Four hundred political organizers and social change agents from around the country recently gathered for the third national Democracy Convention in Minneapolis from August 2 to 6. I came away from that experience energized and feeling that the progressive movement is alive and well in America.
While the conference had numerous themes, its overriding mission was: To bring people together to build a strong Democracy Movement for transforming of our political system into one that truly represents and serves the working people of our country. Sponsored by Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution, the convention clearly made major strides towards its goal.
The convention addressed the full gamut of people’s concerns, including racial justice and immigration, health and education, money in politics, environmental protection, peace and economic equity. One convention thread emphasized the need to strengthen the rights of people over corporations in the U.S. Constitution. Richard Monje, Vice President of Workers United/SEIU (Service Employees International Union), pointed out that the Constitution actually protects private property at the expense of We the people. He advocated for including workers’ and economic rights in the Constitution.
Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, National Director of Move To Amend, one of the main convention sponsors, proclaimed that the moral argument for overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is what will bring people together to demand a 28th Amendment. Move To Amend supports the We the People Amendment that states money is not speech and corporations are not people.
Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI), the First Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, kicked off the Saturday morning program. He declared that we need to “fix our democracy” by: (1) enacting a Constitutional Right to Vote Amendment and related laws to protect the integrity of our elections; and (2) eliminating Big Money from the election process. Rep. Pocan also called for a People’s Budget that would prioritize the needs of the American people and cut out corporate handouts and tax loopholes.
While I found that the Convention presented many stimulating solutions to the critical issues facing our nation, a central question still had to be addressed: how to move these ideas into actual policy? Nick Brana, former National Political Outreach Coordinator for the Sanders for President campaign, had one answer that attracted many convention attendees. A founding member of Our Revolution, Brana called for a new progressive party. He noted that Americans are disillusioned and deserting the two major parties. Brana asserted that almost half the country now identifies as Independents. He believes that a viable, progressive third party could be formed by bringing together half of the Independents, half of the Democrats, some Republicans and many Americans who previously have refused to participate in our elections.
Brana argued that progressives must institutionalize their message by forming a third party. He likened progressives’ involvement in the Democratic Party to an abusive relationship. The Party keeps promising to change, but it continually goes back to the same old abusive behavior of favoring Corporate America and Wall Street over the people. According to Brana, breaking this destructive pattern requires that progressives form their own party. Then the Democratic Party will be forced to change to avoid mass defections, or it will continue to shrink and finally collapse. If the Party does not return to its FDR roots, Brana argued, this new third party will become a major people’s party.
The premise of Brana’s thesis is that the Democratic Party has no incentive to change without the challenge of a third party. With the help of Harvard Professor Cornel West, he is putting his theory to the test. Together they are convening the People’s Convergence Conference (convergence2017.org) in Washington on September 8th to 10th. The conference will examine the way forward for the progressive movement. They have invited Sen. Sanders to attend a “Draft Bernie Town Hall” at the conference.
Whether Sanders will accept the invitation and agree to lead a new third party is doubtful. Nevertheless, we are living in very dangerous times. Our democracy is being threatened by authoritarian leaders both at home and abroad. The American people have lost faith in the ability of our Establishment institutions to work for them. The Democracy Convention provided hope that together we can transform our political system and save our democracy.