THE BLOG
06/14/2006 11:16 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

When It Comes To Sucking Up To Power, Progressives Are Censors, Too

I don't know whether to be appalled or just saddened by the blatant act of censorship and strong-armed tactics employed by the so-called progressives of the Campaign for America's Future--tactics that we would deplore if they were used by Republican political operatives.

Yesterday, a few hearty real progressive souls--those not seduced by the need to cater to the powerful--tried to exercise something progressives talk about all the time: free speech. They simply wanted to pass out flyers, wave banners and, yes, even speak up in protest when Hillary Clinton spoke at the CAF's conference for "progressives" in Washington.

Prior to the conference, worried that there would be protests during Clinton's speech at a "progressive" conference, CAF agreed to allow the peace group CodePink to distribute leaflets and ask the first question after the speaker had finished her remarks. Instead, the conference organizers went back on their word (some feel they were deliberately lied to) and used force to bar the women from the hall when Clinton spoke.

According to a report circulated by Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of CodePink, when the CodePinkers showed up on Tuesday morning in advance of Clinton's speech, "the security guards refused to allow them to pass out flyers, even outside the hotel. 'Take Back America violated the agreement from the moment we arrived," said Gael Murphy, another CodePink leader. "Even though we had a table inside the conference, burly security guards blocked us and informed us that it was a private event, that we were not welcome, and they escorted us out of the building. We telephoned the conference staff who then told us that we couldn't enter the hotel, couldn't leaflet the event, the hallways--anywhere. They went back on their word and tried to quash even peaceful, respectful dissent."

And, lo and behold, it also turned out, for the few that had tickets to enter the hall, that they could not ask the first question--because Hillary Clinton would not be taking questions. Medea's report goes on: 'We were really upset that we had been lied to by Take Back America, and that there would be no space at this 'progressive conference' to have a dialogue with Hillary Clinton about the most critical issue of our time--the war in Iraq,' said Katie Heald, DC coordinator for CODEPINK. 'We got up on our chairs holding up our hands with the peace sign, and were pulled down from the chairs. We tried to take out our banner that said "Listen Hillary: Stop Supporting the War" and it was grabbed from us...Ann Wright, the army colonel and diplomat who resigned over the war, was appalled by the actions of the conference organizers. 'They took away leaflets supporting Jonathan Tasini, the anti-war Democrat who is running against Clinton in New York. They searched people's bags for banners; they even took away an 'Impeach Bush' banner from Veterans for Peace. Free speech needs to be upheld by progressives and trying to curtail dissent undercuts the whole purpose of this conference,' said Wright."

As Gael Murphy, finally says, "We were amazed to discover that the organizers of Take Back America treat dissent the same way that the organizers at a Bush rally do. Most progressives do not support Hillary Clinton, and stifling our legitimate, heartfelt opposition to her pro-war position is an outrage. I guess we have to take back 'Take Back America.'"

Of course, I obviously have a bias here since I am running against Hillary Clinton. In the past few weeks, many people e-mailed me, shocked that my opponent would be invited to speak at a "progressive" conference because, as Norman Solomon has pointed out, no one should be fooled into thinking my opponent has a progressive bone in her body.

But, what is more disturbing is what this incident says about "progressive" leadership, particularly those who have spent way too much time living in Washington, D.C. The Iraq war is the central issue in this election. If "progressives" won't allow a debate about the war, largely because they do not want to offend someone with power, how are they different from pro-war Democrats like my opponent, who is doing everything possible to avoid a debate in this election about the war? They give a tacit stamp of approval to one of the most ardent pro-war Democrats by giving her a speaking role--but, then, squelch debate, thereby letting pro-war Democrats off the hook (though they couldn't stop the spontaneous boos that echoed in the hall when my opponent said we should not pull out of Iraq).

So, the question to real progressives throughout the country--and the funders who enable the organizations that want to stifle debate--is simple: how are progressives different than Republicans and pro-war Democrats if they suppress debate about the central electoral issue, the Iraq War? Maybe next year, progressives interested in a real debate about the future of the country should organize a conference that will truly be open and encourage free speech. We certainly aren't going to get it at the Campaign for America's Future.