Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Over 50 Attend Progressive “Mega Summit” in Hillcrest

Effort Attempts to Bring Activists Together for Common Causes


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Over 50 people turned out to the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest February 17 for the awkwardly named “San Diego Mega Progressive Community Coalition Summit,” an attempt to bring Left-of-center activists together for common causes. Though the event was co-sponsored by San Diegans for 9/11 Truth — which holds two meetings per month at the Center to challenge the conventional wisdom about 9/11 and allege that the U.S. government either knew about the attacks in advance or actually perpetrated them — the dominant voice came from African-American activist Walter Davis, who chaired the meeting and made two long speeches during it.

Davis, who while still a child lived in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 and took part in Martin Luther King’s campaign there, survived the infamous bombing of the16th Street Baptist Church by Ku Klux Klan racists and knew the “four little girls” who were killed in that attack. A 25-year veteran of the U.S. military, he founded the Citizens’ Internet TV network and regularly covers progressive events for his Web site, www.walterdavisenterprises.com, as well as his radio talk show and columns in local North County community newspapers. Davis is also a former insurance agent, a job he said he got into “because my pregnant wife and daughter were shot in Los Angeles right after we came back after four years in Tokyo. The insurance company wouldn’t pay death benefits, so I started to study the insurance business and I eventually got my license.”

It’s that kind of grit and determination that Davis said, in his two big speeches at the Mega Summit — one at the beginning and one at the end — would turn the U.S. around and bring progressive victories. After talking about the persistence of racial discrimination and segregation against African-Americans and how his parents suffered from it most of their lives, he said, “Things changed when we got youth and outside people involved. It seemed like we were never going to win, but things changed in the 1960’s. … We need to look at how people won those battles. They were tenacious. We also have tl make our issues international.”

Davis said the biggest problem in organizing progressives is “we’re not goose-steppers like the conservatives. Our greatest strength is individual liberty, but that’s also our greatest weakness.” He said the task of the Mega Summit is to find the “little pieces we can all agree on” despite the differences within the progressive movement. “We can say we believe in standing up for justice and the environment, and fighting poverty,” he said. “This is about finding common ground.” He also said a progressive coalition has to think both strategically and tactically — both pursue long-range goals and respond to what’s going on day-by-day.

A wide variety of organizations was represented at the Mega Summit. In addition to the co-sponsors, the San Diego County Community Coalition (which Davis organized and heads) and San Diegans for 9/11 Truth, the summit attracted individuals from Nonviolent Peaceforce (the local branch of an international organization that is already sending mediators to trouble spots worldwide), the Drug Policy Alliance and A New Path (challenging the so-called “war on drugs” and how it’s led to the imprisonment of more Americans per capita than in any other country in the world), Progressive San Diego, Activist San Diego, the North County Coalition for Peace and Justice, Californians for Humane Farms, All of Us or None (which supports restoration of civil rights and employment opportunities for released ex-convicts), the Caring Council, San Diego Young Democrats, North County Democratic Club, the Ocean Beach People’s Food Co-op and the Islamic Public Affairs Council.

In addition, the summit drew at least two candidates for elective office. One, Mike Coppas, is challenging Congressmember Susan Davis in the June 3 Democratic primary on the ground that the district is “a progressive district” and needs, instead of a wishy-washy moderate like Davis, a representative at least as consistently progressive as San Diego County’s other Democratic Congressmember, Bob Filner. The other candidate was Eric Bidwell, a dreadlocked young man who’s running for mayor of San Diego on what he calls a “revolutionary mayor” platform. One of the most interesting people there was Colin Leath, urban gardener and member of San Diego Food not Lawns and a new organization currently being built, San Diego City Repair, which seeks to reduce the amount of paved space in the city and return as much of it as possible to nature.

Though most of the organizational representatives were only allowed to say a sentence or so about what their groups did, a few got to make longer presentations. “Peace is actually happening,” said Gloria Joyce of Nonviolent Peaceforce. “Just this week in Sri Lanka, we learned from third-party international workers that they’re beginning to get ready for another election and one of the Tamil groups has agreed to stop fighting. We helped mostly from our influence and example. We were there during the tsunami, and none of the looting that happened on other islands in Sri Lanka happened on ours.”

Despite Davis’s attempt to keep things on an even keel and encourage the groups represented at the summit to concentrate on points of unity, differences emerged. After Davis identified “peace” as one of the goals of the summit, veteran San Diego peace activist Tanja Winter suggested “anti-militarism” as a more specific goal than just “peace,” since even the American military claims to be in the business of ensuring “peace.” “Building up the weapons of the world makes war inevitable,” said Winter — and Davis, who mostly agreed, said that as a 25-year military veteran he felt left out by an attack on “militarism.”

In addition to the usual activities of progressive organizations — including lobbying elected officials, staging street protests and doing educational events — Davis strongly suggested that the Mega Summit bring forth a coalition that can actually stage boycotts against local outlets of major corporations. He identified Exxon Mobil and Wendy’s as potential targets, Exxon Mobil because as the world’s largest oil company they’ve been the principal profit-makers from the skyrocketing cost of gasoline, and Wendy’s because they’ve been a major contributor to Right-wing organizations opposed to universal health care.

The San Diego County Mega Progressive Community Coalition Summit will be holding its next general meeting Sunday, March 16, 6 p.m. at the Joyce Beers Community Center, Vermont Street north of University between Terra and Aladdin Restaurants in Hillcrest. Breakout sessions will be held every Tuesday in February and March at 6 p.m. at the Hot Monkey Love Café, 6875 El Cajon Boulevard in the College/Rolando area. For more information, visit the Web site http://progressiveconcerns.meetup.com/5/