Friday, December 23, 2005

Calls for a Progressive Majority


Harry Targ, Professor Department of Political Science, Purdue

Over 100 activists, including 20 speakers on five panels, from the
labor, anti-racist, peace, women’s, and socialist movements met to
talk about “Building A Progressive Majority” on Saturday, December 10
at the SEIU 1199 meeting hall on 42nd street in New York City. The
event was sponsored and organized by The Committees of Correspondence
Education Fund.

Although difficult “how to do it” questions remain, attendees
agreed with Leslie Cagan, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ)
coordinator, that the Left must make every effort to help build a
broad Left/Center coalition that connects issues of peace and justice.
Cagan underscored that this means mobilizing Left forces and taking
Center voices seriously.

Carl Bloice, freelance journalist and member of the National
ExecutiveCommittee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy
and Socialism (CCDS), agreed that Left/Center unity is a necessity
to fight war, racism, and poverty.

He stressed that three pitfalls needed to be avoided. First, Left
and progressive activists should not forget that the system is in
crisis because of the growing anger and activism of masses of people.
(Frances Fox Piven, Professor, City University of New York, on the
same panel documented the connection between mass protest and
progressive public policy in the history of the United States).Second,
activists must avoid factionalism on issues and ideology. And
third,progressives must be prepared to challenge the "2006 betrayal of
the Democrats," that is they must reject the Democratic Leadership
Council Democrats who embrace the war in Iraq and cuts in social

Fighting racism and white supremacy is central to the possibility of
creating a progressive majority, added Damu Smith, Black Voices for
Peace. Addressing the racist corporate/government response to the
devastation of Hurricane Katrina “is a litmus test for the progressive
movement.” If there is to be a movement, it must incorporate the
efforts of grassroots groups from the Gulf region who are trying to
regain control of their lives and property from government. “Katrina
did not hit New Orleans”, Smith said, “FEMA hit New Orleans.”
Reinforcing Smith, Chuck Turner, Boston City Councilman, issued a
challenge to the peace movement to address the connections between the
military-industrial complex and the lack of resources for the African
American community.

Manning Marable, Professor, Columbia University, referred to the “New
Racial Domain,” a global political economy driven by transnational
capitalism and state- enforced neo-liberal policies that rests “on
mass unemployment, mass incarceration, and mass disenfranchisement.”
Each of these is related to the other two. Millions of dispossessed
poor and people of color at home and abroad are increasingly
marginalized at the same time that global capital seeks to privatize
every institution and natural resource in the service of profit.

Elizabeth Rothschild, National Organizer, Young Democratic
Socialists, also highlighted the relationship between struggling
against racism and building a progressive majority. In addition, she
related capitalism to racism, sexism, and the threat to democracy.
“Capitalism is an undemocratic global system of power distribution
that reinforces and reproduces and exacerbates racism and sexism.”
Democracy “can only be attained when we challenge capitalist
production-because democracy cannot be had in a system which requires
massive poverty.” She outlined the ways in which the system was
tormenting youth:college costs are rising, student loans are
declining, jobs are scarce for youth at all educational levels, and
wages are low. For thousands of youth, military service, is the only
remaining option.

The importance of rebuilding a trade union movement that comes from
the grassroots was emphasized by Charles Ensley, President, Social
Service Employees Union, Local 371, AFSCME and Bill Henning, Vice
President, Communications Workers of America, Local 1180. Henning
spoke of the influence of United States Labor Against the War (USLAW)
on the recently endorsed AFL-CIO resolution opposing the Iraq war.
Ensley made it clear that labor has resources, human and financial, to
participate in a progressive coalition.

Michael Honey Professor and labor historian, connected the
anti-racistmovement of the 1960s to poor and working class movements
of that day.He recalled that Dr. King was marching in solidarity with
Memphis sanitation workers at the time when he was assassinated. The
assassination occurred just days before the start of the Poor People’s
Campaign mobilization in Washington D.C. Honey suggested that a
progressive majority today can build on the 1960s tradition, linking
class, race, and gender.

In an inspiring keynote address, Amy Goodman, host and producer of
Democracy Now, described the pain and suffering of Iraqi’s caused by
the war and the fate of victims of the Gulf Coast hurricane. She
compared the realities on the ground with the character of media
coverage of these events. She credited some journalists with more
accurate coverage of Hurricane Katrina compared with the pro-U.S.
military coverage in Iraq. The difference, she suggested, resulted
from the fact that journalists were “embedded” in Iraq and somewhat
independent of government and military control in Louisiana and
Mississippi. She insisted that progressives should work to build an
independent media.

In the closing session, Charlene Mitchell, Co-Chair, CCDS,
talked about the need for Left dialogue and action in this period of
economic and political crisis. She said that people are angry and
activists from the labor, anti-racist, peace, and socialist movements
have an obligation to come together to help build a progressive
movement based on an understanding of the connections between class,
race, and gender.. The Symposium was important to begin the
conversation, she suggested. Now it was time to move toward activism.

Envisioning some next steps, Joseph Wilson, Professor and Director,
Center for Worker Education, CUNY, recommended that a national
convention be called to launch the creation of a new national
progressive coalition. He called for energies to be channeled toward
the construction of radical think tanks to generate ideas for
progressive social change. Finally, he endorsed the idea of recreating
a progressive media, print and electronic, to better inform potential
participants in a new progressive majority.

Symposium participants left energized by the presentations and
dialogue, and expressed their support for the building of a “new
progressive coalition."

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