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writing for godot

Report from the Convergence

Written by librarian1984   
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 09:09


I arrived in DC shortly before attendees were to meet on the Mall to deliver a petition to Sen. Sanders' office. The petition contains 50,000 signatures and asks Sanders to lead a new party. Last year I was against this idea. The DP has ballot access and the infrastructure to support a full slate of candidates including POTUS. But after the election it became apparent the party has no intention of letting progressives play a role. Starting a new party seems like a herculean task but then I saw Jimmy Dore interview Nick Brana, Sanders' campaign outreach coordinator, and he made it seem possible.

Brana met about 115 of us and we walked together to Dirksen Senate Building, through security and up to Sanders' office. I think most of us thought Sen. Sanders would be there but he was in VT. We delivered the petition to two secretaries, cheered a couple of times, took some photos and left. It was Friday afternoon and there were few people in the building.

Our group disbanded and met later in the evening at American University's College of Law for the first plenary session, "Building the Movement to Defeat the Right", which was an excellent start to the weekend. The panelists were mostly new to me and they invoked MLK more than HRC. People were, mercifully, looking forward, though Hillary's book excerpts were in the air as well, and did come up occasionally. It also became clear that not everyone was 100% happy with Sanders. MLK had warned us about the triple threat of racism, militarism and materialism, and people were upset Sanders didn't talk about foreign policy during his campaign. One takeaway was that we need to normalize activism, make it part of our everyday lives.

After the plenary we had the pleasure of seeing a live Jimmy Dore Show, which was a blast. Dore shows clips and then, along with his crew, Lee Camp and Tim Black, added hilarious commentary, like Jon Stewart. Laughing felt good.

The next day started and ended with plenary sessions and had three panel sessions in between. The first plenary, "Paths to a People's Party", included Medea Benjamin (the founder of CodePink) and representatives from various progressive and socialist organizations. They discussed capitalism, activism and the need for grassroots action and running candidates at the local and state level before taking questions. The speakers were great, referencing success stories, history and future strategies. Medea Benjamin spoke about the antiwar movement disappearing when Obama became president even though he not only didn't end Bush's wars but started a few new ones. She said we need to add an antiwar message when we address other issues because it is so relevant to everything else. For instance poverty, infrastructure and Medicare for all all hinge on military spending. She also made a point that I heard several times, that we need a success so that people will remember that we have power.

Throughout the weekend a few major themes emerged: the corruption of the DP and the need to work outside the party; the end of capitalism and the need to move to more local economies, public banks and utilities; the need for a message of economic populism; the need to defeat neoliberalism and the drive for American empire; that we should evaluate organizations by whether or not individuals have a voice; that we should not demonize even the DP or Trump supporters; and that leftist groups need to work together.

Next there were three sessions and one had to choose between four panels.

My favorite was an antiwar panel and included Medea Benjamin and Lee Camp. Last year we dropped 26,000 drone bombs, an average of 26,000 bombs per Obama Peace Prize said Camp, and 90% hit unintended targets. The MIIC costs US about a trillion dollars a year while the UN recently stated we could end world hunger for $30 billion a year. Think of the savings -- and people would love us instead of hating us. One speaker said Palestinians saw YouTube videos of the Ferguson protests and noticed police were using the same tear gas canisters the Israelis used on them and they used social media to advise protestors on how to deal with them.

Speakers agreed we need to connect our movements, that the strength of 60s movements was the broad coalition with one goal, to end the war, whereas now there are three antiwar groups that are not working together, that we need to pressure our groups to combine their efforts and that we need to bring an antiwar message to all our other causes. (No antiwar message was expressed at the Women's March, for instance.) Medea Benjamin said that most Americans are antiwar but the msm has a blackout on coverage. She said she has NEVER been on MSDNC! She asked the room who got their news from alternative sources like al Jazeera, BBC, RT, teleSur, the Intercept -- and nearly every hand went up.

There were many socialist organizations represented and people believe one good outcome of Sanders' campaign was his taking the stigma away from 'socialism'. Democratic Socialists of America and the Green Party reps said they had seen a huge influx of members lately, many young and many angry at the DP.

We are up against a powerful system but we have some advantages too. This election opened the eyes of many to corruption; our bottom up approach makes us more flexible and responsive; we have common cause, an economic message; social media -- we HAVE to protect the internet.

The next session I divided my time between the panel on corporate media, which included Jordan Chariton of TYT, and an election integrity panel with Bob Fitraikis (who wasn't there) and Bill Simpich. Chariton said that, keeping to a bottom up strategy, we could each find a niche like reporting on our city council or state government, which is often not reported on by the msm, that since the msm has become establishment WE, with our phones, are the new fourth estate.

The third session for me, "The Future of Media", had Tim Black, Lee Camp, Jimmy Dore and others. They talked about attacks on alternative media, YouTube demonitizing political channels .. and not using Google.

Saturday night the big event was the Draft Bernie Town Hall with Cornel West, Jimmy Dore, Kshama Sawant and others. Interestingly the title was no longer appropriate because Sanders never answered or addressed the petition. Cornel West said Sanders should have had someone there to accept it, that he wasn't condemning Sanders but that part of our movement had to be holding a standard of integrity to ourselves and others, including Bernie, and that we could not let him become too comfortable with the establishment. Several people stuck up for Sanders, saying that he has demonstrated repeatedly that he's willing to listen to us and change if necessary.

Sunday's plenary was about our prospects in 2018 and 2020. The group had been reaching a consensus that we don't have time to form an effective new third party but at a closed door session the night before the various organizations had committed to collaborating and supporting each others' candidates. Jill Stein said the conference had moved from wanting Sanders to lead a new party to 'we are the ones we've been waiting for', that they agreed to form a Steering Committee united in being noncorporate and they wanted to form an emergency response team. Someone said we are seeing the same rejection of neoliberalism in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Chile and Uruguay by progressive coalitions, dismantling establishment structures. Another said we need to find the most progressive party in our state and work with them, pressuring them to collaborate with other groups. This group does not see working within the DP as a viable option, though several said we can't demonize the party either.

Sunday's plenary ended with two very interesting topics. Some had been hearing that Sanders' Medicare for All bill was going downhill, exacerbated by hearing Kamala Harris was cosponsoring and Cory Booker's people were helping write it. They initiated a social media campaign and entered into talks with Sanders' people. They said now the bill is more like true Medicare for all. Copays and deductibles are gone, for example. What they don't like is that it's a slow transition and it doesn't cover longterm care but several people expressed optimism because Sanders does take input and has shown a willingness to listen and change.

The second interesting topic was the Green Party. During the conference I talked to or heard several frustrated GP members who don't understand why progressives aren't willing to use the GP as their vehicle since they have ballot access and 30 years of experience as a third party. Ultimately people said we could not use the GP unless they changed their name as well as some of their tactics, emphasizing electoral politics, especially national, and more on public outreach. The GP people agreed. Jill Stein said we should focus on building a coalition and kick the issue of a new party down the road, that right now it's most important we support each other and work locally.

There were two more sessions but I had a train to catch and hope sessions will be posted.

One more topic of interest: there was an infiltrator. The first day I met someone who identified a person they said had sabotaged their nonprofit. I didn't know the source so I just kept an eye on the guy over the weekend and noticed this person did indeed ask questions and raise issues that tended to disrupt unity, stomp on good feelings and suggest stronger direct action -- so I do believe this person was an infiltrator. What was heartening was the reactions to this person. Panelists uniformly but respectfully disagreed with this person and one speaker said that it was important to have conflict resolution training at meetings. These were experienced activists. They may or may not have known this person was trying to disrupt the conversations but they all handled him very well.

It was a terrific experience. About a thousand people attended. your social media marketing partner


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0 # librarian1984 2017-09-13 14:31
Here is a WaPo article about our hike to Sen. Sanders' office to present the petition:

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