Posts Tagged ‘Katharine Smith’

A Brief History of the LIPC

Friday, June 11th, 2004

by David Sprintzen

Initially written for the Grassroots Organizing Newsletter

Founded on June 6th, 1979, on the eve of the Reagan Administration, the LIPC has grown and prospered in spite of the right-wing tide that swept across the United States — even removing from office in the mid-90s three reasonably progressive Long Island congress members.

The LIPC was born at the initiation of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (since become Democratic Socialists of America) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, seeking to realize DSOC Chair Michael Harrington’s vision of being “the left-wing of the possible.”

Initially the LIPC was an entirely volunteer effort, with a handful of activists supported by a nominal coalition of some 60 progressive organizations. In those early years, while the Coalition supported a range of progressive causes, lacking staff, money, or resources, the primary focus of its activity was essentially determined by the interests, commitment, and efforts of those activists. Thus our organizing tended to focus on one or two issues, most particularly, the promotion of a democratically elected public utility to replace the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO), in connection with the campaign against the Shoreham nuclear power plant. (While the campaign to stop Shoreham eventually proved successful, the utility was effectively bought off by the State, with the public committed to paying off through guaranteed rate increases LILCO’s entire investment in the failed nuclear plant — some $5.5 billion plus interest.)

Over the years, the LIPC’s scope has broadened, its funding expanded, and it has moved away from the coalition structure to becoming a grassroots membership organization. It has developed a staff, a series of projects generally directed by citizen activists, and most recently an emerging network of neighborhood-based chapters. Around 1990 the LIPC affiliated with Citizen Action of New York (CANY), becoming an autonomous regional affiliate. In 1994 a house was donated to it (technically, to our tax-exempt sister organization, the Research and Education Project of Long Island (REP-LI)) by Katharine Smith, a long-time socialist and human rights activist who hosted Norman Thomas and James Farmer, among others. Katharine died on May 4th of 1997 at the age of 104.


Under the motto, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” the LIPC’s goal has been to create a multi-issue, non-electoral party of the democratic left. It seeks to become the “legitimate opposition” to the established structure of corporate power. It has sought to build an effective progressive movement by avoiding unnecessary duplication of activities and resources, particularly through facilitating the work of single-issue and locally-based civic groups. It has assisted with networking, coordination, and mutual support. And it has then taken the initiative in developing projects that address fundamental issues of power and strategy that are either not being addressed, or being addressed in ways we find inadequate.

Currently, we have five major project initiatives:

  1. The Campaign for affordable, accessible, and high quality Health Care For All, as our long-term goal, while we actively promote Child Health Plus, Family Health Plus, an improved and effectively monitored Managed Care Bill Of Rights, the inclusion of prescription coverage for Medicare recipients, and the preservation and strengthening of Medicare and Social Security;
  2. Clean Money, Clean Elections state legislation that will get money out of politics and restore electoral democracy;
  3. Building effective labor-community cooperation through the Coalition to Save Long Island Jobs (& its companion project, the Labor-Religion Coalition);
  4. Promoting sustainability, environmental protection, and downtown revitalization; and
  5. The development of a network of neighborhood-based local LIPC chapters.

The sustainability effort continues the path-breaking work that we initiated on Long Island first with our 1992 conference Long Island: A New Vision, and then with the 1996 publication of the 167-page Long Island 2020: A Greenprint for a Sustainable Long Island. That document presented a vision of, and practical program for, the ecologically sustainable economic development of Long Island. A major undertaking, six years in the making, it offered practical proposals for local initiatives in the context of theoretical critiques of globalization and conventional economic theory and practice. The program of Long Island 2020 is centered on replacing quantitative growth with qualitative development, with a primary focus on revitalizing local business and democratically controlled neighborhood communities and hamlets. The aim of the document was to inaugurate a campaign that would place the issue of sustainability at the center of public consciousness and the political agenda.

In addition to these grassroots, issue-based campaigns, we played a key role in successful efforts to create a new political party that could give electoral expression to the concerns of working men and women across the Island and the State. That Party, the Working Families Party, on whose decision-making bodies we (and our statewide affiliate Citizen Action of New York) serve now functions as the primary vehicle for our political action.


Programmatic development requires political organization. Progressive values thus need to be embodied organizationally, and in a way that enhances collective efforts. In trying to effectively realize democracy in vision and practice, the LIPC has long struggled not only with the usual differences among its constituencies, as well as those with single-issue or locally focused organizations, but also with those generated by efforts to create a cooperative work environment that merges staff with project activists and board. How, for example, does one maintain cooperative decision-making while insuring responsibility, accountability, an appropriate use of and respect for expertise, and political effectiveness? Or deal with either inexperienced new staff or with those who either do not work well with others, have difficulty working on their own, or insist on “doing their own thing?”

At present, our practice only partially realizes our vision of a citizen-run community agency whose staff supports, sustains, and helps to coordinate the activity of board, project, and chapter activists — all on the basis of equality and mutual respect. Staff participate on all committees — except in matters of personnel — including the Steering Committee, with voice but no vote. (Though staff may be members of the board — & vice versa.) Staff or board serve as liaison-coordinators for each chapter or project, while seeking to cultivate leadership from within the activist group. Projects and chapters are urged to have representatives participate in board meetings, and all have been invited to our planning retreat. The rule for decision-making is that policy decisions are made by the operative group, with individuals or small working groups charged with implementation and authorized to make daily tactical decisions. The press of events, however, and the difficulty of coordinating the schedule of project activists often requires a less representative decision process that can only be reviewed after the fact.

In general, economic and social pressures impede regular coordination and complete democratic participation. Chapter development is particularly labor-intensive, requires much skill and the careful nurturing of group identification and leadership development, and the detailed organizing of practical tasks for individuals to carry out. Racial and cultural divides are remarkably intractable, and have been only partially overcome, while the geographical extent, residential dispersion, and general lack of civic centers remain continual impediments to effective community organizing on the suburbs that are Long Island. Nevertheless, the LIPC, through the dedication and time-consuming hard work of its volunteers and staff — has established an effective progressive presence on Long Island from which activists across the country can take heart.

Katharine Smith

Friday, June 11th, 2004

by Patricia Perry

The quiet rural community of Massapequa was transformed when an energetic young Katharine Smith and her husband Warren moved to 90 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1919. This small unassuming woman would greatly influence her community and inspire friends and family throughout Long Island and far beyond. Katharine’s convictions for basic human rights were molded by her father who championed the rights for laborers and workers of the fishing and lumbering industries of Washington State. Both Katharine’s parents encouraged reading and expected her to work on the farm which supported the family. Katharine financed her college education by teaching 18 students in a poor lumber community, married Warren and lived in mining camps in Canada and West Virginia before they moved Massapequa.

While her geologist husband traveled around the world, Katharine raised seven children, without automatic washer, dryer, dishwasher, television and with a coal burning furnace, and organized the Massapequa Mother’s Club, led 4-H activities, and participated in a book club and the local chapter of AAUW. She rode the train to New York City and met leaders of new progressive organizations, the ACLU, NAACP, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and invited her City friends to Long Island and attend backyard picnics at her home.

She also joined the Socialist Party and was designated a candidate for the NYS Assembly in 1931. As she campaigned door-to-door she was saddened that so few Massapequans shared her concerns for the “poor and downtrodden.” But she was not discouraged and continued to campaign for social causes. During the Depression she applied to work for the new county department for home relief which became the Department of Social Services, retiring in 1962. While she worked, her home continued as a headquarters for meetings and guests. In the 40’s she attended services at the Bethpage Quaker Meeting House and became active in that congregation. Whenever possible she and children would travel to West Coast relatives by train and later by car and camping, never at a motel! She taught her children the names of plants and birds and maintained a concern for protecting the environment.

Most of Katharine’s present day admirers remember her as a gracious hostess who was knowledgeable about current events. She read magazines, newspapers, books and all mail requesting donations. She responded with a contribution to most, as well as long hand written letters of support and encouragement. She also wrote frequently to legislators with praise or criticism as she felt was deserved.

It is well known that she deeded part of her property for the Massapequa Central Branch Library. She was an early supporter of a 60’s civil rights group, the Massapequa Committee for Inter-group Relations. After the death of Warren in 1965, Katharine explored opportunities for her home to be a permanent peace center. In 1971, she gathered friends around her dining room table to form Peacesmiths, Inc., to promote civil liberties, civil rights, peace and the environment, and allowed space in her basement and home for meetings. Still searching for a permanent occupant for her house she formed The Katharine Smith Fund in 1987 to make the decision in case of her demise. Fortunately, Katharine lived to find her own solution. The Long Island Progressive Coalition accepted her property around the time of her 100th birthday and Katharine was most pleased that the home that had sheltered her family and guests and activities would continue to shelter those seeking to improve society and that she lived to attend the dedication of The Katharine Smith House in 1994.

Katharine’s legacy will continue as long as others share her concerns. In her own words delivered at the 100th birthday celebration, “There is so much to be done. My message to you younger people: keep courage; keep yourself ready to do what has to be done… Use your intellect to work… to find the directions in which our solutions will come. Support to the extent of your ability the agencies and fellowships which help to build a better world.