Barack Obama and the New Party/Progressive Chicago

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Template:ObamaBox Template:TOCnestleft Barack Obama and the New Party

Strong in the mid to late 1990s the New Party was an electoral alliance dedicated to electing leftist candidates to office-usually through the Democratic Party.

Two organizations formed the backbone of the New Party- the Democratic Socialists of America and the U.S.'s largest radical organization, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now ). Radical labor union SEIU also had considerable input, as did members of the Communist Party USA breakaway group, Committees of Correspondence.

Another very strong influence was the far left Washington DC based "think tank" the Institute for Policy Studies.

In Chicago, the New Party founded an equally radical "sister organization" Progressive Chicago.

There is strong evidence that Barack Obama was a member of both organizations.

Chicago New Party


In Chicago, the New Party consisted mainly of ACORN, Democratic Socialists of America, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Committees of Correspondence (CoC). A breakaway from the Communist Party USA, CoC worked closely with DSA and many activists were members of both organizations.

The Chicago New Party began to get organized in January 1995.[1]

On Saturday, January 14, the New Party in Chicago took another step in its effort to establish itself as a political force by holding a major outreach meeting directed at Chicago's Left. About 100 people, with sizable delegations from DSA and CoC among others, heard Bruce Colburn and Elaine Bernard preach the gospel of the New Party...

Elaine Bernard, a Labor Studies lecturer at Harvard, is a prominent DSA member. Bruce Colburn was an officer of the Milwaukee Central Labor Council and the Chair of the local New Party affiliate in Milwaukee.

The meeting was held at the meeting hall of SEIU Local 880, a local that is tackling the extremely difficult task of organizing home health care workers in Illinois. SEIU Local 880 and ACORN share office space.

Potential third party

DSA and their CoC allies saw the New Party as a vehicle for major political change-to both move the Democratic Party leftward and to eventually prepare the ground for an entirely new third party.

At a meeting attended by Chicago DSA members Kurt Anderson and Bob Roman, plus CoC members Ronelle Mustin and Sandy Patrinos, CoC leader Carl Davidson explained the New Party's role in first working through the Democratic Party then eventually replacing it.[2]

On January 27th approximately 45 people attended the Chicago DSA and Chicago CoC organized public form at the ACTWU hall on Ashland Ave. Each organization had two representatives on the panel to present their particular elections '94 post-mortem perspectives. Chicago DSA was represented by Co-Chair, Kurt Anderson and Political Education Officer, Bob Roman. CoC was represented by Carl Davidson, who is a member of CoC's National Coordinating Committee and Ronelle Mustin, an activist from the 22nd ward. The event was chaired by Sandi Patrinos, chair of Chicago CoC...
Carl Davidson wanted to focus on "voting patterns." There were essentially two winners. Naturally the Republicans, but so were the most left in Congress such as the Progressive and Black Caucuses. The latter were re-elected while the neo-liberal and conservative Democrats were voted out. More importantly this election was the de facto defeat of the elitist Democratic Leadership Council who do not care about the poor or Labor.
To win elections, Davidson emphasized that there are two necessary coinciding factors. First, a passive majority... Secondly, a militant minority, which came to fruition for the Right wing with the Christian Coalition...
Hence Davidson emphasized that in this historical period the Left's strategy must be electoral politics not revolution. Consequently the Left must galvanize the "majority" - the working class and poor... Moreover the democratic left needs get active in the New Party which has won 20 of 30 local elections. Thus a short-term strategy of working with the Democratic Party and in the long-term work with the New Party.

Obama gets involved

Barack Obama clearly saw the potential of the New Party, because he was soon seeking their support -alongside Michael Chandler, Willie Delgado, Miguel del Valle, Alice Palmer, Sonya Sanchez and Jesse Garcia.[3]

About 50 activists attended the Chicago New Party membership meeting in July. The purpose of the meeting was to update members on local activities and to hear appeals for NP support from four potential political candidates. The NP is being very active in organization building and politics...
The political entourage included Alderman Michael Chandler, William Delgado, chief of staff for State Rep Miguel del Valle, and spokespersons for State Sen. Alice Palmer, Sonya Sanchez, chief of staff for State Sen. Jesse Garcia, who is running for State Rep in Garcia's District; and Barack Obama, chief of staff for State Sen. Alice Palmer. Obama is running for Palmer's vacant seat...
Although ACORN and SEIU Local 880 were the harbingers of the NP there was a strong presence of CoC and DSA (15% DSA)... Four political candidates were "there" seeking NP support.

Barack Obama won the 1996 election, by using legal technicalities to get all his opponents disqualified-but he still encouraged New Party volunteers to join his task forces on Voter Education and Voter Registration.[4]

The NP's '96 Political Program has been enormously successful with 3 of 4 endorsed candidates winning electoral primaries. All four candidates attended the NP membership meeting on April 11th to express their gratitude.
Danny Davis, winner in the 7th Congressional District, invited NPers to join his Campaign Steering Committee.
Patricia Martin, who won the race for Judge in 7th Subcircuit Court, explained that due to the NP she was able to network and get experienced advice from progressives like Davis.
Barack Obama, victor in the 13th State Senate District, encouraged NPers to join in his task forces on Voter Education and Voter Registration...

Did Obama join the New Party?

There is strong evidence that Obama actually joined the New Party.

Danny Davis joined the Chicago New Party during his successful Congressional 1996 campaign on the Democratic Party ticket.

New Party News Spring 1996 page 1, celebrated the Davis’ Congressional victory and went on to say;

"New Party members won three other primaries this Spring in Chicago: Barack Obama (State Senate), Michael Chandler (Democratic Party Committee) and Patricia Martin (Cook County Judiciary)..."these victories prove that small 'd' democracy can work' said Obama".

This photo from New Party News names Obama and Danny Davis as "NP endorsed" candidates.

New Party News Spring 1996 page 2, Danny Davis center, Barack Obama right

These clippings from the same issue of New Party News page 1 name Obama and Davis as New Party "members".


Progressive Chicago


Progressive Chicago was founded in 1993 by members of the New Party, in particular Madeline Talbott and Dan Swinney.

In an April 27, 1993 letter to prospective Progressive Chicago members, Dan Swinney wrote;

I recently have become interested in the New Party as well as committed myself to see if we can build a Progressive Chicago network, working with Madeline Talbott of ACORN - the local New Party convener.
I wanted to introduce you to the NP and Progressive Chicago and would like to talk to you about it to see if there is a role you want to play.
Enclosed is a brochure, a longer description of the NP and the ideas behind it...

A circa 1993 Progressive Chicago introductory pamphlet stated;

Progressive Chicago was started by members of the New Party who wanted to be able to put together an organization strong enough to win: If that means supporting a candidate running as a Democrat, then fine. If that means running our own candidates in aldermanic or state representative races on whatever line that gives them the best chance of winning, fine.

Obama involvement in Progressive Chicago

Barack Obama was probably approached to join Progressive Chicago as early July? 7, 1993 as this unsigned handwritten note suggests.


According to the same note Obama was "more than happy to be involved";


By September 1993 Obama was one of 17 people listed as a signatory on all Progressive Chicago letters - as shown by the second page of this September 22 Progressive Chicago letter to Joe Gardner.


On December 31, 1993, Progressive Chicago wrote to all key members, including Obama, inviting them to a January 19, 1994 meeting.

Clearly Obama's involvement in Progressive Chicago was high level and lasted at least several months.


Socialist control

Like its "sister organization", the New Party, Progressive Chicago was heavily infiltrated by supporters of Democratic Socialists of America and the Communist Party USA off-shoot Committees of Correspondence.

In late 1993 Progressive Chicago letters were always signed by 17 people;[5]

People targeted or solicited to join Progressive Chicago included Obama political mentor and Communist Party USA affiliate Alice Palmer, Communist Party member Frank Lumpkin, Rev. Jim Reed of Christians for Socialism and Democratic Socialists of America associates Miguel Del Valle, Carole Travis, Clem Balanoff, Sue Purrington and Jane Ramsey.



  1. New Ground 38, January - February, 1995
  2. New Ground 39, March-April 1995, Where Does the Left Go From Here?: A Chicago DSA - Chicago CoC Joint Forum
  3. New Ground 42, September - October, 1995, Chicago New Party Update
  4. New Ground 47, July-August 1997, New Party Update
  5. Progressive Chicago letterheads November 5 and December 31, 1993