Alicia Garza of the Black Lives Matter movement talks about the relationship between progressives and the African-American community during the People’s Action People’s assembly on Sunday in Milwaukee.
A newly formed national network of grassroots organizations with affiliates in 30 states that represent more then 1 million people has agreed to throw its weight behind an all-out effort to defeat Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 elections and to build support for a progressive economic and social justice agenda.
About 100 leaders of People’s Action, the organization formed out of an alliance between National People’s Action, Alliance for a Just Society, USAction and Campaign for America’s Future, voted on the “defeat Trump” resolution at its first-ever People’s Assembly, a governing body comprised of affiliate leaders.
The resolution is not an endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, although it calls for the organization to “reinforce and strengthen Hillary Clinton’s (and the support of down-ballot candidates) for our key issues in order to move our agenda after the election.”
What it does do is reflect the posture of Alicia Garza, worker organizer and Black Lives Matter co-founder who was the opening speaker at the assembly on Sunday. She said that her decision about who to vote for would be based on choosing “the battlefield that is most advantageous for us to move the vision that we want,” backing the candidate that allows us “to embrace our biggest vision of what’s possible” while insisting “that we deserve a whole lot more.”
“I am not voting for candidates,” she said. “I am voting for terrain.”
Garza also talked about the police violence against unarmed black people that led her to write the manifesto that gave brith to the phrase “black lives matter,” and to the death threats that she has received herself after becoming a national voice for racial justice and against white supremacy. In the face of forces in the country “that are literally challenging our right to live,” she said, “the only thing that keeps me going is that this” – her eyes at this point scanning the multiracial gathering of delegates, ranging from college students to seniors, most clad in black People’s Action t-shirts – “is happening.”
People’s Action delegates also selected three sets of issues that the organization would devote a significant share of its energy over the coming months – taxes and budget, mass incarceration and police violence, and family economic security. Many of the affiliates are already engaged in tax and budget battles in their states with Republican-dominated legislatures; have organized or joined in protests against police shootings; and have led campaigns in support of higher minimum wages, paid sick and family medical leave, affordable housing and universal health care.
The coalition plans direct voter contact in a number of key electoral states, and leaders in states where a Democratic victory in November is assured pledged to lend support to neighboring “red” states. In Maine, Colorado and Arizona, get-out-the-vote campaigns would be driven by minimum-wage ballot initiatives. In some other states, it will be to rally the vote for progressive down-ballot candidates, ranging from Denise Lopez, running for a city council seat in Speaks, Nev., to Russ Feingold, who is running for Senate in Wisconsin.
“This is really an historic moment,” said LeeAnn Hall, co-director of People’s Action, referring to the ability of the organizations to agree on a shared agenda for the 2016 elections and beyond.
“We are going to go home to defeat Trump, and we are going to do it by going door-to-door, reaching out to people and advancing our vision and our values. investing in down-ballot elections and we are going to win,” she said at the closing session of the conference.
People’s Action announced that it would hold its “founding convention” in April in Washington, roughly 100 days after the start of the new administration. In the meantime, the organization’s leadership is resolved to not simply be stuck complaining about having to choose the lesser of two evils from among the choices handed the public by an increasingly broken and corrupted political system. It’s time to do the serious work of fundamentally changing that system, once and for all.