WASHINGTON – Some 1,000 people of all ages, races and ethnic groups and genders participated in the Populism 2015 Conference held here April 18 to 20.
As speaker after speaker at the Populism 2015 conference listed examples of working people and minorities being victimized in today’s economy, participants repeated “That ain’t right.” They came from across America to launch a wide ranging, broad-based plan to make things right.
“The task of winning back America is too big for any one group,” said Bobby Tolbert, vice president of National People’s Action (NPA), “so we’ve joined with many other groups representing hundreds of thousands of folks. We’re going to win power for the people.”
Aside from NPA, it was sponsored by several unions, the Campaign for America’s Future, the Alliance for a Just Society, US Action, and other coalitions that together represent hundreds of community-based groups.
Participants adopted a platform campaign called “People and Planet First” aimed at “winning power to create a new economy” based on “democratic control of capital” and “restructuring corporations to serve the common good, not just to make a profit.”
Called “Put People and Planet First,” among other planks, the platform included “create jobs for all,” “raise wages, empower workers , reverse inequality,” “invest in a green economy,” “eliminate racism,” “guarantee women’s economic equity,” “provide free, quality education from pre-K to graduate school,” “enforce fair taxes on the wealthy,” “forge a global strategy that works for working people,” “make Wall Street serve the real economy,” and “fight for full rights for all.”
Participants staged a rally to support the Black Lives Matter movement and held a demonstration against adoption of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade accord being pushed by President Obama that, among other things, would create a corporate-run tribunal that could, in effect, reverse rules and laws to preserve jobs and the environment. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D. Minn.) said, “We supported the President, but we don’t owe him blind allegiance. We must call him out when he’s wrong.”
Presenters gave facts and figures showing that wages are the lowest they’ve been in decades; the wage gap has widened between white males, minorities and women; jobs are scarce; the right to vote is being blocked; murder of black men has been legalized through rules governing law enforcement and “stand your ground” laws; the right to join unions is being crushed; black men are being incarcerated at alarming rates and hard-working immigrants are denied benefits and being deported.
Robert Borosage, Co-Director of the Campaign for America’s Future, said: “Working families can’t afford to live even on two jobs, the federal minimum wage is the lowest it’s been since the 1960s, and what does Congress do? It repeals the estate tax, as if our economy is in trouble because millionaires and billionaires have to pay taxes on inherited wealth.” Pointing to actions such as that, each speaker at the conference urged members of community groups to run for election to public office, stressing that winning positions in local, state and federal government is key to creating “a new economy.”
During a question and answer session, one member of the audience, Joelle Fishman, CPUSA political action commission chair, asked a speaker who had won an election campaign what she is doing to ensure that the community groups that elected her stay together and continue working in the community.
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, recently elected to Chicago’s board of aldermen, told the audience “I’ll bring the people’s issues to policy makers. Can I count on you to bring them to the streets?” The answer was a chant, “I do believe the people win.”
Workshops included: “Raise Wages, Empower Workers and Reverse Inequality,” “Building A New Civil Rights Movement.” “Invest in a Green Economy,” “Enforce Fair Taxes on Corporations and the Wealthy,” “Make Wall Street Serve the Real Economy,” “Guarantee Women’s Economic Equality” and “Stopping Bad Trade Deals.”
“The system is doing what it is set up to do,” said Nathaniel Doehling of TakeAction Minnesota. “It creates huge profits for corporations.”
Janice “Jay” Johnson, treasurer of Virginia Organizing, an affiliate of the Alliance for a Just Society, urged representatives of community organizations in every state to work together to create an effective movement to “take back America.”
Robert Borosage said: “To change the system, we must take to the streets, take to the ballot box, and true representatives of the people must run for office.”