When asked if everything was under control regarding preparations for the Communist Party's upcoming Chicago convention, John Bachtell, the event's organizer, smiled and said, "Well it's getting there." "Lots of details," he complained. "But it's worth it."
The party's 30th national convention will be held June 12 to 15 on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"Politically, we are ready," he asserted, "It's going to be a great affair."
The convention will focus its deliberations on how to help advance the labor movement's low-wage worker organizing campaign, combating the climate crisis, and new challenges to unity and equality.
"We're having a rich convention discussion period both on and off line," said Sue Webb, who co-chairs the group's convention discussion committee. "It's been a challenge to get it started, but folks are now writing, discussing and debating the main issues before us. And that's great!"
On May Day, a Google Air discussion hosted by Roberta Wood, secretary treasurer of the CPUSA on "Imagine Socialism" was held with Michael Steven Smith, co-editor of a new book "Imagine Living in a Socialist USA" and Bhaskar Sunkara, editor and publisher of Jacobin Magazine. "We brought the discussion to a whole new audience," said Wood.
"It's a public discussion too," Wood observed, "We're interested in what everyday people have to say. "
If the comments on the Communist Party's Google Air and Facebook pages are a measure, there was lots of public interest in the conversation. The CPUSA's Facebook page recently passed 50,000 "likes." Peoplesworld.org, which features articles by party leaders among others in the labor and people's movements, now sports 63,000 plus Facebook likes.
Sam Webb, the party's national chairman, has been traveling around the country visiting party clubs and districts holding their local convention conferences. "We've got a great group of delegates and guests coming to Chicago," said Webb. "While it's a little uneven, many are deeply involved in different struggles around the country. They're going to bring a lot of experience with them."
District conventions featured workshops with trade union and community leaders who shared their views on important issues before the country. They discussed LGBTQ rights, the tea party's war on reproductive rights, student debt, the housing crisis and a host of other issues. "The relationships we've built over the last few years are unique" said Webb. "While there's still a ways to go, it shows we're more and more in the mix."
In addition to a focus on domestic issues, the convention promises to be an international affair. Representative have been invited from Communist Parties in South Africa, Cuba, Vietnam, Britain, Pakistan, and Venezuela among others.
"There's a lot of interest in what we're saying and doing," said Emile Schepers, who heads the CPUSA international department. "And with good reason" he adds, "What happens in the U.S. impacts the world."
Asked if young people are coming to the convention, Lisa Bergmann, who coordinates the Young Communist League, paused and said, "Not enough. You can't have enough young folks at any event." YCL members are coming as delegates and guests.
Bachtell indicated a cross section of the country will be there. "The convention will look like America," he said. "We do have some gaps to fill though. Delegates are expected to elect a new leadership and set the party's general course for the next four years.
"Right after the convention we've got to focus attention on grassroots organizing to overcome voter suppression in the November elections, said Joelle Fishman, who heads the party's Political Action commission. "This election is a fight for jobs, living wages and union rights so people can make ends meet. The Senate hangs in balance. It's winnable but it's gonna take some work," she said
Jarvis Tyner, CPUSA executive vice chair, agreed. Pointing to a new level of racist vitriol in recent weeks, Tyner blamed the GOP "hate machine." He cited recent much-publicized racist statements by Nevada millionaire rancher Clifford Bundy and LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. "Can you imagine such outrageous racism?" Tyner said. "But the public response is heartening. It's going to backfire on them. We'll remember in November."
What are some of the challenges the party faces? "Growth," Bachtell said. "Expanding our membership is one of the biggest challenges. Don't get me wrong, we're growing, but not fast enough. We've got to change so we can grow."
"Change can be hard but it's necessary," he continued. "There are some tough issues being debated including how we see ourselves and how others see us. We're not going to divide the house over them but everyone's opinion will be heard. We want to emerge with a united fighting party."
Over 300 delegates and guests are expected.
Photo: Flickr (CC)