Atlant Schmidt and Cathy Goldwater at Bird-dogging workshop
The third annual New Hampshire Progressive Summit brought 150 activists to New England College yesterday for a conference devoted to practical political skills and information in a wide range of topics. Renewable energy, youth organizing, preserving Social Security and Medicare, poverty, GMOs, use of social media, and more kept the crowd moving for the day. There was even time for debate over the Northern Pass powerline project, an issue about which there is not unity in the New Hampshire Left.
The Summit included 19 workshops and another 6 “mini-workshops,” plus sessions for elected officials and candidates. I was able to catch ones on LGBT issues (with Mo Baxley and Jamie Capach) and on the perils of privatization (with Diana Lacey and Janice Kelble) plus 20-minute “mini workshops” on the American Legislative Exchange Council (with Caitlin Rollo and Rep. Marcia Moody) and reducing gun violence (with Janet Groat of Moms Demand Action). The presenters all were masters of their subjects and led effective discussions.
I also sat in on a presentation about the NH Rebellion, a growing project to put pressure on candidates to end the “system of corruption” caused by the flood of cash in the political system. The rebels are planning to join four July 4 parades and assemble hundreds of people to walk from Hampton Beach to New Castle on July 5, all in the spirit of Doris “Granny D” Haddock. Their supporters at the Summit included several old friends from Occupy NH.
With Olivia Zink and Addy Simwerayi, I led a session on “bird-dogging” skills, i.e. how to let candidates know what is on our minds and find out what is on theirs. These sessions are always lively, fun, and hopefully useful. We had a great assortment of activists concerned about trans rights, climate, GMOs, money and politics, and other issues, all eager to hone their skills. With the 2014 election campaign heating up and the campaign for the 2016 NH Presidential Primary already underway there is plenty of bird-dogging to be done.
In fact, the lobby outside the main meeting room was filled with tables from Democratic Party groups, including “Ready for Hillary.”
What it means to be an “aggressive progressive” was the theme of Richard Kirsch’s keynote. The speech ran through dozens of popular progressive concepts like a higher minimum wage, defeat of “right to work,” the use of the tax code by the 1% to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else, the need for paid sick leave, and the importance of not only preserving but expanding Social Security. “We all do better when we all do better,” he said.
Punctuated with applause, Kirsch’s remarks were deliberately formulaic, and in fact, he said they were drawn from the key message points of “An America that Works for All of Us,” a glossy brochure included in everyone’s conference packet (and available online). From the speaker’s perspective “repeating, repeating, repeating and telling the same story,” what he calls the “progressive narrative,” is the key to political success.
Coming out of movements based on direct action, I’m not totally sold on this “narrative” concept. I think we create the “narrative” by our actions as much as by our words, but I agree it’s important to communicate effectively and have always believed that the “progressive agenda” – good schools, fair taxes, protection of civil rights and liberties, decent wages for workers, etc. — ought to be popular with the majority of Americans. But let’s give attention to actions beyond voting and appeals to those who get elected. I hope there’s still room for direct action on the progressive agenda.