Second Annual Convention
REPORT FROM THE NATIONAL COUNCIL
Dugger read highlights from the printed report (Attachment #7).
Q: Does the nonviolence policy refer to civil disobedience?
A: We are for civil disobedience when it's carefully planned and nonviolent
and people are prepared to take the consequences, but the council has not
taken a formal position on civil disobedience.
Q: Don't we need structures other than the council to undertake actions?
We need a more active interlinking among chapters.
A: It was a conscious omission because task forces formed last year mostly
ceased to function. We are trying to reinvigorate them as Issue Networks
and through Action Development Groups, details to come. We also failed to
maintain horizontal communication across the nationally dispersed membership
and we're trying to address this. But all locals and members should reach
out independently to others.
Q: It's important to ally ourselves with other groups without any immediate
action in mind in order to be in position when the opportunity arises.
A: It's a good point that should be formulated as a policy for the new council
to consider. The more groups in Alliance the better; one seed now means
a bumper crop later.
Q: What were the conflicts within the council on the nonviolence policy?
A: Dugger's formulation opposed nonviolence "in the USA now,"
on grounds we didn't want to repudiate the Revolution or foreclose action
a century from now. But it was noted that the word "now" would
be misinterpreted, and that we didn't need to go beyond our own situation,
so we applied it only to ourselves. A civil disobedience policy suggestion
to the council would be welcome.
Q: What networking is happening at the council level?
A: Individuals have talked and met with members of the Greens, with PIRG,
with AFL-CIO's International Affairs office, Sierra Club and others. But
networking needs development. At the moment it's often merely taking advantage
of an opportunity that arises during these contacts.
STRATEGIES AND ACTIONS COMMITTEE (continued)
Committee co-chair Whitney proposed skipping the scheduled plenary discussion
and breaking into Action Development Group (ADG) meetings (to produce action
plans and resolutions) through the morning. The change was approved on a
voice vote and the sessions began.
REPORTS OF ACTION DEVELOPMENT GROUP MEETINGS
HEALTH CARE (Calvin
Simons, Santa Rosa CA): At the last convention, this task force put single-payer
health care reform at the top of its list, and it also got a top priority
in the recent straw poll. A Massachusetts group of physicians has proposed
a moratorium on the privatization of hospitals and other health care facilities.
The ADG is developing a plan of action and a resolution that would ally
the AfD with this action.
MAI (Tom Wells,
Kerrville TX): Public education on this emerged as a top priority. Letters
to state attorneys general get responses, as should letters to county commissioners,
councils, etc. Information sources about the MAI are on the Internet. In
addition to lobbying and broad public education, the campaign will promote
an alternative process to the OECD debate that will bring all stakeholders
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM (Francoise Farron,
La Jolla CA): As legislation is required, AfD will pursue it with state
referenda and initiative questions wherever those are legal, advocating
complete public financing of all elections and free media access for all
candidates with enough petition signatures. AfD will also join other groups
advocating full public financing whenever possible, action to overturn Buckley
vs. Valeo and other actions to that effect. We need a strategy of war for
a real fight. As the Germans went around the Maginot Line, we should go
around the corporate line.
(Nick Seidita, San Fernando Valley CA): The Children and Youth's Bill of
Rights for Equal Opportunity program began as a result of the fact cited
in Dugger's Call of 1995 that the US child poverty rate is four times that
of Western Europe. The action would be an opportunity to rescue non-affluent
children and youths from lack of services: we rank with South Africa and
the former Soviet states in denying children access to opportunity. Corporate
funding for many existing programs has silenced them on the role of corporations.
This is an issue with potential for uniting women, unions and the young:
an historic movement from the grass roots for changing public policy.
(Mike Givel, Columbia MO): The two proposals are: 1) A national education
and action campaign on corporate power--education on corporate personhood
and ending corporate welfare, in easy-to-understand English and different
languages, targeting specific actions, campaigns for charter revocation
and charter law change. It will raise issues like corporate personhood and
federal chartering. The task force will look at the personhood issue, corporations'
legal status and model charters that might be able to win congressional
2) A national recommendation for action on corporate welfare, to enable
citizens to request rebates of corporate welfare.
MEMBERSHIP AND COALITION-BUILDING (Janet Harris, Baltimore MD; Joe Seeman, Ballston Spa
NY; and Arline Prigoff, Sacramento CA): to build the muscle of the movement,
AfD policy would favor involvement in local, national and international
coalitions. This would broaden AfD reach and bring our agenda into other
movements' goals. It would need chapter support for alliances with other
Other possibilities include a "Caravan 2000" of people through
America in 2000 spreading AfD ideas; a mass rally in Washington or New York/Wall
Street, maybe fall 1999, maybe both coasts. Teach-ins on Alliance ideas
in partnership with other groups would precede it, as well as regional rallies
in 1998 in state or general areas. These are big ideas that would require
a lot of work.
CLEARINGHOUSE ON ALTERNATIVE ECONOMICS (Allan Matthews): AfD would take part in completing an
inventory of clearinghouses on alternative economic systems, ideas and resources
and consider whether to join others in establishing an international version.
Those involved would prepare a plan of operation, including a 2-year budget
and a foundation grant proposal.
RESOLUTIONS COMMITTEE REPORT
Co-chair Ben Sher introduced five resolutions coming up for votes.
1. Dugger proposed a resolution to look into establishing
a clearinghouse on corporations. No discussion. VOTE: CARRIED on a voice
2. Gary Dugger presented a resolution to develop a written code of ethics
for candidates seeking AfD endorsements. Discussion: Proponents said it
would be a tangible way of furthering AfD objectives and to support individual
AfD members who are candidates for public office. It would not advocate
a particular platform but only AfD's code of what a candidate should subscribe
to. Developing the platform would be educational. PACs have so much power
we might be wise to take advantage of that, and then advocate opposition
to all PACs. If we're serious about using political power we should start
this way to communicate what we're for to the larger political community.
Opponents said AfD has been a nonpartisan coalition based on issues; getting
into partisan politics is a serious move we need to think about carefully.
Our approach is toward issues and not toward candidates, and forming a
PAC would be a very serious change in goal and mission. The proper way
to develop a code of ethics would be to set up an Action Development Group,
possibly within the next year. A PAC now would be premature.
VOTE TO DEVELOP A WRITTEN CODE OF ETHICS FOR POLITICAL
FAILED on a show of hands.
3. Dugger, on behalf of Steve Russell, San Antonio
TX, presented Russell's resolution on Indian sovereignty: to endorse a
proposed constitutional amendment saying:
1) Neither Congress nor the States shall have power to legislate regarding
the conduct of Indians on Indian reservations unless such power has been
granted by written agreement with the affected tribe;
2) Any dispute regarding the legitimate leadership of any Indian tribe
for the purposes of agreements under this amendment shall be under the
exclusive jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
Discussion: This would preclude enforcement of federal and state laws,
as the resolution would recognize the tribes' sovereignty.
Opponents: AfD opposes the MAI dilution of national sovereignty; are we
to have a similar division of every affronted group into mini-nations?
There's not enough time here to consider this major idea. We support native
Americans but this could open up some dangerous possibilities, like nuclear
waste dumping on these lands. Good intentions are here but the effect could
be disastrous both for the nation and Indian tribes; elders of a northeast
Oklahoma tribe saw corporate money and were willing to permit nuclear disposal
on their lands. Must support their tribal culture, but this amendment is
too broad in declaring independent sovereignty. Questions of national security
Proponents: We owe the Indians everything; this is their country. We have
not built alliances with these communities, and sovereignty for Indian
nations is a major issue for them, just as is the issue of corporate penetration
of indigenous communities worldwide. Whittling away continues on the small
powers they have been granted, and we must say stop and give them some
international rights. We must offer not only economic justice but justice
in all forms and AfD could set high standards with this resolution.
VOTE: The Chair was UNDECIDED on voice votes and show of hands, so deferred
the issue to a rollcall vote later.
4. Ben Sher presented a resolution to circulate among its membership non-consumption
agreements with respect to all products made in China.
Proponents: This is a very minimal level of non-violent direct action,
asking us to sign a statement that we will not henceforth buy products
from China. Building a movement involves building a movement culture, a
very small and good first step toward work we'll have to do to challenge
corporate culture. The products are made with child or prison labor or
slave-level wages. Vote with your money. Maybe we can have a resolution
later on Burma, but for now a boycott can make our point nonviolently,
make friends with labor and human rights groups and enemies of the corporations
that want to move into China. This doesn't preclude other boycotts but
begins a habit of sacrifice that we'll need in the future. It sets a tone
for what the organization will be and how it will behave towards countries
killing their children in the streets: we can be accountable and can take
Opponents: The Chinese are not just exporting junk but also some good materials.
(Sher declined to accept a friendly amendment to substitute "materials"
for "junk." How about "nonessential products"? Sher
accepted that, but declined to accept expansion of the statement's reach
to AfD allies.) China is repressive, but why single them out when Indonesia,
Burma and some others are just as repressive or more so? We have to be
careful not to oppose people having jobs in those places; generally we
don't boycott the products they make. It might be more effective to work
against laborer abuse there. Let's not disperse our efforts all over the
world; foreign policy goals are too wide for now. It's possible to be more
sensitive in purchasing but it's hard in practice, so it's not certain
members would be able to uphold it.
A voice VOTE ON BOYCOTT OF CHINA-MADE GOODS was UNDECIDED, and the Chair
deferred a roll-call vote until later.
5. Ed Rollins, Maryville TN, presented a resolution for a September 1998
week in Washington for progressive groups to visit senators and congressmen.
After discussion, he withdrew the proposal for referral to the SAC committee.
JIM HIGHTOWER, Texas political activist and commentator:
Citizen action is missing from this country and it's the only thing that
has ever changed America. If we weren't agitators here, we'd be wearing
powdered white wigs and singing God Save the Queen.
We're in the spirit of the pamphleteers. I'm not going to run for office
again. Politicians are consumed by the job to be done and what time is
left has to be used in raising money. We can only organize a movement at
grassroots level, and that needs voices, messengers. I consider myself
a messenger with a radio show, commentary and newsletter, The Hightower
Lowdown, coming soon: to speak the truth and ride a fast horse.
The truth is there's a class war taking place. Sunday talk shows might
include someone saying there's prosperity but not for the poor; the other
side says that's promoting "class war." But it's the truth. Gains
generated by the many are being hauled off by those at the top. Eight of
10 Americans have seen their incomes decline. This includes the middle
classes who have expectations, and they will get back up somehow. The question
is, will it be peaceful? CEOs now average $15,000 a day. Less than 5 percent
of Americans make 100,000 a year; Michael Eisner made that per hour, plus
a car. Meanwhile he's trying to take back the minimum wage benefits of
workers. So much money could air-condition hell, and he'd better be setting
some money aside for that project.
Welfare mothers are being thrust onto the job market. That is class war
pure and simple. But Bush and Clinton and Powell say we need more charity,
more volunteers. In an Earl Long story, an angel tells a rich man you never
did good; the man says he gave a widow a nickel every ten years. St. Peter
says give him back his 15 cents and tell him to go to hell.
Charity is a class war. Rockefeller ripped off zillions and handed out
dimes. Change is in the air. Accounting needs to change: Texas Farms, owned
by Nippon, ships two million hogs through one facility (after putting antibiotics
and hormones in their feed so their waste is toxic). The meat is sold at
high prices on the Japanese market, and that gets counted as a U.S. export.
And we subsidize it as taxpayers. State governments are more easily purchased
than local governments, so the locals are prohibited from passing ordinances
to control the farms. This is class war.
The technical term for what is happening to us is stealing, faster than
a hog eats supper. It's a perversion of America's founding principle that
we're all in this together. It's replacing public good with private gain;
replacing we, the people with me, the CEO. It's not wealth we oppose but
greed. Love of money is the root of evil, and those who love money are
having an orgy in today's economy.
My father started a Little League team in Denison TX. and kept it going
after I grew up. He believed in the concept of common good--Little League
or public library support, or fair taxes to provide universal health care
and social security. He called himself a conservative, but his philosophy
was basically "everybody does better when everybody does better."
How can we bring that principle into action? Water won't clear up until
you get the hogs out of the creek. They are IN the creek and we need a
mass movement able to shove them out.
Keep your eye on the prize, which is to get the hogs out of the creek.
Remember that it's hard to fight the bastards when you're busy fighting
your friends, and that it's easy to get a lot done if you don't care who
gets the credit. People want their country back from the big shots and
the bastards, and our task is to try to organize this. It's like loading
frogs in a wheelbarrow, but remember the populists.
We've been here before: the New Deal came in because people demanded it,
created it and put it into practice. We don't need to create a progressive
movement--it's out there; someone is standing up to the bastards and actually
succeeding in every zip code. The hardest challenge we have is making people
believe that anything can be done, but we the people are the only thing
that has ever succeeded.
The motto of a Texas moving company is, if we can get it loose, we can
move it. That should be the AfD motto too.
Jo Seidita, San Fernando Valley CA: Hollywood progressive Stanley Sheinbaum
will do a January AfD fundraiser in Brentwood in Los Angeles. She called
on delegates to make a sustaining commitment of a monthly contribution.
[Later, she reported that 30 pledges from delegates for sustained giving
totaled $5,657 per year, ranging from $12 to $1,200 per year.]
PANEL DISCUSSION: "SEX, LIES AND CORPORATE
Ben Kjelshus, Mo-Kan AfD, introduced a panel on food circles: Margo McMillen,
Earle MO, author of two books on Missouri and many magazine articles; and
Mary Hendrickson, scholar and food circle activist.
Margo McMillen: Her quiet childhood neighborhood has changed under agribusiness
to sound like combines running 24 hours a day, clearing 80 acres in four
hours, or like grain dryers; and to smell like hog factories. The first
corporate hogs came in January 1995 when Cargill wanted to raise 56,000
hogs instead of 5,600. By June we had fish kills in a creek and a lake;
by October the smell was unbearable.
Neighbors began to talk to each other. The hog raiser was a neighbor; like
many farmers he got extended in land and combine payments so grabbed a chance
to make money without knowing the implications. These are not evil people,
but the system is pernicious and exploitative. He tried to fix the problems
over a year. We realized we were eating snacks from Dole or Oreo and Folgers,
the names we were trying to fight.
We began to look for sources of food locally: it had slipped our minds that
we too could eat what we grew. We made promotion of our own growers part
of our meetings. We kept finding more sources and attracted people to our
meetings who were not involved in hog-raiser opposition. We realized the
next step was to publish a directory and take it to groups already meeting--a
quilting bee, churches, etc. People greeted it with giant sighs of relief
and pleasure at the idea. And the farmers report this has been best year
The big hog farm meant that a farmer of 20-30 sows had to go out of business.
He went into sweet corn that he sold at farmers' markets; he raised fruit
trees to sell to landscapers, etc. Walnut tree owners were making $3 per
feed sack from a processor; but a disabled woman realized she could smash
and open the nuts herself. Another went into the cookie dough business.
Little things, yes, but you change lives one at a time.
We should challenge the dominant system where it is vulnerable, and agribusiness
is vulnerable. It's not a conspiracy--they make way too many mistakes. Alternatives
are sweeping through the country already, but we have to understand the
strength of the global food system. Cargill executives agree that their
advantage is access to a lot of capital: they expect to double their network
every five or six years, and assets now are $20 billion. They can finance
what they want, so it's silly for us to compete in capital-intensive ways.
Transnationals are also very good at organizing on a global scale. Cargill's
US map has no political boundaries--they were anticipating NAFTA--but only
shows water sources, population centers etc. They will produce where it's
cheapest but will always sell where they can find markets.
There's no sense of connection now between food producers and eaters, and
that produces social dislocations. Most people don't stop to think where
their food comes from. They don't look for alternatives because they don't
know there are any.
"Values-added agriculture" means a local, sustainable food system
that is socially and economically just and ecologically wise. It means trying
to introduce local farmers to people who eat their food, to give them a
stake in each other. The key is trust. In the dominant system, trust relies
on FDA and USDA inspectors. The Food Circle system says let's do it through
Commercials try to build artificial personal links: the Bartle and James
pitch of old guys producing wine in California; Ben and Jerry's--these are
ersatz personal relationships. Philip Morris sells fat and sugar addictions
instead of tobacco addictions. But we can make decisions in accord with
what we want our community to look like. Spreading the word involves show
and tell, directories.
We can start by changing our own consumption habits with thoughtful choices.
We can't take on the big boys competitively, but we can help local producers.
Al Krebs, Everett WA
Farming and food production used to be a democratic system but it no longer
is. It's not a question of finding a niche in the present system but of
changing the system, as the system is the problem. The idea is to make people
more conscious of what they're eating. We take it for granted. We care very
little about what a farmer actually does. Census figures show that if 1.9
million US farmers had to depend only on farm income, more than 90 percent
would be living below the poverty level. The farmer is getting very little
of what we pay for food. Agribiz propaganda is that if farm prices rise,
they have to raise food prices. But if prices to farmers doubled, consumers
might pay two or three cents more per loaf of bread.
The USDA will soon release a 600-page definition of "organic."
Biotech food may get that classification. Organic Twinkies are coming soon
as a sales gimmick. If something is new, that's what people remember. EG
"Total" cereal is Wheaties with three cents' additives. The corporate
connections are unknown. ConAgra is not listed on the can.
A city is not a place but a way of thinking about reality. It exists for
the sake of concentration of wealth and value. It is taking from the country,
and when there's only taking, then comes death.
Urban food cooperatives could establish relationships with farmers' markets
to form food circles--a way to forge AfD alliances with farmers.
A Food Circle is a ring of small family food producers around a city who
produce, perhaps organically, for coops in a given area. It is a vision
of a local, sustainable food system: one that produces it in ways that give
a fair price to farmers, maintains connections between farmers and eaters,
and builds communities that way. A coalition of groups involved with food
sets up the structures, does public education, lengthens hours for farmers'
markets, maintains a hot line to provide a directory of local food sources
etc. The first step is to get information out about who's producing food
in an area, which takes homework. Farmers crawl out of the woodwork when
you look for them. They then regain a sense of relationship to consumers.
Right now, the only folks out there doing long-range planning on food are
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