Friday, July 31, 2009
The Peace and Freedom Party is having a national conference in San Francisco that may turn out to be a historic gathering in American political history as the California party seeks a national role in electoral politics. Meeting at Hiram Johnson State Building the four-decade old party has invited a cross-section of the political left to help plan for the 2010 and 2012 elections. The Peace and Freedom Party held its first national convention in 1968 in Ann Arbor, Michigan and nominated Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver as its first presidential candidate. A self described feminist, socialist party, Peace and Freedom was born in the turbulent 1960's and has remained a home for radical and alternative activists maintaining an important ballot line in the nation's most populous state. In the 1970's Peace and Freedom joined with the People's Party coalition but outlasted the larger group which faded by 1980. Some other presidential candidates following Eldridge Cleaver's nomination include Benjamin Spock, Leonard Peltier, and most recently, Ralph Nader. The socialist movement in the United States has a long history for over a century of factionalism and has at times been its own worst enemy with ideological divisions and partisan splits. The goal of the San Francisco conference is to end the fragmentation and several drafts of a "unity" document are circulating to be discussed at the gathering. Often the Democratic Party lures leftists to its ranks as happened in 2008 with Obama fever swelling the Democratic vote. Groups that have found themselves comfortable with Democrat candidates include the Communist Party, the Democratic Socialists of America and Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. The Peace and Freedom Party already shares some members with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Socialist Party USA, and the Workers World Party. There has also been discussion of a merger or alliance with individual state parties like the Liberty Union Party of Vermont or some of the parties formed by Ralph Nader for his 2008 independent presidential bid. Independent 2008 vice-presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez, who was Ralph Nader's running mate, won the Peace and Freedom nomination at its convention last year and has worked to maintain a good relationship with the party following his departure from the Green Party where he was a recognized leader. Gonzalez will be speaking to the conference and is expected to encourage the party to continue its efforts at growth. The main guest speaker is Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, and the nation's acknowledged expert on third-party ballot access requirements. Winger can be expected to identify states where the ballot requirements are less burdensome than others and Peace and Freedom has a realistic chance of ballot access in time for the upcoming election cycle. Winger has already helped the party several years ago when the California Secretary of State sought to decertify Peace and Freedom with his research and extraordinary memory of political events. Peace activist Cindy Sheehan will attend and speak at the conference. Sheehan, after years of activism following the war death of her son, sought a seat in Congress last year and is expected to make another attempt in 2010. Kevin Akin, party chair, says that over a dozen national organizations will be represented at the conference and the base of support may extend to twenty states. The goal of the conference is to mold an umbrella national organization that can unify all the factions and splinter groups to field as many candidates throughout the country as possible. Akin sums up the change that Peace and Freedom is offering to the public. "The capitalist system is addicted to militarism and war, regardless of who is administering the government. The new government in Washington, in which so many people have placed their hopes for real change, has made it clear that it intends to continue the occupation of Iraq, escalate the war in Afghanistan, continue the occupation by proxy of Palestinians and Haitians, and perpetuate hostility against progressive movements and governements in Latin America and around the world." The author is an outgoing member of the Peace and Freedom national organizing committee.
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