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"One Nation" March Organizers Should Remember Coxey's Army

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Organizers and participants in the October 2 national "One Nation Coming Together' jobs march are hoping for a historic turnout of participants demanding good jobs and other basic domestic needs.

The planned Washington DC rally and march couldn't be timelier with 15 million people in the US officially unemployed and another 11 million who've stopped looking for work. Millions of others are underemployed. The resulting collective losses of homes, heath and hope have been devastating.

The financial implosion of 2008 worsened but didn't spark the massive jobs losses. Free trade, tax and corporate policies were earlier factors encouraging the movement of companies abroad and the diversion of investments from real goods and services to "financial products."

It's a bit unclear what the labor unions like SEIU and AFL-CIO and community groups such as the NAACP who comprise the main organizers of the "One Nation" event are calling for to remedy the jobs crisis.

The Obama administration's earlier economic stimulus wasn't large enough and didn't focus enough on hiring people. It also added to the debt and deficit.

This has led to charges by some that the event may be a front for the Democratic Party, which is scrambling to energize their base just before the mid-term elections.

A national massive public works program is urgently needed. Rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul by shifting funds from housing or transportation to pay for jobs, some of the more recent peace and anti-war co-sponsors of the event who comprise what's called the "Peace Table" are calling for shifting funds from the bloated and archaic military/war budget. Ending tax breaks to the super rich would produce funds as well.

Connecting jobs to budget and tax policies makes good sense. Yet it ignores a giant arena that most people, including activists, never pay attention to -- monetary policies, specifically government issued money to meet societal needs.

The first DC "jobs march" was led by Jacob Coxey in 1894. It was no simple stroll from one national monument to another one on the mall in DC but rather a long-distance trek from Coxey's hometown, Massillon Ohio, to the nation's capital in the month of March not the best time of the year to weather the weather. Five hundred people participated in the march, what Coxey called a "petition in boots." Inspired by "Coxey's Army," others marched to DC from other communities.

What made the march unique was not simply the long-distance or the numbers or the call for federal intervention but the marcher's primary demand. Coxey and his Army demanded that the government directly issue $500 million to employ 4 million people.

Not borrow $500 million from bankers -- which has to be paid back with interest and enriching bankers in the process.

Not move $500 million from one part of the federal budget to another -- robbing Peter to pay Paul.

But, rather, print $500 million in government money.

Coxey's Army members were "Greenbackers" advocates for re-establishing the policy of the Lincoln administration that financed the Civil War with $400 million of government issued money.

Coxey's Army proposed two bills. The "Good Roads Bill" would help farmers through $500 million issued by the federal government in legal tender notes, or Greenbacks, to construct rural roads. The "Noninterest-Bearing Bonds Bill" would empower state and local governments to issue noninterest-bearing bonds to be used to borrow legal tender notes from the federal treasury. This money would be used for urban public projects such as building libraries, schools, utility plants and marketplaces.

Coxey's Army understood money and monetary policy far better than most of us today. Monetary history and experiences have been obliterated from our textbooks and activist cultures for many decades.

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Greg Coleridge is Outreach Director of Move to Amend. He previously worked for more than three decades with the American Friends Service Committee in Ohio where he educated, advocated and organized on a range of justice, peace, environmental (more...)

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"One Nation" March Organizers Should Remember Coxey's Army

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