By Yezdyar S. Kaoosji
This column is a compilation of views of several individuals with a long record of accomplishment as progressive activists in the Central Valley. Five questions framed the discussion.
Defining Progressive Action
A common thread was that progressives work for the benefit of individual members of society. Progressive core values are consistent with social and economic justice for everyone in an environment of universal peace and freedom from any kind of exploitation. Progressives believe that people should live in harmony with nature and use natural resources responsibly, for the benefit of every member of society.
Progressives want to make capitalism more democratic by advocating for a living wage, supporting health and retirement benefits for all employees, and seeking a more equitable distribution of the profits from every economic enterprise, whether a small business or a global corporation. Profits should be equitably shared between the investors and the workers who make their investment profitable.
Socio-political areas of progressive priorities include a respect for diversity, support for fundamental rights of individuals to choose their lifestyles and to make private decisions about their health and welfare. Other areas of concern include immigration, education, fair political practices, accountability of public officials and government, uplifting the needy through social services, police accountability, homelessness, incarceration and rehabilitation, and generally any issues that help to create a better community.
Current State of the Progressive Movement in the Central Valley
There is a consensus that the progressive movement is on the verge of growing exponentially in the region. However, it is still a loose coalition and much work is needed to educate ourselves on how to work together and collaborate effectively.
The 2011 community meeting when Jim Hightower came to Fresno launched efforts to build relationships among progressive groups. Since then, the informal Central California Progressive Network has been active with various projects—first, with the Occupy Fresno movement, then with supporting progressive candidates for various local offices and, most recently, with the No on Measure G campaign. The Central Valley Progressive Political Action Committee (CVPPAC) and the Sierra Nevada Opportunity Political Action Committee (SNOPAC) are mobilizing voters along with established progressive organizations such as organized labor and community-based nonprofits to provide a structure for progressive political action.
When asked what else needs to be done, a laundry list was quickly generated. We need to draft a progressive platform listing our values and priorities. Our primary focus has to be enhanced citizen education on local issues. As we identify and address local issues and involve a broad range of organizations and individuals and begin working together on macro issues, we will move beyond the silos in which we currently function. Such collaboration is a prerequisite to building a consensus. A few organizations have started to address such strategies.
Very high on the list of activities is the need to support more politically and culturally radical actions that engage low-income communities, communities of color and other disenfranchised segments of the population handicapped by oppressive policies and practices engrained in our socio-political systems. The uneven development across California with the Central Valley at the low end of the scale on almost every index give credence to this line of thought.
Building a Unified Progressive Movement
Collaboration is easier once we build trust. We learned how to work together with the No on Measure G campaign. The greatest advantage of collaboration is that we can multiply our impact on broad community-wide issues by pooling the person-power of the many progressive organizations in the Central Valley.
Therefore, achieving a majority of progressive elected leaders on the Fresno City Council and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors can resolve, for example, some of the egregious environmental justice issues in southwest Fresno. If we have a progressive Board of Supervisors, we can successfully prevent fracking or the building of nuclear plants in the county. It will help in advocating for a better quality of life. Progressive leaders at the city and county levels can also ensure an equitable allocation of public dollars and services in areas south of Shaw Avenue in Fresno.
A Progressive Electoral Strategy
We are closer than we perceive. Last November, we were within reach of a progressive majority on the Fresno City Council. The progressive candidate for the Fresno City District 4 election lost by a narrow margin of votes. If she had won, we would not have wasted all that time, energy and money on the Measure G referendum.
Progressives are left of center in the left/right classification of political ideology in the United States. Therefore, we should focus our attention on the candidates who share our values. Affiliation to a political party should not be the only consideration because there are several progressive political parties in the country. Moreover, committed progressive candidates will be more likely to seek elected office as unaffiliated independents if they can depend on a strong and viable progressive political machinery in the region.
When progressive groups begin to reach out and help each other, they strengthen their own missions and collectively reach a higher level of credibility and effectiveness. In endorsing like-minded people for public office, each candidate’s philosophy, accomplishments and potential will need to be examined through a lens of interrelated values of the collaborating organizations. Once elected after a methodical vetting process, the candidates are more likely to work with progressive causes and less likely to compromise with conservative right-wing interests to hold on to their political offices.
Leading up to the time when the above scenario is possible, progressives need to be wary of politicians who come seeking support. Once elected, some politicians tend to segue conveniently to the neutral center, and by doing so render themselves incapable of delivering on their campaign pledges.
Education, outreach, voter registration, precinct walks, phone calls, neighborhood meetings and a year-round presence through the Community Alliance newspaper, KFCF 88.1 FM free speech radio, social media and activities of organizations such as the CVPPAC and SNOPAC require meticulous planning and disciplined implementation.
More assertive roles can also be played. Between elections, we should be actively engaged in lobbying elected officials of all parties on progressive issues. If you stand on the sidelines, people pass you by or even push you aside. We need to “get in the way” and make our presence felt. I refer the readers to an earlier “Progressive Voice” column in the Community Alliance that discusses this strategy (https://fresnoalliance.com/?p=7484).
Postscript: Many progressive organizations are nonprofits registered under the IRS code 501(c)3 and believe that they cannot be involved in political activity. This is incorrect. The next column will cover this subject in detail, with an update on the merger of the California Participation Project into the California Association of Nonprofits. Visit http://calnonprofits.org/advocacy/voteyourmission to read about the Vote with Your Mission program.
Yezdyar Kaoosji is a steering committee member of the Progressive Network of Central California and a board member of the California Association of Nonprofits. Contact him at email@example.com.