Democratic Agenda

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Democratic Agenda was a project of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, designed to move the Democratic Party to the left.


The Democratic Agenda alliance emerged from the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee "Democracy '76" project. At that time a Washington, DC, conference attended by some 500 people set up a network to influence the regional and national meetings of the Democratic Party Platform Committee.

Pleased with the result of its input into the drafting of the 1976 Democratic Party platform which DSOC termed "a rather progressive document," the DSOC organized the Democratic Agenda alliance in November 1977. DSOC and the DA both operated from national headquarters at 853 Broadway 1 Room 617, New York, NY 10003 (2l2/260-32701.

DA conference organizing was coordinated from DSOC' s Washington local (chapter) offices at 1730 N Street, NH, Suite 713, Washington, DC.

DSOC's Washington organizers emphasized that the DA is not a coalition of groups agreeing on a goal but, which have disparate analyses. They describe the DA as an alliance of "like-minded groups which share a broad social analysis, and which work together on a broader, more long-lived front and struggle.

According to attorney and treasurer of the Washington, DC, DSOC local Alex Spinrad "if there were a mass socialist organization, Democratic Agenda might be unnecessary: unionists like Doug Fraser and William Winpisinger, Congresspeople, and community activists could all operate within the common organizational framework of a democratic socialist movement . Unfortunately, such a mass socialist base does not exist yet, but the Democratic Agenda provides an exciting vision of the potential movement. "

Spinrad has argued that "Only by creating a coherent organizational framework - and a single broad analysis of social problems -can the left really achieve the long-lasting victories which can lead to truly exciting social change. That is why we are all socialists:because whether we are in the labor movement, the religious community,academia, we all recognize the need for an ideological framework on which to hang all, common, struggles."[1]


DSOC's Democratic Agenda effort to ally organizations with "a single broad analysis of social problems" attracted participants from the Institute for Policy Studies, from the Coalition for a New Foreign aid Military Policy ; from the Communist Party USA and its front, the Labor Research Association ¡ Jeremy Rifkin and his People's Business Commission, from Friends of the Filipino People, a support group for Marxist-Leninist terrorist groups; from the National Network for Nicaragua, which lobbied on behalf cf the Castroite Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua; "communities movement" groups such as ACORN; Americans for Democratic Action Ralph Nader's Consumers Opposed to Inflation in the Necessities ; William Winpisinger's Citizen/Labor Energy Coalition ; UAW president Doug Fraser's Progressive Alliance; and Arthur Kinoy's People's Alliance.[2]

1979 conference

More than 1,200 people attended the Democratic Agenda Conference held November 16-18, 1979, at the International Inn and Metropolitan AM Church in Washington 1 DC. The conference focused on "corporate power'; as the key barrier to "economic and political democracy," concepts many Democratic Agenda participants defined as "socialism.'

The DA meetings attempted to develop anti-corporate alternatives" through influencing the direction of the Democratic Party during the period leading to the July 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York.

Chaired by Ed Donohue and Ruth Jordan of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the opening speaker was U.S. Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) who set the stage for the DA conference with the proclamation, "I come to you with a message of hype - hope - well, it is hype." The Baltimore Congresswoman proceeded with a speech that was basically a collection of Slogans such as "Change comes from the bottom!" and "People power!" which were received with warm applause.

Next up was Robert Georgine, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. Georgine said that business controlled the media and the universities and via the formation of employee political action committees, controlled the government.

William Lucy, treasurer of AFSCME and president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, was critical of President Carter's trimming of social services programs and said, "Black folks can't decide who will be President; but they can decide who will not be President. We have to reorganize priorities."

Barry Commoner stated that "understanding energy" policy, options and, strategy was the way "to get a grip on the politics of the 80's." He expressed deep concern over the narrowing liberal majority in Congress, and opposition to the Defense Department's organizing a special "ready response" strike force that could be used to defend Middle East oil fields. Commoner asserted that inflation was the result of not having a federal energy program and plugged his embryonic Citizen's Party.

William Winpisinger concluded the evening with a hotly partisan attack on President Carter,asserting, "If Carter is nominated (in 1980 there won't be a Democratic Party in 1984.Winpislnger who had endorsed Senator Edward Kennedy for the presidential nomination, charged, "Carter is a small-town hypocritical aristocrat who behind the facade of bumbling good intentions has the rigid mind of a nuclear engineer and the heart a a corporate executive. " White House plans to increase U. S. defense spending were bitterly denounced, as was the MX missile, "a monument to technological folly."[3]

Keynote speech

Although the keynote slate included Washington, DC, Mayor Marion Barry and Mildred Jeffrey, the principal speaker under the theme '"Corporate Power and Stagflation" was DSOC chairman Michael Harrington.

Harrington said that the Democratic Agenda alliance hoped to control as many as one-third of the delegates to the Democratic Party National Convention. "We have to see to it that when that convention meets in New York, it is an anticorporate convention,"

Harrington said, "We must light a fire and turn this crisis into a movement for economic and social justice... We must take this nation as far beyond Roosevelt as he took it beyond Hoover.

Harrington's solution for U. S. social and economic ills was the Democratic Agenda program:

  • A federally-owned gas and oil corporation "on the model of the TVA
  • full employment with price controls "by putting Americans back to work as part of a national plan to meet desperately urgent human

and economic needs;" ,

  • a comprehensive national health plan
  • greatly expanded federal housing programs that would guarantee "the right to decent housing
  • ending federal subsidies to agribusiness corporations while "providing encouragement" to "family farmers."[4]


DSOC/DA leader Harrington had endorsed, the Presidential campaign of Senator Edward Kennedy who was invited to address the Democratic Agenda conference' s Saturday luncheon. Although Sen. Kennedy declined to appear, he did send a message of support to the DA stating, "I share your conviction that progressive economic and social program must gain a high priority in the direction of our party and our nation...I welcome the opportunity to work with you."

The DA alliance did not take any position on which candidate to support for the presidential nomination. However, numbers of declared supporters of both Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Kennedy were present, as were third-party and populist movements like ACORN and the Citizens Party.[5]


The schedule of Saturday morning workshops and mini-plenaries with their leaders included:

The last was the liveliest of the morning workshops with Arnson attacking U.S. coolness to the Sandinista revolutionaries and stating that the idea that revolutionary developments in the Caribbean and South America should be considered a security threat to the U.S. was "a dangerous idea."

Challenor complained that the Fraser Amendment cutting aid to "repressive governments" was not being enforced, that the Washinqton Post had "documented" through the statements of former State Department employee Alexandra Johnson "systematic torture" of Palestinians in Israeli jails, attacked the ban on aid to Mozamique and denounced South Africa, Namibia and Rhodesia as the most repressive countries in Africa.

South African Joel Carlson, a New York laywer and member of the Board of Directors of Amnesty International, U.S.A. , attacked "colonialism," "racism," and "fascism" in South Africa.

Victor Reuther, a DSOC elder statesman, made a pitch for contacts with Soviet and other Communist country trade union representatives saying, "I thought was being very virtuous in not visiting Spain during the Franco dictatorship... Later I realized I was depriving myself of important contacts with repressed Spanish workers.

Afternoon Workshops.

Other speakers

Other scheduled Saturday speakers included Jerry Wurf, president of AFSCME; Hilda Mason, D.C. City Council/D.C. Statehood Party, Ruth Messinger, New York City Council, and Paul Sedillo.

A DA Trade Union Breakfast to discuss "Responding to the Workplace Needs of Younger Workers," "Problems of Minority Workers," "Fighting the New Union Busters," and related problems featured as speakers Carl Shier, DSOC, chairman; Henry Bayer, AFSCME Area Director, Illinois, Joe Finkbeiner, president UAW Local l6l8 (Oldsmobile) ¡Sam Meyers, president, UAW Local 259; and Joyce Miller, vice-president, Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and president, Coalition of Labor Union Women.

A DA Youth Caucus meeting concentrated on on-campus and offcampus organizing in Support of "Big Business Day and other anti-corporate movements." Speakers included Mark Levinson, National Chair, DSOC Youth Section; Frank Jackalone, chair, United States Students Association; Jane Midgley, Washington Peace Center and "anti-militarist activist;" and Bob Chlopak, "anti-nuclear activist" and director, National Public Interest Research Group Clearinghouse.[7]

Constituency meetings

"Socialists and the Issues" meetings included:


  1. Information Digest, December 14, 1979, pages 366
  2. Information Digest, December 14, 1979, pages 366
  3. Information Digest, December 14, 1979, pages 367/ 368
  4. Information Digest, December 14, 1979, pages 368
  5. Information Digest, December 14, 1979, pages 370
  6. Information Digest, December 14, 1979, pages 370/371
  7. Information Digest, December 14, 1979, pages 371/ 372
  8. Information Digest, December 14, 1979, page 372