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The Coalition for Survival

The religious right has a Coalition for Revival that is “rebuilding civilization on the principles of the Bible.” Progressives need a Coalition for Survival to survive the Bush administration’s incessant attacks on women’s rights, unjustified wars on other countries, and unfair tax cuts for rich folks. The Coalition for Survival would connect all our dots – women, people of color, poor people, gays and lesbians, teachers, union members, and immigrants. I could go on and on, but I’m exhausted simply naming all the people targeted by this administration. In other words, all the folks threatened by and dissatisfied with the right-wing hijacking of our democracy.

A great step towards this Super Coalition will be taken this Sunday in the April 25 March for Women Lives. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are coming to Washington in numbers too big to ignore. They are scared and angry. They will represent an incredible range of national organizations, community groups, businesses, religions, and causes. We are talking about more than 1,400 groups that include not only the usual suspects like feminists, but also business owners, environmentalists, students, and civil libertarians. Never before have so many come together to defend so much. We could have called this the March Against the Lies and the Liars Who Tell Them. Thanks, Al!

We have lots of rich political opportunities and Internet-based means to point out the foibles and damages of the Bush administration, but our causes don’t have much traction in the mainstream media. Progressives don’t help our own cause much because we’re so busy protesting what we’re against, we’ve scarcely taken the time to say what we are for.

Our Coalition for Survival can do that. It can be that proverbially maligned choir we are always preaching to, but we need to sing the same song for a change. A multi-issue Coalition for Survival can transform our precious, diverse cacophony into harmony. It can give people hope and motivation to act in unity to beat back the onslaught of those who believe we are better off with ballooning deficits, savaged safety nets, and diminishing credibility in the eyes of the world.

A united, multi-constituency Coalition still needs to have a focus, a set of ideas we’re promoting and defending. It’s a truism that the right spawns ideas for reshaping America while the left produces projects. This time, we need to strongly counter their retrograde vision for America with a vision of our own, one whose morality has been accepted by every country in the world.

That unifying vision is one of basic human rights. For these dangerous times, we must have a positive and pro-active vision that sets forth a universally accepted set of values for men, women, and children to live with one another.

We have to move our issues from the margins to the center of the debate. We know we have a complicated message that many – including the media – are often too impatient to hear, but we must persist in saying that the government should not spy in our bedrooms, in our doctor’s offices, or on our Blockbuster rentals. The government should not subpoena medical records to see who has had an abortion, nor should it peek into our library records, our Internet usage, or our airline records.

What the government does have an obligation to do is to protect its citizens from unfairness, hunger, unemployment, ignorance and discrimination. This is why we are marching on April 25 – we’re marching as if our lives depend on it because they do.

When we started planning this March, it was originally named the March for Freedom of Choice by the four convening groups, the Feminist Majority, the National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Recognizing the hundreds of state laws chipping away at abortion rights and the perilous balance of the Supreme Court, this historic coalition of four leading organizations decided to sponsor the first reproductive rights demonstration in 12 years to bring national attention back to this steady erosion of women’s human rights.

Women of color demanded a broader, more inclusive agenda for this March. Collectively, we said the March can be about abortion, but not just about abortion. The march must reflect the realities in women’s lives in order to revitalize the movement with new energy and develop a winning strategy. Women are more than their wombs, and we have to fight the flattening of women’s lives by the right and the left. Both sides can miss the mark when they don’t understand that a poor woman may have 1 or 2 abortions in life, but she’ll have bad housing all of it.

As a result, the name of the March was changed to the March for Women’s Lives, and leading women of color organizations, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the Black Women’s Health Imperative, were added to the March Steering Committee. This unprecedented influence by women of color is not accidental. We have polls showing that while white women are becoming more conservative and less likely to identify as feminists, the opposite is true for women of color.

Broadening the name and message of the March had other positive benefits. Hundreds of thousands of people in other movements quickly joined us. For the first time in its 95-year history, the NAACP endorsed a march for women’s rights as have unions, environmentalists, anti-globalization activists, the peace movement, businesses, and an entire generation of young activists reached through the Internet. The American Civil Liberties Union, with its 400,000 members, became the seventh member of the Steering Committee.

Now the question is can we capitalize on this deeply transformative convergence of hundreds of thousands of concerned people who are marching on April 25 and turn it into long-term unity and power? Are these changes women of color have brought about permanent or temporary? Only time will tell. But we can make this March a watershed moment for building a unified Coalition for Survival in America and around the world.

Loretta Ross is executive director of the National Center for Human Rights Education in Atlanta, Ga.

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