NEW YORK – The fighting spirit and determination of the overflow crowd was unmistakable.
“Are we going to allow George Bush to rule our country for another four years?” asked Jarvis Tyner, executive vice-chair of Communist Party USA.
“No!” the crowd roared back.
“Are we going to let him steal the elections again, to turn back the clock on civil rights and civil liberties, to continue to wage war and to occupy Iraq?” Tyner asked.
“No!” was the thunderous reply.
From beginning to end, the CPUSA’s conference titled “Build unity to take back our country in 2004 – Defeat Bush and the Ultra Right,” was pervaded by a spirit of enthusiasm and unity.
Three hundred trade unionists, students, peace activists, and community leaders from 25 states jammed the CPUSA’s Winston Unity Auditorium here Jan. 31 to share experiences and map out plans to help oust George W. Bush and his allies on Election Day.
“This is no ordinary election,” said Joelle Fishman, chair of the CPUSA’s Political Action Commission, in her opening remarks.
Noting that more than 3 million jobs have been lost since Bush was elected, that over 43 million people lack health insurance, that racism and discrimination have intensified, and that the Bush doctrine of preemptive war is endangering all of humanity, Fishman called for “a truth crusade on the ground.”
“The challenge is to provide clarity on the issues, and turn anger into organization and movement-building to get out the vote,” she said. This principle applies not only to the presidential race, but also to the U.S. Senate, House, and state races, too, she added.
Cautioning that the Bush administration will pull out every stop to “pit one group against another,” to divide and confuse the electorate, including through use of racism, Fishman urged maximum “unity, outreach and mobilization.” She noted labor’s mobilization in key swing states like Ohio and Missouri, and said the CPUSA is also committed to making special efforts in Midwestern battleground states.
Fishman also cited the continuing importance of trade unionists running for public office, of grassroots, local independent campaigns, of mobilizing the youth vote, of election law reform, and of building the Communist Party, which, she said, will help “build a movement strong enough to change the priorities of this country toward ‘people before profits.’”
Guests from the labor and people’s movements added their perspectives.
Diallo Shabazz, the NAACP’s northeast regional youth coordinator, said health care and worker rights are enduring, long-term issues. He also advocated making police brutality an election campaign issue. “We need to connect the presidential race with issues in the community,” he said.
Rita Haley, president of New York City’s National Organization for Women, said it takes unity to win victories: “I like to call it ‘linking arms.’” The NOW-backed April 25 “March for Women’s Lives” in Washington will underscore women’s rights, worker rights, and civil rights, and will politically energize the electorate, she said.
Hany Khalil of United for Peace and Justice, a national peace and justice coalition, echoed this theme, saying nationwide March 20 peace actions will help push the country’s political agenda in a more progressive direction.
New York’s Working Families Party co-chair Bertha Lewis said, “We cannot have division if we want to win,” adding that an integral part of this year’s campaign must be a renewed emphasis on grassroots canvassing, knocking on doors, and holding neighborhood house parties on issues likes jobs, education, and increasing the minimum wage.
Martina Cruz, a recent independent candidate for school committee in Lawrence, Mass., who came within 14 votes of victory, stressed the value of daily work on issues affecting the community. That’s the key to getting more people involved and to defeating George Bush, she said.
CPUSA activists from Alaska to Georgia, and from California to Maine spoke about local battles for voting rights, the grocery workers strike, the fight to defend immigrant rights, campaigns for local office, and the usefulness of the People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo as an organizing tool, among other subjects. Most sessions were simultaneously translated into Spanish.
An evening program included a stirring “spoken word” poetry by two young women, Naima Penniman and Alixa Garcia, songs, and video clips from MoveOn.org’s competition for best 30-second anti-Bush video.
Sam Webb, national chair of the CPUSA, said the conference “has put us on a new footing. We have a great challenge ahead of us, a challenge we will meet,” he said.
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