Conference Forges Unity, Tackles Future After Trump

MAPA Newsletter Winter 2021

John Nichols (Nation correspondent), Bill Fletcher Jr. (activist, labor organizer, author), Shailly Gupta Barnes (policy director for the Poor People's Campaign).

by Cole Harrison

More than 300 Massachusetts progressives gathered for a two-day conference December 5-6, convened by Mass. Peace Action and joined by 15 other groups, to discuss how to build the people’s movement in the new political landscape of a Biden administration.

The COVID health and economic crisis, the racial justice uprisings of 2020, the climate emergency, endless war, and the continued strength of the reactionary Trumpist movement were the foremost problems framing the discussions.

Sen Ed Markey delivering keynote Dec 5
Sen Ed Markey delivering keynote Dec 5

Sen. Ed Markey delivered the keynote address. He emphasized the importance of bold progressive solutions such as the Green New Deal to address the climate crisis and rebuild the economy in a way that puts marginalized communities at the center.

The Nation correspondent John Nichols pointed out the centrality of peace to the progressive agenda. Bill Fletcher, Jr. called for progressive unity to influence the policy of a Biden administration and bring real benefits to working people. Shailly Gupta Barnes of the Poor People’s Campaign laid out a sweeping economic and racial justice agenda to deliver for the tens of millions of poor and near-poor Americans.

1199SEIU’s Vaughn Goodwin called for labor militancy. The ACLU’s Rahsaan Hall called for defunding the police to end their use as a tool of racial oppression. Newly elected State Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven criticized the opaque procedures of the State Legislature and called for democratic reform of its rules. La Colaborativa’s Gladys Vega described how hard Chelsea’s immigrant community has been hit by COVID-19. Alina Tomeh, Debbie Weinstein, Bill McKibben, and Stephen Kinzer gave perceptive and rousing speeches.

Over 25 small group breakout sessions, grappling with topics ranging from the antiracism movement to the campaign against Raytheon enabled activists from various backgrounds to meet each other and plan campaigns together.

The conference was called “Where do We Go from Here? Preparing our Movements for the Next Four Years” and was sixth in a series of annual progressive unity conferences. It was sponsored by 14 Massachusetts and one Maine progressive organizations, including 350 Massachusetts, Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, American Friends Service Committee – Northeast Office, Progressive Massachusetts, Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants, Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign, Progressive Democrats of America, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, Boston Independent Drivers Guild, Our Revolution Massachusetts, Cambridge Residents Alliance, Peace Action Maine, Veterans for Peace/Smedley Butler Brigade, Jewish Voice for Peace Boston, and Boston DSA. The sponsoring groups were convened by Massachusetts Peace Action.

On Sunday, 200 activists came back to talk about how progressives should work together in 2021. At this writing, eight organizations tentatively named the Massachusetts Progressive Alliance are

continuing to meet and to reach out to other groups, laying plans for collaborative work on state legislation, federal budget policy, direct action, and confronting polarization. The alliance is planning another conference to be held in fall 2021.

—Cole Harrison is the executive director of Mass. Peace Action