Public Comment

Commentary: Berkeley Progressive

By Laurence Schechtman, Bill Hamilton, Bonnie Boru
Tuesday May 16, 2006

You are invited to a platform convention for Berkeley progressives to prepare for next November’s election. The convention will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 20 at Unitarian Universalist Hall and Cedar and Bonita streets.  

It has been a long time since Berkeley’s progressive community has had a broad-based coalition to represent us. This year, however, we are building an open Progressive Coalition Convention. Our first job will be to write progressive platform and principles for Berkeley. You are invited to help endorse and amend these platforms this Saturday. 

In July we will have an open convention to choose candidates. 

You will be joined by people who are seeking to “promote a more equitable economic and social life in our city, and to enhance social justice, ecological sustainability and democratic co-operation on every level.” 

There are at least five reasons why progressive Berkeley needs a united political convention. 

1. Unity. If we are not united, if we run more than one progressive candidate per office, we most likely lose. Four years ago three progressive candidates ran against Gordon Wozniak for the District 8 City Council seat. Against this divided field, Gordon won, with about 43 percent of the vote. He is now the councilmember most opposed to affordable housing and rent control. Progressive candidates to the School Board have also defeated each other. A coalition convention will help us to unite and win. 

2. Guidance. We need a united people’s coalition which will hold officials to their principles between elections. Left to themselves politicians tend to “follow the money.” And alas, we have left the City Council alone, so that it has been free to give concessions to developers without extracting the maximum commitment for low cost housing; free to deal in secret with the University without insisting that they pay in full for the services they cost the city, while funding for essential city services is declining. We can guide our officials to do better, but only if Berkeley’s progressive community learns how to co-operate and stay together. 

3. Platform. To guide our politicians we first need to agree on principles. This Saturday we will present platform planks in these six areas: fair elections; labor; youth and education; city planning, environment and neighborhood; homelessness and poverty; health and disability. These platforms are works in progress, and they will continue to grow and develop. But we can use our shared principles to question prospective candidates in July, and office holders all year round. 

4. Co-operation beyond elections. If we can co-operate for elections, why not for social projects—sustainable, ecological neighborhoods or union organizing, for example? Why not web sites and festivals for communication, or seminars on organizing techniques? We have to get into the habit of creative co-operation. 

5. Multi-party coalition. The Coalition Convention which we are building does not belong to any one party or organization, nor is it beholden to any specific candidate. In July we will endorse candidates in an open convention. But we want to preserve the Berkeley tradition of a multi-party progressive coalition, which has been in existence since 1971, and which relates directly to our community rather than to a national machine. 

We invite all progressive organizations and individuals to join together. Only a revived progressive coalition can restore us to justice and to sanity, in our city and, eventually, in our nation.