A mid-level Reagan administration official could scarcely contain his joy after the president’s victory for a tax increase. “The New Right is finished in this administration,” he declared, noting other defeats and indifference endured by that faction recently.
The Reaganites now think they have a solid position in Middle America. But coming up fast over the political horizon is a grass-roots movement that is Middle America to its core, and it doesn’t like Ronald Reagan and his corporatist backers. Called “Reclaim America,” it is a coalition of many local community associations — senior citizens, church groups, labor union officials, ethnic organizations and other informed Americans on the march.
And march they will, with rallies set in Chicago (Sept. 10), Philadelphia (Sept. 12), Washington, D.C. (Sept. 13), and a parade through Wall Street in New York (Sept. 14). A great deal of thinking, studying and discussing has preceded the Reclaim America drive. One of the lead organizers, Gail Cincotta, mother of five and founder of National People’s Action out of Chicago, believes in specific agendas and direct negotiations with Big Business.
Cincotta has done what no other citizen group has succeeded in doing. She has direct meetings with Paul A. Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, on interest rates and another head-to-head with member of the Business Roundtable. Apart from breaking important new ground, Cincotta wants these elites to know that there are real people out there who want to know what these powerful corporations are doing to them.
Beneath the demands and diagnoses of the Reclaim America movement is the belief that the big businesses, their bureaucratic minions in government and the two political parties are taking America from “the citizens who have built its strength.” The theme of unity among these people can be gauged by the slogans: “Reclaim America for the jobless and underemployed—Reclaim America for the right to affordable home heating fuel—Reclaim America for the firth to buy or rent a safe, sound affordable home—Reclaim America for senior citizens—Reclaim America for the small farmers ad the small businesses—Reclaim America for the dignity and welfare of millions of Americans who need vital social programs to survive.”
Cincotta is not just demanding. She and others with her are determined to exercise the responsibility that comes with greater civic power to shape the future. They blame “extravagant military spending” and waste and “hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for big business” as “the real problem in balancing the nation’s federal budget.” They say that “rampant and irresponsible deregulation has resulted in billions of dollars of increased consumer costs for American families, setbacks in civil rights policies, and environmental jeopardy.”
Reclaim America is new citizen energy. The participants realize that politics is the rearranging of power and they mean to be in on the allocation. As the announcement of the September rallies says: “We cannot allow corporate executives, Washington and Wall Street to continue to set anti-people policies and priorities. Reagan, the Congress, and the corporations must be accountable to the American people.”
Many years of community organizing and experience will be represented in these marches and the work that follows. Unlike the reactionary political action committees will be building people power around the country.
In this typically earthy way, Studs Terkel asks: “Who owns America? All our lives, ever since childhood, we were taught it was ours — the people’s. We know differently now. We know it is Corporate America. That’s why Reclaim America is so exhilarating an idea — to make our dream real!”
Having shut out the New Right, President Reagan will have a more difficult time shutting out these Americans on the march. Some of them, to their regret, even voted for him.
For more information on how you can participate in Reclaim America, write to National People’s Action, 1123 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago, Ill., 60607.