Unity in Diversity



Over the weekend of May 2-4,
1997, 150 people from over 90 organizations and from 19
states, the District of Columbia, and Mexico attended the
National Independent Politics Summit/97 in Decatur, Illinois.

This was the third Summit in
the last 21 months organized by the Independent Progressive
Politics Network (IPPN). From its inception the IPPN has had
several distinguishing characteristics: the IPPN has been a
multi-racial organization with significant leadership from
people of color and a commitment to fighting racism, mainly
because the people of color-based Campaign for a New Tomorrow
(CNT) has been an initiating force in the organizing. Other
initiating organizations which share this perspective are the
Greens/Green Party, USA, the National Committee for
Independent Political Action, and the Peace and Freedom
Party. Without the commitment made by these four
organizations, the IPPN would not exist.

The IPPN has been unique in its
consistent work to reach out to and attempt to involve all of
the main national third party or independent groups in a
unified effort.

The IPPN has been explicit
about supporting the building of organizational bases and
candidates independent of both the Democratic and the
Republican parties. The 1996 National Slate of Independent
Progressive Candidates brought together 65 candidates; all
except two ran on a "third party" line or in
non-partisan elections.

Finally, the IPPN has brought
together at its national Summits a range of diverse
organizations—labor, people of color, women,
lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/ queer, youth/ student, Black worker,
welfare rights, populist, community-based, socialist,
farmer/rural—without their having to submerge their
identities. "Unity in diversity" certainly fits as
a description of the IPPN.

The Decatur Summit was
different from the first two in a number of ways. Most
significant was the rank-and-file labor involvement that was
much in evidence in Decatur. The IPPN has had connections to
there since the 1995 Pittsburgh Summit. In 1995 a coalition
of 25 Decatur unions successfully elected a trade union
activist to the city council and helped defeat a
pro-corporate, anti-labor mayor. In November 1995 three out
of four candidates running for School Board on a pro-labor
slate won office as voter turnout doubled from the election
several years earlier. This combination of militant labor
action and independent labor electoral activity was an
important IPPN model.

A high point of the May event
was a panel on the "Lessons of Decatur" with
speakers from the Staleys, Caterpillar, and Bridge-
stone/Firestone struggles, as well as from the local
Teamsters and AFSCME unions. One key lesson was the
importance of the labor movement being true to the old union
slogan, "an injury to one is an injury to all."
Another lesson, articulated by former Staley worker Lorell
Patterson, is the need for labor movement support for
community organizations so that labor and community groups
can learn to work together.

Summit/97 included a five-hour
Mini-Institute on Proportional Representation (PR) &
Public Financing of Elections, as well as 14 workshops,
including Building Labor/Community Alliances, Dealing With
Sexism/Building a Healthy Process, Third Parties Working
Together, Working with Progressive Democrats, Campaign for
Family Farms and the Environment, Involving Young People in
the Independent Political Movement, Living Wage Campaigns,
Nuts and Bolts of Independent Electoral Campaigns, Dealing
with Racism and Building Multi-Racial Unity, Fund-Raising
Strategies, and Labor Law Reform.

Speakers included Larry
Solomon, former President of United Auto Workers Local 751,
Mike Griffin of the War Zone Education Foundation, Claire
Cohen of the Campaign for a New Tomorrow, Kwazi Nkrumah,
co-convenor of the Greens/Green Party, USA, Roger Bybee of
Wisconsin Citizen Action, Gwen Patton of Project South, Rob
Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy, Veronica
Menesis of the National Farmworker Ministry, Mike Ferner,
former independent city councilperson from Toledo, Ohio,
Karen Kubby, socialist city councilperson from Iowa City,
Iowa, and Sheila Garland-Olaniran representing the National
Welfare Rights Union.

One of the positive things
about Decatur was the number of young people present. This
was due in part to outreach by the IPPN as well as the
growing involvement of young people in progressive politics.

The Decatur Summit passed a
number of resolutions, including endorsements of the June 21
national march in support of the striking newspaper workers
in Detroit and the Labor Party’s campaign to amend the
Constitution to guarantee a living wage job for all
Americans. It elected a new National Steering Committee and
affirmed its intention to organize another National Slate of
Independent Progressive Candidates.

As positive as the Decatur
Summit was, the truth is that the movement for a political
alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties has by
no means gotten it all together. First, neither the New Party
nor the Labor Party sent official representatives to Decatur,
despite invitations to do so. However, several leading
members and prominent supporters of the Labor Party are on
the IPPN Advisory Committee and six Labor Party chapters were
represented at Decatur. The Wisconsin New Progressive Party,
the New Party’s largest local group is affiliated with
the IPPN, and Progressive Minnesota, another New Party
chapter, designated a representative.

One reason for the existence of
four third party national groups has to do with constituency
differences. The Greens are primarily based in the
environmental movement, the CNT in communities of color, the
New Party in community organizations, particularly ACORN, and
the Labor Party in the trade union movement. Although all of
them go beyond those primary constituencies, some more than
others, there are histories, styles of work and political
differences which impact upon the possibilities for unity.

There has been some reluctance,
apparently, on the part of the New and the Labor Party to
become involved because of a view that the IPPN doesn’t
have the resources to become a serious political force. Yes,
IPPN has limited resources, but we are not trying to compete
with existing third party groups. We are trying to help build
a network, not a new organization, that links existing groups
and individuals who want to build a unified progressive
alternative to the two parties.

Finally, there are strategic
and tactical differences in relationship to electoral
activity that affect the possibility for unity. In 1992 Ron
Daniels, leader of the CNT, ran as an independent candidate
for president. A number of Green Party groups supported his
candidacy, but neither the New Party nor what was then Labor
Party Advocates did. In 1996 the Greens ran Ralph Nader as an
independent presidential candidate; neither the New Party nor
the Labor Party supported this effort. The New Party has
focused on supporting candidates at local levels, a number of
them Democrats, most of them running in non-partisan
elections, with very few running on a third party line. The
Greens, on the other hand, believe that the New Party’s
"fusion" approach toward the Democratic Party is,
in their words, "confusion" and have run in
national and local elections as forget-the-Democrats Greens.

At the Labor Party founding
convention in Cleveland last June, the issue of whether to
run candidates generated a great deal of debate and
behind-the-scenes maneuvering. This led to a compromise which
postponed the decision until 1998.

The winner-take-all U.S.
electoral system has affected every third party effort down
through history, making it very difficult for a new party to
gather sufficient energy and a critical mass of electoral
victories to become a major force. It is not the only reason
for the Left’s weakness in this
country—institutionalized racism, government repression
and the co-optation of much of organized labor have certainly
had a big role to play—but it is certainly the primary
electoral reason.

What if a common project was
developed to unify the different third party and independent
politics groups on a local or state basis to mount campaigns
in 1998 and 1999 to change electoral systems to some form of
proportional representation? What if, in the year 2000,
either by the emergence of an independent presidential
candidate who could command the support of all of our groups,
or by the dramatic enlargement of an all-parties-developed
National Slate of Independent Progressive Candidates such
that there were a thousand or more independent candidates
signed on, this issue of proportional representation, as well
as the many other pressing survival and policy issues, were
thrust forward in a major way into the national debate?

There is historic precedent for
this. In New Zealand, from 1991 to 1993, five small political
parties came together to form the New Zealand Alliance. Their
first common project was a national referendum to change New
Zealand’s electoral system to a form of proportional
representation. As a result of their victory in 1993, the
Alliance holds over 10 percent of the seats in Parliament
and, with the Labour Party, forms the chief opposition to the

We are not going to get a
national system of proportional representation by the year
2000, or even 2004. But if all of the third party groups
begin to talk together now about the possibilities for joint
collaboration on an on-going campaign to change the U.S.
electoral system, maybe by the turn of the century we’ll
have a U.S. alliance of our own.


Ted Glick is the National
Coordinator of the IPPN. Some of the analysis here is his and
not the collectively-developed IPPN position. Contact the
IPPN at PO Box 170610, Brooklyn, NY 11217; 718-624-7807; fax
718-643-8265; indpol@ igc.apc.org; www.ippn.org