NEW YORK — An overflow crowd of more than 200 Communist Party (CPUSA) National Committee members and guests packed the Winston Unity auditorium here Nov. 20-21 to assess the Nov. 2 election results.

The CPUSA’s national leadership body, which meets two to three times a year, extended invitations to many activists and new CPUSA and Young Communist League members who worked shoulder-to-shoulder in the historic battle to defeat George W. Bush and the ultra-right agenda. The multiracial crowd spanned the generations, from age 19 to 90.

Although the main report and the majority of the two-day long discussion agreed that the election of Bush is a dangerous setback for peace, progress and democracy, the participants found more than enough reasons to be hopeful and inspired to fight in the upcoming period.

Paraphrasing Dickens in his welcoming remarks, CPUSA Executive Vice Chairman Jarvis Tyner, said, “These are the worst of times, but the best of times.”

Bush may have won the election, putting the people of America and the world in grave danger, Tyner said, but at the same time our nation has witnessed the birth of a new all-people’s movement the likes of which has not been seen in decades.

National Chairman Sam Webb opened the meeting with a comprehensive report assessing the main factors that led to John Kerry’s defeat. The use of terrorism, religion and racism by the Republican Party and GOP strategist Karl Rove were some of the major factors, he said.

“The Bush campaign and its powerful propaganda apparatus systematically and unrelentingly exploited the deeply felt anxieties and fears that are traceable to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” Webb said.

“Going door to door in Ashtabula, Ohio, for example, I encountered many people who were concerned about the likelihood of another terrorist attack — not necessarily on the streets of Ashtabula, but on our national soil. Rightly or wrongly, people feel vulnerable and Bush and his propaganda machine heightened this feeling.”

The extensive use of racism and vote suppression by the Republicans clearly contributed to a Bush victory.

“Bush also benefited from the systematic suppression of the vote before and on Nov. 2. The extent of voter theft may never be known, but clearly it was consequential and steeped in racism so pervasive, deliberate, and unconcealed that it harkens back to the worst days of Jim Crow,” Webb said.

“Targeted by the Republican Party were communities of color and especially the African American people.” Calls for a heightened struggle against racism and for voting rights were met with determined applause.

Hailing the birth of a progressive coalition, the size and scope our country has not seen for a long time, Webb said that coalition was “anchored in the core components of the American people — labor, the racially oppressed and women.”

He urged the coalition’s continued growth. “With initiative, creativity, and united actions, this coalition can and must deepen and extend its reach to every region of the country (especially the South) and to wider sections of the people,” he said. “Even among Bush’s current supporters there are different classes and social forces whose interests are contradictory, thereby presenting opportunities for the progressive movement to peel away some of that support.”

Based on their own experiences, most speakers voiced realistic optimism that the movement can grow stronger in the titanic battles against the Bush administration and corporate America.

In her report “Build the Party, Build the Coalition,” Joelle Fishman, chair of the CPUSA’s political action commission, gave an account of the party’s work, its strategy and tactics.

“The correctness of the center-left coalition strategy soon became clear as a fantastic movement burst forth, activating many thousands of young people, and people of all ages, who had never previously been engaged. New labor and people’s structures were the heart of the voter mobilization and turnout in this election,” she said.

The heroic part played by the labor movement was also heralded. Wally Kaufman, the Ohio leader of the Communist Party’s “Midwest Project,” said, “I’ve been in the organized labor movement practically all my life, and the mobilization of labor in Ohio in this election campaign exceeded anything in my entire experience.” Kaufman was honored at the meeting for his years of selfless dedication to the labor and people’s struggles.

An African American elected official gave his experience in successful coalition building, which included labor, women’s rights groups, the African American community and youth. “[This coalition] needs to remain energized and focused on moving forward in the right direction of what our country needs to be dealing with in terms of health care, education, more jobs, of course,” he said.

Religion and “moral issues,” the concept of “red states versus blue states,” and the roles of different populations of the electorate were also part of the discussion mix.

Reaching out to working-class people who might have voted against their own interests was a topic of much discussion. One Mexican American labor leader said, “Most of those who voted for Bush are as much victims as everyone else, and we can reach them.”

Then, referring to the post-election blues many felt, he described a “victory” party where a musician played a song that summarized their feelings. “It was about the life of a goat herder. No matter how you feel, you gotta get up and milk that goat,” he said.

A pastor from a Midwest congregation told the crowd that the far-right among religious forces takes advantage of communities that are being devastated by the effects of corporate globalization.

“Farmers, rural and small towns are being upended by globalization. People like Bush will say things like ‘all Christians [see things his way]’ and that’s not true, of course. There’s a whole range of Christians” and many struggle with their faith and its role in peace and social justice change, he said.

The attendance of the meeting showed a growing vitality in and around the CPUSA: the wide range of new faces included elected officials, union activists, college students, and many others.

Heraclia Cabral, an activist in southern California, said although she didn’t travel to a battleground state she felt proud to have distributed 200 People’s Weekly World newspapers each week, volunteered as an Election Day poll watcher and registered new voters.

“One voter I registered was an ex-felon. He didn’t know that he could vote,” Cabral said with tears in her eyes. “I get very emotional because I’ve been voting since I was 18 and this man didn’t know his rights. He was so proud when he voted and showed me his voting stub.”

Webb’s report can be read or listened to online at www.cpusa.org, and will be available in published form soon. All reports will be available at www.cpusa.org, including:

• “Youth vote 2004: a whole new level” by Young Communist League Co-coordinator Jessie Marshall.

• “Bring the Troops Home! The Fight to End the Iraq War” by CPUSA Vice Chair Judith Le Blanc.

• “The Debates in Labor: Danger or Historic Opportunity” by Labor Commission Chairman Scott Marshall.

Requests for printed reports can be sent to CPUSA, 235 W, 23rd St., New York NY 10011, or e-mailed to cpusa@cpusa.org.

The Young Communist League held its National Council meeting the same weekend, where the same vitality was exhibited. There was no sign of giving up or depression in this post-Nov. 2 period, but a sense that the fight for youth must be continued. Close to 60 representatives from all over the country — including Florida, Michigan, California and Hawaii — attended the youth gathering and parts of the CPUSA meeting.

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org.

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