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A Grassroots Organizer’s Perspective: PDA Strategy Day
By Mike Hersh, PDA
In the wake of the march that seized the streets of our Nation's Capitol September 24th, Progressive Democrats of America activated and trained hundreds of members and guests at a National Strategy Conference Sunday, September 25th. We began with an Interfaith Service led by Dr. James A. Nelson, Reverend Gerry Straatemeier, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and Nicoli Bailey. Mimi Kennedy, star of "Dharma and Greg" and the Chair of PDA's Board, hosted a breakfast for participants to honor PDA's Grassroots Leadership.
Cindy Sheehan electrified us with her call for peace and a report of her discussions with top Democrats demanding they start leading the U.S. out of Iraq. Incredible speakers followed, including key members of the House Progressive Caucus; Tim Carpenter, Executive Director of PDA; Reverend Yearwood, Founder of the Hip Hop Caucus; PDA Board Member and best-selling author William Rivers Pitt; Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and Global Exchange; and Jeff Cohen, Founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). Then we broke into regional and state caucuses to prepare for our lobbying day and plan our ongoing organization.
Mimi Kennedy moderated a panel on Chapter Development, Alliance Building, Precinct Development, Networking our Chapters, Campus Mobilization, Birthing a State Caucus, and Grassroots Support of PDA through our Sustainer Program featuring Sherry Bohlen, PDA Field Director, Mervis Reissigm, Laura Bonham, Daniel Lewkowicz, Gerry Straatemeier, Patrick Carano, Marcy Winograd, and yours truly.
We worked through lunch with a tremendous panel on Building the Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party, the PDA Electoral Blueprint for the Upcoming 2006 Elections, moderated by Joel Segal, Vice-chair of the PDA Board and Senior Legislative Assistant to Representative John Conyers (D-MI). Panelists included Steve Cobble, Senior PDA Political Advisor; Kevin Spidel, PDA Political Director; Bill Goold, Executive Director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Greg Moore, Executive Director of the NAACP National Voter Fund, former Chief of Staff for Representative Conyers and former Deputy Political Director for the DNC; and Jay Winter Nightwolf, a Native American progressive heard Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on D.C. Progressive Radio Pacifica (WPFW 89.3 FM).
After informative, important workshops, Bruce Taub, PDA Peace Taskforce Leader; Acie L. Byrd, Vice President of the Veterans Institute for Security and Democracy; and I drafted—and the assembly passed—a Resolution demanding full and complete reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf State Region respecting current labor and other laws and regulations. Our conference reached a rousing climax as Constitutional Lawyer John Bonifaz and Tim Carpenter energized the assembled activists with a ringing indictment of the Bush Administration and a call to action.
This set the stage for the next day when PDA, United for Peace and Justice, and a host of progressive allies unleashed a battalion of citizen lobbyists upon the halls of Congress. We met with Senators, Congressmembers, and staff demanding total, rapid withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq. We had the support of hundreds of thousands of protesters—many of whom gathered for civil disobedience at the White House led by Cindy Sheehan, Code Pink, and the emerging "Religious Left."