Third Annual Convention Minutes: part 1

Part 1
Summary of Proceedings
Boulder, Colorado
April 27-May2, 1999

Alliance Focuses on 3 National Campaigns
Three national campaigns, for international economic democracy, public financing of all federal elections, and the transformation of the corporation to make it wholly subordinate to democracy, were adopted as the top priorities of the Alliance for Democracy by the high-spirited, sometimes raucous third national AfD convention at Boulder, Colorado. The convention also approved, as new or ongoing projects, a number of other Alliance actions, including resistance to genetically modified foods
and Monsanto's rGBH hormone in milk, single-payer health care for all and/or Medicare for all, direct-democracy ballot initiatives to increase citizens' political power (since launched in Oregon by Harry Lonsdale of Bend), a clearinghouse on democratic economic alternatives, a children's and youths' bill of rights, ending corporate welfare, revising or rewriting the Constitution, and a second Declaration of Independence against corporate rule.

The day before the convention, in the course of an AfD-sponsored conference on food and agriculture, an Alliance/Green Network pamphlet on how to set up independent "food circles" was presented (see reports beginning at page 20).

By resolution the convention instructed the Council and national staff to concentrate on networking with other organizations to establish an independent national people's movement on the model of "Independent Allies for Education and Action," a minimalist theory of networking.

With the abandonment of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but facing its revival in other guises at the World Trade Organization, the delegates voted as the top AfD priority fighting to stop the expansion of corporte power via international trade agreements and terminate such existing agreements that promote corporate globalization. This campaign is to focus first on the forthcoming protests during the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle in late November and early December. Meanwhile a working group of the Alliance has produced an Alliance draft of an alternative to the MAI, named the Citizens' Agreement on Investment, or CAI.

Ellen Miller, the executive director of Public Campaign, the leading organization working for public financing of federal elections, called on the Alliance, during her address to the convention, to take a lead in direct action on behalf of campaign finance reform.

Introduced by Gene Nichol, who has just become dean of the University of North Carolina law school, Miller told the convention that ending campaign finance corruption will require grass-roots activism, effective legal resources, a congressional accountability campaign, nonviolent direct action, and electoral activity.

"It will take all of these," she exclaimed. "Without the spark of public marches, hanging 'For Sale' banners on Capitol walls, picketing fundraisers, even civil disobedience, I know we will not win. We need citizen action. I hope the Alliance will be a key actor in this part of the fight." These remarks were was greeted by the delegates' hard applause.

After the convention representatives of the Alliance and other organizations met in Cambridge and conferred on a series of actions in a campaign conceived to last several years, to begin with actions at the national Capitol in Washington in September and October and to be followed by a variety of other initiatives.  Members wishing to participate in the September-October actions in Washington, D.C., should communicate directly with Alliance national coordinator Nick Penniman.

Public financing of elections, and more generally the cause of campaign finance reform as that was embodied in three action proposals that were rolled together and adopted as a group, ranked second in the delegates' preferential voting on proposed national campaigns, and transforming the corporation was a very close third.

The campaign on the nature of the corporation entails (1) the national AfD providing to the chapters (which are in 23 states) a pamphlet now being printed which outlines a model based on the Unocal revocation action in California for asking states' attorneys general to shut down gravely-offending corporations by revoking their state charters; (2) the drafting of a model law for the federal chartering and redefining of corporations in interstate commerce, while considering the case for state-level attempts along these lines; and (3) pursuing various means, including public forums, legislative or constitutional proposals, and hearings, to better inform the public that since 1886 the courts have given corporations almost all the constitutional rights of persons and to initiate measures that would strip corporations of those rights.

Selection of the top three national campaigns went through three stages.  Members submitted written proposals for Alliance actions and projects to the Council. During the convention, the Council and members agreed on a limit of three national campaigns and worked down the submissions to five proposed such campaigns, by consensus explicitly leaving both the two not adopted as national campaigns and the other proposals in the status of ongoing Alliance projects.  Then, in an excited and dramatic session on Sunday afternoon, delegates formed a long line running along the wall to the back of the convention hall and took one-minute turns at the microphone advocating their favored national campaigns.  By preferential voting, the convention then ranked the five proposals, as follows:

International economic democracy, 2,726 votes; public financing of federal elections, 2,351; transforming the nature of the corporation, 2,332; opposition to genetically-modified food, 1,461; and single-payer national health insurance (Medicare for all), 1,244.

Debating, with many absent late one night until just before midnight, NATO's bombing against the Serbs in Kosovo and Serbia, the delegates passed a motion by Phil Wheaton, 28-19 with five abstentions, to express "total opposition" to the bombing, but to refer the issue and the convention's actions on it to the chapters for their reflection. The delegates passed, 30-6 with six abstentions, a resolution by Henry Clark, Sacramento, calling for an immediate halt to the NATO bombing while also condemning the "brutal" ethnic cleansing and calling for a "multilateral diplomatic" approach. In an earlier straw vote a resolution from the San Fernando Valley chapter passed, to end the bombing, send no U.S. ground troops, prosecute Milosevic as a war criminal, and refer the matter to the UN Security Council. A contrary resolution, by Ronnie Dugger, which proposed to support "multilateral military intervention" to stop genocide, other mass murder, and ethnic cleansing while it is occurring and continuing," was defeated, 28-14 with 15 abstentions. A resolution by Nick Seidita, Northridge, Ca., calling for an Alliance-sponsored public debate on the question passed. These anguished decisions were taken in the context of concern among some delegates not to bitterly split the Alliance on the issue. The votes occurred on May 1st, before the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo under the continued NATO bombing, NATO estimates that at least 10,000 Kosovo civilians were massacred by the Serbs, and the outbreak of some Kosovar killing of Serb civilians. In a highlight of the five-day convention, Phil Wheaton and David Sweet, Santa Cruz, Ca., announced that they will coordinate efforts by chapters of the Alliance to establish international relationships and connections with democratic movements and organizations abroad. This initiative, which grew out of the idea that a local chapter might adopt a foreign country and seek potential Alliance allies there, was formally approved by the convention. Wheaton is at 7211 Spruce Ave., Takoma Park, Md. 20912, 301-270-9038/;      Sweet is at 1322 Laurel St., Santa Cruz CA 95060, 831-498-1210.

Also during the convention, Victoria Gibb-Carsley, the national organizer of the 100,000-member Council of Canadiens (CoC), provided advice on how the Alliance might grow.   About ten years ago, she said, the CoC, like the Alliance now, was a relatively small group that decided to grow.  They did this, she said, by a series of direct-mail campaigns giving special attention to their educational value, each letter focusing on something people needed and wanted and inviting people to take a small easy-to-do action and to join the CoC. New members were acquired, proceeds from the one mailing funded the next one, "and so on and so on," Gibb-Carsley said. Today the CoC trains its activists in regional meetings across Canada.  "We always work in coalitions, national and local," she added.

"Coalitioning requires patience, flexibility, shared work and resources, and a willingness to share the limelight.  The rewards are much bigger than if you are going it alone." Inevitably, she said, there are growing pains.  "You are a far more democratic organization than the Council is," she said.  For example, she said, after member and chapter input, the CoC's board decides on the campaigns.In addition to the adopted resolution on networking, resolutions also passed:

* Calling for a strategic partnership between the Alliance and the 180/Movement for Democracy and Education, the campus-based, student-led organization on 120 campuses in the U.S.;

* Advocating "a new public communications sphere composed of public and community radio and TV broadcasting networked educationally with public libraries, museums, secondary schools, college and universities";

* Supporting shopping at locally-owned small businesses on "Shop Mom and Pop Day" next Dec. 21st and urging Alliance chapters to define and inventory such shops in their communities in preparation for this;

* Boycotting goods from China or anywhere that human rights are violated; and * Supporting the forgiveness of poor nations' debt without conditions.

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