The faces in the crowd at the conference were an interesting collection of veterans of popular movements and campus activists who will someday be veterans too, of trade unionists for Kennedy and members of the Spartacus Youth League thrown out of the hotel for running a literature table without permission. The Citizens Party was there. So was Public Interest Research Group, the People's Business Commission, the Coalition for a New Military and Foreign Policy, Rural America and the United States Student Association. The Crimson talked to many people at the conference. Below are interviews with two of them.
Ruth Messinger '62, the self-described "oldest living member of the peace movement," is a member of the New York City Council from the west side district that sent Bella Abzug to Congress. Joining the committee for a Safe Nuclear Policy while still in high school in the 1950s, she worked for the Fred Harris campaigns in Oklahoma in 1963 and 1965, against the Viet Nam war, for low income housing in New York City, for community controlled daycare in the 1970s. And she held a full-time job and raised a family at the same time. When her children went to public school she ran successfully for school board, built up a neighborhood base, and ran as a progressive candidate for state assembly. She lost narrowly, but friends and political allies--including DSOC members--convinced her to run for city council in 1971. She won, and is now on an active part of a small progressive caucus on the council fighting the policies of Mayor Ed Koch, "probably the consummate best example of the drift to the right" as she put it.
I no longer believe as I was did that a drift to the right would be good for us because it would make us see what we really want," she said. "I just had one of those and I don't want another."
Nevertheless she espects Koch to be mayor for many years. She also expects Kennedy to be the Democratic nominee, but she hopes to "lean on him from the left."
Messinger is a democratic socialist. In her last election she "was never asked it directly, but I would never deny it. I will not announce as a democratic socialist, but it will certainly come up "in the campaign."
Can an admitted socialist win for city council? A pause... "Yeah, I think so."
What is the value of conferences like Democratic Agenda? "We need more national movements, national figures saying 'we are the left.' Unfortunately I'm not too happy with some of the peoplesaying that now--Fonda, Hayden. And this is a start."
The elderly white veteran of civil rights struggles couldn't believe her ears. She wanted to outlaw Nazi demonstrations, but the consensus at the workshop on "Fighting the New Right" was against her. And featured speaker James Farmer, black activist from the '60s, declared, "The Klan has a right to march and should be protected." After the meeting Farmer patiently argued with the woman and just as patiently reassured a young, blind Jewish man about relations between blacks and Jews. These days, Farmer, tall, stout and barrel-chested with an eyepatch and a sympathy for Moshe Dayan, often finds himself cast in the role of moderate elder statesman.
Farmer talked about the troubled conditions of a traditional liberal coalition that predates the Democratic Agenda by many years. "The alliance between blacks and Jews has been enormously useful to the civil rights movement, not just financially but through participation," said the former head of the Congress on Racial Equality. "A split between blacks and Jews serves the interest only of those who wish pain on both. I don't believe there is a rift--it's a media creation."
Discussing the issue mainly responsible for black-Jewish tensions today, Farmer said "I think the Palestinians have a right to a homeland." But he added, "I do not think a Black-PLO alliance is in the interest of Black Americans. Legitimizing the PLO may encourage our own would-be terrorists. I'd hoped the urban guerillas of the '60s were behind us." Unfortunately, much of the civil rights fervor of the '60s is also behind us. "Civil rights issues are no longer front-burner in the country."
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