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. 



Participants 



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 

  • ThisRepublicCAN 

  • 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. 



Website 



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. 



Action
Campaigns 



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.