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Progressive Dialogue III
R epresentatives of over 45 progressive groups gathered in Washington, DC on December 4-5, 2004 for the Independent Progressive Politics Network (IPPN) Progressive Dialogue III—a working session to figure out how diverse organizations could more effectively unite and fight for real democracy. These activists converged to face head-on the challenges posed by the continuing right-wing assault on democratic participation, electoral accountability, economic and social justice, and environmental protection.
IPPN’s Progressive Dialogue III was the first large-scale, broad- based meeting of progressives after the elections. The gathering, the third annual dialogue hosted by IPPN, gave birth to a new alliance, United Progressives for Democracy (UP for Democracy). UP for Democracy is about building a vital and effective, multi-cultural organizing force that links Greens and other third party proponents, progressive Democrats, and independent activists.
At the conclusion of Progressive Dialogue III, UP for Democracy launched its first initiative, the Winter Democracy Campaign (WDC), focusing on voter suppression and irregularities and voting machine fraud in the 2004 presidential election, particularly in Ohio. The Winter Democracy Campaign immediately issued a press release calling for a full investigation of voter disenfranchisement, electoral racism, and electoral corruption. The campaign also advocates a 10-point Voter Bill of Rights (see www.nov3.us).
Sponsored WDC activities included a December 8 hearing on Capitol Hill organized by Congressperson John Conyers; local actions December 10-13 spearheaded by No Stolen Elections (as of 2005, folding into UP for Democracy), urging “blue state” electoral college electors to refuse to cast their votes for any presidential candidate until the Ohio recount is concluded; a grassroots campaign urging Congresspeople and Senators to vote on January 6 for a special Congressional discussion of election abuses in Ohio and elsewhere; and counter-inaugural activities in Washington and around the country.
T his third Progressive Dialogue brought together participants spanning a wide range of geographic regions of the country, communities/constituencies, and issues. They included:
- Reverend Lennox Yearwood and Dr. Roger Mitchell, HipHop Summit Action Network
- Fred Azcarate, Jobs with Justice
- Kim Gandy, National Organization for Women
- Cameron Barron, Black Radical Congress
- Medea Benjamin, Global Exchange and CodePink
- Adrienne Maree Brown, League of Pissed off Voters
- Ron Daniels, Center for Constitutional Rights
- David Cobb and Pat LaMarche, presidential and vice presidential candidates, Green Party
- Kevin Spidel, Alysia Fischer and Tim Carpenter, Progressive Democrats of America
Other organizations represented included:
- Military Families Speak Out
- Project South
- Southerners on New Ground
- WV Mountain Party
- Fannie Lou Hamer Project
- Greenhouse Cultural Program
- National Family Farm Coalition
- PowerU Center
- Center for Voting and Democracy
- Haven Center/U. of Wisconsin
- United for Peace and Justice
- Beyond Voting
- Institute for Policy Studies
- 2004 Racism Watch
- DC Anti-War Network
- Veterans for Peace
- Truth in Elections
- United Students Against Sweatshops
- Committee on Indigenous Solidarity
- Baltimore Algebra Project
- Carolina Peace Resource Center
Other participants included representatives from the offices of Representatives John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich, as well as Floyd Lewis from the Service Employees International Union. People attending traveled from Colorado, Ohio, Washington, Florida, Arizona, North and South Carolina, Wisconsin, Virginia, Maine, California, Massachusetts, and New York, as well as from the greater DC area.
The spirit of the meeting was reflected in the layout of the large room at the National 4-H Center where the meeting took place. Representatives sat around a rectangular table where all participants faced each other. Displayed around the room were photographs contributed by the Bread and Roses “Unseen America” project—photographs by union members trained in union-sponsored classes, reflecting their perception of working America. The SEIU Greenhouse Cultural Program also exhibited samples of its cultural work, including its 2002 Social Justice Calendar, The Shelter of Each Other. The meeting was further enriched by singing led by Matt Jones, one of the original Freedom Singers and founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commit- tee (SNCC).
The meeting was characterized by a commitment to effective process, facilitated skillfully by Ted Glick and George Friday from IPPN’s executive committee, Adrienne Maree Brown, Walda Katz-Fishman, and Jerome Scott of Project South. Project South’s toolkit provided the meeting’s most sought-after guide for nuts and bolts direction for training in organizing at the grassroots level. The entire meeting’s discussion was devoid of recrimination or destructive in-fighting. The atmosphere was both critical and constructive, with all participants deeply committed to finding common ground, identifying deficiencies and gaps in organizing strategies and defining issues. The goal was to build an alliance that was both respectful of organizational differences, but determined to work to support each group’s independent efforts and to launch effective, commonly agreed on future actions. Further evidence of the spirit of cooperation manifested in a spontaneously-created list of resources participant org- anizations pledged to share with each other.
In fact, the group felt so convinced about the imperative and the possibility of working together that they decided collectively to form a new alliance of organizations committed to joint action, inter-organization communication, publicity, education, and the launching of that solidarity in a specific action initiative. The decisions both to form UP for Democracy, a longer term organization, and to launch the initial Winter Democracy Campaign were unanimous.
Analysis of Elections
P rogressive Dialogue III commenced with four introductory statements analyzing the significance of the election, the alleged results, and the consequences for progressives as far as future organizing strategies and tactics. Ron Daniels, Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, set the stage for the weekend events. Daniels had served as deputy campaign manager for Jesse Jackson’s 1988 bid for president and as director of the National Rainbow Coalition, as well as having played a leading role in the National African American Leadership Summit and the historic Million Man March. He called for a politics of social transformation which places priority on visions and values. He spoke to a common concern expressed by participants, the need to connect broadly by using popular language to reach all communities, and to engage in mass education. He focused on the need for developing operational unity for a united movement in which race provides a critical subtext. He challenged the group to forge a third force along the lines of the Rainbow Coalition, which united many constituencies and issues and which worked on the inside and the outside of established citadels of power and authority. He saw the need for multiple tactics.
Adrienne Maree Brown, editor of How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office and director of the League of Pissed Off/Young Voters, reported on her experiences mobilizing young voters throughout the country and working with local constituencies. She noted that youth turnout increased by 9.3 percent nationwide and by 13 percent in battleground states. Like Daniels, Brown stressed that progressive organizers must pay keen attention to how they communicate. Effective organizing, observed Brown, requires listening to constituents. She noted that cultural factors, like faith and the rural existence of many voters, evaded the approach of many progressive activists. Brown also called attention to the need for progressive organizations to wean themselves from a chronic dependency on foundation money. She argued for progressives to keep heat in the street and pressure on the inside.
A third introductory statement came from activist insider Joel Segal, senior aide to Rep. John Conyers, who is one of the leaders who petitioned the General Accounting Office to investigate electoral fraud in this past election. While agreeing that progressives must mobilize their base, Segal spoke encouragingly of establishing synergistic relationships with members of Congress’s Progressive Caucus and advocated creating a vital, dynamic alliance, which could consistently flood Congress with calls and faxes on critical issues—a strategy which Segal indicated is supremely effective.
David Cobb, Green Party presidential candidate and major leader of the Ohio recount movement, spoke to the need for white progressives to become anti-racist allies. He urged an understanding of all oppressions and the need to find new ways of interacting together.
Further discussions emphasized the importance of working inside and outside the political system and the need for raising money from a broad base. Chris Pearson, of Colorado’s ThisRepublicCan, encouraged fellow progressives to speak to the concerns of people in local communities. Kathy Ozer of the National Family Farm Coalition stressed the importance of not overlooking the successes, which were achieved as a result of the mobilization of progressive forces—specifically the success in passing minimum wage laws in several states, as well as several anti-corporate initiatives.
Mandy Carter of Southerners on New Ground called attention to the unpublicized consequences of the anti-marriage equality referenda. These legal changes will adversely affect the livelihood and rights of common law married couples, those who had previously been entitled to benefits as a result of civil unions, as well as single mothers, who are frequently African American. Participants cited a need to develop a specifically Southern strategy for mobilizing support. The discussion also reflected a recognition of the importance of personal relationships in maintaining con- tinuity of operational unity.
UP for Democracy
P rogressive Dialogue III brought together for the first time representatives of the Green Party and Progressive Democrats of America, a four-month-old association of progressives from the Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean campaigns. The gathering also bridged the generational gap, linking veterans of SNCC and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party with their younger comrades from the League of Pissed Off/Young Voters, United Students Against Sweatshops, and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. Labor representatives conversed with environmentalists and feminists. Most significantly, the Progressive Dialogue demonstrated an organizational commitment to solidarity between traditionally white progressives and organizers from people of color communities. It should be noted that despite the diversity among participating organizations, those present identified clear weaknesses in representation of the people’s movement that need to be filled. At the top of UP for Democracy’s agenda will be expanding its membership to reflect the participation of Native Americans, Asian, South Asian, Arab American, and Latino activist groups.
Once the group committed to establishing UP for Democracy, the participants unanimously agreed to adopt the first ten of IPPN’s Principles of Unity (ippn.org), which pledge action to achieve people’s power (e.g., developing a society that places human needs over profit). This unifying agenda also advocates progressive unity, economic justice, economic democracy/workers rights, political democracy, human rights for all people, opposition to racism and sexism and support for equal justice, diversity and equality, peace and anti-imperialism, and a sustainable environment. In the interests of building a broad alliance, the group decided not to adopt IPPN’s 11th principle of only supporting “independent candidates and parties,” but did agree to include in a redrafted version our opposition to corporate domination of the political process and international work- ing class solidarity and action against multinational corporations.
UP for Democracy will move forward by developing its mandate within committees in the following areas: website; nominating and steering committee; action campaign; and progressive dialogue committee.
P articipants identified the need to launch a website, which would provide a clearinghouse of information for organizers and the public. The website will feature a “wins” page that will regularly report on successful campaigns, providing member organizations with a template, which would enable organizers to systematically report their experiences: communities involved, obstacles, strategies, media approaches, etc. These templates would assist organizers elsewhere to develop campaigns around similar issues in different regions. The website would also enlighten groups about critical actions, campaigns, and events of member organizations. It would be interactive, encouraging feedback from organizers and readers.
National, Regional, & Local
A second component of the work of the alliance will be the organizing of future progressive dialogues, including an annual national gathering as well as regional dialogues, which participants noted would possibly reveal different priorities in terms of a progressive agenda as well as regionally distinct challenges to organizers. The possibility of local meetings was also raised to introduce on a local level contemplation of what a democratic society entails and what needs to change for us to get there. Plans were also discussed for a special youth progressive dialogue, which, drawing on Adrienne Maree Brown’s identification of the need for mentors to youth, might invite participation of veteran activists, such as those who emerged from the civil rights era, to present a cross-generational dialogue where mutual challenges and organizing approaches could be discussed.
O f critical importance and interest to the participants was the development of action campaigns devoted to education—popular political education and attending to the problems in the country’s schools. Other issues seen as important were the need to oppose plans to privatize Social Security and to advocate for universal health care. Segal drew an analogy to Europe where the prospect of harm to one community unleashes alerts to various organized constituencies who can unite to oppose the threat and put effective collective pressure on the government and mobilize consciousness and support.
A Steering Committee
P articipants decided to set up a nomination and structure committee, which would suggest members for a steering committee and propose a method of organizational functioning to the alliance. It was agreed that the composition of the steering committee would reflect a commitment to proportionate diversity in terms of race/culture, gender, youth, and sexual orientation, as well as regional representation.
Until a broadly-based steering committee is formed, a coordinating committee was agreed on, comprised of representatives of each committee and several at-large members to strengthen positive messaging and outreach.
Progressive Dialogue III and the formation of UP For Democracy are a concrete manifestation of the real achievements within the progressive community over the last year. They reflect a maturity of vision and strategy, an understanding of the imperative of galvanizing the energy of our constituencies, and the importance of building operational unity for a long-term movement that keeps the heat in the streets and pressure on insiders.
Diane Shamis is incoming National Coordinator for IPPN. She has previously worked as a video documentarian of struggles for social justice, as a producer for the public television show, “South Africa Now,” and as an advocate for indigent defendants in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
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