Perhaps this convention season’s most under-reported story is the outpouring of thousands of activists into Boston during the Democratic National Convention for conferences, teach-ins, strategy sessions, get-out-the-vote trainings, religious services and cultural events including a hip hop conference of 5,000.

Forty years after Fannie Lou Hamer led the fight to break segregation and seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and 20 years after the first Rainbow Coalition presidential campaign, the quest for people-centered politics emerged anew. The convention delegates included the largest number of racially oppressed, women and union members ever, with 90 percent opposed to U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In the hours before the convention day began, delegates mixed it up with activists from all over the country to discuss how to win policies that would promote peace, eliminate poverty and inequality, involve young people, guarantee voting rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights, labor’s rights, civil liberties, and protect the environment.

A political spectrum from center to left participated in the whirlwind of activity. The unifying feature was an understanding of the need for a strategic approach to the 2004 presidential election in order to create a force powerful enough to defeat the Bush crowd’s unlimited funds, hate mongering, and dirty tricks.

Out of it all, such grassroots fighters as Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, and Reps. Barbara Lee, John Conyers and Raul Grijalva emerged with a new level of stature and respect.

Kucinich, who stayed in the race until the convention to keep the peace issue up front, has been invited to campaign for Kerry-Edwards in the 12 swing states where he won delegates. “Courage, America,” he called out from the convention podium to loud applause — courage for good jobs, for health care, for civil liberties and an end to racism. “Our campaign is at a new level now,” he told a packed meeting of volunteers in Cleveland. “This is for the future of the world.”

Kucinich and Dean volunteers have formed organizations aimed at reaching new voters and encouraging local candidates based on the issues which energized their efforts. On the last day of the convention, the two raised clasped hands to a standing ovation at a strategy conference of progressive Democrats, also attended by Greens and Nader supporters.

Debate ensued. Some were supporting Nader instead of joining in the broad coalition that could insure defeat of the ultra-right. Others had devised a compromise strategy endorsing Kerry in some states and Green candidate David Cobb in others. Most had concluded that a vote for Kerry would be the most effective rebuff of Bush policies in this election.

The wisdom and passion of Rep. John Conyers, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, carried the day. He questioned how stepping aside from the pain and suffering being brought upon poor and working people could attract masses or be considered progressive. “This is the most exciting convention of my lifetime,” he exclaimed, “the progressive message is gaining ground and moving forward.”

A maximum popular vote for Kerry in every state will swell the votes for congressional candidates seeking to defeat the Republican majority. Conyers, with a 93 percent pro-labor record, would then chair the House Judiciary Committee, replacing Jim Sensenbrenner, whose pro-labor record is only 11 percent.

The focus of the week was on the election of Kerry-Edwards as a first step toward changing the direction of the country. Drawing upon the history of Abraham Lincoln, FDR and JFK, the point was made repeatedly that each was pushed by the mass movements of their time. An overwhelming popular election of Kerry will pressure the new administration to completely break with Bush policies.

The need to tackle racism and division in order to win the election and build a strong people’s movement was also a major highlight. The million African American votes stolen and lost in the last election meant the loss of the progressive vote in every state, said Jesse Jackson. He concluded, “We are all in the same boat together.”

Calling for the largest unity vote to shift the political balance away from the right, Barak Obama exclaimed from the convention podium, “We are not red states and blue states. We are the United States of America.” Within this unity effort, voices for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, for workers’ rights and health care for all will resonate and hopefully overpower right-wing wedge issue appeals.

As door-to-door efforts gain momentum, thousands more are preparing to travel to New York City on Aug. 29 for a massive protest of Bush administration policies. Daily protests will be held during the Republican National Convention.

The thousands who converged on Boston in the last week of July represent a maturing of the peoples’ movement in our country. The lessons being learned bode well for Election Day and beyond.

Joelle Fishman is chair of the Political Action Commission of the Communist Party USA. She can be reached at joelle.fishman @ pobox.com.

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