumer abuse

9.      Abolish racially biased death penalty and mandatory sentencing laws; reform our prisons

10.  Put young people to work to save the environment and fight for environmental justice

11.  Collective bargaining for public employees

12.  Protect the rights of immigrants from Latin America and other nations

13.  Organize, strengthen and provide funding for our civil-rights enforcement agencies and statutes now

14.  Bring our troops home from Iraq now!”

Unions and Antiwar Groups Unite

What was unique about this event was the presence of working-class and labor organizations. Union flags and banners could be seen flying in the air everywhere. Unions such as United Electrical Local 150, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the Teamsters and UFCW made a visible impact on the march, which made this a rare occasion in North Carolina-the state with the second lowest unionization rate in the country, with less than 3 percent of workers belonging to unions.

FLOC recently won the first labor contract for migrant workers. And, with the Food and Commercial Workers, FLOC has waged a 15-year fight to win union representation for workers in the Smithfield hog plant. This struggle has played an important role in the broader battle for immigrants’ rights, and has also helped advance an alliance between Black and Brown workers…

Toward the back of the Feb. 10 march was a sizable contingent of antiwar organizations and local peace coalitions. Between this antiwar contingent and the labor crowd marched a vibrant youth and student contingent from Raleigh FIST–Fight Imperialism Stand Together…alongside students from Chapel Hill Students for a Democratic Society, who have been fighting to shut down a newly built military recruiting center.

Organizers emphasized that this march was not just a one-day event. Rather, it was an initial step in forging a mass movement to fight for the people’s agenda.