Progressive Convention Hammers Out A Platfom

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday May 23, 2006

Some 60 self-identified political progressives got together on Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall to try to turn an 18-page draft document into a progressive platform. It was a tightly run meeting, but only half of the draft was covered, so the convention will reconvene June 3. 

While the platform is intended to bring the various progressive groups together, “it won’t be a litmus test” for endorsement for office, convener Laurence Schechtman said. However, an endorsement convention is planned for July, he said. 

The event drew a number of elected officials—Supervisor Keith Carson, Councilmember Kriss Worthington, School Board Member John Selawski and Rent Board Members Howard Chong and Jason Overman. 

Past and present city commissioners from the Planning Commission, the Zoning Adjustments Board, the Commission on Homelessness, the Mental Health Commission, the Peace and Justice Commission and more were also on hand, as were mayoral candidates Zachary Runningwolf and newcomer Christian Pecaut, who says he’s moving to Berkeley from San Francisco in order to run. 

While individuals in attendance said they belong to a number of other progressive groups—the Green Party, Berkeley Citizen’s Action (BCA), the Berkeley Progressive Alliance (out of which the Berkeley Progressive Coalition was born) and various Democratic Party clubs—all participated in the convention as individuals. The BPC structure is still evolving, Schechtman said. 

BCA member Mel Martynn said he had come to “check out” the convention and didn’t see it as competing with BCA. 

“We’re going through a transition,” Martynn said of the 30-year-old organization, whose endorsement was at one time key to the victory of progressives in Berkeley. “What is important is that the goals, values and ideals of BCA continue, as opposed to the organization. We’re willing to work with other progressives.” 

Martynn added: “We might end up endorsing the same candidates.”  

Four years ago, another group of self-styled progressives led by Councilmember Dona Spring convened the Coalition for a New Mayor, to encourage Tom Bates to run for mayor. Eighty-seven percent of those present at a May 2004 convention of that group called on him to run. Bates has since lost favor with some who participated, including Spring. 

“There was such motivation to defeat Mayor (Shirley) Dean that factionalism on the left gave way to complete unity behind Bates,” wrote David Mundstock, a chronicler of Berkeley’s political history, on the Berkeley Campaign Art Website. 

The Coalition for a New Mayor wrote no platform in 2004. The last platform BCA wrote was in 1988, according to Schechtman.  

Sam Ferguson, who works with both BPA and BPC, helped to write the draft platform plank on fair elections and led that discussion Saturday. 

“Elections should be about people power,” he said, before reading a draft plank that called for Instant Runoff Voting, public financing of local elections and accessible voting machines that have a paper trail.  

An amendment to go back to the paper ballot proposed by Runningwolf was voted down, but one presented by Judy Shelton to call for the use of voting machines that create a paper trail with separate pieces of paper rather than a roll was supported. 

The youth and education plank focused largely on addressing the divide in education between low-income minorities and more affluent Caucasian students. It emphasized the need to encourage ethnic pride and include opportunities for the arts and recreation. Also included was a call for funding outdoor swimming pools and the indoor warm pool. 

The group accepted an amendment put forward by Algeria-born artist-activist Khalil Bendib calling on the schools to make sure the curriculum “includes non-European perspectives.” 

The platform addressed issues of homelessness and poverty, endorsing creating specific spaces for people without homes to sleep outdoors and in their vehicles. While the original platform had called for housing for those with very low income, it was amended to add the needs of persons with no income at all.