Voices of the California Progressive Alliance

by Ann Garrison

About 500 people gathered in the Pauley Ballroom on the University of California-Berkeley’s campus for the second annual meeting of the California Progressive Alliance (CPA) on Jan. 12. Bernie for President signs were everywhere, though the organization is neither Democrat, Green nor any other political party. Its objective is to elect candidates who, like Bernie, take no corporate funding and champion goals including public banking, clean energy and ending endless wars. It was founded on the model of the Richmond [California] Progressive Alliance (RPA), which won nationwide admiration for uniting Greens and progressive Democrats to win the mayor’s office and a majority on the Richmond, California, City Council.

Richmond was a Chevron company town until the Richmond Progressive Alliance won control of its local government despite Chevron’s record spending in its attempt to defeat them. Chevron refineries are the backbone of the city’s employment, and the core of the RPA agenda has been to make Chevron pay a fair share of local taxes, provide community benefits, curtail the toxics they release into the air and water, and improve protections against refinery explosions like that which occurred in 2013.

The RPA has also championed cooperative business, rent control and community gardening. Former Mayor Gayle McLaughlin established an Office of Neighborhood Safety that succeeded in reducing gun violence by 66 percent. In an ironic move, given that the city has long revolved around Chevron, Richmond joined a Northern California renewable energy buyers’ coop and displaced the state’s dirty power monopoly, Pacific Gas & Electric.

In the 2010 census, Richmond was 39.5 percent Hispanic or Latino, 31.4 percent Caucasian, 26.6 percent Black, 13.5 percent Asian, 5.6 percent mixed race and 0.6 percent Native American.

CPA founded after Gayle McLaughlin’s statewide campaign

The California Progressive Alliance was born after McLaughlin’s 2018 campaign to become the state’s lieutenant governor. Before announcing her campaign, McLaughlin changed her party registration from Green to No Party Preference in hopes of uniting Greens and the largely young progressives who had flocked to the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. She was defeated but undaunted by overwhelming corporate-funded advertising.

She and others founded the CPA and held its first convention in San Luis Obispo, home of the infamous Diablo Valley Nuclear Power Plant, in March 2019. The CPA is a statewide organization which uses a model similar to the Richmond Progressive Alliance.

Gayle McLaughlin spoke to KPFA News reporter Carla West:

“We decided to found this organization because when I ran for lieutenant governor, I ran a corporate-free campaign and I traveled up and down the state of California and met so many different wonderful activists doing great work in their communities, who were getting the message, and who had the same values that I did and that the Richmond Progressive Alliance had.

“So I realized that the values were there, the mission was there, but we weren’t connected. I didn’t make it past the primary because it was the corporate-funded candidates who got all the TV ads and such, but I got a quarter million votes, and that’s a lot of votes for a grassroots campaign that took no corporate money. And I said it’s important that we continue this work.

“So it was important that we form this organizing network, which is what the California Progressive Alliance is. And that’s exactly our mission statement. We’re a statewide independent volunteer network of progressive individuals and organizations united by our shared belief that a better California is possible, but we have to reclaim our government from the corporate interests that have overshadowed the voice of the people.

“And our mission statement goes on to say that regardless of party affiliation or no party affiliation, we will together elevate progressive ideas throughout the state, promote the creation of local progressive alliances like the RPA and about 15 new alliances on a local level that have already occurred.

“We want to keep supporting corporate-free progressive candidates and progressive issue-based ballot measures and wield our collective power to draft new legislation and lobby the state Legislature.

“That’s our mission, and we established it because the need is there. We’re living in historic times, and when we come together, we build our political muscle, and the establishment knows that they are up against not just a few elected officials, but a whole movement. So I’m really, really proud that our event is going so well today.

“Our main goal, our central goal for 2020, is to elect corporate-free candidates to all levels of government and pass strong progressive ballot measures. But at the same time, we must respond to the pressing needs on a local level. Our cities, our communities, and our neighborhoods, and our families are facing all kinds of challenges. So we know we have to keep dealing with those local issues, and we need to keep building more alliances in cities that don’t have local progressive alliances yet.”

Code Pink’s Cynthia Papermaster spoke to KPFA reporter Diana Cabcabin:

“What we have here at our very pink Code Pink table today are some pink flowers and a petition to end the Middle East wars. We have a postcard to Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock investments, which is heavily invested in the war industry, fossil fuels, palm oil and private prisons – all the horrible things that are killing the planet. We’re trying to get him to divest from those awful investments and invest in life-giving enterprises. And finally, we have a postcard to the California Public Utilities Commission and the governor, Gavin Newsom, to tell Pacific Gas & Electric to shut down the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which sits near four earthquake faults on the California coast. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

“The California Progressive Alliance has endorsed Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for president in a vote by the membership. I voted for Sanders in 2016, and he’s still my candidate. He’s become a strong anti-war candidate and his foreign policy keeps getting better. He has a ways to go there, but I’m very, very pleased that he’s leading in Iowa. He can beat Trump. There’s no question that he can beat Trump because he appeals to people across the spectrum. He talks about their needs. He doesn’t talk about political philosophy or labels, you know, like democratic socialism, whatever. He just believes in helping the working class, helping everybody in this country from people who are lying on the street homeless to people who run businesses. He’s going to help us.”

Trinity Tran of the California Public Banking Alliance also spoke to Diana Cabcabin:

“Public banking is an idea that we introduced into the California State Legislature in 2019. It took a considerable amount of work to build political capital behind this bill and move the public banking conversation into the political mainstream. We are not the first organization to pass a state public banking bill [AB 857], but what we accomplished was extraordinary.

“This was a high profile and controversial bill facing heavy opposition from nine big financial firms but, without any corporate funding, we coordinated strategy with activists and supporters from across the state and got it passed. We built an endorsement list of 200 statewide regional and community organizations, including national organizations like Our Revolution and national figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders, who backs this bill.”

California Progressive Alliance Steering Committee member Whitney Leigh spoke to me, also for KPFA:

“Support for Bernie Sanders is definitely one of the threads uniting most of those here today. The California Progressive Alliance voted to endorse him, and there’s tremendous support for him here in California. We’ve got some other great progressive candidates too.

“Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s new progressive prosecutor, is here tonight and so is Jane Kim, who heads the Bernie Sanders campaign in California. Jane just concluded her speech, and Chesa will be speaking later. We’re all very excited about Chesa’s election, despite the San Francisco Police Officers Association spending nearly $700,000 to stop him in the final 10 days of the campaign. We’re excited about Bernie’s campaign and all the other issues addressed by the groups that are here to collaborate on progressive politics.”

The CPA’s annual meeting ended on Sunday morning with a “Bernie” and “No War with Iran” banner drop off the freeway overpass just south of the UC-Berkeley campus.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann@anngarrison.com.