Agitation Time

“Agitation: discussion meant to arouse or increase dissatisfaction with things as they are and produce changes;
work of an agitator.” Webster’s New World Dictionary

Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), an outgrowth of the Kucinich for President campaign, just concluded a large, successful national conference in Washington, D.C. Over 500 spirited, determined activists from all over the country came to the University of the District of Columbia for 48 hours of speeches, panels (too many!), workshops and informal person-to-person networking. The panels, the heart of the conference, were focused on issues like Iraq, Israel/Palestine, voting rights/electoral reform, defending social security, universal health care, progressive media, racism, veterans issues and progressive spirituality.

There were no panels or workshops having to do with endorsing candidates. There wasn’t even organized public discussion about the internal struggle going on within the Democratic National Committee to determine who will replace Terry McAuliffe as DNC chair, although the vast majority of the Democrats present, I’m sure, are hoping Howard Dean wins that battle.

There were non-Democrats present, including among the
speakers: David Cobb, who got a clearly heartfelt, standing ovation for his campaign’s recount challenge in Ohio, Pat LaMarche, the Green Party VP candidate, Diane Shamis, National Coordinator of IPPN, Medea Benjamin, Green Party activist, and Mark Dudzic, National Director of the Labor Party.

From what I observed, none of the third partyites present were seduced away into the Democratic Party. If anything, judging by the ovation given to Cobb and the discussions I heard and participated in, the Green Party could well gain some new recruits over time as a result of this conference.

Much more important, however, was the overwhelming sense of the conference that it’s fightback time, that progressives of various stripes need to find the ways to work together around the issues and do so now. There was widespread agreement on our general approach towards the major issues among all present.

And it seemed as if we were in agreement that we need to use a range of tactics to advance our progressive agenda, from disruptive nonviolent civil disobedience to massive pressuring of Congress in a strategic way, from basic grassroots organizing to the running of progressive candidates. Though there was disagreement about what party line those candidates should run on, there was much support for building a stronger movement for instant runoff voting, proportional representation and other electoral reforms to open up our oppressive two-party system towards a genuine, multi-party democracy.

I was particularly struck by the vocal support for instant runoff voting not just from David Cobb but from others.
Indeed, Howard Dean himself has publicly come out in support of it.

There’s something happening here, something that needs to grow like wildfire throughout our movement.

This is the second major national meeting that was characterized by a broad cross-section of progressives successfully addressing issues, addressing our urgent reality, and doing so in a way which led to productive, positive results. The first was Progressive Dialogue III in early December, which led to the founding of United Progressives for Democracy and its successful Winter Democracy Campaign, still on-going.

Could it be that we really, really are getting it together this time? Could the urgent threats we are facing under a second Bush administration be the impetus for a powerful, unified, independent political uprising?

And what about Bush’s inauguration? At least 15,000 people, possibly more, came out to make their presence felt along Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20th. This is as many if not more than did so in January of 2001. Late that night, watching the parade on C-Span, I was amazed at how many people with anti-Bush signs were scattered along the length of the parade route. I saw with my own eyes the crush of lovers of justice around 13th, 14th and 15th streets, some who got inside the heavy security and next to the street and others who were back a ways but who were vocal and defiant.

I was speaking with a respected leader in the African American community yesterday as the PDA conference wound down. He made the comment that he has been around Washington, D.C. for a long, long time, and he couldn’t remember there ever being a conference like this so soon after a Presidential election, a resistance conference, a conference full of people who were not defeated, not depressed, not disillusioned, who were preparing themselves to do political battle and doing so in a unified and mature way.

Perhaps the author Starhawk was prescient in something she wrote soon after election day: “the way ahead will be hard and stony, but. . . it may turn out to be steeper but shorter than the easier path.” It is our job to do everything within our power to make it so, by the way we reject sectarian approaches that divide, work constructively with those with whom we’re in agreement on the issues, discuss our differences in a healthy way, and build a powerful, coordinated resistance movement as a result.

In the words of Frederick Douglass during another difficult time, “agitate, agitate, agitate!”