Why you should converge on Philadelphia

July 21, 2016

Todd Chretien of the International Socialist Organization and a member of the Steering Committee for the Socialist Convergence, runs down the reasons you should go.

IF, AFTER the horror show in Cleveland, you're still not convinced that Clintonite Neoliberal Triangulation is the cure for Trumpist Racist Fever, then you're in luck--because Hillary won't be the only show in town when the Democratic National Convention (DNC) comes to Philadelphia next week.

A four-day Socialist Convergence--initiated by the Philly Socialists and organized by a coalition of radical and socialist organizations ranging from the Kentucky Workers League to the System Change Not Climate Change coalition--will take place alongside the corporate-sponsored DNC.

One part education, one part debate and one part organizing, the Convergence will convene each night after marches and protests during the day. The site for the event is the historic American Friends Service Committee meeting house at 1501 Cherry Street.

The event will feature literature and information tables and lively workshops and panel discussions. It is free and open to the public, though donations are strongly encouraged. Our aim is to offer a grassroots and sharply defined alternative, even if a modest one, to the top-down political theater on display at the DNC.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor will speak at the Socialist Convergence

The Convergence will kick off on the evening of Monday, August 25, with a workshop on "Capitalism in Crisis: the Socialist Answer. "Other topics throughout the week include: "Fighting Racism and Xenophobia; Gender, Sexuality and Feminism in Our Fights for Justice": "Political Revolution: Overthrowing a Corrupt Political System"; and "After the DNC: Which Way Forward for the Movement?" among many others. The discussions are planned to leave ample opportunity to share ideas, raise questions and debates, and meet the speakers and talk informally.

More than thirty presenters will lead discussions and debates, among them: Anthony Monteiro, of the Philadelphia REAL Justice Coalition and Black Radical Organizing Collective; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation; Rania Khalek, journalist for the Electronic Intifada; Prof. Johanna Brenner, Solidarity activist and author of Women and the Politics of Class; Patty Eakin, president, Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP); Joe Schwartz, Temple University professor and co-chair of Democratic Socialists of America; Amy Muldoon, union activist at Verizon and International Socialist Organization member; Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative member of the Seattle City Council; Sean Sweeney, of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy; Steve Williams, of LeftRoots; Jill Stein, Green Party presidential candidate; Glen Ford, of Black Agenda Report; award-winning journalist Chris Hedges; New York Green Party activist Howie Hawkins; and Bhaskar Sunkara, founding editor of Jacobin magazine.

WHY ORGANIZE this event now, in the midst of the Democrats' convention?

Frankly, the Convergence hopes to engage a layer of activists and young people attracted to socialism by the Bernie Sanders campaign who are today reeling from his unfortunate, if predictable, endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

After excoriating Clinton for more than a year as the candidate of the establishment and calling for a "political revolution" against the status quo she represents, Sanders ended his campaign with a whimper, endorsing Clinton earlier this month at a campaign event in New Hampshire:

[T]here was a significant coming together between the two campaigns, and we produced by far the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton president--and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen... Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here today.

But can we really restrict the boundaries of a movement that deserves to be called "revolutionary" to the limits of the Democratic Platform Committee and the U.S. Senate? To say nothing of the ridiculous notion that Hillary Clinton will make "an outstanding president"--unless that is, you happen to own a bank or are a member of the Walmart family. What "outstanding" leadership should we expect from Clinton in the face of the defining issues of racist police violence and mass incarceration? Global climate change, wars for oil, and the forced immigration of tens of millions of people from their homes?

As the Young Democratic Socialists, the youth group affiliated to the Democratic Socialists of America, one of the Convergence endorsers and organizers, wrote in a statement:

Regardless of our agreements and disagreements with the Sanders endorsement or continuing to debate the presidential candidate to vote for, now is the time to consider what we as a movement will do to make real change happen. We are in a pinnacle moment where we can direct our Bernie energy where it matters. It is time to put our feet on the ground and do some real grassroots organizing.

THERE WILL be one presidential candidate inside the Wells Fargo Center--and another outside it, at the Convergence: Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Convergence organizers want to welcome participation from any activists, whether they support Stein or believe that voting "against Trump" and therefore for Hillary Clinton is a necessary evil at this stage. But Stein's presence at the Convergence will highlight the opportunities for building an independent left-wing alternative to the Democrats.

Since Sanders' surrender to the Democratic Party, Stein's campaign has raised more money than in the last year--almost $500,000, including hundreds of small donations. Plus, author and activist Cornel West gave Stein a high-profile endorsement, calling a Clinton presidency a "neoliberal disaster."

There will certainly be different points of view represented, and far from sweeping them under the rug, the Socialist Convergence can serve as a space for differing points of view to be expressed, even as we work together.

For instance, the International Socialist Organization, publisher of this website, argued strenuously against the decision by Socialist Alternative and many leading members of the group Solidarity--both of them important sponsors and organizers of the Convergence--to spend much of the last year campaigning for Sanders, despite his promise ahead of time to remain firmly entrenched in the Democratic Party.

Disagreements and debates like this are natural. In fact, talking through these important questions can have a real impact on political practice.

And now that Socialist Alternative and Solidarity have come out squarely for Stein, organizers from groups supporting her campaign can compare notes and, hopefully, come out of the Convergence all pulling in the same direction.

If we want a new generation of socialists to move beyond the rhetoric, not backed up by action, of a socialist who ran in the Democratic Party, or a narrow focus on single-issue movement politics, toward a commitment to building revolutionary movements and organizations, we must learn how to engage in intense but constructive debate.

The stakes are high, and many former Sanders supporters are going to be making decisions about that future in the coming months. The left needs to try to influence them.

ALTHOUGH THERE is a certain logic to focusing on the November elections, the Convergence isn't only about electoral questions.

The attempted coup in Turkey; the terrible massacre in Nice; Black Lives Matters protests in more than 70 cities in response to the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, even in the face of the pro-police backlash after Dallas and Baton Rouge; the homophobic mass shooting in Orlando; the real threat of a more aggressive and violent right wing taking shape, under the auspices of Trump's campaign and outside it--all of these point to the need for the socialist left in the U.S. to answer some big questions.

Whoever wins in November, we should expect some version of the current status quo: austerity, racist violence, deportations, war and occupation, and more. Our side is much weaker than the forces of capital and the state, but social movements are showing signs of life.

The question is how to nurture those movements, while also insisting that it is not enough to oppose the crimes of capitalism, but we must point toward a social, political and economic alternative.

Tim Horras, one of the Socialist Convergence's key organizers, sees as fertile conditions for the socialist left:

Philly Socialists is a Millennial-led, locally based, multi-tendency socialist group which was founded in the period immediately preceding Occupy Wall Street in 2011. As a group made up of young people, we felt it was important that the left overcome our legacy of fragmentation and sectarianism which we had inherited during the dark days of peak neoliberalism.

We're entering into a new phase in the class struggle now, when we must confront a rising fascist threat as well as relate to the spontaneously developing social-democratic consciousness developing among the youth, workers, and people of color...Socialist groups working together on events in a spirit of respect, searching for common ground and shared values--all of this merely constitutes a beginning, a prelude.

None of the Convergence organizers are naïve. We all know we face a long battle ahead to make the U.S. go socialist.

But even if the Convergence is only a "baby step" on the road toward a stronger socialist movement, as Philly Socialist Horras says, "We have to start somewhere."

Further Reading

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