WASHINGTON — Buoyed by their participation in the huge antiwar march a day earlier, hundreds of progressive Democrats gathered for a “grassroots strategy” session Sept. 25 aimed at breaking the Republican grip on all three branches of government in upcoming elections.

The Sunday meeting at the University of the District of Columbia drew members of Progressive Democrats of America nationwide who reported their work in this November’s off-year elections in Ohio, California and other states.

Marvis Reissig, a PDA activist from Sonoma County, Calif., described herself as a “pissed off grandma” who wants her grandchildren to grow up in a world at peace. “Precinct walking” is the key in “fighting to defeat Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his special election this November,” she said. “In a weird way, this election is an opportunity to get organized early for the elections in 2006, to beat down the Republicans wanting to take California over.”

With a three-to-one Democratic registration, “we would win if the Democrats turned out and voted,” she said.

Steve Cobble, a PDA organizer in Ohio, drew applause and cheers when he said, “There’s a chance that 2006 is going to be a ‘throw the bums out’ election.”

“It’s easy to fix the blame for a war based on lies, for an administration that can’t rescue the victims of Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “These guys are very vulnerable right now.”

Kevin Spidell, national political director of PDA, said the goal in the 2006 election should be to “run to win,” ending Republican majority control of Congress. But Spidell assailed “a list of Democrats who have hurt us. Some of these people have popped up continually backing a pro-Bush agenda. We have to say: No more!”

Greg Moore, director of the NAACP Voter Fund, said he was recruited to the Democratic Party staff in 1994 when the Democrats lost 144 seats and Republican extremist Newt Gingrich became House Speaker. The Democrats didn’t even field candidates in 52 House races, especially in the South, that year, conceding before the polls even opened, Moore said. “That was not a smart strategy when we were facing a right-wing onslaught.”

Hurricane Katrina, he continued, “has revived the debate about a plan to overcome poverty. … About $200 billion is going to be spent in the South. … You can be sure the GOP is going to send its minions down south to make sure they don’t lose their grip on that region.”

He hailed the huge antiwar march, adding, “What we can do to win in 2006 and 2008 is pick up the pieces and rebuild the Rainbow Coalition. There is not a single African American in this country who isn’t thinking: ‘What can we do to end poverty?’”

He challenged progressive Democrats to step forward, saying, “Here’s our post-Katrina reconstruction plan. … The country is begging for an answer.”

The meeting began with greetings from Representatives Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, both California Democrats, who thanked the PDA for collecting tens of thousands of signatures for an investigation of the Downing Street Memo which exposed Bush’s drive to “fix” the evidence to justify war. They also praised PDA for organizing similar grassroots support for Woolsey’s hearing on an “exit strategy” from Iraq and for Lee’s “No Permanent Military Bases in Iraq” resolution. PDA works closely with the Progressive Caucus and Out of Iraq Caucus on Capitol Hill.

Patrick Carano of Akron, Ohio, a former member of the Steelworkers and now a Teamster, told the meeting, “PDA is like Akron, where tire builders are asking for a living wage so they can put food on the table, to make the world a better place for all of us.”

Later, Carano told the World that PDA members in Ohio collected thousands of signatures to place on the November ballot five initiatives to break the Republican stranglehold on the state by establishing a nonpartisan elections commission and placing strict limits on campaign contributions. Currently, Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has iron control of all election procedures in Ohio.

A judge rejected a lawsuit by an outfit called “Ohio First,” arguing that out-of-state signature gatherers were brought in to put the measures on the ballot. “It turned out that Ohio First was incorporated in Delaware,” Carano said with a chuckle. “My sense is that these ballot measures are going to pass. Down in Columbus, the AFL-CIO is backing these amendments. Labor knows that corruption is devastating the state. And workers are the ones who are hurting. Their rights are being eroded. All our accomplishments over the past century are being stripped away. That’s the goal of the Republican right.”

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