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FEATURES Will the Populists Walk? BY LOUIS DUBOSE. It was a protracted labor, complicated by proceduralism and slowed down by almost institutional ized deference. But over four daysfifteen months after it was conceived by Ronnie Dugger in a call to action published in The Nation and The Texas Observerthe Alliance for Democracy was finally rill wo hundred fifty representatives, some at-large members of a national organization that did not quite exist when they arrived, others representing . some forty-five affiliates from thirty states, convened at the Mo Ranch near Kerrville. And for three days they listened to speakersDugger, historians Larry Goodwyn and Howard Zinn, journalists Jim ‘Hightower and Molly Ivins, former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harrisand worked on mission statements, plans of action, a constitution, and a name for the new national alliance of progressive organizations. The single unifying theme under which they labored was a resolve to take back the government and the country from the corporations that now own it from “the big shots and the bastards,” as Hightower called them. “The country is lonely,” Larry Goodwyn said to a group that tried, and failed, to create a Texas populist alliance six years ago. That so many would travel so far in hopes of creating a national movement says a great deal about that lonelinessand the organizing that brought 250 political activists together on November 21-24. Mo Ranch is a fairly remote destination for a reporter traveling from Austin. Yet Sharon Perpignini, a single mother of very limited means, traveled from Somerville, Massachusetts, with her two children. “Fifteen hundred dollars on Visa, my best friend,” she said. Perpignini, who read about the organization in the Somerville Community News, said she has misgivings about the organization. She is not part of the left or of any left organization. She doesn’t own a TV, but hangs out “with people who watch ‘Sally Jesse’ and love it.” She said she is utterly exhausted and in despair because women, children, and families have been abandoned by a government that claims to represent them. “Ronnie [Dugger] spoke at a local meeting, I read the interview, and I was gone, really gone,” she said. \(She is also precisely the person that Jim HighLarry Bross, a sixty-three-year-old retired teacher from California, arrived three days early, to help with organizing and planning. He has been involved in progressive politics since the ’60s, when the high school students he taught in California were conscripted to fight in Vietnam. He’s concerned that there is no national organization for progressives. “I came here to help build a movement,” he said, adding that he hopes it will be here for his children and grandchildren. Tom Kemper, from Dallas, who helped draft a strategy for dealing with corporate agricultural problems, is some forty years younger than Bross, and said he read about the Alliance in the Observer. As did Yoni Bell, who this month completed a masters degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Bell suggested that the convention would have to provide a plan for people to take back to their communities. “I’m still not sure what to do when I leave here,” she said on Saturday morning. ost of the people I interviewed said they became in volved in response to Dugger’s initial article. “Ronnie took our deep anger and anguish and expressed it for us,” said David Korten, the author of When Corporations Rule the World. Dugger admitted that the organization is too dependent on him. Supported by a group of ten volunteers and one half-time em ployee, and sustained by several loans, one $15,000 individual contribution, and money raised through a fundraising letter, the Alliance made it as far as Kerrville because Dugger flogged it alongflying from state to state to hold organizational meetings. If it is to become a movement, he said, it will now have to develop its own leadership. “If we don’t come out of this convention with plan of action that is stunningly good, then we will have failed.” Goodwyn agreed, observing that what was going on in the convention was not politics. Politics, he said, is what should happen if the 250 people meeting in the Hill Country take their organization back home to the people. The potential exists, Goodwyn said, to build a movement of five million people over four or five years. Jim Hightower agreed: “We don’t have to create a popular political movement in this country because it is already there…what needs to be done is organize it.” Hightower said the Alliance along with other organizations such as the New Party, the Labor Party, and the AFL-CIO under its new leadershipcan provide the organization for a national political movement. The movement exists among one hundred million people who did not vote, Hightower said, repeating Michael Moore’ s line: “One hundred million people not votingthat’s not apathy, that’s civil disobedience.” “Real Populists Please Stand Up,” was the headline The Nation chose for Dugger’s August 1995 article. In Kerrville, they did. The coming year will determine how well they can walk. 1011, N. Cambridge, MA. 02140, email: [email protected] WHAT WAS GOING IN THE CONVEN-TION WAS NOT POLITICS. POLITICS, HE SAID, IS WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN IF THE 250 PEOPLE MEETING IN THE HILL COUNTRY TAKE THEIR ORGANI-ZATION BACK HOME TO THE PEOPLE. 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 6, 1996