Grassroots Report
Unity in Diversity: The IPPN Model


Over the weekend of May 2-4, 1997, representatives of groups who believe in the need to build progressive alternatives to the two-party system came together at the National Independent Politics Summit/97 in Decatur, Illinois. Attending the summit were 150 people, from over 70 organizations and from 19 states, the District of Columbia and Mexico.

This was the third National Independent Politics Summit in the last 21 months. The first was held in Pittsburgh, Pa., in August 1995. The second took place in Atlanta in April last year. Throughout this 21-month period of time, with the various summits playing a key role, a unique national network, the Independent Progressive Politics Network, has been created, linking leaders and activists from a broad cross-section of the progressive movement.

The most recent summit in Decatur was different than the first two in Pittsburgh and Atlanta in a number of ways. Most significant was the rank- and-file labor involvement that was much in evidence at Decatur. This was not a surprise; Decatur was chosen as the location for this summit because of the massive labor battles fought during the mid-1990s by workers at the Staley, Caterpillar and Bridgestone/Firestone plants. At one point over 4,000 workers were on strike or locked out in this small midwestern town.

The IPPN has had connections to Decatur since the Pittsburgh Summit. A delegation from Decatur attended that event and played an important role. Decatur labor activists were doing more than engaging in militant action at the workplace. In the spring of 1995 a coalition of 25 labor unions successfully elected a trade union activist to the city council and helped defeat a pro-corporate, anti-labor Mayor. In November of 1995 three out of four candidates running for School Board on a pro-labor slate won office as voter turnout doubled compared to the previous election several years earlier.

This combination of militant labor action and independent labor electoral activity was a model that the IPPN wanted to raise up. When the time came to determine where to have its 1997 Summit (according to IPPN by-laws, an independent politics summit is held each year), Decatur was the consensus choice. At a meeting in Decatur in December 1996, local activists were enthusiastic about the IPPN Steering Committee's proposal for holding a summit in May in their town.

A high point of the May event was a panel presentation on the "Lessons of Decatur" organized by local labor leaders. Speakers came from the Staley, Caterpillar and Bridgestone/Firestone struggles, as well as from the local Teamsters and AFSCME unions. One key lesson underlined by the panel was the importance of the labor movement being true to the old union slogan, "an injury to one is an injury to all." Another lesson, articulated by former Staley worker Lorelle Patterson, is the need for the labor movement to support the efforts of community organizations to fight for their rights and needs so that labor and community groups can learn how to work together for the good of all working people.

The stories told by those on this panel had an inspiring effect because they were told by union leaders who had not given up despite the setbacks they suffered. All of the speakers expressed their determination to continue to struggle for a new labor movement and for alternatives to the two-party political status quo. This spirit helped to set a tone for the weekend.

Summit/97 was chock full of speakers and workshops. Workshops were held in fourteen areas, including Building Labor/Community Alliances, Dealing With Sexism/Building a Healthy Process, Third Parties Working Together, Campaign Finance Reform Issues, Working with Progressive Democrats, Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, Involving Young People in the Independent Political Movement, Living Wage Campaigns, Nuts and Bolts of Independent Political Campaigns, Dealing with Racism/Building Multi-Racial Unity, Fund-Raising Strategies, and Labor Law Reform and Independent Politics. From all reports, virtually all of the workshops were useful and valuable to the participants.

Speakers included Larry Solomon, former President of United Auto Workers Local 751, Mike Griffin of the War Zone Education Foundation, Claire Cohen of the Campaign for a New Tomorrow, Kwazi Nkrumah, national co-convenor of the Greens/Green Party USA, Roger Bybee of Wisconsin Citizen Action, Gwen Patton of Project South, Daniel Grossberg, Executive Secretary of the Wisconsin New Progressive Party, Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy, Veronica Menesis of the National Farmworker Ministry, Mike Ferner, former independent city councilperson from Toledo, O., Karen Kubby, socialist city councilperson from Iowa City, Ia., Michael Kinnucan, chairperson of the Labor Party of Washtenaw County., Mich., and Sheila Garland-Olaniran representing the National Welfare Rights Union.

Electoral reform of the "for-real" variety was supported by the Summit through the organization of a five-hour "Mini-Institute" on the first day which focused on the issues of public financing of elections and proportional representation (PR). Under PR systems, candidates are elected to office in rough parity with the percentage of votes cast, as distinct from our present winner-take-all system in which a candidate can win 49 percent of the vote and 0 percent of the representation. In the IPPN's opinion, these are the two electoral reforms which can do the most to clean up the money-polluted and undemocratic electoral system to which we are now subjected. The large turnout for this Friday afternoon mini-institute was a sign of the growing interest in the need for fundamental electoral reform that gets to the root of the problem.

One of the positive things about Decatur was the number of young people present. This was due in part to conscious outreach that the IPPN has been making to youth activists in several different regional and national youth networks over the past year. It was also due, of course, to the growing involvement of young people in progressive political activism in different parts of the country.

The Decatur Summit concluded by passing a number of resolutions, including endorsements of the June 21st national march in support of the striking newspaper workers in Detroit and the Labor Party's campaign to amend the Constitution to guarantee a living wage job for all Americans. It elected a new National Steering Committee for 1997-1998 and affirmed its intention to organize another National Slate of Independent Progressive Candidates for 1997, as well as 1998.

For further information contact IPPN, P.O. Box 170610, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217, phone 718-624-7807, fax 718-643-8265 or email

Ted Glick is executive director of the Independent Progressive Politics Network.

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