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Saturday, 10 December 2011 20:01

PDA History

Written by  PDA National

PDA was founded in July 2004 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, during the 2004 National Democratic Convention.

A thousand activists—many from the presidential campaigns of Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich—gathered in Roxbury to hear talks by Dean, Kucinich, Reps. John Conyers and Barbara Lee, Tom Hayden, Granny D, Medea Benjamin, and many others.

In January 2005, PDA helped organize televised hearings on the voting “irregularities” in Ohio. Chaired by Rep. Conyers, and supported by a wide coalition of concerned organizations, we helped bring to light the abuses, errors and other problems which remain troubling to this day. PDA continues our work to guarantee clean, fair and transparent elections.

Later that month, PDA Executive Director Tim Carpenter, longtime campaigner for peace and justice, welcomed 500 activists to the PDA national conference in Washington, D.C., amid a snowstorm at the University of D.C., Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. gave the keynote address. Greg Moore, DNC veteran and NAACP Voter Education Fund Director, said he’d never seen so much energy and maturity so soon after an electoral defeat. Conference participants dedicated themselves to victory understanding that would require reconstructing the Democratic Party from the grassroots, based on firm principles. In pursuit of that mission, organizing continued.

The next month, February 2005, 350 activists attended PDA’s Regional Summit in Phoenix to hear speakers, including Amy Goodman, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Medea Benjamin, and Tom Hayden, and to plan next our steps: congressional district organizing and lobbying. PDA continued working inside and outside the party, founding new chapters and joining with existing groups building “fusion” chapters.

In September 2005, PDA hosted 300 activists in our nation’s capital with Cindy Sheehan, Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, constitutional lawyer John Bonifaz, Rabbi Michael Lerner, CPC director Bill Goold, and many other progressive leaders.

November 11, 2005, PDA launched its Advisory Board at the National Democratic Club. We welcomed Representatives Conyers, Waters, Grijalva, and McGovern, as well as Cindy Sheehan and then-Maryland Democratic Party Chair Terry Lierman, to our new board, along with Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Steve Cobble, Greg Moore, Acie Byrd, Steve Shaff, and Joe Libertelli. We raised more than $10,000 at an auction featuring items donated by Martin Sheen.

Gaining momentum, PDA joined with Young Democrats on progressive initiatives at the national YD convention in Phoenix in December 2005, coinciding with a Democratic National Committee meeting. PDA’s reception for the DNC was co-hosted by DNC members Rep. Maxine Waters and Terry Lierman. Our event attracted 400, including a half-dozen other state party chairs and several members of Congress. Our “coming out” party impressed DNC members.

In early 2006, PDA organized events coast to coast to bolster grassroots organizing in support of progressive politics and candidates. Our March 2006 press conference and rally for Hurricane Katrina survivors in Washington, D.C., the day before FEMA’s scheduled eviction of 1,000 families from their emergency housing, helped frame the issue. Our Massachusetts town hall meeting on the third anniversary of the Iraq war—organized by Reverend Yearwood—attracted congressional attention.

That same month, PDA mobilized in Ohio—a battleground state for the 2006 Congressional elections. Our five-day “Ohio Blitz” featured meetings and rallies that included Representative Kucinich, Cindy Sheehan, PDA National Board Chair Mimi Kennedy, and Tim Carpenter.

In April, PDA headed west to California for events and fundraisers in support of local chapters. PDA’s “California Road Show” culminated with a successful organizing effort at the California Democratic Party’s Convention, at which the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party was established.

May 20-25, 2006, PDA members and leaders nationwide gathered in Washington, D.C., for an extended weekend of skills workshops and lobbying. Sunday featured workshops on building PDA at the local state and national levels, electing a progressive majority to Congress, impeachment, and more. United for Peace & Justice (UFPJ) joined PDA Sunday afternoon to develop our joint lobbying efforts. Monday, PDA and UFPJ members swept through dozens of congressional offices to discuss legislation and our initiative to end the war and occupation. Then, in September 2006, hundreds of PDAers followed up with successful lobbying meetings on Capitol Hill.

PDA organized a grassroots empowerment tour—“Organize, Mobilize, and Deliver the Progressive Vote”—in California, Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. As primary and general elections loomed in the summer and fall of 2006, PDA empowered activists with electoral skills needed to help progressive Democrats win elections—voter registration, voter identification, canvassing, vote by mail, precinct organizing, GOTV. This laid the groundwork for future campaigns. Each state effort culminated with a Saturday mini-summit, bringing together grassroots leaders with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, PDA leaders, and allies such as Sheehan, Hayden, Yearwood, Benjamin, Bonifaz, Norman Solomon, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. After the mini-summits, PDA assisted local organizers with follow-up work. Throughout the summer of 2006, PDAers enjoyed the pleasant duty of staffing information tables at the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young “Freedom of Speech Tour.”

In September, PDA helped launch Camp Democracy. Established when Camp Casey—the peace camp set up by Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, TX—moved to Washington, D.C., this ambitious effort united dozens of progressive organizations and leaders for nearly three weeks of events. PDAers David Swanson and Mike Hersh played lead roles organizing the Camp. PDA kicked off the events, bringing several leading Congress members to speak out on war and peace, human rights, economic justice, and more. Several top authors and activists conducted talks and panels, and singers, dancers, and other performers joined in.

During the 2006 election cycle, PDA staff and activists backed progressives in dozens of Congressional races. Our notable “near-wins”—with Christine Cegelis in suburban Chicago, and Donna Edwards and Kweisi Mfume in Maryland—against concerted efforts by the national Democratic establishment gained grudging respect for PDA from the party elite. Each challenged Party insider candidates and fell a few percentage points short. The Maryland primaries were marred by machine malfunctions, leading some to wonder, “What if?” PDA wins included Rep. John Hall, D-NY, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH.

PDAers gathered for our Grassroots Leadership Conference—March 23-25, 2007. Bruised but emboldened after challenging the Democratic leadership over an appropriations bill that prolonged the unwinnable Iraq occupation, Progressive Democrats of America convened once more in Washington, D.C., at the University of District of Columbia Law School. Energized PDA leaders and activists from coast to coast participated in panels and strategy sessions aimed at building progressive clout inside the Democratic Party and strengthening outside coalitions on issues from single-payer Medicare for All, to fair trade and union rights, to Iraq and Iran.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), a staunch critic of the Iraq occupation and a PDA Advisory Board member, sent his top aide, Glen Miller, to speak on his behalf, along with CPC ED Bill Goold, Medea Benjamin, Bill Fletcher, Greg Moore, Terry Lierman, and many other leading progressive experts. “We’re unhappy with the failure of Democratic leaders to heed the voters’ message of November ‘06 to get out of Iraq,” said PDA director Tim Carpenter. “But PDA emerges from this battle with more experience and cohesion and capacity—as we work hand in hand with brave progressives in Congress to turn this country toward peace and justice.”

Throughout 2007, PDA stepped up efforts organizing activists in rallies, town halls, and monthly conference calls on issues including voting and elections, global warming, healthcare, economic justice, and ending the war. We helped bring Michael Moore to Capitol Hill to show and discuss his documentary SiCKo, and continued working closely with our friends in Congress on our core issues. After many months of review, PDA entered into a contract with The Databank in July 2007. Our goal was to provide better tools to our chapters and manage our data better. By mid-September, our “databank” was ready for initial testing. By November, the beta testing had been completed; in December, the databank was fully operational, and the training of our grassroots leaders was underway. This tool is the foundation on which we are building our future growth, an appropriate beginning for 2008.

With the dawn of the new year, we concentrated our efforts on congressional campaigns. On February 12, 2008, PDA celebrated a smashing victory with Donna Edwards, who ousted long-term incumbent Albert Wynn in the Maryland primary. PDA Advisory Board Chair Mimi Kennedy and Vice Chair Steve Shaff joined staffers Diane Shamis, Tom Pallow, and Mike Hersh—and countless PDA volunteers—working the phones, walking the precincts, and canvassing subway stops and shopping centers. PDA worked tirelessly for Donna, and she credited our support for her win. PDA turned out again to help Donna Edwards win the special election, June 17, after Al Wynn resigned.

In addition, we endorsed a number progressive Democrats, including Eric Massa who went on to win in New York’s 29th congressional district.

We turned up the heat on two of the most important concerns when we launched our Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign on March 5, 2008. PDA’s focus on the HNW campaign linked the work of PDA’s “Healthcare for All/Single Payer” and “End the Occupation/Redirect Funding” Issue Organizing Teams with our allies in the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care, a coalition of over 50 member organizations, whose founding members include Progressive Democrats of America, California Nurses Association, Physicians for a National Health Program, Healthcare-NOW! and National Nurses Organizing Committee.

“On the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, nearly one in six Americans has no health insurance, and tens of millions of others are woefully under-insured—while the war continues to skew the U.S. government’s budget priorities,“said PDA Executive Director Tim Carpenter. “Most lawmakers treat the war and healthcare as separate issues. We intend to make the connection for them and to push for a fundamental shift in their policies and priorities: away from war and toward funding human needs at home.”

Co-chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Marilyn Clement of Healthcare-NOW!, media expert Norman Solomon, and PDA Advisory Board member Donna Smith—a PDA member and founder of American Patients for Universal Healthcare—the campaign kicks off with a petition calling on Congress to pass HR 676, Conyers’ bill to provide a universal single-payer system to provide guaranteed healthcare for all Americans. PDA would be organizing in congressional districts from coast to coast—beginning with two events in Northern California, a third in New York City, and a fourth in D.C.—to enlist the support of individual members of Congress. The campaign fosters “Healthcare NOT Warfare"resolutions in state and local legislatures and Democratic Party bodies.

On March 17, national radio commentator, author, and speaker Jim Hightower brought his unique combination of political insight and down-home humor to Busboys and Poets Restaurant to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Capital Area PDA. He helped kick off PDA’s “Healthcare NOT Warfare” national campaign, with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Norman Solomon—two of the national co-chairs of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. Donna Edwards, fresh from victory, joined Laura Bonham, Tim Carpenter, and Diane Shamis in speaking out for Healthcare NOT Warfare.

In June 2008, PDA rocked the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s state convention. PDA staffed a hospitality and information table to promote our Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. Then, we organized dozens of delegates on the floor of the convention in support of PDA-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Ed O’Reilly. This capped off our months-long effort to put Ed on the ballot. For the first time since 1984, Senator Kerry had a Democratic challenger. We hoped this strong showing would move the senator to filibuster against Iraq funding and take leadership on single-payer healthcare in the Senate. Also in June, Donna Edwards won a special election and entered the U.S. House. She quickly began voting to end the war and support progressive issues. Donna and Ed are just two of several progressive candidates PDA backed in that election cycle.

PDA broke through on the media. On his CNN show, Lou Dobbs was in the anti-immigrant zone. Nothing new about that—except this time he went after PDA: “Tonight,” he intoned, “a political action committee called Progressive Democrats of America, PDA, is pushing a major new plank for the Democratic Party. PDA wants what it calls healthcare for all, including illegal aliens. One leading member of Congress has already signed on.” A report from a CNN correspondent was briefly matter of fact: “Progressive Democrats of America wants to end the Iraq war and plow the war funding into setting up a system of universal health care.”

PDA partnered with Richard Greene of Air America to program two hours of national radio time each Tuesday. We welcomed several of our endorsed Healthcare NOT Warfare candidates to the show, with Mimi Kennedy and Tim Carpenter co-hosting. Tuesday, July 29, Rep. Dennis Kucinich joined PDA on the air to discuss his efforts to impeach Bush and Cheney—efforts which PDA supported all along.

During the spring and under the leadership of Healthcare NOT Warfare co-chair Norman Solomon, PDA reached out to the delegates of the Democratic National Convention in a signature-gathering effort in support of Medicare for all. Under threat of a floor fight, the platform committee, which met in advance of the convention, heard the suggested amendment. After some tough negotiating by Donna Smith and Rep. John Conyers, the committee passed a platform amendment supporting “guaranteed healthcare for all” and “Nobody out—everybody in.” The amendment passed at the convention and became part of the 2008 Democratic Party platform.

The 4th Annual PDA Grassroots Leadership Conference took place in Chicago, August 1-3, 2008, at the Wyndham-O’Hare with John Nichols and Norman Solomon in attendance. We teamed up with The Nation in Denver during the Democratic National Convention at Progressive Central, a five-day gathering featuring prominent progressive Democrats and leaders, including Barbara Lee, Jesse Jackson, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Tom Hayden, Jim Hightower, Jeff Cohen, Norman Solomon, and John Nichols, among many others. Tim Carpenter was featured in a segment on C-SPAN. We left Denver energized and determined to impact the elections and policy with progressive solutions.

In September, with talk of invading Iran permeating the news, PDA VA began a successful effort to stop an invasion in its tracks through a citizens’ lobbying effort in DC.

After Obama’s election, PDA—with the California Nurses Association, Physicians for a National Health Program, and Healthcare-NOW!—convened the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Healthcare to push  Medicare for all within the new administration and Congress. Over 100 organizations joined with us. For the next year, the healthcare fight raged in the nation’s Capitol. Despite the best efforts of the administration and Congress to shut our effort down, Medicare for all was on the table until the very end of the debate, because of our combined and persistent effort. In light of the corporate-friendly legislation that was passed, PDA continues to fight for Medicare for all and to pass state single-payer plans.

The year ended on a high note when PDA was named the most valuable progressive organization of 2008 by The Nation.

In 2009, PDA’s Issue Organizing Teams (IOTs) really took off with the addition of dedicated Web pages and the ongoing work of our dedicated members. The Stop Global Warming/Environmental Issues Team, End War and Occupations, Healthcare for All/Single-Payer, and Accountability IOTS made excellent headway building alliances with other like-minded groups as part of our progressive movement building effort, and they continue to do so today. PDA recently added two new groups, which are actively working on corporate personhood and immigration reform.

Our annual conference took place in Washington, D.C., at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) just days before the inauguration of Barack Obama. The conference centered on the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. Hopes ran high that Obama would consider all options in the healthcare debate, and that the anti-war movement would force Obama and Congress to defund both wars. We distributed 80,000 Healthcare NOT Warfare flyers during the inauguration week.

The new administration presented a new set of challenges for PDA. It quickly became apparent that the promise to include all reasonable options in the healthcare debate excluded the best option—Medicare for all. Much of 2009 was spent in an effort to push it back “on the table.” We suffered many disappointments in those months, which were topped off by the passage of corporate-friendly health insurance reform.

Nonetheless, we managed to force Medicare for all into the debate, and it remained there until the final days of the debate. This was no small feat, and our unwavering support for Medicare for all earned PDA “street cred” in the progressive movement, as many of the better known progressive groups settled for the public option, which was excluded from the final bill.

With the Copenhagen climate talks taking place in December 2009, pressure was building on Congress to pass legislation. The House fast-tracked the highly flawed Waxman-Markey climate bill, passing it in May. The PDA Stop Global Warming IOT swung into action with an endorsement of a carbon tax with revenue returned to households and a plan for citizen-lobbyists to meet with their Senators. The Senate’s companion bill stalled and remains stalled to date.

In early 2009, Conor Boylan joined PDA as the national field coordinator, a welcome addition to the national team. Over the course of the year, Conor with other members of the team traveled to the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic States, and California. Recognizing that not all PDA members are able to travel to the national conferences, an investment was made to bring PDA to our members. We continued this effort in 2010.

After a year of restructuring the field component of PDA’s organizing strategy, the first Brown Bag Lunch Vigils (BBLVs) took place in January 2010. An expansion of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign, BBLVs take place at the district offices of Congress members every third Wednesday to remind our representatives and the larger community of the effects on domestic issues of uncontrolled and wasteful military spending. We are beginning to expand the message to include additional issues that would benefit from reduced military spending.

2010 was a mid-term election year and PDA fielded candidates. With a streamlined endorsement process, we endorsed seven candidates. Tracy Emblem ran in California’s CD-50 against Francine Busby. Marcy Winograd challenged Jane Harman in California’s CD-36 for the second time with a grassroots campaign, which garnered national attention. Busby and Harman both won the June 8 primary, but not before Emblem and Winograd articulated sensible progressive solutions to the problems we face. Our other endorsed candidates—Bill Hedricks (CA44), Jonathan Tasini (NY15), Dr. David Gill (IL-15), David Segal (RI01), and Marleine Bastien (FL17)—campaigned hard, but couldn’t overcome the money machines on the right.

In July 2010, the PDA community came together in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Sixth PDA Grassroots Leadership Conference, where PDA history was made. Leadership from across the country met in Issue Organizing Teams (IOT) and restructured the monthly conference calls and outside work, as well as committing to supporting the Brown Bag Lunch Vigils (BBLV) and their focus on Healthcare NOT Warfare.

Since the summer, the BBLVs have kept the wars in the forefront, and coalition partners War Is A Crime and CODEPINK have joined us in telling Americans that it is the wars in which we are embroiled that keep us from having the social programs we need. The threats against Social Security and Medicare and the ineffective federal jobs programs have galvanized PDA into greater action with new coalition partners, including Jobs with Justice, United for Peace & Justice, U.S. Labor Against the War, the New Priorities Network, Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, and Job Party.us. Members of these groups have held their own BBLVs, adopting the stated theme for the month or their own issues within the BBLV framework. Our partnership with the California Nurses Association/Nation Nurses United and Healthcare NOW! continues the work toward single payer/Medicare for all—whether at the federal level or in the states.

PDA has become the group that brings other groups together, uniting labor, peace, healthcare-for-all, and justice groups in BBLV actions, our IOT calls, and activist events around the country.

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