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1996-11-29

Founding Conference for Alliance for Democracy

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Last weekend in Hunt Texas, 250 members and supporters met to found a new organization called Alliance for Democracy. The mission of the Alliance for Democracy is to create a just society with sustainable, equitable economy. Among the goals of the members for the conference was to establish and discuss the constitution and its bylaws. The Alliance began when Ronnie Dugger, founder of the Texas Observer newspaper in 1970s, wrote an article in August 1995 in The Nation calling for a new populist movement, His essay, entitled "Will the real populists stand up?" solicited some 1,700 letters from readers. In his convention speech, Dugger said that the call of the convention was to take the country back from the corporations because corporate money is ruining democracy. He also argued that the Democratic party has been hollowed out and rebuilt by corporate money. Evoking the 19th century populists, he urged that ordinary people needed to reassemble and take back power. Bensky interviewed Laurence Goodwin, historian at Duke University and author of the Populist Moment: A short history of the agrarian revolt in America. Goodwin discussed the roots of the populist movement and described how the National Farmers Alliance and Industrial Union. Became a cooperative movement, anti-bank, and produced the people’s party of the 1890s. He also described the alliance’s effective speakers’ bureau, a system whereby each sub-alliance coop would have its own lecturer. There were 41,000 lecturers at its apex. Goodwin also discussed how the movement shot itself in the foot with the nomination of William Jennings Bryant for president. Columnist Molly Ivans spoke at the conference about the importance of addressing campaign finance reform. Jim Hightower, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and now host of a nationwide radio talk show, discussed the importance of the various populist parties banning together. He also mentioned the recent lawsuit filed by the New Party regarding bringing back fusion politics for cross endorsing on ballots. The purpose of the lawsuit is to give third parties a chance. The Supreme Court was hearing this case at the time of the convention. Bensky interviewed some of the activists who attended the conference who told him, among other things, that. each alliance has its own autonomy to define its scope locally. Bensky then interviewed Fred Harris, former Senator from Oklahoma and now a college teacher. Harris ran a populist candidate for president in 1978 on the democratic party ticket. Finally, Bensky interviewed Ted Glick, coordinator of National Independent Politics Network in New York City. Glick talked about how important strains of overall progressive movement have been developing. The key is how all of this will come together over the next several years. Various groups need to maintain constant communication and breaking down of organizational turf so groups will work together. Because of its trade union culture and historical legacy, the labor party has been more unto itself than the other groups so it will take longer to integrate into larger movement. Glick hopes though that the larger progressive entity will be a significant player by the year 2000 election. He also mentioned the importance of addressing campaign finance reform.

Subjects: Ronnie Dugger, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, populists, populism, neo-populism

Guests: Laurence Goodwin


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