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A Unity Movement Begins to Emerge
It is the worst of times, and it is the best of times. With these words Victoria Jackson Gray-Adams, one of the meetings conveners, described the context within which 45 leaders from the Independent Progressive Politics Network met for a weekend of progressive dialogue from December 4 to 5, 1999. As Gray- Adams elaborated, it is the worst of times because of the massive injustice, oppression, poverty, destruction of the environment, the continuing dangers of nuclear devastation, and all the other crises we are faced with. Yet, it is the best of times because there are signs of hope, people organizing and acting to change those conditions
The Progressive Dialogue was called by Elaine Bernard, Noam Chomsky, Bob Clark, Ron Daniels, Angela Davis, Victoria J. Gray-Adams, Manning Marable, Miya Yoshitani, Baldemar Velas- quez, and Howard Zinn. It was organized as a collaborative effort between these individual conveners and an IPPN task force that worked with them to do the necessary outreach, planning, and logistical work.
In the end, 45 people attended, from 8 parties and approximately 25 to 30 national, regional, and local groups. Many of the others who were invited but couldnt attend took the initiative to communicate their interest and desire to be in contact afterwards. Represented were organizations of students, people on welfare, peace activists, Greens/environmentalists, farmworkers, labor unions, socialist organizations, Black radicals, lesbian/gay/bisexual/trans- gender activists, people of faith, peoples lawyers, popular educators, and anti-corporate activists.
The meetings participants were very conscious that we were getting together immediately after the battle in Seattle. Several of the participants had been there, including one who presented rough video footage of what took place on shutdown Tuesday. One decision of the meeting during its final session was to draft a statement to send to the organizers of the various Seattle protest actions indicating our support of their work and inviting them to dialogue about ways we can collaborate to further our common goals.
A Unity Statement was also drafted, which is currently being circulated for consideration and signing by all those in attendance. It says, in part, We affirm that a critical need exists in the United States for a unified, progressive political movement. The emerging climate of widespread distrust and disaffection with the two-party political system of corporate rule opens the opportunity to accelerate collaboration between progressive parties and organizations and the development of a broad-based progressive political movement in the U.S. We acknowledge the need to greatly expand the alternative politics movement. We must reach out to disaffected, disenfranchised and neglected constituencies, including labor, the working class, welfare recipients, youth, students, the poor, the elderly, people with disabilities, lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgender people, Greens/environmentalists, farmers, artists, the homeless, people of color, white collar workers and all who desire a transformed society which has as its primary purpose to serve the needs of people over and above the interests of corporate power.
It was agreed that we would explore various mechanisms to strengthen communications within this developing unity movement: a video exchange network, an internet email list serve, creation and distribution of progressive TV news and talk shows or audio programs of national interest, web site linkages, utilization of Independent Politics News and other publications, and raising money or accessing resources to provide computers for low-income organizations.
A subcommittee was authorized to begin exploration of a national peoples convention, the specific time to be determined, that would bring together thousands of people to discuss and adopt a common platform for the 21st century. This platform would highlight positive electoral and non-electoral organizing and dramatically say to the country as a whole, we are here and we are getting it together.
However, like most things in life, there is another side to this story. As positive as the meeting was, it was not an easy meeting, and there were tensions, differences, and weaknesses that, in some cases, we could barely even identify, much less discuss, because of the short time we had. We are still in the process of recovering from the history of fragmentation, lack of communication, and disempowerment of our overall peoples movement that has been the case for 25 years or more.
One weakness was the insufficient numbers present, or actual absence, of constituencies that need to be at the table. Among them: low-income people, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people, people with disabilities, students/youth, prisoners rights activists, and Asian/Pacific Island and Indigenous Peoples.
We still have a ways to go in learning how to really hear each other, genuinely dialogue without defensiveness, talk with each other and not, at times, past each other.
Language was identified by some participants as an issuethat some of us talk about our visions, our strategies, our programs, our beliefs in ways which make it harder for those on the receiving end of injustice and oppression to understand, identify, or join with us.
Within the progressive third party movement as a whole there is insufficient involvement and leadership from low-income people and people of color. To some extent this was reflected in the meeting. We need to make conscious efforts, including fund- raising to cover travel and other costs, to change that.
Although many of us recognize the importance of connecting electoral activity to movement-building/grassroots organizing work around issues, we have a ways to go before that becomes a reality. The winner-take-all, big-money, two-party electoral system has much to do with this problem, and proportional representation is a critical electoral reform.
IPPN was empowered by the body to follow-up on the decisions There was also discussion of possible regional meetings, and it is likely there will be a follow-up national meeting.
It is the worst of times; it is the best of times. It was an historic meeting; we are still struggling to transcend our history. Z