MJS: Democracy Convention under way in Madison

August 24, 2011
Bill Glauber

The first Democracy Convention got under way Wednesday, and the five-day gathering is expected to draw up to 1,000 political and social activists from across the country.

The convention brought together at least two generations of left-wing activists ready to hash out such issues as voting rights, access to education and U.S. constitutional reform.

Tom Hayden, a key figure in anti-war demonstrations during the Vietnam era, was among the scheduled keynote speakers. The convention was organized by Ben Manski, a 37-year-old Madison attorney and former co-chairman of the national Green Party.

"The convention is focusing on building democracy where regular people live, eat, play, pray and work," said Manski, director of the Liberty Tree Foundation think tank.

Manski said he began organizing the event a year ago. Momentum built after demonstrations that brought thousands of people to the state Capitol to protest Gov. Scott Walker's bill that curtailed collective bargaining for most public workers.

"What Wisconsinites have done has inspired people all over the nation," he said. "This is the first time that various strands of the democracy movement have come together in one place."

Manski traces the origins of the "democracy movement" to street protests during the 1999 World Trade Organization's ministerial conference in Seattle. He said the movement was a response to increased corporate power with a desire to bring democracy "closest to the people."

"We're populist," Manski said.

He said the goal of the convention is to establish "formal networks."

"We'll be much more organized," Manski said. "We plan a follow-up. This is seen as the first of many conventions."

The program is scheduled to include panels and workshops such as "Challenging the Gender Boxes," "Resisting Foreclosure," and "The Co-Op Alternative to Corporate Capitalism."

Events will be at the Concourse Hotel and the downtown campus of Madison Area Technical College.

Registration to attend is open to the public and ranges from $50 to $100.