The Alliance for Democracy Founding Convention
November 21-24, 1996
Mo Ranch, Texas
Draft Proceedings by Joanne Omang
Saturday Nov. 23
Singer/Songwriter Jim Scott opened the session with songs "Harmony" and "Common Ground." In a circle of friends/In a circle of sound/All our voices will blend/When we touch common ground.
It was announced that 232 people, including members of 26 Alliance chapters and 74 at-large members, were present at the Convention, representing 389 paid-up members. [Note: post-convention final tally showed attendees numbered 283.] The Alliance now has an estimated 45 chapters nationwide.
Columnist, humorist, author "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?"
I'm not sure what we've got here but I think it's great. People are full of energy and
hope. You're acting on behalf of a larger group of citizens, galvanizing them the way the
Million Man March did for black Americans. Black male voters went up 52 percent in 1996,
and the Reform Party has had a similar effect. Millions of people are looking for an
alternative. I've always thought of Ronnie Dugger as a cross between Louis Farrakhan and
Ross Perot anyway.
Examples: With Kinky Freedman she helped set up "Texas Gays and Lesbians for Phil Gramm." When the KKK ("the cluckers") march, everybody gets upset for six months, especially the civil libertarians who have to defend their right to march. So when they got off the bus for a recent march in Austin, they were greeted by a line of thousands of people who turned and mooned them as they walked along. Some of us are still willing to put our bodies on the line.
[See complete transcript here.]
Ivins' remarks during discussion --The most fun politician she knows was a Texas state
legislator who hired someone to shoot him for publicity purposes. Since this is
illegal--Texas may be the only state that has found it necessary to outlaw paying someone
to shoot you--he was hunted down and found hiding in his mother's house in the stereo
cabinet--he always did want to be a speaker. --Ann Richards is busy designing the perfect
purse, on grounds women spend more time with their purses than with their husbands or
children. She vetoed a bill to allow concealed weapons, and the NRA helped defeat her for
governor because of it. Conceding, she said she had vetoed it because not a woman in Texas
could find a gun in her handbag. --Victor Morales was a terrible candidate against Phil
Gramm. He would not listen to anyone, would not take donations that could have helped him
win. The worst was that the state lost a chance to get rid of Gramm that it won't have
again for six years. --President Clinton does get a bum deal from the media but he is no
profile in courage himself.
Task Force Presentations
GARRET WHITNEY of Concord MA assumed the chair.
Nine task forces were formed on crucial issues chosen at the March 1996 Alliance convention in Chicago. Representatives of each were asked to make brief preliminary reports to the plenary session.
Alternative Economics: We are inventing a new wheel. "A humanized democratic economy is one of the four subjects we must undertake together," Ronnie Dugger wrote in The Call to Citizens. The economy serves those who control it. We want to control it; to do so we have to develop our own alternatives to it while we take it on. These include credit unions, barter arrangements and many other kinds of community-level operations. Multipurpose centers are needed to help educate the community. The Alliance can become a center of education and action in each community, bringing together the fragmented activists for this crucial effort.
Education: We ought to be scared of the corporate incursion into our schools at all levels. Just as HMOs have overrun and captured health care, so EMOs (educational maintenance organizations) are infiltrating education. The Western Governors' Association, e.g., held a closed meeting of its steering committee on education to discuss a joint venture in distance learning with ten states and corporate partners; this goes beyond mere education and forces universities to rethink their entire function. Education is the second largest economic sector in the country; movement of one stock market point equals $2.8 billion, a lot of money by education standards. EMOs came into schools legally, with state legislatures facilitating their operation. The corporations will seek to run schools nationwide more like businesses, forgetting that students are not widgets on a production line.
The Media: Corporate domination of the media and attendant corporate censorship are the major obstacles to deep democracy nationwide. New interactive computer media and traditional alternative media are the foundation for a democratized, people's media system to supersede and eventually replace corporate media. The purpose and effect of democratic media should be not only amusement and diversion but also enlightenment and facilitation of democratic interactions among people. This requires the reinvention of journalism along democratic lines, with emphasis on universal access to media and on the constitutional rights to free expression for flesh-and-blood persons.
Food and Agriculture: Corporate dominance here encompasses all other issues under discussion. Health: 50 percent of health problems are estimated to be caused by diet, and health services is the most profitable sector of the economy now. Food manufacturing is third. Education: corporations distribute "safety tips" brochures in schools that carry ads for snacks and groceries; they also offer "healthy diet" curricula while pushing junk food. Electoral reform: Five of the top ten campaign contributors in the 1996 elections were food corporations. Philip Morris and RJR Nabisco, eg, contributed $3.2 million, split among all sides. The media: food product and store ads dominate all the media, one reason why agribusiness is so seldom written about. Environment: Agricultural runoff, pesticide use, water and land use are all key environmental problems. Alternative economics: Finding ways to feed people locally is a key task of any effort to resist corporate rule. This convention can view action against food mega-corporations as a way to address all its issues simultaneously and to educate the public about all of them, the real goal of the project. Eating has become a political act.
Environment: A healthy Earth is fundamental to every human activity. Where corporations destroy land and nature, poison their workers and communities and market dangerous products, life itself is threatened and democracy is meaningless. The current corporate economy takes little heed of environmental factors in its production processes. The Alliance must work with those whose existence is most compromised, and should seek to focus public attention on the urgency of taking action, find strategies for establishing environmental justice, and identify allies in furthering this work.
Health Care: The current system is a national disgrace, and without universal decent health care, other elements of a just society are diminished. The Alliance should set a long-range goal of establishing a universal single-payer or free health care system on the Canadian model. Corporate propaganda to the contrary, the Canadian system works to the overall satisfaction of everyone. The American corporate takeover of health care, however, is well underway, with its impact finally beginning to stir outrage. Alliance locals can build support with work against local hospital and HMO corporate takeovers.
Economic Insecurity: Too many Americans now lack meaningful work at livable wages, thanks to corporate "downsizing" that stresses maximization of profits over all else. As raising wages and protecting workers' health and retirement do not increase corporate profits, no relief can be expected from the corporate sector. It's time to take back our government from the transnational corporations. The Alliance should take a three- pronged approach: redefine corporations to eliminate "personhood"; expand economic alternatives in the private sector and among non-profit groups; and redirect priorities at the local, state and federal government levels. More people need to be supported in opening their own businesses.
Electoral Reform: Campaign finance reform is the key issue for Alliance work now, attacking first on a state-by-state basis and eventually with a constitutional amendment. For example, recent court rulings mean a state cannot pass a law against "corporate free speech," but a state can say that any candidate who refuses corporate donations can get public funding, up to a level, say, of the opponent's budget. Studies show that $6 per person would finance all federal and state-level election campaigns; media access should be required to be free and equal for all candidates. In the 24 states that have citizen referendum procedures, such initiatives should be launched. The Alliance should ally with other groups to do it, thus promoting itself into public consciousness. Where no referendum process exists, the legislatures must be pushed hard. Other needs: to shorten campaigns to two months; reform lobbying rules; unbuckle controversial bills tacked on to others, to foster debate; move to preference or proportional balloting; make the Federal Election Commission more diverse and better armed.
Constitutional Issues and Direct Democracy: For the sole purpose of educating the public about the problem, the Alliance should draft and push a constitutional amendment to prohibit "personal" constitutional rights for corporations. The educational value of this one issue is without parallel except for the issue of campaign finance reform. Another proposed amendment could declare that money is not equal to speech, and a third should deny corporations the right to violate the constitutional rights of flesh-and-blood persons. These could also be proposed as citizen initiatives in the 24 states with that process, aimed not at passage but at getting people to think about corporate rule.
Small Groups on Task Force Proposals then gathered to discuss these suggested actions and amend the recommendations. [A report on proceedings in one of these small-group sessions, Alternative Economics, can be found as Attachment 9.]
Saturday afternoon session
The conference was invaded by a political theater group of youthful, high-energy corporate stooges who offered Ronnie Dugger a "great job running a magazine" for them and warned that no Alliance stands a chance against them. They were booed from the stage.
AL KREBS of Everett WA introduced FRED HARRIS, Former U.S. Senator, Oklahoma, who introduced the next speaker.
Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, radio commentator and author, "There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos "
Gunter Grass said it best: the job of the citizen is to keep your mouth open. Progressives are feeling now that progress might actually be possible: the people are revolting. And not a moment too soon. Corporations are running roughshod over our destiny as a nation. This is no job for the meek. You don't wear your best trousers to fight for freedom and truth.
First we seek political democracy and through that, economic democracy. The powers that be try to trivialize us and will do the same to this meeting. But it's an extension of the original American revolution, impelled by the founding values of the country. Benjamin Franklin said, "America's destiny is not power- -it's light," but it's one that no political party now wants to see, much less to turn on. Washington is a city full of five-watt bulbs in 500-watt sockets: both parties are terminally corrupted by the narcotic of corporate money.
We now have Clinton II, the Sequel. He didn't go to progressives for their ideas or to labor for their job needs; he went to the Philippines to set up an Asian NAFTA with 18 Asian nations. As Lily Tomlin said, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."
Campaign finance reform is crucial. Sen. Mitch McConnell [R-KY] of the Finance Committee said, "We will kill it. Write it down." He's one of those that Molly Ivins described: "If he gets one digit dumber we'll have to start watering him twice a week." We must wrestle back our world from the fools. It's no longer enough to be progressive; we have to become aggressive again.
You are on target because you have focused on the real target, the corporate rulers of the economy. They want us to look side to side in fear--of unions, environmentalists, immigrants; but Jesse Jackson had it: "We may not have come over on the same boat, but we're in the same boat now."
Clinton et al. say the problem is government, but government is just a puppet. We must look up at the hands pulling those strings, corporate hands. People know this and are angry, ready to do something about it. All we have to do is connect to that anger and connect the people to each other. Hightower uses talk radio for that connecting. You don't have to be in Who's Who to know what's what.
The workaday majority is not divided from right to left but from top to bottom: 75 to 80 percent of the people do not own stocks, make less than $50,000 and do not have college degrees; they don't vote or they vote No. They're not in shouting distance of people at the top. They may think of environmentalists as tree- huggers but they know pollution when it hits them. The guy whose rosebush dies, his cat dies, his kid gets a rash--he's an environmentalist. To clear it up, let's just require corporate executives to live within 100 yards of anything they build.
Newt Gingrich is not our problem. He's the loudspeaker of the House. The problem is the Democrats: Clinton wants to help the environment as long as it doesn't hurt his corporate contributors. This country doesn't need a third party--it needs a second one. This year 100 million people didn't vote; 9 million voted for neither Clinton nor Dole and 30 percent of the Clinton vote was just against Newt. That's not apathy--that's civil disobedience.
So the cure is organize, organize, organize; agitation with our workboots on; plant the flag, proudly, on the highest hill, a bold program of anti-corporate action: that is what will rally people, and nothing short of it will. Gompers said it in 1893: insert Gompers statement.
Second, go to the people, all the people: get to the snuff dippers. Go directly, to their meetings, to church, where politics is preached. The Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition are with us 100 percent on all the economic programs we stand for. Go door-to-door. Join speakers' bureaus, get on the radio--you get in the shower with them. Affiliate with the United Broadcasting Network like he did, owned by the UAW, advertising US-made products only. We're in battle for the 80 percent majority that's out there. They'll go to Pat Buchanan or they'll go to us.
And third, forge coalitions. No man is an Ireland, said Richard Daley. The New Party, Labor, the Greens, sometimes with the Democrats. Support the New Party lawsuit trying to get fusion politics that would allow cross-endorsing across ballots. It would give third parties a chance to win.
We can do this and only we can do this. Organizing progressives is like loading frogs in a wheelbarrow. But we've been here before. The corporations have the money and the fat cats but we have the alley cats. Believe in what you're doing because it's right. Trust each other. Let's do something first and figure out later what to call it. And remember--no building is too tall for a small dog to lift its leg on.
Small groups on task force proposals then gathered again for further work on recommendations. [A report from one small-group session, on Food and Agriculture, is included as Attachment 10.] Participants also gathered at sessions to discuss issues not addressed by the nine task forces, and held regional caucuses during the dinner hour.
Damacio A. Lopez
Grassroots activist and policy analyst, author "Friendly Fire"
Once a golf pro, he was radicalized by corporate testing near his house of tank-penetrating bullets tipped with depleted uranium. These are now suspected as a possible cause of Gulf War Syndrome through the smoke they produce, which may be radioactive. The tests were the result of legislation sponsored by US senators who received campaign contributions from the bullets' manufacturers.
Campaign finance laws are more loophole than law. A powerful grassroots movement is needed to change that. After four years of work, his New Mexico group has a four-part program to push a law for public financing of all state races. Maine's successful 1996 initiative is the model and no fluke--Gallup polls show 50 percent or more support for state financing since 1974 nationwide. Vermont may be the first to achieve it fully. We can't take politics off the auction block by tinkering with the campaign finance system; only bold reform is a real option. The current system stands in the spot where poll tax once stood: it's unfinished business of the civil rights movement.
The task is to plug into the existing network working for campaign finance reform at the state level. Educate ourselves and organize around it. People now see it as a link between money and politics and their own lives, so the time has come to move. It's not a panacea--we'll still have a flood of ads and enormous pressure--but it will eliminate the candidates who are directly owned by the corporations and will open the process to new ways of thinking.
Presentation of Work Groups' Revised Proposals, and Voting on Them
It was announced that additional arrivals had boosted conference participation to 250 people from 32 states, representing 26 alliances with 389 chapter votes, plus 82 at-large votes.
The Mission Statement Working Group leader NED HANAUER of the North Bridge MA Alliance presented three alternative statements, as follows:
A1: The mission of The Alliance is to establish true democracy; create a just society with a sustainable, equitable economy; and free all people from corporate domination of politics, economics, culture and information.
A2: The mission of The Alliance is to free all people from corporate domination of politics, economics, culture and information; to establish true democracy; and to create a just society with a sustainable, equitable economy.
B: The mission of The Alliance is to bring the economic and political power of corporate and other wealth under democratic control; to create a just, sustainable economy; and to establish true democracy.
On a voice vote, delegates rejected debate. The first voice vote, to choose between A1 and A2, was ruled inconclusive by the Chair. He asked for a show of hands, in which the count was 80 votes for A1 and 81 votes for A2. At demand of the house, a weighted vote followed (in which each delegation voted all its paid-up chapter members), resulting in 166 votes for A1 and 276 votes for A2. A2 was declared chosen over A1.
The next voice vote was between A2 and B, and was inconclusive. The Chair asked for a show of hands, in which the count was 122 votes for A2 and 34 votes for B. A2 was ruled the winner.
The floor was then opened for amendments to A2.
On a voice vote, the convention added the words "the environment" after "economics."
On a voice vote, it rejected a reordering of the words after "from" so as to read "...from the domination of corporate and other wealth over politics..."
On a voice vote, it rejected an amendment to delete the words, "The mission of" and add the words "a movement" so as to make the statement read, "The Alliance is a movement to..."
On a voice vote, it added as a technical and clarifying amendment the words "in order" after the word "information," making a subordinate clause of all that follows.
As approved at that point, the Mission Statement then read:
"The mission of the Alliance is to free all people from corporate domination of politics, economics, the environment, culture and information, in order to establish true democracy, and to create a just society with a sustainable, equitable economy."
The Name: ANNIE BAKER of the Montana Alliance presented the Working Group's proposed list of eight alternative names for consideration. These were:
Alliance for Democracy, Democratic Populist Alliance, Alliance for a New Democracy (AND) Progressive Populist Alliance, Alliance for Popular Democracy, (The) People's Alliance, New Populist Alliance (NewPops), (The) Progressive Alliance
The floor was opened to additional nominations. These were: Citizens' Alliance, The Alliance, Alliance for a True Democracy, The People, Populist Alliance, Progressive Alliance, Democratic Citizens' Alliance, The Beatles
Ballots were distributed for preference voting, in which delegates listed their top three choices in order. Ballots were collected for counting as the seven regional caucuses convened to elect two representatives each to the governing Council. (All results to be announced Sunday.)
Sunday, November 24
Mission Statement Reconsideration After opening songs, delegates voted to reconsider the Mission Statement amendment that added the words "in order" after the word "information," arguing that this was more than a technical change and had altered the meaning of the statement. On a voice vote, the words were removed. The Chair ruled, on a finding from Convention Parliamentarian Ben Tollefson, that further amendments to the statement were out of order.
The Name The top eight vote-getters in balloting for the organizational name were as follows: Alliance for Democracy, 248; Progressive Populist Alliance, 100; People's Alliance, 131; Alliance for a New Democracy, 106 New Populist Alliance, 103 The Progressive Alliance, 57; Democratic Populist Alliance, 38; Alliance for Popular Democracy, 27.
The Working Group asked whether the Convention wished to suspend the rules and vote on the top five vote-getters in a preferential balloting. The Convention rejected the suggestion. A runoff was then held between Alliance for Democracy and People's Alliance. By a show of hands, the vote was 85 for Alliance for Democracy, 64 for People's Alliance. The Chair declared Alliance for Democracy the organization's new name.
The Constitution and Bylaws By incorporation, the new name and Mission Statement were added to the Constitution and Bylaws as its Preamble, which now reads as follows:
"The mission of The Alliance for Democracy is to free all people from corporate domination of politics, economics, the environment, culture and information; to establish true democracy; and to create a just society with a sustainable, equitable economy."
LANG BAKER of the Montana Alliance suggested that the Convention follow a five-part procedure for consideration and adoption of the proposed provisional Constitution and Bylaws: A brief overview of the provisions; an overview of the convention process that produced the proposal; points of information from the Convention; adoption of the provisional document; and amendments to it. The Convention adopted this procedure.
SUE WHEATON of the Washington DC Alliance summarized provisions of the draft Constitution and Bylaws. BAKER described the process as, "We came, we saw, we cooperated." After asking a series of informational questions, the convention rejected debate and accepted the report by voice vote. (Summary and Text: Attachment 11)
The floor was then opened for amendments to the draft Constitution and Bylaws. However, at least twenty people lined up to offer amendments. The Chair suggested that instead of taking remaining time with constitutional debate, the Constitution and Bylaws Work Group continue in session to receive the proposed amendments and to work with the Council on them, with the draft to be adopted on a provisional basis as amended in an ongoing process over the coming year. The suggestion was adopted by voice vote.
At this point the Chair observed that time was now of the essence because of the impending midday adjournment and that the convention had to decide whether to give the remaining time first to decisions on the task-force and working-group reports or to electing officers. The chair said that absent a motion on the matter he would open the floor to decisions on the reports. Kati Winchell of Lincoln, Mass., moved that officers be elected first. That motion carried by voice vote.
Election of Officers The floor was opened for nomination of officers to lead The Alliance for Democracy until the 1997 Convention. A proposal from the floor that co-chairs, one of each gender, be elected, was put to a voice vote and declared passed. The decision was by consent also extended to vice-chairs.
Co-Chairs: Nominated were Wade Hudson (declined), Ronnie Dugger, Kati Winchell (declined), Joanne Sunshower (declined), Joanne Omang (declined), and Ruth Caplan. Ronnie Dugger and Ruth Caplan were named Co-Chairs by acclamation.
Co-Vice Chairs: Nominated were Wade Hudson (declined), Jo Seidita (declined), Kati Winchell, David [need last name] (declined), Kathy Anderson (declined), Joanne Sunshower (declined), Lang Baker (declined), Pat Fogarty (declined), and Kwazi Nkrumah. Kati Winchell and Kwazi Nkrumah were named Co-Vice Chairs by acclamation.
Secretary: Nominated were Wade Hudson (declined), Sarah Craven (declined), Joanne Omang, Al Krebs (declined), and Al Sandine (declined). Joanne Omang was named Secretary.
Treasurer: Nominated were Ken Reiner (declined), Annie Baker (declined), Sarah Craven (declined), Al Krebs (declined), and Don Tollefson. Don Tollefson was named Treasurer.
Naming of Regional Council Representatives Six of the seven regional Councils announced their nominees to the Council, as follows:
Mid-Atlantic: Sue Wheaton and Ruth Caplan [Caplan, elected Alliance Co-chair, will be
replaced as regional council member]
Southwest: Jo Seidita and Ben Sher
South Central: Nancy Campbell and James Gosvener
Northeast: Garret Whitney and Laura Jennings-Cranford
North Central: Mike Givel and Carl Bielby
Southeast: Sarah Craven and Hunter Schofield
Northwest (did not meet)
The chair proposed to entertain a motion that the nominees be elected by the convention. The motion passed by voice vote and they were declared elected.
Election of At-Large Council Members
The floor was opened for nominations to the five available At-Large council seats. After being nominated, each candidate made a 30-second presentation to the Plenary, and delegates then wrote down five names and turned in their ballots. The top five vote-getters were declared elected.
Elected to the Council:
Annie Baker of Montana
Jim Price of Birmingham AL
Pat Fogarty of McAllen TX
Wade Hudson of San Francisco CA
Bob Comeaux of San Antonio
Al Krebs of Everett WA
Sharon Perpignani of Massachusetts
Tim Tyson of Madison WI
Ruth Weizenbaum of North Bridge MA
John Ratliff of Austin TX
Al Sandine of Berkeley CA
Task Force Reports and Action Recommendations
With snow and sleet conditions moving rapidly into the area and delegates beginning to depart, the Chair opened discussion of how best to use the remaining ninety minutes. He noted that time was inadequate, but suggested that it be used to study the pending Task Force Reports thoughtfully, but that the delegates clearly desired to agree upon a plan of action. The chair suggested that the convention move to receive the reports and send them to the governing Council to formulate recommendations for action over the coming year and forward them to the regional and local Alliances for consideration. On a voice vote, that plan was adopted.
The leaders of the nine Task Forces read their final reports and recommendations for action. [These reports are included as Attachments 12-20: Electoral reform, Alternative economics, Economic insecurity, Education, Environment, Food and agriculture, Health care, Media strategy, U.S. constitutional issues and direct democracy. Attachment 21 is Open Task Forces The status of these reports is discussed in Introduction to the task force final reports.]
RONNIE DUGGER, Co-chair of The Alliance for Democracy, noted in a closing statement that the Food and Agriculture Task Force had recommended a Food Fight Day, in which Alliance members nationwide would insult fruits and vegetables, direct action aginst the Food Disparagement Laws--food corporations' claim to free speech as a basis for not listing ingredients in their products. Such civil disobedience could result in lawsuits and arrest. "We're going to jail," the authors had told him. "So am I, and we're looking forward to it," Dugger said. A motif of the convention, he suggested, might be the Food Disparagement Tree, an old oak under which the idea was born, and the motto might be, "If you're in jail, I'm in jail."
Dugger asked co-vice-chair Kwazi Nkrumah "to help us not to have a convention this male and this white again," and thanked the Women's Caucus for being kind about the scheduling of only two women speakers.
JOHN SEELEY JR. of Los Angeles proposed a "sense of the house" resolution that a priority task force on multicultural outreach be set up in order to create a more diverse and representative Alliance. The chair noted that only about 30 delegates remained in the hall, and the motion passed by voice vote. By voice vote the 1996 Convention adjourned sine die.