Synthesis/Regeneration 11   (Fall 1996)

A Personal Report from the Independent Progressive People's Summit

by Sue Nelson, Los Angeles Greens

On April 14, 1996, the Independent Progressive People's Summit (IPPS) adopted an organizational structure and principles of unity creating the Independent Progressive Politics Network (IPPN). The Summit gathered at Atlanta's Clark University, a historic site of the civil rights movement, but now a very straight place, very polite and middle class. In contrast, the IPPN meeting consisted of representatives from 22 states and Washington, DC, and attempted to strengthen a progressive message for the nineties.

The conference might be best described as a hopeful and energetic party movement in transition.

The Campaign for A New Tomorrow, California Green Party, New York Green Party, Committees of Correspondence, Peace and Freedom Party of California, Socialist Workers Party, and Democratic Socialists of America were among the group represented. However, it failed to draw out Atlanta or the southern contingent, and the conference might be best described as a hopeful and energetic party movement in transition.

Ted Glick, a long-time progressive organizer, opened the meeting. The Greens/Green Party USA (G/GPUSA), holding one quarter of the IPPN Board seats, led the discussion of party development and the third party coalition. Howie Hawkins pushed for and won approval for a 25 member steering committee and principles of unity. Muriel Tillinghast, staff and chief fund-raiser, presented the IPPN million dollar pledge campaign and the goal of developing a third party by the year 2000. The Greens, in contrast, called for immediate party formation and support for a presidential candidate in 1996.

More than 100 people attended meeting sessions, consisting of a variety or speakers. While people directed their ideas to real social change within the context of electoral politics, key concepts were missing. The discussion of electoral organizing assumed societal dislocation and counterrevolution without defining their context. There was little analysis and history of the late seventies and eighties, except to make reference to the obvious growing disparity between the rich and poor. The counterattacks on gains made by working-class, women, and minority communities, the rise of the far right, the marginalization and co-optation of Jesse Jackson, union adherence to the Democratic Party, the continued disinvestment in the urban core, the importance of the environmental movement, the impact of Reaganomics of the federal budget—these important issues simply did not make the agenda. I did not hear much about campaign reform either. Key uniting issues of the nineties, such as the environment, education, women and children, were muted in favor of a banquet of ideal proposals. This is unfortunate, because, in this period, with the disappearance of the left, opposition to corporate exploitation has come from ordinary people, most often housewives organized around single issues.

A young, articulate, desperate woman finding her way to the Summit reported to the plenary that she was middle class, trained, out of work, out of money, with no transportation, no affordable safe child care, and two children to support. That said it all.

The highlight of the Summit was the people, especially those from the Campaign for a New Tomorrow. The progressive black community was impressive. The million man march was criticized by some as a reactionary step backward. In the women's caucus, class politics of feminism was criticized, but not simply dismissed as a white women's issue. Consensus came over fighting back in the war against women and children, against the vicious racism in the 104th Congress, and against the Clinton Administration's compliance on cutbacks in health care and welfare. A lively meeting of the Labor Caucus carried a spirited discussion of the hope of new forms of organizing. The threat of part time work, runaway companies and demands for full rights for working people created a consensus for future action.

Yet, with all the goodwill and intelligence present at the meeting, IPPN does not have a progressive response to the present dilemma caused by globalization and loss of the welfare state. Barriers to organizing, such as the contractions between mass media promoted middle class lifestyle and the underlying war against women and minorities, were not explored. Emphasis was upon utopian documents without an action plan.

Jesse Jackson would have been the chosen candidate of this group, but he has not accepted the Third Party challenge for 1996. Ralph Nader, who agreed to run, came under strong criticism, mainly for his failure to take a visible stand on civil rights. Walt Sheasby, of California, presented evidence of Nader's long standing support for organized labor, but this did not mollify skeptics. The black community, for the most part, watching in horror as the lid come down, continues to believe in Jesse Jackson, as does the white progressive community. The presence of icons, I believe, limits analysis.

A meeting of the conference Presidential Elections Caucus included presentations by the Socialist Workers as well as the Socialist Parties. The former stated that its principal interest was in international politics, especially China; in the case of the Socialists, their candidates were not there.

A good sized contingent of Nader supporters captured the discussion. Nader's ideas and reforms, if enacted, would benefit the working class and minority communities and help us to break up a racist, sexist, and corporate-controlled agenda. Attempts to open electoral politics are being tested nationally as Greens in various states attempt to qualify the party and Nader for the November elections. These efforts may bring the formation of a more just electoral process, if nothing else. Nader would appear to be an opportunity of some, a small reasonable voice. He is not a traditional politician; he appears not to be a traditional candidate. Reminding me of Jerry Brown's 1992 campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, he seems unwilling to participate at the local level with grassroots action, while talking a lot about collective citizen action. This contradiction plagues his campaign, and there was no endorsement from the IPPN meeting.

Link to the Common Platform of the National Slate of Independent Progressive Candidates (in this issue of S/R)

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