Posted by Thomas Nephew on July 28th, 2008
As advertised, I went to a nearby “Listening To America” Democratic platform drafting meeting yesterday. The idea was that “people all across America will hold Platform Meetings in their homes, or in their local churches and even coffee shops, to help build the Democratic Party’s platform for change from the bottom up.”
Signing in to “Listening to America” platform
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew
As it happened, ours really was in a coffee shop, the Mayorga Coffee Factory in Silver Spring. About twenty people showed up to the area set aside for us and signed in.
- Stop government practices that violate the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, privacy, and due process, including warrantless surveillance on Americans, secret evidence in military courts, torture, illegal imprisonment of U.S. citizens and others, and arbitrary racial and religious profiling.
- Repeal or substantially amend laws that violate constitutionally guaranteed rights, including the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments law, the Military Commissions Act, related executive orders, and executive signing statements. Replace these with laws that reaffirm our fundamental rights and hold accountable all parties who violate those rights.
- Restore constitutional rights that the Bush administration has eroded through its lawless theory of unchecked executive power, including dissent, free speech, assembly, habeas corpus, privacy, due process of law, and equal protection.
When the meeting began, it quickly became clear I’d have trouble getting all of those points adopted. The goal, it turned out, was to actually try to draft a single platform statement reflecting a group consensus, rather than perhaps voting on a series of possible statements like those above and just forwarding that to the higher ups in the process. The moderators — two very nice and able people from the policy side of the Obama campaign, Keith Harper and Chris Goldthwait (sp.?) — had in mind that we’d eventually form a couple of clusters around the commonalities that emerged as people introduced themselves and explained what they hoped for from the meeting. While I wasn’t alone in bringing the Constitutional/rule of law/civil liberties concerns to the table, there were plenty of other agendas — housing, health care, women’s reproductive rights, global warming, energy, education, poverty, to name just the ones I was able to jot down.
One woman (A.) noted how in other parts of the world, things like health care, education are considered human rights, and that (I’m paraphrasing) we need to catch up with that. So I suggested that maybe my civil liberties/constitutional erosion concerns and those like education and health care might be joined up under a single rubric of “restoring and expanding rights,” and that’s pretty much what happened.
The meeting broke up into basically one “rights” group and another “problems” group (energy, global warming), and got to work. After a bit of philosophical discussion about whether we were for expanding rights or reclaiming ones that were there all along, we settled on “Rebuilding and Reclaiming Our Basic Rights” as a title, and then A. came up with a pretty good preamble. From my notes:
The Democratic Party has long recognized that the most significant role of government is to protect basic human rights. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his “Four Freedoms” speech, set forth a comprehensive vision of human rights, and Eleanor Roosevelt fought hard to ensure that vision of human rights was incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Then Keith, our moderator, said it was time to get specific – “put some meat on the bones.” I figured of the ones I’d brought, I most wanted the second one, because it mentioned accountability (i.e., prosecutions, I explained to one guy before the meeting started).
So I said that I knew I’d said a lot already, but I really hoped that point could be part of our platform recommendations. And people were OK with that; we dictated it to the “raporteur”/Obama organizer (Mona) keeping track on a poster sheet. Hooray! We then went on to “rebuild and reclaim” other basic human rights — living wage, education, health care, housing — with codicils that, for example, reproductive health care was part of the picture for universal health care. When we got back together with the rest of the meeting, no major changes were made by either group to the overall result.
I guess it’s true: sometimes all it takes is showing up. Of course I can’t guarantee that these points will make it to Denver or actually become part of the Democratic party platform. But it’s to the credit of the Obama campaign that they have this much grassroots input to the platform, and I think they’ll have to take note of all of us somehow. At any rate, it felt like a good afternoon’s work to me.
* An alternative excellent flier focused on the FISA Amendment Act per se. I picked the “PlatformConstitution.pdf” one on the theory that it might help to put the FISA Amendment Act in a broader context in a platform discussion.
UPDATE, 7/29: You, too, can be part of a platform drafting team — follow this link to Netroots Nation’s Democratic Platform and vote on or write your own plank on Civil Liberties!
(UPDATE, 8/11: the full text of the 7/28 Silver Spring consensus statement is here.)