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Control or Facilitation? The Immigration Town Hall at the CDP Convention

Progressives had many things to feel good about during the 2008 CDP Convention in San Jose. There were some long sought gains made for principles and the people - especially on the Platform Committee and our new mostly Progressive platform. However, the fate of the Immigration Town Hall, initiated by the Progressive Caucus, was a donkey of another color.


On the positive side: for the first time a broad spectrum of caucuses collaborated on an important and controversial issue. Together, nine caucuses presented their consensus positions at an open to the DSCC delegates Town Hall, during a general session. This was followed by a brief amount of comment from the floor by the delegates. That's the good stuff. Following are the curious shortcomings of the event.

When the concept was first put forward it was designed to open up the dialog surrounding a critical issue - get ahead of the Republicans for the general election. It was conceived from the experience the Progressive Caucus had derived by holding several Town Halls. Our feeling was that there was too much talking from the podium and not enough listening to the members on the floor. Next, we wanted to include several other caucuses for outreach. We organized with the Labor, Women's, African-American and Chicano-Latino caucuses and when we asked for a room to present this event, at the November CDP E. Bd., the current CDP leadership said they wanted to be involved. So, we met to lay out the concept and form an organizing committee.

At that meeting, in November, we came to a basic agreement on the meeting outline - as a Town Hall with as much member comment time as possible. We insisted that interaction was the key - not a lecture. It was agreed that we have just a little background and a statistical speaker, followed by caucus representatives and then the bulk of the time for member's comments. In addition, all of the CDP caucuses would be invited to participate. That was the intent. The effect was remarkably different.

Instead of a separate meeting the event was folded into a general session. Then, things really began to unravel. Time allotted for speakers, chosen only by the CDP leadership with no input from the caucuses, grew. Time for the critical input from caucus speakers shrank. Membership time sank like the Titanic. When the event happened on Saturday - it was apparent that the original idea of inclusion had been dropped in favor of more of the usual talking heads. We were marginalized.

First - we had to follow the seemingly endless list of electeds and candidates that ate up all of the morning session time. After that wore everyone out, the ITH began one and a half hours late and at the end of the morning general session, as everyone was leaving to attend the lunch. The selected speakers ate up 30 minutes of time after some important and cogent remarks by Congressmember Zoe Lofgren. As the clock ticked - more delegates vacated the premises. Next, each of the nine participating caucuses - Labor, Chicano-Latino, African-American, Business and Professional, Irish-American, Rural, Asian/Pacific Islander, Senior and Progressive - gave very brief 90 second remarks. You could hear the crickets. This was followed by a handful of questions, hilariously dominated by LaRouche devotees who had stacked the mikes. By the time the closing remarks came - the hall was essentially empty.

Not only were there hardly any delegates in the hall for the Town Hall but also the staging was awkward. The speakers panel sat on the dais while the caucus representatives had to deliver their remarks from a microphone on a lower level with dim lighting. It looked like the kids table at a Thanksgiving dinner. To add insult to injury; the event was never publicized in an email to the delegates, on the CDP website or on the printed agenda of the general session. Only a paltry flyer with little information was handed out on the day of the meeting and in too few places to create a buzz.

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You might assume that this was an exercise in futility dear reader but you would be wrong. It was an exercise in discovery.

All of the caucuses organized in good faith and found that they can work together on important issues. That will resonate positively through the membership for some time to come. On the other hand - the current CDP leadership by their actions and not their intent showed that they are lost in the old paradigm of control rather than moving into the 21st century paradigm of facilitation - powered by the Internet. By marginalizing this event, attempting to hide it from the delegates and the public, while pretending to be cooperating they gave a bold demonstration of their true state of mind - vis a vis - this type of event, the membership and the caucuses. We all know that what's important in relationships is not what you say but what you do.

We can and must accept that the actions of the leadership came from good intentions but their effect was the opposite. One is left to wonder if it was contempt, fear or dismissiveness that produced this sad scene of a great idea mangled in public. Here was an opportunity for the current leadership of the CDP to embrace inclusion and bold initiative but it was lost. Oh well - on to our next innovation in the democratization of information and consensus igniting action.

So, here's to the lessons learned and now, let us press onward with the membership, as ably represented by the caucuses, dedicated to openness, transparency and accountability.

We will do this again, as a product of collaboration among the caucuses. Next time the effect will exemplify the intent and courage will outweigh fear. Next time the event will reflect and not direct the membership. See you there.

Photo by Linda Sutton

Reprinted with permission from the Valley Democrats United newsletter, Margie Murray, Editor