New Organization, "Progressive Democrats of America" Emerges After Democratic Convention
Far from the razor-wire capped protest prison in the shadow of the flag-bedecked Boston Fleet Center, progressive activists shared center stage with their Democratic Party champions before a crowd of 1,000 at the Roxbury Community College Gymnasium.
The occasion was a founding conference for a new organization, the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) (www.pdamerica.org) which vows to build a sustained movement to transform the Democratic Party into a force for social justice and environmental sanity.
Referring to the event in Roxbury and Tuesday's "Building the Peace Movement" Forum at the Boston Paulist Center, which was attended by a standing room only crowd of over 400 and was featured in a New York Times article, (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/28/politics/campaign/28left.html),
Tim Carpenter, a former Kucinich Campaign staffer and the new Director of the PDA said, "Support for serious, sustained progressive effort to transform the Democratic Party is striking a real chord - both with rank and file Party activists, progressive activists and with the media." Asked about PDA's potential to influence those leaning toward supporting veteran consumer advocate Ralph Nader's independent candidacy or that of Green Party nominee, David Cobb, Carpenter said, "In 2000 Ralph Nader hit the Democratic donkey on the head with a sledge hammer. For all the pain and dissention that caused, history may ultimately record it as an invaluable wake-up call. We hope to prove to our Nader and Green friends before November, that enough Democrats are now awake - that the notion of working to transform the Party after electing John Kerry is an idea whose time has come."
Cheered by an enthusiastic Kucinich and "Deaniac" crowd, the activists discussed the issues, talked strategy, and vowed to "keep the heat in the street." Medea Benjamin, the founder of Global Exchange and co-founder of Code Pink and Cynthia Peters of United for Peace and Justice brought a global perspective, Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner of the Green Rainbow Party brought it home in concrete Boston terms in concert with the Fund the Dream campaign. Granny D. Haddock talked about the need for activists to provide political help for people in need. Jim Zogby of the Arab-American Institute described the challenges of even talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the Democratic Party. Tom Andrews, former congressman (D-ME) and leader of Win Without War described his campaign efforts. And actors Mimi Kennedy (Dharma and Greg) and Jaimie Cromwell (Babe) leant their own experience and perspective as progressives in Hollywood.
The task of providing context fell to veteran political activist Tom Hayden, who provided a nuanced history of progressive activism in America. Hayden revisited the abolition movement, the women's, labor, and civil rights movements, quoted Frederick Douglass, Abigail Adams, and recalled the actions of more and lesser-known activists. Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy, said Hayden, were each examples of Presidents who were led to greatness by riding the wave of great social movements of their day. Hayden urged the crowd to support John Kerry - and to vow to build, after his election, a great movement of social activism that would carry him in its wake. Perhaps one of the most warmly received history lessons in modern political history, the audience responded with a standing and sustained ovation that ebbed only to rebuild into a raucus United Farm Worker rhythmic clap that brought a tear to the eye of the grizzled veteran of the Freedom Rides, Students for a Democratic Society, the Chicago riots, the Chicago 8 Trial, and years of Democratic Party activism and office.
"Dean" of the Congressional Black Caucus, John Conyers (D-MI,) was first up among the elected officials. Outlining his perspective on the important differences between Kerry and Bush, he called upon activists to employ
strategies that do not alienate future progressives. The other "Dean" -
former Vermont Governor Howard Dean - appeared to particularly enjoy himself and reprised his trademark empowerment-focused stump speech, which was very well received by an admiring crowd. A kinetic Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) delivered a spirited and effective variation on his campaign stemwinder, futher energizing the crowd. Later Kucinich's Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Rep Barbara Lee (D-CA) was warmly received by an already exhausted crowd, who particularly appreciated her presentation of the "Hip Hop Agenda," written by young people and focusing on empowerment; the elimination of poverty and racism; the provision of quality health care and education for all, an end to police brutality, environmental degradation and racism and more.
But not all the Democrats presenting were nationally known, a panel moderated by Kevin Spidel of Progressive Vote, (www.progressivevote.org) which included Laura Bohlen, an organizer of the Utah Progressive Democratic Caucus; http://www.udpc.org/ Laura Bluebauh, Delegate Coordinator for the Kucinich Campaign, and Ralph Miller of Latinos for America, http://latinola.fordean.net/.
Finally, John Norris, National Field Director of the Kerry/Edwards Campaign, briefed the crowd on the theory and practice of Kerry/Edwards efforts to identify and target undecided voters, to persuade them to support the
Democratic Ticket, and to mobilize them and others on November 2nd. Warmly
if not enthusiastically received by a crowd toting a bobbing sea of the same anti-war in Iraq and single-payer health care signs his Campaign had banned from the floor of the Fleet Center, Norris encouraged those assembled to commit to working with the Kerry effort to oust Bush - and promising that this time a grassroots infrastructure would be left behind.
Joe Libertelli, a founding Board member of the PDA, has been an environmental and social justice grassroots activist and organizer, primarily in California and Washington DC , since the late 70s. He served as Coordinator for the Campaign for a DC School of Law and now serves as Director of Alumni Affairs for the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law in Washington , DC , a multi-racial, clinically-oriented, public, public interest law school (www.law.udc.edu)