Progressive Dems of America Set to Raise its Voice
Progressive Dems of America Set to Raise its Voice
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The rabble-rousers, those asking the toughest questions of the presidential candidates at this weekend's state Democratic convention in San Diego, are likely to be wearing green stickers and black lapel pins.The stickers demand an end to the "occupation of Iraq," and the pins urge the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Emboldened by the November national election and a public embracing a rapid end to U.S. involvement in Iraq, a new faction of the Democratic Party's liberal wing is hoping to attract attention inside and outside of the convention hall.
Salvaged from the wreckage of Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, the Progressive Democrats of America represents a leading edge of the anti-war movement with activists such as Tom Hayden, Cindy Sheehan and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, on the board.
A small band of the group's organizers has been rallying the faithful up and down the state as they head to a convention at which they hope to send as many as 150 delegates determined to bolster the party's liberal flank. That would likely amount to less than 10 percent of the delegates but officials with the organization predict there will be hundreds of other like-minded delegates.
Tim Carpenter, a former Orange County resident serving as national director for the Progressive Democrats, said the budding organization represents "the insurgency within our party."
"The PDA is on the level where people are sending their kids to war and those kids are dying," said actress Mimi Kennedy, the group's chairwoman. "We've got to connect the leadership to this reality. They need to see the movement's strength inside the party. This is going to be a serious election in '08."
The organization will rally tomorrow night at the Scottish Rite Center in San Diego and protest outside the San Diego Convention Center on Saturday afternoon. Many will be watching to see what kind of numbers and passion the organization can muster.
"They want a seat at the table for the community-organizer groups, and it can only be good if they earn it because that will mean they have some real firepower to get the vote out," said Sam Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego.
The Progressive Democrats formed at Roxbury Community College in Massachusetts on the last day of the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, as Sen. John Kerry was accepting the nomination. In addition to Kucinich's followers, the group enlisted many disciples of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, currently the chairman of the National Democratic Committee.
"Social change in American history has come about fundamentally from social movements and not from political parties," Hayden told the crowd that day.
Hayden identified Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy as "probably our most remembered progressives." But, he said, "all three of them only did what they did because they were forced by social movements."
In the nearly three years since, the Progressive Democrats has attracted about 80,000 members nationally, including 172 chapters in 32 states, according to Carpenter. The metro San Diego chapter has grown to 70 members since it began in the fall, said Judy Hess, who leads the chapter. The organization's Web site also lists central and north San Diego chapters.
Nationally, the group is not as big or financially powerful as the like-minded Moveon.org, which operates as an independent entity outside any political party. Progressive Democrats members say their group is an "inside/outside" organization that works both within and distinct from the Democratic Party. But, as an official party organization, it must adhere to federal fundraising restrictions that limit contributions to $5,000, Kennedy said.
Following Hayden's advice, the organization concentrated its efforts on more than 40 congressional races in last year's midterm election. Its members helped elect Democratic Reps. Jerry McNerney in Northern California and John Hall in New York, were active in Francine Busby's losing congressional race in north San Diego County and backed anti-war candidates against Rep. Jane Harman in suburban Los Angeles County and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York.
The Progressive Democrats' top priority is a "prompt, orderly withdrawal from Iraq." But the organization also supports the campaign to curb global warming; single-payer, universal health care; a repeal of Bush administration upper-income tax cuts; and a federal ban on touch-screen electronic voting.
Roger Salazar, a senior adviser to California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, said the Progressive Democrats looks a lot like the party's long-standing liberal base.
"They're the same activists who have been with us for a long time," Salazar said. "We love multiple voices. . . . It's healthy for us to have open discussions and debates about the direction the country is headed in and the speed in which we withdraw from Iraq."
Republican consultant Dan Schnur said the progressives present the same challenge to the Democratic Party that staunch conservatives have to the Republican Party in the past.
"You've got anti-war protesters outside (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi's house in San Francisco, which suggests to me that the far left wing of the party isn't going to be satisfied by its leadership under any circumstances," Schnur said. "Bless their hearts."
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