In Cleveland, the DNC is discussing the Democratic Party platform. In Chicago, PDA (Progressive Democrats of America leaders are planning how to move Obama and the congress further towards the progressive point of view.
The conference started off, last night, with John Nichols reviewing some history- noting that 100 years ago, when the Democratic convention was first held in Denver, no blacks were allowed. Forty years ago, in Atlantic City, two blacks were allowed, but one state delegate leader, from Wisconsin, lead his people out to give the blacks seeking seats on the floor a place to sit down.
Now... we have Obama. We've come a long way. No-one I've spoken to here had Obama first on their list. But as Nichols said, when he speaks as the candidate-as the first black presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, we need to put aside our objections for that moment.
Much of the conversation here is about the idea that Obama needs a big in so that he feels he has the room to move so he can respond to pressure from progressives to move to the left.
Over and over again, PDA members report that their members of congress, after dealing with PDA have moved to the left. Sometimes it has involved PDA supporting an opposition candidate to run against incumbents, as Marcy Winograd ran against Jane Harmon, or it can just mean that the Dem legislators have heard from PDA leaders or locals.
I'm sitting in a session right now in which Diane Shamis is walking attendees through Issue Organizing teams, how to approach and dialogue with members of Congress. The word is that a year ago, maybe 40% of congressional dems recognized PDA, but that recently, it is very rare when a staffer in congress doesn't know PDA-and when that happens, there's usually another staffer there to fill them in.
Yesterday, in the opening session, every attendee-about 50-introduced his or herself. I kept waiting for an average, everyday introduction. It never came. The people were all extraordinary in their efforts, their work, their projects and their goals. Yes. I was impressed.
I learned in that session that a key approach PDA takes is what they call "inside out" strategy-- building connections "inside" the system, with members of congress and their staffers and outside, with the grass roots.
Tim Carpenter, as the leader of the conference has an incredible wealth of information at his fingertips and the team he works with-Steve Cobble, Tom Pallow, Diane Shamis, Laura Bonham, Mimi Kennedy, Norman Solomon each demonstrated, through the reports on their current efforts, the amazing amount of work they are doing, but more important the difference they are each making.
One of the biggest issues on the table here is Universal Single Payer Healthcare. While everyone here supports it, some advocate for federal legislation and others, led by Chuck Pennacchio of Healthcare4allPA.org , support state level legislation, with the belief that it will be faster and easier to make things happen at the state level, and that once that occurs, it will be a faster, more effective process to make it happen at the federal level. Pennacchio's group is hopeful because state governor Ed Rendell has promised that he'll sign the legislation if it reaches his desk. What Pennacchio is looking for at the federal level is enabling, bridge legislation, introduced by Bernie Sanders (S.2031) and Tammy Baldwin (HR 506) that will help fund a state level single payer startup.
Discussion of the funding for PDA led one member to say it was shameful that there was so little money. The response- the Federal election commission has found it hard to believe they've done so much with so little funding. There's evidence of an enormous amount of "sweat equity."
What's the measure of success for an organization like PDA? One is the election of politicians they support. PDA has had some success, but more failures. But even with election failures, they've seen success in moving the candidates they challenged further to the left. One attendee pointed out that in Virginia, most of their Democratic candidates lost to Republican incumbents, but those Democratic candidates helped bring out more voters who also voted for Jim Webb, which, you could say, led to the Dems winning control of the senate.
PDA celebrated its 4th birthday at this event. They have a long way to go, with plans to have chapters in every congressional district, contact information on all congressional staffers (policy, chief-of-staff, communications, etc.) They're very pleased with the recent access they've had to radio listeners, with the show Mimi Kennedy is co-hosting with Richard Green on Tuesday nights-9-11 PM Eastern.
PDA argues that it is THE organization fighting for truly progressive positions on issues. I tend to agree that they are certainly far more progressive than moveon.org and that DFA (Democracy for America,) while a great organization, focuses more on candidates than issues. There are others-Progressive Majority, Center for American Progress, campaign for America's future. They all are doing good work. But PDA is a federal PAC that cannot accept more than $5000 from an individual or group. They can't accept big, six or seven figure contributions, unlike most of the other orgs listed. They are set up that way because they are an aggressive political organization, doing the stuff that political orgs do. If you're a progressive who wants more than Rahm Emanuel's Democratic Party offers you, they're worth checking out, if nothing else for the free information they provide on their website. You may discover an organization you like and want to join and support.
Meanwhile, I'm having a ball. Imagine being in a room full of people who unanimously support AND work to advocate for ending the war, impeaching Bush, getting health care for every USA resident, dealing with global warming... Seeing this small group of committed individuals makes one believe that we-the people here, you are reading this, and I- really can change the world, as Margaret Mead observed.