(This was written to encourage participation in a national conference of the Independent Progressive Politics Network, an organization I coordinated for 10 years.)
“I was country, when country wasn’t cool.” These are the words to a popular country music song. If you substitute the words “unity-building and independent” for “country,” you’d begin to get an idea of what IPPN, the Independent Progressive Politics Network, is all about.
Actually, you’d need at least two more words, “grassroots” and “progressive,” or what I prefer these days, “pro-justice.” It’d be hard to sing, but it’d be much more accurate.
Independent, pro-justice, unity-building and grassroots: this sums up what IPPN has been about for five years. A number of its leading activists have histories of similar work going back another 20 years. And with unity-building up much higher on the agenda then previously for a growing number of groups, it is not surprising that IPPN is growing and stengthening itself to play a more positive role within the upsurge of pro-justice activism taking place post-Seattle and heading towards D.C. in April.
Since its founding five years ago at a national conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., the IPPN has:
-organized three more national conferences, in Atlanta, Ga., in 1996, in Decatur, Il., in 1997 and Oakland, Ca. in 1998;
-developed a quarterly national newspaper, Independent Politics News;
` -established a task force and become active in the movement for proportional representation in the way people are elected to office in the U.S.;
-created a national speakers bureau, Independent Voices for the 21st Century;
-organized National Slates of Independent Progressive Candidates in 1996 through 1999; 130 candidates for office, running on their own party lines and with their own campaign organizations, signed onto one of these slates;
-worked with grassroots organizations throughout the South to help them begin to connect their current organizing work around issues like housing, education or environment with independent political activity, in support of campaign finance reform and/or proportional representation; and,
-worked to build positive relationships with all of the progressive third party organizations in the U.S.
One of IPPN’s major immediate priorities is its 5th Independent Politics Summit, a national conference that will be taking place from Thursday afternoon, June 1 to Sunday afternoon, June 4 in Madison, Wisconsin. Students for the New Progressive Party, one of IPPN’s 32 member organizations, is hosting this event on the University of Wisconsin campus. Under the theme, “Breaking the Political/Corporate Monopoly,” organizers from around the country will make plans for how we can move towards a broadly-based alliance that can effectively link electoral activity with movement-building, including day-to-day, grassroots organizing and direct action. Workshops, plenary sessions, cultural events and other creative ways of conferencing will be utilized to make this conference an important part of the 2000 national pro-justice calendar.
At Madison we’ll discuss the upcoming alternative activities being planned July 30-August 1 in Philadelphia at the time of the Republican Convention and August 16-19 in Los Angeles at the time of the Democratic Convention. In both localities broad-based coalitions have begun to come together to plan major issue-oriented, independent actions.
We’ll also look at how we can build from those events towards a People’s Convention next year, or as soon as possible, that would bring together thousands of people, make visible that we are coming together and intending to be active, visible and more and more effective in this first decade of the new century. At this gathering the various pro-justice, independent political parties, as well as other movements and groups, would be able to present and showcase themselves. Key issues would be dealt with. Appropriate steps would be taken so that the Convention serves to strengthen unity and united work among all of our various efforts.
This “Peoples Convention” idea emerged out of a meeting IPPN helped to pull together in early December, the Progressive Dialogue. Leaders of about 35 organizations came together for two days of open, substantive dialogue about the state of our independent political movement and how we could move it forward. The meeting was convened by Elaine Bernard, Noam Chomsky, Bob Clark, Ron Daniels, Angela Davis, Victoria J. Gray-Adams, Manning Marable, Miya Yoshitani, Baldemar Velasquez and Howard Zinn.
The Dialogue was revealing. It showed that many of us want a unified movement, that we are tired of the divisions, turf fights and egos that get in the way of effective unity in the face of everything we are fighting against, and for. It showed that this desire crosses many lines: culture and nationality, issue focuses, parts of the country, sexual orientations, ages, etc. It showed that, yes, we really can meet together in one room, listen to each other, keep grandstanding and showboating to a minimum and make progress. Our pro-justice movement is maturing.
Yet we are not yet there. As positive as the meeting was, it was not an easy meeting. There were tensions, differences and weaknesses that, in some cases, we could barely even identify, much less discuss, because of the short time we had. We still have a ways to go in learning how to really hear each other, genuinely dialogue without defensiveness, talk with each other and not, at times, past each other. Some of us need to to learn how to talk about our visions, our beliefs, our programs, our strategies in ways that don’t turn people off but invite them to dialogue and get involved. We are still in need of conscious work to bring together all of the constituencies and movements that need to be at the table.
The Madison national conference June 1-4 will be a place to work on these weaknesses and build upon our strengths, for activists from IPPN member organizations and others who are not yet members to meet people from around the country who might not be working on the same issues, who may be of a different color or culture, whose day-to-day work is different but who agree that it is essential that we come together, talk together, grow and learn and advance the people’s movement together. Let’s make the year 2000 the year it all begins to turn our way!