With the revived prospects for the Democratic Party no longer apparently facing Karl Rove’s permanent Republican majority a growing number of politically committed people have asked the question, ‘What would or should a resurrected Democratic Party look like?’ There are a variety of answers to this question, e.g., the Democratic Leadership Council’s centrist conception, the Blue Dogs’ Republican lite, etc.

One of the more promising visions that has emerged is represented by Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), a national organization that emerged out of the Kucinich for President 2004 campaign. PDA is still quite fragile, even with its estimated 100,000 members, but its ‘inside, outside’ strategy vis à vis the Democratic Party has the potential for linking together and giving voice to a large number of groups engaged in their own issues, e.g., the war and occupation, health care, the housing meltdown, etc., under the aegis of a reformed and remade national Democratic Party.

Only time and political struggle will answer the question of whether this strategy is actually viable. This short report is an account of one piece of that effort: the first state-wide PDA conference in Illinois.

The conference occurred on June 28th at the Marvel Davis Farm near Big Rock, Illinois. You can be forgiven for not being quite sure where that is, but note two things about the location: it is not in Chicago and the farm is located where Dennis Hastert’s Prairie State Expressway is proposed to run. In fact, Marvel Davis, the farm’s owner, offered the site for free because she had met and supported John Laesch, a PDA supported-candidate who ran against Hastert in 2006 and was narrowly beaten by centrist Democrat Bill Foster in the 2008 primary.

The theme of the conference was ‘More and Better Democrats’ with much emphasis on the better, especially by the end of the day. An equally important impetus for the conference was the desire to bring various groups to the same venue to explore how we could all work together. In addition to PDA, DSA, Democracy For America. MoveOn, these groups included local peace and justice groups and grass roots level Democratic Party activists. Altogether, about 75 people gathered from the northern and western portions of the state.

The opening panel, ‘Progressives, Democrats, November 2008 and Beyond’ included representatives from the full range of conference attendees. The panelists did a good job of talking about their own organizations and the work they were doing that fits into the progressive label, and a less thorough job of spelling out how we could all work together of course, if it were easy to answer that question there would have been no need for the conference. There were break out sessions in the both the morning and afternoon on ‘Ending the Death Penalty in Illinois.’ ‘Winning Single Payer Health Care in Illinois,’ ‘Next Steps in Working against the War and Occupation,’ ‘Causes and Progressive Policies Responses to the Financial and Economic Crisis,’ and ‘Grass Roots Electoral Skills.’ All were interesting and stimulated discussion among the attendees. Check the PDA web site (http://www.pdaillinois.org http://www.pdaillinois.org/ ) for outlines from the sessions.

Stephen Kinzer, formerly New York Times correspondent and author of All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, delivered the keynote, entitled ‘Advice for the Next President and the Democrats.’ The final session was on working together how, when and where. Most of the discussion revolved around supporting progressive candidates at the local and state level and how to determine whether a candidate actually merited the label ‘progressive.’ No definitive answers, but in the short time since the conference some of the groups have initiated conversations about closer working relationships. We’ll see what happens as the political year 2008 ‘progresses.’

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