“The IPPN gathering in Washington DC was one of the most constructive and positive meetings that I have attended in decades, with leaders of the progressive movement who attended the meeting working together and building strategic alliances in a soulful and cooperative manner. The newly formed United Progressives For Democracy can be instrumental in stopping the right wing’s conservative agenda. There must be a powerful grassroots movement, like Solidarity in Poland or the ANC in South Africa, right here in the USA, if we are going to have the political strength needed to get the progressive agenda implemented in this country–universal health care, full employment, affordable housing for all, and affordable and quality education. We look forward to working with such a promising initiative.” Joel Segal, Senior Advisor to Congressman John Conyers
While some disappointed voters were still hanging their heads in despair, musing about concessions in the face of the defeat of John Kerry, representatives of over forty-five progressive groups gathered in Washington, D.C. on December 4-5, 2004 for IPPN’s Progressive Dialogue III – a working session to figure out how diverse organizations can 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 just one month after the elections. The gathering, the third annual dialogue hosted by IPPN, gave birth to new alliance, United Progressives for Democracy (UP for Democracy). UP for Democracy is about building a vital and effective, multi-cultural organizing force which links Greens and other third party proponents, progressive Democrats and independent activists. It is about connecting struggles in urban and rural areas, focusing strongly on racism and genuine solidarity between white progressives and organizers of color, and being rooted in values which operate politically to improve the lives of working people and the disenfranchised.
Winter Democracy Campaign
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 recent 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 Congressman 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 concluded; a grassroots campaign urging Congresspeople and Senators to vote on January 6th for a special Congressional discussion of election abuses in Ohio and elsewhere; and counter-inaugural activities in Washington and around the country.
This 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 of the HipHop Summit Action Network, Fred Azcarate of Jobs with Justice, Kim Gandy of the National Organization for Women, Cameron Barron of the Black Radical Congress, Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange and CodePink, Adrienne Maree Brown of the League of Pissed off Voters, Ron Daniels of the Center for Constitutional Rights, David Cobb and Pat LaMarche, Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates of the Green Party, and Kevin Spidel, Alysia Fischer and Tim Carpenter of Progressive Democrats of America. Other organizations represented included Military Families Speak Out, Project South, Southerners on New Ground, the WV Mountain Party, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, the Greenhouse Cultural Program, This RepublicCAN, the National Family Farm Coalition, PowerU Center, the Center for Voting and Democracy, the Havens Center/U. of Wisconsin, United for Peace and Justice, Beyond Voting, Institute for Policy Studies, 2004 Racism Watch, D.C. Anti-War Network,Veterans for Peace, Truth in Elections, United Students Against Sweatshops, Committee on Indigenous Solidarity, the Baltimore Algebra Project and the Carolina Peace Resource Center. Other participants included representatives from the offices of Representatives John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich and 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 D.C. area.
Collaboration, Consensus and Action Plans
The spirit of the meeting was reflected in the layout of the large room at the National 4-H Center in which the meeting was held. Representatives sat around a rectangular table so that all participants faced each other. Displayed around the participants were photographs of working people contributed by the Bread and Roses “Unseen America” project and the SEIU Greenhouse Cultural Program. The entire meeting’s discussion was devoid of recrimination or destructive infighting. 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 which was both respectful of organizational differences but determined to work to both support each group’s independent efforts as well as to launch effective, commonly agreed upon future actions. Further evidence of this spirit of cooperation was a spontaneously created list of resources participant organizations pledged to share with each other.
UP for Democracy will move forward by developing its mandate within committees, set up in the following areas: website; nominating and structure of steering committee; action campaign committee; and progressive dialogue committee.
The participants immediately 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 which would regularly report on successful local and other 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.
Importantly, those present acknowledged the need for the coalition to connect those without access to cyberspace, to bridge the digital divide. Suggestions were made to make materials available through local libraries.
National, Regional & Local Progressive Dialogues
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 requires and what needs to change for us to get there. Plans were also discussed for a special youth progressive dialogue which, drawing upon 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.
The Action Campaign committee will contemplate various areas around which member organizations can launch joint efforts. UP for Democracy’s first action campaign is the Winter Democracy Campaign, which emerged out of a unanimous agreement on the need to deal with the immediate voter disenfranchisement crisis, while the 10-point Voter Bill of Rights was seen as a way to merge disparate aspects of on-going electoral reform organizing such as public financing, redistricting, electronic voting machines, eliminating the electoral college, instant runoff voting, etc. Of 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 for universal health care. Joel Segal, Senior Aide to Rep. Conyers, drew an analogy to Europe where the prospect of harm to one community unleashes alerts to various organized constituencies who can converge in unity to oppose the threat and put effective collective pressure on the government.
Nomination & Structure -Selecting a Steering Committee
Participants 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 was formed, a coordinating committee was agreed upon, 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. In Joel Segal’s words, it is “a promising initiative.”
(This is excerpted from a longer report that can be viewed at IPPN’s website, www.ippn.org)
Diane Shamis is IPPN’s incoming National Coordinator. She has previously worked as a documentarian of struggles for social justice, as a producer at “South Africa Now,” and as an advocate for indigent defendants in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. She has actively provided support to initiatives to empower youth in New York City and to people’s movements for economic and political justice and democracy in various communities for over two decades.