Sunday, March 05, 2006

Peace in the precincts:
training for Minnesota caucuses

Yesterday I got a look at an ambitious peace movement organizing project that aims to influence war and peace discussion through the caucus system used by political parties in Minnesota.

The local round of the caucuses that choose delegates to party conventions and propose candidate endorsements takes place next Tuesday, March 7. St. Paul activists held a session in a public library basement to get people primed to carry a peace message at those meetings.

There were 15 or so participants, what I consider pretty good turn out on a sunny Saturday morning. Organizers showed a video describing how open the caucus process is to citizen-originated resolutions. The core message was "you can work this system." If you want to be elected a delegate to the larger area caucuses, be there, make your case, promote your cause, and you can almost certainly go.

The group Peace in the Precincts has a strategy to try to get state politicians committed to the Peace First! Standard, a fairly simple pledge to work to end the war, provide for veterans, reconstruct Iraq, and end contractor theft and privatization. The pledge is aimed most plausibly at Democratic-Farmer Labor nominees, but there is nothing inherently partisan about the effort.

This cycle, the focus is particularly on the Senate contest for the seat left open by Mark Dayton's retirement from office. The DFL has a presumptive nominee, Amy Klobuchar, a cautious politician, who questions the Iraq war but is far short of calling for immediate withdrawal. The other candidate is Ford Bell who puts getting the U.S. out of Iraq front and center in his campaign.

Peace in the Precincts aims to get its peace resolution adopted at as many local caucuses as possible, but even more important, to elect enough "Peace bloc" delegates (uncommitted to either candidate) to the state convention to block a first ballot choice of Senate nominee (this requires 60 percent.) They would then extract support for a peace platform in exchange for the bloc's votes. Their plan is simple:

PEACE FIRST! Priorities

1. Put the Principle first
(adopt the Peace Standard)
2. Put the Person second
(candidate's record)
3. Put the Politics third
The project is conceived as a long term organizing effort. This cycle, they have held something about 19 trainings like the one I saw yesterday in several locations: Minneapolis, St. Paul, Burnsville, Lakeville. At least one session was in Spanish.

Tim Wulling who conducted the local session was realistic. He knows creating a peace constituency within the political process is going to take many years. But he was so impressed by group Peace in the Precinct's strategy that an inquiry ended him up doing the educating and joining the steering committee. That's how grassroots organizing works.
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