Labor, Peace, Anti-Poverty Activists Stand Together at Democracy Convention



by Marybeth Gardam, WILPF Corporations vs. Democracy (CvD) Committee Co-Leader

Over one thousand people attended the DEMOCRACY CONVENTION in late August in Madison, Wisconsin, including many WILPF members.  Madison WILPF shared a table with WILPF National Corporations vs. Democracy (CvD) Committee. The large turnout signals a new understanding among disparate groups about the need to stand together in alliance in order to gain the power necessary to even the odds between human persons and corporate persons.  

Keynote speakers Tom Hayden and Cheri Honkala were introduced by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who welcomed all to his city.  “Everyone has heard that Madison city and state employees have one of the best benefits packages in the country”, he said, citing reasons why allies of Governor Scott Walker claim the workers are already too privileged and need to give up pay and bargaining rights.  “What they don’t often say is that they are also among the lowest paid in the nation”, Soglin explained.  “I’m personally proud of that fact” Soglin continued.  “Because we know from experience that investment in infrastructure and human capacity grows society and the economy.  Cutting spending, jobs and benefits retracts the economy.  This is a lesson Gov. Walker chooses not to recognize in his all out war on workers in Madison.”  Soglin praised the Convention, saying “we must reintroduce participatory democracy to people who have been shut out of the process.”

Local Wisconsin Wave organizers, Liberty Tree Foundation (John Nichols and Ben Manski), The Center for Media & Democracy (Lisa Graves), Workers Independent News, AFT-Wisconsin, United Wisconsin, Middleton Action Team, the WPBA, Progressive Dane County, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and local independent radio station WORT were all co-sponsors of the Convention.  

Tom Hayden, peace activist for 50+ years, put a fine point on the opening plenary.  He said that the Anti-Poverty movement of the early 60s was succeeding, perhaps too well for some in the US.  It had gained momentum, resulted in increased voter registration and voter rights awareness, and was making gigantic gains in raising huge numbers of people out of poverty.   

“Social change begins with participatory democracy at the margins and evolves into representative democracy”.  Two things stopped the momentum:  the assassinations, which Hayden said stole the heart of the movement, and the Vietnam War which was, he said, “A tactical maneuver to divert funds (that had every prospect of raising people from poverty and creating an informed and powerful electorate) to a disastrous war.  “Everything we were doing to affect poverty dissipated because of escalation of a foreign war in which the US squandered its resources to enrich a minority at the tragic cost of the majority”.  He underscored his point by concluding that “there will be no solution to the end of poverty until we reach the end of war”.

Hayden noted that we are now in the 10th Year of what the Project for the New American Century called “The Long War”, an 80-year effort of the US in securing the last natural resources of the planet at any cost.  “These wars should be opposed by anyone concerned about foreclosures, college loans, the cost of education, opposition to civil liberties and impoverishing our most vulnerable citizens.”  He called the Right’s ability to link dynamically opposed issues both ‘diabolical’ and ‘lunatic’. “What kind of lunatic can be both a Deficit Hawk and a War Hawk?  It’s beyond reason.”   Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, WILPF, and The Progressive were also co-sponsors of the Convention.

Sheri Honkala was introduced by David Cobb of Move To Amend.  Sheri is running for Sheriff in Philadelphia on the platform of “No More Foreclosures” and has been an urban anti-poverty and homelessness activist for decades.  Sheri said that the hardships being experienced by ever growing numbers of Americans are the signal that God is saying “Do Something Different… Speak up and stop adjusting to a lower standard of living”.  With millions of families being evicted while banks show record profits, silence is betrayal.  “The power of the state today is overpowering and scary.  They can make you disappear and steal your voices.”  But she noted that we have a collective moral responsibility to take back our nation and form a new cooperative society based on human needs that can stop barbaric behavior towards each other.  “I refuse to proceed on this notion of scarcity.  There’s enough to go around” as long as people at the top are not greedy.    

On subsequent four days of workshops and strategy sessions Environmentalists condemned the allegiance of corporate interests, militarism and bought-off politicians. This allegiance threatens the Earth’s ability to continue to sustain life.  Representatives of Alliance for Democracy, Family Farm Defenders, Peaceful Uprising, Millions Against Monsanto, and many tribal speakers from indigenous peoples in North and South America warned of the looming catastrophe of global warming while the Right continues to fund climate change deniers.  Ashley Anderson of Peaceful Uprising called the enshrined principals of unregulated capitalism and corporate power “Anti-Life”.  He said his activism changed from peace issues to the environment after working on the Darfur conflict long enough to realize it was a resource war, the first of many conflicts caused by climate change.  He noted the powerful media interests which control the stories and prevent Americans from understanding how these issues of militarism, the economy, and corporate power conspire to deny the truth about climate change.  He said that these anti-Democracy and anti-Life forces threaten the future for our children and grand children. 

Hopeful strategies emerged for bringing participatory democracy to people at the margins through Move To Amend and The Coffee Party, both of whom were conveners of the Convention (with POCLAD, People For The American Way, Proud Progressive Activists, and others).  More information about these positive strategies will be coming from WILPF’s Corporations v Democracy Working Group very soon.   

Photo Left: Tom Hayden, political activist, keynote speaker for Democracy Convention

Photo Right: Cheri Honkala, National Coordinator for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, keynote speaker for Democracy Convention


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