By Timothy Savage
More than 300 people from across the San Joaquin Valley gathered Oct. 1 to listen, to engage, to connect and to get fired up about the most important issues of our day at “Strengthening Our Voice: Bring Valley Progressives Together,” a summit meeting held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno.
With motivation from Jim Hightower, the summit’s keynote speaker and nationally known syndicated columnist, the group came together as individuals, but left with a renewed sense of purpose and the beginnings of a plan for working together.
Planned by Volunteers for Change-Fresno with the Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Committee, the Community Alliance newspaper, the Central Valley Progressive Political Action Committee, Fresno Mental Health Services and the Central Valley Sierra Progressives (the local Progressive Democrats of America [PDA] chapter), the summit represented a unique opportunity to bring Valley progressives together.
“With countless, well-funded right-wing think tanks throughout the country, we felt a need to get more people involved in the conversation,” said Paul Pierce, member of the “Strengthening Our Voices” planning committee and facilitator for the event. “I’d heard comments from our attendees that as progressives, they had felt rather alone here in the Central Valley. Well, no one left the Summit alone, and no one left silently. Instead, we heard from a lot of people how exciting it was to be in a room full of other progressives, to have a chance to both belong and to get involved.”
Among the event’s goals were to build bridges of communication between progressive groups and to strengthen local progressives’ ability to coordinate efforts on issues including Wall Street and big oil, peace and social justice, local poverty, political action and more.
Summit participants came for Jim Hightower’s presentation and stayed for the working session, spending the balance of the afternoon in small groups brainstorming on three topics critical to the progressive movement:
- Working effectively as a group;
- Delineating those issues on which progressives might work together; and
- Finding ways to strengthen progressive voices here in the Valley.
All of the small groups worked on each topic individually, later bringing their ideas forward to the larger group for consideration. In the end, the group generated pages of ideas on how local people can apply communications tools and techniques toward reaching progressive goals, as well as a list of the strategic issues that most interest Fresno’s progressive community.
“Our participants represented a broad base of area progressives; with around 350 in attendance. “While we’ve gathered in these numbers in the past to protest, I don’t remember ever seeing this many progressives in one place thinking solutions together,” Pierce said. “One of our goals was to ensure that this summit would not be the end of the conversation, but rather the beginning.”
The group reached an early consensus that there is a need for better coordination and cooperation among the area’s progressive groups. To this end, the summit’s planners will continue the process by launching a “coordinating council” designed to help progressive groups find common ground with each other and work together for progress on today’s most critical issues.
The yet to be named coordinating council will meet for the first time at 2 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 2672 E. Alluvial Ave., in Clovis. All individuals and groups who participated in the summit are invited to continue this work by participating.
Planners of the “Strengthening Our Voice” Progressive Summit extend their thanks to those who worked hard to make the event come together, including Ruth Afifi, Kai Bolden, Myra Coble, Nancy Griesser, Judy Hess, Jesse Lifton, Kristi McCarthy, Bob Merrill, Wendy Negri, Connie Peterson, Paul Pierce, C.J. Radellant, Mike Rhodes, Steve Sacks, Richard Stone and Howard Watkins.
For more information about the coordinating council’s initial planning meeting, contact Connie Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Timothy Savage is a local freelance writer, Web geek and full-time work-at-home father. Contact him at email@example.com.