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"Progressives From Around the U.S. Meet to Discuss Independent Politics"

September/October 1995 issue of Poverty & Race

by Don Rojas

As national polls continue to show a steady rise in public support for a third political party, some 300 progressive activists from around the country met at the University of Pittsburgh from August 18-20 to explore ways and means of combining forces to build "an independent, progressive alternative to the two-party hegemony."

Billed as the National Independent Politics Summit, the gathering listened to impassioned speeches from veteran activists such as Ron Daniels and Peter Camejo, attended workshops, caucused and adopted resolutions.

Convened by the National People's Progressive Network and the National Committee for Independent Political Action, the summit was endorsed by over two dozen progressive groups, ranging from the Campaign for a New Tomorrow to the Green Party (USA).

"In the face of the escalating attacks on our human rights and our right to survive being led by the Republicans and supported by most Democrats, the needs for operational unity on the part of the independent progressive forces in the United States is urgent," noted Daniels, leader of the Campaign for a New Tomorrow, which plans to transition into the Independent Progressive Party in November.

The Summit afforded delegates an opportunity to network and share information, skills, resources and contacts as well as discuss first-hand reports from the movements of resistance and the independent parties and campaigns that have cropped up from California to Maine.

Questions of strategy were debated, including a People's Pledge Campaign, to build a mass base for the independent movement and the possibilities for a coordinated approach to the 1996 elections and beyond.

Many delegates harshly criticized both the Republicans and Democrats for implementing a bipartisan "Con
tract on America," claiming that this bipartisan program is at work not just in Washington but at the state and local levels as well.

"This is a mandate for a hardhearted corporate agenda of regressive taxes and budgets, repressive 'anticrime' laws, scapegoating of immigrants and people of color, unrestrained `free trade' and radical deregulation of social and environmental standards," stated the Call put out by Summit organizers.

"If there ever was a time for developing a vision of a real alternative to the profit-oriented economy and corporate-dominated government; if ever there was a time for building an independent people's movement and party to carry that vision forward-that time is now," it added.

Several speakers urged that progressives within the Democratic Party should make a clean break with their party because the Democrats "have turned away from the New Deal compromise between business and labor,
have ignored the needs of people of color, and they will not bite the corporate hand that feeds them by supporting progressive policies."

At a panel discussion that examined the current national political environment, Gwen Patton of the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice said with great optimism: "If we pull together in an independent political thrust, we can mobilize a lot of support in the South. Our communities are ready for independent politics, and I do believe we can get a third party on the ballot."

Peter Gilmore of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers Unions and Miya Yoshitani of the Student Environmental Action Coalition also spoke on the panel. Gilmore called for an independent political party "rooted in the working people" and observed that over 60% of the American people did not vote in the last Congressional election.

Yoshitani said her 30,000-member coalition of students, along with other networks of youth, are "on the front lines fighting the conservative right, fighting against racism, sexism, classism; and the fact that these networks exist is grounds for hope."

In spite of the intensified attacks from the Right, there was a consensus at the Pittsburgh meeting that an independent, progressive alternative grounded in and supported by the majority of Americans can be successfully built. One delegate pointed out that "it's not just Clinton who's in trouble with the American public. Every major political figure tested in recent surveys has either a very negative or increasingly unfavorable rating."

In an oblique reference to Jesse Jackson, Ron Daniels said he was convinced that the American people don't need "superstar leaders. We are the leaders we've been looking for."

Most delegates left the Summit satisfied that the first important steps were taken toward "operational unity" of the various streams and tendencies in the progressive movement. Many said they plan to attend the founding convention of the Independent Progressive Party in Philadelphia November 16-19, as well as the gathering of ?real populists? called by the Citizens Alliance for St. Louis November 10-13.
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