By Paul Krehbiel
No Justice, No Peace: Confronting the crisis of capitalism and democracy was the theme of the Left Forum, held May 29-31 in NYC at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The venue and title were appropriate for the 5,000 who attended, as many panels and plenaries focused on the uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere to protest wanton murders of Black youth by police and the criminal justice system that lets murdering cops go free. Some might perceive No Justice, No Peaceî as a call to violence, but participants focused more on disturbing the peace of the status quo with creative, educational, and legal political action.
Many speakers linked the murders of young Blacks with attacks on other groups and the decay of the capitalist system, assaults aimed at repressing social justice movements as increasing numbers of people question the system itself. With 400 panels, every issue and constituency was represented, and many solutions were discussed. While a majority focused on the US, attention was given to the struggles of peoples around the world, especially those winning victories, and how to link up with and support one another.
Appropriately, some highlighted the rise of the left in Latin America and Europe, where a number of left parties have been elected and others are challenging for power in upcoming elections.
Here’s a sample of the themes covered: Building the Black Lives Matter movement; Syriza, Podemos and the Left Bloc in Europe; Climate Justice; Union power and the Boston bus drivers struggle; the fight for single-payer healthcare; Occupy Wall Street; organizing grad student T.A.’s; Chinaís efforts to build socialism in a global capitalist environment; the fight against austerity and cutbacks; the Trans Pacific Partnership; the upcoming US Social forum; the low wage workerís movement for $15 an hour and a union; transition from capitalism to socialism; Palestine and Israel; socialist Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign; stopping war and building a peace economy; the labor, womenís, and LGBTQ movements; art against capitalism; Marxism; Leninism; Anarchism; global finance capital; and a Left Comedy show. Panels were hosted by different organizations, and reflected a cross-section of the US left with its diversity of opinions. One panel criticized socialist Bernie Sanders for running in the Democratic primaries because the party is controlled by capitalists, while another praised his run in the Democratic primaries as the best way to get exposure for his progressive and socialist ideas.
I was on a panel sponsored by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), Transforming Community and Labor Organizing into Electoral Victory. Pat Fry, a national co-chair of CCDS, began by praising Sanders’ campaign for president, the leftist Vermont Progressive Party and their election of candidates to the State Legislature and other offices, the success of the Working Families Party in New York, the Chokwe Lumumba mayoral election in Jackson, Mississippi as a Democrat as well as Ras Barakaís mayoral campaign in Newark, Socialist Kshama Sawant’s election to the Seattle City Council, the Green Partyñled Richmond (CA) Progressive Alliance electoral majority to the City Council, and the role grass-roots issue campaigns played in those victories.
Rosie Mendez, a member of the NY City Council, former tenant organizer and leader of the community Coalition for a District Alternative, where CCDS members are active, also spoke. She’s chair of the city councilís Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, and one of 6 members of the LGBT caucus. Her community group won leadership of the local Democratic Party in her area, and she was elected as a Democrat.
Ethan Young, of the Left Labor Project in NY, had lived in Chicago and was involved in the Jesus ìChuyî Garcia mayoral campaign. He spoke about the labor-based campaign initiated by the Chicago Teachers Union to unseat the pro-corporate incumbent, Rahm Emmanuel. Garcia lost a run-off, but the reform movement helped elect 7 new progressives from labor and community groups to strengthen the Progressive Reform Caucus on the city council.
As a long-time union activist and CCDS National Committee member, I spoke about the gerrymandering of district boundaries by Republicans in 2010 to win more seats than Democrats, although Democratic candidates received more votes. One way to defeat the GOP right is to bring out more working-class voters, as in the upset victory of Democrat Loretta Sanchez over ultra-right-wing Congressman Bob Dornan in Republican-dominated Orange County in 1996 after a voter registration campaign among Latinos by community and labor organizations. That led to other working-class Latinos replacing right-wing Republicans in Orange County in campaigns I and other unionists worked on.
Andrea Miller, a leader of Progressive Democrats of America, an African-American who ran for congress as a Democrat in Virginiaís 4th Congressional District on a Medicare for All and clean energy program, spoke about how her campaign changed the politics in her white majority conservative Bible Belt rural district, where she got 41% of the vote.
That’s only a taste of the Left Forum, where every participant probably had a unique experience because of the diversity of viewpoints, topics and literature tables.