RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Struggle Must Continue Past Nomination Process

Hoo, boy! Now the fun starts!

The campaigns for party nominations has seemed interminable, but we’ve learned a lot. The amazing rise of Bernie Sanders has shown us just where the power is, and it’s not with the people. He’s been ignored by the media and marginalized by the party processes. Bernie, however, has continued to fight, and his example has shown us that struggle is possible, even noble. His campaign has been effective in pushing the major parties to see his issues and might eventually, if the planet lasts long enough, result in policy changes. We can imagine that some of his ideas will move into statehouses first, then make their slow way into federal policy.

And now, as the two major (and two to four or more minor) political parties plan their conventions, a galaxy of alternative conventions are being announced, to make clear demands by various constituencies that don’t have official places at the convention tables. These are on the national scene and also on the horizon for a few states.

Remember the WTO protests, when participants dressed like whales met participants on bicycles? For the media, it was baffling. The messages didn’t get through. But, now, we’ve learned a lot. We know how to build messages for the media and we have the ability to network.

The power of these alternative conventions could be huge. If they follow the example of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conventions could develop policy language that might be distributed to progressive populist lawmakers. They might become law in the same way that ALEC legislation has. Except, while ALEC laws come from corporate contributions, the alternative convention policy will come from us, the people.

As I understand it, the conventions will be open to participation, Occupy-style, with panels set up around certain subjects. It’s guaranteed to be a messy process and if we’re looking for precedent, there isn’t any. These are sort of like national town hall meetings. The in-box in my e-mail machine has been full of proposals for platforms, or planks in platforms, that might be introduced. As always, e-mails will be followed by conference calls and, eventually, committees of willing volunteers, then more e-mails. We’re at the very beginning now.

The language that I’ve seen asks for rights for ordinary people, fill-in-the-blank style. ______ should be a fundamental right. You can fill in the blank: A vote; a job; fair wages; gender equality; health care; clean air; clean water; healthy, culturally appropriate food; local control for communities; peace. These stumbling suggestions provide the gateways to more refined ideas—for example, just HOW do we guarantee the right to clean water? Listening to the stumbles can sensitize more people and, result in language that can actually be translated into policy.

Suggestions swirling around from my personal cloud of organizations include a lot from independent family farmers, who for decades have had little power in the decision-making process. Groups are forming, and these groups might hang together for the long run—Native American, black, urban, women, Hmong, and combinations of all of those and more.

And the suggestions are coming from consumers—marginalized, urban, rural, underprivileged, and combinations of all of those and more.

To sum up, the demands might say, “We want more respect and consideration from policy makers for people, families and communities. We want less respect and consideration from policy makers for corporations and the financial world.” Or, maybe, “it’s the last quarter of the game, and we’re coming off the bench.”

Here are some of the themes from farm groups: Fight corporate concentration by banning mergers of all kinds, especially in the food business; end subsidies to the biggest, most destructive farms for practices that destroy the land and water; classify Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) as industrial and insist on changes in practices around animal and employee welfare; support traditional foodways as opposed to industrial; develop financial incentives to help farmers transition from petroleum-intense practices and chemical inputs to ecologically sound systems; increase fines for chemical trespass (drift from sprays onto non-sprayed crops); put money into exploration of Integrated Pest Management that depends on non-chemical strategies to control pests.

And, from consumer groups: Label GMOs; allow government money from WIC and SNAP to be spent for local products purchased directly from farmers; ensure that government-funded institutions like schools, hospitals, military bases, buy food from nearby rather than shipping it in; legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use.

Alternative conventions are scheduled for many times and venues—Ohio will have at least one, in a location that is not Cleveland, where the National Republican Convention will be held. Organizers hope to catch the ears of the real decision makers, of course, but it’s doubtful they’ll have much luck. Still, these conventions present good chances to get vague demands into words and words into bullet points. If the bullet points don’t make it on official lists in 2016, they can become rallying cries for the future.

As always, it’s up to us.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2016

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