Thursday, May 7, 2009


While this article reports on a discussion at a regional meeting of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), the issues raised are of general interest to progressives and warrant inclusion on this blog.

Harry Targ
May 3, 2009

Building a Progressive Coalition

Twenty members and friends of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) spent a beautiful Saturday, April 25, in West Lafayette, Indiana, discussing how to build an effective progressive majority for the Obama years at its semi-annual Midwest regional meeting.

Mildred Williamson, member of the CCDS National Executive Committee, opened with four questions that she said were critical for the Left as it seeks to help build a coalition of progressives.

First, and most basic, we need to figure out how we can analyze and overcome our differences. Instead of highlighting differences with Obama, with Democrats, among activists with different views of the environmental crisis, she argued, we need to prioritize thinking and acting on ways to bring our disparate voices together.

Second, Williamson said, we need to ask ourselves how we should act when we disagree with the new Obama administration.

Third, and inextricably connected with the second point, we need to discuss how we can most effectively address issues that are not being addressed.

Finally, she claimed that we have to develop more effective techniques to reach out to different sectors of the progressive movement.

Issues Central to a Progressive Coalition

Having raised general issues of strategy and tactics, Williamson then discussed issues that have not been adequately addressed through public discourse or our various movements and campaigns. She said that by framing the impacts of economic crisis around the so-called “middle class,” the particular nature of the economic crisis in poor and working class communities, particularly communities of color, has been ignored. For example, measurable African American unemployment is at least twice that of white unemployment, and underemployment among African American male youth in some communities approaches fifty percent. Percentages of unemployment among other marginal communities exceeds that of the so-called “middle class” as well.

Along with ignoring poverty and differential experiences of poverty by race and gender, the Obama administration and Congress still have not imposed a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and have not addressed the fundamental issue of affordable housing for millions while more and more people are living on the streets, in tents, and in homeless shelters.

Finally, Williamson said, progressives must begin to address the consequences of long-term economic crisis; addictions, incarceration, and differential criminalization of addictions by class and race.

Janet Tucker, CCDS National Organizer and activist with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, confirmed that in rural (as well as urban) Kentucky, unemployment, homelessness, racism, and criminalization were problems for poor and working class people before the current crisis and remain problems. She added that geographic differences should be taken into account as well. In the Kentucky case, mountain top removal has destroyed the environment and communities while it has brought new wealth to elite energy companies.

John Wilborn, a Louisville CCDS member, called for a progressive response that builds upon united efforts from a variety of groups (Progressive Democrats of America, Democrats for America, Progressives for Obama and others) to demand the firing of Tim Geithner and Lawrence Summers, Obama economic advisers; the establishment of a commission to investigate the causes of the financial crisis like the Perora Commission of the 1930s; and the restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act and revocation of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, to reregulate the financial sector of the economy.

Labor economist, David Cormier, from West Virginia, underscored the need to reestablish financial regulation, arguing that the entire US economy has shifted from the production of goods and services to financial speculation. Now less than 15 percent of U.S. workers are in manufacturing, he pointed out.

Don Scheiber, local UNITE-HERE member and Clint Fink, West Lafayette CCDS, added military spending to the list of causes of economic crisis. In addition, George Fish, Indianapolis CCDS member, raised the specter of a futile "guns and butter" policy with Obama trying to pursue his domestic agenda while still keeping sizeable forces in Iraq and escalating U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and incursions into Pakistan. Such policies, in conjunction with an economic stimulus package at home, were economically impossible to sustain and were reminiscent of the disasters that ensued when Lyndon Johnson pursued the same strategy in the 1960s, trying to have both his domestic Great Society and the War on Poverty while simultaneously escalating a war in Vietnam.

Activating the Progressive Majority

European nations, all capitalist, have progressive policies concerning health, transportation, education, and the environment Ted Pearson, CCDS National Executive Committee member, pointed out. While President Obama’s job description is to oversee and advance the interests of capitalism, people in motion can work inside the system as well as outside it to achieve the modest but significant reforms that Europeans have gained. The possibilities may be enhanced now, he said, because of the economic crisis and the fractionalized character of the capitalist class.

Several attendees warned, however, of the emergence of rightwing populism fueled by the far right of the Republican Party and their spokespersons in the mainstream media. For them the economic crisis is the result of Obama and the “Left” as they see it.

As to organizing, Stephen David, Lafayette, urged activists to build off of the grassroots mobilizations of the Obama campaign and to use those that remain active to challenge “bureaucratic” top-down politics with “grassroots” bottom up mobilizations. April Burke, Purdue University graduate student and IWW member, reported that there are positive signs among young people attending colleges and universities, who are beginning to organize around workplace issues as well as in support of labor struggles generally. Beth Rosdatter, Lexington, pointed out that progressives need to include organizing temporary and unemployed workers.

Finally, Berenice Carroll, CCDS member in West Lafayette, added that all the issues discussed must also consider the particular effects of economic and political crisis on women. We should remember, she said, that building a progressive majority involves networking with women’s organizations as well as others that have been mentioned.

At the end of the discussion of the economic crisis and building a progressive majority, Ira Grupper, CCDS Labor Task Force coordinator, urged CCDS to expand its organizing work and to include discussions of causes in analyses of the economic crisis.

It was agreed that this report on building a progressive coalition, issues relevant to it, and activating the progressive majority should be passed along to the National Convention of CCDS for inclusion in discussion.