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Commentary :: DNC : Environment : Gender : Human Rights : Labor
Progressive Victories in 2003
20 Jan 2004
In Massachusetts, 2003 was a year of stellar, even historic achievements for progressives.
Progressive Victories in 2003

Eric Weltman

The Bush administration hovers like a dark cloud over progressives. From the invasion of Iraq to assaults on civil liberties, there doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate.

But in Massachusetts, 2003 was a year of stellar, even historic achievements for progressives. A hallmark of these successes is they lay the groundwork for future victories. By building coalitions, reaching across class and race lines, connecting issues, and organizing at the local level, progressives worked hard and smart in 2003.

Anti-War Movement. It took years for the anti-Vietnam war movement to take off. In 2003, activists mobilized millions against the invasion of Iraq before it even happened. In Boston, the largest peace rally in New England history was held in March, with upwards of 30,000 people attending. Equally significant was how it was organized. United for Justice with Peace, a regional peace coalition, included teenage activists in planning the event and worked to include a wide diversity of voices. The coalition continues its local organizing, with groups in Dorchester, Somerville, Arlington, Watertown and other communities working on issues of justice, as well as peace.

Civil Liberties. In September, activists received late notice that Attorney General Ashcroft would be visiting Boston as part of a nationwide P.R. tour. In two days, the ACLU and other groups turned out over 2,000 people to protest Ashcroft’s appearance at Faneuil Hall. More impressive, though, has been action at the local level, where groups have worked to pass municipal resolutions opposing the PATRIOT Act. In Massachusetts, 18 communities have passed such resolutions, including Cambridge, Arlington, Newton, Pittsfield, Northampton, and North Adams. The resolutions are a creative way to send a message against the Bush administration’s undermining of our civil liberties.

Verizon Workers. Workers at Verizon Communications were being offered a raw deal by management: higher health care costs and reduced job security, while CEOs continued to rake in millions of dollars. In September, however, their unions, the Communication Workers of American and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, won a contract that maintained job security and benefits. But the victory at the negotiating table wouldn’t have happened without the street heat provided by workers and community groups. For example, in June, Verizon workers participated in a statewide “Health Care Action Day,” organized by Jobs with Justice, calling attention to corporate shifting of health care costs to employees. In August, a rally outside of Verizon’s Boston headquarters drew over 3,000 people.

Local Elections. In November, progressives scored a historic victory in Boston, when Felix Arroyo became the first Latino elected to the city council. Arroyo stunned the pundits by finishing second in the race for four at-large seats. His victory resulted from strong support among Latinos, Blacks, and white progressives, who turned out to vote in record numbers. Progressives scored big in other communities, with liberal Denise Provost finishing first in the at-large aldermen race in Somerville and environmental activist Susan Falkoff joining the Watertown town council. Neighbor to Neighbor, an anti-poverty organization, helped elect Latina activists to councils in two cities, Lucy Corchado in Salem and Lillian Santiago in Holyoke.

Gay Marriage. On November 18, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a historic ruling granting same-sex couples the right to marry. It was a legal win for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the nonprofit organization that argued the case. But it was also a victory for groups such as NOW and the ACLU, members of the Mass Equality coalition. These disparate groups joined forces to oppose an anti-gay constitutional amendment. Their organizing and education activities – from the Internet to the airwaves, the State House to the streets – paid off in defeat of the amendment and public support for the SJC ruling.

Progressive Democrats. A good campaign lays the groundwork for future organizing even if it loses. Such was the case with Robert Reich’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, which gave birth last year to the Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts. The Somerville chapter of PDM scored a major victory at the Democratic convention in June, passing a resolution to hold elected officials accountable to the party’s liberal platform. PDM chapters in Somerville, Cambridge, and Jamaica Plain have held candidate forums, worked on council races, and elected members to ward committees.

The obvious lesson from these achievements is there’s power in numbers. But how do we get those numbers? The answer is through hard work. It’s not glamorous, but knocking on doors, making phone calls and distributing leaflets is how to grow the progressive movement. It requires connecting issues – like war in Iraq and budget cuts at home. And, most importantly, it requires connecting people across class, race, and other lines – from gays in the South End to soccer moms in Newton, from Latinos in Jamaica Plain to middle class liberals in Arlington. In this way, we can build a sustainable movement for peace and justice.


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