"It is the worst of times, and it is the best of times." With these words Victoria Jackson Gray-Adams described the context within which 45 leaders from the independent progressive politics movement met for a weekend of "progressive dialogue" December 4-5 in Washington, D.C. As Vickie elaborated, it is the worst of times because of the massive injustice, oppression and poverty, the destruction of the environment, the continuing dangers of nuclear devastation and all the other crises we are faced with today. Yet, it is the best of times because there are signs of hope, people organized, organizing and acting to change those conditions, the most recent, and historic, example being the labor/youth/environmental/human rights/direct action coalition in Seattle which blew the cover and shook the foundations of the imperial World Trade Organization.
The Progressive Dialogue was a meeting called by Elaine Bernard, Noam Chomsky, Bob Clark, Ron Daniels, Angela Davis, Victoria J. Gray-Adams, Manning Marable, Miya Yoshitani, Baldemar Velasquez and Howard Zinn. It was organized as a collaborative effort between these individual conveners and a task force of IPPN which worked with them to do the necessary outreach, planning and logistical work.
Invited were representatives of national and state progressive third parties, as well as individuals who are national leaders of organizations, or with a national constituency or prominence, who support independent political action. In order to maximize the possibilities for substantive dialogue, the number of people invited was limited to about 85. Forty-five attended and many of those who couldn't 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/transgender activists, people of faith, people's lawyers, popular educators and anti-corporate activists.
The meeting's 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 Saturday evening of what took place out on the streets on "shutdown Tuesday." One decision of the meeting during its final session was to draft a statement from this gathering to send to the organizers of the various Seattle protest actions indicating our profound and grateful 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 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.
We also began to identify other groups and key constituencies not present over the weekend to invite to be part of this on-going process of dialogue and development.
And a subcommittee was authorized to begin exploration of a national people's convention in the future, the specific time to be determined, bringing together the sum total of our independent progressive politics movement, thousands of people, to discuss and adopt a common platform for the 21st century, showcase and highlight positive electoral and non-electoral organizing around the country on the part of all of our groups, 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 people's movement that has been the case for 25 years or more.
One weakness that was discussed to some extent, 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 issue, that 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, to develop as activists and assume leadership roles.
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, particularly as far as low-income people. We need to make conscious efforts, including fund-raising to cover travel and other costs, to change that.
Finally, 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 dominated, two-party electoral system has much to do with this problem, and proportional representation is a critical electoral reform.
The IPPN was empowered by the body to follow-up on the decisions made in collaboration with the conveners and those people from the meeting who volunteered to work on different tasks. This process has begun.
There was discussion of possible regional meetings. These will happen to the extent to which participants in the meeting, or those invited and not present, come forward to take the initiative to plan them, in coordination and with the support of the body as a whole.
At a time and place still to be determined, it is likely that there will be a follow-up national meeting. This will be determined by the success of the follow up on the decisions made December 4-5, as well as the extent to which the Dialogue participants, invitees and new invitees indicate their commitment to this process.
It is the worst of times; it is the best of times. It was an historic meeting; we are struggling to transcend our history.
Ted Glick is national coordinator of Independent Progressive Politics Network, P.O. Box 1041, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003; 973-338-5398 (t), 338-2210 (f), www.ippn.org