After almost 40 years of full-time activism and community organizing (mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area), in May 2000 I took a break from activism, moved to a cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and began brainstorming online with some 30 or so associates about possible new projects that could strengthen the progressive movement. (Having become co-owner of Yellow Cab Cooperative, a worker's co-op, I was able to live comfortably while driving taxi part-time in San Francisco, which is still the case.)
In late 2001, I began writing a summation of my reflections, Promoting the General Welfare: A Campaign for American Values, gave Howard Zinn a draft of Chapter Two: A Vision for a More Peaceful World, and suggested that he write a similar vision statement of his own. Zinn responded by saying:
This unsolicited endorsement encouraged me to consider more fully how the progressive movement might be more effective. With considerable input from a number of people, I developed the Proposal for a Million Member Monthly Mobilization and gathered some initial endorsers for it from some progressive leaders.
But as I reported in my Baghdad Journal, joining the Iraq Peace Team in late 2002 and serving in Baghdad during the Spring 2003 invasion forced me to place these deliberations on hold.
In early 2004, I returned to San Francisco, formed the Strategy Workshop, and self-published Promoting the General Welfare: A Campaign for American Values, which elicited considerable positive feedback, including another warm endorsement from Howard Zinn, who wrote,
In early June 2004, I participated in the Take Back America 2004 Conference, reported on it in an article for Common Dreams, "Take Back America Conference Reflects a Fired-up, Unified Movement", and discussed the conference at a Strategy Workshop forum in San Francisco.
This forum led to another workshop shortly thereafter with Susan Strong, founder of the Metaphor Project, and that event led to the formation of the independent Reaching Beyond the Choir Project, which elicited participation from others parts of the country following an article in Common Dreams. In early 2005, this project issued a on the results of its deliberations.
Working on the Reaching Beyond the Choir Project clarified for me certain points concerning long-term goals for the progressive movement. The first issue concerns integrating the personal and the political. The second issue concerns systemic reform.
As a result, I circulated and discussed "An Open Letter to the Progressive Community," in which I argued:
The second issue concerns whether we need to articulate a holistic, or systemic, analysis of our current situation and if so, what are the implications for our overall strategy.
During this period, I frequently shared with the Strategy Workshops articles of interest that I discovered and would occasionally post questions, for which I would invite members to offer responses.
One set of questions included the following:
- Does it make sense to talk about "the System"? Does a particular social system prevail in this country at this time?
- If it does make sense to talk about "the System," does it have a primary purpose? If so, how can we best describe that purpose in one sentence?
- Do we need to "change the system"? If so, how can we best frame a message that affirms “systemic change”?
These discussions led to a public forum on April 2, 2005 with former State Senator John Vasconcellos, who spoke on “The Politics of Trust: A Precious Vision for a Progressive Future,” a panel discussion with community leaders Conny Ford, Roma Guy, Ginna Green, and Jakada Imani, and a presentation of the Progressive Resource Catalog.
During this period, in addition to conducting some online interviews with progressive leaders on questions related to systemic change, participating in The Principles Project, contributing to an online Rockridge Institute forum on spirituality and politics, discussing with a number of national leaders what steps were needed after the November 2004 election, and giving MoveOn some specific proposals for how they might undertake their new local organizing project, I began composing and circulating drafts of the Declaration for a New America.
Working on this statement enabled me to clarify my thinking about what kind of statement of long-term purpose we need to sustain a progressive movement for fundamental social change over time. On October 6, we held a workshop in San Francisco, at which the participants agreed on the need for the kind of statement that I described in some detail. This discussion led to the formation of the Vision Statement Project.