Last year, over 500 activists attended the Inaugural Convention of the San Francisco People’s Convention, a multi-issue umbrella organization of progressives designed to unify the city’s progressives together around a common agenda. It wasn’t a new idea. Ever since the left came together in 1999 behind Tom Ammiano’s historic write-in campaign for mayor, San Francisco progressives have talked about the need for a permanent political organization to help sustain and grow a grass-roots electoral movement – like how Berkeley Citizens’ Action helped transform local politics in the Easy Bay back in the 1970’s. Progressives tend to focus in their own separate communities around their own issues, or come together every few years around election time with fledgling outbursts of energy, but there has been no sustainable way to keep activists unified so that the movement could truly progress.
Fifteen months later, SFPO will hold its 2nd Annual Convention tomorrow at St. Mary’s Cathedral to reconvene activists, elect a new Board, conduct workshops and focus on building a more progressive future. Although last year’s convention was split up into various identity-based caucuses who came out with their own policy priorities, “it was remarkable how much overlap there was in issue priorities among these disparate groups – especially on violence prevention and anti-gentrification,” said Board Member Michael Goldstein. These two issues, along with Campaigns and Elections, Education, and Immigrant Rights, will be the focus of this year’s Convention – and the morning session will focus on separate workshop with action plans.
With the November 2006 elections approaching, many progressive activists are currently working on various candidate campaigns for Board of Supervisors, School Board, Community College Board – which calls into question how much their plate will be full to spend all day at the Convention. But Jane Kim, President of SFPO, expects that there will be a good turnout. “We’ll be pulling in from a base of activists who work on issues, but are not necessarily right now involved in electoral politics,” she explained. And even if many activists are currently distracted with the election, “it’s important for us to come together not necessarily around one campaign and to make strategic relations,” said Board Member Julian Davis. “It will be a chance for people to forge working relationships that don’t necessarily come from working on a campaign.”
Another concern among some activists has been what SFPO has accomplished over the past year. The new organization’s most visible work was behind Proposition A, a measure that would have provided $10 million to the City for anti-violence programs, which fell tragically short of passing in last June’s election. But, says Jane Kim, “the importance of what we’ve done this year is not always tangible. A lot of the work that the Board has done involved building coalitions among activists who are working in their own communities – as well as recruiting new young leadership. We’re the only progressive organization in San Francisco whose leadership is primarily people of color. We’ve brought a great number of people into the organization who are incredibly important in the neighborhoods but are not necessarily ‘political.’”
For many of the SFPO Board members, it has been a steep learning curve. “We have reached out to groups like POWER,” said Goldstein. “We have spent time in the Bayview listening to issues – and it’s been an eye-opening experience. It’s been a little slow going – because everybody on the Board is involved in about 2-3 issues and organizations, and we all do this on a volunteer basis. But it has certainly been incredibly important bringing different groups like this at the table.”
Beyond Proposition A, Board members of SFPO have worked closely in the past year on campaigns to pass Tom Ammiano’s Universal Health Care Ordinance, Chris Daly’s legislation to increase mandatory levels of affordable housing in new developments, and have played an active role in UNITE-HERE Local 2’s contract campaigns.
As for the unexpected failure of Prop A, the fact that the same ballot had two highly competitive state legislative races on the west side (and none on the east side) played a huge role in the defeat because it was an unusually conservative electorate. “The purpose was not just to pass Prop A,” said Kim, “but to build coalitions among various activists and people. We recruited young people in the Mission, Bayview and the Western Addition. We didn’t just go precinct walking – we did community building exercises. It was about building a base for people.”
At the Convention, the Board will release its first major policy paper – a mid-term “report card” to Mayor Newsom on five major issues: (1) economic development, (2) public safety, (3) transportation, (4) housing and land use, and (5) homelessness. “It will be the beginning of SFPO’s intervention in the dialogue of substantive issues,” said Davis, “and what the progressive vision of San Francisco is.”
While the long-term goal of SFPO is to build a powerful progressive electoral base in the City, the Board made the conscious decision not to endorse candidates this year. At this early stage, the organization needs to focus more on issue advocacy and holding politicians accountable, rather than letting candidates take over the organization for their own purposes. However, the afternoon of the Convention will include a Candidate’s Forum, co-sponsored by the Housing Justice Coalition, where candidates for the Board of Supervisors will be given the opportunity to present their case to the Convention.
For more information about the Convention, go to http://www.sfpeople.orgFiled under: Archive