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 at 1-888-623-3796.]

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 candidates. ..."

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 force."

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 elections.

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

Home Page

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 1995-1996 The Progressive Populist