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PLAN Conference for Progressive Activists Draws 350+ From Over 160 Groups

by Paul H. Rosenberg Monday, Oct. 22, 2001 at 4:35 PM

LA, October 21. Saturday, hundreds of activists from over 160 different organizations came together for the first comprehensive political gathering since the terrorist attacks on September 11th. Originally, a 6-month progress report on how those commitments were faring was a major rationale for the planning of this conference, but the planners and presenters did an admirable job of reorienting their focus to deal with the radically changed and highly fluid circumstances in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

LA, Exposotion Park, October 21: Saturday, hundreds of activists from over 160 different organizations came together for the first comprehensive political gathering since the terrorist attacks on September 11th. "Progressive L.A.: The Next Agenda" was co-sponsored by PLAN (the Progressive Los Angeles Network) and the Institute for America's Future, which has co-sponsored a number of similar regional conferences across the country.

Prior to the LA city elections last spring, PLAN developed a 21-point agenda, "a list of priority actions for the City of Los Angeles to make LA a more just, livable, and democratic place," and used it to elicit responses and commitments from politicians running for office in the city elections. Originally, a 6-month progress report on how those commitments were faring was a major rationale for the planning of this conference, but the planners and presenters did an admirable job of reorienting their focus to deal with the radically changed and highly fluid circumstances in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Kent Wong, of the UCLA Labor Center began the proceedings by invoking an image of the contradictions besetting the country in general and Los Angeles in particular when he spoke of "undocumented immigrants selling American flags on streetcorners."

He was followed by Peter Dreier, of Occidental College, a primary organizer behind PLAN's formation, who succinctly explained the rationale for PLAN's existence, and for the conference itself. We are involved in "building a struggle," he explained, and this conference was a "progress report" on that struggle. Three things are necessary for success: First, we need to know our destination, where we're trying to get to, second, we need a roadmap to know how we're going to get there, and third, we need a vehicle to get us there. Clearly, PLAN is intended to be such a vehicle for Los Angeles, bringing together many voices to produce and implement a common agenda. While the need for government is newly recognized by many after the tragedy of September 11th, he said that progressives have known all along that "We don't need to get government off our backs, we need to get it on our side." This proved to be a dominant theme throughout the day.

Robert Borosage of the IAF struck two more major themes of the day-first, the need for dissent, and for the insight and direction it alone can bring us. We can't answer "why do they hate us?" without looking at oil policy, Mideast policy and "how we do globalization." Second was the need for serving the public good, and defending against special interest exploitation. He quoted Ben Johnson's dictum that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scroundrel," and observed that there's "a lot of scoundrel patriotism." He cited a Wall Street Journal editorial the first week after the tragic attacks which argued that it would now be much easier to pursue the entire conservative agenda, before ticking of various examples of how this has since unfolded.

A major example he mentioned-the Republican "economic stimulus plan" was addressed by several speakers. Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky noted that House Republicans say their plan is 50% tax cuts and 50% new spending, which recalls an old story about a man who served his neighbors rabbit and bear stew. When they said it tasted just like bear stew, he insisted it was equal parts of both: one bear, one rabbit. The actual distribution of the Republicans proposal is 90% tax cuts to 10% new spending. But what's worse is the distribution of the tax cuts. A major item is the billion retroactive repeal of the alternative minimum tax (AMT), going back to 1986. This will give .33 billion to top 7 corporate beneficiaries, and .3 billion to IBM alone. Also included, according to Schakowsky, is billion for overseas financial corporations-but only if the money is not invested in the US. That's right- billion of economic stimulus money that by law can't be used to stimulate the economy.

Karen Bass, of the Community Coalition raised the question "Who's going to fight this war?" Disproportionately, she said it would be minority youth who joined to avoid the general criminalization of youth in their communities, where military recruitment has picked up noticeably.

Assemblywomen Jackie Goldberg called for "Relief for all the victims of September 11," including all those laid-off-particularly low-income service workers no longer protected by a social safety net. It was, she said, "wholly inappropriate to care only about one group of victims." The state of California is facing a billion shortfall, in contrast to a - billion cut in vehicle registration fees-the most recent conservative tax-cutting crusade. This is money state pays to county & local governments, where services are delivered, particularly for health and welfare. "The rightwing agenda is to defund government," Goldberg noted, "only now they need government and they still want to deund it. Now people must understand the consequences."

Maria Elena Durazo - President of HERE Local 11 (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees) since 1989, said that before September 11, our heroes were wealthy entertainers, singers athletes and CEOs, but "Now our heroes are workers," blue collar workers such as firemen, steelworkers, at the same time that over a hundred thousand such workers are losing their jobs, including 1/3 of HERE's members nationwide. Nonetheless, she vowed to concede nothing. "All else is dispensible-except organizing." She went on to say, "We want unconditional support in the same way the airlines got unconditional support….Who said it's their time? It's our time! We're going to win!"

Other speakers included assemblywoman Judy Chu, LA City Councilmembers Ed Jan Perry, and Eric Garcetti, Santa Monica City Councilmember Kevin McKeown, Miguel Contreras, of the LA County Federation of Labor, Rev. Norman Johnson of the Southern California Christian Leadership Conference, Torie Osborn of Liberty Hill Foundation , Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Roxanne Tynan of Los Angeles Alliance for New Economym Robert Gottlieb of Occidental College and Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect and LA Weekly.

The conference concluded with a mesmerizing bilingual multi-media performance by audio activists Ultra Red, featuring spoken word along with processed audio and video, and dealing with themes of border life, culture and politics, including border crossings, music-making and the day-laborers union.

A more extensive report on the conference will be posted in the next day or two.

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