First Published: The Worker, for Hawaii, Vol. 1, No. 10, July-August 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
On Sunday, July 4th, thousands of workers of all nationalities, joined by veterans, youths and students, over three thousand in all, marched through the streets of Philadelphia proclaiming, “We’ve Carried the Rich for 200 Years, Let’s Get Them Off Our Backs!” While President Ford and other top representatives of the class of exploiters who rule this country were huddled around the Liberty Bell talking about how this is the best possible society, about how we should be thankful to live under a system where millions slave their lives away for a few, the working class was winning a triumphant victory in a battle that has been raging for the last six months–the Battle of the Bicentennial.
Ever since Nixon declared the “Bicentennial Era” upon us and renamed Air Force One the “Spirit of ’76” (much to the delight of Union Oil), the rulers of the country have been preparing for the Bicentennial. It was supposed to heal the ”divisions in the country, by which they meant the workers’ increasing struggle against them. The patriotic music was to lull us to sleep while the capitalists stepped up their attacks on us; the explosion of fireworks to serve as a smokescreen for the steadily deepening crisis of their system.
With so much at stake for them, with so many millions invested, and with millions of Americans failing to salute as they ran the Bicentennial up the flag pole, the last thing the ruling class of this country wanted was for the Fourth of July to be turned around into a day of demonstration and opposition to them. So for a half a year, since the beginning plans of the Rich Off Our Backs–July 4th Coalition, the capitalists went all-out to stop the working class from demonstrating in Philly on the Fourth.
They had denied all permits for the actions planned by the Coalition. They forbade the construction of a Tent City of the unemployed, not wanting the realities of the suffering and struggle of ten million unemployed in this country to be dramatized while the glories of the system that creates unemployment were being trumpeted.
While corporations were allowed to set up pavilions to sell their red, white and blue products and disseminate lies about how it was the rich and powerful that built up the country, the authorities used a thousand and one tricks to prevent the setting up of a Workers History Pavilion, featuring a beautiful photo exhibit on the real history of class struggle in the U.S.
When the Coalition refused to be deterred and organizing for the Fourth stepped up in Philadelphia and around the country, Philadelphia Mayor Rizzo made a public appeal to the President for 15,000 federal troops, claiming that thousands of terrorists and crazies were going to descend on the city, hell-bent on causing a not. But reports from the Senate Internal Security Committee (the agency of the U.S. Senate charged with “investigating” and harassing the people’s struggles) let the cat out of the bag. “The committee fears,” said a local Philly paper,, “that a well organized demonstration could steal the spotlight from President Ford and other national leaders.”
The masses of people in Philadelphia were told that the demonstration would never happen just as they constantly tell the workers that we can never unite our ranks, fight back and win victories.
Such was the situation on the night of June 30 when the first contingents of workers from around the country showed up in Philadelphia, after holding a successful demonstration demanding Jobs or Income Now! (one of the two demands of the Coalition) earlier in the day from the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. With the outlawing of Tent City, a Tent City in Exile was set up on the grounds of several Philadelphia churches.
Early the next morning the wake-up call went out. After breakfast and some early morning meetings the demonstrators loaded onto the flat bed trucks that were used throughout the demonstrations to transport people around the city and to have “marches on wheels” throughout many of Philly’s working class neighborhoods during the four days of struggle.
Hundreds converged on the Philadelphia unemployment center where a spirited picket line was held demanding jobs or income. From there a march headed toward City Hall to support the struggle of Philadelphia city workers who were in the midst of a big fight, including job actions, to beat back the city’s attempt to make them pick between big layoffs or a wage freeze. City Hall is right in downtown Philadelphia, the very site the capitalists declared off-limits to a July 4th march. While chants of “Victory to the City Workers” were rocking the City Hall an aide to Rizzo was heard to ask the Mayor, “Why don’t you stop them?” Rizzo, who tries to portray himself as a John Wayne type, replied with a whine, “there’s nothing I can do about it.”
The reason Rizzo and Co. were unable to do anything about it was that the demonstration spoke to the demands of millions of people and had won broad support throughout Philadelphia. The discipline and tight unity and sense of purpose of the workers and others was so strong that it came through on the newspapers and TV, as well as to passersby, putting the he to their picture of these workers as a handful of malcontents trying to vent their personal frustrations.
Yet even while the demonstration was going on July 1, frantic efforts were being made behind the closed doors of City Hall and in the marble courtrooms to try to win back the ground the capitalists had lost during the day.
In court, a handful of self-appointed “community leaders” (mostly on the federal payroll) claiming to represent the people of North Philadelphia were acting out a new scene in the capitalists’ efforts to prevent the demonstration. These “leaders” claimed that the Rich Off Our Backs–July 4th Coalition had no support from the people in the area, that all we wanted to do was to provoke a police attack on the people.
All this was part of the capitalists’ second line of defence (after the struggle had won the legal right to march a few weeks earlier), try to divide the people by nationality, by trying to portray the Coalition as “all white invaders” of a community. A city councilman even called for gang members to “defend” the park from the Coalition.
But despite these “divide and conquer” tactics everyone, even the press, could see that workers of all nationalities were participating and strongly united in the demonstrations.
When this failed, when many community people voiced their support of the demonstration, when their suit even got turned down in court, still these “community leaders” hadn’t given up in their effort to help Rizzo stop the demonstration.
They tried to stop a rally that evening in the neighborhood park where the July 4th rally had been scheduled. They set up a picket line ... of eight adults and twenty children. Meanwhile hundreds of ordinary people from the community were there to see what would happen and were very supportive of the Coalition.
The police used the “mass action” of the eight poverty pimps as an excuse to order the Coalition out of the park, saying that it would provoke a confrontation with the community. With busloads of uniformed and plainclothed police in the vicinity poised for the attack, the Coalition wisely avoided the trap and shifted the rally to another location. The ruling class had itched for a police attack to wipe out the gains the Coalition had made in the march to City Hall earlier in the day, to be able to portray the demonstrators as crazy fanatics, and have an excuse to cancel the permits for the demonstration on the Fourth.
And so it went for the four days of demonstrations–a toe-to-toe battle between the forces of the working class and the capitalists, a fight over much more than the right to demonstrate–a battle to reach out to the millions of American workers with what the system of capitalism is all about and help advance the struggle against the enemy. A battle to confront all the calls for patriotism and national unity with two of the crucial struggles of the working class–the fight against unemployment and the growing danger of war.
Part of this battle was to go out among the masses of workers in Philly and let them see with their own eyes what the demonstration was all about. Going to City Hall in support of the city workers was only the first step in doing this; the next days of demonstrations included actions at Philadelphia General Hospital (the city’s only public hospital and slated to be closed) and a Firestone Tire outlet in support of the nationwide rubber strike.
Wherever the truck loads of demonstrators rolled workers of Philadelphia were eager for the latest word about the demonstration and in many cases shouted their support and raised clenched fists. The demonstration and its demands were well-known among workers in Philly. One group of demonstrating workers told how this become clear to them. As their contingent arrived in town a red, white and blue trolley car passed by them. Some tourists on board asked the driver what was going on. “They’re with the Rich Off Our Backs–July 4th Coalition,” replied the driver, “They’re here to say that ’We’ve carried the rich for two hundred years, let’s get them off our backs.’” Then he waved his greetings to the workers’ contingent.
Meanwhile, in the courts, the capitalists’ little band of professional poverty officials made a last ditch effort to scuttle the demonstration, getting a two-bit local judge to demand on July 2 that a million dollar “deposit” be made if the July 4th rally was to be held. Thus, less than 48 hours before the July 4th demonstration, the authorities had succeeded in getting an order that would have effectively banned our march and rally.
But it was too late for this trick to work. All across the country people had their eyes on Philadelphia, thousands had either left or were packing their bags to make it to Philly for the Fourth. In Philly itself the demonstration was the talk of the town; the first few days of demonstrations had exploded Rizzo’s lies about violence-crazed fanatics and showed that the demonstrations were stamped with the discipline and determination of the working class.
To ban the demonstration at that point would have dealt a shattering blow to one of the basic purposes of having the Bicentennial at all–to have a song-and-dance about how “democratic” the capitalist USA is, how the government represents “all the people” worker and capitalist alike. Faced with this, the federal court judge (the very one who had passed an earlier ruling keeping the demonstration out of Center City and restricting other activities) was forced to come up with a decision reversing the ruling of the local Philadelphia judge and allow us our rally on the Fourth.
Having won this victory Friday night, bus loads of workers and others arrived at Norris Park to hold an open meeting to celebrate and plan for the big rally on the weekend. Even then the capitalists tried a last ditch effort, pulling their police back from the park at 8:15 when the permit for the rally expired, obviously hoping to lure the Coalition to stay, to catch them dizzy with success, and have an excuse to unleash their police. But this ploy also failed and busloads of workers, veterans, youths and students made their way back to the camps amidst enthusiastic greetings of the people in the neighborhood of the park.
The next morning, July 3, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, marching in formation, led hundreds chanting “We Won’t Fight Another Rich Man’s War” (the other demand of the Coalition) to the site of one of Philadelphia’s many monuments to the rule of the rich, the flagship from which Admiral Dewey commanded US forces in the Spanish-American war, the first war in which the monopolists of this country dragged the people off to fight for their profits to enslave other people and to attack our rulers’ rival bandits of other countries.
That afternoon a tremendous and moving scene took place in a park in Philly as truck load after truck load brought in some two thousand workers and other fighters from all around the country. They had arrived in Trenton, New Jersey and taken trains in to Philly–nine extra cars had been added to one train.
As the crowd grew and grew, the workers gathered in the park saw developing before their eyes what we had been fighting for during the last half year. Workers converging from plants from coast-to-coast, from unemployment lines, from cities that are falling into decay as capitalism sinks deeper into crisis. From many different battlefields where the workers are locked into battle with those who live off our labor and seek to drive us into the dirt. They saw young people, many of whom only months before saw nothing but unemployment, decay, perhaps a uniform in their future, practicing marching, determined to take an organized and powerful part in the next day’s march.
As people who had been in Philadelphia filled in the new arrivals about the event of the last few days, it became crystal clear to everyone that the next day we would be taking a step of historic importance, of gathering together the forces of our class, backed by the struggle of millions, marching in defiance of the capitalists who swore to stop us, and declaring our determination to get the rich off our backs.
That night over two thousand gathered in the Arena, a local concert hall, to hold a concert of fighting, working class music and speeches–another event the authorities of Philadelphia had declared would never happen. As the MC opened his remarks with “Fellow Workers,” thunderous applause exploded at this simple statement of who we are, the simple fact that there we were, united, in spite of all obstacles. The songs of struggle and the enthusiasm of the crowd shook the rafters, the determination of the workers to make our statement to the rulers of the country and our fellow workers from coast to coast grew stronger. Everyone was ready for the next day–the Fourth of July.
News reports blasted on the air waves on the eve of the Fourth making it clear that the demonstrations together with the mood of millions, had already gone a long way in popping the Bicentennial balloon. Years ago Philadelphia, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell, had been targeted as the focus of the Bicentennial events. But thousands were in Philadelphia prepared to expose the capitalists’ preaching of “liberty and justice for all” as a thin mask covering the dictatorship of exploiters. Predictions of six million tourists fell flat on their face as most Americans were in no mood for celebrating and Rizzo’s threat of troops made Philadelphia seem like a bad place to have children watch fireworks. All of a sudden a bunch of old ships sailing into New York’s Hudson River was being heralded as the center ring of the Bicentennial circus–as if that had been the game plan all along.
Thus even before the last act of the Bicentennial battle was played out, the capitalists’ final act of desperation came into sharper focus–do their best to pretend that Philadelphia had never happened, try to blunt the effects of the demonstration by a conspiracy of silence, largely write off tens of millions of dollars in investments and years of planning that were supposed to make Philadelphia the scene of millions of working people joining their exploiters in celebrating the rule of the rich.
Yet as marchers gathered on the corner of Broad and Girard it was clear that nothing could keep the message of the demonstration from reaching millions of our class in cities all across the country. The banners waving in the air and the faces of the working people assembled showed that people were there not only to put the he to the rulers’ Bicentennial hogwash, but to take a giant step forward in uniting our class and aiming our struggle squarely at the enemy–’the capitalist ruling class and their domination of society.
From Detroit and elsewhere came a contingent of auto workers in the midst of a fight to advance their struggle when the auto contract expires later this summer. From Appalachia came a group of miners where a fierce battle has been going on for years against the mine owners and against their golfing partners in the leadership of the United Mine Workers who have been trying to take the weapon of striking away from the rank and file. Garment workers from the sweat shops of the East Coast; steelworkers from major steel centers like the mammoth mills of Chicago and Gary, Indiana; postal workers from around the country; electronics workers from Houston and many cities and on and on the banners stretched till they faded in a colorful sea of working class struggle.
A contingent of unemployed workers, hundreds strong, were there ready to march with petitions from the Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee bearing the signatures of one quarter of a million workers supporting the demand for Jobs or Income Now!
Spearheaded by a contingent of VVAW members marching in step and chanting, “We Won’t Fight Another Rich Man’s War–It’s the Working Class We’re Fighting For,” thousands poured into the streets. The heart and backbone of the march were the workers, employed and unemployed, standing up as a class against our exploiters. And the banners of the Revolutionary Student Brigade, the enthusiasm of the youth contingent, the cadence of the veterans, were living proof that as the workers stand up and fight as a class against the exploiters we will draw to our ranks the great majority of the people of this country who suffer under the rule of capital.
Busloads of police surrounded the march area, snipers were poised on roof tops and police on horseback milled around the fringes of the crowd. They were powerless to stop the march–to attack it then would have enraged millions and blown the whole cover off the Bicentennial propaganda. Having failed to stop the march, they hoped to intimidate the masses of people in Philadelphia from joining the demonstration.
But many joined and along the line of march were thousands of people from Philadelphia, mostly encouraging the marchers passing by and eagerly taking leaflets and purchasing literature.
Many of the on-lookers were standing next to some of the 60,000 abandoned homes in the “cradle of liberty” appropriately labeled by Coalition posters as “another monument to the rule of the rich.”
When the march triumphantly reached Norris Park the speaker on the podium proclaimed, “We’ve Done It” to the cheers of the demonstrators. At the rally speakers from many battle-fronts addressed the crowd and spoke of the direction our struggle must take.
A highlight of the demonstration was the speech by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, one of the initiating organizations of the Coalition. He pointed to the historic nature of the demonstration that was taking place, to the potential strength and power shown by the thousands assembled there representing the struggle of millions of exploited and oppressed in this country. He spoke of how the demonstration pointed to the future of our struggle, “We make society run, why can’t we run society?”
Avakian pointed out that while the 3000 gathered in the park was a small number relative to the millions of workers in this country, capitalism itself compels the workers to struggle as it seeks to squeeze more and more out of our labor and increase our suffering; that despite whatever setbacks and reversals the working class might suffer, the demonstration proves our potential to grow stronger until the working class makes revolution and begins building a new society where it is impossible for a few to grow rich and ride on the backs of the many.
The working class won a tremendous victory in Philadelphia on July 4th. The capitalists were prevented from having a clear field from which to spew forth their poisonous lies about how everyone should, and is, uniting behind them and their system. In opposition to this the working class made a strong political statement, turning the Bicentennial from simply a celebration of exploitation into a battleground against the capitalists challenging their myth of democracy and freedom with an exposure of their rule.
The Bicentennial demonstration grew out of the struggle of the working class. The workers there came from all different battlefronts against the capitalists, yet the demonstration was more than simply bringing together those workers and those struggles. It was a battle in the political arena; a battle by the forces of the working class consciously striving to get the rich off our backs against the whole class of exploiters and their government and political representatives that they use to enforce their exploitation.
The Bicentennial demonstration was a great inspiration for the thousands who participated in it and for the tens of thousands more who backed it all the way. It had a great effect on the workers of Philly for whom the demonstration is living proof that it is possible to go up against the capitalists and their servants like Mayor Rizzo and win victories. And for millions of workers across the country who heard about the action, the demonstration had an important impact–showing the beginnings of a united, powerful workers’ movement aimed squarely at the ruling class.
As workers left Philadelphia for the home-front where struggle is raging, they took with them the determination to build each of these battles as part of the overall war our class must wage against the exploiters, to advance on the victories won in the Battle of the Bicentennial in building all our struggles as part of the revolutionary struggle of the working class which battles all of the oppression and injustice in society to build a movement that will succeed in wiping out the capitalists’ system of exploitation–finally getting the rich off our backs!