WASHINGTON — Despite a raging blizzard and the shadow of the Bush inauguration, more than 500 activists turned out for a summit to help craft a strategy of taking back the country from the ultraright. Organized by the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), the meeting also had a goal of reinvigorating the progressive movement both inside and outside the Democratic Party.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), a keynote speaker, said the Republicans had been successful because they have had a long-term strategy. “Democrats need a long-term theme and a strategy that can be applied to election after election.” He said that the Democratic Party must become the party that fights for rights and social programs, including the right of “one person, one vote.”
Emphasizing struggle and its impact on elected officials, NOW President Kim Gandy urged participants to fight. “We have to join the battle for justice and fairness right now. Some of our members of Congress need a little more spine. Some of us in this room could probably give them a spinal transplant,” she said.
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute rounded out the keynote panel and emphasized foreign policy issues, especially getting the U.S. out of Iraq.
Jonathon Berlin, of Bethesda, Md., told the World that he had only recently become politically active. He followed the elections on the Internet and was inspired to work with MoveOn.org in Ohio.
“I got connected to True Vote Maryland, thinking wow, this is a local issue, too — even in Maryland there were problems, like in Ohio. I can make a difference.” He came to the conference hoping to learn how to do that.
Rebecca Cooper, a fourth generation steelworker and Steelworkers union member from Youngstown, told the World, “Unions generally have been effectively portrayed by our opposition as club-bearing goons only out for their [narrow] self-interest, when in fact … we have a very progressive agenda and fight on all fronts for the health and well-being and quality of life for workers in the United States and everywhere. Labor really provides institutional backbone, and PDA activists provide the fire that we had in the 1930s.”
The summit also included strategy panels on to how to broaden movements on issues like peace, racism, Social Security and fair elections. The role of religion and morality in progressive politics was a recurring theme.
“We are willing to stand up and walk together, and our principles are clear,” said Hillary Shelton of the NAACP. “They might be able to frame their message as some kind of moral imperative, but I still want an institution that believes in feeding the hungry, in clothing the naked, in housing the homeless, and care for the sick. There’s no philosophy more moral than that.”