Monday, May 23, 2005

Thoughts from the DFO Summit

This weekend I attended the Democracy For Oregon Progressive Leadership Summit. Here are some of my quick thoughts on what I heard:

* First, congratulations to the people who organized this event. Sal, Ginny, Jenni, Ruth, Joan, Mac, Moses, etc. You should all be very proud. You've done right by Oregon. I am also listed on the Summit Organizers list, but I really didn't do very much before the Summit (organization has never been my forte). I helped out with the AV during the summit but that contribution pales in comparison to the work of this fabulous crew.

* Jim Dean was the first keynote speaker. He really does sound a lot like his brother. He is fully on board with DFA as a vehicle for doing for the Democrats what Ralph Reed did for the Republicans in the 80s and 90s. He described several examples of how DFA efforts boosted Democrat efforts nationwide. He pointed out how DFA helped candidates as much by getting volunteers out for their campaigns as they did giving them money. Probably even more so. He talked about how even a "losing" race can boost Democrats when a competitive candidate can bring 1000 more Democrats to the polls who will also vote for other candidates on the ticket. My thoughts: We have to redefine our conception of "winning" and "losing" beyond the simple calculus of who actually comes out on top in any particular race. I have always said that Howard Dean did not "lose" the race in 2004 since his primary purpose in entering the race was to change the direction of the party (he never really expected to get the nomination). Few would argue that he failed in that goal. Therefore Howard Dean was a winner.

* Rep. Earl Blumenauer was up next. He talked about the changing roles of "Ward and June Cleaver" in our society and how Democrats need to speak to those changing needs. I must confess my mind wondered a bit during Earl's speech so I can't comment on it very much.

* My first breakout session was messaging with Jefferson Smith. Jefferson is one of if not THE driving force behind the oregon bus project and the new progressives. Anyone who has met him knows how dynamic an individual he can be. He is a bundle of energy that could provide the power for a small planet. His big thing right now is to work at distilling the Democratic/Liberal/Proggressive message down to its most compact form. The idea being that that compact form can function as the foundation of all subsequent discussion and policy formulation. He ran a commercial he had developed for the new progressives that presented his attempt at that compact message: "Not Bigger Government, not Smaller Government, but Better Government. Not left, not right, but forward. The New Progressives. Voters Wanted." Its an argument that says that we need to get beyond the simple partisan battles of left vs. right and get back to thinking about government as a tool for making a better society.

Jefferson also came up with what I consider an excellent foundation for a national defense policy: "We will only be secure when people don't want to kill us. We will not be secure if we piss off the people who can help us." (paraphrased).

* I missed most of Thom Hartmann's lunchtime talk about corporate personhood. But I caught enough of it to hear how much of the case law on corporate personhood was based on a mistake. Go to his website on this, Unequal Protection, to find out more.

* The hilight of the summit for me was State Rep. Peter Buckley's afternoon keynote speech on The Oregon Contract of Responsibilities and Rights. This is based on FDR's new bill of rights from his last state of the union address. Buckley is a low-key speaker, but that didn't stop him from giving an inspiring speech that awoke the spirit of Bobby Kennedy in much of the audience. I talked to him afterward and said that the Republican program was based on convincing people that there was no hope of ever really solving the problems of poverty and injustice so we might as well all just look out for ourselves. This cynical acceptance of the bad things in life has become ingrained in our society and its about time that people started asking whether it really has to be that way. Will it be hard to solve the problems of poverty? Yes. Is it impossible? Why does it have to be? Why are the Republicans so pessimistic about the ability of humans to overcome their difficulities through cooperative action? Why do they have such a low opinion of mankinds moral structure?

I related to Peter a story I read out of Jim Wallis' new book, "God's Politics". Wallis talks about a woman he knows who works on a soup line in Washington, D.C.. Every day the woman starts her day with a prayer: "Lord, I know you will be on line today. Please help us to help you." This prayer is based on the teaching that Jesus gave where he said, "whatever you do for the least of you, you do for me." Peter told me about a minister he knows who tied that teaching to the teaching that "no one comes to the Father except through me." If no one comes to God except through Jesus and Jesus is represented on Earth by the least of us then no one comes to God except through what they do for the least of us.

The path to God is through service to the least of us.

* For the afternoon session I attended the "how to deal with the right-wing hate machine" panel with Thom Hartmann. Thom talked about the state of progressive radio today and where it might be heading in the near future. Progressive radio is one of the hottest commodities in the radio bizz today. EVERYONE is interested in it. Air America and Ed Schultz have proven that there is a market for it. We will soon start seeing major radio markets with MULTIPLE progressive stations (Thom said that an announcement of such was already imminent). Once that starts to happen, and it proves to be commercially successful, the impetus will be there for the development of a 24 hour cable news channel to counter FOX. This could all happen within the next 2-3 years.

There are potential pitfalls, of course. For example, much of progressive radio is carried on Clear Channel stations (something like 80% of it). If Clear Channel ever wanted to flex its muscles it could seriously harm the development of a progressive response to right wing hate radio. Fortunately, CC is more interested in profits than ideology. Thom said that CC has yet to make any attempt to alter content on KPOJ. That isn't to say that they couldn't do it. But if progressive radio becomes big enough, even Clear Channel might have difficulty killing it. If CC were to throw the wrench on KPOJ there are other competitors in the Portland market who would be glad to take up the programming. They might do so anyway even if CC doesn't interfere.

Things are looking up!


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