Reclaiming America on Columbus Day

As a college sophomore in October of 1968, I marched as part of the ROTC color guard at the front of the Columbus Day parade in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Those were challenging times for our country. I chose to leave ROTC less than a year later as protests against the Vietnam War called our political leadership into question.

Little did I know then, that questioning political leadership would become a career choice and there would be several significant Columbus Days ahead. You see less than five years later as a graduate student, I met Gale Cincotta.

Gale was a most ordinary working class woman without a formal education who managed to do extraordinary things with other everyday people from different races, cultures, and communities.
Gale Force: Gale Cincotta The Battles for Disclosure and Community Reinvestment, by Michael Westgate with Ann Vick-Westgate, tells her story. It is also an exceptional oral history of the 1970s and the growth of the neighborhood movement as a direct descendant of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. As I noted in my book review for SHELTERFORCE, this book is extremely relevant today in these troubled economic and political times.

One of the first major battles was the “Battle of New Orleans” in October 1979, when Gale and over 300 community leaders from across the country converged on the American Bankers Association’s annual conference there. The ABA was opposed to extending the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act [HMDA] passed by Congress in 1975 and was already attempting to repeal the Community Reinvestment Act [CRA], which had finally become law on February 5, 1979 after having been passed by Congress in 1977. There were many actions that weekend with creative lyric re-writing to serenade the bankers.

Five years later in the Fall of 1982, Gale stood in front of the George Washington statue on Wall Street to keynote the “Wall to Wall on Wall Street” battle and challenge corporations to invest in rebuilding our nation’s communities.  She quoted 1890 populist Mary Lease:

“Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street.”

It was 34 years ago on Columbus Day October 13, 1980, when Gale gave her Reclaim America speech after the Voyage of Santa Maria II arrived at Chicago’s McCormick Place for the ABA convention.

We are: Reclaiming the right to a job!

Reclaiming the right to good health care!

Reclaiming the right to affordable energy!

Reclaiming the right to a safe neighborhood!

Reclaiming the right to decent and affordable housing!

Reclaiming the right of equal rights for all!

Reclaiming the right to live all our years in dignity!

We are Reclaiming America!

These are more than words we should remember; they remain today's agenda and call to action.

Photo credit: National People's Action.

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Ted Wysocki is CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs-USA and founder of U2Cando Consulting. Previously, Ted was CEO of the Local Economic & Employment Development Council, now North Branch Works, and CEO of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO). Ted is also a director emeritus of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

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