Monday, July 24, 2006

PDA Still needs to grow some backbone

This is a followup to my previous post regarding PDA's current ineffectiveness in changing the direction of the Democrats. Two higher-ups within the organization, including the national coordinator, have now told me more than once that PDA will endorse pro-war/corporatist Dems in a general election, even whent here is a progressive/anti-war Green or Independent in the very same election. How can they have any power with party leaders, if they are known to back whoever the party chooses come November. Every single time.

For those dedicated to peace, I offer the Voters Peace Pledge, rather than marching behind the PDA banner in 2006. Here is the link:

Below is what one of these PDA leaders wrote me about their strategy. I am convinced it is a flawed one and will alienate many from the peace movement, although I respect these two men as thoughtful individuals. In communications with PDA board members David Swanson (afterdowningstreet) and Cindy Sheehan, I know they are not in agreement with PDA's strategy on this serious matter.

Joe L. wrote:
Hi Pete,

Tim cc’d me because he knows where I stand on these issues. He also knows I wrote to Kevin Zeese about much of what I’m about to write to you, but unfortunately Kevin attacked me before reading it. I think he called me an agent or an infiltrator or something like that. He actually admitted that he didn’t read it in a later e-mail – I have the entire dialog. I’m not sure he ever read it. You might ask him for a copy.

It’s important to keep in mind that the task ahead of us is enormous and historic. In the larger picture, the reality is that there has never been a peaceful democracy ANYWHERE – not Greece, not Rome, not Egypt (they all had slaves and treated women as chattel.) Possibly in some indigenous cultures that we and others smashed. And now, the US government and military have become the thugs of the biggest and most powerful empire the world has ever seen. It will end, of course, but the question is will it take down most of humanity and the environment when it crashes? I think David Korten’s recent book, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, sums this analysis up quite well.

We need to figure out a way to engineer a major power shift. We need an overwhelming majority. It will take years to accomplish- even though we don’t “have” years. Our political strategy has to reckon with the immensity of the power shift that has to happen. We believe this demands a long-term, very disciplined strategy. We have to visualize the future progressive coalition and employ strategies that build community, build family among them. PDA is, therefore, working to build a national “machine” that can deliver e-mails, calls, visits, money and political pressure in support of a wide range of progressive causes, global, national, regional, and local. As we grow and become more effective, we will be able to “deliver” for our constituencies. It’s admittedly a long-shot. But, in our judgment, it’s somewhat less of a long-shot than a progressive third-party.

I was an active Green in the late 80s and helped create the platform. I do know and understand and support the ten key values. I was part of the majority of Greens at that time who repeatedly rejected forming a political party because of the structural biases against third parties in the US, as opposed to Europe. Recently, last week, I suggested that PDA formally ADOPT the platform last week! My feeling is that PDA is a “Green” organization on the issues and we should explicitly tell people that. If anything, I am a GREEN infiltrator into PDA!

IMHO PDA and the Green Party disagree only on strategy.

Here’s our logic: PDA believes that the best way to get to a point where we can challenge for power is through building an unstoppably large progressive base. To do this, we need to envision who the constituencies of that base are going to be ten years from now and begin to take steps to bring them into communication and cooperation, ultimately building trust and “family” ties that allow us to fight over some things, but to pull together overall. I’m sure Greens agree with this so far. While the corporate Democrats are unlikely to be part of this progressive base, the majority of Democratic voters and activists are. Many of them are already progressive-leaning. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a future progressive majority without them. This appears to be where the Greens and PDA part company strategically: we think that the rank and file Democrats are a vitally important constituency and that our strategy must reflect that. So the question for PDA becomes, how can we build ties to these “future progressive” Democrats while remaining principled progressives, and while continuing to be effective on the wide range of issues we progressives hold near and dear?

Well, first we must “do no harm.” Whether or not you agree that, for example, the Green/Nader effort “cost” Gore the 2000 election, or was merely one of many factors (most of which were under Gore’s control) that “cost” Gore the election, I know that literally thousands of Democratic activists now HATE Ralph Nader and don’t want to hear about anything “Green” because of what happened. Even if you think that this is totally wrong and, for example, Ralph HELPED Gore by pushing him to the left, and people are misunderstanding the situation, it’s indisputable that the progressive third party strategy is inherently divisive in this way. (I personally think that part of the animosity is a transference of blame – many liberal and progressive Democrats don’t want to own up to the fact that they let the Party become totally controlled by the Clinton/DLC crowd and so are looking to blame someone else.) If the goal is building an unstoppably large progressive base, is antagonizing and potentially alienating a large part of it really a good idea? Can we find a better way?

PDA believes that the better way to see Green/progressive stances on the issues become public policy is to build the base within the DP – a party within the party, so to speak, that is NOT controlled by the hacks, and which, in time, will grow to become the majority of the Party.

So, do we support pro-war Democrats in general elections? Yes, but in a way that builds the anti-war movement! We feel our primary responsibility is building a base that will save millions of future lives in other countries who will die if we fail. This will take many years. We are clearly not ready to challenge for power yet. When we lose a primary, if we want people’s help in the future, in future primaries when WE win, we can’t pull a “Lierberman” and threaten to go outside the Party! (What a sniveling bastard he truly is!) We have to come up with a strategy that avoids alienating the rank and file Dems by tipping or threatening to tip the vote to Republicans when we don’t win a primary.

Again, if you think about it, if we really believe that progressive policies benefit the overwhelming majority of people, but we can’t even win a democratic primary, that proves haven’t organized well enough. We’re not ready. We have more work to do. So we USE the general election to keep organizing, building PDA, educating on our issues, even where the nominee disagrees. We educate, organize voters and then work to get out the vote. That way, we build relationships with the Democrats and have at least some semblance of a chance to get them to work for us when WE finally do the work it takes to win the primary. Even conservative Democrats respect us.

The typical response to this is that we will be co-opted or that it can’t be done – the Democratic Party is NOT democratic!

Those who say that the Democratic Party has never been democratic are correct. But those that say it never WILL be democratic are claiming psychic powers (how do YOU feel when your local psychic tells you, “A third party will never succeed!”?) Ultimately, even if it’s not now internally “democratic’ – and it’s certainly not – the Democratic Party will do what the voters demand (although we do have to solve that annoying vote fixing problem first!). To say that this can’t be done is faith-based political analysis. No one knows until it’s tried – and tried well. Sure, others have set out on this course, but to say that because, for example, the Campaign for Economic Democracy or the Rainbow Coalition did not take over the Democratic Party, therefore it’s impossible or not worth trying to do it right is like saying that because the first ten people who tried to climb Everest died, therefore, it’s been proven it’s not possible. (I just made that number up…)

And who is to say who will co-opt whom? The real test will be if we can educate and mobilize millions of people. If we have ten million hard-core progressives each willing to donate or raise $100 in an election cycle, do the math. That’s probably what will be needed: a billion dollars to counteract the corporate duopoly. When their money advantage is neutralized, we can possibly win (and then the tanks roll?). Nothing short of that will work. The question is how to get there.

To say that it’s “impossible” to take over the Democratic Party because of historical precedent is exactly the same as saying that third parties can never seize power and hold it – because history shows that despite multiple efforts, they didn’t succeed.

Our argument with the third party approach is not that it’s impossible, but that it’s not the path of least resistance. The system is rigged to automatically engender opposition on the part of members of the party MOST LIKE the third party. This self-limiting aspect of the American system is structural. No matter how much we wish it weren’t so, we’re still stuck with it until we take power. PDA is in favor of multi-party democracy, instant run-off voting, etc. The problem is, how do we build the power to get there? Clearly, the more of us working together, the more likely we are to succeed. Few liberals or progressives “hate” PDA. It’s an approach that is designed to be, at least in the short run, non-threatening. In the long run, though, we feel it has the best chance of dramatically transforming American politics.

So PDA’s approach is a very long-term, patient, tough-to-implement strategy. It’s not a feel-good, instant gratification approach. It absolutely requires that we work with people whose politics we hate and who we may not like much personally, either. It requires us to strive to find core shared values, ways to make friends, ways to earn respect, ways build relationships.

To paraphrase Forest Gump, “Radical is as radical does.” We are serious about change, and know what we’re up against. We know it will take many years to have a chance to do what needs be done. We’re setting out on that course. We think ours is the path of less resistance toward our mutually shared goal of seeing the Ten Key Values adopted by the majority of Americans and national policies which track the Green Platform.

I hope this helps clarify PDA’s strategy. I am VERY interested in your critique.


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