[Part two of a two-part report on American Promise and the National Citizen Leadership Conference. Part one is here.]
First Transpartisan Amendment Conference Aims for Unity
The National Citizen Leadership Conference, the first cross-partisan, multi-organizational conference devoted to fostering cooperation among and between pro-amendment and other political reform groups will take place next weekend, Friday Sep. 30 through Sunday Oct. 2 in Washington DC. Jeff Clemets and his team at American Promise have set a high bar for the conference, hoping to get some semblance of unification of purpose by the end of the three-day session. With such deeply held and diametrically opposed stances held by several of the most prominent groups in the pro-amendment movement, unity may be out of reach. But respect and a certain amount of cooperation are surely attainable. What the Gazette has long identified as the Achilles Heel of the movement—the lack of an inter-organizational national strategy—is also the driving force behind the National Citizen Leadership Conference.
The list of speakers at the National Citizen Leadership Conference (NCLC) is impressive. There are people that will be very familiar to pro-amendment activist, like Congresspersons Donna Edwards (D-MD), Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC), journalist Bill Moyers, ice cream maven Ben Cohen (Stamp Stampede), author Derek Cressman and Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin. Also on the list are representatives from the key national organizations working across the spectrum of issues from campaign finance to corporate rights: Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap (National Director, Move to Amend), Karen Hobert Flynn (President, Common Cause), Marge Baker (Executive VP, People for the American Way), Robert Weissman (President, Public Citizen), John Bonifaz (President, Free Speech for People), and Alison Hartson (Co-National Director, Wolf PAC).
Perhaps most important is the inclusion of moderates and conservatives like the aforementioned Congressman Jones, former Congressman Jim Leach (R-IA), Michael Ostrolenk (Liberty Coalition), and John Pudner (Take Back Our Republic) who engineered the unseating of majority leader Eric Cantor by the previously unknown economics professor (and Tea Partier) David Brat. Putting pro-convention Wolf PAC in the same room with never-convention Common Cause, pro-social justice Move to Amend in the same room with the freedom first Liberty Coalition, is exactly what the pro-amendment movement needs. Political organizing traditionally means shoring up the support you already have, ignoring the opposition and focusing the majority of resources on the uninformed/undecided. A constitutional amendment campaign is different. It cannot succeed working in such narrow confines. The only way to win is to get out of our comfort zones and the NCLC is a good place to start.
The preliminary schedule includes panels that focus on underlying principles, like “Why We Need a Constitutional Amendment Now,” “Equal Citizens: The 28th Amendment, Money & Free Speech” and “We the Humans: The Constitution & Corporations.” There are panels designed to foster better organizing, like “Best Practices: Organizing in Your Community” and “Getting Your Message Out: Empowering Citizen Leaders with Effective Communication Skills.” It also includes discussions on topics that are the subject of some controversy, like “What Should The 28th Amendment Do?” and “Breaking Boundaries: Reaching Everyone in Your Community.” Most of the sessions are panel discussions, presumably with some Q&A with the audience but there will be a couple facilitated “citizen roundtables,” which should prove to be something short of a free-for-all. With roughly 250 registered attendees as of this writing, it’s anyone’s guess as to how orderly such discussions will be, but the idea of creating a separate space for debate by the entire conference is noble and courageous.
If the whole point of an amendment is to wrest control of American politics and public policy away from big money special interests—corporate and union, foreign and domestic—then we have to be willing to accept responsibility for the landscape we’re trying to create. Which is to say, democracy is fraught with danger. If we want to create/restore/reinvigorate American democracy, then we have to show that we can handle it with maturity and grace. That means allowing ourselves to be engaged by our opponents and tamping down our righteous indignation long enough to actually hear not just what people are saying but why they’re saying it. We can be outraged without being outrageous. We don’t always have to be right to be righteous.
Registration for the National Citizen Leadership Conference is still open until the maximum number of attendees is reached (around 300). American Promise has reserved a block of rooms at the Renaissance Washington D.C. Downtown Hotel (Marriott), which is also the site of the conference. Click here to go to the American Promise NCLC registration page, where you can also see the full list of speakers and a preliminary schedule for all three days.
I look forward to seeing you there!