Progressives gather to build a broader movement

From Labor-Environmental Solidarity Network News,
Vol. 1, no. 2, 22 August, 1995

"We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately."
- Benjamin Franklin

The old revolutionary's admonition was on everyone's mind during a remarkable meeting that took place in Portland on August 14 and 15. Eighteen representatives from labor, environmental, urban and rural community, and progressive political organizations came together to seek common ground in not only fighting the advance of the Right, but in laying the foundation for building a broader progressive movement.

Building on the interest shown at the 1995 West Coast Ancient Forest Activists Conference, Headwaters, Rural Organizing Project, Labor-Environmental Solidarity Network, and Klamath Forest Alliance in itiated discussions within the labor, environmental, and social justice movements about building a broader progressive movement. The outreach demonstrated the degree to which many organizations had already moved beyond seeking moderate reform to talking about fundamental change. Those reached, including groups like Portland Jobs with Justice, Coast Range Association, and the Oregon Progressive Alliance, also saw the need for collectively fighting back. From this came the two-day "Moving Towards A Broader Northwest Progressive Alliance" Conference in which progressive activists argued, r eminisced, and brainstormed over the vision and the mechanics of building that broader movement.

Day One was spent examining the different faces of corporate power and ways in which different constituents organized and fought that power. For Richard Grossman, that represented organizing coporat e charter revocation campaigns - taking away the legal right of corporations to do business in a state, and dismantling corporation's legal standing as persons, which compliant judges have created ov er the last century. For Jobs with Justice, that fight meant organizing in the workplace and community to counter local manifestations of corporate power - tax breaks and anti-worker legislation - c ombined with grassroots education about economic democracy. For others, the electoral arena was important. Oregon Natural Resource Council spoke of strategic support of progressive candidates, whil e Oregon Progressive Alliance sees homegrown progressive candidates and a break from a bankrupt Democratic Party as essential. Others, like Klamath Forest Alliance, saw the need to build a green cau cus within the Democratic Party. All in the room, however, saw that building a successful movement would require advances along all these pathways, each effort supporting and reinforcing the others whenever possible. Specifcially, networking, collaboration, and collective action were identified as keys to reshaping the political landscape, taking control of public debate again, and mobilizing old and new constituencies.

A significant portion of Day Two was spent looking at obstacles to broader cooperation between progressives. Lack of trust, an unwillingness to share resources, narrow focus, and many other issues w ere raised. How do we change anti-progessive policies within the labor and environmental movements? Can the demands of the electoral arena be reconciled with equally demanding community campaigns? How do we cultivate collective action within constituencies which do not see the connections between movements? These and other questions were not going to be resolved at a two-day conference, howe ver, those sitting in the circle that Tuesday found the obstacles to also be opportunities to strengthen the movement and and a call to get on with the work-a-day issues of doing just that.

Consensus was reached on a number of these concrete issues. Developing a network for participants in the room and for those who may join later was seen as a high priority. The need for additional o utreach, internal education, and recognition of the need for community, workplace, movement, and electoral organizing also was part of the list.

The conference ended with specific commitments from participants. A coordinating committee is overseeing network-building activities. Another committee is preparing a paper that focuses on the conf erence's discussion of corporate dominance, the need to not only counter the corporate agenda but advance a progressive alternative, and why a broader, collaborative effort provides the best opportun ity to do so. A third group has agreed to conduct outreach to key groups not at the table, while everyone committed to seeking endorsement of this networking effort from their own organizations.

The conference was only a beginning and will take support from all progressive quarters to succeed. If your organization is interested in becoming a part of this effort, contact Dave Mazza at 503-23 2-3620 or Rick Gwynallen at 503-482-4459.

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