CHICAGO - Civil rights activists during the 1960's, Vietnam War opponents busy during the 1970's, anti-nuke demonstrators from the 1980's, opponents of the first war in Iraq in the 1990's and fast food workers of today were among those sitting side by side for three days at the 30th National Convention of the CPUSA here June 13-15.
What they were all doing, however, is what the delegates said was the most important thing: Turning the attention of the party to the movements it sees as critical to changing U.S. politics, economics and popular thinking.
"We are looking ahead," said the party's outgoing chairman Sam Webb during his keynote speech, "but not so far ahead that we miss the challenge of this fall's elections. And of course, our attention will turn to the many-sided building of a 21st century party. Such a party, which we are building, should be modern, mature, militant and mass - or in my word a 4M party."
John Bachtell, the party's newly-elected national chair, said there is a "huge upsurge going on and this presents a challenge and great opportunity for our party. We want to be a major part of shaping and building this upsurge. Every day we see another protest - immigrants, Walmart workers, fast food workers, the fight for a higher minimum wage, Moral Mondays, resistance to voter suppression, the fight against mass incarceration, the Keystone XL Pipeline, the fight for women's reproductive health, students struggling over debt, the AFL-CIO opening itself up to all kinds of allied movements, the election of anti-corporate mayors in New York and Newark - the list goes on."
Bachtell was, prior to his election, chair of the Illinois District of the CPUSA. He has a long history as a party, labor and community activist.
Webb said in his keynote address that while the upsurge doesn't have the capacity to resolve the crisis of capitalism it does have transformative potential, containing seeds that could, if properly nourished, sprout a new burst of freedom, economic security and peace.
The convention was arguably the most open and broadly attended in the party's history. Events were live streamed and open to the press.
There were international guests from Communist and worker parties around the world including from Vietnam, the United Kingdom, Iraq, Iran, Germany, Brazil and Japan.
Convention delegates, who came from every part of the nation, unanimously agreed that the struggles to raise wages at Walmart and other low wage retailers should become a strategic focal point for the CPUSA in the coming period.
"Walmart and other low wage retailers, as they rake in huge profits, are meeting resistance to their practices," said Bachtell. "The movement we support and are helping to build here includes workers, community members, elected officials, unions and more. We've been a part of this fight since it began but we have decided at this convention to officially make it a key part of our strategic focus.
The People's World sponsored a panel discussion June 13 on the fight being waged by low wage workers in which workers themselves and leaders of the labor and allied movements participated. There was a panel discussion the following day on the role of the media in building progressive movements. A variety of labor and independent media outlets participated.
Panelists were excited about the breadth and liveliness they witnessed at the gathering. Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin Magazine and a participant in the media panel tweeted regarding the convention: "Really large, vibrant Communist Party USA convention today. But I couldn't help make a joke about the long lines for lunch!"
At various times during the convention the crowds rocked to the music of Buya, a group of drummers. And they enjoyed performances by Jonita Lattimore and Tim Hickey Trio. Kelly Sinclair thrilled the crowds with her songs.
While recognizing that the labor movement has sunk to its lowest membership since World War II, that it is under attack and that the left within it is "too small," the party reaffirmed at the convention what it has long said is the "key role of organized labor" in the struggles of the day. The party sees as its task joining those sections of the labor movement that are breaking new ground - which in turn lays the basis for increasing labor in size, capacity and allied relationships, for turning labor into a powerful force multiplier for economic justice, equality, peace and solidarity.
Also discussed in a big way at the convention was the 2014 mid-term elections.
"Whichever side wins will have the wind in its sails over the final two years of the Obama presidency and a leg up going into the 2016 presidential race," said Rossana Cambron, newly-elected vice chair of the party. Cambron is the leader of the party's Southern California District.
She warned that a GOP victory could "flood" Congress with a whole series of reactionary initiatives and bills. "And they won't stop there," she added, saying the goal of the GOP, the extreme right and the tea party is to undo all New Deal legislation.
Convention delegates say the right wing opposition to President Obama goes "beyond the normal," revealing a barely concealed and deeply felt racist animus toward a Black president who in their eyes symbolizes the imminent demise of the old order that is white, male, and well-to-do.
On climate change the call at the convention was for the party to wholeheartedly join the movement to save the planet. The party is mapping plans to help build fall mass mobilizations at the United Nations to demand action from world leaders. "While climate change is the result of human activity," said Webb, "it is activity in the context of a particular system - capitalism. And its logic is endless capital/profit accumulation, endless and compound growth, massive waste in a multitude of forms, rampant consumerism - all of which put stress on, unravel and eventually undermine the natural systems that sustain life, as they are now doing."
There was also strong support at the convention for a policy of turning away from militarism and war. The party position is "hands off" Venezuela, no war with Iraq and a normalization of relations with Cuba and freedom for the Cuban 5. The party calls for a peace budget rather than a war budget and a peace economy rather than a militarized one.