Don't hope; organize
Some progressives seem to hope that President Bill Clinton, after setting
aside progressive principles for pragmatic considerations during his first
term, will reinstate them in a second term.
Those who depend upon that hope are living in denial. To paraphrase legendary
union organizer Joe Hill: "Don't hope; organize!" Clinton may
regain his progressive and populist voice, but it will only happen if candidates
who stand for social justice and economic populism are elected to back him
up in Congress.
Citizens must make a difference. That was Ralph Nader's message when he
accepted the Green Party nomination for President on Aug. 19 in Los Angeles
with a remarkable but largely unreported speech that focused on the need
to rebuild democracy and civic spirit.
"Democracy works - one of its greatest secrets - it works," he
told the crowd of several hundred, but it only works if people organize.
Democracy brought us our Constitution, it led to the abolition of slavery,
it brought the women's' right to vote and the trade union movement, among
other things, he noted.
The suffrage movement started in 1846 with six women in a farmhouse in Seneca
Falls, New York. "We often forget what a street-action movement that
was. And how they were hauled off to jail. And dragged off the street where
they were demonstrating, in downtown Washington," he said. The suffragettes
finally prevailed with a constitutional amendment in 1920.
Lately, people have brought about civil rights, environmental conservation
and consumer rights, a cause with which Nader has been identified for more
than 30 years. In California, the people became fed up with the bullying
insurance industry and collected 800,000 signatures to put Proposition 103
on the ballot in 1988 to roll back insurance rates. The industry put two
of its own initiatives on the ballot as decoys and pumped $80 million into
defeating Proposition 103, but the people prevailed. And now California
has among the lowest auto insurance rates in the country.
Next up in California is Proposition 216, the Patients Protection Act, "to
bring to bay the arrogant, profit-glutted HMO giants and hospital chains
who are now telling doctors and nurses what kind of treatments they can
and cannot give," Nader said. By the way, he likes initiative and referendum
and other tools of direct democracy.
Citizens like Lois Gibbs from Love Canal in New York started the National
Clearinghouse on Hazardous Waste, which has helped 6,000 local groups suppress
pollution of their neighborhoods, their schools, the water they drink and
the air their children breathe, he noted.
In his two-hour speech Nader discussed the decline of democracy as power
has been concentrated in the hands of a few global corporations. Those corporations
control governments and news media, mock the idea of "public"
airwaves, and now they have replaced democratic sovereignty in trade issues
with the autocratic bureaucracy of NAFTA and GATT. He discusses the need
to forge new "tools of democracy" and to rebuild civic spirit
to reverse the disintegration of the past 20 years.
[Subscribers to the Progressive Populist will receive a special section
with the text of Nader's speech in next month's issue. In the meantime,
those with Internet access can find the 15,000-word text at .]
Nader has no illusions about winning the Presidency, although the Greens
expect to be on enough state ballots to make it electorally possible, but
he thinks it is important not only to give voters an alternative this year,
but to start organizing for future elections. And if he gets 5% of the vote,
the Greens will get automatic ballot status in the next election and the
party would qualify for federal matching funds. [Contact the Nader campaign
This is not an endorsement of Nader or the Greens; progressive populists
will have to decide whether they should devote their energies toward trying
to reform the Democratic Party, which many believe is more practical than
trying to build an alternative political movement. But if you don't do the
work one way or the other, don't be surprised when somebody else does it
to you. And, as Michael Hudson of People For the American Way warns, that
somebody may be the Christian Coalition theocrats who have set their sights
on taking over the Democratic Party [see page 15].
Populists in Alliance
The Alliance, a group that has loosely organized over the past year around
the theme of limiting corporate power and other populist principles, has
finally set its founding convention for the Mo Ranch, an inexpensive resort
and conference center in the Texas Hill Country, about an hour north of
San Antonio, Nov. 21-24. The theme of the convention: "Taking Back
Our Lives and Our Democracy from Corporate Domination."
The Alliance has grown from an article Ronnie Dugger wrote in The Nation
of August 14/21, 1995 [and reprinted in the premiere Progressive Populist].
"This is a call to hope and to action, a call to reclaim and reinvent
democracy, a call to the hard work of reorganizing ourselves into a broad
national coalition," Dugger wrote, "... to reconstitute ourselves
into a smashing new national force to end corporate rule."
A year later there are three dozen independent local Alliance chapters around
the country and more are forming. Everybody is invited to the convention.
Among the featured speakers are Dugger, founding editor of the Texas Observer;
Jim Hightower; Molly Ivins; David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule
the World; Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States;
and Jane Anne Morris, corporate anthropologist and activist.
Before he wrote the Call, as it has become known, Dugger said, "The
dominant characteristic was despair among progressive populist people. I'd
say now there's a rising hope - even though it's not a short-term hope.
I'd say it's a middle-term hope that something is going to cohere and converge
from these passions - maybe in four years."
He hopes the convention will do the "bricklaying" work of creating
a democratic structure. That structure can then reconceive what a productive
economy is and how corporations can be restructured by democratic power
and action. He would like to see a constitutional amendment restructuring
the power of corporations. "We don't expect to do it in a year's time.
In the Call I said it could take four or five years. But people are taking
the movement seriously."
For more information, call the Alliance at 617-491-4221 or email CitizensAl@aol.com.
Alternative Political Movements
Among other alternative political movements, the New Party [1-800-200-1294]
is not participating in the presidential election but it is organizing at
the ground level and working on local elections and ballot issues, according
to spokesman Adam Glickman. The New Party, which has won in 94 of the 140
races in which it has been involved, is working on two congressional races
this fall, on behalf of Danny Davis, the Democratic nominee (and New Party
member) who is odds-on favorite in Chicago's inner-city 7th Congressional
District; and for Democrat Carolyn McCarthy, the housewife whose husband
was killed by a deranged gunman, in Long Island's 4th Congressional District.
The New Party also is involved in state legislative races in Wisconsin,
Minnesota, Arkansas, Illinois and New York as well as a campaign finance
initiative in Arkansas, a minimum wage initiative in Missouri, a city minimum
wage initiative in Denver and a county initiative to increase school funding
in Montgomery County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
"Generally we think most New Party members will hold their nose and
vote Democratic since there's no realistic option," Glickman said.
"We need to re-elect Clinton and win back the House, but we need to
build a progressive party for the year 2000 and 2004. Over time we can help
determine choices," he said.
He added that fusion - where a smaller party endorses a candidate from another
party - "is a big part of our tactic, but we don't want to limit ourselves
to that. ... Where progressive Democrats are willing to help build our organization
we'll help them and fuse with them. Where there aren't, we'll run our own
Glickman said the New Party works with other alternative movements, such
as the Labor Party and the Green Party, where it can. "At the same
time, it's important for other progressive groups to realize the difference
between what they're doing and what we're doing," he said. "We're
a mainly metropolitan, multi-racial and working-class organization and we're
interested in running candidates now. We want to be a party of labor, but
not just of labor. There are real differences in strategy and program and
style that makes it difficult, although over time as we all grow and overlap
hopefully we'll come together into one substantial independent political
The Labor Party [202-234-5190] at its founding convention this past June
decided not to get not involved in electoral politics this year, but national
organizer Tony Mazzochi said the national council has laid out its priorities,
which include pursuit of a constitutional guarantee of jobs at liveable
wages. "Our goal is to train 1,000 trainers in the next few months,"
Mazzochi said, but he conceded that will probably have to wait until after
The Independent Progressive Politics Network [718-524-7807], is working
on coalition-building and has signed up 40 candidates for its national slate
of independent progressive candidates. The candidates run the gamut from
school boards to Congress and include members of the Green, Peace and Freedom,
Socialist USA and other independent parties, with support from local chapters
of the New Party and the Alliance. Delegates to the network's conference
in Atlanta this past April had mixed views on the presidential race, so
that has been left up to individuals, according to Ted Glick. "Our
main focus is in supporting local candidates as well as supporting other
progressive activities," such as the Latino March on Washington set
for Oct. 12 [Details at 213-268-8472]; Indigenous People's Day (Columbus
Day) Oct. 12-14 [718-643-9603]; the Million Man March on Washington Oct.
16 [202-726-5111]; and National Jobs for All Week Oct. 16-23 [212-870-3449].
"What we're doing us groundwork," Glick said. "We think there's
reason to believe that connections have been built and strengthened and
the idea of an independent slate ... is not unrealistic by the year 2000."
The work starts now.
-- Jim Cullen
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