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A Radiant Message, Two Beautiful Forms and the Backbone Campaign

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Message Diane Wittner

By Diane Wittner, May 29 2008

Progressives belong to a propositional movement
with the leaders and ideas to run the country.

Progressive Cabinet homepage, Backbone Campaign


The other week I was talking on the phone to an activist friend from London. He asked me if the left in this country understood that it is possible to construct a ‘dual path’ in order to shape policy through electoral politics. He explained to me that the Communist Party in Britain in the last generation had made a strategic decision to do two things at once: work to strengthen and influence the Labor Party while simultaneously maintaining its ideals for long-term systemic change.

My friend said that the Labor Party owed much of its subsequent popularity to the influence of the Communist Party. We then spoke about Scandinavian social democracies as useful models, new challenges to the left, and how the words 'communist' and 'socialist' had become problematic in light of 20th century events.

We then admitted that we leftists often are more adept at highlighting differences amongst ourselves rather than commonalities.

I told my friend that I knew of a potential ‘dual path’ perfectly suited for leftists, or progressives, in the US in 2008: the Backbone Campaign’s Progressive Cabinet.

In Atlanta, on June 26, 2007, the Backbone Campaign convened the first-ever Progressive Cabinet Summit, one day prior to the US Social Forum. This small Seattle-based group put all its resources into organizing this ground-breaking event: round the clock time, personnel, materials, and all its funds.

In the months leading up to the Summit, I witnessed preparation via telephone conference calls (I live on the east coast). As a member of the Summit organizing team, I also received copies of one hundred twenty email invitations from my colleagues at the Backbone Campaign. Though other obligations prevented me from assisting with the grueling daily tasks of organizing, still I was given the opportunity to help develop a parallel government event that had been lodged in my dreams since 2000.

I had already worked with folks at the Backbone Campaign. For two years with Executive Director Bill Moyer, I had co produced 61 hour-long Progressive Cabinet interviews called Conversations with the Cabinet. The first sixty-one Conversations are archived online, and downloads are free. If you listen, you'll discover that we built an excellent foundation for the Progressive Cabinet project.

Progressive Government ( founder Dal LaMagna is to be commended for his early support of this work.

Today, this exciting project continues with a new and vibrant team; sign up to be notified of new Conversations

Some of the Conversations on developing an effective progressive movement have clarity, poignancy and a poetic quality. And a young radio producer once described some of our policy Conversations as “wonky.” As an artist and writer, I was new to this kind of work, and I considered that description to be a compliment. We were indeed achieving our objective: to discover our country’s diverse leaders and gather from them, in audio form, their nation-healing policy ideas.

Some Progressive Cabinet nominees:

Jim Hightower for Department of Agriculture
Dolores Huerta, Ruth Rosenbaum and Bill Fletcher for Department of Labor
Howard Zinn, Jonathon Kozol and Eric Cooper for Department of Education
Lester Brown for Department of Sustainability
Winona LaDuke for Department of the Interior
Stephen Zunes (Middle Eastern affairs), Emira Woods (African affairs), Noam Chomsky, Anthony Arnove for State Department
Chuck Spinney, Chalmers Johnson for Department of Defense
Judy Wicks and Amy Domini for Departments of Commerce and Treasury

My experience - both in co-hosting the interviews and in consulting for the Summit - was evidence of the Backbone Campaign emboldening citizens (like myself) as well as leaders 'to stand up for our future.'

As for the Summit, forty-five people participated in the event. And a few Progressive Cabinet nominees and other leaders who joined us:

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Diane Wittner is an art instructor and director of Chesapeake Citizens. She is former coproducer of the Backbone Campaign's progressive parallel government interview series "Conversations with the Cabinet (
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