Forum For Equality Deputy Political Directors Kenny Tucker and Mary Griggs traveled to Alexandria this past weekend for the Louisiana Progressive Conference. There were at least 100 activists primarily from the Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans gathered to talk about a 500 day plan to put progressive issues on the political agenda for Louisiana.
The first speaker was Mike Stagg, an Acadiana blogger, who gave a brief overview of the major problem facing many of the progressives sitting in the Coughlin Saunders Performing Arts Center. “Something is missing from Louisiana and that is the Democratic Party!” He pointed out that no Democratic presidential candidate since Clinton has spent money in LA post-primary and that lack of money and education on the issues directly results in the loss of elected statewide representatives and the loss of the Democratic majority in Louisiana.
He was followed at the podium by the Executive Director of the Louisiana Democratic Party , Renee Lapeyrolerie, who called for folks to serve in the party Central Committee and on Parish Executive Committees. She also talked about the value of the VAN and how use of that demographic software can help all of the campaigns.
Melissa Flournoy of Louisiana Progress took the stage then for her presentation on Laying a Claim to Louisiana. She focused on Electoral Change Strategy as a way to build coalitions and develop organizational capacity that lasts beyond the election cycle so that Progressives can think and act strategically.
According to her, the three main areas of focus should be improving fundraising, developing messaging delivery capacity and managing the field volunteer capacity better. Currently, cash in Louisiana is on the other side (including Democratic money) because people want to be with winners. According to Melissa, we should pick a few races, kick ass and stop letting the other side’s message machine run us over. Part of that is mastering the sound bite—“When someone asks us a question we give them a two paragraph answer with 10 pages of statistics and footnotes.”
Next up was Stephen Handwerk of the Louisiana Stonewall Democrats who spoke on the power of coalitions. His theme was a “House Divided Against Itself Will Not Stand.” Essential to building coalitions is trust and respect and keeping progressive coalitions from fracturing too easily.
He used two examples where candidates who ignored two of the most loyal Democrat voters (African American and LGBT), failed abysmally. He showed with the Charlie Meloncon and Paul Carmouche’s campaigns that no Democrat can win in LA by alienating either of these groups.
Stephen spoke of the short term and long term LGBT political goals—pass an inclusive anti-bully bill and pass an employment non-discrimination bill—and ended by calling Progressives to work together.
Following Stephen to the podium was Gerber Porter and Jennifer Smith, both of whom spoke about getting competent candidates out there. There are statistics and science on the side of progressives in this state—despite the hype that Democrats no longer hold a majority, there are still more Democrats than there are either Republicans and Independents. Far too many Democrats are being represented by Republicans because no Democratic has entered the race. More women need to run as this cycle will see fewer women in elected positions in Louisiana than 20 years ago. They both stressed that even people don’t run for office, they need to volunteer for campaigns.
Dawn Collins of the Louisiana Movement then stepped up to talk about the races that need volunteers and had sign up sheets for those interested in stepping up to the plate. She also talked about Roots Camp 2011 and how it can be an important two day event to train organizers and advocates on progressive issues.
The Keynote speaker was Melissa Harris Perry. This Tulane Professor and commentator for MSNBC and The Nation gave a very dynamic speech on the politics and race in America. After speaking on the Obama Presidency and how Barak Obama went from losing a state representative race to Bobby Rush in 2000 to the Presidency of the United States in 2008, she discussed the current opportunities to reframe the debates with honest analysis of the political landscape. She spoke about the need for better messaging from progressives on topics from economics to ways on convincing people to vote in their own interest.
The event was a good opportunity to build the network of groups that are likely to support our issues in the near term. In response to anyone who came to the conference feeling disenfranchised, Mellissa Harris Perry was quite encouraging. As she said, “You cannot win if you aren’t in the game.”