By TED GLICK
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 email@example.com.
Ted Glick is executive director of the Independent Progressive Politics
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