About History History PDA History 2013 - PDA Organizing in Overdrive
Monday, 21 April 2014 19:30

PDA History 2013 - PDA Organizing in Overdrive

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From the People’s Inaugural to Progressive Round Tables

Progressive Democrats of America kept up our intensity in 2013. When other organizations celebrated during inaugural weekend in D.C., PDA convened another Progressive Central. This conference and work session, dubbed “The Peoples’ Inaugural,” brought together leading progressives and PDA organizers at the University of D.C. Law School.

PDA welcomed several co-sponsors to help us energize the larger progressive movement with discussion topics that featured the wide spectrum of left and liberal objectives including: "Building the Peace & Justice Movement inside & outside the Democratic Party," "Building the Progressive Democratic / Labor Alliance," and "Organizing for Main Street not Wall Street" in an expansive, inclusive and forward-thinking approach. PDA worked to meld traditional and new left-liberal causes into a powerful, effective coalition.

By fostering cooperation among grassroots groups, DC Beltway NGOs and elected officials seeking opportunities for success during the second Obama term.

Speakers and participants included activists and leadership from the NAACP, unions, faith groups, as well as environmental / climate groups, peace and justice organizations and Congress members John Conyers (D-MI.), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ.), Keith Ellison (by video), James McGovern (D-MA.), Mark Pocan (D-WI.), and Alan Grayson (D-FL.) John Nichols (The Nation Magazine, MSNBC) and Steve Cobble (PDA Board, Institute for Policy Studies) served as moderators. 

We welcomed progressive leaders including: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Karen Higgins, Michael Lighty, Lori Wallach, Lindsay McLaughlin, Medea Benjamin, Phyllis Bennis, Donna Smith, Becky Bond, George Kohl, Bill Fletcher, Steve Cobble, Jacqui Patterson, Valerie Serrels, Miriam Pemberton, Andrea Miller, Jose Aguto, and Robert Score—as well as progressive media stalwarts John Nichols and Thom Hartmann.

After a long day of panels, PDA celebrated at Busboys and Poets, hosted by Board Member Andy Shallal, and honored Rep. McGovern at an event emceed by Mimi Kennedy, and featuring comedian Rick Overton.

PDA continued building our impact in districts and on the Hill, as the national debate focused on looming austerity measures.

We worked with members of Congress and Credo Action on a petition drive to draw a line in the sand against any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. The battle-lines were eerily similar to the Super Committee debates as a government shut down crisis pushing the White House and Democrats in Congress to accept “sequester” austerity budget cuts. This bad deal and broken down process made PDA’s and our Robin Hood Tax campaign allies all the more determined to tax Wall Street, not punish Main Street.

The People’s Inaugural, Roundtable meetings, letter drops, and organizing to defend the social safety net, began to attract more attention for PDA. In These Times (ITT) magazine ran an article by Tim Carpenter and Communications Coordinator Mike Hersh calling upon Congress to reject any budget deal that included “Chained CPI,” changes to the cost of living formula that threatened to hurt Social Security beneficiaries.

ITT began covering PDA activities on a regular basis as journalist Cole Stangler wrote several articles. 

PDA’s bold efforts brought us closer ties with the House of Labor, including long-standing partners from the National Nurses United (NNU), United State Labor Against War (USLAW) and the Labor for Single Payer Healthcare campaign, as well as new allies from the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local-1.

In February, PDA expanded and redesigned the Brown Bag Lunch Vigil (BBLV) campaign into the streamlined Educate Congress Campaign, focusing on “letter drops” at district offices and on Capitol Hill . We also continued our Round Table meetings on the Hill. WeAct Radio joined the effort, video recording and live-streaming the meetings. National Director Tim Carpenter began making regular appearances on Advisory Board Member Thom Hartmann’s radio and TV shows.

We closed out February gathering once again in Winslow, Arizona at our national leadership summit. There, we discussed ways to increase our effectiveness, bringing in Kurt Bateman to help our with our growing labor alliances, and Jeanne Marie Dauray to bring our Issue Team work up to a higher level. For the third consecutive year, Allan Affeldt and his partner, artist Tina Mion, welcomed the PDA grassroots leadership team to a retreat at their beautiful La Posada resort. 

PDA staff, issue teams, state and local leadership heard from PDA Board Members Michael Lighty (National Nurses United) and PDA's Political Director Steve Cobble as well as Eric Griego (PDA-endorsed Candidate for Congress from New Mexico in 2012) and Mark Dudzic (Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare) about ways to build the PDA/Labor Alliance, how better to mobilize support for progressive candidates, and other priorities.

We reviewed our successes and disappointments and made plans for PDA moving forward. We also met as Issue Teams to discuss exciting new developments in our inside/outside work: specifically how to effectively focus our "Educate Congress" campaign efforts supporting landmark progressive legislation on peace, conversion of Pentagon spending to create green jobs, voting rights, jobs creation, Medicare for All, opposing bad trade deals, preventing climate change and more.

In March, we rallied support for the “Back To Work Budget”—a progressive alternative to the Republic House and the Democratic Senate budgets—that would: help create 7 million new jobs in one year, enact fair tax policies (including a Robin Hood Tax), cut weapons spending, improve healthcare, and help stop climate change and otherwise protect the environment (Carbon Tax, Ending Subsidies to fossil fuel corporations)--all while preventing cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. We hand-delivered Educate Congress letters, made calls, and used social media to back this legislation.

In April, we continued and expanded our demands for progressive solutions to budget concerns—not cuts to needed programs. While the President and many in Congress put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block, PDA mobilized in Washington, D.C. and at district offices across the nation with our Educate Congress campaign at more than 100 congressional offices, dropping letters telling members of Congress to: Block any and all cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by signing the Grayson / Takano “line in the sand” letter; and to co-sponsor both Rep. Conyers’ H.R. 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act, and Rep. Ellison’s newly-reintroduced Inclusive Prosperity Act (aka the Robin Hood Tax).

PDA also hosted a Prosperity Not Austerity reception with special guests Rep. Conyers and Rep. Ellison as well as Rev. Lennox Yearwood in D.C., and invited members of Congress, staffers, union leaders, and movement organizers to another Progressive Roundtable on Capitol Hill, and rallied with the Robin Hood Tax Campaign supporting Rep. Ellison’s Financial Transaction Tax. We closed out April celebrating a special election victory with our endorsed Senate candidate Ed Markey.

In May, PDA launched our End Mass Criminalization effort led by Andrea Miller and Rev. Terence Dicks. The duo had been hosting and expanding PDA’s Blog Talk Radio programming and initiated PDA’s “Southern Strategy.” Their efforts gained several new allies and chapters for PDA, developed a large audience for the radio shows, and helped bring our attention to the many talented and eager progressives in the South.

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By June, PDA’s Educate Congress letter drop effort had grown to 230 office visits per month. To reinforce and add emphas is to the messages, PDA organized demonstrations at district offices, and then followed up with nationwide phone banking after each letter drop. Mike “Phone Guy” Fox organizes these calls into congressional offices.

In July, PDA helped lead the fight against billions of dollars in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP aka food stamps) We rallied activists in emergency Street Heat actions at the district offices of top Congressional Democratic leaders including: House Leader Pelosi, House Whip Hoyer, DNC Chair Wasserman-Schultz, as well as Senate Whip Durbin. 

PDA Board member Rep. Jim McGovern said that PDA “helped Democrats be Democrats” when we encouraged them to vote against food stamp cuts. “People here [in DC] knew there was a movement out there that was absolutely against gutting the SNAP program,” McGovern said.

In August, Mike Hersh spoke at a massive stop Fracking rally across from the White House and joined the delivery of 100,000s of petition signatures to the Bureau of Land Management. Later in the month, when President Obama and many others called for an attack against Syria, PDA reached out to our partners and helped lead the peace effort by phone-banking and social media outreach, and by once again bringing street heat. Our great friends Lily Tomlin, John Nichols and Bob McChesney joined Board Members Jim Hightower, Tom Hayden and our Chair Mimi Kennedy at a wonderful fundraiser in Los Angeles.

In September, we pushed for “aggressive diplomacy” with a special letter drop—hand-delivering Educate Congress letters to 151 Representatives and Senators urging them to vote against military action by cosponsoring Board Member Rep. Barbara Lee’s resolution. We also raised funds for a full-page ad in Roll Call, the de facto official newspaper of Congress, featuring a well-reasoned case for diplomacy written by PDA Board Member Tom Hayden.

A second September letter drop called for continued diplomatic efforts rather than warfare agai nst Syria, and provided explained how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would hurt Main Street. PDA’s coalition work organizing against the TPP—which began in January with Lori Wallach of Global Trade Watch sounding the alarm at PDA’s Progressive Central in January—continued into 2014.

In October, PDA hosted several events with John Nichols and Robert McChesney—the authors of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America—in Massachusetts and California. This excellent book explains how American democracy is declining as the range of debate is increasingly controlled by big-money campaign contributions, wall-to-wall lobbying, and media more inclined to repeat spin than to dig for the truth. 

This is a theme championed by our End Corporate Rule working group, coordinated by Stephen Spitz and Jann Campbell. They’re helping to advance the We The People, Not We The Corporations PDA platform on the following issues: Overturning Citizens United, Protecting the Postal Service, Negotiating Prescription Drug Prices Under Medicare Part D, and Ending the Congress Member to Lobbyist Revolving Door.

In November, PDA hosted another successful Progressive Roundtable, this time featuring Representatives Barbara Lee, Keith Ellison, and Alan Grayson with many of our progressive allies. After the Round Table, many of us delivered 700,000 signatures to Rep. Paul Ryan's office to say, "No cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits". Then our Political Director, Steve Cobble, appeared on the Thom Hartmann show.

In December, PDA kept working our “Inside/Outside strategy.” Rep. John Conyers, read glowing testimony about PDA into the official Congressional Record. We worked with IATSE Local One’s Robert Score and the New York Central Labor Council to secure their endorsement of his signature legislation, H.R. 676, and helped mobilize support for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ and Rep. Jim McDermott’s American Health Security Act as well. 

Also in December, PDA organized Hill visits supporting constitutional amendments to guarantee voting rights for all U.S. citizens, to remove the ratification deadline on the Equal Rights Amendment, to end corporate personhood, and to reverse the Supreme Court decision defining money as political speech. We visited selected Senate offices on behalf of these amendments, and for a budget that reflects the values of the American people, versus the multinational corporations.

Later that month, we held one of our best letter drops and round tables yet. PDA Executive Director Tim Carpenter explained, “The Educate Congress letter drops represent some of the best organizing PDA has done.” He added, “Delivering monthly letters to an increasing number of Congressional offices has not only helped us influence policy decisions—from stopping war with Syria to saving food stamps—it has helped us grow PDA and the new progressive movement nationwide.”

After our December Roundtable, PDA held a benefit at Busboys and Poets in D.C. hosted by PDA Board Member—and current D.C. Mayoral candidate—Andy Shallal, where we hosted Board Member Rep. John Conyers, and welcomed Rep. Keith Ellison onto our board. The Nation’s John Nichols emceed, as we celebrated the end of the year with several of our closest allies and friends. John honored our Educate Congress campaign in his end-of-the-year progressive honor roll.

Looking back on our 2013 accomplishments, PDA had a lot to be proud of. Our letter drops, street heat demonstrations, phone-banking, social media outreach, and DC Round Tables persuaded six Representatives to cosponsor H.R. 1000: The Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act; five signed onto H.R. 676: The Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act; and three agreed to cosponsor H.R. 1579: The Inclusive Prosperity Act (aka the Robin Hood Tax). “We had drops in all of the districts where we gained co-sponsors for progressive bills [showing] our hard work is beginning to pay off!”

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