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Pablo's Kids March on Washington

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Glenn Beck wasn't there for this rally; it was for the wrong side. Comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert won't be in Washington until October 30. Apparently Barack Obama was too busy to make an appearance - he spent the weekend at the Presidential vacation house in Camp David.

Fox News used the rally as an excuse to tout the Tea Party movement, accusing liberals of trying to tap into Tea Party anger. Beck warned that dangerous radicals might be attending. The New York Times, supposed bastion of the "liberal" media, gave the demonstration a quarter of a page of coverage on the bottom of page 18.

The bus provided by the United Federation of Teachers was late in arriving, the five-hour ride to Washington stretched to six, subways there were overcrowded, and port-a-potties on the federal mall were foul smelling. But nothing could take away from the excitement 27 students from University Heights High School in the South Bronx felt as they stormed the nation's capital. The students are members of the school's political action club and were accompanied by faculty adviser Pablo Muriel along with other teachers, school personnel, and community residents. Along with tens of thousands of union members and civil rights and peace activists, these students traveled to Washington to demand social justice for all Americans, full employment, school funding, and an end to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The UHHS students felt immense pride standing around the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King spoke about his dream and millions of Americans demanded that government act to meet the needs of people. They live and attend school in the poorest congressional district in the United States. They had heard about rallies and the capital, but they had never been there. Now they had a chance to be part of history.

Tyrek Greene, a twelfth-grader at University Heights High School, said he went to Washington because he wanted to know what it is to participate in a cause. He believes that decent jobs for all Americans should be a right. He wants students in the public schools to get the same quality education as students who attend elite private schools. Stephen Martinez, also a twelfth-grader, wanted to practice his first amendment right and hoped to participate in something that would make a significant change in American society. Torrick Dixon, an eleventh-grader, was thinking about future jobs when he and his classmates graduated from college. He wants to have a career so when he has a family he can support them "the best way I can." Christina Gomez, a twelfth-grader, saw the rally in Washington as an amazing opportunity too learn about people from different places and how they approach the problems we are facing today and all around the world. She wants to end the trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have been going on for years and she does not want her country fighting wars for oil. For Universal Berrios, an eleventh-grader, the priority is decent jobs for all Americans. When people have jobs, it changes their behavior. Taylor Cabrera, a twelfth-grader, is an activist who went to Washington to educate himself and his peers so they can be part of democracy in action. For Tykeem Seawell, a twelfth-grader, education is the most important thing because education empowers people. He believes that when you educate the masses everything else will fall into place.

Pablo Muriel is glad his students attended the rally. He is a strong advocate of experiential learning. He believes it was important for students to see what political activism actually looks like and to meet people trying to promote progressive change. "Students need to have a sense that they can be real participants in democracy. They are not just pawns to be manipulated by people in power."

On the bus on the way back from Washington some UHHS students expressed surprise that people were not angrier than they can across as at the rally. Most of the speeches were about hope for the future. They saw lots of people wearing pro-Obama t-shirts.

I think many participants are deeply frustrated with President Obama's first two years in office. They are unhappy with the poor state of the economy and high unemployment, with compromises on health care reform, with continued anti-immigrant hostility in the nation, and with Obama's continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, they are not yet prepared to challenge the Obama record, partly because they fear other mainstream political options will be worse. They are also not yet ready to step outside the Democratic and Republican Parties and seek other alternatives.

The rally, called "One Nation Working Together," was sponsored by 300 groups including the N.A.A.C.P., the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the National Council of La Raza, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the National Baptist Convention, and several Jewish organizations. Major supporters from New York City included 1199 S.E.I.U., a health care union local that chartered 500 buses to carry 25,000 union members to the rally, and the United Federation of Teachers.

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is promoting his October 30 rally as the "Rally to Restore Sanity" and to challenge negativism and extremism from both the left and right. I am a big fan of Mr. Stewart and regularly watch his show on Comedy Central, but in this case he is downright wrong. October 2 was the march of reasoned opposition. This was the march of thoughtful criticism. This was the march of positive activism. Too bad Stewart missed it. He would have liked meeting Pablo and the kids from the Bronx.