Pamela J. Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona
Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) is hosting Progressive Central: The People’s Inauguration on January 19 in Washington DC.
Progressive pundits and politicians from around the country– including our own Congressman Raul Grijalva– will be there. If you’re like me and will be in Tucson tomorrow, check out the live streaming of Progressive Central on the PDA home page, beginning at 8 a.m. (Eastern Time). Bisbee’s own Loneprotestor will be in DC– so look for video from her on this blog. I attended Progressive Central in Charlotte while attending the Democratic National Convention, and it was inspiring. More details from after the jump.
The Tea Party exploded into public consciousness on Tax Day 2009, giving voice to anger on the right. As this right wing outburst gained corporate sponsorship and media attention, it changed the face of American politics culminating in the 2010 Republican electoral wave.
The Occupy Wall Street movement offered a semi-coherent left-leaning rebuttal to the Tea Party, but self-consciously eschewed politics. Now, a revitalized left-of-center grassroots movement–schooled in the strategy and tactics of Nuclear Freeze, Environmental, and Anti-War Movements, and partnering with labor, civil rights, and other organizations–is emerging.
Convened by Progressive Democrats of America (PDA)–with partners The Nation Magazine, National Nurses United (NNU), Busboys and Poets restaurants, and Democrats.com–this weekend’s Progressive Central conference is billed as “The Peoples’ Inauguration.”
Progressive Central and PDA are typical “overnight successes” in that their breakthrough has been years in the making. PDA–a federal PAC with a remarkable record for electing candidates to Congress in the 2012 elections–launched in 2004 at the Boston Democratic National Convention.
Keeping with the parallel convention theme, PDA pioneered their Progressive Central model at the Denver 2008 Democratic National Convention, and held another at the Charlotte DNC in 2012. PDA and partners held similar events in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere as well. However, the January 19, 2013 iteration of Progressive Central promises to be a quantum leap in progressive organizing.
The participants, co-sponsors, and discussion topics feature the wide spectrum of left and liberal organizations and objectives. A partial list of speakers includes the NAACP, unions, faith, environmental / climate groups, peace and justice organizations as well as several members of Congress.
The agenda includes ambitious game-changing topics such as “Building the Peace & Justice Movement inside & outside the Democratic Party,” “Building the Progressive Democratic / Labor Alliance,” and “Organizing for Main Street not Wall Street,” which demonstrate a more practical, expansive, inclusive and forward-thinking approach than past progressive efforts.
This is a conscious effort to meld traditional and new left-liberal causes into a powerful, effective coalition. By fostering cooperation among grassroots groups, DC Beltway NGOs and elected officials this approach offers unique opportunities for success during the second Obama term.
PDA laid the groundwork for this breakthrough starting at its launch in 2004, which featured former Presidential Candidates Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Governor Howard Dean, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, as well as Congress members including John Conyers and Barbara Lee, long-time organizers like Tom Hayden, rising stars such as Jamie Raskin (currently a Maryland State Senator).
Starting with the 2006 election cycle, PDA endorsed and supported progressive candidates to Congress, with varied success. Meanwhile, the organization built bridges between and among activist grassroots groups, more established organizations and elected officials employing its “Inside-Outside” strategy.
PDA Director Tim Carpenter explains, “When we say, ‘inside-outside,’ this is what we mean: We need demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience–the street heat, that’s the outside piece. But that’s only part of it. Every great social movement starts outside the halls of Congress, but if it’s successful at the end of the day, it’s going to pass legislation.”
To illustrate, Carpenter says, “On peace, we’re working inside supporting Barbara Lee’s bill to limit spending on Afghanistan to the safe and rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops and Defense contractors. The outside piece is working with Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK and Michael McPhearson of United for Peace and Justice. PDA is bringing the grassroots ‘outside’ message into the halls of Congress, working with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and into the Democratic Party working to pass resolutions at State Party Conventions. PDA is the bridge.”
Since 2004, PDA and its partners have relentlessly pressured members of Congress to support progressive policies including–ending wars and occupations; improving and expanding Medicare to cover everyone; cleaning up elections–including greater transparency and participation (stopping suppression, restoration of voting rights); reversing corporate power; promoting social and economic justice (jobs creation, progressive taxation, labor, civil, equal and human rights); as well as stopping global warming and protecting the environment.
PDA has advanced these goals through monthly vigils and letter drops at congressional district and D.C. offices with notable success. For example, Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) agreed to cosponsor several progressive bills during the recently-ended 112th Congress in response to PDA members’ ongoing efforts.
By late 2012 PDA supporters were holding 60 or more such meetings, and PDA’s Deputy Director Conor Boylan reports more than 80 such meetings took place on January 16th in district and Capitol Hill offices as part of their “Educate Congress Campaign.”
In 2012, PDA hit its stride electorally as well helping its National Board Members Congress members John Conyers (D-MI.), Donna Edwards (D-MD.), Keith Ellison (D-MN.), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ.), James McGovern (D-MA.) and Barbara Lee (D-CA.) sweep to victory. Perhaps more remarkably in this age of gerrymandered safe seats, PDA-supported challengers won five out of ten contests (50%), and narrowly lost in two others.
Other PDA-endorsed winners included Congress members Mark Pocan (D-WI.), Alan Grayson (D-FL.), and Senator Elizabeth Warren, (D-MA.). PDA generated 1000s of Get Out the Vote calls for the above candidates, as well as for newly-elected Ami Bera (D-CA.)
Dr. David Gill–a long-time PDA ally running for Congress from Illinois–fell about 1,0000 votes short in the general election, and Norman Solomon–another PDA close friend–missed qualifying for the November ballot by a few hundred votes in his bid to replace retiring PDA Board Member Rep. Lynn Woolsey in the California Congressional delegation. Other PDA-endorsed candidates came up short in Wisconsin, Virginia, and Arizona.
PDA’s inside-outside work has gained momentum since 2004, and promises to advance significantly at Progressive Central this weekend as the movement gains new allies for the “Educate Congress” letter drops and monthly “Progressive Roundtable” discussions on Capitol Hill.
All this is part of PDA’s efforts to bring together Congressional allies with unions, NGOs, and grassroots activists to develop and implement action plans to drive political and economic policies under the umbrella slogan “Prosperity Not Austerity.”
Still, progressives understand that they’re fighting the Tea Party-led tide in a political climate favoring tax and program cuts over investments in jobs creation and expansion of the safety net.
Carpenter concedes, “We’re realistic, but debates about deficits and the need to eliminate waste give us an opportunity to push for cuts in military spending and a financial speculation tax. We’ve been playing defense since our founding, but the tide is turning. As we can forge a strong coalition and build a powerful movement, we can go on the offensive again.”