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perovitz, director of the National Center for Economic Alternatives, suggested to a plenary session that “the things that people in this room care about are moving backward. We are on the defensive.” Still, the progressives shared a basic faith that the times are ripe for an anticorporate strategy. “We are truly in a new economic era,” Alperovitz said. “The kinds of unemployment, the kinds of energy problems, the kinds of dislocations we’re experiencing are not going to be turned back easily. I don’t think we’re going to see a ‘return to normalcy.’ ” Alperovitz, best known for his argument that inflation can be controlled through price controls for the “necessities” \(food, energy, housing and health presented by the economic crisis are “outside the range that conventional politics can possibly deal with.” This is the source of many progressives’ hope the suspicion that capitalism and the two-party system are running out of tricks, that it will soon be apparent to the long-sought masses that it is time for something new. Steve Max, a staff member of the Midwest Academy, a training school for organizers which has graduated many Conference regulars, put it more forcefully: “We’ve entered a new stage. Capitalism has become a foreign power . . . . Only the progressive forces stand for the survival of our country and our people.” Max’s flight of rhetoric was intended to demonstrate to the assembled progressive forces the manner in which they could seize the phrases and symbols of conventional American political discourse and turn them to their own ends. It was a consistent theme of the Pittsburgh conference that this should be the progressives’ moment, that a declining standard of living, slowing productivity and “reindustrialization” the corporate plan to gain reinvestment capital by stripping it from consumers and workers logically should lead to a popular realization that the forces of the Left, not the Right, are the defenders of the American way of life. But together with this hope comes a sense of frustration, and the frustration more than the hope seemed evident in Pittsburgh. The pieces of the scenario all seem to be there, but they aren’t coming together. Many of those at the conference, including a number of the major speakers, thought they knew why. “The existing order is not here to stay,” Max thundered. “The right wing knows it, the religious fundamentalists know it. In their own goofy way even the Moonies know it. We who should know it better than anyone don’t say it.” The mood in Pittsburgh was strongly self-critical. The participants listened meekly as speaker after speaker accused progressives of failing to find the language and the organizing skills necessary to offer Americans a convincing alternative. “Why are we so weak?” agonized Paul Davidoff of New York’s Metropolitan Action Institute at one workshop. “Why are we so incompetent at electing people at the city and state and national level? . . . We’re good at the neighborhood level, but we’re not building our constituencies. We’ve got to bring our people together.” A number of the more politically astute including Conference founder Lee Webb actually suggested that the Left is being out-organized by the Right. “The right wing has a vision of the future,” Max conceded one with particular appeal because it is “the only vision of the future which has been tested by time, because it is an idealized remembrance of the past.” The Left may find the Right’s vision dangerous or ludicrous \(“They pose infancy as the sobut thus far it has failed to define an agenda of its own. “We must start to articulate a vision of the,future, of what life would be like that was not under corporate power,” Max urged. “We must grab the vision of the future from the right wing . . . to make the future as comprehensible as the past seems to be.” Jim Hightower’s speech the next day, the most rousing of the conference, followed Max’s in its argument that progressives fail, not because their ideas are too “advanced,” but on the contrary because they have neglected to put forth their ideas boldly. Hightower, who incorporates the best features of a stem winding Southern politician, populist preacher and stand-up comic, went a step further, insisting that “the people” are actually ahead of the progressives. “The people know,” said Hightower. “They know we’re being gouged. They know that they’re the gougee.” Progressives don’t need to moderate their positions, Hightower argued, they simply need to get tougher, go straight at the “mad, non-ideological, commonsense voter.” “Be an unreconstructed, workingman’s Democrat . . . . You can’t be hot enough for the people,” Hightower said. “There’s no doubt that the new right is having a field day right now, but you can’t blame the people for that,” Hightower drawled. “You can’t hide out in academic enclaves and say, ‘The people are coming, the people are coming.’ As a friend of mine once said, ‘You can’t have a mass movement without the masses.’ ” If widespread support existed at the Pittsburgh conference for the notion that the economic crises of the ’80s could translate into popular support for progressive programs, the consensus disappeared whenever the discussion turned to the proper focus for progressive efforts. On the issue of localism vs. national strategy, the Left is still schizophrenic. “What this group lacks is a theory of federalism,” moaned Richard Mounts of the Center for Renewable Resources. Alperovitz was perhaps the most forceful spokesperson for a national, instead of a local, strategy at the conference. He located the Left’s failure precisely in failing to address a comprehensive national plan. “We have not yet offered to the American people a plan to solve the problems of the American economy,” he told a plenary session. “Are we willing to up the ante and offer a serious plan?” “The old single-issue and narrowly grassroots approaches cannot go much further until they are linked up with a broad vision of where we want to go, a plan, and a strategy,” Alperovitz said later in an interview. “It’s going to have to be both/and, not either/or. The problems are national and international. You can make small progress at the local level, and a tremendous international problem like food or energy resources or Japanese auto competition will wipe out what you’re doing. So we need both local organizing and a national plan, and I think the days of separating those two are over. I think that’s a pfologue to the ’80s.” Urban economist Derek Shearer, author of Economic Democracy: The Challenge of the 1980s, the man who put the phrase “economic democracy” in Tom Hayden’s mouth and who has served as a mentor for the successful rent control drive in Santa Monica has a kind of middle view on the local vs. national split. Shearer was asked how much can be accomplished at the city level: “An awful lot. You can run a slate of candidates, you can build neighborhood organizations, you can start co-ops, you can start community credit unions, you can talk about city-owned banks. You can in fact do an awful lot at the city level. But you can’t just build a neighborhood organization or run one co-op. If that’s all you ever do you’ll never deal with the other problems of the city. You can’t just run for city council. You really need to combine running candidates, doing initiatives and building alternative THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7