August 15, 2000
Villariagosa, progressives rip New Democrat agenda

LOS ANGELES -- Former Speaker of the California Assembly and L.A. mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa sharply criticized America's growing economic inequality and the impact of the war on drugs on minority communities brought about by the New Democrat agenda.

"We've heard an awful lot about morality over the past few days, Villaraigosa told an energetic crowd of activists and reporters. "But morality is not just about what goes on in the bedroom, it is about who we leave behind. When a young person goes without health care, when we incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the world, when our schools are like prisons, when we engage in a systematic process of deforestation and environmental abuse, it is immoral and it is wrong."

Speaking at the Shadow Convention, Villaraigosa said, "The Democratic Party used to be known as the big tent... We have to build coalitions because only then can we begin to have an impact."

The mayoral candidate remarks come at time of a growing rift within the Democratic Party between liberals and progressives -- one quarter of whom will be voting for Nader, according to last week's Public Policy Institute Poll of California voters -- and New Democrat moderates and conservatives who have pushed the party to compete with the Republican Party for contributions and adopt many Right-Wing Republican positions.

Critics of the Clintonian New Democrats say that the Democratic Party has moved to the right, and away from the party values laid down by Presidents FDR, JFK and LBJ.

As the fundraising activities by the Democratic Party win nearly as much media attention as the convention itself, Villaraigosa said "We must take back America so that it is not just for the rich or privileged."

Progressive Democrats are making their voices heard at the Shadow Convention highlighting issues that they say neither of the two parties are addressing: the persistence of poverty in the midst of prosperity and the growing wealth gap of the new economy, the failed war on drugs, and the influence of big special interest money in politics.

Villaraigosa was joined by Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) in using a discourse of values to frame their speeches.

Jackson, son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, declared, "We are here at the Shadow Convention to recognize that the Democratic and Republican parties have failed to deliver upon the basic rights of citizens."

"Imagine the day," Jackson said, "and it is soon coming, when corporate America is locked out of the convention and we the people are inside determining our nation's destiny. This is the last convention that we are locked out."

We don't live in a political democracy, we live in a corporate democracy," Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) said a stinging assault by three of the Democratic Party's most notable reform-oriented figures on their party's own politics.

Joined by former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO), once the party's frontrunner for president, and Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), one of the nation's leading populists, Feingold said the Democratic convention will join the lately concluded Republican convention as "the worst display of money and corruption in American history."

"How is it," asked Sen. Wellstone, "with this record economy, that so many Democrats say we can't change our social arrangements, that we allow our children to be the most poverty-stricken people in America? Both parties are controlled by the same set of heavy-hitters," referring to corporate and wealthy campaign contributors

"Let the people decide!," he declared.

Following the senators, author Cornell West of Harvard University applauded their statements, noting, "We can have a concentration of wealth in the hands of the few or we can have democracy, but we can't have both."