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Continuing the Political Revolution on hot-button issues

  • Jo Comerford, state senator-elect, speaks at a general assembly of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution last month in Montague Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • ferd Wulkan, an organizer of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution, speaks to a crowd of about 100 at a recent event. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Greenfield residents Linda Sarage and her granddaughter Meckenzie Sarage were among those holding signs on the common at a recent event. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS



Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2018

GREENFIELD – A subterranean room at the heart of downtown is the focal point for a grassroots effort working on climate change, civil rights, education, labor and other hot-button issues.

There’s a celebratory, optimistic mood here at the Main Street headquarters of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution less than two weeks after the election that approved three of four ballot questions it favored — and two years after its creation.

CPR, sparked by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Democratic primary campaign, has become an active, grassroots force in local politics, backing electoral campaigns, working on core issues and collaborating with other progressive groups to move forward its agenda.

“We’re definitely a multi-issue group,” says David Greenberg of Colrain, one of the 11-member coordinating committee of the organization that will have its next open general assembly Dec. 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Guiding Star Grange. “That makes us stand apart.”  

With a mailing list of 1,200 and about 300 members who pay a suggested $10 a year dues, CPR has about 200 active members who show themselves as prepared to turn out for campaigns like door-to-door solicitations in support of nurse staffing Question 1, for example, or like last week’s Greenfield Town Common response to President Trump’s “forced retirement” of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Although not all of its positions have resulted in victories — CPR endorsed Tahirah Amatul-Wadud over Richard Neal for 1st Congressional  District and Francia Wisnewski of Turners Falls for 1st Franklin District in last September’s Democratic primary — it did endorse state Senate candidate Jo Comerford and four winners in last year’s Greenfield City Counsel contest: Sheila Gilmour, Doug Mayo, Otis Wheeler and Tim Dolan, along with Don Alexander for Greenfield School Committee.

Its Single-Payer Health Care Committee also played a key role in promoting ballot Question 4 on the November ballot in the 1st Franklin and 2nd Berkshire state House districts — a measure that passed nearly 4-1 across Franklin County. 

“We did a huge lift on this, and we’re really excited about the outcome,” says Susan Triolo of Sunderland, a founding CPR member and former coordinating council member who predicts that now that the resolution has won the backing in five Western Massachusetts districts, single-payer legislation on Beacon Hill represents “a big push” for CPR going forward.

The organization’s Campaign Finance Reform Task Force, which Triolo chairs, helped win support for ballot Question 2, with nearly 80 percent of Franklin County voters backing a state study of possible amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and its Civil Rights Committee worked to support Question 3, which was backed by more than 77 percent of voters here, to assure transgender provisions remain in the state’s Public Accommodations Law.

CPR also sponsored the region’s only gubernatorial forum last January, featuring the three Democratic primary candidates, although members couldn’t decide which candidate to endorse. And it has supported labor issues, like a $15 minimum wage and family-leave legislation, while helping people who wanted to link up with actions like out-of-state “take back the House” campaigns. 

As the nation’s Democrats who won a majority in the upcoming Congress weigh how much to pursue investigations and potential impeachment of the president, versus how much to press for federal action on health care and other legislation, Triolo says CPR’s focus needs to be on getting people registered and convincing them to vote.

“The biggest voting bloc in 2016 was the people who stayed home,” she says. “That’s horrifying to me. People are so supportive of the military and we’re out in world making their countries safe for voting, but people don’t vote here.”

Knocking on doors and talking to shoppers at Foster’s Supermarket this fall to encourage people to vote on the ballot questions, she said she was surprised when several people told her they don’t vote because they don’t believe it matters.

“It’s incredible,” said Triolo, adding that it’s important to convey to voters the need to become involved in primaries, as well as the general election.

“Primaries matter,” she says, pointing to the seven Democrats running for the 1st Franklin seat and three Democrats running for governor this year. “People don’t understand that, and I didn’t until I started working for (gubernatorial hopeful Robert) Reich in 2004. The primary is where you make your choices. Your job’s at the primaries, when you have to think about what you care about and what matters to you and who’s going to carry out that belief system. And that’s our job, getting people to think about what matters to them and what matters to us as a community.”

In the weeks and months ahead, as CPR releases its first “Stirring the Pot” cookbook fundraiser and works on a “municipal socialism” presentation planned for next spring to discuss the need for towns to consider services they need to offer their residents — broadband and garbage collection among them, as opposed to turning those over to  private business — the focus will continue to be on Franklin County issues, says Greenberg.

The grassroots organization, which coordinates with a host of groups, including Arise for Social Justice, Our Revolution Massachusetts and Indivisible Massachusetts and Progressive Democrats of America, got its start as Pioneer Valley for Bernie, when politically active people here wanted to jump into the Sanders presidential campaign and were told by its Vermont organizers, “Go right ahead!” 

The group decided to keep working, even after the Sanders lost the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton, with the aim, according to Greenberg, “to try to push Hillary to the left. The first weekend after the election, we had our first general assembly meeting with over 200 at the Grange. People were pretty flipped out; they needed to talk.”

At a similar meeting at the Montague Common Hall, people wrote sticky notes on what their key concerns were for Continuing the Political Revolution.  With those priorities stuck onto the wall, the new organization has created a half-dozen task forces to work locally on what was, essentially, the Sanders platform. 

Now there’s also a peace task force, a women’s task force and even a book group.

“We focus on Franklin County issues,” he said, “because those are ones we can have an impact on.”

Protesting Trump’s replacement of Sessions

Greenfield Common was filled with people on a recent cold evening, as people held signs and clamored over the president’s replacement of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Matthew Whitaker, who has publicly criticized the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.

Members of CPR handed out posters with the slogan, “No one is above the law,” asking local businesses to put them in their windows. Local political organizers gave speeches.

“We are facing, in effect, a coup,” said member Ferd Wulkan.

Greenfield’s gathering was one of hundreds around the country, and in every state, including 46 in Massachusetts, called by MoveOn.org, an organization that supports progressive political movements, in response to Trump’s personnel changes.

According to MoveOn.org, the protests demanded that Whitaker recuse himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

For more information about the organization, visit: www.fccpr.us