200 Georgia Progressives Hold Historic Summit

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(APN) ATLANTA  – 200 progressive activists from Georgia gathered here today for the first Georgia Progressive Summit (GPS). The historic summit was held at the Georgia State University Student Center and is lasting from Friday, January 6, 2006, through Sunday, January 8, 2006.

Georgia For Democracy, a progressive coalition which formed around the Howard Dean Presidential Campaign in 2004, organized the Summit in partnership with 25 other nonpartisan advocacy organizations.

“When you come together here to connect our experiences, what we’ve learned, things happen,” Reverend Roy Bourgeois, 67, founder of School of the Americas Watch, told Atlanta Progressive News. Bourgeois spoke in the morning plenary session Saturday.

“It’s sort of sacred when we follow our beliefs. Here these people are, on a Saturday morning, when they’ve been working all week. Why? In a way we cannot not be here,” Bourgeois said in a lengthy interview in which he explained the importance of politically active role models in his young adulthood.

“There has for many of us been a rebirth… someone we met… something that happens,” Bourgeois said.

“The idea [for the Summit] came from the Georgia for Democracy Retreat in December 2004,” Catherine Smith, 48, Co-Chair of GPS, told Atlanta Progressive News.

“During the 2004 Election cycle, there were many organizations working on a variety of things, from Get Out the Vote to specific candidates. While we were doing a lot of good work there wasn’t enough organizing.”

The purpose of the summit is to provide networking and collaboration opportunities for local activists, ordinary citizens, and leaders of local advocacy groups.

In addition to Plenary sessions, the Summit also features workshops, breakfast, lunch, goodie bags, and an array of tables sponsored by local organizations.

Georgia State Senate Candidate (District 20), Dee. J. Yearty, was in attendance on Saturday.

Two candidates in high-profile Georgia races also appeared at a Friday evening GPS party. Jim Martin, Democratic candidate for Georgia Lieutenant Governor, was in attendance. Shyam Reddy, Democratic candidate for Georgia Secretary of State, also joined in the hobnobbing.

“It’s a tremendously important event. I hope it’s a beginning which will mushroom into a movement dealing with political, social, and human rights issues. What’s important is what will happen after the event,” Rev. Timothy McDonald, 51, Senior Pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church, told Atlanta Progressive News.

The conference was historic for Atlanta because some see contemporary Atlanta as devoid in progressive civic engagement, despite its centrality in the US Civil Rights history.

According to recent election results, Atlanta is a firmly “red” state, where currently both US Senators are Republicans, the Governor is currently Republican, and the majority of citizens voted for Bush in 2004.

“There is a struggle in Atlanta. Atlanta operates under an illusion that there are no problems here. But there are two Atlantas. A prosperous Atlanta and an underclass Atlanta. And it’s hard to organize because the notion is all is well,” Rev. McDonald said in an interview.

Atlanta Progressive News participated in a workshop Saturday on “The Role of Independent Media in America.” The present writer (and APN Editor) joined Heather Gray of WRFG (Radio Free Georgia) and Professor Hans Klein of Georgia Tech School of Public Policy on the panel.

Other workshops covered numerous issues including: getting your message across in print and electronically; immigration; death penalty; living wage; the federal budget; LGBT rights; nonviolent organizing; grassroots organizing; voting issues in Georgia; sexism; consumer advocacy; youth engagement; and others.

Throughout the sessions, participants were encouraged to come up with action ideas. These ideas will turn into strategic plans, Catherine Smith said.

There will be three segments of these plans, Smith said. They will include (1) opportunities for organizations with specific internal action ideas; (2) organizations working with other organizations, and (3) how to reach beyond.

“It’s about sharing,” Catherine Smith told Atlanta Progressive News. “Learning how to share. It’s the way we grow a progressive movement.”

“It was exactly what I was hoping for. It was remarkable to me, the plenaries this morning. It was moving and inspiring,” Smith concluded.

Georgia for Democracy is exploring the idea of an annual GPS Summit, in the style of the national Take Back America conferences which have taken place in Washington, DC, each year since 2003.

Matthew Cardinale is Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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