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most representative gathering of the American Left. The most striking thing about this year’s conference was how little it dealt with its titular turf: alternative state and local policies. Instead, the assembled community organizers, elected officials, labor and minority leaders and other progressives spent three days in the urban confines of the University of Pittsburgh wrestling with these broader questions: How to draft the progressive agenda for the ’80s? How to put forth a convincing, left-wing alternative to the business community’s call for “reindustrialization”? How to link the hundreds of community and state organizations which absorbed most progressive political energy during the ’70s, so as to create an effective national movement? How to involve minority and low-income groups in the reformist efforts of educated, primarily white progressives? Moreover, this proved to be the second straight year in which the conference has struggled with the “top-down or bottom-up” dilemma, i.e., how to integrate the “new localism” which brought it into being with a widely perceived need for a national and even international strategy. It seems paradoxical that a group ostensibly devoted to tenant organizing, tax reform, cooperative housing and the like should spend its annual gatherings debating national economic planning and relationships with the Third World. But in this, the conference reflects the contradictions or, to turn it around, the opportunities which confront the American Left at the beginning of the ’80s. If the representatives of community groups, national public interest organizations and various left-wing or socialist committees drawn from most of the 50 states are any indication, the Left is feeling both hopeful and schizophrenic. When the Conference was founded in 1975, the nation’s progressives were isolated. The highly visible passion and activity of the ’60s and early ’70s had faded from public view. Not that left-wing activism was dead; indeed, many committed radicals were working all the more seriously, building community bases rather than leading showy marches and demonstrations that accomplished little of lasting value. But those progressives working at the grassroots level in neighborhoods, cooperatives, labor unions and local political campaigns had lost touch with each other. There was little sense of a national movement embracing people working on coal severance taxes in North Dakota, rent control in Southern California, utility re form in Massachusetts and legislative access in Texas. The Conference began with a journey. Lee Webb, an assistant professor of economics at Goddard College and an organizer of political campaigns in Vermont, traveled around the U.S. in early 1975 looking for counterparts working in other states. He found them. From his conversations sprang the notion of a national coordinating body for grassroots political work. Both the Conference on Alternative State and Local Policies and its annual national conference began that year. Since that time, the Conference, with Webb as its executive director, has grown into a kind of progressive thinktank, a productive source of research, information and a steady stream of books and pamphlets. It has become respectable and well-heeled enough to occupy an entire floor of a presentable office building in D.C., and although staffers deny a recent report in Mother Jones magazine that Webb has imposed a coat-and-tie dress code, the Conference is clearly moving up in the political world. Meanwhile, the annual meetings evolved in a different direction. The first few were held in such bastions of educated progressivism as Madison, Wis., Denver and Austin. At these meetings the tone was almost academic. The sessions and workshops concentrated on pragmatic advice about programs and policies, in accordance with Webb’s basic theory that progressive change would come through organizing successes at the local level rather than sweeping national crusades. But the annual conferences have grown into something more, exactly because Webb diagnosed the needs of the grassroots progressives so accurately. Partly thanks to the efforts of the Conference, its progressive constituents started to lose their sense of isolation and move into positions of power. Conference steering committee member Marion Berry has been elected mayor of Washington, D.C. Another member of the steering committee, Peter Shapiro, has been elected county executive of largest jurisdiction within that state. Still another, former Texas Observer editor Jim Hightower, ran a colorful and credible race for Texas Railroad Commission, often called the most powerful local body in the country because of its regulation of the oil and gas industry. Hightower gained 48 per cent of the vote running against an incumbent backed heavily by the energy companies. Many other elected officials are active in the Conference, including California Assemblyman Tom Bates, New York City Council member Ruth Messinger, and Colorado State Sen. Regis Groff. Just as significantly, the steering committee includes Bill Dodds of the UAW and director of the Progressive Alliance. The Conference has strong ties to a younger generation of labor leaders moving upward through the ranks. When Lee Webb toured the country in 1975, he counted exactly one statewide citizen coalition. He now counts 25, ranging from the Connecticut Citizen Action Group \(which recently helped the Vermont Alliance to Illinois Public Action to Oregon Fair Share. At the city level, Berkeley Citizens Action, after a 12-year struggle, won a majority of council seats and the mayoralty in the last election, and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights has elected a couple of council members and packed the local rent control board. The conferences where these people gather have become annual reunions of the Left at which many of the nation’s leading radicals, progressives, socialists and what-have-you come together not just to share information but to debate strategy, yearn for a national movement and indulge in some of the best left-wing rhetoric you’ll hear anywhere. The conference has become “a bell-weather and a prophecy,” as Lee Webb calls it. At last year’s conference, in Philadelphia, the mood was decidedly upbeat, in a grim sort of way. “If we reconstruct the history of the 1930s, we may have a pretty good idea of what will happen in the ’80s,” prophesied Tom Hayden, whose own progress from SDS founder and Chicago 7 defendant to rent control and solar energy advocate is typical. Economic crisis would make the American middle and working classes receptive as never before to an anti-corporate politics preaching structural reform, Hayden and other speakers argued. The 1980s, Hayden predicted, would be a time for progressives “to go beyond successful protest to come to political power around a broad program, not just a single issue.” The Philadelphia conference didn’t actually draft a “progressive agenda,” but a fundamental sense that things were moving in the right direction, historically speaking, prevailed. * * * This year’s Pittsburgh conference convened just after Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech. The mood was more embattled, at times even gloomy. “The political pendulum, the economical pendulum, the religious pendulum, all the pendulums that you can find are moving to the right,” Mayor Marion Barry lamented. And economist Gar Al 6 AUGUST 22, 1980