Following the Democratic Party’s epic fail in the 2016 Presidential election against a billionaire-conman-realityTV-personal-brand-manager, many progressive Democrats have opted to leave the foundering corporate party in search of a one that represents their interests over those of Wall Street, Big Pharma and the insurance industry. Even though the Democratic leadership has proposed a “Better Deal”, which is doubtless better than anything the neofascist deal-maker-in-chief would promote, it is still a milquetoast proposal, at best, which likely won’t generate the excitement needed to bring those who’ve exited back into the big blue tent.
One thing that’s not lacking for these progressive Demexiters is options. There’s the old guard of the left, the Green Party, whose “people, planet and peace over profit” platform certainly appeals to many progressives. There’s also the Justice Party, Socialist Alternative, the Working Families Party, Democratic Socialists of America and many, many others. Some are drawn to affiliate with one organization over another for a variety of personal, political, ideological and cultural reasons too numerous to list. Others, who rightly realize the potential that political affiliation holds for clouding one’s judgement, choose not to affiliate at all and become Independents. These options can be freeing for those who no longer feel welcome in today’s Democratic Party, but a personal sense of satisfaction is all they can really hope for given the realities of the two-party system. That is, unless the left begins thinking differently.
There are two new organizations on the left, the Progressive Independent Party (PIP) and Draft Bernie for a People’s Party, which have garnered rapidly growing national followings due to a simple yet powerful change in strategy: the coalition approach.
PIP and Draft Bernie have partnered with Socialist Alternative to sponsor the upcoming People’s Convergence Conference in D.C., September 8th-10th. Speakers at the conference include Dr. Cornel West, Seattle City Councilwoman Kashama Sawant, Standing Rock activist/attorney Chase Iron Eyes, Redacted Tonight host Lee Camp, TYT Journalist Jordan Chariton, and many others. The event looks to unite the left into a cohesive coalition on which to build the largest progressive voting bloc in the history of the United States.
Last week I interviewed PIP’s founder and director, Araquel Bloss, and discussed her organization’s coalition-building efforts over the past 16 months as well as its partnership in the upcoming People’s Convergence Conference.
Interview *transcript below:
(*edited for length and clarity, full audio is available here)
D.C. Rutledge - In our first interview, almost a year ago I believe, you said that the coalition approach, which you’ve been trying to instill, in which groups across the spectrum of the progressive left would work together to form a cohesive, issue-based voting bloc was “an idea whose time has come”. Do you get the sense that there is a consensus forming among more established entities, such as the Green Party and other established entities, that this is indeed the case?
Araquel Bloss - Yes, I think, as time has passed in this last year, you can hear many more people talking about coalition building and coming together. You’ve heard a lot more conversations about a brand new party. Now we have the Draft Bernie for a People’s Party movement. It’s an idea that’s come but it’s definitely had to be nurtured. I believe the inability or unwillingness of the Democratic Party to embrace progressives, even after the general election, even after the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the lessons they could have learned from that loss — they have not embraced progressives and they have not learned from their mistakes — and that’s because they are beholden to corporate money. So I think it’s becoming more and more apparent as we move on into thinking about the 2018 election, and then 2020, that it’s not only an idea that’s time has come but it’s an idea that’s time is imperative to our country and to our planet.
DC - For those who don’t already know about the Progressive Independent Party (PIP), or “pip” as I like to call it, please describe the organization’s mission and how you plan to accomplish that mission.
AB - Our mission is to create the first and largest progressive coalition-based “left” party in the history of the United States, which is quite a big mission, but we’ve seen that it has been done internationally. If you look at the Broad Front Party of Uruguay, for instance, [which] is now the ruling party, it’s an amazing example of how, when you put these fractions of the left together based on issues and based on values and based on regaining electoral power for the people, we can do amazing things and, to me, that’s revolutionary. That is our mission and we are working really hard to build those relationships and trust to get people at the table.
DC - Since starting the Progressive Independent Party nearly a year-and-a-half ago, I’m sure you’ve had many successes as well as many setbacks in your mission to unite a coalition of sometimes disparate progressive groups. What are some of the highlights and also some of the lowlights, if you will, of the past 16 months that you feel have stood out in shaping the Progressive Independent Party?
AB - [...]The most important highlight of this past year has been learning how to build relationships. This coalition isn’t anything more than trusting relationships with your allies, that when you call upon them or they call upon you, you’re there and you stand with them and you fight with them. Of course, being a unifier, the hard part is the more we’ve risen with just a minor amount of public attention, the easier it is to be targeted personally and otherwise. Personally, I’ve had a lot of lessons in hardship and how much sacrifice it takes to be calling for a united front and being out in front of something you may not want to be in front [of]. It’s been a very meaningful and overwhelming experience.
DC - What issues or what roadblocks to building the progressive coalition do you continually run into time and again?
AB - I would say that the biggest issue is both ego-driven and politically-driven. [...]There is a reason why there are factions on the left: it’s because they don’t align with each other politically. We have to remember not to be stubborn about that and we always can find a common value and a common goal. Even if we have to reduce it to the common denominator to stand together then we have to [do that] because right now it’s more important to stand together than to agree on everything. Every time we have a value, an action, we need to focus on what we have in common. We need to put our egos aside and remember that at this time in U.S. history we are really the only ones fighting to save our democracy, to save this country against the oligarchs. That’s a challenge and a sacrifice that we have to take on. We have to move away from our ego, move away, sometimes, from our political identities and fight for the greater good by fighting for the lowest common denominator.
DC - Speaking of the factions on the left and the different entities and allies you’re hoping to build this coalition with, this past week the Progressive Independent Party, in partnership with Draft Bernie for a People’s Party and Socialist Alternative, sent out a press release regarding the upcoming People’s Convergence Conference in D.C. which is set to be held on September 8th-10th. What are some of the things the coalition members hope to accomplish at the conference?
AB - I’m really excited about this conference. It’s the second for PIP, [we] held our first one the day after Occupy Inauguration on Sunday, January 22nd in D.C. and at [that] point we were so small we held it in a bar. I will never forget that experience because somehow we got Ralph Nader, Dr. Jill Stein, Lee Camp, Nick Braña, and so many amazing people to come together. We were so grateful. So this is the second one that PIP has been involved in [to bring] the left together. We are working with Draft Bernie [which] had Dr. Cornel West commit to a town hall to have a debate with Bernie, but we don’t know if Bernie will be there yet. This conference is going to be about, again, continuing to build consensus for the coalition party or a new party, whether it be the People’s Party or PIP, we’re inviting everyone to come and be a part of building that consensus for how we move forward.
DC - I know a question that’s probably on a lot of people’s minds, especially [regarding] the Draft Bernie movement, is what’s going to happen if Bernie decides to stick with the Democratic Party and not join the Draft Bernie movement to create a new party? What happens to the Progressive Independent Party and its mission of coalition building?
AB - PIP will remain the same, committed to our mission of bringing everybody together to represent the people. [...]I feel quite certain that I can tell the American people that Nick and his group will continue forward in whatever way makes sense for their group to build a party for the people. Nick Braña and Draft Bernie do not believe that the Democratic Party can be reformed, and for good reason because there is no sign, there’s no proof that they want to be reformed. I believe they will move forward and we hope they will become a coalition member for PIP and then we can all decide together. Draft Bernie, Socialist Alternative, the Justice Party, which co-sponsored our first summit, will be co-sponsoring the [upcoming] conference, so we’re getting there. I think we’ll all move forward and I believe the American people are ready for it. They’re ready for a sense of hope again, a sense of purpose. There is actually a path that can fix this but we have to do it together. It’s not about personality, we can’t center our movement around one person. We’ve seen that happen with Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr.], we’ve seen that happen with the Black Panthers. It has to get decentralized with a broad, horizontal organization so that it cannot be stopped, and I believe we will continue forward.
DC - I know you’ve been building PIP from the ground up for a long time now and you[r organization] has come up with quite a few different initiatives that you would like to see happen leading into the 2018 elections, specifically dealing with Independents and with other groups on the left, one of which is the concept of a “progressive primary”. Please talk a little bit about that.
AB - I think this concept is one that resonates with everybody. [...]If you can, consider this coalition an umbrella party where we can have the caucuses underneath, a Green Party caucus, a [Socialist Alternative] caucus, a People’s Party caucus, whatever have you. If we ran a primary then we wouldn’t have progressives running against progressives, we’d get the strongest candidate based on that local area and who they think is best, be it the Green candidate, the SA candidate, or the PIP candidate [etc.]. I think it really empowers local communities, and not only that but you can imagine the amount of resources that we will save when all of us are not trying to get ballot access. If we could get one ballot access between all of us and have caucuses and have these primaries, it just means that the Green caucus would have ballot access everywhere, and so would SA’s and so would Independents. It would an amazing insertion of many parties into this two-party system and I believe the numbers show that progressives and Independents are the largest voting bloc in America. When we unite them we will become the second party in the two-party system.