A Brief History of the LIPC

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.

Program

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.

Structure

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

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.

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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.

Citizen Action of New York’s History

by Alan Charney

Understanding the history of Citizen Action of New York (CANY) can only be done by looking at the origins of Citizen Action as a national effort in the 1970s to consolidate an anti-corporate strategy and program as the basis for progressive politics. What I propose to do is first look at the economic and political, the institutional and ideological context in which Citizen Action was founded as a national federation of state organizations. Then, I will point out those economic and political, institutional and ideological factors peculiar to CANY. Finally, I will argue that the overall context previously defining Citizen Action has changed radically – posing a host of new challenges for us. This can only mean that the strategy and program of CA must change accordingly.

The economic and political, the institutional and the ideological context for Citizen Action strategy and program.

  1. The economic and political context. Citizen Action, as a national federation of autonomous state organizations, was founded in the mid-1970s at pivotal point in post-war history. It was the point at which the longest period of sustained economic expansion in the history of capitalism was coming to a close. It was a period from the late 1940s to the early 1970s that was based on corporate dominance of the national economy along with mass prosperity for the majority. It was built on a virtuous circle of rising productivity, rising profits and rising wages. During this period, trade unions were significantly stronger than they are today, and working class communities were much more stable. An expanding tax base and an economic orthodoxy of deficit spending promoted an expanding welfare state. Indeed, many corporate interests were supportive of greater government intervention in the economy…unlike today.The strategy and program of Citizen Action were shaped during this time of corporate liberal hegemony. The strategy of CANY was fundamentally anti-corporate: that is, it was based on the premise that the national economy was controlled by large national corporations whose interests were almost always opposed to the interests of poor and working people. Furthermore, the main countervailing institutions opposing corporate power were organized labor, and poor and working class communities, primarily unorganized. The program of CANY was fundamentally pro-government: that is, it was based on the premise that government power was necessary to regulate and control the excesses of corporate power. Thus, unions and communities together would organize state and national campaigns from legislation that would reign in the corporations.So, by 1978, CANY had initiated the Citizen/Labor Energy coalition to combat rising gasoline, electric and national gas prices. Later, there were campaigns against toxic wastes, and of course, the campaign for single-payer health insurance. Ironically, almost the entire history of CANY, from the mid-1970s to the mid 1990s unfolded during a period of economic decline for poor and working people and one of ascendancy for corporate power. It was a period in which trade union membership and influence also declined and stable working class communities were in eclipse. During these twenty years – and continuing today – there has been a retrenchment of the welfare state, a great reduction in taxes for the corporations and the top 20% of income-earners, and a right-wing assault on government activism. Except for four years (1977-1978, and 1993-1994), this has been a time of conservative hegemony.
  2. The institutional context. In its origins, Citizen Action was fascinating amalgam of the Old Left and the New Left. Its Old Left side included both an understanding of the institutional importance of the trade unions, even if many of them lacked progressive leadership, and the institutional necessity of organizing poor and working class communities. Saul Alinsky had been the leading advocate of bringing the lessons of organizing the mass industrial unions in the 1930s and 1940s to bear directly on organizing communities as countervailing institutions to corporate power. His approach to community organizing became the basis for Citizen Actions approach to organizing for social change. At the same time, CANY’s New Left side – primarily due to the influence of the Civil Rights movement — included an emphasis on community empowerment and direct action politics, as well as a greater reliance on government programs as the solution to endemic problems of social and economic injustices. In this regard, the civil rights and social welfare laws passed from 1964-1965 served as a model.
  3. The ideological context. CANY was conceived and organized by a cohort of New Left activists, many who had first become involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. Indeed, a disproportionate share of them had been members and leaders of Students for a Democratic Society, the premiere student New Left organization of the 1960s. In advocating a “citizen action” approach to social change, they were explicitly rejecting what they viewed as excesses of New Left politics, such as ideological sectarianism, a radicalism of thought and action that seemed to put off a majority of Americans and issues such as the Indochina war which couldn’t help but divide a broad poor and working class constituency. The citizen action approach was based much more on organizing poor and working people around their immediate interests, which were almost always opposed to corporate interests and avoiding potentially divisive social and ideological issues.We believed there was a majoritarian strategy, based on a program of economic justice, that could organize poor and working people to win progressive legislation, which would both expand the welfare state (as with national health insurance) and regulate corporate power (as with energy prices), as well as elect many more progressives to public office at all levels of government. Moreover, Citizen Action, as a national federation of state multi-issue organization, was central to the realization of this majoritarian strategy. This strategy was bold and flexible, but it also had its major shortcomings. Foremost was its “strategic” neglect of communities of color. A majoritarian strategy did not require a concentration on building bases in communities of color. It also meant that many of our issues were important, but not central, to the interests of people of color.

The economic and political, institutional and the ideological factors peculiar to CANY

  1. The economic and political context. During CANYs first 12 years existence – from 1983-1994 — state government was dominated by liberal Democrats. Only the State Senate was Republican controlled. Moreover, in a period of corporate conservative hegemony on the national level, key corporate interests in New York were oriented in a more liberal direction. (The fact is that Wall Street – that is, the finance sector — has remained the only capitalist sector with some loyalty to the program of liberal democrats.)Historically, corporate interests in New York have always been less resistant to social reform than corporate interests in many other states. (I know it is hard to take this in, but comparatively speaking it is true.) Thus, there was a political climate more favorable to a “citizen-action” economic agenda, particularly around health care. Also, the Republican control of the State Senate determined, to a significant degree, CANYs political focus.The State Senate was the roadblock to the passage of progressive legislation. Most of the Republican State Senators were from Long Island and upstate. Therefore, it made sense for CANY to organize its political base on Long Island and upstate in order to put pressure on these legislators. Indeed, for many years CANY was one of the only statewide organizations, along with the CWA and UAW, openly and actively to oppose Republican control of the State Senate during election time.
  2. The institutional context. CANY was founded in 1983 as an amalgam of a chapter-based organization called the Citizens Alliance, and the statewide affiliate of the Citizen/Labor Energy Coalition. The Citizens Alliance was a membership organization of poor and working-class people, similar to ACORN. C/LEC was primarily a coalition of trade unions. (In other states, Citizen Action affiliates were either organized on a community chapter model, or on a statewide coalition model.) For the first year, we stayed primarily a chapter-based organization, but we quickly realized that in a populous state like New York with many powerful institutions it would be exceedingly difficult to influence state politics from an exclusively community base. So, in our case necessity led to innovation, for we wound up combining the chapter and coalition models. Thus we were able to involve both local bases of citizen activists and influential statewide progressive organizations. And, we have had the capacity to intervene on both local and statewide issues and elections.
  3. The ideological context. Another distinguishing factor of politics in New York State is that it is carried out at a higher ideological level that in most other states. This difference is due partially to the historic influence of the organized left, like the Socialist and Communist parties, as well as the former prevalence of many left-wing unions. But it is also true that the right wing has, for many years, had a distinct ideological presence through the Conservative Party. Ideological identification is not only less of a problem in New York State. Many times it can even be an asset in building coalitions and involving activists. Indeed, our regional chapters are made up of many self-identified progressive, and left, activists. The Working Families Party adds further support to CANYs overt progressive character.

Changes in the context: challenges for the 21st century.

  1. The economic and political context. In the last 25 years, there has been a transformation from an era of national corporate capitalism to one of global capitalism. Overall, transnational corporations, whether American or foreign, operate on a planetary scale. They are more powerful and control more wealth than national corporations ever did. Moreover, national governments by themselves have less capacity to regulate and control corporate behavior and less ability to redistribute wealth in favor of poor and working people.Communities are much more transitional and diverse than before, and unions are no longer organized in the today’s leading sectors of the economy – finance and information-like they were fifty years ago in the mass production industries. This means that the “citizen-action” majoritarian strategy, at least on a national level, will be even more difficult to achieve. But, it does point to the necessity of a new approach – based on transnational organizing, transnational coalitions, and transnational issues. This approach may appear absolutely daunting at first, but so did the idea of national organizing one hundred years ago. So, here is my first prediction for the 21st century: a progressive majoritarian strategy will have to be trans-national to succeed.
  2. The institutional context. In our political activity, we are facing an increasingly diverse and pluralist population. This is so obvious it needs no enumeration. Moreover, communities will continue to get more and more diverse. There may no longer even be a possibility of constructing a simple majoritarian strategy and program around any key issues, save for a few “tried and true” ones like Social Security. We need to think more in terms of a complex majoritarian stategy and program. We need to invent institutional models based on an expanding plurality of constituencies. For, when we add up the myriad of constituencies and communities demanding social and economic justice today, it is actually a larger potential majority than the old one.The key is looking for a program which better encompasses this complex majority. Education is certainly one basis for this new program because it is institutional in nature. A diversity of interests from a plurality of constituencies can be accommodated and coordinated but only if the institution – in this case public education — is protected and enhanced. The struggle over the future of the institution comes first. So, here is my second prediction for the 21st century: a majoritarian strategy will have to be institutional to succeed.
  3. The ideological context. In the 21st century, there will be a “return of the ideological.” In large part, we have the right wing to thank for this resurrection. For one, the right wing has organized its constituencies more around values and ideas than around interests. More importantly, the right wing has mounted powerful ideological assaults on democratic institutions, particularly government. It is obvious that a democratically run, activist government is essential for the realization of a progressive program. How else can we effectively redistribute wealth and expand the welfare state? So, progressives are compelled to defend the integrity of government as a precondition of winning any serious social reforms.Moreover, the collapse of liberalism has left the broad left as the only principled defender of public values and institutions. There is no other way to beat back to right-wing assault on democratic institutions except through ideological means. Indeed, what is most fascinating is that the roles of left and right have reversed. Traditionally, the right has defended the “impartial” character of public institutions against the assaults from the left, which viewed public institutions as subservient to “ruling class” interests. Now the right argues that government is subservient to the interests of our constituencies. In effect, by attacking government, the right is attacking democratic participation and the values of citizenship. That’s why, in the long run, our defense of government will greatly enhance the persuasiveness and prestige of our progressive viewpoint. So, here is my third prediction for the 21st century: a majoritarian strategy will have to be ideological to succeed.Finally, we are the bearers of a noble strain of American life – the inheritors of all those social movements that have instigated changes for more justice and less inequality in American society. The truth is that at no time in our history did a progressive stance really encompass more that minority of the American people. Today, our viewpoint represents about 15% of the population. But, there are several other viewpoints out there. None represents more than a plurality. Ours is hardly the smallest. I believe that our viewpoint – the progressive one – has the greatest potential to expand. But, only if we understand the opportunities afforded by the new context, and only if we are willing to make the changes necessary to succeed.

Family Health Plus

The Problem
Approximately 3.2 million New Yorkers, almost one in six, lack health insurance coverage.

What is FHP?
Most uninsured New Yorkers work for a living, but cannot afford health insurance coverage. According to a study by the United Hospital Fund (UHF) nearly three-quarters of uninsured adults work for all or part of the year.

What is covered?
The rate of uninsurance is highest among low and middle-income workers. The UHF study reports that 42 percent of the uninsured have incomes between 100 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level and 41 percent have incomes below the poverty level.

What is FHP? What needs to be done to improve FHP?
New York State has a new health insurance program for adults who either have no health insurance or are unable to purchase health insurance due to costly premiums. Family Health Plus is modeled after the successful Child Health Plus program that offers affordable comprehensive insurance to the children and teenagers of our state.

What is covered?
Just like Child Health Plus, Family Health Plus coverage includes dental, vision, inpatient and outpatient mental health services, and prescription services in addition to routine preventative and emergency medical care.

Who is eligible?

Family Size Annual Income (Gross)
Jan 2001 Jan 2002 Oct 2001 Oct 2002
1 $8,350
2 $11,250 $13,500 $14,963 $16,875
3 $16,980 $18,820 $21,225
4 $20,460 $22,677 $25,575
4 $23,940 $26,534 $29,925

Coverage for childless adults depends on New York State receiving a federal waiver from the Health Care Financing Administration. A waiver that no other state has ever received

Family Health Plus
(current plan)
Family Health Plus
(improved plan)
Health care insurance coverage for 600,000 NYS adults. Health care insurance for the 3.2 million uninsured NYS adults.
Coverage begins for a limited few January 2001. Most people will have to wait until October 2002. Coverage for everyone eligible effective January 2001.
FHP income eligibility is far below that of Child Health Plus. Eligibility for adults with children is only at 150% poverty level. * Same income limits as Child Health Plus (250% poverty level*)
Adults without children are limited to incomes of 100% poverty level. * All adults should have the same income limits whether or not they have children.
Adults without children will only be covered if federal waiver is granted. Coverage for all adults, whether or not they have kids

* –Poverty level determined yearly by federal guidelines. 2000 guidelines have determined 100% poverty level for a single adult at $8,350. 150% poverty level for a family of four is $25,575. 250% poverty level for a family of four is $42,625.

What needs to be done to improve FHP?

Sounds great! Right?
Well…It’s only the first step.
Actually, Family Health Plus will only cover 600,000 of the 3.2 million uninsured or underinsured adults of New York State. This program doesn’t begin covering anyone until October 1, 2001. Also, because of the eligibility phase-in, most of these people will not be covered until October 1, 2002! The income limits are too restrictive…If you work full-time at minimum wage; you make too much to qualify for Family Health Plus!

  • · Expedite coverage for everyone eligible by January 2001 (150% poverty)
  • · Assure coverage for childless adults and legal immigrants
  • · Increase income eligibility to match Child Health Plus (250% poverty)

What can I do?

  • Call your State Assembly Member and Senator to thank them for their support and hard work passing Family Health Plus. Let them know that although this program is a good beginning—we need them to take the next steps to improve Family Health Plus and leave no
  • one behind.
  • Write a letter to the editor of Newsday, or your local paper, about health care coverage concerns and include the notion of expanding Family Health Plus.
  • Join Long Island Progressive Coalition’s Health Care Action Committee by calling 516-541-1006 x16 or emailing jeff@lipc.org You can make your voice heard through advocacy for affordable health care for all New Yorkers!
  • We need to show the Governor and the Legislature that the health care system isn’t working for millions of New Yorkers. The best way to do that is to hear the stories of people who can’t afford health care. Click here to share your story.