Sunday, April 7, 2019

Report back from the California Progressive Alliance

The last weekend in March I attended the California Progressive Alliance foundation conference. 
By paying $5 a month dues, I have been a member from the beginning.  109 members were present to vote at this conference held in San Luis Obispo with about 300 people in attendance over the weekend.  There were a number of Our Revolution Berniecrats, DSA and “progressive” Democrats along with a significant number of Greens from across the state among those present.    We had guest speakers, proposals, by laws and all that kind of good stuff on the agenda.
I am suggesting that Greens join the progressive alliance as individual members, who are the only members with a vote, and that the State Greens and local County Green chapters sign on as supporting organizations, which for the moment, don’t have much of a roll.
There are some aspects of this alliance that give me pause and there are some serious drawbacks to what we have so far, but despite that I suggest we engage the process for four reasons:
1, There is a strong potential to advance inside state government some of the agenda and values that we as Greens hold and have been working on for decades.
2, This could help us form local alliances to do the same in our city and county governments contesting local elections with a platform and a slate of candidates as the Richmond Progressive Alliance initiated.  
3, There is a politically inclusive, welcoming atmosphere and none of the people involved are dissolving their organization affiliations or asking others to do so. 
4, We Greens have a lot to offer in making this alliance successful.  I will go into this more in depth in my conclusion. 
The upsides: 
·        The fact that this has been happening AT ALL is a sea change in California politics.  Here we are seeing the short term after effects of Occupy and the Bernie Sanders phenomena and the long-term examples of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and other local efforts turning into some kind of systematic action.
·        The atmosphere is welcoming, inclusive and pluralistic.  (I said that, it is worth repeating)
·        This alliance has attracted to it many individuals with practical personal experiences.  We have former candidates, former office holders and current office holders along with many others who have participated in movements that have obtained changes in regulations and laws. 
One of the people who spoke was Matt Gonzales.  He had some very important practical proposals including the need for some kind of think tank to develop progressive draft legislation and ordnances that would give progressive elected officials an advance start on implementing our ideas.  This is the kind of practical proposals that many participants offered.
·        The positions taken set us out on a good course.  Especially important was the no-corporate-money commitment and the opposition to the corporate takeover of government.  There were other great positions taken on health care, war, economic development, protecting our public schools and other items that really matter.  The political direction of this alliance is clear, and for those who remain Democrats, they have a family problem, but the progressive left would have no problem with the endorsed platform.  For those of us akin to myself, who are socialists, this is a reform agenda, and not explicitly a socialist agenda, but these are the simple reforms that our reactionary affluent class resists and that the people really need in their day to day lives.
The downsides: 
·        This was an event heavily over representative of elder white men, including myself. (at 61, I qualify).  A group of people of color held a meeting to discuss this and the related boorishness of a lot of the speakers along with some inappropriate sexual behavior. I personally, as a working-class person who is quite outspoken, felt that this event was heavily weighted towards the highly college educated, many of whom, men and women, white and of color, were not listening, but just ready to pontificate about their pet projects and personal ideas.  When I listened to the concerns of the people of color, I felt that they were totally justified and in keeping with what I had seen myself.  I also wonder how the younger people there felt.  There certainly were a few people well under 25 and I was glad to see and listen to them.  I hope that they felt listened to and welcomed to lead as well as join in.  
We should not under emphasize this problem, it cuts across most left political movements in our nation and certainly the Greens have much of the same problems internally.  A woman of color put forward a code of conduct that was adopted, but she personally decided not to continue because of a man present who was the cause of her “me too” experience. 
If we are going to build a state-wide alliance to advance a people’s agenda of environmental sanity, economic equity and well being and social justice, we need to learn and get past various forms of elitism, racism and sexism inside our movement to make everyone welcome as leaders and valued contributors. 
·        And if we are going to do it in California, we have to speak Spanish. 
This convention did not in any way, shape or form.
·        There were also some serious process errors that reflect our individual based, self-appointed politics.  We in the US do not do organizations well, especially membership organizations that are transparent and accountable to the members. Between the Democrats and the non-profits, where would we learn that? Some of our unions are good, others have staff that shepherds the members. This group needs to improve our process. 
·        The next time a California Progressive Alliance meeting is held, I would like to see us voting members consulted ahead of time as to WHAT is on the agenda before putting out draft proposals.  Those draft proposals need to be provided long enough in advance to allow for research, amendments and counter proposals. 
·        Part of the problem of not having time to work on proposals is that the hand-to-mouth quick solution is to support the official Democrats at whatever they are doing.  Some attendees seemed to assume that everyone was a Democrat and that the internal Democrat agenda was THE agenda.  When discussed in the Green New Deal group, that was not what people there decided. 
·        The danger of this Alliance becoming manipulated is large.  The mainstream Democrats are good a lip service, empty token symbolism and making themselves look like they support what the do not.  When the Alliance gets popular, the opportunistic careerists will want photo ops.
·        And frankly, overloading the agenda and then cutting short discussion because we do not have the time is a mistake.  If we don’t have time to discuss things, then we should not vote on them.  Time would have been better spent working on our new platform, by-laws and the election of the steering committee.  Some of the support items could have been referred to that steering committee for more in-depth consideration and deliberation and I think that they would have done a better job than we did as a convention.  It would have been better to delegate that to our leadership and trust them to decide.
A few people spoke to this de facto lack of democratic process and I would ask the leadership to show more attention to those concerns.  “Asking the proposer if they accept an amendment” is not empowering. Real democracy is about having a choice, not a managed choice. 
One item on the long list of 17 documents that shows the shortcomings of last-minute proposals that we don’t have time to discuss, was support for a pollical party’s reelection in Barcelona.  I follow the news closely and am probably one of the few people in that room that had even heard of them before. I also speak Spanish and have a friend in Barcelona.  I like them but I have serious concerns about taking sides in anyone’s internal affairs.  That was not talked about.  And things like keeping our own government from taking action to overthrow the government of Venezuela was not on the list.
A proposal was made to do some kind of racial sensitivity training as part of our meetings and to have some kind of resources for those who feel cut out or mistreated.  I feel that this is a good idea. I would like to see that idea expanded to include young people, Spanish speakers and working-class folk. 
These problems of inclusiveness, language use and process can all be overcome, but it will not just happen by itself.  The proposals made need to be put into action to expand this movement.
There are other challenges.
The ideas need to be more flushed out. 
Personally, I put myself out there for the education plank and the “Green New Deal”.  Neither of which had much of a description.  There is good news on both counts.  As a writer, I volunteered to write some drafts to begin discussions.  A Green New Deal action committee formed and had a long and productive talk and we will be meeting by phone conference call once a month.  There is a good mix of backgrounds and ages in that group.  An education group did not meet, I think for lack of time and resources given that the people of color and other discussions were taking place at the same time.  But a couple of us did talk, and there too we are going to start up a more in-depth proposal. 
Hopefully by next convention the different groups will all have something to contribute with time enough for the members to review and time enough for discussion at the meeting before voting. 
Another challenge is: “Who is going to do all this work?”
Obviously, this cannot remain an all-volunteer organization if it is going to be effective.  Gayle may not want to be paid to chair the steering committee, and I hope she has the time and resources to work on this for free.  I suggest that the position include funding for the individual holding it. Sooner or later we need some other staff for fundraising, on-line presence, scheduling and organizing, travel, regional meetings, the next convention and so on. The group needs to raise funds, not a lot, but some. We Greens also suffer from the lack of a paid, full time, state organizer and fund raiser. 
Finally, there is a question about us participating as Greens. 
We certainly have seen many a liberal Democrat drift away over the years.  One of the things we Greens have to offer is a lot of experience.  With that experience we can ask for practice, policies and funding that are based on policy and do not depend on an elected official to be some kind of hero. 
We Greens have also worked on the issues a lot.  In the school districts, the city governments, the unions and out in the economy, there are active Greens skilled in all kinds of governmental policies. 
As usual, there were a number of Greens present, probably as many as many other groups, and as usual one would not know it.  Mike Feinstein said he counted Greens from Mendocino, Marin, Napa, Solano, Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
The good side of that is that we are not hucksters always flogging our brand, the bad side of that is one could walk away thinking that the Greens were not there.  I think we Greens should coordinate a bit more, be a bit more visible, but keep on our good practice of being honest contributors who roll up our sleeves and help make things work. 
As a political party, we Greens also have the advantage of a lot of experience of taking progressive ideas to the street through our grass roots election campaigns.  I would like to see more of our former candidates involved in the California Progressive Alliance to help keep it grounded and focused on public outreach.
And we are the GREEN party.  There is no small number of environmental biologists, farmers, firefighters, builders and other skilled people in our party to help develop the environmental alternative practices that are so needed in these critical times. 
So, I am suggesting that we go in and try to make this potentially effective project work and at the same time keep our eyes open to the pitfalls and possible problems that we would work to avoid. 


  1. Thank you for providing this report and analysis Don.

  2. Great analysis, Don. I really appreciate it and will be passing it on to others with whom I have talked about the newly-formed CPA. It's been great working with you also in our newly-formed CPA action team for a California Green New Deal.

  3. Hi Don. Thanks - great report! Did not understand this, tho (could you explain? sounds like regular consensus process to me so I don't get what's "managed" about it, disempowering, or undemocratic; what would "having a choice" mean as opposed to handling proposals including amendments? Did you want 2 proposals instead?):
    “Asking the proposer if they accept an amendment” is not empowering. Real democracy is about having a choice, not a managed choice.

  4. Karen,

    For the members who were not part of the steering committee there really were no choices other than vote yes or no.

    We were not consulted as to what would be brought to this convention in any way. Nor was there any lead time for discussions. Most of the proposals were made available a couple days before the event, at most.

    Not allowing amendments unless the "owner" of a proposal agreed to them is shutting down a basic function of any convention or legislature.

    The discussion time was zero, so all we got was people selling their proposals in a long, exhausting session where dissent or opposition did not have time on the schedule, nor was it welcome.

    When I look at the sum of theese process limitations, I felt that it was "decision" in name only, without debate.

    Maybe others find that to be consensus, but I felt that it was managed and not democratic in practice.